Getting to Isla Baltra

Sunday, 8 July (Part I)

Our excitement was palpable when we woke up.  In a few hours, we’d be on our way to the Galápagos Islands — more specifically, to Isla Baltra, our embarkation gateway.  With little to do to prepare for the day ahead, we got dressed, and with our leave-behind-in-Quito bag in hand, headed down to the lobby at 6:00a.  After we handed the bag over to a bellman, we continued to Bistro Latino for the buffet breakfast and then strolled around the property, checking out the outdoor pool and gardens.

Too cold to swim today!

By 7:30a, the lobby of the Marriott was a hub-bub of activity, with several cruise groups preparing to leave for the airport.  We watched our bags get loaded onto the truck and then Mui went to the Xpedition hospitality desk to pick up boarding passes for the charter flight.

The bags are loaded and ready to be taken
to the airport.

We have our boarding passes and the
Galápagos entry forms.

We’d been told to make NO CORRECTIONS to already-completed information on the entry forms, but to fill-in any missing information.  With the formalities completed, we found a quiet-ish corner in the lobby to do just that. 

Around 8:15a, we joined our cruisemates for the 15-minute transfer to the airport.  One of yesterday’s guides accompanied us to what she called the “first filter,” meaning the first check-point.  Though we’d been told that we would need only our boarding passes here, looking at the people ahead of us in the long-but-quick-moving queue, it became apparent that passports would be required as well.  No problem; they were in a convenient pocket.  By the time our turn came, we had them in our hands to show the officials.  A few minutes later, we were on the other side, going through the security check-point.

Our wait at the gate area was short — perhaps 20 minutes before the AeroGal 942 charter passengers were called.  Without further ado, carry-on bags in tow, we were walking across the tarmac to the waiting Airbus A319.

I’d read mixed comments about the seating.  Some said the middle seats remained empty; others said the flight was full.  Noting that our boarding passes showed 10E/F on a 3-3 configuration, we knew I was in a middle seat.  But there was a surprise in store for us when we boarded — we were assigned to the exit row!  And we didn’t even have to pay extra!  To boot, Mui took the middle seat so I could take photos during the flight.  YAY!

(By the way, there were unfamiliar faces on the flight, so I think there were some non-Celebrity passengers onboard as well.)

From embroidered pillows to the logo on the bulkhead, it’s quite apparent that
we’re on a flight chartered by Celebrity Xpedition.

Adios, Quito!  See you next Sunday.
If you look closely, you can see the teleferiqo station atop Pinchincha volcano.

We were wheels up by 9:30a.  It didn’t take long for the flight attendants to come down the aisle with warm washcloths.  Next came white placemats — embroidered with the ubiquitous Xpedition logo — to cover the pull-down trays.  Before long, the flight attendants were rolling down the aisle with breakfast served on trays covered with a navy placemat, also embroidered with the Xpedition logo.  The quiche wasn’t bad at all; and the fruit was fresh-cut and tasty.

About the only thing not marked with the Xpedition logo is the napkin, which has
a cute blue-footed booby embroidered in one corner.

The flight was just under two hours.  As the aircraft started descending towards Baltra, the flight attendants walked down the aisle, opening all of the overhead compartments.  We’d been warned about this and were prepared for the insecticide spraying that followed.  I didn’t pay much attention as I was too busy trying to get my first glimpse of the islands.

We’ll be sailing around Daphne Major and Daphne Minor (closer to the wing) this afternoon.

First glimpse of Celebrity Xpedition as the flight comes in for the landing.
Either they are still ferrying passengers off, or the naturalists are coming
ashore to pick us up from the airport.  Or maybe both.

Also known as South Seymour, Baltra is located near the center of the Galápagos Islands.  Until the mid-1980s, the airport here was the only one serving the islands.  It was once part of a WWII US Army Airbase, which has since been turned over to the Ecuadorian military.  No worries; we didn’t land on a 1942-era airstrip; the airport was renovated a few years ago.  From the looks of it, construction to improve the facilities is ongoing.

