Having said that I’d take my chances at trying to get a Galapagos cruise in Puerto Ayora, I proceeded to go cruise-shopping on the day I arrived in the Galapagos Islands. I was actually facing mild food poisoning that very day. It was a struggle to force myself to walk around town in the heat, trying to locate travel agencies to help me find a great cruise at the lowest possible prices.
For one, the so-called travel agencies didn’t look as professional as those in Quito. One thing I’ve found is that people in Puerto Ayora are too laid back when it comes to selling services to tourists. I guess there’s a high demand (Easter weekend + shoulder-high season) so they don’t bother keeping regular hours or open their agencies when they said they would. A sign will say “Open 8 am to 8 pm” and you can be there until 12 pm and it still might not be open. Or someone will tell me “Johnny, who knows about last minute cruises, will be here in 5 mins” and 30 mins later, there’s no sign of him. Most travel agencies here have people who barely speak English (or who will only speak English when it comes to money). I would recommend most people stick to cruise-shopping in Quito, unless it’s low season. (What is low season? Google search it, it varies and not an exact science. April was supposed to be shoulder season but right now, locals say it’s high season.)
Don’t even bother trying to find any agencies or shops open on Sundays. If you own a business, this would be the best day to be open because no one else is and you’d be getting all the business. I ended up finding an agency that was open and I quickly signed up for an 8d/7n cruise with a boat called “King of the Seas”, which was scheduled to depart the next day. I was not very satisfied with the itinerary but I thought it would do, for a last-minute deal. Beggars can’t be choosers. It was a “tourist class” boat so I expected it to be on the lower-class end. But not the extreme end.
The moment I stepped foot on the boat, I regretted it. It was tiny. The cabins, of which there were 5 in total, could barely fit 2 bunks on top of each other and the bathroom was tiny and had small cockroaches. I felt like I was on a cheap bus in India all over again, avoiding little roaches on the walls. I was so turned off but I knew I couldn’t get out of this. I had signed my papers and paid my money and this wasn’t America, where dissatisfaction and a frown would be enough to get a full refund. I sucked it up, tried to convince myself that I would make the best of the situation, and moved on. I was getting along just fine with my cruise-mates. There were 4 from Denmark, 2 from Germany, and my cabin-mate, a dreadlocked guy from Quebec-Canada. We were in this together and we laughed at how terrible our choices were.
Then there was the issue of the first day. They took us off the boat, to the very same port we just boarded from, and drove us inland for a tour of some tortoise farm called “El Chato”. It was a good tour but at the end, our guide, Fabian, told us we couldn’t get back on the boat yet because they were “loading supplies” and the captain needed everyone off the boat. Every one of my cruise-mates said that they didn’t think that was the case; the fridges were stocked when we got there earlier that afternoon. What supplies could they possibly need? We figured there must be another reason the captain didn’t want to let us back on board.
When we did finally get back on board, we had dinner. The meals we had were surprisingly good for a “tourist class” boat. Cruise ships are designated as “Tourist”, “Tourist Superior”, “First class”, and “Luxury”. Usually the lower you go, the lousier your food. So for a “Tourist class” boat, we had decent food.
Back to our wonderful boat. We were supposed to have A/C in our cabins but it was merely a hole which cold-ish air came out from. Our cabins reeked of gasoline, causing many people issues are they tried to sleep. Some even decided to sleep on the deck above the boat. I managed to take a shower in that awful toilet, and decided to retire for the night, after swallowing yet another anti-seasick pill. At night, I heard the boat’s engine running and the boat rocking so I thought we were finally on our way to Isla Isabella, our 2nd day’s destination. After struggling to sleep through the night in the warmness of our tight cabin, the clock finally struck 7 am. The breakfast bell rang and I headed for the main dining area.
I wished my cruise-mates good morning and they all told me to look outside. I did and guess where we were? THE VERY SAME SPOT WE WERE LAST NIGHT.
Our boat had apparently tried to move but only managed to crawl 1 km before having to return to port due to engine failure. Apparently the captain had known about this issue yesterday and was trying to hide it from us. “Loading supplies” indeed. They were lying to us, our travel agents had lied to us, everyone was lying to us. It was a conspiracy.
Over breakfast, we were told we would be stuck here another day and the guide was trying to cobble another sorry plan for us by saying “go to the beach”. Most of us had been in Puerto Ayora for a few days already so we had all gone to the beach before our cruise. We had signed up for the cruise to take us to places we needed a boat to take us to. That’s the point of the cruise!
We were all in agreement in that we were going to ask for the manager/owner of the boat and get our refunds. We told our guide and also the captain that this was what we wanted. It wasn’t easy but the fact that all of us were together on this helped. The guide made contact with the boat manager and the manager said he’d contact all the travel agencies to tell them to refund our money. (It wasn’t as straight-forward as it sounds because we were left in the dark a lot.) We walked to each of our agencies in a single group, hoping numbers will show we meant business. Our travel agencies were not very happy but they gave us all our money back.
I was so thankful because I had desperately wanted to get out of that contract and by sheer dumb luck, I did. The boat was terrible, the itinerary was not ideal, I had failed to do laundry resulting in lack of clothes…it all worked out. I took my money and proceeded to find a much better cruise (same travel agency, because it wasn’t the fault of the agent there) and with more luck, I snagged a cruise on a “luxury class” ship for only a few hundred more (I am paying more for comfort and peace of mind), doing an itinerary I am actually excited about. I had originally wanted to sign up for this exact cruise in Quito but got it for $150 less here in Puerto Ayora.
In hindsight, I should have stayed patient and vigilant in my search for the right cruise. I rushed it and paid for it needlessly. I had time on my side and didn’t use it as well as I should have. Had I waited another day or two in Puerto Ayora, each day taking a day trip while shopping for a cruise in the evenings, I may have found something more ideal and avoided all the drama. But it was a lesson learned that I hope I will be able to pass onto those shopping for last-minute deals in the future.