Published: March 23rd 2012March 23rd 2012
Land Iguana on Santa Fe
Day 154 Tuesday 13th
Tried once more to sleep in but our hotel bed is so uncomfortable that it was better to be vertical and moving. First chore today was to get some washing done, and when Shelley enquired at the front desk, the apathetic receptionist told her they could do it but it wouldn’t be ready till 2pm tomorrow. When Shelley explained that we were checking out tomorrow morning he just shrugged as if “well that’s your problem”. The staff at this hotel have been by far the worse we have encountered on this trip, and we will be glad to be moving on tomorrow.
We had spotted a laundry yesterday on our walk so we grabbed our large bag of smelly clothing and walked it the 5 blocks. As usual we were a little concerned at dropping off our clothes at a tiny shop at the back of a dodgy looking set of open air shops, but the woman said it would be ready at 5 and it only cost $3 so it was worth the chance.
We had thought about going off on a tour today but opted to just bludge and
hang around town, and do the sightseeing of the outer areas on our return after Colombia. We spent the day checking out some more of the old town and investigating the “rustic” nature of its charms. This town has a lot of potential as a tourist destination but it hasn’t as yet exploited them. Everywhere you look are the old colonial buildings and magnificent churches but all unkempt and the streets are chaotic.
At 5 we wandered back to the laundry and grabbed our now freshly washed and pressed clothes. About 3 blocks uphill from the laundry a guy came up to us shouting something and pointing down the road. Our first instinct was that it was some sort of scam and/or we had dropped something but it was in fact the woman from the laundry who had forgotten to take the receipt tag off our clothes bag and needed it for her records. Shelley and I tend to walk at quite a fast pace so the poor woman was out of breath and had struggled to catch us and sent a guy to chase us down.
For dinner we headed back down to La Ronda to see
La Compania de Jesus
if we could find somewhere to eat and found a great trendy restaurant that served up fantastic Argentinian steaks sith salad and chips. It was expensive ($40) but well worth it as a change of diet.
Day 155 Wednesday 14th
Today we have to shift hotel as we have to move into the hotel where our Galapagos tour begins. I had chosen our current hotel because it was only 20 metres from our new hotel so it was only a matter of crossing the road when changing. The breakfast was so bad at the hotel yesterday that I refused to go near it on our last morning, and so we decided that after we shifted across we would hunt down a better feed. We supposedly couldn’t book in to the new hotel until after midday, which was okay because we could check out of our old one at midday. We packed our bags slowly and took our time getting ready but by 10.30 it was all done and we couldn’t be bothered just hanging around waiting so we grabbed our bags and took off.
Our new hotel is the Hotel San Francisco and thankfully
Our boat Yate Darwin
despite getting there early they booked us in and gave us a room so we could drop off our bags. The room is more basic than the last but the bed felt better so we could at least hope for a better night’s sleep. With our hotel sorted we headed down to the town’s Grand Plaza and went to a small café we had eaten at before. Today we sampled there coffee and it was so good we both had two cups. This was the first coffee Shelley had tasted since Curitiba in Brazil so she was thrilled to finally get a decent cup.
After breakfast we had a look over what some say is Ecuador’s grandest Church, the church of La Compania de Jesus. The front façade is amazingly ornate and seems to be a mish-mash of different styles and ideas. Inside the architecture is exactly the same “over the top” look except everything is covered in gold. Some areas looked like they have just been given a new coating in gold leaf and were almost blinding to look at. As with nearly all the other churches we have visited recently, we weren’t allowed to photograph inside, although
Herron on the rocks
we did see some tourists doing it, but we refrained. We probably should have taken some shots because it was so incredibly gaudy it was hard to believe it was real.
Wandered the street some more and picked up supplies for our cruise before returning to the hotel and starting to pack. We had resolved to take one of our backpacks on the cruise and put the other into storage at the hotel so it meant we had to complete unpack both bags and repack them with our stuff mixed. By 4 our room looked like a bomb had hit it so we decided to walk away from it for a bit and have a beer and come back later. Had a beer up at the San Francisco Monastery again and then return at 5 for our talk. The one thing that is a real joke about booking tours like our Galapagos tour is that ours is a “10 day tour”, and today is regarded as day one, because they put you up in a hotel for a night and give you a 30 minute talk. Day 10 of the tour is breakfast in the hotel before they kick
Cactus on Santa Cruz
you out, so in reality a 10 day tour is really 8 days and from that you can also shave off the time of getting to and from the island.
Our talk at 5 in the afternoon was brief, but it at least gave us the opportunity to ask questions and to meet the others on our boat. Most are Australians, including a young woman from my old address of Majors Bay Road Concord (small world), two couples from South Africa, a couple from Denmark and another elderly couple from Canada. All together a good bunch of people and it felt good that we had a certain amount of variety.
After our talk we all headed off to have dinner, and we wandered down to our old haunt down the road. The young waitress I think is rather amused at us coming into get a feed, and she was having a good giggle while we gave our order. The food is nothing to write home about (although I guess I am), but it is a good hearty feed and it is certainly worth returning for. After dinner we wandered back to our upside down room and after about
The beautiful waters of Santa Fe Island
an hour we had everything packed and ready to go.
Day 156 Thursday 15th
Out of bed at 5.00 am and we quickly finished the last of our packing and went out to the foyer to assemble with the rest of our fellow travellers. We were supposed to be getting breakfast on this day but the hotel we were put up in doesn’t start breakfast till 7 so we all missed out…good planning Geckos travel. It took a while to get everyone together so we were not in the bus and under way till 6.15 and then we got caught in Quito traffic, which felt as bad as Sao Paulo. Arrived at the airport at 7 and we were all then frantically shuffled through ticket collection and then custom control. Our guide/assistant wasn’t coming with us but was just there to see us through so once we got past the departure gate we were on our own. At this point most people took the opportunity to buy sandwiches from a food shop so at least we had something to eat. I also spotted the Colombian Lonely Planet at a bookstore (which I have
been looking everywhere for) so grabbed it while I could.
