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Published: August 11th 2019
Me and a Sea Lion
Bahia Sardina, San Cristobal
Greetings once more from the Galapagos Islands! These little gems of land in the Pacific Ocean are just stunners, and I’ve really had the most amazing time here. I am currently writing this one from my fantastic eco-hostel I’m staying in here, about 2km outside of the main town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on the island of San Cristobal, the Cucuve (Mockingbird) Eco-Hostel, surrounded by lovely Galapagos nature and overlooking a beautiful garden with fruit trees. I have indeed found an idyllic lodging in which to spend my four nights on this other main island of the Galapagos, purposefully chosen for its serene and back-to-nature setting. I plan to upload this text onto my blog and publish it when I’m back in Guayaquil tomorrow, however, as the Internet connection here is really not good. After a total of eight nights on these amazing islands, I am actually looking forward to returning to “civilisation” once more, particularly a four-star room again at the Hotel Palace Guayaquil, and its super-fast Internet connection! I have managed to upload most of my photos from these last few days onto my blog entry, but need fast Internet connection to send all my photos
from my time on the Galapagos Island up to the cloud on my OneDrive account, before I can download today’s photos from my camera onto my laptop, and thence onto my blog. Thus, as mentioned, I plan to publish this tomorrow, once I have done all of this, with the strong Internet connection back in Guayaquil.
But my goodness, what an amazing and varied stay on San Cristobal I have had, similar to some extent to Santa Cruz, in terms of the stunning scenery and absolutely adorable and unique wildlife, but also really quite different in what I have seen.
I took another fast speedboat ferry service from Santa Cruz on Tuesday afternoon, across the choppy waters once more, and arrived in the much quieter urban area of the island of San Cristobal, known as “Chatham” in Darwin’s time. This is Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, capital of Ecuador’s Galapagos province, but with only 7000 inhabitants, about a third the size of Puerto Ayora back on Santa Cruz. The difference was immediately felt, and the town, although touristy, is not the tourist circus that exists back in Puerto Ayora. Don Alfredo, owner of the Cucuve Eco-Hostel, was waiting to meet
me at the ferry pier, and after helping me to book myself onto a day excursion at a local travel agency on Wednesday and then taking me to an ATM to take out some money, took me the 2km out of town along a lonely highway through the Galapagos bush to this amazing, calm, serene and truly relaxing place. I’m glad I chose it, and at less than half the price of the unusual Castillo Galapagos back in Puerto Ayora, a real bargain.
For the rest of Tuesday, I didn’t have too much time to do much else, apart from a walk back into town, dinner at a local seafront restaurant overlooking sea lions settling into their territories on a nearby beach and a beautiful sunset over the town’s harbour. After this, I walked back again to the hostel once more after the sun had set, and decided in future to take a taxi next time instead, as not only is it rather a long and dark walk uphill, there were numerous dogs barking at unknown distances along the way – I’m not a big fan of dogs, particularly mangy-looking ones such as those encountered in developing countries.
For my first two full days here, I had booked two separate full day excursions. It has been very busy, and a little expensive, but so very worth it, and really quite amazing!
On Wednesday I booked a “360 tour”, which involves circumnavigating around the island in a speedboat and stopping off at various places along the way. I am so glad that I did the sea lion swim back in Peru, and then the more recent snorkel hugging the coastline of Santiago Island near Isla Bartolome, as I feel these were both training for the much more “advanced” snorkelling forays we did on this trip. Our first stop around the island was the Playa Rosa Blanca, where we snorkelled for around an hour in a small coastal inlet, also home to an inlet within the inlet which the guide referred to as “La Casa de los Tiburones”, or “The House of the Sharks”. And indeed, as we entered a small pool within the pool area, about three metres below us in this area no bigger than about 20 metres by 20 metres, were around 30 or so whitetip reef sharks swimming around and hugging the sea floor. My
goodness!! I think without the two “practice” trips I referred to earlier, I would not at all have had the confidence to have done this. The whitetip shark grows to only around 1.6 metres long, and is apparently rarely aggressive towards humans. Still, the unmistakeable shark-shape of the creatures just metres below me was quite intimidating, though I felt reassured that there were about 12 of us there with our guide. The guide also accompanied each of us in turn on a short dive about two metres below the surface, to get really up close to the sharks – I did this twice, it was a heart-stopper for me. After this, we left the House of Sharks and snorkelled around the main pool area, seeing amongst many colourful fish species, a number of beautiful and placid sea turtles swimming around, and a number of manta rays. We happened upon a family of manta rays at one point, seemingly a mother and seven baby ones following in tow – absolutely gorgeous! An hour later we left the pool, relaxed at a nearby stunner of a beach, and returned to our speedboat to continue our journey. When we left port back in
