The Galápagos Islands

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After seven months, today finally felt like we were on a proper holiday, early morning we boarded a boat for our day trip to Kicker Rock with the sun already scorching.

It was a two hour journey along the coastline of San Cristobal, where we sat on a catamaran looking out into the ocean, mainly for wildlife but it was also nice to gaze into the horizon with the sun beaming off the waves. The main attraction for today was Kicker Rock, a cool rock formation, but this was not our first destination. We arrived at Witch Hill, named as such due to it’s magical and mysterious rock formations, it’s an old craterous collapsed outcrop that demonstrates the differences in volcanic rocks with a white-sand beach. The boat pulled up near to shore for us to jump out and begin to snorkel. The water was pretty cold, but got warmer the more you swam. Our aim was to swim all the way along the section that stuck out from the mainland, it looked about 500m at a guess, then swim back to shore whilst a few divers would dive below us.

When we set off we noticed that another guy on our tour was being pulled along by a rubber ring, not sure if he was a bad swimmer or if he was just lazy! We got stuck behind him a couple of times and it was then that we noticed that he didn’t even kick his legs, it was probably a mixture of both. The snorkelling itself was pretty cool, it was teeming with fish, some large fish swam in masses, and at some points, all you could see where fish filling your vision. Some small fish, some colourful and some acting the tough guy, this particular fish would come out of it’s hiding place and appear to put up his shoulders to warn you off, but it looked like a girl with lipstick smothered onto his big lips, you couldn’t take him seriously, plus I’m about 500 times his size. What else did we see? Obviously there were sea lions bathing on the rocks, humans are prohibited on any of the shoreline rocks on The Galapagos, that is THEIR territory. The normal red coloured crabs, marine iguanas and pelicans showed their faces ever now and again.

Managing to make our way to the end of the rock, our guide decided it was time for the boat to come and collect us, I think some of the others were struggling and he’d tired of pulling the guy along. Bearing in mind the rest of the group had wet suits on! We picked up the divers and took the short ride to Kicker Rock, by which point Chloe was pretty cold and neither of us were looking forward to getting back into the water. Thankfully we circled the rock, whilst we ate lunch we looked for birds, namely looking for Boobies of the Nazca and Blue Footed variety.

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Kicker rock, up close.

Once lunch was finished it was time to get back into the water. Actually, it wasn’t too bad, a little warmer than earlier, which is why I think this is a good spot to find sea life, because they look for warmer temperatures. When in the water we snorkelled for a while, swimming through a number of smaller fish, then it was time to swim straight through a gap in the rock to reach the other side, and this, was amazing. As we were swimming through, three sea lions decided to dive in and swim straight passed us, less than a meter away. I think it frightened Chloe a little to start, before we knew what it actually was, then I could see she was amazed that they’d just swam so close. They darted around us for a while and then… a shark swam passed us, believe me I have wanted to see and swim with sharks for a long time, so in my head I was shouting “yes, yes, yes.” Chloe and I popped our heads out of the water to scream “did you see that?” Of course we had.

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Snorkel scream “shark!”

As we circled around towards the separate rock of the formation, we saw some more sharks, The Galapagos Shark. Then a swarm of sharks swam passed us, and, judging from the reaction of the first shark, you can imagine our reaction to this, these were The Black Tip Reef Sharks. For the first time my instinct was not to get out the camera, I was taken away by what was in front of me as I watched the eight or so come within 2m of us. Then, an Eagle Ray swam directly below us, it was a beautiful black with white spots. There’s more… in a crevice there were two sea lions underwater fighting for food, on this occasion it was a crab, but then we noticed a sea turtle chilling out just behind them. Fantastic, we were amazed. On the way back to the boat we saw a few more fish and a sea turtle, the only thing we missed out on was a hammer head shark. Fortunately the guys that dived didn’t see these either, another day maybe.

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Playful sea lion.

The final stop for today was Manglesito beach. It was paradise here, bright blue seas and golden, sandy beaches. Well, almost paradise, there was a bad case of horse flies that kept biting so this cut our time short on the beach. Whilst there we did manage to walk the entire stretch, probably 200m, spotting the local wildlife, iguanas, crabs, birds, the norm! Back on the boat we relaxed for our journey back to mainland.

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Manglesito beach.

On the way back to our hotel we picked up our clothes from the laundry, the woman was trying to tell us in Spanish that our clothes stunk! Thanks for that. We had to explain that we had been working but had to agree with her, especially our socks.

