The Galapagos! Before this trip we really didn't know much about it beyond what we'd seen in the movie "Master and Commander" and pictures in National Geographic. What we did know was that it was supposed to cost a pretty penny to get there, but it was also supposed to be totally worth it. And it was.
When we first made our budget for our trip, we had not factored in a trip to the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. "It's too expensive," we said, "There's no way we can make it work." Even though we had both mentioned that we would love to go there someday, we had made the decision to skip it during our trip. When we got to Ecuador, though, we asked ourselves why we were skipping it. Sure, it's expensive. But that was the only limiting factor. Then we asked ourselves, "Could we make this work?" Sure we could - our budget is arbitrary. It's based off backpacker index research that we did long before we left (for more info on how we came up with our budget, check out Jake's post). The main point of having a budget was to ensure that we could do everything we wanted to do (within reason) on our trip, and still have a good safety net for when we come back home. Would going over budget to go to the Galapagos have a lifelong impact on our finances? No. Could it have a lifelong impact on us by providing an incredible experience? Yes. So, we took my dad's advice to do something that we wouldn't have otherwise done, and we booked our flights to the islands. And besides, it would be cheaper in the long run to do the trip when we were already in Ecuador versus flying all the way back down from the US just to go to the Galapagos in the future! While on the trip of a lifetime, we should take advantage of doing those once in a lifetime things.
We arrived in Guayaquil at 8am after our overnight bus from Cuenca, and headed straight to the airport for our 11am flight to Baltra. I didn't realize just how far off the coast the islands are - the flight was two hours! After going through island customs and getting our passports stamped (an adorable turtle stamp!), we started to learn that the Galapagos could also be called Land of Hidden Fees. To get from Baltra, where the airport is, to Santa Cruz, the capital of the archipelago which is right next door to Baltra, we had to take a bus to the ferry, take the ferry about 300 yards across the water to Santa Cruz Island, and then take a bus or a taxi from the ferry 45 minutes across the island to town. While the first bus was free, the ferry and the second bus were not. We shelled out the nominal fees and finally arrived in Santa Cruz an hour and half later.
Taking advice from several people we had talked to at the hostels we'd stayed in South America thus far, we did not book anything in advance. Research on how to visit the Galapagos agreed with our hostel buddies - booking cruises and tours online in advance comes with a premium price, and we could save between 40% and 70% off the online prices by booking last minute deals in person. It's the only time during our trip that we arrived somewhere and had no plan! It was exciting, but also a bit stressful! All we knew was that we wanted to do a 5 to 8 day cruise rather than day trips, and we wanted to get on the west side of Isabela Island if possible, the rest (who to book with, where to stay until then, what route to take, etc) had to be figured out. So, first order of business when we arrived in Santa Cruz, find a place to stay for the night. Since there are many guesthouses and hostels in town, it didn't take long for us to find a clean place with working internet and AC. As expected, the guesthouses along the waterfront and main streets were pretty pricey, but our spot was well placed just off the main drags, and a few blocks from the restaurants and bars, so we got a good deal. Score one point for us!
Next order of business - scout tour agencies and get quotes for cruises. We talked to four different companies about their last minute deals and found ourselves deciding between two that were right across the street from one another. One company that was actually recommended to us in Quito, Mockingbird Tours, had the itinerary that we wanted, including a trip around the west side of Isabela, but the agent gave us a funny feeling. We couldn't quite put our fingers on it, but it kind of felt like we were talking to a used car salesman. Since our hostel friends had spoken so highly of the service and the prices at Mockingbird Tours, we tried to ignore the alarms going off in our heads. Maybe he was just a bad salesman. His competitor across the street, though, was totally different. This little mom-and-pop shop was owned and operated by a really lovely husband and wife team who we enjoyed chatting with, but they didn't have the itinerary we wanted, they didn't have the west side of Isabela. Why the heck is Isabela so important? Because it can only be visited by the cruises, it's too far for a day trip, and it gets the cold water current from the ocean that brings tons of varied wildlife including sharks and whales. Most blogs and reviews I had read on itineraries around the islands recommended getting to the west side of Isabela. So even though we had better feelings about doing business with the husband and wife team, we made up our mind to book through Mockingbird Tours, with Stalin, our sleazy agent. Life lesson learned: when making a big purchase, the most important aspect is whether or not you like who you do business with.
Ok. So what happened? Here's the whole story.
