Snap-lite but still beautiful, the isle of Floreana lies amongst the images below…
Snap-lite but still beautiful, the isle of Floreana lies amongst the images below…
While we slept the crew had gently cruised us over to the next island on our itinerary – Floreana. Our first stop of the day was the Baroness Lookout which upon reaching we took the opportunity for a group photo at. Not so wildlife-centric a venue, Daniel unfailingly kept us entertained with a wealth of information that I’ve shamelessly since forgotten. It was certainly a beautiful day with the surrounding flora and environment rich in colour and diversity.
After lunch back on the boat we were transferred over to Post Office Bay. The back story here is one of an innovative solution by homesick whalers to agree a spot where anyone passing could leave letters in a barrel. When a vessel happened to be passing en route to Europe or the US the agreement was to take whatever mail they could that was to be delivered in their destination country / continent.
The tradition is kept alive today – but thankfully no longer by Giant Tortoise-scoffing whalers and instead by supposedly more benign tourists. We took the opportunity to ‘post’ a postcard for a newborn Jack Hignett, son of friends Abbie and Nick, which he received in due course. Others amongst our number more imminently homeward bound retrieved any correspondence for their countries from the barrel, committed to posting it on their return, while depositing their own to see how long they’d take to reach their destination with their fate in the hands of others.
A short hike further on took us to the remains of an ill-fated Norwegian fishing village whose hardy inhabitants had not been hardy enough. We had a brief snorkel in the bay before returning to the boat for lunch and some downtime while we transferred to our next snorkelling spot – the Devil’s Crown.
A rocky circular out-crop with a cool name, I don’t recall much in the way of sea life the day we stopped by. I think conditions were a little choppy and I seem to recall thinking that it would be cool if something had been there among us but it’s all good exercise and interesting to explore for a short while.
Next up it was a short ride to Cormorant Point. I recall super-dry mud flats as we wandered toward a beach at the other side from where we’d landed – all is pretty visually spectacular amidst this archipelago but even photos rarely do it justice. Upon reaching the beach we’d set out Daniel recognised we’d dropped in for a rare event and needed to be particular cautious – a host of turtles were mating in the bay then heading in to lay eggs. We observed quietly from a distance for a while before collectively agreeing to give them a little privacy.
Back at the boat it was an evening much the same as the last and a good time was had by all – double time on the beers after a great day.
It felt like there was a ridiculous amount of wildlife crammed onto Espanola, sea lions, iguanas, waved albatross, Galapagos hawks, blue footed boobies, nazca boobies. A surreal place to visit and possibly my favourite island. Across all the islands, as the animals have no real predators they have no fear of humans and whilst you shouldn’t approach them, if they come to you it’s absolutely OK to sit and quietly watch. It’s a strange and beautiful experience to have a baby sea lion shuffle up to you to check you out, similarly it’s pretty awe inspiring to have the adult sea lions inquisitively swim under and around you as your snorkel – You probably sense what my favourite animal to spend time with was!
Espanola was a feast for the senses with so much wildlife all over the island.
When we surfaced the next day we were alongside the island of Espanola. This is considered to be the oldest of the Galapagos Islands and supposedly now in decline, effectively dying as it drifts further and further away from the heart of the archipelago over the course of millions of years. We won’t be throwing a funeral for it any time soon however and at the moment it seems fairly packed with wildlife to me.
Pictures tell a thousand words here and as I write this I’ve yet to decide how I’ll whittle down and organize the countless photos I took of the wildlife on the islands. For now I’ll throw as much detail down in words while I remember and we’ll see what happens.
We were ferried over to Punta Suarez on Espanola via the Zodiac and scaled some precarious rocks to the trail. Tiny juvenile sea lions sat in and amongst the black lava rocks drying off and completely unperturbed by our presence. We set off walking and before long were surrounded by Marine Iguanas on every available inch of dry land, sunning themselves to raise their body temperatures to the magic 37 degrees required for them to take the plunge into the sea and set about munching on the wealth of red & green algae formed on the submerged rocks.
