26.04.2010 - 03.05.2010 26 °C
Day one started with an early flight from Quito to Guayquil to Galapagos. We were meeting up with some friends we had made on our Antarctica trip, Adam and Nelle. After paying our $100 park fees and getting through quarantine we were off to the boat, the Angelique, a 16-berth sailing ship. The ship was a bit rough on the outside but much nicer inside, made with wood from the Ecuador Jungle. The room was nice with large bunks, small porthole and an ensuite, and there is a lounge, dining area, front and top deck on the boat.
After lunch and meeting the rest of our boat-mates we headed straight to Baches Beach, which is on Santa Cruz Island (the main island in Galapagos), not far from where we were picked up. We walked along the beach and met our first Galapagos wildlife… marine iguanas, flamingos and sally-lightfoot crabs. The beach was nice - white sand, turquoise water and black lava rock.
We wandered around before hopping into to the water for a cool-off swim and snorkel, the guide told us the snorkelling wasn’t going to be that great, but we had a fabulous time and ticked a couple of our ‘Galapagos boxes’ with a Galapagos shark (1.5- 2m), a big turtle, stingrays and a few fish - most were too fast for our camera (or us taking the pics!).
Just as we were leaving the beach a baby sea turtle decided to pop his head out of the sand, big mistake, he was gobbled up by a frigate bird hovering overhead. We all rushed to the nest to see if there were more turtles, and a girl from another boat was working with them, so she held one up for us all to see - very cute, but only about 5% survive the walk to the water!
Night one was a bit rough as we headed up 8 hours to the north of the archipelago, but Sarah was fine, must have her sea-legs from the Antarctic horrendous boat! Day two had us at Genovesa Island, in Darwin Bay. We landed on the beach and got straight into snorkelling. Lots and lots of tropical fish, white tip sharks, eagle sting rays (polka dot) and cornet fish. There was a sea lion on the beach and we got pretty close, that was the first time we realised the tame-ness and how unafraid of people all the Galapagos animals were, it was really quite amazing.
After our snorkel we followed the beach trail and met two of the main species of Galapagos birds, the Boobie and the Frigate bird. Everywhere in Galapagos is well-organised and trails are marked out on each island to prevent destruction of the area, there are only a few trails at each landing spot, so there does tend to be a few other tourist boats everywhere you go. As the animals are not scared of humans they do not move when you walk past, and this was even true of the nesting birds, we were 2m from them everywhere. The frigate birds were pretty amazing as the males have a great mating ritual of blowing up their chests, like large red balloons, up to the size of a soccer ball. Some of the girls thought it looked like a large red heart, aaawww.
It is the most amazing opportunity to look at wildlife and we have never experienced the opportunity anywhere else in the world where you can get so close. In the afternoon we went to the far side of Darwin Bay to Prince Phillip’s Steps (PPS). We snorkelled along the long cliff face and played with sea lions.
In the early evening we went on the hunt for a short eared owl. They are one of only 3 predators of the birds along with another owl and the Galapagos Hawk. The owl sits on the lava rocks and waits for the storm petrels that nest in the cracks of the lava rocks to come out, then they jump on them and eat them. It is very rare but we were lucky enough to find 3 owls and then see one attack and catch a petrel and rip it apart, right in front of us!
Day three started at 6am with a walk on the lava flats of Santiago Island. The lava was amazing and had great patterns which looked like ropes or cables wrapped in circles. There were cracks and hills that were a different colour due to the different cooling temperatures and subsequent oxidization. The last eruption was 100 years ago, but the Galapagos is the most active volcanic area in the world. Adam was in Galapagos for the wildlife and wasn’t too impressed with this lava-only-no-wildlife island, but we liked it!
After breakfast we walked up Bartolome Island and saw a great view from the top, supposedly the best view in Galapagos. We could also see the beach that we were going to snorkel at later, around the pinnacle. On the landing the guide slipped on the concrete slab and went down on his chest, smacking his chin. This resulted in 2 internal and 4 external stitches from the doctor on a fancy boat anchored near us.
Before lunch we snorkelled and once again saw sea lions, white tip sharks, and lots of fish. We did see some starfish which was something new. On the swim back to the boat from the beach we saw a Galapagos Penguin. Only one - but that is enough (box ticked!). Swimming back to the boat for a bit of exercise is becoming a bit of a habit, and not a bad thing given the amount of food served at breakfast lunch and dinner.
After returning to the boat we decided to ask if we could jump off the deck. Unlike our Antarctica cruise, which was very military in its organization and execution, the guide just smiled and said, ‘yep’. He may well still have been a bit concussed from the fall. So we climbed to the highest point on the bow and off we went, apart from Sarah, but she went off the side.
The afternoon was spent on-board, which was a little disappointing (as we had been told all the navigations would be at night) as we motored back to the main island, Santa Cruz. Sarah found a good perch on bow and sat up there looking at passing hammerhead sharks and dolphins.
We anchored in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz which is the main town and spent the night there.