Stalin recommended that we book two cruises back to back in order to get the most out of our time there, and to hit as many points on my list of important things to see. The package he wanted to sell us was as follows: a four day cruise aboard the Floreana ship that went around the west side of Isabela, Fernandina, Santiago, Rabida, and Daphne Major; and then join another four day cruise aboard the Aida Maria to see the islands of Floreana, Espanola, and San Cristobal. Both cruises were eight day trips, and we would join them each for the second half of their journeys. This itinerary was ideal - we could see all of the great sea life around the north west islands, the bird life of the southern islands, explore many of the islands on foot, and go snorkeling every day. He "did his best" to get us a good price, $1500 per person and we would have our own cabin on each boat. We liked the offer, and told him that we needed to go talk about it over lunch before committing to it - $3000 is a LOT of money, and we wanted to make sure that this was an expense we were both comfortable making. And while it was lot of cash, it was actually a fair price for what we were getting. Had we booked online in advance, we would have paid at least double. So we went to lunch, and over some delicious ceviche we made our decision - we were going to go for it! We went to the ATM to take out as much money as we could (or else we would have had to pay an additional fee of around 20% to use a credit card), and headed back to Mockingbird. "Sign us up! We want to do the itinerary you suggest!" we told him. "That's great guys," he said, "But we have a problem. I told you before that on the first boat you have your own cabin. Well since I talked to you last, one girl booked a bed in that cabin. So there are still two beds available, but they are in different cabins. They asked the girl if she would share a room with the single guy, but she doesn't want to. So you would not be able to stay in the same room." We looked at him, and he looked disappointed with the situation; it seemed like he was genuinely bummed about this inconvenience. "Look guys, this is the best itinerary. I know you would really enjoy this, and I want to sell it to you. I just don't want to sell it to you like this. I'm sorry there isn't something else I can do, but this is the situation." We should have taken this as a sign, a sign to run from Mockingbird and Stalin, and to go book the other trip with the other company. Jake and I took 10 minutes outside to discuss it - there was something inside both of us telling us not to do business with this company, but at the same time, they had the itinerary we want, and all of our research told us that the itinerary is what really matters. So we wouldn't get to share a cabin for a few days - big deal. This was the tour we wanted, this is what we were there for. So we went back in, and with a bit of apprehension, we handed him the first payment and told him we would still do the trip.
So we were all set! We had to report back to Mockingbird in the morning to pick up our wetsuits and to get escorted to the ferry that would take us to Isabela where we would meet up with our first ship, the Floreana, and start our adventure. Stalin gave us our wetsuit bags, we gave him more money, he took my passport as insurance that we'll pay him the remaining balance when we switch boats on Santa Cruz four days later (though standard practice, I don't like leaving such an important document with someone else), and he introduced us to a man who we assumed worked with him. "Follow this man, he will take care of you," So we followed the new guy down to the docks and boarded a dingy that took us out to the ferry. The driver of the dingy approached each passenger before we could get off, "$0.50 each." What? Oh yes, hidden fees. The new guy told us to board the ferry, so we did. And that was the last time we saw him.
And so began our journey to the island of Isabela, and the unraveling of Stalin's lies. He told us the trip would take about an hour and a half, but it took three full hours. Three hours of pure hell across the open ocean. The ferry boat was not a giant car-carrying ferry boat, it was a small, 40 passenger boat that sat low in the water. As it sat low, none of the windows could open or else water would splash in. And since it was small, it moved and swayed with every wave, every gust of wind, and being the open ocean there was a LOT of both. The interior of the boat was hot and sticky. No air was circulating. And after about an hour, the passengers were really starting to feel the rocking, and many were turning green. Jake, who never gets motion sick, was even starting to feel queasy. Me? I was just trying to will myself to go to sleep to escape the horrible motion sick feelings I was already having. And then a little girl threw up. The smell had nowhere to go. Her sickness caused a chain reaction with three adults. I looked at my watch - we weren't even halfway through.
When we arrived at Isabela, I couldn't get off the hell boat fast enough. We all climbed onto the dingy that would take us to the docks. "$1 each," the dingy captain told us. Oh right, hidden fees. As we got our money out, we watched a tour guide hand dollars back to everyone in his group - apparently their tickets were included in whatever price they paid their agency, but not ours.
