08.10.2007 - 18.10.2007 17 °C
We reached Guyaquil - Ecuador on Sunday night (8 October) after a 4 hour delay. On the bus, we met a local lady who kindly offered us and a couple of other tourists a lift to town. Her niece came to pick us up in a van, with its doors literally falling off and the van could only be started by hot wiring it.
The next day, after breakfast we decided to go look for a tour to the Galapagos and plan the rest of the itinary around the tour. The plan was to go to the nearest agency, have a feel for the prices and then research on the net as to which is the best tour to do. On entering the first agency (Galasam - www.galasam.com) at 10.00am, the guy there said there was a tour leaving that same day, with the plane leaving at 12.00 noon. He explained the tour, gave us a special last minute price, we haggled it down abit (but not as much as we should have - mainly due to the fact that we were running out of time), rushed back to our hotel to pack up and get our money, rushed back to the tour agency, made the payments and signed the contract, and were driven to the airport by the tour agent. We got there with about 20 minutes to spare - talk about last minute!!
We managed to get a decent deal and at a higher class then we intended to do the tour - so we effectively upgraded from tourist class to first class but still staying in our budget. The flight was an hour and a half, and we were picked up by a panga (motor boat) and taken to our yatch. There we had the first of our many 3 course meals, met our fellow travellers (there were 15 in total) and got geared up for our first snorkelling trip. The snorkelling was ok as it was a cloudy day and visibility was not that great. We were also swimmimg with wetsuits as the water was very cold!! It was definitely not the caribbean sea. After snorkelling we stopped at our first island - North Seymour where we had a small walk to catch the sunset and saw sea lions and some frigate birds (alot of other names escape me) This was our first (of many) experiences with the sea lions and it is amazing how they can be totally oblivious of all the tourists. It was really good watching them at close quarters and already we could feel the magic of the Galapagos - even though this was only a taster of things to come. Both of us were still in some kind of a shock as 24 hours earlier we had no idea what we would be doing and now we were up close to sea lions in the Galapagos!!
The next day we stopped of at Gardner bay in Espanola Island for a closer meeting with the sea lions (there were hundreds of them there) and snorkelling from the beach. The guide gave us a talk on the sea lions and in the middle of the talk while we were all sitting down on the beach, a baby sea lion wandered into the middle of our circle and decided to join us. The young ones are the best as they are the most curious and playful. The beach also had mocking birds who always look for handouts from tourists, marine iguanas (who look very pre-historic) and bright red Sally lightfoot crabs. They were an amazing sight to see the red against the black rocks. Again snorkelling was ok and the water seemed even colder from the beach. Unfortunately, the cold currents and El Nino has wiped out most of Galapagos´s coral population. It was back on board for lunch and then to Punta Suarez for the afternoon trip. Here we saw the Albatross and had our first (again of many) encounter with the blue footed boobies. These birds are also called Kamikazee birds due to the way they dive in head first at great heights - with speeds aproaching 100 kms/hr into the water to catch their fish. These birds are the most popular amongst tourists due to that sight and the graceful way they fly about - and they are also the most plentiful. Inevitably, the most poplular tourist t-shirts in the Galapagos are ´I love boobies.´ Wonder what genius thought of that.
For Day 3, we travelled to Floreana island which is the southernmost Galapagos island. We visited post office bay in the morning which as the name suggests was and still is a post office. A long time ago someone came up with a plan to have a mail exchange at Floreana, whereby sailors who were sailing around the Galapagos could leave letters for their families at the island in a box, and others who were returning home, could take letter destined for their country back and post it from there. In time the families of the sailors also started sending letters with people travelling to the Galapagos for anyone who was sailing around there, and this bay became a fully fledged and very effective post office!! Someting very simple but very important to sailors and their families who would not see each other for months or years. The post office still exists today, and we all wrote postcards and put it in the box, and had a look at any postcards already in the box which we were for our destinations. Obviously we didn´t take any as we are travelling, but others in our tour took a few for their countries...We went back on board and did some snorkelling before lunch at a place called the Devil´s crown which is a ragged semicircle of rocks and we swam with sea lions here before heading to Punta Cormorant for the afternoon excursion. Here we saw some very beautiful pink flamingoes and sting rays very close up to the shore. We could see the rays from the beach. There were also a few other birds including boobies, pelicans and the Galapagos hawk.