Danny regaled us with info on the spectacular creatures as a little sea lion stomped through them, nipping at their tales as they begrudgingly scattered, unwilling to play.
Our trail hugged the coast and took us higher. Before long we were surrounded by nesting Blue-Footed Boobies. Some were courting, some protecting eggs, some sat on chicks and all angry when 2 Galapagos Hawks arrived and perched a few meters away, happy to pose for us and far more interested in new booby for breakfast.
Further along we were amongst Masked Boobies and while you’d be forgiven for thinking I was talking about girls in bikinis I’m referring to another type of bird. Their outstanding characteristic was their exceptional tight white ‘fro; style was not absent in the Galapagos.
With Danny’s guidance we carefully avoided an area marked by stones where Marine Iguana’s nests have been located by rangers. We simultaneously passed another group whose guide had failed to point out the boundary and would have aimlessly trampled the eggs had Danny not had a word.
Atop the hill we were greeted by Waved Albatrosses. The rearing cycle for juveniles was reaching the end – a little earlier than usual thanks to good conditions for breeding this year – and we were lucky that there were still a few around. We even got to see the fabulously awkward take-off run (think Orville’s take-off in Disney’s The Rescuers – and yes I had to look that up, but that’s all I could think of while watching them) where they look in all likelihood like they’ll never get off the ground. Interestingly one juvenile Albatross had a distinct ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ look going on.
More walking took us along the sheer cliffs with a blowhole firing water into the air, birds swooping in and around and another Galapagos Hawk sat on a rocky outcrop as we passed Albatross Airport.
The path continued round back toward our starting point at which point I think we returned to the boat.
Our first snorkel of the cruise came next; we got kitted out and then were spun out to snorkel. El Capitan joined us and spent a lot of it leading the way, pointing out the odd turtle or ray or shark as they passed by. It was far from warm and when the offer came to call time and head back it was met with a unanimous yes.
Back at the boat it was lunch time and another feast was dished up but not before the acutely aware crew greeted us with a batch of Chocolate Caliente to chase off the chill. While we stuffed our faces the boat set off toward our afternoon stop – Gardner Bay.
For anyone still reading at this point it’s time for an apology from me. You see, when you’re in the Galapagos Islands, on a tour, surrounded by cool people, wonderful weather and amazing wildlife the compunction to take notes / write anything at all departs quite quickly. I find myself here, some 3 and a half years later, attempting to build a narrative from roughly 10 pages of single word lines. On account of this the story may become even sketchier – from what I can tell normal service looks like it will resume in mid-Colombia but hell, we’ll give it a go eh?
Post lunch we took the opportunity for a cheeky nap – essential to keep running on top form when each destination was reached.
The travel didn’t take too long though and soon we’d reached Gardner Bay and were ferried ashore in the Zodiac to spend some time with the natives – a colony of Sea Lions. It felt great to get another opportunity to walk amongst them as they huddled together in groups snoozing, waddled about playing and generally enjoyed themselves.
A slightly more sobering element is the nature of how these groups occasionally ostracise weaker runts, or how new mothers sometimes effectively walk away from their children – like seemingly every David Attenborough documentary always pulled your heart strings with. Amidst the sand was a tiny pup alone and seemingly abandoned to die. As guests adhering to our obligation not to interfere it’s difficult to come to terms with, but this is the natural order of things for these animals and it doesn’t matter how it makes us feel.
The sun slowly setting on a great day we sidled back to the Zodiac for our reconnection with the Galapagos Vision. Another spectacular meal ensued, the whole group eating out on deck around a large pair of tables while the crew moved back and forth keeping things ship-shape.
After dinner we all crammed together at the back of the boat, playing card games and drinking beers. In a rare turn of events I actually won at one point I think. It was a lovely evening spent in great company.
