Information is king when you are cruising, but misinformation is also abundant. Maybe it’s not misinformation but simply the fact that cruisers doing similar activities have different experiences and viewpoints. This was the case with customs/immigrations clearance in the Galapagos Islands. For the last five years I have collected all sorts of information about cruising to different locations from various “cruisers” mail lists. Of all those files, the Galapagos is the thickest, especially when it concerns the entry rules and regulations. On paper it looks very complicated and expensive to visit the Galapagos by private yacht because of all the government regulations. On several occasions we opted to just skip the Galapagos and sail directly to the Marquesas, but friends kept saying it was one of the best places to visit of anywhere they had been.
One of the first choices you have to make is whether you are going to pay the $1305 for an “Autografo,” essentially official permission to visit up to five islands under strict supervision or just show up, pay about $700 for entry fees, and hope they grant you permission to stay for up to 20 days. The kicker is you can only anchor at one island. You are free to take tours to other islands, but someone is supposed to stay on your boat when it is unattended. The problem with the second option is the Port Captain, the all-knowing authority in these cases, can deny you entrance or give you only a day or two to refuel and reprovision and send you on your way. It happens. We opted for a three-port Autografo through a highly recommended agent, Bolivar Pesantes. The only problem is Bolivar is terrible about answering emails and speaks no English. Oh well.
|A lot of guys filling out a lot for forms.|
We had officials from the Navy, Galapagos National Park, Immigrations, and Agriculture. I had spent lots of time getting a special fumigation certificate from Panama, creating a Blackwater Holding Certificate, Waste Management Plan, and Hull Cleaning Certificate, but the only certificate they asked for was the Fumigation. Every once in awhile our agent would whisper to me in Spanish “Walter, ask them what they’d like to drink.” Out came the fruit juice, beer, and Coca Colas. We then went through two bags of cookies. I suddenly realized these guys probably hadn’t had any breakfast. We also threw a couple of beers to the Commandante who was circling us in his power boat. Just keeping everyone happy.
All in all everything went extremely well. The officials were all very polite and professional and Bolivar anticipated all their needs with the proper forms or paperwork. I signed three or four forms, got our national park passes, Autografo from Bolivar, and other assundery paperwork. The diver popped up and declared our hull clean of barnacles. It all took a little over an hour; my only concern was running out of cookies (by the way, Oreos were their favorite).
|I love this photo. These stairs are usually covered with sea lions.|
|Lots of tourists means lots of t-shirts.|
Our first effort ashore was to get a new SIM for my iPhone. We walked to the other end of town to the CNT (government phone company) where a very nice lady helped us, said yes she did have SIM card available for $28/month, but I needed my passport to buy one. Since I’d nearly sliced off my toe in an onboard accident two days before, walking all the way back to the dock, taking a water taxi out and back didn’t appeal to me, but I did it anyway. When I returned (again with no one speaking English) I later found out they’d sold the last SIM an hour earlier and wouldn’t have any for at least two weeks. Double ugh!
We also struck out trying to find ice, water, and other Internet sources. We finally did find a nice little ice cream store that would give you some WiFi in exchange for buying an ice cream cone so that worked well for me. After an hour of determining that the outside world was still alive and functioning, we packed up and walked the gauntlet of sleeping sea lions lining the dock and hailed a water taxi.
Back on the boat we both collapsed in a heap after walking around town in the 90-degree heat and decided to take it easy for a couple of days.