We kept our equipment from the tour so that we could go back to La Loberia and snorkel, now that the weather was better. The taxi dropped us off and we walked to the beach, passed the marine iguanas and molten rocks, to the sea lion filled beach. Chloe opted against getting into the water and took photos instead. Whilst in the water a guy came quite close to me, a little while later I popped my head up and saw that it was Neil, he was here with Cat! Once we’d had a chat, I started to snorkel, by this point there were three or four large sea lion playing in the water, I didn’t feel too safe, not knowing how they might react to me being in their territory, so I kicked my flippers and swam off. There were loads of fish but I’d done my snorkelling for the day, Cat had seen a small sea turtle but I could see a black cloud coming so we left, but the rain soon started. 30 minutes later we were back at the hotel, drenched., but happy, today had been another fantastic day on The Galapagos.

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Where’s my mummy?

 

Island Hopping

Time to leave San Cristobal for a while, this morning we were catching the boat across to Santa Cruz. It wasn’t a very nice day, not wet but dark and Chloe was feeling every wave. Eventually, once she’d asked me for a plastic bag, she was moved to the back of the boat where she got some fresh air with prime position to vom overboard if necessary. She remained there for the entire two hour journey, at one point we came very close to an island, unfortunately for Chloe, that was Santa Fe, not our island.

Eventually we did make it to Santa Cruz in one piece, rolled off the boat and into a water taxi that took us to port. Immediately we could see that Santa Cruz was much livelier than San Cristobal, with a lot more going on. The first hotel we tried had the right room, for the right price and after a quick nap for Chloe to recover, we went to familiarise ourselves with the layout of the town. Now we had time to look at the endless list of things we wanted to do on Santa Cruz, as I wanted to watch the England game at 4pm, we decided that we could walk to Tortuga Bay.

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Hi there!

Not sure what we were really expecting from Tortuga bay, although the name tortuga, turtle, would imply that there might be a few turtles there!? It was a small walk out of town, where immediately everything was quiet, the noise of the bars and the people disappeared and was replaced with birds tweeting and waves crashing. The small walk combined with a walkway that lead all the way to Tortuga Bay which was full of red neck lizards, giant Galapagos cactus trees that eventually ended with a beautifully sandy beach with clear waters. No turtles though??? The bay was shaped like a turtle, or may during the right season, turtles would lay eggs here – will have to Google.

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Beautiful beach.

We walked the length of the beach where marine iguanas were living, there were quite a few of them sprawled out over each other, some were walking out of the sea to bask in the sun. We sat down for a while on a bench, protected by the shade from the tree, whilst watching the iguanas, although they do very little for most of the time, unless you try and touch one, which I did and got told off by a ranger, I wasn’t even going to touch it, I wanted to see how close I could get because they didn’t seem to mind you being here at all. Around the corner to another beach where the water was tranquil and most people chose to sunbath, we found another tree for shade and noticed a small shark in the water. It turned out that there were a few small black tip reef sharks in the bay here so I really want to come back for a snorkel. But before I forget – it’s football time.

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Catching a few rays.

Back to the main strip, we met up with Amish, a guy we’d met on the volunteering project, and found a bar that had an upstairs section with a great view of the port but was also playing the football, actually, you could find the football being played throughout the day in every restaurant, bar, house or doorway. So we settled down and enjoyed several beers, the football not so much, especially as there seemed to be a few Italians at this restaurant.

On the way home we ate some fantastic street food, chicken and chips with a side of sweet corn, on a street we’ve now named as “cheap street.” Before we were allowed to put our heads down, we walked to the pier where there were many sharks circling in the waters, they were attracted by the boat lights and lights from the pier, of course it took me ages to get the right photo whilst Chloe sat and watched for a while. On the walk back we spotted two sea lions asleep in a speed boat – they will literally sleep anywhere, and on that note, it was bed time at last.

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Cheap street!

 

Busy day on Santa Cruz

Cat and Neil had mentioned they had gone into the highlands by taxi so instead of doing a tour to these places we thought we would try and get a bargain too. The plan was to see Los Gemelos, Reserva El Chato and the lava tunnels. At our hotel they said it would cost $80 which we were not paying, the first taxi also gave us the same quote. We thought maybe we should rethink the plan, as we were deliberating another taxi pulled up so we asked and he said $40, we were shocked so we triple checked the price and off we went. What I have forgotten to mention was that today, Sunday, Ecuador were playing their first match in The World Cup against Switzerland. There’s not a lot of people here but everyone was out in force, all in the team shirts, wigs, face paints, flags and balloons were up in shops, restaurants and cars, mental! So my thinking to our deal was that the driver knew he wouldn’t make much business in the 2 hours, so $40 was better than nothing.

