On the third full day in Galapagos we sailed to Espanola Island, which has the greatest number of species of all the islands as it is the oldest and most remote of the islands so the one least impacted by humans to date. We began the day at Gardner Bay, the longest stretch of sandy beach in the archipelago where again there were many sea lions to admire. After a walk along the length of the beach to see some more marine iguanas, we took to the water for another snorkel. We swam out to a rocky outcrop in the bay, seeing more rays on the way, to again be met by playful sea lions - you never quite get over how awesome it is to be swimming with these beautiful, friendly and fun creatures. We did a couple more snorkels later in the morning and early afternoon seeing more sea turtles and some small orange fish that liked to nibble at our legs, which was more than a little distracting.
In the late afternoon we set off on our 2 hour walk of the island, which again coincided with a beautiful sunset. The stories about Espanola are true, there
are literally animals at every turn. We saw pelicans, sea lions, crabs, marine and land iguanas, mockingbirds, the galapagos hawk, blue footed boobies (tee hee), masked/nazca boobies, frigate birds, lava lizards, darwin finches and much more. Of particular note on this island were the albatrosses, which can have a wing span of 3m. We had the pleasure (!) to catch a couple in the act of copulation, although thankfully this just seemed to involve bashing each others beaks together repeatedly so we were spared our blushes. We also had the misfortune (in my opinion - Sarah) to see a snake, but it was pretty tiny so I just about coped. There was also a blow hole on this island, where water spurts forcefully through a small crack in the rocks when large waves crash against the cliffs.
On our last full day in Galapagos we visited Floreana Island. There wasn´t much wildlife here but the main attractions are the lava tunnels and the post office barrel. The lava tunnels are caves created by lava flows that are several hundred metres long and extend from the surface to the ocean. Consequently, they are filled in part with water. We "braved"
wading in the freezing cold water up to our knees, but others went further in up to waist height. The post office barrel was established in 1793 and involves visitors to the island posting cards/letters in the barrel with no stamp in the hope that the next passing shipload of passengers will take out the mail destined for their home country and see to its safe delivery. We posted a couple of cards to see if this really works so if you receive one, please let us know when!
We did see some wildlife on Floreana, more flamingoes, more sea lions (obviously!) and some rays and sharks surfing in the wake close to shore. We did our last snorkel of the trip in the late morning around The Devil´s Crown (Corona del Diablo), which was a volcanic crater in a past life and is now full of marine life. We saw some medium sized sharks (white tips), parrot fish, star fish and even a sea snake (luckily I missed that bit - Sarah). Unfortunately, one of our party were stung by a jelly fish, but they haven´t died yet so we think they´ll be ok. The current aroung the
rocks was very strong so we kept being plonked in the sea by the dinghy to be swept past the rocks to a pick up point and then be taken to the next drop off.
In the afternoon we sailed to Santa Cruz and docked that evening in the main port, Porto Ayora. After dinner that evening, which included a goodbye cake for us, we explored the port for a couple of hours and had a goodbye drink with the rest of the group.
The next morning, we went to the Darwin Reseach Centre, home to giant tortoises and igaunas that are being reared in captivity before being reintroduced to the wild. This process was instigated about 40 years ago to stem the dramatic loss of giant tortoise numbers on the islands due to hunting by humans for their meat - they otherwise have no predators thanks to their armour-like shell. We were able to feed some of the male giant tortoises (they really do live up to the name) and we also got to see Lonesome George. He is famous because he is the last surviving Pinta Island giant tortoise. They are attempting to breed him with
females that are genetically close however he´s not keen (some think he bats for the other team), so if all else fails they may consider cloning him! We also got to see some of the baby tortoises, which are tiny and hilarious as they are still learning about their capabilities, which seems to involve falling off rocks onto their backs and then struggling for 10 mins to right themselves again.
We loved our time in the Galapagos and hope that our tourist money helps towards preserving this unique spot on earth. Our guides hinted at the more sinister side of the islands, suggesting the national park was really working in the way it should, and there has certainly been a decrease in species numbers since tourism has increased so perhaps we are more of a hindrance than a help. Ultimately, this was a once in a lifetime experience, and whilst costly it was totally worth the money. We would heartily recommend others visit, and probably sooner rather than later.
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