San Cristóbal from the patron saint of seafarers, St. Christopher, is the island where we had our first up close encounter with Sea lions. They were lounging everywhere and oblivious to us watching while they frolicked in the sea and cuddled up on the beach in the sun. Very, very cute! Our next stop was onto kicker rock, an eroded volcano cone where we took our first snorkel trip. Heading through the natural channel we realised that beneath us were 20 + sharks zipping about, much excitement followed especially for one fellow traveller Gaby who had never snorkelled before – what an awesome first time experience!
A visit to the sea lion colony at La Loberia followed by some time in the water around Kicker rock – what’s not to like?
We’d latched on a snorkelling trip in advance of the tour to San Cristobal which required us to be at Joybe Tours for 6am so after a hastily scrammed bowl of granola and some last minute arrangements we set out with Marleen (who was going with us) and Dennis (who was off diving early anyway).
As we’d expected 6am was really closer to 7 but we met our fellow day trippers including Gabby & Kristel, two nurses that were on a break from volunteering in Ecuador and happened to be following us onto the cruise that evening. We grabbed our snorkel gear and set out to the port where we boarded our boat for the two-hour journey to San Cristobal. The majority of the seating was inside which didn’t do a few of the inhabitants any favours, the meagre breakfasts they had managed to acquire soon with the fishes.
We reached San Cristobal and after sorting a few bits of equipment were ferried round to La Loberia. This was a beach with a large Sea Lion colony including many recently born pups. While initially concerned over how close we should allow ourselves to encroach upon their group (for their sake, not ours) it soon became apparent that they were quite comfortable with us wandering among them – indeed it was often left to us to shift ourselves as the more curious individuals of the group flopped over to get to know us. I was in photo heaven – these beautiful creatures just going about their day-to-day was enough to enthral. We were able to comfortably get within a meter or so of them while the Alpha male swam up and down the coastline honking his dominance to any would be challengers.
I took a quick wander out to see a few of the islands’ Marine Iguanas (Marine Iguanas, like Llamas, can never be over-indulged in) before we all wandered back under the heat of the late morning sun to the pickup point for a transfer back to town for lunch. After a nice meal it was back to the boat for a chug out to Kicker rock, an iconic island and spire seen on many a postcard. After a quick circuit in the boat it was snorkel gear on (including very necessary wetsuits) and into the deep.
Within moments we could see loads of sharks swimming beneath and alongside us – while I don’t think they were white or black tip reef sharks I confess I don’t know if they were Galapagos Sharks or not. We also saw Eagle Rays doing the rounds but the sheer number of sharks was the highlight. If I remember rightly Gaby was relatively new to snorkelling and while a few of us maintained a casual vigil to be certain she was comfortable I confess I took great delight in advising her to take a look down early in the dive – I’m not sure what it says about me that I find comedy value in seeing peoples’ faces when they realise they’re surrounded by sharks.
In fairness sharks are so serene and beautiful that before long Gaby was just as fascinated as the rest of us. The fear manufactured of the species is sad really – according to handy stat ol’ Google just offered up from the CDC in the US you’re 20 times more likely to be killed by a cow over there. Tis usually only surfers that get offed by them anyway, and if you’re going to put yourself on the menu on a daily basis I’m not entirely convinced you have any right to being affronted when a starving animal that your own species is pushing to extinction tries to take a bite out of you.
Back on the boat we were off to our final spot of the day for a much shallower snorkel complete with numerous turtles of many sizes and a couple of personal highlights in the form of big Marine Iguanas feeding underwater – I never thought I’d see that and it was a change from their usual chilled out sunbathing.
Back on the boat it was back to port where the day trip ended and they dropped the four of us that were cruising directly at our vessel – the Catamaran Galapagos Vision.
Only the crew were aboard at the time in the midst of restocking – the guide and remaining new passengers were due later while the few that were already on the cruise were having free time in San Cristobal. After meeting Douglas, our ‘Capitan’, we were assigned our rooms; our negotiations had secured us a room with a shower while Gaby and Kristel were not so lucky but immediately offered free reign over ours whenever they wanted it. We were also overjoyed to discover that it was a hot shower – an unexpected but welcome surprise.
