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Published: June 10th 2007
Isla Santa Cruz - Sunday 10th June
Well, after a very early morning bus ride to Guayaquil and a very short flight we arrived at Baltra airport. Basically this involved a tarmac runway and ´baggage claim´which was literally a pile of bags on the ground yet amazingly enough all our bags came through unscathed (Iberia could learn from this - it is not necessary to leave my bag behind then, when it finally does get it to me two days later, deliver it broken!) We joined the Nationals queue to pay the park entrance fee only to have an irate (and very sweaty) airport man come and yell at us and try to drag us to the tourist queue. We told him we had CENSO to which he replied we could pay the national fee but would have to go into the tourist queue anyway. Which we did. And waited. Only to be told if we had CENSO we were counted as nationals and had to go back to the original queue. Typical really but we did manage to pay only the national's fee of $25 instead of the tourist fee of $100 so all fine in the end.
Totally randomly met Lou's friend Sam at the airport who had just arrived for his tour as well (cue annoying rendition of 'It's a small world after all'!) We were met by our guide, John and another passenger, Roz from Suffolk (so odd to hear the accent again after so long!) and bundled onto a bus that took us the short way to the canal that separates Baltra from Santa Cruz where we got our first taste of just how unconcerned the animals are by humans when we had to step over a sleeping sea-lion to get onto the boat.
We got loaded onto a mini bus the other end, unfortunately not to go straight to the boat but to go on a tour instead. Not too good when none of us had suncream and us girls were still in our clothes from last night's party! We went to see a couple of volcano craters (the 'twins') and then to see wild giant tortoises who again were completely unconcerned about how close we were. Didn't seem too impressed though! John was very keen on getting us to 'try on' the tortoise shells (empty ones I hasten to add!)
but we were all too hot, tired and, I am ashamed to admit, distracted by ice-cream to try.
We got collected by water taxi complete with all our bags to be taken to the 'Galapagos Vision', our home for the next eight days. Slightly interesting experience trying to step from a wobbly motorboat onto an equally wobbly catamaran with a ridiculously huge bag on you back! I'm very glad Matt was standing behind me to shove me up the steps otherwise I very easily would have toppled backwards into the water - would not have been a good start to the week! Gorgeous catamaran if slightly cramped. Me and Lou are sharing and actually managed to get the only cabin with a full-size shower so all's good! There's only ten passengers in total, us six, Roz, a Canadian couple Stephan and Christelle and Jess from England.
The natural history of these islands is eminently curious, and well deserves attention - Charles Darwin, Journal of the Voyage of the Beagle
Crew seem really nice and food is amazing considering the lack of space. Had a late lunch before being taken back to shore to the Darwin Centre to see the tortoises in the breeding centre including all the babies who were waiting to be 'repatriated' to their native islands
once they were big enough! Very cute although unfortunatley we didn't get to see Lonely George as he was in hiding somewhere. Don't blame him really! Poor guy obviously has no interest in 'performing' for all these scientists and why should he! It is quite sad that he is the last surviving tortoise from Isla Pinta and he refuses to breed. Suggestions as to why range from 'he's forgotten how to'(!) to 'he's past it' to 'he's gay'! You have to give the old guy a break really, whatever the reason - he's pushing ninety! His girlfriends (if they can be called that!) were more obliging when it came to photocalls. The two females have only been there a few years, apparently they change the females occasionally just in case George shows some interest. You have to give the people at the centre credit for trying! John even told us about one Swedish girl who worked there who...er.... 'stimulated' George every morning for a year trying to get him in the mood! She only left when her visa ran out! As far as voluntary work on your gap year goes - I think I prefer the orphanage!
allowed to go into the pens and get really close to the tortoises although obviously not touch them. Strange naming the breeding centre where you get at least five people yell at you if you even so much as look like you're about to touch a tortoise after a man who a) ate Galapagos giant tortoise and b) rode around on their backs!!
The breast plate roasted....with the flesh on is very good; and the young tortoises make excellent soup; but otherwise the meat to my taste is indifferent - Charles Darwin
Hard to believe the father of evolution would have such a poor view of such a unique animal!!