There was no gate number on our boarding pass and very little signage so we all seemed to be wandering around in a state of confusion till 7.30 when we overheard an announcement and so off we all ran. Found our gate, were herded onto a bus that took us to our plane, which we discovered was nearly full. We were barely all seated before we were taxing out for takeoff. There are no direct flights to Quito and so to get there we must first fly to the Ecuadorian town of Guayaquil where some people disembarked and others boarded. The flight was only 30 minutes and then we sat on the tarmac for another 30 minutes. The final flight got us to the Galapagos Island of Balta at 11.00 in the morning but we discovered there was a time difference of an hour from the Islands to Ecuador so it was in fact 10 in the morning.
As an introduction to the Galapagos, Balta isn’t very nice as all there is on this place is the airport, a naval base and a dock for some of the
Sea Lion on Santa Fe
smaller cruise boats. The Galapagos were leased from the Ecuadorian Government by the USA during the Second World War and the American were the ones who actually constructed the Balta airport and from appearances the Ecuadorian Government haven’t altered it too much since. Once inside the terminal/tin shed we paid our $100 entry fee and grabbed our bags and waited for our bus. We took the opportunity of buying an underwater camera as we had neglected to buy one before leaving. The only problem with the underwater camera was that it was an old school film camera. When our bus arrived we were driven to the end of the island where we had to board a zodiac that took us across to our new home the “Yate Darwin” It is only a small boat that holds 16 tourists, 6 crew and our guide Omar. Shortly after booking this tour Geckos travel changed the dates on us because we were told that we were now getting a “better newer” boat but we soon discovered was that it was an old refurbished boat that wasn’t quite finished. Our guide apologised to us along with the Captain at the state of the boat
but it appeared that they had been really battling to get all the work done in time. There were lots of small things missing from our room like light bulbs, curtains, air vents, etc. and over the next few days we would slowly get them. Each day when we got back to the boat it was like “I wonder what they fixed today”, but the big thing that wasn’t fixed to nearly every ones annoyance was the air conditioning. Of the 8 rooms only the 2 on the top deck had air-conditioning, and at night the rooms were like ovens. We thankfully managed to get given a room at deck level and so had a door that opened so we had some slight relief but the people who had the 4 rooms in the hull just slept out on the deck. Things would come to a head on the second day when there was almost a mutiny but at the end of the day the crew couldn’t get the thing to work and we had no choice but suffer till we got back to port….once again thanks Geckos travel.
On this first day we had an hour to have
a chat with our new guide Omar who was a great guy, knowledgeable and with a sense of humour, as well as unpack in our hot cabins before having lunch at 12.30. With lunch complete the boat weighed anchor and we took a short cruise around the island of Santa Cruz to a small bay. We all sat up on the top deck of the boat as we went and along the way huge Frigate Birds soared along with us and would often swoop just over our heads and land on the awning. In the air these birds are slick and look just like the batman symbol but once they land they are rather scruffy looking. This was a great first introduction of how fearless the animals are on the Galapagos.
When we finally arrived at the bay we got our very first “wet landing”, which basically meant we got the zodiac out to a beach and had to jump out into the surf. It was always done well and we would never get any wetter than the knees. Because it was a wet landing we didn’t wear our shoes but only our thongs, which was fine because it
was only a short walk. On this our very first we got to see Sea Iguanas and Blue footed boobies but unfortunately we missed out on seeing Flamingos. The Flamingos were never in huge numbers on the Galapagos but the recent Chilean and then the Japanese earthquakes created small (1.5m) tsunamis that have basically ruined their lagoons so they haven’t returned.
After our short walk and talk we were given our first opportunity to snorkel. We were able to hire the equipment on board the boat for $20 for the eight days, and although the gear wasn’t perfect it worked okay and was better than lugging it all around South America. Today’s snorkel was just a short one off the beach around the bay and was more of an opportunity to get used to the equipment.
We were back on the boat at 4.30 and sitting down for a two course meal by 6. Everything is free on the boat including filtered water but excluding alcohol, but thankfully the beers weren’t too badly priced at $2.50 each so most people had one or two. The night before in Quito people kept asking our guide how much the beers
Blue footed Boobies
were and she avoided/refused to answer so we all expected the worst, but thankfully all though they were expensive (the same beer in the supermarket in Quito is worth 50c) it wasn’t too bad. After dinner we all got a welcome cocktail of rum and juice and got introduced to the crew as well as introducing ourselves. None of the crew spoke English so we all had to recite a small phrase of introduction in Spanish. Our Captain and barman are real characters and will often just chat away to us in Spanish like we are family and that we understand every word. After the introductions our guide got out his white board and went through the plan for tomorrow and we were now all getting excited. We all went to the top deck where we looked at the stars and the Milky Way and watched the water pointing out things like tiger snake eels, eagle rays and other aquatic animals. A large pelican had perched itself on the ships Zodiac and was using the light to grab fish from the water, which was also great entertainment.
Day 157 Friday 16th
Surf on the rocks at Espanola Island
4 in the morning our boat shipped anchor and started to move. We both had a shocking night’s sleep because of the heat and despite the door being open all night we got hardly any relief. Our cabin is tiny and is a bunk bed with me (Scott) on the top bunk with about 40cm between the mattress and the ceiling so you could imagine how hot it was for me. We do at least have our own bathroom and I did contemplate about sleeping in the shower with the cold water tap on. When we got up and went out at 7 for breakfast we soon discovered that the people downstairs had it even worse than us.
Before breakfast had started our boat dropped anchor at our morning destination at the South Plaza Island. Once we finished our feed we quickly got ready and at 7.45 we had a “dry landing” by zodiac onto a concrete wharf. Alongside this wharf were dozens of frolicking Sea lions, and occasionally a young one would venture on to the wharf to investigate us intruders. All the islands of the Galapagos that are visited by tourists have designated trails so as to
limit the damage and to protect the environment. These trails are nothing more than the occasional black and white stripped pegs in the ground but it at least holds everyone together. As would be expected you are not allowed to pick or even really touch the plant life, and the animals you are not allowed to approach closer than 2 metres and never touch, but the animals are always on the path or approach you in which case you are allowed to remain where you are, but it is best if you step back.
