Cruising the Galapogas Islands – Part II

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We were welcomed aboard the Eden by the other passengers who had already been cruising for several days and our ranger and guide, David. The food was excellent and our first dinner was divine. After the ‘mystery meat’ and rice we’d been served on Isabela anything might taste good, however the buffet of creamy prawns, pasta and SALAD really hit the spot. We settled into our cabin which was small but made good use of the space and with our own ensuite, felt rather luxurious!

Floreana

Floreana - Seal meets marine iguana

Floreana – Seal meets marine iguana

Overnight our captain navigated us to our next destination and we woke up to the sight of beautiful Floreana. First stop was Post Office Bay where, from 1793, British navigators placed a barrel to leave messages and mail for home-bound travelers. Now, tourists leave unstamped postcards for other tourists to pick up and hand deliver back in their country. Such a cool idea! We have one to deliver in Tasmania when we’re next there..! The snorkeling off post office bay was a bit disappointing with low visibility although we did spot some huge fish and another giant sea turtle. After a quick rinse on the boat we were back in the zodiacs for a photography tour of some nearby rocks. We enjoyed capturing shots of the baby seals playing in the water, trying to snap a penguin who would only surface for a second or two, sea turtles, iguanas and more boobies of course!

After a relaxing hour or two on the sun loungers we returned to the water to snorkel at Devil’s Crown, a sunken cinder cone which has been filled by the sea, so the water inside is shallow but steep and deep outside. We were dropped outside and swam through big shoals of fish and alongside spotted eagle rays until we were inside the Crown which was full of large corals, colourful fish and white tipped reef sharks! We also snorkeled with our first sea lion. It was amazing to see these graceful creatures swimming, twisting and turning under the water. This was definitely one of our favourite snorkel sites.

Trekking across the island

Trekking across the island

That afternoon we visited Cormorant Point (unfortunately not named after the flightless cormorant endemic to the islands but after a naval ship) where we had a great walk with our guide pointing out lots of wildlife. We were lucky to see a large flock of flamingos and a nest with their eggs in a beautiful lagoon and spent some time on a pretty beach watching the birds circling overhead, rays and sea turtles in the water.

Turtle nesting site on the beach

Turtle nesting site on the beach

Iguana tracks in the sand

Iguana tracks in the sand

Espanola

The following day we visited Espanola, one of the oldest islands in the archipelago. We spent a few hours trekking around the island where there were marine iguanas of magnificent turquoise and pink colours and a baby seal chasing them and nibbling on their tails!

Marine iguana meets galapogas pigeon

Marine iguana meets galapogas pigeon

Marine iguana

Marine iguana

We watched about 20 baby seals playing together in a sheltered bay which was just gorgeous. There were so many iguanas we had to be careful to step around them on the paths. The ‘2 metre’ distance rule from wildlife was impossible to observe. Further on we came across hundreds of Nazca boobies and their cute, fluffy white chicks. Again, I was really struck by how close you could get to the animals here, they seem to exhibit no fear of humans but the guides are very strict, and rightly so, about not touching them and trying to keep a minimum distance of 2 metres away.

Nazca Booby colony

Nazca Booby colony

Nazca booby chick Unfortunately we were too early in the season to see the famed waved Albatross which nests on Espanola. However, we did see an abandoned egg which gave us an idea of the great size of these birds.

Galapogas hawk - I think..!

Galapogas hawk – I think..!

That afternoon we had a snorkel off a little beach which we shared with a sea lion rookery. There was the skeleton of a humpback whale laid out on the sand which had apparently died just offshore a few years ago. The bones of its ribs and vertebrae were enormous.

Humpback whale skeleton

Humpback whale skeleton

That evening the four of us found a quiet spot on the top deck for a bit of stargazing as we’d learned that at the equator you can see both the Northern and Southern Hemisphere constellations. We were joined by a pair of boobies (we’re not sure of what variety) who flew alongside and circled overhead. Out in the middle of the ocean it was calm and peaceful and I had the feeling of being tiny in this grand universe. It was a special moment in our trip.

On our last day we were up for an early, pre-breakfast snorkel at sunrise. Our destination was the magnificent Kicker Rock with sheer sided cliffs and a narrow gap through the middle.

Departing Kicker Rock after our sunrise snorkel

Departing Kicker Rock after our sunrise snorkel

We snorkeled through the channel hoping (with some trepidation!) to see some of the resident hammerhead sharks. A few in our group saw one but we had to settle for seeing the Galápagos shark (also very cool), as well as numerous sea turtles and shoals of colourful fish. Mitch, Brian and Janina returned to the spot the following day for a dive and were lucky to see a couple of the freaky hammerheads as well as being engulfed by a shoal of salema fish so thick they lost sight of each other only a few metres away! The shoal was abruptly parted as a sea lion darted through, fishing for lunch.