We met the cheeky Chef, Gallo, and the sailors Marvin, Paul and Edwin and were offered to return to the mainland while they completed the preparations for the tour. We gratefully accepted and moments later were sat in a bar supping a welcome (well, when isn’t it?) cerveza while the sun set.
A few drinks later the four of us made our way to the meeting point to meet Marvin and our guide Danny. Danny had spent a few years studying in Sacramento, California and consequently spoke spectacular English. Add to this the fact that over the course of the cruise he would prove to be not only the most knowledgeable, capable and interesting guide I’ve ever been lucky enough to meet but also a cool guy besides and it was an all-round win.
He explained that the rest of the passengers were already on board and that dinner was just about ready so we hopped our slightly fuzzy-headed selves on the ship’s ferrying boat, The Zodiac, and sped over. Once aboard we met Alain from Switzerland, Ubay from Spain, Sofie from Sweden, Maren from Germany and Jaap from Holland. The chef produced a great meal that was to prove an indication of the high quality of food we were to be accustomed to over the course of the voyage and we all set about getting to know each other.
After food Danny briefed us on the plan for the next day in Espanola before offering us the opportunity to return to port for a few hours and enjoy the luxuries of civilization (bars) for a little longer as it would be the only night on the trip we’d be able to. We agreed en masse and hopped aboard the Zodiac along with Edwin & Danny and visited a couple of bars sinking beers, playing pool and generally getting to know each other better.
Within seconds of our return to the boat I was out like a light.
With a boat back to Puerto Ayora booked for 2:30 we had enough time for a tour of Las Tintoreras that morning. This is a small island group off the southern coast of Isabela – almost more like a small collection of rocks really – that’s teaming with wildlife including a water channel filled with resting white-tip reef sharks. There must have been almost a hundred of the 1 to 1.5 meter sharks just resting prone or idly gliding up and down the shallow channel – quite a site but a no-go area for snorkelling. Added to this were literally thousands of Marine Iguanas, from the tiny to the huge, all scattered about the lava rocks ready to get involved in the imminent mating season.
The odd heron stood about, blue-footed boobies perched and as we drifted to our snorkelling spot we were delighted to spy a few Penguins finally, just sat around up to very little except for being awesome. After suiting up in our wisely hired wetsuits we were in the water and in moments amongst a host of huge sea turtles. We watched them glide around unperturbed by human presence before taking an interesting route through some very shallow rocky channels on the hunt for Marine Iguanas in the water.
Just as all hope seemed lost a signal from our guide had my head turn to the amazing sight above water of a big iguana on the move directly toward my mask. I ducked as late as I could to see it glide over before popping back up as it made its way toward the shoreline. Damn cool.
It was then back out and on the boat back to town. We were dropped at our hotel where they’d kindly let us keep the room and we cleaned up and set out toward the port for our departure back. We took a quick side trip to Concha Y Perla, a little lagoon, and met David there again. He leant me his snorkel so I could take a quick swim out and see the ray he’d spied over the other side. I took the water proof camera and snapped a few shots before a sea lion swam up to say hello, swirling and spinning and playing as I filmed his antics. I hopped out and we said our goodbyes before getting on our return boat (after some confusion and some serious overcrowding thanks to unscrupulous over-selling of tickets) and taking a rough ride back to Puerto Ayora.
We returned to Galapagos Best Homestay and met Dennis, a long-term traveller from Germany and Suree from Thailand who’d moved into the other two dorm beds. Some Tacos sorted us out for tea and we hit the sack early in preparation for our stupid o’clock start for diving the next day.