Today’s first expedition was to see the Sea lions and the islands Land Iguanas, which were everywhere. We didn’t do any research before coming here and decided that it may be best just to be surprised and today was a great one and our guide was fantastic and explained everything perfectly. The Galapagos we discovered are a fairly dry set of islands and the way the large Iguanas survive with so little water is by sucking the moisture out of the plants, especially the cactus. During the so called wet season they can thrive on an abundant ground cover but in the dry season when
that disappears they survive on eating the cacti. The problem is the cactuses are tall and the Iguanas can’t climb so they spend their days under them waiting for a limb to fall off. It seems like such a hard way to get by but these Iguanas live for eighty years so it must work for them. Our guide was saying how they are sensitive to ground vibration and that in the old days you could throw a rock and they would come running because they thought it was a piece of cactus falling. Along our walk we discovered an Iguana eating a baby bird which sort of broke the myth that they were herbivores. While we watched this spectacle two more approached and we thought we were about to witness a prehistoric battle for the carcass but instead one decided to have a sleep at the feet of one of the guys in our group, once again proving how fearless the animals are. Also on this island we got to see heaps of birds and although I have never indulged too heavily in this hobby I was here starting to appreciate it, especially when you get the opportunity to
Sea Lions on Espanola Island
walk a couple of metres from nesting swallow tailed gulls. We also saw terns and huge Carpenter bees, and when I say huge I mean huge.
We were back on the boat by 10 and sailing to our next stop at the Santa Fe Island. The voyage across was fairly calm but there was a long gentle swell running and a few people were getting a little green around the gills by the time we got there. Along the way we spotted heaps of turtles and a school of manta rays and golden rays. We dropped anchor in a beautiful crystal clear lagoon and had lunch at midday.
We had a scheduled snorkelling trip at 2 to give time for our lunch to digest but the water looked so good that everyone was swimming around in it by 1. A lot of the guys including the guide were diving from the top deck but we were happy just to be splashing around. At 2 we boarded the zodiac and were motored out to a point in the lagoon where we jumped over board for our snorkelling. The zodiac only holds 8 passengers so it took 2 trips to
Just hanging out on Espanola Island
drop everyone off and whilst in the water the boat stayed nearby in case we needed it. It was a fantastic snorkel around the lagoon and we spotted heaps of tropical fish including a massive school of them as well as a couple of friendly sea lions and a few turtles. Most of the turtles we spotted scampered pretty quickly but one large one was too busy scratching his shell on a rock and so everyone was able to photograph him. Our guide at one point spotted a silky shark but thankfully he left us alone. We both enjoyed this swim so much it was hard for us to leave the water but unfortunately we had other things to see so at 2.30 we were back on the boat.
At 3 we once again jumped into the dinghy and were motored to the shore where we were to do a walk. This again was a wet landing but we needed our shoes so we had to land bare foot and change into our shoes on the beach. Our landing point was in the midst of a sea lion colony so it was a great opportunity to stroll amongst them.
Sea Lion with Marine Iguana
Most were just sleeping and hardly battered an eyelid at us, but a few younger more inquisitive ones came up to us. Each colony has an alpha male that looks after and protects his colony and one of our group soon discovered him when it charged him when he got to close. It scared the crap out of him but sure gave us a good laugh. After having nearly an hour with the sea lions we were led on a trail across the island to see the local endemic land Iguanas. The Santa Fe Iguanas are more a yellow colour and are considered the oldest type of iguanas in the Galapagos. Once again these Iguanas spend most of their days sitting under cactuses waiting for food. Along the way our guide explained how he doesn’t believe in evolution because of his Christian beliefs and prefers the notion of adaptation to environment, a rather ironic situation considering his job, but everyone is entitled to their beliefs.
It was a rather hot and difficult walk up and down a rocky path and unfortunately Betty, the elderly Canadian woman in the group slipped and fell and cut her fingers badly. Luckily for
Sally Lightfoot Crab
her one of the guys on the trip, Stephen, is a trained nurse so he could patch her up, but her days of snorkelling were over. Just before returning to the beach we came across a short tailed owl that was strangely just sitting next to the path on the ground. Everyone had to just about brush past the bird but it never even budged…very strange for an owl.
Once again we were back on board the boat at 5.30 and had time to have a shower before dinner although I ran out of water before finishing mine, which was yet again another problem with the boat but the crew had it fixed quickly. After a dinner of pizza we all just went off to bed feeling utterly exhausted, with everyone from the rooms downstairs moving onto the top deck for some relief from the heat. At 8 our boat hoisted its anchor and we headed out into the open sea and into a fairly heavy swell. The swell wouldn’t probably bother most ships but our little top heavy boat was tossed about a fair bit. Coming down off the crest of a wave was the worst when you
Mockingbirds getting their photo taken
could actually feel that horrible lag in gravity and the lifting of your body off the bed but fortunately we coped okay (Shelley got sea sickness and from then on wore her motion sickness bands and took travel calm that Caroline kindly gave her) and survived the journey.
Day 158 Saturday 17th
Around 4 in the morning I was awoken by the sound of the anchor being let loose and realised that all was calm and the boat was no longer swaying and it felt good. Got another couple of hours sleep before getting up and looking out our door to picture perfect tourquise water filled with topical fish. We were now parked off Espanola Island that used to be called Hood Island and the water looked so good I just wanted to dive in but decided it was probably best to wait until after breakfast. Had our breakfast at the usual 7.00 and at 7,45 we were being ferried across to Gardeners Bay a beautiful sandy beach where we once again had the opportunity to stroll amongst the seal ions. On landing we quickly spotted the hood racer snake and the hood
Baby Nazca Boobie
lava iguana, and we all felt like we could start marking off all the different types of animals spotted in a book. As per yesterday most were asleep or content to just let us pass whilst the playful youngsters would come up to challenge us. We had all quickly spotted the Alpha male and so made sure to give him a wide berth. At the far end of the beach we came to a rocky area that had dozens of sleeping marine iguanas as well as large colourful crabs. Once back at our starting point we could don our snorkelling gear and swim out and around a nearby rock. The fish were not as abundant as yesterday but spotted starfish and heaps of stingrays including a pair of large ones sleeping under a rock ledge. Yesterday we were swimming in a lagoon so the water was nice and warm but today we were in open seas and the water was especially cold and this was also due to us being on a southern island exposed to the southern currents.
