We got a taxi at 7.30, flew at 9.30 and after a brief stop at Guayaquil and gaining an hour as we flew... we finally landed in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal island in the Galapagos. We walked from the airport to our hotel (Chatham - avoid it) which denied any knowledge or our resveration and could only give us a very expensive roo .... funny that .... and they were just booking in a big group of Spanish speakers who wanted 8 rooms. We caught a taxi (pickup) to Casa Blanca which had been recommended by someone in our hostel. Chatham was awful - it took ages to find someone to help us as there was nobody in the office and when we did the woman was not at all helpful or friendly, while one guy just blanked us when we were looking for someone to help us. The hotel itself was like a run down Spanish style resort and the section of town around there is not very nice...our initial impression of the Galapagos was being ruined before we got in the taxi
. The taxi dropped us off at Casa Blanca where we met the lovely Jacqui who showed us to a room that she had decorated herself...and it is lovely. We are on the waterfront, right in the heart of town and overlooking the tourist pier - we couldnīt have asked for better. And Jacqui herself is so helpful and friendly. All along the beach there are sealions and pelicans. After a quick ice-cream we walked out to the excellent interpretation centre where we learned how the islands were formed by volcanoes and we learned about the various failed colonization attempts that the island has gone through. We also learned about the human devastation of the wildlife here and how Darwin found the inspiration for his Theory of Evolution on these majestic islands. After touring the centre we followed the volcanic rock paths which took us from the centre to a series of viewpoints and a snorkelling area. From one clifftop vantage point we looked down below us and saw sealions playing with a couple of snorkellers. They were swimming in the Las Tijeretas bay which is where Darwin first landed. The cliff is also home to nesting frigate birds which are beautiful in flight with a swift/scissor like tail. We spent a couple of hours wandering round and over the headland and both got some colour. That night we ate in a local restaurant where we both had a lobster/crayfish thingy for about 7 euro!
Day 283 Tuesday 09/08/05 (San Cristobal Island) Galapagos
After a lovely breakfast in the guesthouse we head out by taxi for a tour into the highlands
. Itīs mid 20s here but there is a lot of mist on higher ground and the weather round here produces a unique misty rain effect which lasts for a couple of hours each day. As we drove into the highlands it got worse and worse. The highlands are very lush and green and are very different to the more scrub covered arid lower regions. Our first stop was Cerro Colorado where we visited a giant tortoise sanctuary. We saw about a dozen giant Galapagos tortoises (up to about 100 years old) and even got to see a 3 month old tiny one...awh. We then headed back over towards the port and stopped at El Junco where we climbed a very muddy hill and got soaked by the driving rain. The mist and rain meant we couldnīt get the view from the top - which would have been a fresh water lake in a volcanic crater! We could just make out the water. We headed back down the hill - very carefully and drove down to the coast - where the sun was out and dried us nicely. We walked along La Loberia and saw loads of marine iguanas sitting on the rocks. On the inhabited islands the animals have become more wary of people due to mainly dogs and kids...but our guide/taxi driver I think makes it worse too. At one point he actually tried to pick up a huge iguana (1m long) and while he was holding its tail it bit his shoe - it was so funny and seeing the iguana fight back was great. It was so strong too and clung forcefully to the rock when the guide started to pick it up. We stopped him doing it again and he couldnīt understand that we didnīt want to touch the wild animal or have him disturb it. Obviously some of the locals have some way to go before they understand what eco tourism is all about! We headed back into town and after a quick snack we rented masks, snorkels and flippers and headed over to Las Tijeretas. There were 2 nice English people there (Philip & Ashley) and 2 nice Americans. We snorkelled round the bay and back again but the sealions didnīt come out to play. There were some lovely fish and some lovely rocks
. One sealion swam very close to both of us but just continued eating the sea urchins. We climbed out and chatted to the others for a while. The English couple headed for the beach and the remaining four of us continued chatting. A sealion was out so Stewart went back into the water (about 20 degrees so still cold) and tried to see if it would play - it wouldnīt. Stewart went in and out of the water about 5 times while the others stayed warm! At one point Stewart headed for a cave overhang but was charged at by a sealion - the Americans enjoyed seeing him backpeddle furiously! Later on a couple of sealions did play and jumped around him and one got about a foot away from him - face to face eyeing each other up. Stewart finally got out and we went back to town. We wandered around town shopping for a while before heading back to the same restaurant as last night for dinner. Stewart had Macho Fish (lovely white fish with loads of squid, prawns, etc) while Gillian went for a nice seafood spaghetti. While in Ecuador learning about Darwin and evolution we read this on the BBC website! " President George Bush has started a national debate in the US over the teaching of evolution in school. The president has suggested that a theory known as "intelligent design" should be taught in the classroom. It proposes that life is too complex to have developed through evolution, and an unseen power must have had a hand." Maybe George W should come here and see the different way birds, tortoises, iguanas and even plants have evolved to cope with the island specific environment they encountered.
