Saturday, May 26, 2012

Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz Island is the island most fly-in tourists (from Quito, Ecuador) use as their home base, and its port, Puerto Ayora, presents the prettiest face in the Galápagos. Puerto Ayora has the most modern infrastructure, a bustling waterfront complete with hotels, a well designed and lit tourist dock where water taxis pick up and deposit their fares, and many galleries featuring local art/crafts alongside the souvenir shops. Some restaurants feature foods not typical to the islands in which artful presentation is a factor in their preparation. (Eating out at most restaurants in the Galápagos is like showing up at someone's house at meal time and being given a plate of home-cooked food.)

Anchorage at Puerto Ayora:  view from town

The fish market in downtown Puerto Ayora has an interesting customer
Puerto Ayora also has a night life that is not wholly designed around tourists. On Saturday night, you can find much of the citizenry out enjoying themselves in the open air. Couples and families are out walking in the streets or dining in restaurants. A favorite gathering place for youth is the cement sports field along the waterfront (used for organized sports like volleyball at other times) which is transformed into a skate park on Saturday nights. Older youth congregate in small groups around the fringes of the skate park or can be found draped over the kiosk on the water taxi dock, absorbed in their laptops.

While the port is cheerful and colorful, the anchorage in Academy Bay is crowded and rolly. The anchorage is open to the southerly swell. There are some lava reefs extending out into the harbor (though not nearly as many as on Isabela), and you can't anchor too close to shore for that reason. One advantage to the rolly anchorage is that you won't lose your sea legs while in port! We were lucky enough to arrive at a less crowded time and were able to find a decent spot to anchor; however, more boats arriving after our initial days in Santa Cruz left me wondering where we would anchor if we were just arriving. We had read that many people use a stern anchor in Academy Bay, and we found this to be good advice. We put out a stern anchor which helped significantly with the rolling. Be prepared to clean your bottom after leaving Academy Bay, because a healthy layer of slime (algae) will grow along the waterline (at least at this time of year).

We arrived at Puerto Ayora just before five p.m. and after anchoring, we tried to call our agent on the VHF to see if we would check in that day or the next morning. We received no response and decided to wait until the next morning. We called again the next morning and still received no response, so we water-taxied in and walked to the agent's office. We found no one there, but a kind neighbor told us the secretary was at the bank and would be back shortly. We took a walking tour of town to get the lay of the land and returned when the secretary was back. This time, both the secretary and a representative of our agent were in the office. (Our actual agent was on Baltra.) The agent's representative---Santiago---was the most helpful and business-like representative we dealt with from the agent's office, including the agent himself. Santiago arranged for us to check in. Later that afternoon, the Port Captain and a staff member from his office met Santiago and us at the boat. We were told they would need to inspect the vessel, but they were satisfied with the answers to some preliminary questions we had given to Santiago. These questions focused on a gear list and the number of people on board. The Port Captain of Puerto Ayora at this time is a friendly, personable individual; indeed, he is the only official we met who has made us feel welcome in the Galápagos.

Port Captain's office, Puerto Ayora
There is a lot to see and do locally in Puerto Ayora, and we missed some of the best marine sites (Bahia Tortuga and Punta Estrada) due to our limited amount of time here. However, a wonderful memory was visiting Las Grietas, a local hangout and swimming hole created by a fissure in the volcanic rock. During our hike to Las Grietas, we were passed by group of school children visiting the island from mainland Ecuador. These kids were from the big city of Quito and didn't get exposed to the outdoors a lot. The hot hike over the lava rocks was challenging for some of them, but when they got to the swimming hole, they had a ball. Although our solitude and visibility for snorkeling were interrupted, we couldn't help but enjoy the shrieks and laughter of the happy children.

School children on lava bridge

Children and travelers enjoying Las Grietas
Our noisy group also interrupted the solitude of a native swimmer at Las Grietas, a young man in his teens or early twenties. However, this Santa Cruz islander thrilled us all with daring feats of cliff jumping from the rocks surrounding the fissure. (I got video, but probably won't have a connection fast enough to upload it.) The children were in awe and quickly followed suit by jumping off rocks proportional to their own size and skill level.

Cliff jumper psyching up for the jump


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