So there we were, on Isabela, slowly recovering from our journey, and excited. Our Galapagos Adventure was starting! Since we were meeting up with the boat halfway through its trip and the passengers were off doing their scheduled activities for the day, Stalin had arranged for another tour group to collect us at the docks and take us on our own activities. We were going to spend the morning snorkeling with fish and sharks, then go to the Tortuga Breeding Center to see the once endangered turtles, from brand new babies to over a hundred years old, then to see some flamingos, and then to have lunch before spending a few hours at the beach and then joining our ship at 6pm. Stalin hadn't given us any directions other than to "follow that man", so we assumed that someone would be waiting for us at the docks of Isabela. So we waited patiently. Five minutes went by. Then 10. Then 15. The tour group that was on our ferry with us had departed. Everyone else had departed. No one was looking for us. We were alone. After 45 minutes of waiting, we were running out of patience, and we were also stuck - what were we supposed to do? So we turned on Jake's phone and made our first phone call of our trip. We called Stalin and told him we were alone on the docks. "Stay with the group," he said to Jake. "What group? There is no group." we told him. "Ok, hang on," he said, and hung up. Twenty minutes later, nothing had happened. So we called him again, growing more agitated. "We've been here for over an hour. What is going on?" we told him. "Ok, I'll call someone." he tells us.
Moments later, a woman holding a sign for "Walter and Gloria" answers her ringing cell phone. I can pick up a few bits of what she says, "dos personas" being something she says several times as she looks at us. She was talking to Stalin. She hangs up and approaches us. She doesn't speak English, so with our limited Spanish we gathered that we needed to go with her. Ok, finally. We're going to go snorkeling like we were supposed to over an hour ago. Oh wait, no. No we didn't do that. Instead, she lead us and three other women down a wooden path to another dock and told us we could go swimming later. Ok, great. Thanks. We hung out there for 15 minutes for reasons unknown. Then we walked back to the parking lot and sat down on some benches where we waited for another 30 minutes for something to happen. We tried to ask her what was going on, but she didn't know how to respond to us. The three other Hispanic women looked as confused as we did. So we sat, staring at the dozens and dozens of marine iguanas sunning themselves, and sea lions lounging on the benches on the beach. For over two hours we'd been stuck at the docks, waiting for our adventure to begin, waiting to start enjoying our time in this magical place. And instead of being mystified by the ancient reptiles lying in front of us, or laughing at the fart noises the lazy sea lions were making, we spent the morning doing nothing, fuming. We didn't spend $3000 to not be taken care of, to not be able to do what we were promised. Then the lady in charge flagged down a large van and told us to get in. For the next 20 minutes we drove around the very small town, dropped off our chaperon somewhere, and eventually the driver took us back to the docks after getting a call from someone. What the hell is going on? We just got away from here!
At the docks, we met up with, you guessed it, the tour group that was on our ferry hours earlier. Apparently that was the group that Stalin wanted us to "stay with", only he never told us that before getting on the boat, and apparently the tour guide wasn't aware that he needed to be looking for us, either. I was on the verge of losing it. "So we were supposed to be with YOU all morning and you left us here?" I snapped at him. Jake more calmly assesses the situation and asks the same question, much more nicely than I did. The guide's response? No words. He just threw his hands in the air and walked away. Great customer service.
So what did we miss? Snorkeling with sharks, penguins, sea lions, and beautiful fish. We missed a lovely morning in the water that the rest of the group really enjoyed. Wonderful. I tried to shake it off. We were with the group now. Now our adventure can begin. Over the next hour and a half we saw a few flamingos in a pond, looked around the tortoise center, and had lunch. At the tortoise center, our tour guide finally started talking to us, though he never apologized for leaving us or offered any explanation for what happened. And at lunch, I reached for a piece of bread in the basket on the table. Just as I was about to put it in my mouth I noticed that it was covered in ants. This was really a great day.
Our day time activities were complete, and at 2pm we were dropped back off at the beach where we had spent the whole morning. Apparently we can't get away from this place! Next on the agenda - wait until we can board the ship at 6pm. So we sat in the shade for a few hours. When a few sea lions moved off a bench, I went out and took it to get some sunshine. At 5, a couple sat down on the bench next to us. Somehow we started chatting about our day and we told them our sob story, and that now we were waiting to join our boat. Turns out they, too, were scheduled to join the Floreana ship at 6pm. All four of us were getting tired of waiting, so Jake went to ask the dock captains what the story was, when we could get on our boat. He waved us over at 5:30, and Mitch, Brenda, Jake, and I were picked up by a dingy (no hidden fee this time since it was owned and operated by our cruise ship) and taken to our ship. Finally, we were on our boat!