Puerto Baquerizo Moreno there were about three other boats doing the same tour as us, but I later found out that we were the only ones to do the full circle of the island, as the other boats decided to only do 180 or 270 degree tours as the waters around this place we had just visited were too rough. I am really glad our guide and captain decided to still take us there. Afterwards, we continued northwards to take in the north-eastern-most tip of San Cristobal Island at a place called Punta Pitt, and continued to circumnavigate until we reached another beautiful beach area called Bahia Sardina. Here we had lunch, and relaxed on the beach for another hour or so. I joined a couple of others to do another snorkel just offshore, and found another sea turtle, as well as a curious sea lion who I followed around in the water for a bit. Once back on the ferry, we continued onto Cerro Brujo, or “Witch Hill” in English, so-called due to its top-most pinnacle apparently representing the profile nose of a witch, and onto our final attraction for the day, the famous Kicker Rock, or “Leon Dormido”
Cucuve Eco-Hostel, San Cristobal
Me and the fantastic owner, Don Alfredo
(Sleeping Lion) – a huge rock jutting up 140 metres vertically out of the ocean, with a split down the middle so that another separate rock juts out of it at a spectacular angle. The landform is really quite amazing, but what makes the place famous is its excellent snorkelling and diving – here, many people come to see huge schools of hammerhead sharks. This was actually the pinnacle of my snorkelling experience, and it seems that all the previous “practices” had built up to this. We were to snorkel around the rock for about an hour or so, in search of hammerhead sharks. The thing is that here, you cannot see the bottom of the sea below you, despite the clarity of the water. The guide told me back on the boat that the sea floor is around 120 metres below the surface - I am so glad I found that out after I jumped in, not before. I found the whole experience really quite scary and haunting, and I had to block many imaginary thoughts of what could be lurking in the depths out of my mind. I followed, and stuck close to, the guide, who pointed out
at various times a couple of turtles in the depths below, and some schools of fish. Sadly, although I felt quite relieved if I’m honest, we didn’t see any hammerhead sharks, but we did see a couple of blacktip sharks around ten metres below, and at one point a school of about 15 whitetip sharks. This was so unnerving for me – they just appeared out of nowhere, were barely visible for a few haunting moments, and then disappeared again once more into the depths. I am glad I did this, but I’m not sure I would want to do it again. I still have a few scary visions in my mind of those unfathomable depths below me with the vague outline of a shark appearing and disappearing again, and also the image of the school of whitetip sharks back in “The House of Sharks”. If I continue to snorkel, I think I would prefer to be able to see the bottom of the sea below me at least, and stick to nice corals and colourful, tropical fish instead… After this, we returned back to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, having completed the full 360 degree tour of San Cristobal, and having
completed something brave and something quite new for me: swimming with sharks! Wow, what a day! I had a beer and a pizza at a local restaurant, and returned to my peaceful lodgings for a good, hot shower and a very comfortable night’s sleep.
Yesterday I did my second day excursion out of Puerto Baquerizo, and this one was to the small island of Isla Espanola (or Hood), around two hours south of here. I was really excited about this one, as it involves being able to see nesting albatrosses and blue-footed boobies at this time of year. Sadly, although I really mustn’t grumble considering what I did see, it is not currently the nesting season for the frigate birds, whose males are famous for having the huge red inflated throat patches to attract the females. The boat was larger than the small speedboat the day before, and much more comfortable, considering in particular it had an on-board toilet. We also had breakfast as well as lunch, and a bit more room to move around. Our first port-of-call was actually a very small island off the north coast of Isla Espanola, called Isla Gardner. Here we were to do
my last snorkelling experience on this trip, and another really very unique one. This time, sea lions were the order of the day, and once we were in the water, a group of them approached us all confidently, and swam all around us, below us and in front of us. They were amazing. Sometimes they came up so close and stayed there, just eyeballing us, other times they appeared out of nowhere below, like a shot, and on two occasions made me jump! They are so acrobatic in the water, it’s amazing – backflips, somersaults, front flips. They also seem to be able to see just as easily when they’re upside down as the right way up, often just staying there in front of you upside down and staring at you. Our guide took with her a GoPro and sent me the pictures from our trip, some of which I have uploaded here – incredible! When I look back at my first swimming with sea lions in Callao, Peru, a couple of weeks ago, and see how far I’ve come now in my confidence, I’m really quite proud of myself – I have since snorkelled and swam with sea lions
Road to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno
From Cucuve Eco-Hostel, San Cristobal