We collected snorkelling gear before hailing another taxi back to the boat for the evening and an overnight sail to Isla Española. Slightly strange sleeping on a boat but fortunately not feeling sea-sick yet.
Isla Española - Monday 11th June
Had to wake up for a seven o´clock breakfast - don't think we're going to have a very restful week! Food is really amazing considering the lack of space onboard. Got taken by panga (basically a rubber dinghy) to Isla Espanola where we were greeted by a load of sea-lions on the beach who were very keen to let us know that it was their
beach and we were just
visiting. The best analogy I can come up with is that we are just annoying paparazzi to their celebrity - they have the same blank look as though they are perfectly aware we are there but are going to continue sunbathing regardless of how close we get or how annoying we must be. Amazing how close they came, one just waddled straight through our group! Went for a walk around the island to see the boobies (of both blue-footed and masked variety) and waved albatross - the only colony on the Galapagos - (anyone know the plural of albatross by the way? Albatross? Albatri? Albatrosses?) The birds were completely oblivious to us and basically were, as the discoverer of the islands said back in 1535, 'so silly that they didn't know how to flee and many were caught by hand.' The obvious disclaimer being that we didn't actually catch any but it gives you the general idea!
Had a lovely photo with some masked boobies which my outfit matched perfectly. Unfortunatley they didn't agree and one decided to decorate my t-shirt for me! Typical really! And of course everyone had their cameras out so my rather shocked face and
interestingly coloured T-shirt are now going to be gracing photo albums everywhere!
Amazing to see the boobie nests though. Basically a very half-hearted effort involving a few twigs and a pile of poo! You can tell that it's up to the men to build them!! Still, saw one with very tiny chicks in. Quite sad that one will just kill the other as they are so cute. Very bizarre thing to do, just turn round one day and kill your brother or sister! Also, very harsh parenting skills in that, if a chick wanders outside the ring of poo, they're not allowed back in! And of course there is always that one couple that decide the best place for a nest would be in the centre of the footpath! Just another example of who owns the islands!!
Walked up to the cliffs where we saw an albatross nest and geysers. Apparently it's quite common for crabs to walk over the geysers and find themselves being thrown twenty metres in the air! A rather amusing thought that we, luckily for the crabs, did not get to witness. Isla Española is amazingly stark and barren - just jagged, volcanic rock
once you get off the beach with barely any vegetation at all. We had a very good tour from John, the only complaint would be the truly ridiculous overuse of the word 'endemic'. We didn't just had sea-lions, we had endemic sealions; we didn't just have blue footed boobies, we had endemic blue footed boobies - he didn't seem to understand the joke when we kept asking him if the sand and rocks were endemic too! John also has the interesting habit of doing all the tours barefoot. I have no idea how he manages as I'm finding it hard enough in trekking trainers. Ouch! is the only thing I can say to that!
All the plants have a wretched, weedy appearance and I did not see one beautiful flower - Charles Darwin
Back to the boat for lunch with sea-lions swimming next to the panga as we left. Our panga (which is also our lifeboat) is broken and lying deflated on the front of the boat so our guide keeps having to ask to borrow ones from the other boats to get us back to the catamaran. Quite amusing although slightly worrying that we don't actually have a lifeboat!
Sailed a bit further round the island during lunch to Gardner Bay on the east
end of Isla Española. Had a wet landing on an amazing white beach covered in sea-lions. Absolutley gorgeous beach and managed to get photos with the sea-lions after one chased me off rather abruptly when I tried to get close! All they seem to do all day is sleep, run away from their babies when they are trying to feed and chase me, which seems to have turned into their new favourite hobby! Found some slightly more friendly (or rather, more sleepy) sea-lions to have photos with. The others went snorkelling out to a big rock but I wasn't feeling up for it (especially as it described as 'rough' by most people) so got a head start on my tan surrounded by sea-lions. Very relaxing providing one doesn't decide they suddenly want to get to the sea when you are in the way! The others returned from the snorkelling trip absolutely exhausted except fot Matt who decided to swim out to the boat to fetch his juggling balls which he brought back in a plastic bag. Obviously he can't even manage half a day without them although we are all becoming quite proficient jugglers now due to his slight obsession!