In the morning we went to the Darwin Centre where there is a tortoise breeding program. We saw lots of large land tortoises and even saw ‘Lonesome George’ who is the last of his species, in order to save the species, they have placed two female tortoises from another island which are his closest relatives (60-70% DNA match) but to date there has been no success. They have recovered one species of tortoise from only 14 tortoises remaining back up to 1600, which is pretty successful!
Because it was change-over day (some people leaving the boat and new arrivals) we sort of got dumped in town with no guide. So the four of us walked to Las Grietas, which is a canyon with rock pools at the base. It was a huge lava gorge which was filled with perfectly clear brackish water. We swam in the first pool (about 60m long) and then some local kids showed us a tunnel that went under a rock and into another pool which was about 100m long. It was a hot day, so the cold water was delightful to play in!
Swimming under the rock to discover new pools
In the afternoon we had an excursion with our new shipmates to a private Tortoise Ranch in the highlands of Santa Cruz. Here we saw more giant tortoise in the wild (sort of, they wandered around the ranch).
We then went to an underground lava tube which was pretty cool. They run from the highlands all the way to the ocean. It is where the pirates hid their treasure. There is currently one tour boat in the bay that was purchased with money from a treasure find! Unfortunately, we didn’t find any.
The next morning we went to Post Office Bay on Floreana Island, which is named due to the barrel that is just behind the beach where postcards are placed. It dates back to the 1700s, when the pirates would leave letters and then other pirates would check the barrel and if there was a letter addressed to somewhere they were going and they would deliver it. We searched through the postcards in the barrel but found none for Brisbane. There were a couple of Sydney but you have to deliver by hand. We left a couple of cards and will see if they are picked up… some looked very old!
We then snorkelled in the bay and saw amazing turtles. None of them swam away but just swam around us. We got some great photos and video and had a great time just enjoying the time in the water with them, Again it was incredible that they would swim at you and be within a metre.
We then went to Devil’s Crown, for the best snorkelling of the trip, which is a rock island 1km off the coast. We jumped off the zodiacs and snorkelled down the open sea side of the rock. The current was really strong so we just floated along. We saw turtles, black tip sharks and lots of fish. We then swam under a tunnel into the centre of the rock formation (sort of a culdera). The water there was streaming through between the rocks and we swam with sea lions and lots of tropical fish. The sea lions actually swam so close and the bay ones played with us for ages, just swimming round and round us and coming within cm of our goggles.
Playing with the Sealions
Late in the afternoon we went for a walk at Cormorant Point where we saw flamingos which were very pink, much nicer than we had seen previously. We walked over the hill to a beach on the ocean side of the island which you are not allowed swim at because it is a Green Sea Turtle nesting area. We walked along the beach and saw large schools of sting rays swimming just off shore, and sharks and turtles. There were birds circling waiting for baby turtles to come out of the sand but none did while we were there.
The next day (Day 5) we landed at Espanola Island which had a long white beach, Gardner Bay, with 100+ sea lions lazing around on it. We walked among them and looked at all the poses they were in. Lots of pups suckling and sea lions playing in the water. Great photos up close. On the rocks we watched Marine Iguanas eat the algae off the rocks and swim around. They are truly prehistoric and a little bit punk-rocker.
We then snorkeled at Suarez Point and saw a huge school of fish that you could swim under and up back through. The video does not show it that well but when you are under the fish you cannot see through them. As you come back up through they part and there is a donut void which you swim through. We did this a few times and then continued around the rock and saw more sea lions, a turtle and a lobster in a cave.
Seth swimming under the school of fish
In the afternoon we walked at Suarez Point and saw some Albatros and Boobies. The Albatros were huge and amazing. They were nesting so close and just walked past us to the cliff to take off.
On the 7th day of the cruise we started with a walk on Santa Fe Island to find the land Iguana. After a long walk and no action we stumbled across a small one and then a large one and then there were iguanas everywhere. They were not worried by our presence and would walk along the path and get within a metre of you waiting for you to get out of the way, you would, and they continue on their way. The Land Iguanas were much bigger than their marine counterpart and a yellowy colour.
We then went snorkelling in the bay and saw sting rays and even bigger schools of fish than the day before. There would have been tens of thousands of fish in a 50m long school just swaying in the current. There was also a sea snake that swam around and of course sea lions that played in the rocks and with us.
In the afternoon we navigated to South Plazas Island one of two islands that make up the Plaza Islands, named for the channel that runs between them. This island is has the highest density of wildlife in the archipelago. The land Iguanas which are different to the species on the previous mentioned island. These ones have mated with the Marine Iguanas but the offspring cannot breed and do not live as long.
On return to the boat we had another jumping off the boat session to cool off as it was sunny and hot. We spent the afternoon on the bow of the boat having a beer and watching for dolphins. We did see a Manta Ray and a suspected whale (not confirmed).
Our last night was spent at-anchor, so a good night’s sleep. In the morning we went for a quick walk around North Seymour Island before breakfast. This was our chance to get really close to the blue-footed boobie, which is the unofficial mascot of the islands… lots of ‘bobbies’ jokes etc.
After breaky we were off-loaded and back to the airport and Quito. Our 8 days in Galapagos were great and April is obviously a good time to go and see all the birds in their mating-glory! All the pictures were taken with our tiny, little x3 zoom camera, that’s how close they all were!