After our snorkel we were back on the boat at 10 and we motored across the bay to a nearby
Shelley at the blow hole
large island where we once again had the opportunity to snorkel. A very strong current flowed around this island and we soon discovered that we didn’t need to use our flippers at all but just went with the flow. We were dragged from one end of the island to the other in about 15 minutes but along the way saw some incredible fish as well as some sea lions and a turtle, The captain of the boat joined us on this snorkel and got very animated when he spotted some lobsters and I am sure if we weren’t here he would have grabbed them for dinner. Once we got to the end of the island our guide took us into an incredible sea cave that was filled with tropical fish. It kind of felt dangerous snorkelling into a dead end cave and the current would drag us in and back out again but it was okay and we all survived without injury.
At 11.30 we were all back on the boat and had lunch before we sailed around Espanola Island to Suarez Point. Along the way some of the crew spotted a barrel and some packaging on an island
Post Office Bay
and they all got very excited and jumped in the zodiac to investigate. On their return our guide told us it wasn’t anything but they had to check as the Colombian drug cartels are using the Galapagos as a drop off point for drugs. Apparently they plant drugs on the island with a GPS so they can be picked up. I was unsure if the crew had found drugs what they would have done with it, handed it in, used it or sold it….i guess we will never know. Our landing at 3 in the afternoon was a dry one but we soon struck a problem when a large alpha male was blocking the path and no matter what our guide did he wouldn’t move. The huge sea lion actually charged him a few times before finally letting us walk around him on a wide route across slippery rocks. The sea lion ended up holding us up for over 30 minutes but thankfully we didn’t rush the rest of the tour but it only meant we got back late for dinner. This walk like all the others was fantastic and we saw hundreds of marine iguanas, lava iguanas and birds
Shelley posting the mail
of all varieties. The first birds we came across were mockingbirds and they just flew straight up to us and hopped around us without any fear. They especially loved going right up to camera lenses and this may have been so they could stare at themselves in the reflection. Along the cliffs of this island we had the chance to walk amongst blue footed boobies and Nazca boobies, the later were nesting and we were able to get up close and personal with lots of their chicks. As stated before I have never been much into bird watching and would thought it crazy for anyone to travel here just to look at the birds of the Galapagos but now that I have seen them I can fully understand the passion, they are amazing to see and experience. Along this walk we also spotted an albatross which shouldn’t have been here at this time of year as well as a Galapagos hawk and several species of finches. At the furthest point of the walk we reached a lookout on a cliff that gave us a great view over a spectacular blow hole, a fabulous finish to a great walk.
Devil's Crown where we snorkelled
wandered back along a rocky path to the pickup point for our zodiac and got back to the boat by 7. On our arrival we discovered that the crew had been busy lacquering all the wood work on the stern whilst we were gone which made it incredibly difficult to embark without touching any of it. Just before leaving the boat the crew had actually been scrapping off all the old paintwork and letting all the paint chips fall into the water which had me questioning the true environment ethics of this boat, when this sort of work should have been conducted back in the port. I can fully appreciate how people demand that these cruises should be stopped or at the very least controlled better.
For dinner tonight we had spaghetti with garlic bread and after that we had our customary briefing on tomorrow. Everyone was fairly tired so once again there were no raging parties but most just went straight to bed. At 8 the ships anchor was raised and once again we were underway but at 9.30 we came to a stop and the crew were running around frantically. Soon discovered that one of the other
small cruise ships (one that was done up like a pirate ship) had broken down and we had stopped to give them a tow. It took a good hour for them to hook up a tow line before we were underway again.
Day 159 Sunday 18th
At sometime early in the morning our boat came to a halt and the engines died, so we knew we had reached our destination. Our alarm went off at 6 but we stayed in bed for another twenty minutes before getting up. Outside our open door we could see we had yet another fabulous vista of the Galapagos Islands. This morning we were anchored off Floreana Island and after our 7 am breakfast we got a zodiac ride to the island for yet another wet landing. There was a small chance of us seeing penguins on this island, which was something we hadn’t expected to see here and of course we didn’t. We did however get to walk up to the Baroness viewpoint for some great views over the island. Floreana is an interesting island because it is covered in dozens of small extinct volcanoes and because
Tortoise at Primicas Farm
of its recent history. Our guide told us the reason behind the naming of the “Baroness lookout”, which is a very long, complex, intriguing and mysterious story, which is way too long to write here in full but involves, German immigrants to here in the 1930’s. If anyone is interested in the bizarre and mystery stories, you really should google it, we in particular loved the part about the dentist who turned up here and removed all his teeth and that of his lover because he was worried about teeth infections.
After the lookout we got the zodiac through a large sea lagoon that was filled with young sea lions that could frolic in safety. The main predator of sea lions are sharks and the young are the most vulnerable and so the best place for them to learn to swim and feel secure are lagoons where sharks can’t penetrate. It really seemed as if these sea lions knew they were safe and were having the time of their lives, jumping, diving and chasing our zodiac, and as we left they all had their heads above the water looking at us as if to say “where are you going?”
Giant tortoise at Primicas Farm
Rather than going back to the boat we sailed through the lagoon and around a point to Post Office Bay, where we had yet another wet landing on a beach. This beach was crowded with other tourists and that was because this was the spot for another great Galapagos tourist attraction…a post office. Here we could post mail and post cards but the delivery is completely dependent upon other travellers delivering them. We first had to check if there was anything for delivery to Sydney (which there wasn’t any) and then we dropped our postcards off, so it will be interesting to see if any make it back to Aus.