Among the fish, scuba diving at Kicker Rock

Among the fish, scuba diving at Kicker Rock

San Cristobal

Our cruise culminated on San Cristobal with a visit to the small but interesting Interpretation Centre where we learned more about the human impact and history of the Galápagos and the ecological and conservation efforts. After the early start we had a quiet day, enjoying fresh tropical fruit juices (passion fruit was amazing) and fresh fruit ice creams (oh the mandarin..) We ended the afternoon with a lovely loop walk up Frigatebird Hill where we got great views off the coast, back to Kicker Rock and across the island.

Welcome party at San Cristobal

Welcome party at San Cristobal

On our last day, whilst the others were diving I hired a driver, Alfredo, to take me on a little tour of the island. We visited El Junco lagoon in the highlands which was pretty however I was more interested in the three wind turbines nearby. Alfredo explained that they are only really efficient in July and August. Apparently, despite the strong sun, there are no solar panels on the island yet as they are too expensive. Hopefully these advances will come soon! We also visited another giant tortoise breeding centre and a few pretty beaches. Most of all I enjoyed chatting with Alfredo. It was amazing how much we could communicate to each other given that he spoke no English and I probably only have about 30 words of Spanish!

Wind turbines, San Cristobal

Wind turbines, San Cristobal

To end our last night we enjoyed happy hour overlooking the harbour and feasted on a large seafood platter. We reflected on how privileged we were to have been able to visit these unique islands at such a young age, to view the incredible landscapes and so many species of birds and animals found only in this tiny part of the world.

Sunset over San Cristobal on our last night in the Galapogas

Sunset over San Cristobal on our last night in the Galapogas

Over the last year Mitch and I met some of the most generous, inspiring people, hiked in some of the most beautiful national parks and sampled some delicious local cuisines. I can’t imagine a better place to end our round the world adventure than in the Galápagos.

Loving life in the Galapogas

Loving life in the Galapogas

 

The Galapagos Islands – a once in a lifetime destination

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Nature lovers, wildlife enthusiasts, snorkelers and divers will delight in The Galápagos Islands – a dream destination for many travellers. Locates six hundred miles off the coast of Ecuador and comprised of 16 islands resulting from volcanic eruptions out of the earth’s crust is the archipelago where Darwin began developing his theory of natural selection.

We had ten days to explore this unique part of the world and started our adventure in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz. We haggled with a few hotels to get the best deal for our group of four, originally thinking we’d manage with a fan but quickly changing our minds in the humidity and temperatures over 30 degrees: air con was a necessity! We spent the first afternoon exploring the locality, watching blue footed boobies diving in sync, fishing in the harbour and marvelling at the seals flopped out on the pier or having a nap on the benches. After negotiating with a few travel agencies we secured a bargain for a 3 day trip to Isabella and a 3 day boat cruise to Floreana, Espanola and San Cristobal.

The Friendly Giants of Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz - giant tortoise shells

Santa Cruz – giant tortoise shells

With our itinerary locked in we set out to explore the highlands of Santa Cruz. First stop was the giant tortoise reserve at El Chato. Wow, those tortoises really deserve their title as giants! The males can weigh up to 250kg and can reach 150 years old. We saw many wallowing in the water, or munching on the vegetation and even a couple mating – a rather long process involving lots of grunting!!

Mating giant tortoises

Mating giant tortoises

Getting up close to these amazing creatures

Getting up close to these amazing creatures

Next up we went underground, escaping the heat to wander through a lava tunnel. At one point we were down on hands and knees, shimmying along the ground at a very narrow section! It was amazing to see what was created from a volcanic eruption.

Exploring the lava tunnels of Santa Cruz

Exploring the lava tunnels of Santa Cruz

Exploring the lava tunnels!

Exploring the lava tunnels!

Our guide suggested we also take a look at two craters which was a nice extra before dropping us off at the beginning of the path to Tortuga Bay.

Exploring the volcanic landscape of Santa Cruz

Exploring the volcanic landscape of Santa Cruz

The sign said it was a 45 minute walk and unfortunately, it wasn’t ‘American tourist time’ and was a bit of a slog in the heat of the day. We were relieved to finally reach the beach and dip our feet in the water.

Tortuga Bay - Santa Cruz

Tortuga Bay – Santa Cruz

Walking among the cacti to Tortuga Bay

Walking among the cacti to Tortuga Bay

It was a lovely walk along to the next, more sheltered bay where we watched marine iguanas trot along the sand, or bask on the volcanic rocks where they were nicely camouflaged.

