The Galapagos Islands

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South America » Ecuador » Galápagos » Puerto Ayora
May 8th 2011
Published: June 10th 2011
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Our transport to the airport was the hostel owners beaten up old shagin’ wagon. Didn’t feel the safest of rides, especially as we knew he was up until 3am at least, drinking and then took us to the airport at 6am. But like all our uncertain journeys, somehow we make it.

Check-in at the airport was quite intense, not only were there security checks like normal procedure but you have to pay for all sorts of national park fees, quarantine fee, park tax etc. and then have our bags fumigated in case we were carrying something onto the Galapagos that would be harmful to the ecosystem. Surprised they let either of us in to be honest.

It was quite a bumpy flight but it was over in less than 2 hours where we arrived at Baltra to meet our tour operator, after we’d paid a $100 National Park fee of course. So after our airport transfer, the plane, bus at Baltra airport, a boat and a jeep, we finally arrived in Puerto Ayora; where we would be staying on the Galapagos Islands for the next 4 nights. A volcanic archipelago about 600 miles west of Ecuador.

It was about 11am and our first excursion wasn’t until 3pm, so we did a little orientation of the town. Within minutes of walking past shops we saw our first sea lion. There was a surface area where local fisherman were cutting up the fish for the restaurants.

Surrounding it were hundreds of pelicans all trying to get a look in and sea lions just around the outside being thrown the scraps. A few minutes more and we walked to the end of a jetty to see hundreds of red crabs and our first iguana followed by another sea lion trying to catch some shade by the pier near us. It is quite amusing looking back on these moments; as we were very excited to be catching glimpses of the creatures so close to us. Little did we know that this exactly what the Galapagos is. We would never have to go very long without seeing something or other only feet away from us.

We had our first taste of holiday since being away and had a lounge around our pool and the 1st relax in ages. At 3pm our guide picked us up to visit the Darwin Centre. This was a very important place, as Charles Darwin was the reason we were all here and of course changed the world forever with his theory of evolution, so to be here felt very special. Due to man introducing new species to the islands, this means there are more predators for the original species. In particular the tortoises, whose eggs get eaten by dogs and rats. The Darwin Centre looks after the juvenile tortoises until they are grown enough to be released back onto their island with no threat toward them. The babies were very cute. The Galapagos tortoise is the largest living species of tortoise, reaching weights of over 400kg and lengths of over 6ft. In the wild they have a life span of over 100 years and in captive, up to at least 170 years.

Shell size and shape vary between populations. On islands with humid highlands, the tortoises are larger, with domed shells and short necks. On islands with dry lowlands, the tortoises are smaller, with "saddleback" shells and long necks. These island-to-island differences played a vital role in the Charles Darwin’s theory.

Tortoise numbers declined from over 250,000 in the 16th century to a low of around 3,000 in the 1970s. The decline was caused by pirates & buccaneers hunting for tortoise meat and oil, and introduction of non-native animals such as rats, goats, and pigs. Only 7 of the original ten species survive in the wild. An eighth subspecies has only a single living individual, in captivity, Lonesome George. We were so pleased to see Lonesome George as he is the icon on the islands, although not so lonesome, he shared his penn with 2 females.

It was great being so close and personal with these magnificent creatures. We had a great guide telling us what was on the Galapagos that would only ever be found on the Galapagos; from flora to fauna and tortoises to iguanas. On the way home we passed even more iguana and watched the pelicans for a while as they dove head first into the sea for fishing. Already we had loved our first day on the Islands.

The next day we took a boat to Florianna. The boat was very rough and the waves were huge. When we arrived, once again we were greeted by a parade of Sea Lion & Iguana at the pier. It was strange, the sea lions of the Galapagos are like the stray dogs of South America. They are everywhere; always only feet away from you and very friendly. Some of them just sat there and didn’t even care you were there, whereas others got slightly more territorial and would let out a bark. It was very exciting being so close to them like this. We spent a day on the island visiting tortoises in the wild and exploring caves were people used to live. We took in a bit of snorkeling where Tony got to see his first turtle and we then went around the island spotting penguins and blue footed boobies (Tony’s favourite), no we weren’t on a nudist beach, these were birds, that once again are only found on the Galapagos; unlike the pelicans they dive into the water for food but with such elegance and the strangest thing about them is there bright blue feet. It was a great day out on the boat , you get to see so much more than if you just stay around the main island, wildlife around you wherever you turn and just that much closer.