After our visit to the post office we got the chance to snorkel off the beach as this was a great spot to see turtles feeding. Unfortunately the sand at this beach was like talcum powder and the water was soon so milky that visibility was down to only a couple of feet. There were also a few obnoxious tourists here who quickly scared off any of the turtles that were silly enough to be hanging around. There were however heaps of baby sharks patrolling in the shallows,
Lonesome George at the Darwin Foundation
which was a great way for us to acclimatise for what we had install for later in the day. It was sort of weird standing in knee deep water and having these baby sharks swimming around us chasing the smaller fish.
At 11 we were shipped back to our boat and then we motored around to Devils Crown Rock, where once again we got to do more snorkelling. For this one we were taken out to the location by zodiac where we jumped into the water, and I was able to practise my falling backwards off the zodiac into the water manoeuvre. The Devils Crown Rock is an ancient collapsed volcano, and that remains of it is 3 islands in a circle with a shallow centre. We were dropped into the centre and then circled each one of the islands often fighting a strong current and the waves that tried to push us into the rocks. The water was a lot colder than our other swims and Shelley had wisely chosen to wear a wetsuit, but it was well worth it because the variety of fish was incredible. Everywhere we looked we saw fish of every shape, colour and
size including starfish, stingrays, mantarays and Reef sharks. The sharks were the main reason we had come here and they didn’t disappoint. Shelley hadn’t been that keen on doing this one but somehow she got over her fear and loved it. Our guide led us around the islands and whenever he spotted a shark he would shout out “shark, shark” and everyone would come swimming over to see, which sort of felt contrary to what you should be doing. The highlight was near the end when we spotted a 2m white tipped reef shark just casually swim past us, while everyone was busy chasing after another. We were fairly cold and exhausted after this swim but it was so exhilarating that we didn’t want it to end but we had to scramble back onto the zodiac and get back to the boat for lunch.
After our feed we motored around to Cormorant Point for our third wet landing of the day. Here we once again went in search of Flamingos but again without any luck, but ended up at yet another beautiful Galapagos beach. As we approached the beach two frigate birds had a massive fight over our heads
Super Diego on the job
for a fish, and we all just stood there in awe as these huge birds just went hammer and tongs in a spectacular air duel till one of them was able to escape with the prize. At one point they were both interlocked and plummeting straight for us till they broke it off and swooped over our heads and then went straight back at it. Along this beach we discovered a carcass of a turtle, as well as dozens of stingrays along the water’s edge not wonder we were not swimming here.
Made it back to the boat at 3.30 and we shipped anchor and headed out to sea. We were off to Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz but it was a long cruise so we had dinner along the way, which was the first for us, as we normally only eat when stationary. Didn’t arrive at the port till 8 and we decided on taking up the option of going into town. Got the zodiac in at 8.15 and had a good look over all the souvenir shops. Puerto Ayora isn’t the capital of the Galapagos but it is the largest town on the island
Volcano on Santiago Island
and is a really pretty little town. It doesn’t feel like Ecuador at all and in fact feels like some small Carribean Island. After looking around a bit we stopped for a beer with some others from the boat before getting a water taxi back to our boat for $1 each.
When we arrived back we discovered that tonight was the night they had chosen to fix our air conditioning and they had literally turned our room upside down. The air-conditioning unit was located under Shelley’s bed and so everything in our room was in shambles. The crew assured us they would fix it quickly but when one of them went running past with a fire extinguisher we started to panic. It wasn’t till 11.30 that we got back into our room and early in the morning the air conditioner actually started. We had gone to bed with it not working and had left the door open once more so we could cool down and Shelley awoke around 2 in the morning by a crew member standing in our room telling her it was working and that she should close the door. She fell back to sleep only to
be awoken once more by the guy standing in the room insisting she closes the door, at which point she did to keep him out.
Day 160 Monday 19th
Today we lost half our group, not in a frenzied shark attack, but just that they had chosen only a 5 day tour instead of our 8 day. They all got up an hour earlier and were gone by 6.45 when we stumbled out for breakfast. We were both feeling really stuffed after having so many packed days in a row and then having such a late night last night but we are enjoying it so much it is easy to keep pushing yourself. After breakfast we had a longer break than usual and didn’t depart for the shore till 8.30. Before we left was had a small collision with the boat we had rescued two nights ago, for some reason it was moored in our spot while we refuel and our captain decided to plough down the side of it scrapping all our freshly painted boat. Our diminished group could now all fit neatly into
one zodiac and we were dropped off on the outskirts of Puerto Ayora, at the Darwin Station Foundation. This is a non profit organisation run mostly by volunteers who have extensive programmes of wildlife conservation and flora regeneration. They are assisted by the government and have been successful in removing introduced species from many of the islands including Goats, but there most successful programme has been with the giant tortoises of the Galapagos. The islands here support numerous species on almost all the islands but sailors over the centuries used to nab them for their meat and later they were slaughtered for oil. Several species are now extinct and some islands that were once abundant in them are now devoid and this is where the Darwin Foundation has started a reversal. At the start in the 1970’s they had lots of failures but now as the understanding of these animals increase so does the success rate.
The star attraction of the Foundation is “Lonesome George , the last surviving Saddleback Tortoise sub species from Isla Pinta . The poor guy is now thought to be over 100 years old and despite numerous attempts at trying to get him to
Santigo Island at Egas Point
mate nothing has yet happened. He has been given numerous female tortoises from similar species with no success and the theories range from him being gay, too old, or basically doesn’t know how to do the deed. With the last theory they even started showing him film footage of other tortoises mating in the hope he would get the hint but as of yet “lonesome George” still hasn’t had kids. The rumour is that one of the two females he is with now is pregnant so there is still a small chance for his species. It was sort of strange seeing George slowly moving around his pen and thinking “this is what extinction looks like” after him there is no more. Thousands of years of these animals thriving and surviving on an island and it comes down to one poor soul.
On the flip side of this is “Super Diego” a tortoise that was bought from a San Diego zoo back in the 70’s to help replenish another near extinct species. Super Diego has been hard on the job from day one and has helped sire nearly 2000 tortoises. The guy loves his job so much that while we
were there he was still clocked on and was hard at it, and after doing one female started chasing another who was in the middle of feeding and ran for her life….well as fast as tortoises can go.
