Back at the boat, we ate our last breakfast and finished packing. After dinner the evening before, Carlos had talked about tips and had handed out 2 envelopes—one marked “guide;” one marked “crew”—to whoever wanted them. He made a wonderful speech that clearly acknowledged that all of the crew were well paid by the Wittmer organization and tips should reflect not an obligation but a “thank you” for special service. (The Elderhostel literature also stated that a tip had already been included in the fee we had paid, so we were only tipping for service “above and beyond” expectations.) Carlos made an impressive pitch for the crew’s tip—“I am only one person and they are seven. Without them, not matter how good I was, this trip could not have happened. All of you and I would still be sitting on the dock in Baltra.” A very altruistic and gracious plea. As we came up to the lounge after our bags were packed, we handed Carlos our envelope for him and gave Rodolfo the tip for the crew. Although tipping comes up in numerous places as a distasteful topic, I believe that it was handled very elegantly here. Here’s one horror story I read on a travel Web site.
During our 7-day cruise, we were given a speech about the poor economy and how the crew has families to support. The Captain then explained that the tip amount was a personal decision but the standard tip is 10% of the cost of the trip. This was even printed on the envelope we were to use for the tip. To make matters even more uncomfortable, each couple had to have one person meet with the Captain individually to deliver the tip, settle our on-board account, and retrieve our passports. We were also pressured to leave the tip in cash even though the tour operator’s website stated that we could use a credit card. The demeanor of the crew changed a bit on the last day. The naturalist, who joked with everyone the entire week, suddenly became reserved and even snapped at a guy when he asked a simple question. That was the only episode of blatant rudeness but you could tell the crew was ready for us to leave.
Yikes! Thankfully, we had none of that. The crew was gracious to the end and all came out on deck to see us off in the pangas.
Once the bags were packed, we simply set them outside the cabin door and headed up to the lounge to stay out of the way and watch them being loaded into the pangas for delivery to the airport. Ours were carried up from the lower deck; those from the cabins above were lowered from the outside. The boat was refueled while we all sat inside; once that was done, we boarded the pangas one last time to head to the pier at Baltra—where our trip had begun just 8 meteorically short days ago. Even Carlos had parcels with him; he was heading home to San Cristóbal to visit his parents (and do some laundry—my guess, given the familiar laundry bag—as 22-year-olds the world around do, I imagine). As our panga pulled away from the boat, we turned to wave to Boli (the captain) one last time. Z suddenly noticed that he had left some clothes on the upper deck of the boat to dry yesterday. Ay-ay-ay! David said it was no problem; after dropping us at the pier, he zipped back to the boat in the panga, rescued the clothes, and zoomed back to the pier. At the pier, I watched a Brown Noddy landing repeatedly on the head of a Brown Pelican near the shore, mostly just resting for a bit and then heading off to the water to feed again. The pelican seemed unfazed by it all. And, as when we had first arrived 8 days earlier, we enjoyed the company of the Baltra welcome squad (a.k.a. Galápagos Sea Lions), completing the circle of the trip.
During the rather lengthy wait at the pier for the bus to the airport (although we had plenty of time before the plane took off), we milled around making small talk and starting to turn our thoughts toward home. At the airport, Carlos headed off to handle all of the details of baggage claims and tickets. We killed some time with last-minute souvenir shopping at the many shops outside the airport. I bought 2 colorful t shirts and Zell bought a hat. With that pre-nostalgic task completed, we stood around again, a rather subdued crew waiting to board the plane in about an hour. Suddenly, Carlos appeared at my shoulder, grinning and saying “Me voy!” What?!? It was true; he had made sure we were all set and he was heading off to San Cristóbal. We all exchanged hugs and handshakes and thanks galore for his warm, humorous knowledgeable leadership. I thought back on a wistful tale I had read from the disgruntled traveler quoted above in the tipping nightmare.
We saw guides hugging the passengers and wishing them well. All of us looked at each other and wondered about which ship/tour operator had such friendly guides.
Yikes again. Of course, Carlos and the crew had meant far more to us than we had to them. That’s just the nature of the biz. But, if we actually had to leave the archipelago—and our tourist visas said we did—such a warm send-off by all helped to lessen the departure doldrums a bit. Just a bit…
Continued on p. 4; click below.