Some time in the past three years, I worked out that so long as you ask the right person in the right way, it's possible to get pretty much anything in the world for free. Increasing confidence led me to ask for all kinds of things, and every time I did, it seemed I was met with nought but acquiescence. Before long, it was five star this and seven course that – and rarely, if ever, did it cost us anything.
It was almost limitless, and with that kind of power/luck/brass-neckery a person could get to thinking that they were somehow invincible.
So when the chance to go to the Galapagos Islands came up, it seemed the most natural thing in the world to ask for – nay, expect! – it all for free. What's more, by pitching the right story in the right direction, there'd be the added cherry of the chance to finally write for my favourite paper.
But it was some time around then that my luck changed.
Wee Mo and I were all set to travel to the Galapagos to write about a new diving school when disaster literally struck – the Japanese tsunami may have been greatly diminished by the time it reached the Ecuadorian islands, but not so much that it couldn't wipe out an unfinished pier and damage some buildings at our would-be destination.
However, by this time, the seed had been sewn in our brains. We wanted to go to the Galapagos – we had to. So in a break from recent tradition, I dusted off my credit card and went wild in the aisles to book the whole thing.
The next hiccup was that on attempting to check-in for our flight, we were told we didn't have seats after all. We looked at the tickets, amazed and immediately angry, and saw that sure enough, we'd been booked on a flight for the following day. A person could be forgiven for thinking that perhaps the trip to the Galapagos was suffering from some kind of Pirate Curse (which, according to Wee Mo, are worse than ordinary curses).
Photo: Wee Mo
It's possible to spend ludicrous amounts of cash on seeing the islands by booking an expensive boat in advance. However, travelling there first, staying in a shithole, waiting for the right last-minute deal to come up and playing a couple of greedy tour agents off against each other certainly helps reduce the damage.
Unfortunately, there are certain costs that cannot easily be avoided – namely the inflated flight price for gringos like us (it would have been $30 extra each for their mistake had Wee Mo not been so outraged), and the $100 national park fee as all of the islands are protected.
Photo: Wee Mo
Yet, within minutes of leaving the airport, it's clear that everything is worth it. Gigantic pelicans plunge endlessly into the azure water that separates Baltra (the airport island) from Santa Cruz (the most populated, tourist-driven island) and come up with a hearty mouthful every time.
There's more of the same in Puerto Ayora, the Galapagos' biggest town, too. The whole place is a bit sterile, with virtually every shop punting tat and every restaurant over-priced (and that's before an obligatory 22% tax and service is added at the end). 
But humans moving in steadily over the past 100 years hasn't resulted in the local wildlife being evicted. So where back in the real world a cat would be sunning itself on the pavement, here's it's a marine iguana; where at home an unreasonable drunk would be harassing bar staff for another drink, here it's a sea lion badgering fisherman. Above, terrifying, prehistoric shapes move menacingly across the sky (more on them later).
Photo: Wee Mo
Having booked our tour, we decide to head along to Bahia Tortuga [Turtle Bay] to see what lies beyond the town's borders. In fact, the beach is one of the few areas we can walk to unaccompanied: on Santa Cruz, as on most of the islands, idiotic tourists can't simply wander around without a guide.
The walk is longer than we'd bargained for, and the beach a good deal less developed than we had expected (our water is gone before we've even got there). None of that really matters, though, because what is there is one of the most perfect beaches I've ever seen, with sand white and soft like flour. The water is beautifully clear and there's not a hint of waste in sight – this is the kind of perfection that only comes with a near-absence of humans.
Photo: Wee Mo
We march along the beach, roasting merrily in the sun, before setting up to take some pictures on a rocky peninsula named Pelican Point. The animals make for contented models, unafraid to pose and posture, surprisingly happy to eat.
Photo: Wee Mo
Photo: Wee Mo
Hours pass and by the time afternoon rolls round, we are feeling dehydrated and sun burned like a pair of goddamn amateurs. Still, the walk back to town along the winding path passes gangs of lava lizards, bolshy mocking birds and a smattering of the fifteen sub-species of Darwin finches, which may or may not be gazumped by the bottle of cold Gatorade at the end.
Booking a tour last-minute may be cheap, but doesn't include some of the bells and whistles enjoyed by anyone who's paid the brochure price. Our first day at sea starts with a mad dash across land, all the way back to the airport on the other side of the island, to meet our guide and the others who will be joining us for the eight-day tour on the boat.
Three of the group we know already: a British-Indian couple and a Swede who had coincidentally been at the same hostel as us in Guayaquil, back on the Ecuadorian mainland. They are joined by a trio of Swiss (Swissers?) fresh off the plane, and an Argentinian couple who have already been on the boat for four days and have just four remaining, versus our eight. Everyone is around the same age and no one has paid the brochure price. As such, we move quickly past the awkward school disco introductory pish, stop staring at our shoes, and head off to the coast.