It was a fascinating setup and once again our guide Omar was excellent and explained everything perfectly. We finished our tour at 10.30 and we then took a short walk into town and along the way picked up heaps of tacky souvenirs. Made it back to the town’s main dock and after meeting some of the new people we were picked up at 12.30 and taken to the boat for lunch. At 2 we once again got the zodiac back to town and boarded a bus for a trip to the highlands. As the bus climbed the hills around town it started to rain and the higher we got the harder it got. We did however have a short reprieve when we stopped to have a look at two huge craters that looked like volcanoes but in fact were huge sinkholes that were created when the roof collapsed on a subterranean cave.
From here we pushed on in the rain
till we arrived at the Primicas Farm, which is a huge privately owned property where the large Galapagos Tortoises are allowed to roam around at will. For $3 tourists are allowed to wander with them. Just as we arrived the rain turned torrential and we are got wet running from the bus to a shed where you could change to gumboots for the walk around the boggy farm. I (Scott) decided that I had already swam with turtles once and didn’t need to be swimming with them on a farm and decided to sit in the café and drink beer instead. Shelley donned the rubber boots though and took off with the rest of the group for an hour long walk in the rain. Where I saw about six giant tortoises not roaming but vey still it must have been siesta time, if they need to they can travel up to 2km a day. This is a coffee farm and the owners let the tortoises continue they natural migration from the highlands to the lowlands through their property while making money from it.
By the time they got back the rain had just about stopped and everyone had to
Seal Lion playing
scamper back onto the bus for the return to the port. By the time we got back it was just on dark and we were quickly transferred back on board for dinner. After our feed and the briefing on the next day we were given the chance of going into town again but we were only given an hour to look around because the boat was going to shove off again. We were going to go but we were both so tired that we decided to stay onboard and try and get an early night instead. I think because we are doing so much every day it is really starting to take its toll, but we are just loving it so much we just wouldn’t want it any other way. Around 10.30 the ships engines started again, the anchor came up and we were on the move again.
Day 161 Tuesday 20th
Awoke once more at yet another fabulous Galapagos setting, and we both just about sprung out of bed so we could see where we were and to get into the day. Today we are at Egas Point on Santiago Island and
Dolphins following the boat
the landscape is more volcanic than all our other locations and there are several small volcanic cones along the coast. Egas Point is named after a family that mined salt from inside a nearby extinct volcano during the 1960’s, but fortunately all such industry is now gone and the island is now entirely a protected park. At 8 we started the day’s adventure with a wet landing on a black beach and on the nearby rocks we discovered dozens of marine iguanas. The iguanas were bloody everywhere and you had to be careful where you trod because they rarely made any effort to get out of your way and it was easy to mistake them for a rock. From the beach we walked across the island to the opposite shore which was just one huge volcanic rock ledge with heaps of lava tunnels right down to the shore line. There was a bit of a swell going so the waves were crashing into the rocks and up the long lava tunnels adding to the dramatic landscape. It was here that we got to see the Galapagos Fur Seal, which as it turns out isn’t a seal but is in fact
a sea lion. There is a lot of difference between the two (google it) and apparently they were wrongly identified and the name has stuck. Around here was the usual collection of birds such as Blue footed Boobies, and Galapagos Doves, heaps of crabs and of course hundreds of the Marine Iguanas. The Iguanas eat the green moss off the rocks and can stay under water for an hour, which isn’t a bad effort for a reptile.
It had been a really hot dry walk out to this area and being so close to the water only seemed to make it worse so we were all keen to get back to the beach and do some snorkelling. The water was fairly murky so visibility was short and we didn’t get to see much but it was great just to cool down. Got the zodiac back to the boat at midday for our usual 3 course lunch and afterwards our boat shifted around the coast to our second landing. Along the way the boat passed a large pod of dolphins, and our captain slowed so we could see them frolicking. At one point two dolphins leapt into the air right
Shelley and Scott at Bartolome
next to where we were standing it was really amazing. Espumilla Beach was yet again another wet landing and it was made all the more tricky because the surf was pounding the beach. Because we had a bit of a walk to do we had to bring with us our hiking boots and change into them once on shore. The sand on this beach was more like a fine talcum powder/mud so there was no way you could get it off your feet before putting on your socks….oh well more washing.
This walk started off in the mangroves and then headed up a hill through a more arid forest, and our guide was able to point out all the different trees and birds found on this island. Along the way we got to see up close a young Galapagos Hawk, who was sitting in a tree screaming for dinner. The young hawks require the equivalent of a medium sized iguana a day to grow and so the mother will often have 3 mates to help her feed the sqwarking brat. Further along the track we came across a Galapagos flycatcher that was about the size of a sparrow and
he was content to fly around us and fearlessly perch within inches of us. After our bird gazing we marched back to the beach to get the zodiac back to the boat. Because the seas were so rough our guide warned us to jump into the boat as quick as we could between the big waves. It is no easy task to get into a zodiac especially when carrying a camera bag and other stuff but we all lined up and got ready. Between waves the zodiac reversed up onto the beach and with military precision we all piled on….all except one of course who decided he would fluff around trying to wash the bottom of his boots before boarding. While everyone screamed at him to move a huge wave hit the zodiac drenching the two on the bow, splashing the rest of us and half filling the boat. By the time he was on and we were underway we got hit again, and by this time we were all wet, including my hiking boots being filled with water and the camera bag dripping. He was probably lucky that he was at the back of the boat and I was
Lava field at Sullivan Bay
second from the bow otherwise I would have held his head underwater till his eyes bulged. Got back to the boat and had to quickly empty our camera bag and a dry out its contents including all our cameras. Thankfully nothing was damaged but our tiny cabin wasn’t designed to have gear laying around everywhere drying.
Once again our boat shifted while we prepared for our next adventure which was snorkelling at Buccaneer Cove. Once we got ready we had to all cram onto the dinghy which dropped us off at a craggy point and we swam along the shoreline looking at all the fish and occasional shark. At one point a large white tip shark about 1.5m swam right under me (Shelley) and I was so mesmerised that I forgot to call out to everyone, plus I wanted to make sure it kept going. The water here was slightly warmer and the current wasn’t very strong so it made for a great snorkel. Back on board we were able to have a cool shower and prepare for dinner.