and sharks, as well as many other amazing marine creatures, at a variety of depths. What a difference, and what progress! After the snorkelling, we got back in the boat for lunch, and set off to land at a small pier called Punta Suarez, on the western tip of Isla Espanola. Here, the guide took us on an amazing 2km round walk to the southern cliffs of the island, taking in some amazing wildlife along the way. We first past some more gorgeous marine iguanas, and a few adorably cute baby sea lions, before heading up to the cliffs with the star attractions. We were able to see Nazca boobies in their hundreds, followed by dozens of waved albatrosses and a number of blue-footed boobies. The waved albatrosses were just amazing, albatrosses being the largest birds in the world – the waved ones have wingspans of up to 2.5 metres – that’s wider than I am tall! August is such a special time to see them too, as it is towards the end of the incubation period of their eggs, and about hatching time. We saw a number of nesting pairs sitting on eggs, albatrosses being birds who pair for
San Cristobal, Galapagos
life, and amazingly an albatross chick, probably only a few days old!! The poor thing was all alone though, its parents must have been out fishing somewhere. It had grey feathers and blended in perfectly to its surrounding environment of grey rocky ground, but spotting a hawk’s next a mere hundred metres or so away made me feel for the poor little thing, constantly looking around himself, probably waiting anxiously for his parents to come home. We even saw a couple of albatrosses doing their beak-clacking and bowing courtship ritual – amazing! As well as albatrosses, we saw another of my Galapagos wildlife favourites, one which I was most excited to see on this trip: the blue-footed booby birds! I find these birds just so cute and attractive, and their blue feet and beak just add to their beauty. We seemed to arrive in time for their nesting and hatching season also, as we saw a couple of blue-footed boobies sitting on and incubating their eggs, whilst other pairs’ chicks had already hatched. One pair, literally only a metre away from the path and thus thoroughly observable and photogenic, were courting with each other, as well as looking after their
one chick by picking off its chick feathers for it, something that the chick seemed to enjoy very much. It was just gorgeous to watch this blue-footed booby family participate in ordinary family life – father, mother and baby – beautiful! A bit later on, we saw another couple, this time with two chicks. The darker side of blue-footed boobies, however, is that they allow infant siblicide. That is, two eggs are normally laid, and hatch about five days apart from each other. Eventually, the first hatched chick ends up killing the second hatched chick, either by pecking it or removing it from the nest – the parents do nothing to intervene. I find this really sad to know, but they do it apparently to allow greater chick-to-bird success for their offspring - in case one chick is killed by a predator, they have another as a back-up. Eventually, the rearing of just one chick, after the other has died, allows the parents to concentrate more on feeding the one, for it to be able to grow and develop more successfully as well. It was sad to see these two happy-looking chicks though, knowing that one will cause the death
Frigate Bird In-Flight
Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal
of the other… Despite this morbid fact, I still find the blue-footed boobies amazing, and I think along with giant tortoises and marine iguanas, the three have become my joint-favourite animals of the Galapagos islands. We then went to a clifftop overlooking the ocean waves crashing onto the rocky shores below, to see about a dozen waved albatrosses magnificently flying through the sky – a truly amazing sight to behold! After this, we returned back to Punta Suarez and to the boat, to take us back across the rough sea once more, for my final rough sea journey on this trip, back to the island of San Cristobal. What another amazing day in the Galapagos islands – actually swimming with sea lions, and observing the nesting of albatrosses and blue-footed boobies – a very, very special day for me indeed!
And today, my final full day in the Galapagos Islands, has been quite special, but a lot more relaxed – well-needed if I’m honest. Out of my eight mornings in the Galapagos, five have been early morning get-ups ranging between 5am and 6am each day. This has been for the early-starting day trips and ferry trips which I have
Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal
taken since being here. Today I had a “lie-in” until 7.30am – it comes to something when 7.30am whilst travelling is considered a lie-in…! This was followed by a casual breakfast at 8.30am, before Don Alfredo, the Cucuve Eco-Hostel owner, took me on a half-day tour around the south of San Cristobal island. We followed the tarmac road leading from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno in the south-west corner of the island, 26km eastwards, up and over the 800m high middle of the south of the island, towards a small bay in the south-east of the island called Puerto Chino. There were a number of sights to see along the way. First up was a visit to La Galapaguera Tortoise Breeding Centre. The giant tortoises of San Cristobal have sadly seen the fate of many other Galagapos tortoises, in over-hunting during colonial times and predation and competition with introduced animals: cats and rats eat the eggs and babies, whilst goats eat the vegetation. On the island of Isabela, the feral goat population has been almost entirely eradicated by culling by the Galapagos Park Rangers, something which does not make me sad at all, and I believe is happening to some extent here
A Perfect Sundowner!