Isla Floreana - Tuesday12th June
Overnight sailing to Floreana where we went to see the flamingoes before walking to the other side of the island to go stingray watching. This meant walking through a forest of 'Holy Sticks'. Yes, according to our guide this is what they are called. Holy Sticks are bizarre white ghost trees that look very weird. Ray watching, when we got across the island, basically involved standing knee-deep in the water trying not to get too close as none of us were too keen on getting stung. We weren't allowed to snorkel there because of the rays. Lou and Soph decided to do a beautiful demonstration of the blue footed boobie dance we witnessed yesterday- unfortunately I can't upload the video - but to be honest none of the males in the vicinity seemd remotely interested, I've no idea how it works so well for the boobies!
Floreana was the first inhabited island and was used as a penal colony. After this, some of the island's most unusual inhabitants moved in! A baroness with her three lovers, the eccentric Dr. Friedrich Ritter (who had all his teeth removed before he arrived
so as to avoid dental problems!), his mistress and a young couple from Koln. The Germans unfortunatley did not manage to live in harmony - the baroness and one lover 'disappeared', another one of her lovers died in a boating accident and the strictly vegetarian Dr. Ritter died of food poisoning after eating chicken (would that be an endemic chicken?!)
Back on the boat for the others to go snorkelling around Devil's Crown, which is a giant rock in the middle of nowhere. Apparently it's a half-submerged volcanic cone and one of the best marine sites in Galapagos. Unfortunatley my asthma was too bad again to try breathing through a snorkel so I made good use of the time topping up my tan whilst one of the crew kept offering me strange asthma cures involving swallowing live fish. I'm sure he meant well and he was very sweet but I appreciated the tea more than any other suggestions. Almost as bad as Jorge's threat of catching a stray black dog as apparently rubbing black dog hair on your chest is a sure-fire Quechua way of curing asthma. I'm going to have to take that suggestion with a pinch of
salt as I have absolutely no intention of trying it!
Had lunch once the others got back absolutley exhausted and freezing before travelling round to Post Office Bay. Had a search through the post but nothing near where I live and we all posted our letters. Maybe in twenty years they will finally reach home! Went to some lava caverns which were very dark, very deep and very enclosed. You can imagine how much I loved that! Lou and Jess were crazy enough to go swimming in the underground lake - can't say it was something that appealed to me! Went back to the beach at Post Office Bay where we all went snorkelling. Absolutley incredible! Swam with marine turtles and saw a shark and an octopus. What I wouldn't give for an underwater camera right now! The animals are completely unbothered by us and will just swim straight towards you so you have to get out of their way. The only problem is how unbelievably cold the water is - we're starting to regret not hiring wetsuits along with the snorkelling gear.
Isla Santa Fe - Wednesday 13th June
Saw a turtle swimming
next to the boat this morning at breakfast. Absolutely amazing! Went to Santa Fe where we had a rather curious sea-lion pup come and join our group on the beach. Obviously very interested in the tour! Went to see the land iguanas who have the rather annoying habit of sitting in the middle of the path as you're trying to walk down it. Again, all animals here seem very keen on making us feel like visitors. Didn't make it all the way up to the viewpoint due to stupid shoes and even stupider asthma. No-one seems convinced that I honestly have no problems at home and it's just the altitude combined with a chest infection I just haven't been able to get rid of.
Got back to the boat to go snorkelling with sea-lions. Very playful and curious, they came to nibble our flippers and try and swim straight for you. We must seem very odd to them - we certainly look strange enough in our snorkelling gear! Only downside to snorkelling is the water is absolutley FREEZING! Have to sunbathe for an hour after to thaw out! That and jumping off the back of the boat is a
lot harder then just walking int the sea from a beach - not to mention trying to get back onto the boat afterwards!
