The well-dressed business people dominate the departure hall of Aeropuerto José Joaquín de Olmedo de Guayaquil at day break, lining up to board the plane to travel to Quito, the capital of Ecuador. The only ones standing out is a group of indigenous people in vivid dresses and traditional hats. Clearly, they have never seen nor used an escalator in their entire life.
Ainnelise Niyvold Liundbye UPDATED: 24 JAN 2020
We have spent the night in a very modest hostal with locals, before our morning flight to the Galapagos Islands, more specifically travelling to the airport on Baltra Island. The hostal is conveniently situated within walking distance of the airport, just across a pedestrian bridge.
Guayaquil, the largest and most populous city in Ecuador with a population of 2 million people, features tropical savanna climate – hot and humid most of the year. When exiting the airport building, we definitely have felt it!
How to fly to Galapagos?
- There are two Ecuadorian airports with flights to the Galapagos Islands: Guayaquil and Quito.
- Some of the flights from Quito to the Galapagos Islands go down in Guayaquil on the way.
- Galapagos has two airports. You either fly to Baltra Airport / Seymour Airport north of Santa Cruz Island or to San Cristóbal Airport on San Cristóbal Island.
- When selecting your flight to Galapagos, it is worth considering flying out of another airport than you fly into. It may well save a ferry ticket while on the islands.
The plethora of people, some seemingly poorer than others, as well as the bustling streets, have gradually drained us. We have thrown ourselves into the crowds in order to get to a supermarket to buy adequate provisions. This, along with the fatigue from travelling continuously for two days straight, has evoked the need for a good night’s sleep. Despite it being a rather humble place and despite the lady behind the tiny reception hatch having severe problems completing the manual payment process, we have felt at ease. The staff have been unexpectedly service-minded, have seen to what we needed, given us free bottles of mineral water to cope with the change of climate, and thoroughly explained how the odd air conditioning device functioned.
Before our flight to Galapagos
Before going through the security check in the airport, we have looked for the counter where all Galapagos travellers need to pay a fee of 20$ for the INGALA Transit Control Card (TCT). We need to go through a baggage screening process which checks for live products such as animals, plants and seeds. This is in order to avoid the transfer of organisms that are not native to the habitats and ecosystems of the isolated islands, each possessing a uniqueness of species. Our hand luggage sized bags do, seemingly, not pose any imminent risk by appearance. Therefore we are waved through at the checkpoint amazingly fast. We are kindly informed that the additional Galapagos National Park entrance fee of 100$ must be paid upon arrival on Baltra Island.
Baltra Island ferry
In the far corner of the departure hall we now find ourselves in the midst of the more casually dressed passengers. We are at the gate with departure to Baltra Airport, the airport situated on the small Baltra Island just north of the Galapagos main island, Santa Cruz. The atmosphere is rather relaxed among our fellow passengers, wearing loose hiking shorts and carrying tightly packed backpacks. All seem to be full of expectations, excitement and impatience to get going.
Travel with locals to Baltra Island
For our Galapagos flight I am lucky enough to be seated next to one of the few Galapagos inhabitants travelling on this plane. He is a middle-aged man from Bellavista on Santa Cruz. Initiating a conversation in Spanish, trying my best, leads to a lot of information. Even if the flight to Baltra Island is relatively short, I get useful info and learn about the more unconventional things we definitely should do and see on the islands during our stay. This travel advice from a local also includes some odder ideas of what to experience and do there.
Not quite knowing what I have expected, I get during the flight to the Galapagos Islands reassured that the local Spanish dialect is not completely impossible to understand. I really had not known what to expect.
Shortly before arrival on Baltra, an insecticide is released from the panels above the cabin storage space. We are again reminded that the islands have endemic species of animals and plants. Therefore neither pollution nor bacteria of any kind should be brought to the islands from the outside world.
Baltra Island reveals an extraordinary wildlife
We travel with locals from Baltra Island to Santa Cruz Island.
Ferry from Baltra Island
Buses at Baltra Airport await the passengers flying into the Galapagos Islands. They take us down to the small ferries that cross the narrow strait between Baltra and Santa Cruz. We are among the first ones to embark, due to carrying just hand luggage. So there has been no wait at any conveyor belt, and we are immediately off for the crossing. It is in fact a relief that we only carry small cabin-sized backpacks which we can take inside the ferry. Most fellow passengers must leave their normal size baggage on the unprotected roof of the ferry. Probably with a silent prayer that the waves will not cause any sliding into the water! My local friend sits in front chatting with acquaintances, all locals. Just before the ferry sets in motion, he spots and climbs onto an adjacent smaller and apparently more fast going vessel.
Within a few minutes we have left Baltra Island and find ourselves in the middle of a variety of bird species which are unusual in our latitudes. Pelicans dive for fish and touch the surface of the sea with gigantic splashes. We get an immediate impression of the biodiversity. All of a sudden it becomes real that there are awesome creatures to be discovered during our stay on the islands, being UNESCO World Heritage with a unique and remarkable wildlife found nowhere else on Earth. We start getting the sensation that our stay here may even exceed our wildest expectations.
When we are seated on the plane, on one of our connecting flights to Galapagos, we have a wide range of fellow passengers. There are Peruvians dressed in traditional woven dresses, neat nuns and a number of international tourists. LATAM now turns out to be extremely child-friendly. Before take-off a staff member announces a boy’s birthday in the speaker. Seconds later we see a flight attendant walking down the aisle holding a small birthday cake with a candle in her hands. Everyone on board claps their hands as a matter of course. It leaves us with the impression that this is a completely customary and everyday incident on a South American plane.
Some make the sign of the cross
Minutes later when the aircraft is taxied towards the runway, our indigenous-looking neighbour passenger makes the sign of the cross. She has a serious expression on her face indicating a fear of flying. Next, she pulls the curtain down so that she will not be forced to see us airborne. Unfortunately, it turns out that there is quite some turbulence during the flight. She ends up spending a good deal of the time speaking in Spanish to herself and to some extent to one among the five of us without extensive Spanish communication skills. We soon realise that making the sign of the cross before take-off is not such an unusual thing to do in the northern South American countries. More than once during our first flights we are witnesses to similar religious acts.
Anarchy when landing …
Anarchy takes over when we go down and touch the runway with the wheels. Seconds later the first passengers unlock their seat belts, jump up and open the overhead compartments to get their personal belongings. We are not speaking of just one or two passengers. It seems to be rather the majority. The aisle is already crowded with people when one of the flight attendants announces through the speaker that everyone should stay in their seats. It is not allowed to unfasten the belts until the safety signs are turned off. It is unnecessary to say that the crowd absolutely does not seem to pay attention to the message. People continue bustling around right until the doors eventually open. Overwhelmed by puzzling and subtle cultural differences, we have, even before reaching our final destination, already imperceptibly started accepting South American mentality.
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