Even the beer is endemic in the Galapagos! Puerto Baquerizo Moreno
on San Cristobal. In order to increase their numbers, there are giant tortoise breeding centres on Santa Cruz, Isabela, and here on San Cristobal, where resident breeding-age adults lay eggs, which are collected by the workers and incubated until they hatch. The hatchlings are then looked after in semi-natural conditions until they are around five years old, at which time they are returned to their natural habitat, having grown to a size where cats and rats will not harm them. I enjoyed a lovely walk around the centre, observing many of the breeding tortoises having been fed and thus munching away in their adorable way, and seeing the tiny baby tortoises also doing the same, in their small enclosures. After this, we were off to Puerto Chino, a small bay and beach in the south-east of the island, which was actually quite busy when we got there. Today is a national holiday in Ecuador, as tomorrow is the country’s Independence Day – that’s really quite a coincidence, as I was in Peru on 28th
July for their Independence Day, and am now in Ecuador for the 10th
August for their Independence Day! I didn’t spend too long at the beach
Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal
due to the crowds, but I did observe that despite the amount of people, the sea lions were still happy to laze about the beach along with the people: sea lion and man, so at one and in harmony together, both enjoying a day out on the beach! We then headed back inland again to stop off at the amazing El Junco, a natural freshwater lake high up in the hills of the centre of the island, actually the only freshwater lake in the Galapagos (water is mostly sourced here from underground reserves), and a place where frigate birds quite famously gather to wash themselves of their sea salt in the fresh water of the lake. The walk up to and around the lake took in much of the endemic miconia vegetation of the island, with its glorious red colour, contrasting beautifully with the blue petals of a type of wildflower up there, the greenness of the vegetation, and the spectacular views over the lake and far down to the distant coastline below. I learnt that the miconia plant is, again sadly, in direct competition with the invasive fern and blackcurrant plants introduced to the islands. I saw again the
Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal
importance of the work carried out by the Galapagos National Park, as well as numerous governmental and charitable efforts, to protect the unique and endemic flora and fauna of these beautiful islands from invasive species. Following this, we stopped by a really unusual site of Ecuador’s largest Ceiba tree, in the tiny settlement of El Progreso in the San Cristobal hills – a seed must have been transported somehow by humans or animals for this tree from the Latin American mainland to grow here. In actual fact, a treehouse has been built in the bough of the tree, which you can actually pay to stay in. I didn’t do this, but I did at least visit it, and although it leant to one side slightly, the tiny lodging in fact had everything: a fully fitted bathroom, kitchen, sitting area, two single beds, and even a terrace overlooking a garden about ten metres below – a really quite surreal place actually! This brought me to the end of my half-day island tour with Don Alfredo, who dropped me off in town again to have lunch and then visit the nearby Interpretation Centre for a very interesting low-down on the natural history,
San Cristobal, Galapagos
human history and current sustainable development of the Galapagos Islands.
I have now arrived back in my very comfortable lodgings, having come to the end of my absolutely incredible eight-day stay in these magical, mythical islands which truly have to be seen to be believed. I have read and seen so much about these islands back home, it has been a true dream and adventure to be really here. I believe there is nowhere in the world quite like this place, where man can interact so freely and abundantly with nature. The wildlife is just stunning, varied and incredible, but what makes it so special is its approachability, and its lack of fear of humans – it feels almost like the rest of the world should be. My experience here is certainly going to make me think and question the role of mankind on this planet, and whether we really are a blessing to it or a curse. In all I think, having seen it first-hand on these islands, it has given me hope that we can be a blessing and a positive influence on the world around us – it happens here, it would be lovely if it
could happen elsewhere. To face facts though, we are probably never going to be able to live in complete harmony with our surroundings throughout the world, and because the fact that this day of harmony can probably never be achieved, I believe the Galapagos Islands will continue to remain so unique and attractive, being one of the only, if not the only, places in the world where you can see nature as it is truly meant to be.
Ah, I’ve gone deep…! Back to reality, and back to continuing my trip once more. Tomorrow I fly back to Guayaquil from San Cristobal Airport, for one more night of four-star hotel bliss, and as mentioned high-speed Internet connection (yay!), before my journey takes a turn inland and uphill (or rather, up-mountain). I continue on to the Andean highland towns of Cuenca and Riobamba, and plan to hopefully write my next one in a few days’ time from the latter.
So until then, thank you so much for sharing my amazing Galapagos dream and adventure with me. It has been truly memorable, and I am sure I will look back in fondness and gratitude for my time here for many
years to come.
All the best for now.
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