Back to the road trip the first stop was Los Gemelos, or the twins, these are two massive sunken holes formed by subsidence from a series of volcanic eruptions when the island was still active. Now it is the only place on the island where you can find the Scalesia forest, which is an endemic plant to the area. Our driver had tried to tell us that there is a black and very red bird called the Brujo which is only found here, we thought he meant the Frigate bird as he kept saying red neck but once we read the sign we were soon on the same page. It said you had to be very quite to see it, so we took a looping trail around, carefully placing every step, staring at trees every time we heard any noise. Sadly the red Brujo evaded us this time, we saw the female but no males.

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One of the Twins.

We went to the second crater, both were very deep and looked pretty cool, I bet from air they looked amazing. Our photos really didn’t do the crater shape justice. The trees were different, they had, what looked like, long hair clumped to the branches which retain water, lining the crater edge, more normal trees grew behind. It didn’t take long to complete the trails and meet back with our driver for the next stop, lava tunnels.

Our driver prepared us for the lava tunnels by squatting down and walking very close to the floor, we gathered this must mean keep low and mind your head?! Down the steps we went into a pretty cool tunnel it was weird to think that years ago molten lava used to run through here cutting the way we were now walking. The tunnel was about 1km long, 4 metres high and at its widest 5 metres however there was one section which was probably about half a metre off the floor which I so elegantly scrambled under, guess this was the mind your head part.

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Into the cave we go.

As we got into the taxi Stu asked the football score as he had previously, still 1-1 for now which seem to make our driver pleased. Our final stop on the “tour” was to El Chato, a reserve for giant tortoises. Even when we were driving towards the reserve there were a few smaller tortoises dotted on the side of the road, these ones really just roamed free. The driver bless him decided he would come with us which we only realised when he too put a pair of wellies on, off the three on us went. We had heard that at one of the reserves there are two large tortoise shells which you can get inside of and have your photo taken, so when we turned the first corner and the shells were there we both got straight in to pose. Stu managed to lift the shell up, it was way too heavy for me. The driver said he would take one of us both, very kind of him, looking back at the photos though, it’s mainly pointed at the floor and Stu is half cut out, hilarious.

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Who’s in my shell?

Messing over, we started to tortoise spot, there were some big fellas around the reserve eating away, a lot bigger than the ones at Galapaguera which was cool to see but the biggest live on the west side of Isabela and can weigh up to 700lbs, massive. We had been out for about 2.5 hours which definately made it worth $40 and it also meant the football was over, Ecuador lost in the final few minutes, I was guessing the mood in town wouldn’t be too great if Stu’s reaction to England loosing was anything to go by.

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Cute.

Three big things ticked off my list now for another, the Charles Darwin Research Station. The objectives of the CDRS is to conduct scientific research and environmental education for conservation. As we started to walk towards the buildings we noticed a lot were offices and they were closed, as it was a weekend, but we eventually got onto the trail which had a tortoise and iguana picture on. We came across more giant tortoises, as it is mating season there was no surprise when we saw two getting it on, however the male this time wasn’t so lucky as he was side humping the poor female to her annoyance and somehow she managed so crawl away with a 300lbs male on her back, better luck next time mate.

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Must be his age.

Further up the trail was land iguanas, they were stunning, bright yellow and orange and they were huge. Stu spent ages taking photographs of them and to be fair they have come out amazing. They are a lot more attractive than their black marine iguana cousins. As we started to walk out we notice a huge group of gringos so we wandered over to see what they had found, it was the breeding centre, there were loads of baby tortoises, all separated into the specific island species which was denoted by the colours and numbers on their backs, definately each place we have gone to has put a lot into the breeding of these animals, but I suppose they do not want a lonesome George incident again. We actually saw where lonesome George the last male Pinta Island tortoise used to live, he was the last known individual of the subspecies. In his last years, he was known as the rarest creature in the world. There was a little plaque up commemorating his death and a board about his story.

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Cool and colourful.

Back in town we went around a few tour agencies looking for the best Isabela day trip deal which included Las Tintoreras as Stu wanted to see more sharks. $100 was the cheapest so we booked on and got a little excited about another island hop. The docks were teaming with wildlife so we had a quick wander down and immediately we saw another large spotted eagle ray flapping past. Everytime you look over the edge something new appears.

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A great spot.