Day 162 Wednesday 21st
Awoke today to the incredible volcanic scenery of Bartolome
Lava field at Sullivan Bay at Santiago Island
and Santiago Islands, it was like nothing we had seen so far and so we were all keen to get off the boat and start exploring. We had our usual 7 am breakfast and then boarded the dinghy at 8 to take us across to the shore for a dry landing. We haven’t had too many of these so it was nice to have our boots on our feet rather than changing them on shore. Our first hike for the day was up the flank of an old Volcano on Bartolome Island, which is only a very small island sitting off the shore from the much large Santiago Island. Bartolome is covered in dozens of Volcanic cones some only as large as a house, others like the one we had to climb were 150m high. These were very old volcanos that hadn’t erupted for hundreds of years and yet the terrain was so harsh and dry you would swear they had only erupted yesterday. There was the occasional lava cactus, and a scattering of a small low shrub, but very little plant life, which sort of showed how little rain they get here. Amongst the shrubs were small geckos that
survive by eating the shrubs, but no large iguanas or tortoises live here.
We climbed the 365 steps up to the top of the largest volcano on the island for a fantastic view around the area, the view really was sublime. At one end of Bartolome was a field of volcanic cones, red, dusty, and covered in large boulders, that looked just we had been transported to Mars. At the other end were the remains of a collapsed Caldera with a huge spike of granite jutting into the air. Across a narrow straight was Santiago Island, itself covered in all shapes and sizes of volcanos and a huge black lave flow that was created in 1893, the last time a volcano erupted on Santiago. We took photos of course but as always with such scenery you do truly have to be there. Whilst taking in the view a baby Galapagos Eagle decided to drop in and say hello. There was a pair of them flying around but one just plopped himself down on the hand railing next to one of our group, no more than a couple of feet away. Of course everyone crowded around him to take photos
Lava Cactus on Bartolome Island
and he/she just stood there lapping up all the attention. Our guide told us how the young are generally very inquisitive and are quite happy to land next to you and work out if you are food or not. As we walked back down the hill both eagles hung around us and was happy to oblige us with postcard photographs.
We got back to the boat at 9.30 and had 20 minutes to change into our swimmers and get our snorkelling gear together and get ready for our next adventure. We got the zodiac across to the beach on Bartolome Island where we had a wet landing and then a short walk across the peninsula to a beach on the other side. Along the way we wandered through the different types of mangroves and got to see yet again another turtle nesting area. Nearly all the beaches we have landed on are turtle nesting areas and you are limited to where you can walk but it is easy to see where the turtles have been because of the large pits they dig. On this beach was a fresh track of a turtle that must have only just left the
Bartolome Island with Santiago Island in the background
beach sometime before our arrival and also heaps of broken shells, which meant that baby turtles had probably hatched last night as well.
After a look around this beach we headed back to our starting point and put on our snorkelling gear for our first swim of the day. Not far from the beach we came across our first shark of the day, a large 1.8m White tipped Reef Shark, the biggest we have seen so far. It just came straight for us before turning and swimming across us no more than 2 metres away. To our complete surprise no one else saw it, and by the time I went to scream out to the others it was gone. We all then swam across the bay and along the way spotted yet another shark, this time a 2 metre Galapagos shark, and again we were able to get nice and close. We then swam around the rocks for another hour till we got to a small underwater cave where the boat’s captain (who had decided to join us for this swim) dived down and managed to lure a 1.5m White Tipped Shark from his sleeping hole. The captain bravely/stupidly
Volcanic cone on Bartolome Island
would dive down and wave his arms around under the ledge till the shark would appear so we could get our photos. This had been one of our best swims, because the water was warm and the fish and sharks had been abundant, so it was with a great deal of reluctance that we climbed back onto our zodiac.
Got back to the boat at 11.30 and had our midday lunch, and had a short break to 2.30 before our next adventure. Our boat shifted the short distance to Sullivan Bay at the foot of the vast black lava field we had seen this morning, but first it was on with our snorkel gear for the very last time. Our last dip in the waters of the Galapagos was along the very edge of the lava field, where it dipped into the sea. As always the fish were in abundance and almost oblivious to our presence, several times I dived down chasing huge Parrot fish and they seemed more curious about me than I was with them. We snorkelled for two hours seeing starfish, turtles and of course sharks, till it was time to get out of the water.
We could have kept snorkelling for hours more except our face masks were really starting to hurt and this we knew was the sign that it was time to move on.
We all clambered back onto the Zodiac and were driven back to our starting point at the beach, and it was then that we realized how far we had actually swam. Back on the beach we had the impossible task of trying to remove all the wet sand from our feet so we could put on our boots…you really should try it someday as it isn’t easy. Once ready we left the beach and started our march across the huge Lava field. In 1835 Darwin on the Beagle came to this bay (and in fact Sullivan Bay was named after one of the sailors on the boat) and this lava field wasn’t here but it was just a low flat field. In 1895 a huge eruption occurred from one of the many volcanos on the island and the entire field was covered in 2m of black lava. Despite the field being over 100 years old there was hardly a single piece of life on it other than around
the edges. The entire field was also broken and cracked as a result of the large gas chambers inside the field collapsing so rather than being perfectly flat it was undulating with huge broken jagged edges. The patterns caused by the flow of the lava were amazing and all looked like so surreal. Amongst the lava field were spots where trees had been consumed by the lava leaving perfect moulds of the thicker branches. We wandered around for about an hour before heading back to the shore where we picked up the zodiac back to the boat.
Whilst we were snorkelling one of the crew had spotted penguins so after only a ten minute break we all jumped onboard the zodiac and we zipped across the bay to see 2 pairs of penguins standing on the rocks. Omar explained that the penguins on the Galapagos have declined dramatically over the last ten years mainly as a result of the last couple of El Nino events that increased the water temperature, reducing their food levels and ultimately starving thousands. A lot of the survivors they fear have just moved on and scientists are unsure if they will return. It felt
Blue footed boobie dancing
kind of sad seeing just these 4 penguins knowing that one day there may not be anymore here. We hadn’t actually thought there were any penguins here at all so I guess it was good that we did get to see them.
