The Galápagos! "Survival of the FIttest"
Trip Start May 22, 2010
42Trip End Sep 21, 2010
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Where I stayed
Hostal Bella Vista
We flew with specialist airline AeroGal to tiny Isla Baltra on Wednesday morning. We spent a week on the archipelago of the Galapagos, spending the first night on Isla Santa Cruz, before taking the 5-day, 4-night cruise we booked in Guayaquil. The last couple of nights were spent on Isla San Cristobal, where we had hoped to add some scuba diving to the list!
The islands are really beautiful from the air, although on the ground a little more barren and volcanic than I expected. We arrived in Isla Baltra, paid our US$100 tourist tax (it was just US$6 for Ecuadorians!), had our baggage inspected for prohibited items and took a short bus journey to the port, followed by a short ferry across to Isla Santa Cruz (the most populous island in the archipelago) and a 45 minute bus journey south to the town of Puerto Ayora, the biggest town in the Galapagos.
We stayed in a comfortable little family-run hotel (Hotel Salinas, US$17.50 pp) near the harbour on Wednesday night. It was only a small little town with a few hotels so we didn’t have much to pick from anyway, unless we wanted a fancy seafront hotel with a private swimming pool for US$200 per night! That afternoon I took the trip to Tortuga Bay
That evening, we enjoyed a nice bite in a seafood restaurant before going for a couple of beers in the only happening place in town – Bongo’s!! The place was fairly busy for a Wed night, we even saw our guide (Andres) from the rafting in Banos
We stocked up on supplies for the next 5 days and joined our boat on Thursday afternoon. The boat was in pretty good condition, considering it was built in the late 1800’s and has seen a lot of action. It’s quite nice inside with a wooden interior. Met up with everyone from the cruise, not quite a diverse bunch….. of the 16 passengers, 7 were Israeli guys (Elad, Dan, Daniel, Yuval, Ben and two other guys whose names I don’t recall). Of the remaining group, there was a Canadian girl (Alexis) who now teaches in Mexico, two Aussie friends (Mik and Natalie), an elderly English couple (Maurice and Dorothy) and two brothers from the US (Mariano and Andrew). It turned out that the Israeli guys were straight out of the army (one of which, Ben, was a navy commando!) And so was Mik as it turned out; he served as a commando in Afghanistan for a bit and to quote him "yeah, we killed some guys"! It made you feel a little safer on the high seas, and less so in other ways
Thursday afternoon we went to the El Chato giant turtle reserve deep in the highlands of Isla Santa Cruz before moving onto some “lava tubes”. The giant turtle reserve was pretty amazing and our guide estimated that one of the turtles was 160 years old, so I guess that means he was born when Lincoln was president and Victoria was Queen…. Christ! They don’t know for sure, as obviously no humans are still around to say definitively, but they take a guess based on the condition of the shells. You can get right up close to the turtles and touch them (but we shouldn’t and didn’t). We fed them some mangos from the trees…. They love them and you see how strong their teeth are when they crunch through the fruit! Miguel our guide mentioned that animals being brought in by residents as pets (such as goats) are threatening the turtles food source as they eat the same food.
The lava tubes were pretty underwhelming. It’s a large tunnel formed decades ago by lava…
After some dinner, Miguel gave us our daily speech regarding the following day’s activities. He let us know we could each take a sea sickness tablet for the night and that this would help a lot. After a long, tiring day, we played some cards with Andrew, Dan, Dorothy and Maurice (taught them our travelling game called Sh*thead!) over a couple of beers, before going to bed. The journey to the island of Floreana was really tough, quite rocky, so we hardly slept a wink!
Early Friday morning, we awoke off the shores of the island of Floreana, to another long, white sandy beach. The beach was called Post Office Bay, after the whalers who used to use a barrel to leave letters in a barrel for their family back home and other whalers would collect them and deliver them. Nowadays, it’s still used by tourists to leave postcards for their family and friends and other tourists come and collect them and deliver them when they get home! Pretty cool, but we had no postcards on us to send, which was a real pity.
Later in the morning we hit the waters as a group and snorkelled for a bit
We returned to the boat for a spot of lunch before heading off on another hike / snorkel in Punta Cormorant. The afternoon snorkel was really tough as we were swimming around a really small island offshore of Floreana. It had a really beautiful, untouched beach inside, although we weren’t allowed in. At one point, the current was so strong that sent us backwards no matter how hard we swam. Watching all the beautiful fish down below, we could see them getting swept back and forth and even smashed into the rocks by the current! We tried in vain to get to our target point but it was difficult that the guide just picked us up in the dinghy. The visibility was ok, we saw some nice colourful tropical fish but still, no sharks!
In the afternoon we hiked to a cool beach called Flour Beach (because of the sand)… with turtles eggs laid in the dunes
Saturday we landed on Isla Espanola and had another a great day; in the morning we went to a seal colony in Gardiner Bay… there must have more than 300 seals on the beach! They sleep all day and swim for fish all night, so most of them were asleep, but there were a few moving about, barking at each other and playing. One young seal was going around for ages trying to find its mother…. I wouldn’t be surprised if it had been disowned due to human contact (the mother and baby rely on smell to recognise each other). We spent a couple of hours relaxing on the beach with the seals and mockingbirds, who come up to you when you’re sitting down, try to open your backpack and look for water bottles!! Clever little things. After we were finished on the beach, we moved to a different spot and went snorkelling for a bit. There as quite good visibility and we saw lots of seals swimming in the water, they’re great fun actually cos they swim right up to you, full of curiosity.
