We had a very early wakeup call so that we could go on the last excursion. About 15 of us got up right around sunrise for a panga ride around Turtle Cove on Santa Cruz . The sunrise was gorgeous, with lots of clouds and lots of color. The water in turtle cove was much clearer than it was on Isabela a couple of days earlier when we tried in vain to get some clear photos and video of turtles. The tide was much lower also, and we could see the bottom in several places. We saw over a dozen juvenile black-tipped reef sharks, and also a couple of larger white-tipped reef sharks.
The batteries on our camera gave out about halfway through the excursion, which was a bummer because we started to see several turtles shortly thereafter. Justin fiddled around with the camera in between watching the turtles. As we were about to leave to go back to the boat – we were on a very tight schedule – we saw two turtles mating. The male turtle uses his front flippers to grab a hold of the female turtle, and then wraps his tail around under the female turtle. The sea turtles are much quieter than the tortoises are – the tortoises can be heard from over 100 meters away. When sea turtles are mating, there are usually a few male turtles around who also want to mate, so they come up and bite the male turtle who is currently mating. Our male got "interrupted" a few times, but he was not to be denied, as he kept following the female around and starting over. Justin managed to squeeze one last photo out of the camera, just before the panga headed back to the boat. Someone asked where the eggs from the female turtles in this cove would be laid, since there was no sandy beach in sight. Elizabeth told us that these eggs would probably be laid in Las Bachas beach down the shore – this was the place where our first excursion was the Saturday before. It was kind of a mini circle of life.
We finished packing and cleaning up after breakfast, and then watched a couple of videos on the Galapagos in the lounge while waiting for the panga ride to Baltra. It was interesting to see a Galapagos video now that we had been there – most everything was recognizable, and we could tell that the shots were actually not from "good days," but that it really did look like that in person. On Baltra, we waited at the airport for a bit, sweating up a storm, as there is no air conditioning. After awhile, we went into a pre-boarding VIP area that did have a small air-conditioned room – it was first come, first served, and we got some of the last seats. Instead of stopping in Guayaquil , our plane actually flew directly to Quito – we slept most of the flight.
At the Quito airport, we were greeted by Fatima again, who pointed out where we needed to go inside the terminal. If only she could have come with us – the airport was a mess. There were people everywhere, and it was very disorganized. We were at the check-in area for well over 10 minutes as the lady behind the counter ripped up about 10 different sets of tickets and asked about 5 people for help. We think she might have been a newbie. Then we stood in line for 15-20 minutes in the line for the airport tax, which supposedly A&K had already paid for. When we got to the front to give them our voucher, they said A&K had not given them the full fare and that we had to pay the difference. Fortunately we had a little cash – we had no reason to think we would need any. Once we got into the gate area, we wanted to eat, but none of the restaurants took credit cards, and moreover there were no ATMs. We would have had enough cash but for the fact that we'd had to cover the airport tax shortfall. We split some French fries and a Diet Coke, then sat around for about 2 hours waiting for the plane to Lima.
The plane was about 20 minutes out of Quito when the captain came on board and told us that, because of "operational problems" we would be landing in Guayaquil , and that we'd be there in about 15 minutes. Needless to say, this wasn't welcome news. We landed in Guayaquil with the passenger's meals on the floor in front of them. As we were landing, we looked out the window and saw all kinds of ambulances and fire trucks and other vehicles with their lights on. We taxied right past the gates and kept on going an out of the way spot past the cargo planes. Where we stopped there were even more vehicles, including several police vehicles. We also saw a couple of dogs on leashes waiting for everyone to get off the plane.
They put all of us onto buses and took us to the gates, where we went through an extensive security check. Fortunately we weren't wearing any belts or shoes, so we avoided the worst of it. We did have to turn on our computer and have Windows load up, however. We sat in the gate for a long time, with little if any information in English, other than they were running some security checks. We had been there about an hour when another plane was brought in and delayed because of security concerns. Let's just say Guayaquil is not one of our favorite places, especially to wait for long periods of time for no apparent reason. All the while, we were doing the math to see if we'd possibly make it to Lima before our flight from Lima to Los Angeles left. At the break-even point, they called everyone to board our plane. We took buses back to the plane – along the ride we saw a couple more dogs and a bomb squad truck. Justin contemplated taking pictures, but thought better of it.
The actual flight to Lima was a piece of cake – we slept through the whole thing. We landed at 1:30 , about five minutes after our flight from Lima to Los Angeles was scheduled to depart. We hoped that they would have the decency to hold the flight for us – no such luck. Fortunately, though, there was another flight to Los Angeles scheduled for a 2:25 departure, which was boarding. Also fortunately, there was room on the plane. We rushed to the gate and boarded without any further issues. We hoped our luggage also made the plane. Just before takeoff, the flight attendant told Crystal and the person sitting next to her that they "couldn't sit there," because those seats were for the flight attendants to rest in. However, the plane was full, so there were no seats to move them in to, and they never did have to move. Justin lucked out – his seat was in the exit row, and there was a ton of foot room. We got to L.A. just fine, as did our luggage. The drive back was a piece of cake – even though we hadn't driven in over three weeks. The dogs were very happy to see us, and we were equally happy to see them. Cabo threw up in appreciation.
We really enjoyed the entire trip, especially some of the people we met. Hopefully we'll have a chance to see them again, but you never know. We're not sure if people seem nicer when you're on vacation because of less stress or what – frankly, the reason doesn't matter. It's just great to be around other nice people who are also enjoying themselves, and everyone we met on this trip seemed to be enjoying themselves, so that's all we can ask.
Justin & Crystal