We had bumped into Jesus the day before who had said the Laguna Las Ninfas was a good little place to walk around. Once we found it the path was a boardwalk over the lagoon which was pretty cool and the walkway was covered by both red and white mangroves. The water was a mixture of fresh water and salt water which gave its diversity of animals, mainly fish and sea lions. We sat for a while at the end platform, talking about how amazing the Galapagos had been so far and how beautiful each place we had seen was. Reminiscing over, it was teatime but first another quick shark viewing at the dock, this time there were nowhere near as many as the previous night yet that didn’t stop Stu spending ages taking more photos of course.

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Even better spot.

 

More wildlife on Isabela

We were both pretty excited about going over to Isabela, the largest island in the archipelago which again also had its own endemic species of plants and wildlife, including flamingos and the Galápagos penguin. Excited, though I was still pretty nervous about the 2 hour boat journey over there, if it was anything like our very choppy previous one, so we bought some 16 cent seasickness tablets which worked a wonder. The drive over was not bad at all, I could actually enjoy watching the boobies flying over us instead of having my eyes fixed on the horizon.

You had to get a water taxi into the port like in Santa Cruz in order to get into the dock, this short trip allowed us to see just how beautiful the bright blue clear waters were lapping up on the white sandy beaches. It was going to be a hot day, the skies were clear and the sun was beaming down, great chance to top up my tan even with my factor 35 kids sun cream on.

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Isabela port.

There were two vehicles waiting, one a nice air conditioned van, the other a kitted out old van with wooden benches and no sides, I was really hoping this was ours it looked a lot more fun, sure enough it was and we bundled into it. Creaking along we arrived at our first stop, a man made lagoon which over time had attracted some of the few flamingos left on the island, there are now only 2000 flamingos still on Isabela and I believe they do not live anywhere else.

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Flamingo time.

Back into the van, we drove about 10 minutes down the dirt road before arriving at Centro de Crianza Arnaldo Tupiza Breeding Center, we were told that each of the 5 volcanoes on Isabela all had there own unique specie of tortoise which I was hoping we might see here. Sadly at this reserve they only have two types and a massive breeding program. The guide told a lot of what we already knew, but it was still nice to wonder around looking at some of there big old tortoises. We did get to see a few specimens of what the baby tortoises look like when they are developing inside the egg, which was pretty cool with their little tiny shells.

The day seemed to be going so fast because before we knew it we were on the beach having an hours relaxation time. There were two lookout points which we went to, the first was up onto a wooden platform structure which looked out onto the whole bay. We could see a few sea lions playing around then we notice another floating object, not exactly being able to see it we got the cameras zoom lens onto it and it was a penguin. Our first Galápagos penguin just casually swimming in and out of the sea lions, catching a few waves before it darted off. We really hoped there were more of these to come later in that day. The second view point was for black marine iguanas, we saw quite a few piled up on top of one another but very much like the ones we had seen before.

 

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Yet another stunning beach.

The sun was blazing and Stu wanted to top up his tan so I laid under a palm tree in the shade and Stu sprawled out on the beach and fell asleep. Our guide woke us up as it was lunch time and let’s just say Stu was a little pink, 7 months in South America and still a typical Brit.

After lunch was snorkelling time, we left the dock and immediately saw a massive manterray just floating up next to the boat, it was massive and really cool. We were under strict instructions not to stand up which must have killed most, but not Stu he had prime seat up front on the bow so he could snap away. This stretch of water was known for attracting sea turtles so we were really hoping our luck was in. Previous days had not been so lucky. Snorkel and mask on out we went, and within a few minutes Stu spotted a large turtle just laying on the sea floor it was amazing to see, he wasn’t bothered at all that we were circling around taking photos. About 20 metres away a group of about 5 were also just complacently sat on the sea floor. I kept talking into my snorkel to Stu about how brilliant this was. We carried on a little further and one was just casually swimming around, we followed it for a little taking more photos before we let him swim off into the unknown. As we swam back there were a few pretty big marine iguanas swimming along, cooling off from the sun I’m guessing, they look like tiny crocodiles when they swim, then back onto land they go to dry.

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Hey little turtle.

Back onto the boat we had two final stops, first was to the rocks where the Galápagos penguins usually hung out and second to Las Tintoreras, the sharks island. Our luck was definately in as we cut the boats engine we could see a group of penguins just sunbathing in the rocks, we had found out that these originally were emperor penguins from Antarctica which had miraculously floated up here, like most of the animals, and had now adapted to the volcanic landscape. These penguins had evolved to be much, much smaller than that of an emperor penguin. One jumped in for a swim and came up close to the boat luckily on my side, it was awesome.