After lunch we went for a hike to Punta Suarez. On show were blue footed boobies, albatross, masked boobies and even a relatively rare galapagos hawk. We also saw some more marine iguanas, seals and sally lightfoot crabs
The journey to Isla Santa Fe on Sunday night was pretty rough, so we didn’t get much sleep. And Ciaran and I were interrupted in the middle of the night by one of the other passengers coming into our room at 3am looking for the remote for the air-con! A little scary to see someone fumbling around in our cabin, but it was resolved in the end!
The beach landing at 6am on the seal beach in Isla Santa Fe was really enjoyable, we got to see the sun come up. After that we hiked a trail through the island and saw some yellow / green land iguanas and some giant cactus trees. Then back to the boat for some more snorkelling! The weather has picked up a lot and it’s now a lot warmer in the water, thankfully. This was the best snorkelling experience yet, as we swam for a couple of hours in a protected inlet about 300 metres x 300 metres. We got to swim with some seals, at least 10 or 12 of them were swimming around me, Ciaran and Yuval
After doing a spot of sunbathing in the baking sunshine that afternoon, we did another hike on Plazas, where we saw more of the same (land iguanas, giant cacti, more seals and lizards) and walked along a beautiful cliff face, before doing another snorkel in another spot on the island. This time we were actively on the hunt for hammerhead sharks; we saw three massive ones swimming around the boat before we got in to snorkel, definitely a bit scary even though they are not dangerous to humans! Water really warm and enjoyable to snorkel in now – we swam from the main boat across to the island this time, some 200-300 metres and visibility was great, we see 15 metres down to the bottom! Saw some colourful large shoals of fish, which tempted Mik and I to dive down into them to disperse them for a photograph! Unfortunately though, no sharks. Got back to the boat and tried some highboard jumping off the bow, quite high (maybe 6 metres!). When the main other group returned to the boat, we learned that some had seen 2-3 sharks in the water, which was raging for us
his was also the day of the World Cup Final in South Africa, between Holland and Spain. While we tried in vain to watch the match on the small, dated aerial tv on the boat, it was a fantastic day’s memories to have.
The Monday morning hike was mildly interesting, we’ve seen all the animals already but we did see a couple of freshly hatched blue-footed boobies, no more than a couple of hours old… the mothers actually lay more than one egg but are only able to source enough food to feed the first one and the other one usually dies…. Dorothy described it well as “heir and a spare”, which was quite clever.
After that we were back to the boat to say our goodbyes to everyone before making the trip back to Puerto Ayora. Bought our tickets for the 2pm boat to Isla San Cristobal (US$25 pp) before heading to the Charles Darwin Centre with Mik and Natalie for a couple of hours…. Didn’t spend too long here, just long enough to go the see some more turtles and the baby tortoise nursery. Ciaran met up with Vy and the decision was made for her to join us on the trip to Mancora later in the week
Said our goodbyes to Mik and Natalie. We had hoped to see Natalie again in Mancora but Mik headed back to Oz and a new career - hopefully one less detrimental to his well being! Jumped aboard the high-speed yacht to Isla San Cristobal, which I remember for the back pains it caused me for days afterwards, crashing through the waves! We stayed two nights in the half-decent hotel (Hostal Bella Vista) in the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, which happens to be the capital of the Galapagos! We had hoped to do some scuba in Kicker Rock, as it was meant to be immense, really clear and great opportunities for seeing hammerheads… but unfortunately they hadn’t enough other people to do it so we had to miss out! I found a beach (Playa Loboria) on Tuesday afternoon to relax, read a book and watch the surfers out in the water wiping themselves out on some class looking surf breaks. Had the beach to myself and fell asleep for a while before being startled by something cold and wet rubbing my arm. Opened my eyes sleepily to see a baby seal lying beside me on the beach, poking at me interestingly with his nose! I leapt quickly to my feet with a yelp, which evidently scared the seal, who shuffled back to his mother. It turned out the beach was also a seal colony! Other than that, there wasn’t much to say about Isla San Cristobal, very little of anything to do and restaurant / hostel choice was poor and overpriced
We had had everything easy up to that point in terms of transport in South America. So much so, that it came as no surprise to find on our arrival to the airport that there had been a mess-up with our flight. We arrived with the bags to check in for our flight and the lady at the desk seemed puzzled and informed us that our flight was from Isla Baltra and not from Isla San Cristobal. We never did figure out how this had happened, as the booking was clear in Guayaquil. We had looked into changing some flights (dates, airports) in the Aerogal offices in Isla Santa Cruz, so we suspected the lady may have changed our flights for us and failed to tell us! As we were keen to move on and Ciaran had arranged to meet Vy (and didn’t want to let her down again!) so thankfully the check-in lady managed to work something out to get us on the flight.
So we left the Galapagos and Ecuador –we had another great time, the Galapagos was another lifetime highlight to add to Angel Falls!! Ecuador and in particular, Banos, was great fun, although not as good as Colombia.
[Ciaran] Not gonna harp on to much I think Owen has explained in great detail already, other that I had the time of my life and words can’t do the Galapagos justice, just go there if you ever have the chance, it’s a life changing experience. If I may bring Owen up on a slight mistake, there Seal lions not Seals, oh no he didn’t. Great time though although our boat was ok it was a bit cheap and I think the other boats think that we were the crazies. It was like a backpackers boat and everyone else from other tours on big yachts who had paid 2000 dollars for there trip I think were afraid of us, which added to the fun. I think the name of the card game was spoons surprisingly enough, great crack. It was great to get back to dry land at the end and get soom space to sleep and wash but wouldn’t change the trip for anything.