Day 284 Wednesday 10/08/05 (San Cristobal Island) Galapagos
We had another lovely breakfast in Casa Blanca - the owner Jacqui changes what you have every day so it never gets boring
. We then watched some of the Independence Day parade......the kids all looked really fed up to be there but the parents were happy to see their kids in smart uniforms marching along the street and were taking loads of pictures of the grimacing kids. We then headed to Galakiwi where we hired some short wet suits for our snorkeling trip. The two English people we met yesterday joined us and 3 Swiss folk who were avid divers. We sailed along the coast and saw some red footed boobies, blue footed boobies and frigate birds nesting on some hillsides/cliffs. The frigate males have a red sac on their neck which they inflate to attract females and even at a distance you can clearly see them amongst the trees. We continued on to Leon Dormido (aka Kicker Rock) which is a fabulous volcanic rock jutting up almost vertically for 148m. We sailed between two sections of this island before sailing into a crevice which you canīt actually sail all the way through - our driver had to use all his skill with the outboard engine to turn us in this tight channel where the waves were causes big swells! We then jumped out of the dinghy and went snorkeling round the smaller island. The currents were strong and visibility wasnīt that great but in a couple of sections we saw some beautiful fish and some really colourful sections of rock that looked like an artist had gone mad with his yellows, greens and reds. We then climbed back in and headed back towards the port - we stopped at Isla Lobos for some more snorkeling. We didnīt reapply suncream on this section of the journey and both of us ended up with mild sunburn on our legs & knees where the wetsuit didnīt cover
. Almost as soon as we hit the water the sea-lions came out to play! A young one swam round us, dived with us, did circles under us, jumped near us and generally played for ages. A larger male made a few swim-bys to make sure the younger one was alright! We also saw some marine iguanas on the rocks and some Sally Lightfoot Crabs. The crabs start life black (for camouflage on the black volcanic rocks) and the adults are an amazing array of red, black and blue. While admiring the sea-lions from the water Stewart had his flipper bitten by a large male...we think he might have been trying to warn Stewart off from trying to steal his females!!!! The island is also home to frigate birds and just before we left we were treated to an amazing display of flying as the frigate birds fought each other for a snake. We headed back to town and after a shower to warm up we basically spent the afternoon chilling and souvenir shopping. We had a lovely meal in La Playa restaurant - Gillian had some deep fried prawns and Stewart had some prawns in a spicy coconut sauce. We walked back to our hostel along the beach in the moonlight and the beach was full of sleeping sea-lions!