When we got on board, we learned a few more things. One, we didn't have to wait on shore all day, they would have come to get us earlier. So we could have spent the afternoon relaxing on deck. And two, Stalin lied to us. Remember when he told us that a single girl had booked a bed in the remaining empty cabin, making it so Jake and I had to split up, and that she made her reservation in the time that Jake and I were at lunch? Well that would have meant that she would also be joining the ship that day, that in addition to me, Jake, Mitch, and Brenda, there would be one more girl due to arrive. That's all BS. Everyone who joined the ship that day was a couple, no singles arrived. The singles that were on the cruise had been there since the cruise started four days prior. So this story about a girl taking up a bed at the last minute was not true. Stalin lied to us. Stalin got us hooked on the package knowing that the sleeping arrangements were split, got us to agree to the trip, and then told us the remaining details. But, of course, by that point we were already committed to it. I told you he was sleazy.
The good news? We were finally on our ship. We could finally relax. We could finally start enjoying our Galapagos Adventure. And we really did! This first cruise was lovely! As promised, we went snorkeling twice a day and had one land adventure each day too. Our four day itinerary was as follows:
- Rabida - the red island, where the dirt is full of volcanic minerals that rust
- Daphne Major
The highlights of the first cruise were the orcas we saw swimming off the coast of Isabella (so the tip about getting to see more rare sea life over there was correct!), the frigate birds with their puffed up red necks trying to attract mates, the small rays, penguins, sharks, and sea lions that snorkeled with us, Blue Footed Boobies, Nasca Boobies, and cute Yellow Warblers. Our guide, Victor, was enthusiastic and energetic - he loved sharing information with us and had an answer for every question. Because all Galapagos guides must receive formal training from the national park service, they are incredibly knowledgeable, and tasked with preserving the amazing island chain. Victor is also from the islands, and he was eager to show us his backyard.
The only member of the boat that we didn't really get along with was a crew member, Margarita, the woman who cleaned the cabins and served the meals. My first morning on the boat, the toilet in my cabin stopped working - nothing would flush down. So instead of letting it sit and become a bigger problem, I let her know right away. She came back and said, "Hay papel!" There's toilet paper! See, you're not supposed to put any TP in the toilet because it blocks up the tiny pipes on the boat. And it's the same in most other parts of South America; you just can't flush toilet paper. Well, I didn't put any TP in the toilet, I'm 100% sure of that, but I don’t think Margarita believed me. From that moment on, she always picked my table last to get meals from the buffet, and seemed to glare at me from across the room. Sheesh!
Stalin had told us that Cruise #1 would pick us up on Isabella and drop us on Santa Cruz, where we started, and we would catch the second cruise from there. Turns out that Stalin wasn't entirely truthful with that bit of information either. When Cruise #1 docked, we were back on Baltra, where the airport is! So to get back to Santa Cruz, we had to take a shuttle from the boat, to the airport, and do the whole 1.5 hour transport to town. I'm sure you can imagine how thrilled we were about that! So we added that to the list of things to chat with Stalin about. We had to go to the office, anyway, to pay him the remaining balance for our cruises. What a lucky guy - he got to deal with a very angry Noelle.
Jake has never really seen me angry. He's seen me frustrated and irritated and annoyed, but he hasn't really seen me angry. Well that day he let me lead the conversation with Stalin - I was ANGRY. For all of the crap that he put us through on the first day, for the lies he told us to get us to buy his package, for leaving out details as simple as where the boat docks when it returns, for starting off what was supposed to be a magical trip with a dark cloud…we were owed some money back, and I was determined to get it. So as soon as we walked in the door he asked how we were. My response? "We need to talk about happened over the last four days." And we had a seat. I proceeded to list off all of his lies and all of the ways that he screwed up big time. "You know the best part?" I asked him, "The best part is that when we think back on this amazing week in the Galapagos, a vacation from our vacation, what should be a perfect week filled with wonder and amazement, instead of all that coming to mind first, I'm going to think of YOU. You tarnished this trip for us and you owe us for that." "Well maybe you should talk to the operator of the tour that left you at the dock to get your money back for that." he said. You can imagine how I lost it on him then. I barely let him finish his sentence, "ME? Maybe I should talk to him? How about YOU talk to him! We're not paying the boat owner, we're paying YOU. You need to fix it. I want the money back for that day and more," I told him. He sat, dumbstruck, and told us that he'll see what he can do while we went off on another excursion for a few hours to see the giant tortoises. Sure thing. See you in a few hours.