Had lunch whilst sailing back to Santa Cruz to South Plaza to see more iguanas. Very strange island covered in red plants and cacti! Also walked up to the cliffs to see the bachelor sea-lion colony. Strange why they choose the top of a cliff but we saw one manage the incline very easily to come and kick another one off. Slightly scary as it just barreled through our group totally unconcerned by the intruders to his island. Here the path was very clearly marked as apparently there was one (drunk) tour guide who told his group that it was perfectly safe to walk on the vegetation overhanging the cliff! Must have been a long way down! Back on the boat for dinner as we sailed round to Puerto Ayora to drop Jess off as she was on the four day cruise and to pick up our new passenger Irya, from Sweden.
Isla Rabida and Isla Santiago - Thursday 14th June
Up bright and early this morning to visit Isla Rabida -
an island with truly bizarre bright red sand with pelicans nesting on the edge of the beach! Went for a walk around the island and saw more sea-lions, lava lizards and nesting pelicans! Went back to the boat and sat in the hammocks between the hulls before lunch. Gorgeous weather and pretty much paradise. Had lunch and then went to Isla Santiago - another truly bizarre island, this time with black sand. Saw more lava lizards, Sally Lightfoot crabs and a land iguana colony about which Charles Darwin was even harsher than he was to their marine brothers. '
They are ugly animals...and have a singularly stupid appearance... when cooked they yield a white meat that is only liked by those whose stomachs soar above all prejudice(!!!!)
We went right round the island to Puerto Egas to see fur seals. Technically they are fur sea-lions but to be honest they don't look any different from the normal sea-lions!
Went back to the beach to watch the sunset before returning to the boat for dinner and a relaxing evening. I say relaxing because I had to spend it in bed. I have the rather embarrassing problem of being unable to move whenever the boat is sailing! By this I mean I am physically incapable of even crawling in a straight line so have decided to
take the rather more dignified option of going to bed very early and joining the conversation up on deck by sticking my head out of the skylight so as to avoid having to go anywhere once we've started sailing. Seems to be working ok so far - and honestly is much better that going overboard which I really wouldn't put past myself the way I feel. I am officially very envious of anyone with decent sea-legs (or in fact any normal person who can stand upright on a moving boat.) I think any sort of career involving boats is officially off the cards. Truly gorgeous disply of stars every night but bizarrely enough we can't seem to see the moon - no idea why! Honestly I don't think I've ever been anywhere so far away from artificial lights so the stars ar so bright we have to cover the skylight most nights to be able to get to sleep.
San Bartolome and North Seymour - Friday 15th June
Woke up docked at San Bartolome today. I am unable to stand upright on a moving boat but I can, unlike everyone else, sleep straight through the ridiculously
noisy docking procedure - works out quite fairly in the end I guess! Took our panga (which is now fixed thank goodness!) to the island where we saw penguins swimming. Very exciting although practically impossible to get a decent photo. Walked up a ridiculous number of wooden steps to a viewpoint at 114metres. It was definitley worth it though as the view was incredible.
The landscape walking up looked more like Mars than anything else though! Walked back down and got the panga to the beach. Another group trying to get into their panga had a visitor in the shape of a marine iguana who decide to jump onto their boat with them! Got photos of the penguins on the rocks as we were travelling around to the beach. Walked across the island to another beach - this time to go shark watching. To be honest as we couldn't get that close they just looked like black blobs but still, I've stood in the sea with sharks!
Back to the boat where we all chilled in the nets between the hulls. As we were sailing we spotted eagle rays in the water throwing themselves into the air! Even
better, we saw dolphins who then decided to come and swim at the front of the catamaran as we were sitting there. Absolutley incredible - they were close enough to touch! One of the best moments of the trip and something you would not get on the huge cruise ships here!
Spent the rest of the afternoon after lunch on Isla North Seymour looking at frigate birds. Strange looking things with their giant red balloons inflated! Saw more boobie nests with very cute chicks in and a ridiculous number of sealion pups who thought it was fun to pretend to be rocks and then move away the second you went to step on them causing you to lose your balance. More fun for them than us considering the amount of times I almost twisted my ankle!
Isla Lobos and Isla San Cristobal - Saturday 16th June
Arrived at Isla Lobos. No idea why it is called that as there are no wolves on the island, just a lot of sea-lions (which is perhaps where the island's name came from as they are known as 'lobos marinos' (sea wolves) in Spanish), crabs and boobies.