Day 285 Thursday 11/08/05 (San Cristobal - Santa Fe - Santa Cruz)
After breakfast we headed out to the airport to meet our guide
. We were taken to the ship and spent 2.5 hours relaxing on deck waiting for everyone else to join us. After about an hour the 5 people who were on a longer cruise came back - John & Adrienne from New Jersey, Brian from New York and Fabio & Serena from Italy. They had already been on the boat for 4 days and we got chatting. The plane with the others was late and eventually they arrived - a Portuguese/American family of four (Ed, Marilyn, Jason & Adrienne), Mike & Liz from Seattle, Toni & Krista from Finland, who were on their honeymoon. After a nice fish lunch we sailed for 4 hours to Santa Fe Island. We had a wet landing at a sea-lion infested beach and did a walk through a prickly pear cactus forest where we saw Darwinīs finches, land iguanas and blue footed boobies. Because the plane was late we didnīt get to snorkel here and as the sun set we made our way back to the beach. On the way back to our boat we saw loads of eagle rays in the shallow water. We had dinner and then sailed for about 3 hours to Santa Cruz Island and anchored in the port of Puerto Ayora. Puerto Ayora is the busiest and most touristy port in the Galapagos - cruises normally leave from here (the airport is currently closed) and it is full of restaurants, souvenir shops and bars! The crew and 5 of the tourists went ashore here and came back 3 hours later having has a good night! We stayed on board and after chatting to some of the others for a while we headed to bed.
Day 286 Friday 12/08/05 (Santa Cruz - Floreana) Galapagos
After breakfast on board we headed on to the island and visited the Darwin Centre. In this centre they have a giant tortoise breeding and are trying to increase the populations of each of the remaining 11 species of Galapagos tortoises
. We got up close to many males and females and as they arenīt afraid of humans they keep their heads out for some lovely pictures. The older male (100 - 120 years old) tortoises are huge. The centre also has some rare land iguanas and is frequented by many finches. The star of the show however is Lonesome George - he is the last of his breed (Pinta Island) and he refuses to mate with females from other islands and pass on his genes! When he dies his race will become extinct. We then had some time in shops before having an average fish lunch on the island - the boat is being de-cockroached! We were meant to get back to the boat but it wasnīt ready so we had some time to kill in the town before catching a bus (with another boatīs cargo of tourists) to a farm in the highlands of the island. The farm has wild tortoises on their land and we got to see some more tortoises but this time they were more afraid and kept pulling their heads in. Iīm afraid weīre a bit tortoised out and perhaps a full day of them is a little too much. We then caught the bus to a lava tube where some of the group (including Stewart) went through the 1km lava tube which included a little crawl at one point. We headed back to town and caught a boat-taxi back to the boat as our dinghy was still loading supplies. We had a nice fish dinner and then headed back into the town for some drinks and some dancing. We got back to the boat about 11.30 and at midnight we left port and headed for the island of Floreana.
Day 287 Saturday 13/08/05 (Floreana - Espanola) Galapagos
We arrived about 4.30 and everyone was woken by the anchor falling! The two Finns are diving and at 6am they went off for a dive. We had breakfast at 7 and when the Finns were safely back aboard we headed for Post Office Bay
. Post Office Bay is where the whaling ships of old would leave their mail in a barrel - other ships visiting would look in the barrel and take mail for the ports they were heading for and leave theirs. When America was fighting the British some clever American naval officer rifled the barrel and read the whalers letters - learning where they were heading and basically followed them and captured them! Nowadays tourists use the barrel to send postcards and letters home for free. After a wet landing we found the barrel and left some letters. We also picked out a couple of postcards with addresses in Dublin to be delivered on our return. We then walked into the island a little and went into another lava tube - this one was much smaller and only two people went in far - down a steep slippery slope. The rest of us headed to the beach where we snorkeled, played football and sunbathed. While snorkeling we saw a huge turtle feeding (1.5m long) and saw quite a lot of colourful fish. On the beach we also got very very close to some lovely blue-footed boobies. We even saw a Galapagos penguin in the water when we first arrived in the bay. We headed back to the boat about 11 and sailed to the next area - the rather spectacular Devils Crown Rocks. We had lunch and then spent about 2 hours relaxing while the Finns got prepared and had their dive around the Devilīs Crown. When they returned we went to the main island by dinghy and landed at Punta Cormoran. Itīs a lovely green tinged beach and is home to some rather aggressive sea-lions and loads of Sally Lightfoot crabs
