Visiting Isla Santa Cruz in the Galápagos Archipelago

Arrival Formalities and First Impressions

The anchorage as seen from shore. Nine of Cups is just right of center (presenting her stern).  

The Armada office has a great view of the anchorage. In English, "armada" means "fleet of ships", but in Spanish, "armada" means "navy". So the official title for the Ecuadorian Navy is "Armada del Ecuador". The navy maintains administrative control of the Galápagos.  

The waterfront in the center of Puerto Ayora, including the waterfront park along the shoreline. Everything looks deserted because I took the picture during the mid-day break when everyone stays indoors.  

Water taxis arriving at the town pier. They nose-in to the small floating dock and you climb on or off over the bow. They have a small railing on the bow so you can steady yourself. A trip on the water taxi costs 50 cents per passenger.  

Tourists walking though the waterfront park in Puerto Ayora, with a big cement albatross in the background. I'd almost bet that they are Americans since they're wearing the standard uniform of American tourists everywhere.  

Monday, March 29, 2004 (Day 1 in the Galápagos Archipelago)

In the previous section, I told you about our landfall in the Galápagos and how we fouled the prop while maneuvering through the anchorage. After we anchored, David dove on the prop and removed lots of line, but it was more work than he could accomplish in one diving session. Plus, we had other tasks that needed our attention before the day was up.

When mariners arrive at a port after an ocean voyage, they must go ashore to take care of arrival formalities. The first stop is the Port Captain's office, since he has jurisdiction over all maritime activities in the harbor. The Port Captain inspects the ship's documents and grants official permission to anchor in the harbor for a certain amount of time. The Port Captain also assesses fees related to the boat and port operations. The next stop is the Immigration office, where officials check the passports of all the people on the boat. In effect, the Port Captain processes the boat and Immigration processes the people.

At this point, we still didn't know if we would be allowed to stay or for how long, or if we'd have to declare an emergency. By long international custom, any mariner is allowed to stay in a harbor for a short time if the boat has an emergency (like engine trouble or crew injury). In the past, visiting cruisers invoked this technicality to pay a short visit to the Galápagos, inventing an emergency if necessary. We now had a semi-emergency due to the fouled prop, plus we could invent another emergency if necessary. But we wouldn't know the policies until we met with the Port Captain.

Since many tour boats operate out of Academy Bay, there is a fleet of water taxis to shuttle people to and from shore. The water taxis are simple outboard-powered skiffs that can carry several people at a time. We hailed a water taxi and got a ride to the public landing (at a cost of 50-cents per person each way). On the way, the taxi driver pointed out the Port Captain's office, which was a blue-roofed building near the water.

The landing had a small floating dock attached to a substantial concrete pier. We went ashore all a little giddy from making landfall in an exotic and highly anticipated location. Since we had been at sea for six days, we each felt a little unsteady at first when we walked on solid ground.

The town was pretty neat. Next to the landing, there was a spacious and well-designed waterfront park, with a row of touristy shops across the street. Across from the landing there was a small supermarket. The town seemed surprisingly quiet for such a major tourist destination, but it turns out we came ashore during mid-day break when most commercial activity shuts down.

We went to the Port Captain's office but his adjutant said he wasn't in, so we had to wait. It was a spartan but neat office, and the building had obviously been there for some time. Once break-time was over, a procession of crisply-uniformed staff streamed in, opened up the offices, and resumed their work. An officer invited us into a compact office where he and Marcie conversed in Spanish as he processed our paperwork. He said we could stay without declaring an emergency and granted us a generous 20-day visit. Unfortunately, he said we could only visit Isla Santa Cruz; visits to other islands were not permitted. He kept all of our ship's paperwork so we would have to revisit the office before leaving to check-out and reclaim our paperwork.

After the Port Captain we went to the police station, which handles immigration on Isla Santa Cruz. The officers were still on their mid-day break and we were told to return at three o'clock. We decided to take a stroll around the island so we split up, with Marcie and David heading for the internet cafe while I wandered around taking pictures. As I walked around, I discovered that the town was a lot bigger than it seemed from the harbor. At three o'clock, we transacted our business with the Policía, then with formalities completed we were free to do as we pleased. To tell the truth, I don't remember what we did for the rest of the day since I forgot to write it down in my journal.

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