Look closely - I promise it is!
Hundreds of blue-footed boobies nesting but a near impossible walk over the rocks to see the sea-lion colony. Went snorkelling off the boat again to swim with the sea-lions. Met a very playful one who seemed to like my flippers a lot! Sailed past Leon Dormido (sleeping lion), basically a big rock with lots of birds nesting on it. Probably should have paid a bit more attention to it rather than sunbathing! Had lunch whilst sailing before arriving at San Cristobal, the only freshwater island in the Galapagos, in the afternoon. Visited the Interpretation Centre to learn about the history of the Galapagos but the sweltering heat soon drove us in search of brownies and ice-cream! It's a slight culture shoch going from the boats to the inhabitated islands where literally everyone is involved in tourism and 'Galapagos' and various slogans making some innuendo about boobies have been plastered onto every conceivable item that could possible ever be sold!! We avoided the tourist t-shirts, flip-flops, mugs and snow-globes(why??!!) but did succumb to the mini giant tortoise and blue-footed boobie earrings carved out of coconut shell which were actually quite cute if ridiculously touristy. Headed back to the boat for our
last night onboard complete with a enormous cake the chef made. I am so going to miss the food!
Santa Cruz and Isla Isabela - Sunday 17th June
Back to Puerto Ayora today and goodbye to the Galapagos Vision. Bought tickets for the boat over to Isla Isabela before spending a couple of hours in a café writing postcards home. Got on our 'ferry' to Isabela which just managed to hold fifteen people and probably was the most hellish two hours of my life. The boat just smashed up and down for two hours straight making us all feel terrible. One woman eneded up lying on the floor, deathly pale covered in everyone's coats. Actually a health hazard crossing to Isla Isabela! We had to be transferred to a smaller boat to actually get onto the island as ours was too heavy to dock apparently! Lots of people on the dock trying to persuade us to go to their hostal. Ended up at 'La Jungla' where we are camping for only $5 a night. Yes, me camping - you can stop laughing now. Actually really quite fun once all the bugs were removed.
who seems slightly crazy, took us to to see flamingoes and giant tortoise babies literally two minutes away from our hostal. Very cool but we did have to stumble back in the dark. Walked into town in search of food and all ended up having churrasco (yum!) before finding our way into our tents in the pitch black trying not to think about all the creepy-crawlies that might also be in there with us!
Isla Isabela - Monday 18th June
Had an amazing breakfast at the hostal before going into town to pick up our return tickets to Puerto Ayora - so not looking forward to that trip! Back to the hostal to go to our completely deserted beach just in front of the hostal. Not much sun sadly but spent a lot of time planning our travels and doing not a lot - amazing how much time that can fill! Spent the rest of the afternoon chilling at the hostal by candlelight and losing to Matt on my mini, magnetic travel chessboard before going into town for more churrasco.
Isla Isabela - Tuesday 19th June
Up bright and early for breakfast before
a truck ride across the island to climb a volcano. Walked up to Sierra Negra which is the biggest active crater in the world and last erupted in 2005. 10km in diameter though the sulphur was slightly offputting! Volcan Chico was the second one we visited which involved a hike across rather rugged terrain to say the least! The lava flow stretched for miles and the holes in the ground were boiling. It was hot enough above ground! Very long walk back with wannabe cowboys charging past on horses every five minutes. Lazy people who didn't want to walk!
Got back to the hostal and went to wash off in the sea as we were absolutely filthy from the hike! Chillaxed on the beach before going into town for food.
Isla Santa Cruz - Wednesday 20th June
Horrible early start in the dark so we could be at the dock for our 6am boat. Got to see the sunrise even though the boat ride was as bad as last time. We had dolphins swimming by the boat this time though which at least took our minds off the boat. Arrived back in Puerto Ayora to
get a truck to take us to the canal and then a bus to Baltra airport. Got our passports stamped with both the offical and unofficial Galapagos stamps (personally I prefer the unofficial one) before saying goodbye to Las Islas Encantadas and catching our flight back to Guayaquil.
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