The tortoises were, in fact, pretty cool. We were driven to a reserve in the highlands of the island and given rubber boots to wear around the very muddy property. We saw turtles that were over 150 years old! They were huge, slow moving, and reminded me of Moira from the Neverending Story. I discovered that stepping on random dirt piles is a terrible idea when about a thousand ants swarmed my feet. A few got into my boots and left some scratchy bites! We also got to walk through a giant lava tube that was created hundreds of years ago when boiling hot lava flowed beneath the hardened surface after an eruption. All in all, the outing was a success. We cooled our jets a little while longer with lunch before heading back into the office to finish the battle.
As I expected, Stalin hadn't made any progress on rectifying our situation. "To give you money back, I need to get money back from the boat owner first, and I can't get him on the phone," he explained. I didn't agree with his logic - the financial agreement between Stalin's company and the boat owner should have no impact on whether or not we are entitled to a refund for poor service. I believed that good customer service dictated that he should give us the money and work out his financial agreements with the other company later. We had about 30 minutes left before we needed to board our second cruise - 30 minutes to resolve the whole mess. He ask what I thought would be a fair refund for the trouble we experienced. "$500," I told him. And he shook his head, looking like he was about to cry (which, at this point, might have been genuine tears). He pointed to his boss in the corner, a gruff-looking woman who was handling another client. "She won't let me do that. She will only let me give you $100. You can try to talk to her if you want but she only speaks Spanish." Another lie, I'm sure, since this travel agency deals with hundreds of English-speaking tourists on a weekly basis, but whatever. We were out of time, and I was tired of arguing. So I just stared at him and let the silence grow. "Ok, here's what I'll do. Here's $100 from the agency, and here's another $50 out of my own pocket. I don't know what more I can do to make this right." I know this game, don't give me this sob story, I wanted to say. It's the same game I would play at the restaurant - if a guest wasn't happy with something, I'd offer to buy a glass of champagne. Of course I wasn't buying, the house was, but it's the thought that counts. Instead of telling him to shove his insincerity, I looked at Jake, who nodded, took the $150 and said "Thank you." Just before leaving to catch the boat, we remember he still had my passport. So he reached into the locked drawer and pulled it out to hand it to me. I checked it - "This isn't my passport," I said to him. His face went white and he gulped; I think he just about threw up. He frantically looked through the drawer until he found my passport and handed it to Jake with a sigh of relief. Instead of handing us off to some random person, this time he escorted us himself to the docks. Before we boarded our dingy (owned by the ship, so no hidden fees this time), we thanked him and shook hands. The ordeal was over! Goodbye Stalin!
This is probably a good spot to explain why I've included so much detail about our negative experience with Stalin in our post. In the spirit of keeping the blog honest and sharing the good experiences AND the bad ones, I wanted to give you the whole story and not just the pretty parts. I could have just gone on about how gorgeous the water was (and it really was), and how awesome the sea lions were (and they really were!), but that wouldn't be the whole story. Hopefully now that you've read all about the mess we had to deal with, you can avoid some of these issues on your trip to the islands! Stalin had a lot to do with our experience, for better or for worse!
I'm very happy to report that, with the end of that conversation, Jake and let it all go and we did not let Stalin and his silliness taint the rest of our trip! Our second cruise was even better than the first - the crew was great, the boat was nicer, the food was better, and our shipmates were hilarious! Half of the ship was occupied by six older Swiss travelers (in their early 70s), and the other half by a younger crowd made up of Olav, Nora, Carolyn, Cajsa, Arvid, and us. We had a blast with our new buddies, especially the witty and sarcastic Olav who we grabbed lunch with on our last day after getting off the boat and heading to the airport. Our guide, Ramon, was very different from our first guide, Victor. He was a bit more mellow and really enjoyed repeating information in various ways. For example, "You can tell the difference between sea lions and seals by the ears. Sea lions have ears. Seals do not have ears. So if you see one with ears, you know it's a sea lion. Seals, on the other hand, do not have ears. So you can tell the difference by whether or not the animal has ears. The sea lions, they have ears." Seriously, that's what it was like. We "kids" got a real kick out of his storytelling style and had some fun with it over the four days.
