North Seymour — and buen viaje

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.

9 Responses to North Seymour — and buen viaje

  1. Claudine says:

    Again Tina thank u so much for your quick feedback. I think my mind is just about made up now thanks to u. 🙂


  2. Claudine says:

    Hi Tina I have taken your advice and looked at another itinerary. Thanks again for all your feedback and input . Your site is an excellent site. The other one I have looked at is an 8 day aboard the Angelito thru Happy Gringo:

    Baltra, North Seymour
    Sombrero Chino, Bartolome
    Genovesa, Prince Phillip Steps, Darwin Bay
    Santiago, Puerto Egas, Rabida
    Charles Darwin Station, Santa Cruz Highlands
    Espanola, Punta Suarez, Gardner Bay
    Santa Fe, South PLazas
    Black Turtle Cove, Baltra
    Thanks again for any feedback u can give me on this one before I go any further.


    • Tina says:

      Hi, Claudine–

      The Angelito is a really good tourist-superior boat—one of 2 in that class that I heartily recommend. She was recently refurbished and it sounds like they did a good job. The owner (Maja) even sometimes serves as the naturalist guide and she gets good reviews. We ran into her with her group on our landing at Urbina Bay and I really enjoyed her interacting with both our naturalist guide and her group. So I think you’ll be happy with the Angelito.

      This itinerary is a very solid “eastern” itinerary, going to 2 of the 4 most distant islands (Genovesa & Española). Those islands are really wonderful and should be great in Oct. (We were there in Sept. on our first trip.) You also have a good chance of seeing a small group of the adorable Galápagos Penguins that move between Sombrero Chino and Bartolomé; no guarantees, but many people report seeing them there while snorkeling (as we did on on our first trip). You’ll get to see the Giant Tortoises living free in the Santa Cruz highlands–one of my favorite experiences! And Santa Fé has a unique species of Land Iguana, found nowhere else in the archipelago (or in the world, for that matter!).

      I’m not sure what kind of babies you’re interested in. Songbirds won’t be breeding, but many of the other species of animals—avian and mammal—have staggered breeding seasons, which vary by island. We saw a good number of young Galápagos Sea Lions hanging with their moms when we traveled in Sept. and we even came upon a female that had recently given birth. I don’t think you’ll see many young reptiles; they tend to hatch during the warmer months. But no matter what, you’ll have lots of great encounters with wildlife.

      So I think this is a great choice. And Happy Gringo gets really good reviews as a reliable and responsive agency specializing in travel in the archipelago. I think you’ll be in good hands with them.



      • Claudine says:

        Hi Tina

        And thanks again for the quick response. One island that I would of have liked to have gone to is the San Cristobal but is not included in this itinerary. With the other islands on this cruise would I be missing a lot by not seeing this one.


      • Tina says:

        Hi, Claudine–

        We haven’t been to San Cristóbal. When we’ve gone to the archipelago, we’ve pretty deliberately tried to minimize our time in the populated islands. You can’t avoid them completely, since you have to fly into and out of an airport and the itinerary usually spends at least a bit of time somewhere on that island. We’ve also not been to Puerto Villamil on Isabela, for that same reason. We go for the wildlife and we want them to be as wild as possible. Personally, I never felt like I was missing much, wildlife-wise, because we had chosen the islands to visit very carefully. At least with land wildlife, I can’t think of any you’d see on San Cristóbal that you wouldn’t see on the Angelito’s itinerary you’re considering.

        If you really wanted to see the island, one option would be to spend a few days on San Cristóbal before or after a cruise. You can get there via a speedboat ferry from Santa Cruz. If you did that, you could try to get a day trip to Kicker Rock (good snorkeling, by most reports) or Punta Pitt (although the itinerary you’re considering goes to Genovesa, where the sea bird breeding colonies are much larger and closer to the paths). These day trips may not go every day, though. And I know the Kicker Rock day trips can fill up fast. So if you did this, you might want to see if you could make reservations to make sure you can do them on the days that you’re there.



  3. mason gomberg says:

    Thank you for a well thoughtout prose about your trip, We are deciding whether to use the TipTop II or another boat or do land tours, but this definitely helps. If you email back I have a few additional questions if you have the time to answer. Thanks again Mason


  4. Marcia Dolce says:

    Great trip report! I will be on the Tip Top II in ten days and appreciate all the details you’ve provided.


  5. Ann Barber says:

    Tina, I have read the whole blog and am moved at your presentation. One, the prose and explanations are terriffic along with the pictures. But your knowledge of how to move from page to page and to enlarge the photos are beyond my capabilities. I think it would be wonderful to print it as a memory to the trip.
    Many many thanks for all the work and detail you provided. We all loved the opportunity to take this adventure but having such memories is priceless. Ann


  6. Steve Marchetti says:

    Thanks for the great trip summary and photos. My wife and I are taking the same trip in mid-March and are looking forward to it with excitement. When we made the reservations we were a little “up in the air” over the boat, your comments settled our concerns.


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