. We walked inland and found a lagoon which had flamingoes and some ducks. We walked across the island to another beach which was stunning. Turquoise waters, white sands, ghost crabs, Sally Lightfoot crabs, rays in the water and bright sunshine. Itīs a beach with protected waters so we couldnīt snorkel here. We headed back to the boat and those that wanted to snorkel went snorkeling round the Devilīs Crown. Gillian chickened out on grounds of cold but Stewart went for it. Only 5 people braved the waters and Stewart was the only one without a wet-suit. It was brilliant snorkeling and we saw loads of colourful fish, huge starfish, another large turtle and ......... Stewart saw his first ever shark. Thankfully it was a safe white-tipped reef shark but it was amazing to snorkel over the top of it. Stewart was snorkeling beside Serena (who hadnīt done much snorkeling and as none of the crew nor the guide were in the water he hung around to keep her company) and when he pointed out the shark her reaction was priceless! While getting back into the dinghy Stewart had a minor accident! He was halfway in when he slipped further and grazed his forehead on the hard matted floor of the dinghy! We had a bottle of red wine that evening and the dinner was a nice veggie pasta - sadly full of mushrooms. We left after dinner and had a very choppy 7 hour journey against to the current to get to the next island (arriving at some silly hour of the morning). We sat outside until the spray got too bad and then headed to bed
Day 288 Sunday 14/08/05 (Espaņola - San Cristobal) Galápagos
The day started very misty and murky. We had a dry landing over slippery rocks onto Espaņola. There were tonnes of land iguanas near the landing area and on the sandy areas we found yet another colony of sealions - there was however just the cutest little baby sea-lion, which appeared to be a newborn. We then had an hours walk round the island and got treated to some spectacular animals and birds - very close up. This was our favourite island for wildlife. We saw loads of marine iguanas, brightly coloured land iguanas, blue-footed boobies with baby boobies (we actually had to step over one with a chick sitting right on the path), masked boobies (aka Nazca boobies),waved albatrosses, laza lizards and some lovely swallow tailed red legged gulls. Our favourite moment however was seeing Albatrosses doing a mating dance - which we managed to get a little of on video. We headed back to the boat and moved round to Gardners Island. Before lunch a couple of people had an introductory dive and Stewart and two others snorkeled over them. It was here that we encountered the most playful sealions. At one point Stewart had about 9 sea-lions all around him and they stayed playing for about half an hour.
It was amazing and a highlight for Stewart. We had lunch on board (nice ceviche - marinated seafood) before being taken to a nearby beach. The beach was a lovely white sand beach and had beautiful waters.....and as we arrived at the beach the sun came out. We both went snorkeling and found a huge turtle which we snorkeled with for 10 minutes. There were some lovely shoals of fish (including an amazing shoal of yellow tailed snappers and 1 trumpet fish) round a rocky outcrop just off the beach. Stewart found some more turtles feeding and we spent an hour or so relaxing in the sunshine. The beach also had a few colonies of sea-lions but they werenīt interested in playing. We headed back to the boat and were treated to a wonderful sunset. After a shower we spent the evening drinking chatting and having a laugh. The boat moved on after dinner but the journey was easier and we arrived about 1am.
Day 289 Monday 15/08/05 (San Cristobal) Galápagos - Quito
Before breakfast we had a walking tour of Isla Lobos (where we snorkeled before the cruise). We saw loads of sealions with pups and lots of juvenile frigate birds practicing their flying. We returned to the boat and had breakfast before sailing back into port. We had a group picture taken before heading ashore where some of us found we were wavering a little on our sea legs! We got to the airport about 9am (at out guideīs insistance) and checked in about 10am. We hung around in the café and said our goodbyes as people headed for different flights. We took off about 12.15 and landed in Quito about 4.15 (an hour time difference added). We headed back to the Secret Garden and basically relaxed there with dinner, familiar faces and a few drinks!