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What’s happening guys?

Las Tintoreras is a small island of volcanic rock that has a small inlet which apparently has a warm current attracting white tip sharks to it. We did the short walk to the look out point and watched as the few sharks swam up and down, Stu was in his element, snapping away at the sharks. We had exhausted our time on Isabela and it was time for home, well the boat back to Santa Cruz. The ride was really smooth thankfully and we were even lucky enough to see two flying fish zoom a good 50m passed us and a dolphin jump up next to the boat then a couple of times again in the waves, a brilliant way to end our little day trip to the surprisingly quite island of Isabela.

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Another of Stu’s favourites.

Obviously we had to shark watch again back at the docks, however this time Stu sheepishly came over after he had finished snapping away with bird poo smeared all over his clean cream top, he had leaned on it, it stunk!

 

Back on the boat

As it was a lie in day today, our body clocks obviously woke us up at 6.30. Today we didn’t have much on the agenda, in the afternoon we were getting a boat back to San Cristobal. There was one final thing on the list, we thought it might turn out expensive but we went to the post to enquire. The place was called Las Greitas, a small rock formation that had clear water running through the middle, ideal for more snorkelling. Although we weren’t too keen on getting wet as we no longer had a hotel to get changed at, we thought the walk might be nice anyway and the guide had said it’s only a ten minute boat taxi ride on the water. After enquiring, it was going to cost us 60c/40p, so of course we called for a water taxi straight away. Roughly 60 seconds later, we pulled up on the other side of the water at Finches Bay, we had not expected it to be so close! We’d also wanted to visit Finches Bay, so we were pretty happy.

A few twists and turns passed expensive looking hotels with gorgeous swimming pools, we rounded a lake, climbed over rocks and walked across a beach to make our way to Las Greitas. We sat on top of the rock for a while, Chloe began to catch up with her blog writing whilst we sat there on the rock for a while, overlooking the canyon into the water. There was a family snorkelling in the water and I could see some large looking fish, I just wanted to shout to them, look left, look right, but I refrained. I walked down to the water to take a look and get a photo, as always the photo was better from up high.

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Got to keep our audience updated.

So it was time to leave the lively Santa Cruz and head back to San Cristobal where tomorrow, we would be getting our plane back to mainland. The boat journey was so much better, Chloe was a bit apprehensive and we took some sickness tablets, but actually there was space for Chloe to lie down and sleep for the majority of the journey, she would say she was just closing her eyes! I was on wildlife watch and I spotted something jump out of the water, to which I prodded Chloe and shouted “Dolphin,” but actually, it never did jump out again and I think it was a shark that I’d seen. There were many birds dipping into the water and flying by, it was just so nice to sit and look out at The Galapagos sea with the sun beaming on my back. A Spanish woman said that she saw a whale, we weren’t too sure but who knows.

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Flying Boobies.

 

Sunset walk

The final, final thing that we had in mind for the evening was to do a small walk from The Interpretation Centre up to Frigate Hill and to a beautiful spot for sunset. We got to the top in no time which overlooked a bay with clear blue waters, sheltered from the crashing waves, sea lions played and many birds flew overhead. This place is named Frigate Hill because they can be seen here in abundance, during mating season the male species blow out their bright red chest and it looks like they are carrying a balloon. Unfortunately it wasn’t mating season but there were a few around, in the trees or flying by, and we would try to spot the male for a photo, although he now looks like he had a deflated balloon on his chin, not quite what we were looking for.

Walking on, we made it to the point where we had a stunning view of sunset and the bay behind us, I think this spot was one of my favourites of the islands, with a nice breeze and the falling sun, with a mixture of wildlife surrounding us, it was a relaxing and beautiful way to spend our last evening on The Galapagos.

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Perfect.

 

The next morning went without any dramas, before we walked to the airport we went on a last walk around the port. Although I was after The Blue Footed Boobie, perhaps diving into the water for breakfast, we did have a great place where the boobie, pelican and sea lion all sat within snapping distance of each other… and, I snapped. There was a sea lion that we thought was trying his luck, creeping up between the pelican and boobie whilst they were preening, although they were both alerted and stared him down to where he slid from.

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You talkin ta me?

What a fantastic couple of weeks, two of our favourite I think. Teeming with wildlife, sun shine and sunsets, boat rides and top of my list, sharks! It really did feel like a two week holiday and now, we go to sit in the hanger to wait for our flight back to Guayaquil and then the 9 hour bus journey back to Quito.

One comment to The Galápagos Islands

  1. Susan says:

    One word “Amazing” x

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