Bienvenidos a Baltra!

Passengers were deplaned from the front of the aircraft directly onto the tarmac.  The warmer and more humid temperature was immediately apparent, but a nice breeze kept us comfortable as we queued up to go through immigration first, and an agricultural inspection of our carry-on bags next.  Our backpack and the camera bags got a cursory inspection once we verified that the latter had nothing more than camera equipment stuffed inside.

That’s the winged-chariot that brought us from Quito.

Surprised to see a sign with the Turkish flag in the middle of this poster of Post Office
Bay on Floreana, I took a picture since we won’t be going there on Itinerary B.

On the other side of the agricultural check-point, we joined the line formed by our cruisemates to wait for the shuttle to the dock.  It was stifling inside the building that passed as a terminal.  Despite the fact that all four sides were open, the air just wasn’t moving.

The naturalists from Xpedition greet the incoming passengers at the airport.

While I stood guard over the carry-ons, Mui went to check out the souvenir shops outside the terminal.  We still had a few gifts to buy for family back home, and now seemed like as a good a time as any to get that taken care of.  When he came back, I went out in the hopes that there was more air around the shops.  Alas, no; it was even worse with the hot equatorial sun blasting its mid-day rays, so I quickly retreated back to the terminal.

You want souvenirs …

… You got souvenirs!

After 20 minutes or so, our turn came to board the shuttle bus for the short ride to the dock where Xpedition staff were handing out lifejackets for us to don for the short panga (zodiac) ride to the ship.  Familiar with this mode of transport from our trips to the Antarctic and the Arctic, we gamely put on the ill-fitting jackets; they sure looked like they could use a really good cleaning and disinfecting.  Then, while we waited our turn, we enjoyed the wildlife for which the islands are famed — sea lions sleeping under the pilings, marine iguanas sunning themselves, and blue-footed boobies and pelicans diving for fish.

Sign near the dock welcomes visitors to Isla Baltra.

Nothing fancy; but it gets the job done for transferring passengers to their ships.

Sea lions love to snooze;
this one is obviously no exception.

there are two marine iguanas here;
can you see them both?

Passengers and carry-on bags onboard, the panga is ready to leave.
Note the steps at the bow; this will make it easier to board these moving platforms.

Do we look like we’re ready for our panga ride or what!

Once the zodiac pushed away from the dock, Fatima (our naturalist escort) introduced herself and proceeded to demonstrate the Galápagos handshake — a forearm to forearm grasping technique that we’re to use when embarking and disembarking the zodiac.  That done, the boat gathered speed and headed into the bay.  On the way to the Xpedition, we made a quick stop at a buoy on which a couple of sea lions were resting.  Knowing there would be better photo opportunities, I let my shutter finger rest.  (Actually, my camera was blocked by my vest :-) … hence the lack of photos.)

In the next post, I’ll introduce you to the Xpedition, our home away from home for the next seven days.

7 comments:

  1. Now we get to the really exciting stuff for me. :)

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  2. Being seated in the exit row is like having front seats at an opera. WONDERFUL!

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    1. Better IMHO ... but then, I don't much care for opera :-)))

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  3. That life vest appears to be swallowing you whole :)))

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    1. It was; wouldn't have done me any good had I been dunked. Luckily, I managed to get better fitting ones for our excursions.

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  4. [re-posted fm Fodor's]
    Read your new entry. Thanks. It's really going to help us when we go through this same thing in 3 weeks (although we will not be on the Celebrity Xpedition but a small boat - 16 passengers).

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  5. Love the Lonesome George tee and your shot of Quito from the plane. Can you send me an email with some more detail about the insecticide spraying? I'm very sensitive to odors/chemicals and my concern about encountering these type of things keeps me from starting traveling abroad. Also if you have any suggestions of places you've been where fragrances/chemicals were definitely not an issue I'd love to know!

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