The itinerary of cruise #2 aboard the Aida Maria was:
- Floreana (it's an island, too, not just the name of one of the boats)
- San Cristobal
And like before, we had two snorkels and one land adventure each day. The highlights were:
- Post Office Bay, where we learned about how mail used to, and still does, travel around the world through the islands. Hundreds of years ago, a wine or whiskey barrel was set on the beach and acted as a post office box. People would come into short, look through the mail and take any with them that were intended for their final destination, and then forward them on once they arrived there. Today, tourists put post cards in the barrel that is still there, look through the piles, and take home any that are addressed to locations in their home countries. Since there were hundreds for the US, Jake and I took our favorite one to mail when we get home.
- Seeing the giant albatross birds on Espanola. This is the only island they live on in the Galapagos. Thanks to the wind that the island gets, and the cliffs on the far side, the heavy albatross and take off easily from land, making it a great place for them to nest every year.
- The MOST BEAUTIFUL BEACH I'VE EVER SEEN - Gardner Bay Beach. The pictures don't even do it justice.
- Another paradise beach, only this one had hidden dangers - the water was bright turquoise, the sand brilliant white, and in the churning tide where the water meets the sand hundreds of sting rays flopping around where you can just barely see them! Mean!
- Seeing a giant spotted ray during one of our snorkels
- Checking out the caves beyond Post Office Bay.
- Snorkeling in Devils Crown. This was the best snorkeling experience we've had, and potentially one of the coolest experiences of our whole trip. Devils Crown is an old caldera of a volcano that is under water. It's out in the middle of the open ocean a few kilometers off shore. While the water around the crown is very deep, the middle of the crown is filled with sand, coral, and rock. Some places are so shallow that you could stand. Ramon drove us out there on the zodiac boats and told us to jump in! The cold water was dark, but with my newfound ocean confidence from our SCUBA certification, I jumped in, excited! Once my mask was on, I could see why the water was so dark - sure it was deep, but we were also above a giant school of fish! The current was STRONG, so we needed to get into the middle of the crown quickly and stay together as a group. Team Switzerland was not with us as they decided the swimming would be too strenuous, so it was just the young crowd. As soon as we entered the crown, the fun started - we were joined by penguins, 4-foot long white tipped sharks, tons of fish, and some very curious sea lions (I know because they have ears, you see). The teenaged sea lions were VERY playful! They would swim right up to our faces before darting left or right, do a summersault and then watch while you did one too. If you spun in a circle, so did they. They followed us and played with us and came within inches of us. It was really such a cool experience!
Stalin Update! I bet you thought he was gone for good? So did we! Turns out that Carolyn and Nora had booked a snorkel adventure through Stalin and Mockingbird Tours. Long story short - they had to make different arrangements because Stalin dropped the ball. So we weren't the only ones who had trouble with this guy! Sheesh!
When the cruise came to an end we said goodbye to most of our new buddies and got a quick bite with Olav. Over lunch we discussed the difference between seals and sea lions, and marine and land iguanas (you can tell the difference because one goes in the ocean…). And then we walked to the tiny airport on San Cristobal. Originally we were supposed to fly out of Baltra, where we came in, which would mean another long and likely rough ferry ride back to Santa Cruz and an hour and half drive to the airport. There was no way in hell I was going to all that again. So when we switched boats four days before, in between arguments with Stalin we also stopped by the LAN Air office to change our flight. For just about the cost of the ferry tickets, we were able to switch our flights to leave from San Cristobal. Phew! The only bummer this presented was that we'd be leaving a few days early, so we wouldn't get the chance to go SCUBA diving. But the snorkeling was so incredibly good, we ultimately felt like we didn't need to go diving - we'd already seen all of the amazing animals! Our Galapagos experience was over, and what an experience it was!
All in all, we really did enjoy the Galapagos. Of course Stalin created some problems, but it's all part of the adventure. Mix ups happen. Problems arise. What matters is how those problems are then dealt with. We didn't feel that Stalin did a very good job handling them, he didn't take any responsibility, and that was a problem for us, and clearly we let him know that. We learned a lot about how to trust our guts when making big decisions, and when to let things go or risk ruining the experience. Both cruises were pretty great, both had their merits. We would definitely suggest that people go to the Galapagos - the sea and bird life there is astoundingly beautiful! And we would even suggest doing it through last minute bookings. The only thing we would NOT suggest is using Stalin and Mockingbird Tours. Stay away from them, and you'll have a magical time.