The next day we went to see another species of tortoise and got a great lesson in how their shells develop. Our guide wanted to prove to us just how heavy they were and no wonder they walk around so slowly by inviting us to get inside the shell and try to walk around in it. Now if you want to see something ridiculous, watch the video of Perdy trying to attempt this. We both agreed however just how difficult it was, these things way up to 300 pounds. We explored the island of Santa Cruz and went to the lava caves created by the volcanoes. It was very cool to see inside them and especially try to work our way around them in the pitch black and get on our hands and knees through tiny holes (another ridiculous video of Perdy trying to attempt this). After this we visited the twin craters before setting off on an afternoon of snorkeling around the island this time with sea lions in the water around you.

Unfortunately we had come across our final day but we were certainly going to make the most of it. Tony went off on a very hot exploration to find Tortuga bay which was meant to be a beautiful beach on the other side of the island. After nearly suffering from exhaustion and following the red bricked road he found it and was pleasantly surprised with the soft white sand and perfect bay for snorkeling. So in he got with hundreds of other fish, iguanas and sting rays and had a really great day but at the same time being disappointed that we’d be leaving the next day.

I however had not come to the Galapagos without fitting in a bit of diving. It was quite expensive here, about $150 for 2 dives but money didn’t matter when being somewhere like this. I got to the dive center at 5.30am and met who my dive buddies would be that day; Janine and Katrina, 2 sisters from Australia who live in London. We were going out to an area called Gordon Rocks. It had been over a year since my last dive, so even with my Rescue Diver cert, was feeling a bit nervous as I’d heard Gordon Rocks was called ‘The Washing Machine Effect’. Basically it was known for having a very strong current and it was recommended for only advanced & skilled divers. Well it didn’t disappoint and on both dives there was a very strong current we were swimming against, at one point I can see where it got its name. As we were swimming over some coral and in between 2 great big boulders I just started spinning upside down and then it was like it just chewed on me and spat me out into the blue. It was very cool, I wanted to go again!

It was interesting because all 3 of us had dived at Sipadan in Borneo, and ever since have become dive snobs. It’s very hard to impress us after the experience you get at Sipadan. Thank god for the Galapagos. Well to name but a few we saw Octopus, big & small, barracuda, giant rays, plenty of white tip & black tip sharks, sea lions, so many turtles we lost count, moray ray, bumberhead parrot fish, Galapagos shark, loads of angel & lisa fish but the absolute highlight was the 30+ hammerhead shark, some on their own and others in a family. They really are the most unusual of sharks and it was so exhilarating being so close to them like this. They didn’t even care we were there. Everything was swimming right by us, turtles brushing past our arms, rays gliding beside you and even the sea lions didn’t care. At one point there was one coming straight at me. I didn’t really know what to do so I just opened my legs and it swam right between them, it was a great feeling (no I didn’t cry, but it was very emotional). We had brilliant dives, on par with Sipadan and it was great meeting the 2 girls.

We got everything out of Galapagos we expected and more, it would be waste to sign off without even mentioning the food. Like everything else in Galapagos, it’s like nowhere else on earth. Wow, did we eat well. Obviously the sea food is fresh and amazing, even Octopus didn’t taste so bad.

But with everything, all things must come to an end, although it nearly never as we almost missed our flight back to Ecuador, which wouldn’t have been such a bad thing if we had the money. But unfortunately the flight had been delayed nearly 2 hours so we didn’t miss it after all, a bit disappointing.

We have done some amazing things on this trip and been to incredible places but Galapagos you just can’t even try to explain to someone who hasn’t been. Out of everywhere we have been to in South America so far, this is the first time we have honestly said, hand on heart. We will be back.

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