Day 742 (10.04.09)
We'd had a great group for the first few days of our Galapagos cruise and would be sad to see them go today as the 5 day section of the tour was completed and they were off to the airport. But not before we'd made an early morning visit to the Charles Darwin Research Centre. Despite his only having spent 5 weeks on the islands Charles Darwin's name is linked in everyone's mind to the Galapagos and the centre that is named after him is mainly concerned with giant land tortoise research. We visited the section where the baby tortoises were growing up and gradually learning to cope without the support of the centre. They are kept there for 3 to 5 years and then taken back to the islands from which their species is endemic and reintegrated into the wild - apparently a very successful programme.
We were also able to get really close to the group of huge male tortoises at feeding time and were lucky enough to get a glimpse of the famous Lonesome George, the last of his sub-species of tortoise.
We said goodbyes to our group and stayed in the
centre for a little more wandering before heading back into town whilst we waited for the next group to arrive for their 4 day cruise. After the first few days on the cruise on the Galapagos we'd been blown away by the things we'd seen and were itching to get started on the second part of the trip which would take us to some of the more northerly islands in the group. We met up with our new group over lunch and were surprised to see a familiar face amongst them in Greg, who we'd met in San Gil a few weeks previously.
After lunch we all got into some 4x4 trucks that would take us to the area around the small village of Santa Rosa where it is possible to see the giant tortoises in the wild. We walked around the grassy area and found about 6 different tortoises eating or chilling out in muddy puddles. At other times of the season there would be many more than this but it was fantastic to see these incredible creatures with their wizened expressions carrying around their 200kg masses and not particularly bothered by our presence. On our way round
we also sampled some of the delicious fruits growing in the surrounding trees.
After our visit we headed back to the Merak, still docked in the harbour at Puerto Ayura and spent the evening relaxing over another great dinner before we set sail at around 1am to sail overnight for the next day's destination.
Day 743 (11.04.09)
Our first visit of the day began with a landing onto the red sands of the beach at Rabida Island where we were greeted by one or two lazy looking sea-lions. We then went for a short walk around the island. As we climbed up between large flowering cacti lots of hermit crabs scuttled into the undergrowth and we were overflown by several curious frigate birds.
Back at the beach it was time to go for a snorkel and as we swam out following the cliffs we noticed that the water was slightly colder here than it had been during the first part of our trip. As we swam we saw several white tipped sharks swimming silently beneath us and one or two sea turtles amongst the many fish going about their lives in amongst the coastal rocks. When
we returned we swam along the beach a few metres from the shore and came across loads more sea turtles that, if you swam up quietly, were happy enough to let you watch them eat their breakfasts! Dotting the area around here were also scores of chunky, red starfish that formed their own beautiful constellations on the sandy floor.
We had lunch on the move as we sailed towards Chinese Hat Island, cunningly named because, well, it looks a bit like a chinese hat! We took a little boat ride in the small launch and saw a group of the little Galapagos penguins perched on the rocks. Having found their way up here at some time on the cool Humboldt current they are now the most northerly group of penguins to be found.
We went for a short walk on the island spotting wildlife and looking at the impressive lava flows that have created hundreds of small tubes and tunnels over the ground. Back in the water on the coast of Chinese Hat we played for a while with the curious sea-lions (you can never get tired of swimming with these entertaining animals!) and spotted a tiger snake
eel winding it's way across the sea floor. Just as we were about to get out our guide shouted that he'd seen a large ray. We swam over quickly and discovered a marbled ray with a span of about 2m swimming gracefully beneath us. It was fantastic to float above it as it sailed along, a real highlight of this snorkelling trip.
Back on the boat and showered and changed we sat on the deck to watch the sunset as we sailed over to Bartolome Island where we'd moor for the night. Today we were sadly missing the wedding of our great friends Alex and Emma so we toasted their health on deck with a bottle of nice wine. Congratulations!
Day 744 (12.04.09)
When we thought about the Galapagos prior to this trip it was the amazing wildlife that came to our minds rather than the landscapes. But with arid, cactus studded islands, immaculate white sand beaches with clear turquoise waters and acres of rolling lava flows it's hard not to be impressed with this element of the archipelago.
Santiago island, which hosted our first land visit of the day, is a large expanse of black,
Baby at the research centre
wrinkled lava that makes for a stunning, otherworldly vista. Leaving behind plenty of Sally Lightfoot crabs, marine iguanas, a lava heron and a bunch of nesting pelicans we took a walk deep out into the lava fields.
The pinnacle of rock that stands out sharply from Bartoleme Island descends under the surface of the sea and makes for a great home for plenty of marine life. We snorkelled around with plenty of great fish but the highlight of this underwater experience was without doubt when we were joined by the penguins. Bolting past us like bullets through the waves, the waddly clumsy nature of these guys above water certainly belies their skill beneath the waves. Superb!
After some lunch on the boat (no food is allowed on the islands) we made a visit to Bartolome where we climbed the volcano to get amazing views down onto the back to back bays that make this island one of the most recognisable landscapes of the Galapagos.
After a quick swim to cool off from our climb accompanied by a couple of sealions and a marine iguana, it was time to sail off for North Seymour Island which would make
for our final stop of the cruise the following morning.
Day 745 (13.04.09)
North Seymour is famous mostly for it's breeding birds, particularly the blue-footed boobies (which really do have very blue feet!) and frigate birds. The male blue-footed boobies do a special dance to impress their female. First lifting their feet one by one in slow swaying motion and then lifting their wings, looking skywards and hooting like a badly blown recorder they compete to get their chosen bird's attentions. We witnessed a lot of this fascinating behaviour and also saw some birds, having obviously been successful, perching on a nest of eggs.
The male frigate bird has another method for attracting a mate. Beneath the black feathers on their throats they hide away a pouch of bright red skin until breeding time when they sit on a tree and inflate this skin into a huge crimson balloon. Thinking we might just see one or two birds displaying their wares we were amazed to see red splashes dotted all over the place. As with all the other wildlife we'd seen over the past week we still couldn't believe how close we could get to these seemingly
fearless creatures without them worrying at all. A superb island as our last stop. The cruise had been incredible and we were so glad we'd forked out to see these amazing islands in this way.
The boat then took us to the airport island where we dropped off some of our group for their flights back to the mainland. The rest of us were sticking around for a few days to make the most of our flight costs and park entrance fees. We caught the bus, ferry, bus combo required to get to Puerto Ayuras and found a cheap place to stay at Amigos.
We had a relaxing day wandering around town trying to find a dive boat that was going out to Gordons' Rocks where it's highly likely that you'll see Hammerhead Sharks. Diving is very expensive on the islands but we're only here once right?! Sadly none of the boats were going to the site we wanted in our one day window for diving so we were a little disapointed (but our bank account will be healthier as a result!)
We were pretty tired after the last few busy days on the cruise so, after
a beer on the dock watching the pelicans, we had an ealry night.
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