Team Galapagos 2015: “Science turns minds on”

In prepping for this year’s Galapagos trip, Stephan passed along the 3 rules of field work he learned in field camp:

1) Adventure (not necessarily synonymous with fun)
2) No whining
3) Always moving forward

This will be my 4th field expedition to to the Galapagos, a place where field work is always full of adventure (for better or worse), making rules 2 and 3 critical.  We therefore quickly adopted these rules as our mantra.

Even getting to the Galapagos with field gear always involves plenty of adventure, and this year was no exception.  We arrived in the Galapagos successfully Sunday, with all of our gear in hand.  But as in previous trips, this was no small feat.

The adventure hurdle came early via a luggage embargo by the Ecuadorian government: no more the 2 bags/person and 50 lbs in bags/boxes of precise dimensions.   Underwater drill, air compressor, dive gear, lake gear and personal gear all in 8, 50 lb bags.  After 12 overweight, oversized bags for 2 people in our first field expedition in 2009, this may be a blessing in disguise.  Well, assuming we can somehow make it all fit.  Armed with multiple scales, we set on a multi-day adventure of life-sized game of Tetris.

One thing was clear from the get-go.  Our shiny new tripod to replace the rusted weather station on Bainbridge was not going to fly.  Pun intended.  After Gloria was sent on numerous goose chases, calling the airline, the Quito airport, airline, airport, airline (…you get the picture), we were left with one option: cut the tripod and piece it back together when we arrive.

A new, miniaturized weather station later, we were able to fit all of the pieces in the bags….just barely.

Cleaning and prepping old and sometimes dysfunctional field gear, we also added a new rule to the rule book:

4) No schmutz

Which is, of course, the technical term for the mud and gunk caked on old field gear, which causes much dysfunction and frustration to users down the line.  So just say NO to schmutz.

But most importantly, in discussing the difficult and tenuous journey to Genovesa lake that evening over beers, we decided on one last, critical rule:

5) No maiming. No death

Last, but not least.


Saturday morning our gear was whisked off at the Tucson airport, within error of our 50 lb limits.  And checked straight through to the Galapagos?!?!  You mean no more luggage handling at midnight at the Quito airport?  No schlepping heavy field gear to the hotel only to get up only a few hours later to bring them right back for the early A.M. flight out?  A new and amazing luxury!!!

Except when things are too good to be true, they probably are.  Again, this was no exception.   A moment of disappointment passed when we saw our bags appear on the carousel in Quito.  But hey, they all arrived, and for that we are always thankful.

We heaved the gear onto carts and offloaded them onto the first of many x-ray machines.  And the large metal poles and drilling equipment launched the first of many explanations of our scientific purpose in the country and proof of permits.  Exhausted, after a long day of flying and whirlwind of luggage and Espanol we crashed for a short night of sleep.

In the morning, it all began again.  Luggage from hostel to truck; truck to Ingala x-ray; x-ray to check in.  Excess baggage fees. And finally, back to Ingala for the most important step: our passes to enter the country as scientists.  Not tourists, but scientists.  This is critical.  Because without it we cannot do our work, and would have to return to the mainland and enter with the proper card.  Catch is: the paperwork we need for this has been completed by the park, but not yet given to us.  They can see our permission in the computer, but insist on us presenting a paper copy.  Our flight now less then an hour from take-off, we frantically try to contact the officials to see what we can do.

No luck. Nada. Defeated, we returned to Ingala, only to discover that they had apparently made an executive decision that it’s suddenly fine.  A change of heart?  An acceptance of the reality that we have our necessary documentos?  No se.  But, we had permission.  We rushed off to the plane, now minutes away from boarding.

When we landed in Baltra, we began the “planes, trains, and automobiles” part of the adventure to get to the Darwin station.  But replace trains with ferries, since this is the Galapagos, after all.  In bursts of chaos, we transferred our stack of luggage from carousel to bus, bus to ferry, ferry to taxi.

Around 2 pm we arrived exhausted, famished, and dehydrated to the Darwin Station, having now missed both breakfast and lunch and lacking enough purified water.  We were all thankful for Julie’s Trader Joe’s sesame almonds that had kept us going, but we really needed a real meal.

But when we arrived at the station, we encountered our last adventure of the day: the security guard (who is supposed to give us the key to our rooms) was nowhere to be found.  The entire station was deserted, save (of course) the usual waves of tourists coming to see the exhibits.  We offloaded our gear at the dorms and wait in the heat.

Turns out our reservation was lost.  Never made.  We have no rooms for the trip.  Thankful that they’re able to squeeze us in for one night, we finally are able to settle in.

And after a long day of adventure, nothing tastes better than William’s pescado enconcado!!

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