Before dinner started we had a farewell cocktail and each crew said his farewell to us. Our guide Omar went through a briefing for tomorrow and then handed out the envelopes for giving tips to the crew and himself. One of the reasons for choosing Geckos was that they didn’t do this whole tip thing but between booking and getting here they merged with Intrepid travel and have changed their whole setup so now we have to pay tips. It isn’t really a big thing for Australians so it can sometimes be hard to do but our crew and guide had been good so it is easy to tip them. After dinner we sat with Omar it was a great chance to discuss general life things and what things are like in Ecuador rather than just asking “what bird is that?” Omar was only too happy to discuss politics and stuff about his life and before we
North Seymour land iguana
knew it, it was 11.00 so we scampered off to bed.
Day 163 Thursday 22nd
The day for leaving had finally arrived and we didn’t really want to go, the Galapagos has been so fantastic we could stay here forever. The only thing that makes leaving easier is to be finally out of a group tour situation. We had some really nice people on this boat particularly on the first half but some of them just drove us to the point of murder….dealing with difficult people is just too hard. We awoke at 5.30 and quickly got ready and soon realised that we had mistaken our departure time when we saw the crew still asleep in the lounge area instead of 6 it was 6.30 so we went back to our room for a short rest. At 6.20 we went to the rear of the boat and got our zodiac across to the shore for our last dry landing on the islands.
During the night our boat had shifted again back to almost where we had started at Baltra Island. Today’s expedition was all about bird watching and first on the list
Male Frigate bird at North Seymour
was the nesting ground of the huge Frigate birds. We were fortunate to see the spectacle of the male frigate bird puffing out his huge red chest to attract the females and it was a pretty amazing spectacle. The frigate birds despite being huge are fairly fragile things and are susceptible to breaking wings if taking off from flat ground and so always need to land on high points. They also cannot survive if they get salt water on themselves, which would have to be a massive design flaw for a sea bird. If they do get “salty” they have to either fly up to a freshwater lagoon in the highlands to bath all fly high up into a moisture laden cloud to shower. If they don’t there wings get crusty and they can’t fly and die. They feed by stealing fish from other seabirds like the boobies which is why they are also called Pirate birds.
After the frigate birds we went onto the nesting ground of the blue footed boobies and we were able to watch there rather humorous mating dance. Before mating the male has to do a dance with his blue feet which includes a
Male Frigate bird in mating season
bit of a song and a flap of the wings. Once at first base he then goes on to show the female how he can make a nest and he will start picking up twigs and such. Whilst trying to impress he will also need to chase off any other suitors so it all looks like quite a hard job. We had the chance to watch several performances and we could all stand within a metre of them photographing them and the birds hardly battered an eyelid. They are a large bird about the size of a big duck with the most amazing eyes and of course blue feet and are rather ungainly looking. They “dance” by rocking from one foot to another and occasionally spin around and raise their wings, whilst hooting and whistling. With us all standing around clicking away at them felt like we were intruding on something very intimate but the birds didn’t seem to mind.
We spent a long time with the boobies (probably my strangest comment on this blog) before moving on back to the zodiac and along the way passed more land iguanas, marine iguanas and of course sea lions. To complete
Blue footed boobie
the whole picture whilst boarding our zodiac we spotted a shark.
Back on board the boat we got to have our last breakfast before finishing our packing, and then preparing to leave. The boat moved around the island to the small port where we said our farewells and got our final zodiac ride to the pier and then a bus to the airport. Omar arranged to get our passports stamped with a special Galapagos stamp and then we said goodbye to him and we checked in for our flight.
It was now 9.50 and we had an hour to wait before our plane arrived and we could board. Whilst waiting we all started to have unsteady attacks as we came to terms with once again sitting still on dry land rather than on a rocking boat. Our flight back was once again through Guayaquil, but at least the plane was half empty and we had three seats to ourselves. As the plane came into land at Quito we swept through torrential rain and once on the ground we realised we were in the midst of a large electrical storm. After picking up our bags we were met at
Shelley leaving the Galapagos
the front of the airport by our Quito guide who got us onto a minivan for the journey to our hotel. Whilst travelling through the city we noticed massive crowds carrying placards and flags as well as swarms of police. Our guide explained that the President was trying to open some land to mining and the local people were protesting against it, and another crowd had turned out to support the president’s decision. The police were out in force basically to keep the two protests apart. It looked as if half the population of Ecuador was here to voice their opinion and the other half was in uniform to keep the peace.
After being dropped off at the hotel we checked our emails and went out for an early dinner so we could get an early night. The Galapagos Islands was probably the biggest highlight of the trip so far and far exceeded my expectations, the sea life was by far my favourite and every morning I was looking forward to snorkelling. The Iguanas, the sea lions and of course the birds all added to an incredible experience that I will never forget. The boat was basic and was far from complete when we joined it but the crew tried their best to get things right for us and in the end of the day it was our cheapest option so I guess we shouldn’t complain. Omar our guide was a champion and always explained everything perfectly and had the patience of Mother Teresa to put up with the group. The crew were friendly, (although our captain was a bit sleazy and was a bit of a shark himself) and it would probably be good if they were trained to be more environmentally aware. The itinerary was superb and had us on the go all the time which is exactly what you want when you come here. As for geckos who we booked the tour through, well we will never use them again and we will loudly scream to everyone DO NOT USE. Their part in putting this all together was negligible and they solely rely on local agencies to run the show whilst sitting back and counting the money. There was no contact with them whilst here and absolutely no help with the local agencies telling us to contact Geckos directly. This could all be booked locally and for a better price.
The thing you soon realise in the Galapagos is that you really don’t need to be at the front of a pack for the great experience or photograph, and in fact being at the back is where the best opportunities present themselves. Our best moments were with the wildlife when everyone had moved on. Unsure if we will ever return to this amazing place but hope we do as it will always remain special to us.