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Published: February 2nd 2013
We awoke early yet again, and found a real coffee shop with free Nescafe refills that was open before 8, a rarity! We headed out to the Galapagos Interpretation Center just a 15 min. walk outside of town, and walked through its fascinating displays. I learned many more surprising details of the history of the island that were not covered in my Lonely Planet travel guide, or in my internet browsing.
The Galapagos were really first used as convenient food & water resupply point for late 18th
century buccaneers & whalers, where sea lions, penguins, & even giant tortoises were butchered for food & then later as a penal colony for Ecuador until 1959, where some of its convicts participated in a utopian experiment in rehabilitation, resulting in failure and the murder of the founder. The islands were long regarded as cursed, and there are several stories of murder and intrigue that surround many of its early inhabitants that ranged from the Brits, Germans and Norse. After the American military was finished using some of the islands as a bombing range and launch point for the Pacific theater of operations in WWII, the islands slowly began to
attract some wealthy visitors here and there. When the last penal colony closed, the government decided to set aside many of the islands as National Park. It wasn’t until the 1970’s when tourism actually started, and the number of visitors has gone from 1,000 to currently 180,000 a year. Oh and the Giant Tortoise, not only were they eaten, they were killed for their oil to light the lamps for the mainland Ecuadorians. Turtle oil? Who knew. This place that we have come to long believe is the perfect unspoiled paradise of lore has an incredibly sad and exploitative past. Thankfully the “rich grey-haired birders” and studying biologists have come to the islands and given them the worldwide attention they needed and deserve.
From the interpretation center we hiked a trail to the top of Frigate Hill, aptly named for the scores of nesting frigate birds on its rocks. From the top we walked the longest 2km to Playa Baquierizo, in sandals over lava rock. As we cursed our way there with bloody toes, once we arrived we felt as though we had walked hundreds of miles from civilization. What we have come to find on these
islands, even though you may be close to town, the wilds are so close and so completely engulfing you feel as though you are constantly marooned on deserted island.
Along the entire beach we saw dozens of sea turtle trails up into the dunes where they had just laid their eggs. Sea turtle nesting time is between Jan and March here, which accounts for the sheer multitude of turtles we had seen during our stay.
We tried to find a nice shady spot out of the sun among the mangroves, but every choice spot was taken up by a few sea lions napping. We debated to go snorkeling and opted out due to the big surf, low tide, and razor sharp lava rock along the entire shore. We just sat and watched the most adorable sea lion pup, no bigger than 20lbs, playing in the tidal pools learning to hunt fish. He came within a foot of us at times, completely at ease with our presence. At one point he stopped and realized his mom had swam off, leaving him alone. He bellowed his sweet sea lion cry, and I bellowed back. He looked
at me confused but rather reassured and then did it again. We went back and forth like this for a few minutes until he then laid down on a rock and took a nap.
We returned back to Frigate Hill and over to Tijertas Bay, which is where the HMS Beagle had first landed with Charles Darwin. We again tried to drop in off the rocks to snorkel, and almost got flayed as we were pounded with a huge set of waves coming in for high tide. We opted to watch some blue footed bobbies amongst the rocks, and take pictures at the Darwin statue overlooking the beautiful bay.
From here we hiked onward to Carola Beach and Playa Mann, both sandy beaches whose only sunbathers were sea lions.
On the advice of the dive shop for the best snorkeling we hopped a cab across the island past the airport to La Loberia. This is another great surfing beach, and where you can also camp for the night. As we walked down to the water we saw a small sea turtle that appeared dead, being pushed up onto the beach by
the waves, his face buried in the sand. As we got closer it appeared to move its head slightly, but still looked fairly dead. We quickly debated on whether or not to touch the turtle in violation of the island rules, but we both decided we could not stand idly by. Dennis picked it up to place it back in the water, and it began to flap its arms, but quite weakly. Once in the deeper water he seemed to regain his strength, and even a small seal came over and swam with him, as if checking on his status. The turtle swam away, and did not wash up again.
We entered the water and within seconds we briefly saw a huge turtle, perhaps 4-5 feet across, another smaller size one, and then another easily 5 feet in length. We watched this turtle for about 15 mins just floating in the shallows just munching on algae on the rocks. We stayed within a few feet of him, but several times the current pushed him towards us, within arm’s reach. I have never been so close to a sea turtle, let alone such an incredibly huge one as
this. It was absolutely amazing. Of course our underwater camera had been malfunctioning since the last time we had used it, so we did not bring it in the water with us. What pictures we would have had!
As if the day would not get even more exciting, we snorkeled to the opposite side of the bay to search the rocks for more tortoises. As we swam a large sea lion came out of nowhere and swam up to us showing his profile. He was a huge bull male, and quite intimidating, but I took it as him just checking us out. We continued to swim and got perhaps 5 feet when he swam straight towards us full speed. I screamed into my snorkel and apparently “leapt” over Dennis for safety (his version). Within inches of our faces the bull bared his enormous teeth and snapped his jaws as he turned 90 degrees, prepping for another charge. We didn’t need a third warning to hear loud and clear this was his part of the bay and we were not invited. We literally ran out of the water panting with our adrenaline racing. We saw the bull come up onto the beach, all 800 lbs and 6 feet of him. He went over to his harem of about 10 females and 15 pups. He was just protecting his family, but holy cow neither of us had ever been so frightened in the water, to include swimming with sharks. What an imposing and intimidating creature they can be, especially in their element in the water where they are so incredibly fast and nimble.
We walked back from the beach and Dennis spotted a fire station near the airport. He stopped in to take a few photos, and ended up meeting the chief who gave him a bunch of Galapagos fire patches. They exchanged addresses and Dennis promised to reciprocate with some U.S. fire patches.
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