Monday, September 15, 2008

Galapagos Part 1

The flight got into the airport on Baltra Island around lunch time. It was quite a basic wee airport with not much in the way of walls, and baggage reclaim meant they came and unloaded from the buggy in a pile. We were met by our guide Juan, and it became clear my group was not going to be as young and backpackery as previous trips (well the Galapagos was very expensive) and was rather coupley too! For the first half of the trip we had an older French couple, two older Italian ladies, an older Ecuadorian/Spanish couple, an Ecuadorian/Italian couple, Mark and Allison, who were an Anglo Australian couple, Zoe from England and me. That's 12 people, and we had 6 crew with us on our little boat called the Encantada which we took a short bus ride to from the Airport in time for lunch on board.

The boat was a little red motor-sailer, much nicer looking than all the other boats, but pretty small and 'cosy'. I was sharing with Zoe, and I'll rip-off what she said in her blog about me and the room:
The cabins are small but the guy I'm sharing with - Neil..a laid back Scottish guy who has been traveling for one year and is sporting a pair of blue bathers with a split up the side held together with safety pins...graciously offers me the bottom bunk which is the size of a double bed and comfy. Neil has to lie like a starfish with its suckers spread out on the small top bunk nearly falling out as the boat motors through the first night . We adapt to sharing a small space but on the first morning Neil comes out of the shower as i am dressing and i hear a muffled "oops" from behind me as he retreats back into the shower waits a polite few minutes before knocking and coming out again...i stifle a laugh because it is so some kind of carry on film!

Ah well, yes, about the bathers, they had a small rip in them from Australia, which I was always quick to claim was a nip from a crocodile. I was aiming to buy some new ones before the Galapagos, but never saw any, and they would have been fine, but as I was wearing them almost all the time in the Galapagos for snorkelling and wet-landings they very quickly deteriorated so they had a slit all the way up one side and one began appearing on the other! Fortunately they were lined, and I did what repairs i could with some safety pins I had to hand for such an emergency.

Anyway, lunch, like all the other meals on the boat, was excellent, in both quantity and quality The dining room was pretty cramped with a little bar in the corner, for Hulio the barman/waiter/cabin cleaner to lurk at, but it was big enough. After lunch was our first excursion, which was to black turtle cove. This was a water-borne trip in the little dinghy, and we pootled around the mangroves looking at the bird and sea life. The stars of the show were the blue-footed boobies, who, in a similar way to penguins, are rather stupid and clumsy looking in the water, but in their preferred element are very dynamic and graceful. The boobies dive amazingly fast and plunge a few feet underwater looking for fish. Many a photo was taken trying to catch them at the prime moment. There were also pelicans doing the same thing, not so gracefully, and frigate-birds circling far overhead. Meanwhile in the water we could see fish, but were more interested in spotting sharks, turtles and rays, which we did. The turtles were hardest to see as they were quite shy and only stuck there heads above water to breathe. This site was the most tropical looking we went to and was quite hot when we were out there. Afterwards we tried on our snorkelling gear and had a swim off the back of the boat. Here you realise that the water here is 20 degrees - far colder than in Goa or Thailand where it was like a bath, but warmer than the sea in Scotland! Generally you start feeling the cold after 30-45 minutes, and some opted to go in in wetsuits. After the swim we got snacks before dinner, and then some time to hang around. After dinner we got a briefing about the next day, and then everyone headed off to bed about 9 (those were the late ones) as they were all knackered!

Next day breakfast was at 630, which was fairly standard over the next week, with us disembarking early to be ahead of other groups, which seemed to mainly be older people travelling in more luxury. First up was Rabida Island. Here we saw many lava lizards, seals, Galpagos hawks, sea iguanas and many smaller birds. One of the seals sneezed a giant snotter out as we were watching, what a photo opportunity! After this was our first snorkelling opportunity where we saw many coloured fish and had our first aquatic encounter with the seals, who are very friendly and swim around you wanting to play. After lunch we went to Santiago Island. This was much more volcanic and had interesting lava formations including bridges you could walk over. There were many more iguanas and crabs here on the rocky coast, and fur seals, which are rarer and smaller than the sealions that are everywhere. There was another snorkelling opportunity and after a long day at sea in the sun everyone was so knackered again that when they stuck on a documentary on the islands about 830, I was the only one awake by the end. Not the party boat it could have been!

Day 3 and the first stop was Bartolome Island. This was one of the best islands, very barren and volcanic it has little life on it's slopes, but you can climb the little peak for a great view over some lovely beaches. However the highlight was seeing penguins in the water nearby where we disembarked. They really do zip around quite fast, and it was guaranteed to see them as they are not that common and relatively shy. After that we took the boat round the corner to one of the beaches we'd been looking down at and went snorkelling. Here some of us saw a white tipped reef shark, which was pretty cool. I think this was one of the best snorkelling sights. After this we walked across to the beach on the other side and had a look around. Still plenty of crabs, sea-lions and iguanas. The second stop this day was at Sombrero Chino Island (Chinese Hat) where we walked along by the beach where the landscape was extremely volcanic, with black lava formations with lots of hollow bubbles underneath and cracks. Here again we snorkelled from a nice beach where again the seals came out to play when we snorkelled. As it was the last night for many of us we thought we'd make it a late one, and made it till about 10pm!

Next morning was a bit of and early one though, we went to South Plazas Island before breakfast and this was one of the more singular islands. The landscape had strange red and green coloured vegetation, some cliffs with many sea-birds and cactus forest where we saw the land iguanas. These are bigger and yellower than the sea iguanas. After breakfast we got to Puerto Ayora, the islands' biggest town, where we disembarked (9 of 12 for good). We were here to see the Charles Darwin research centre. Here they have lots of giant tortoises as they have a major breeding profile. A star of the show is lonesome George, and we got to see his backside only! He's now not so lonesome as he successfully bred with the 2 females from a neighbouring island that he was given to help him out, though he did take his time about it. They also run an eradication programme to get rid of introduced animals. After lunch in a restaurant we went up to the highlands of the island and saw more giant tortoises in the wild before going through a huge lava tunnel which was quite impressive. It included a section you had to crawl through. Then it was back to Puerto Ayora for some free time, when I was able to finally get some new swimmies, some nice red ones! I had a drink with Mark and Allison before heading off to meet the new people for the second half of the week.

The Encantada.

A Sealion.

A land Iguana.

Me on Bartolome Island, behind to the right we snorkelled, and walk round to the beach on the left.


Strange vegetation on Plazas Island.

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