Chilling in the shade

Chilling in the shade

Camouflaged marine iguana

Camouflaged marine iguana

When we reached Tortuga Bay we splashed around in the calm waters to cool off.

Tortuga Bay

Tortuga Bay

That evening we enjoyed dinner in one of the back streets filled with lots of grills, and tables and chairs taking up the whole road. A highlight was the whole fresh fish served in coconut sauce.

Isabella – penguins, orcas and boobies

It was an early start the following day to make our boat to Isabela. It was a production line of tourists, grouped by coloured stickers and shuttled out on little taxi boats to slightly bigger speed boats and then zipped between the islands. On arrival, we were greeted at the docks by numerous, gorgeous, Galapogas penguins zipping through the water and seals flopped out on the back of the boats.

Welcome party at Isabella - seals and penguins

Welcome party at Isabella – seals and penguins

We had a relaxing first day with a short trip out to see the beautiful, pink flamingos basking in a lagoon, followed by a snorkel near the harbour at concha perla where the highlight was swimming alongside a marine iguana! Slightly creepy but equally amazing! Unfortunately the restaurant associated with our hotel where our meals were included wasn’t up to much which was a bit disappointing but we made up for it with enjoying cocktails at happy hour!

Flamingos getting a bit feisty!

Flamingos getting a bit feisty!

The next day we headed out for a snorkelling trip to ‘Los Tunnels’ at the other end of the island, named for the rocks below the surface which you can swim through and around, spotting sea life at every turn.The boat ride out there was a wildlife watching cruise in itself as we saw numerous birds, manta rays and astonishingly, a pod of orcas!

Orca coming to investigate our boat!

Orca coming to investigate our boat!

It was breathtaking. The whales came really close to the boat, surfaced in twos and threes and there was a fair bit of tail splashing. Our captain was very generous, allowing us to stay and watch these beautiful creatures for around half an hour, a completely unexpected highlight of our trip.

The orcas, or killer whales, putting on a display for us

The orcas, or killer whales, putting on a display for us

Before snorkelling we docked at a spot where we went for a short walk over the volcanic rocks. Our guide excitedly whispered, ‘I’ve seen a booby, I’ve seen a booby!’ Chuckling away we followed quickly after him and got within a few metres of a gorgeous blue footed booby who sat preening herself and posing for our photos, totally at ease despite our close proximity.

Beautiful Blue-Footed Booby

Beautiful Blue-Footed Booby

The snorkelling was also fantastic. The visibility was fabulous and we saw about ten giant sea turtles, a sea snake, a seahorse and lots and lots of beautifully coloured fish. I was a little intimidated by the sea turtles to begin with as they were enormous and would suddenly appear right underneath you. However they were completely docile, munching away on the algae along the sea bed, seemingly oblivious to our presence. Absolutely beautiful creatures, we felt so privileged to be able to admire them up close in their natural habitat. We saw the orcas again on our boat trip back where they put on another superb display and much to our horror, two tourists from another boat, jumped in to snorkel with them! Fortunately, the whales must have already had lunch as after circling the couple, they left them alone – some people are just crazy. Despite this, we’d had one of the best days on our trip so far and were completely blown away by the abundance and variety of wildlife we’d seen in just one day.

Later that day we visited a tortoise breeding centre where we could view the tortoises at their different stages of development. It was really interesting to learn more about these creatures and the conservation efforts to protect them. We walked back to town along a lovely boardwalk, where we spied flamingos within a few metres, herons, and marine iguanas. This was an amazing find, a sight not to be missed.

Hiking to another planet

Crater - Isabella

Crater – Isabella

On our last day we undertook a 16 km return hike up a volcano. Fortunately the elevation was fairly gradual as it was very hot but the views were worth it. The first flat topped crater was incredible and enormous at 10km in diameter. Further down hill we were able to walk across another.

Volcano hike - Isabella

Volcano hike – Isabella

Amazing volcanic landscapes - Isabella

Amazing volcanic landscapes – Isabella

 

Incredible landscape of Isabella

Incredible landscape of Isabella

It was like walking on another planet across rocks and channels of former lava flows. Although there wasn’t much wildlife on the hike we saw another side to these islands with this incredible,other worldly landscape.

There was the occasional critter!

There was the occasional critter!

Another little fella we came across on the hike

Another little fella we came across on the hike

Fortunately our hotel allowed us access to their showers to rinse off the sweat and grime before boating back to Santa Cruz in time to catch our cruise boat, The Eden, which would be our home for the next 3 days…