We sailed to Isabella island on Thursday where we stopped off to see marine iguanas, white tipped sharks swimming in coves, and flamingoes. However, the highlight was in the morning when, while we were having breakfast, thousands of blue footed boobies decided to have theirs near our yatch and it was a great sight to see them all diving in to catch their fish. They would circle the fishes from above and once they had a group to aim for they would dive in - and they seemed to do it in groups so we would see about 30-40 diving in at the same time. That was when I really wished I had an SLR as mine was just too slow to get a decent picture. In the afternoon we set sail for Santa Cruz where along the way we would have a lookout for whales and dolphins. However the sea got choppy, the weather worsened and not only did we not see anything, but most people had to go to sleep to prevent being sick. We docked off Puerto Ayora for the night - thats the biggest town in the Galapagos, and were given the treat of going to mainland after dinner. We did feel abit woozy on terra firma - i guess we got sea legs!!
Friday was the last day for many of the travellers who had taken the option of a 5 day tour. In the morning we were back to Puerto Ayora and visited the Darwin research centre where they are breading tortoises who were in danger of extinction on a few of the islands due to alien animals introduced to these islands by humans. Also, tortoises were very popular for meat amongst the sailors in the early days due to the fact that they could last a long time without food and water, and apparently they have sweet meat. Hundreds of thousands of tortoises were eaten by the sailors, but now the tortoise population is increasindg due to these breeding centres and the fact that they live for a bloody long time. Some people predict they can live for more than 200 years - some say it can even be nearer to 400 years - obviously we will never find out as its very hard estimate how old a tortoise is and records only go back 80 years. Maybe my great grand kids might know for sure!!! After lunch, we got 9 people replacing the 10 who left - these people booked for the shorter 4 day cruise. We visited the highlands in the afternoon to see the tortoises in the wildland then went back on board for dinner.
We visited dragon´s hill on Saturday to see land iguanas and sea lions of course and we also got to do some snorkelling in the morning. This was the best snorkelling we had so far in the trip with plentiful of fish, a few playful sea lions and a couple of sharks swimmiming nearby. In the afternoon we stopped off at Bartolome which has a great beach and we also walked up 368 (Aarti counted) steps to get a good sunset view. This island also has some of the best lava landscape.
On sunday, we were at Santa Fe island to see more land iguanas (unique to this island and and not seen anywhere else in the world), sea lions, a few birds and 10m tall cactii. We did manage to spot a few iguana after abit of difficulty (a bit of a pain as we were spoilt by seeing all the other animals every day without having to search for them). We went back to the boat and had a small swim near the boat and made a jump from the top of our boat - 20 metres high!! And it hurt!! We snorkelled in the afternoon and visited an interpretation centre on San Cristobal island. This documented the history of man on the Galapagos islands - very interesting.
Monday was the last day and we had a panga ride before breakfast near a mangrove cove where we saw turtles, rays, sharks and our friends - the boobies!! Plus there were the hawks and other birds. It was back on board for breakfast and that was the end of the tour as we were dropped off where we started from - Baltra island!! We stayed for a couple more days at Puerto Ayora where we visited Tortuga bay and basically chilled out.
I am not sure if I have done justice to the Galapagos with this post - as I have got tired of writing now. However, the islands are really great, its extremely easy to see the animals and you can interact with them at close quarters, we saw some really unique animals, our natuarlist guide was great and gave us alot of information on virtually everything, the boat, crew and food was good (I guess it helped being on a first class boat) and the islands are as good as everyone makes them out to be!! I am gonna miss those boobies. Well I deserve a beer after this - adios amigos. Hasta luego.