With diving comes early starts and this was no exception. We were down at the port in time for a quick breakfast and terrible coffee before popping to the dive shop and leaping in the back of a taxi up the island to the northern port near Baltra. Before long we were on the Nautilus, an aging sail boat that did precious little sailing these days’ thanks to the motor. We’d somehow managed to get the early taxi and arrived before any other divers but soon enough we were joined by 7 others, amongst them Raul & Cat, dive shop owners themselves, Erica a Dutch girl with the same obsession as me for hammerhead viewing, and Jonathan from Quebec.
We had about an hour and a half to get out to our first dive spot – Plaza – so set about getting to know each other. As we got closer we were briefed on the dive plan and then told to head over to get kitted out. At this point it all became rather haphazard which is never a good thing. Eventually despite their best lack-of-efforts we managed to sort ourselves out and hop into the dingy for transfer to the drop point.
Now dear readers as you all well know diving and I have a so-so relationship; it has to be pretty impressive to piqué my interest. I was here for the hammerheads and an unlikely whale rendezvous and no amount of other sea life was going to cut it.
Underwater, the dive company Nauti Diving’s problems continued; as a group we were all fairly poorly taken care of. Towards the back end of the dive we gave up on trying follow the company and instead Raul took Fi back up while Cat paired up with me and we set out for a wander on our own.
Over the course of the dive we saw White Tip reef sharks, Eagle Rays, Stingrays and other sea life but in fairness I spent the majority of it – save for the wander with Cat – remembering why I’ll never be a dive master. It’s just not that interesting to me – the divers I meet are almost all incredible fun bright people and those working in the industry often have that glint in their eye that they’ve found their calling. I wish I felt the same way but I just don’t.
If the first dive was a disappointment the second was a disaster. We were lined up for Gordon Rocks, a spot known for difficult conditions and reserved only for experienced divers. To cut a long story short the current was insane, one diver was forced to buddy breath, we spent the majority of the dive hanging on to rocks for dear life and Fi chewed through her own air in record time. At one point I was literally being stretched during my best possible attempts at something akin to a safety stop – one outstretched hand on a rock and the other fully extended in the opposite direction holding onto Fi as the current ripped over both of us. When I eventually let go we were simply whipped up to the surface; far from safe.
I had a stonking headache for my troubles and I couldn’t wait to get out of the water. The boat ride back took forever but it gave us an opportunity for a good lunch and to vent our collective frustrations between ourselves.
That evening we hit Cafe Hernan along with Dennis & Suree from our hostel and Miro & Sarah from our earlier time in Puerto Ayora and had a cool evening over beers and pizza.
This late in our trip we were not used to being constantly ‘on it’ anymore so when the opportunity for a rest day presented itself it was met with glee. The chance to sleep in past 6:30 was the first hit of the day and I spent most of the morning preparing and eventually publishing a blog post. We took a wander toward town via the Lavanderia where the kind lady agreed it would be no problem to turn our washing around in just a few hours.
After a simple Ecuadorian lunch and some errands we were back to the Homestay where we spied Suzanne – one of our friends from Rio – who’d just checked in! A chance rendezvous indeed and much catching up followed before Suzanne left for her intro tour with Kevin and Marleen from Holland who’d also just arrived.
We sorted this and that for our imminent tour and caught up with Dennis when he returned from his dives (he typically saw loads of Hammerhead sharks and we were happy for him but gutted we’d missed out). While we’d hoped to see Suzanne for a beer we were destined not to cross paths and we had to head over to the tour agency sort our snorkel gear in advance of next morning’s departure. You can imagine my delight at the opportunity to slip on a soaking wetsuit just prior to a meal out and I was left without fins, with the promise that they’d be provided on arrival in San Cristobal.
Gear sorted as well as could be we rendezvoused with Miro & Sarah for the last time and enjoyed good food and good company.
On reflection the majority of this gallery is the Charles Darwin Research Centre back in Puerto Ayora but there are some snaps of the second Galapagos isle we visited – Isabela. We had nice couple of nights there and I got to swim on my own with a sea lion before our compact camera bit the dust. 2 camera’s down and we weren’t even halfway through our Galapagos Trip!