A Lap of Galápagos

Here’s the run-down on our lap of the Galáp.

SANTA CRUZ

After flying into Baltra, having your bags sniffed by dogs for contaminants (foreign plants/animals), declaring your pepper, curry powder and maggi stock cubes in case the dog finds you, you take a little ferry over to Santa Cruz and you can grab a bus for $2 down to Puerto Ayora – the main town. We stayed at Gloriá Galápagos, just a few mins from the centre of Puerto Ayora. Huge room, no safe, and wifi only in 2 specific spots.. much to the delight of a cleaner who accidentally opened our door whilst Jim was standing in a tight corner using his phone without the encumbrance of clothes.

Spent the first day at the Darwin Centre and Playa Estación – looking at giant land tortoises and land iguanas in breeding programmes, and marine iguanas at the beach. They stink, poo on each other and look like devils, but it’s interesting to see them swim and nest, and generally stare at you. Slept a lot in the afternoon.

“Oh dear, it appears I’ve been asleep for most of Valentines day.”
“And that’s the greatest gift you could have given me.”

Spent another day at Tortuga Bay – about a 40min walk away – a huge, long white sand beach with surfing waves and marine iguanas, and a little bay at the end where we swam and read.

On our final day we walked to Las Grietas – a water taxi and 30min walk – an amazing cavern between volcanic walls that’s filled with water but cut off from the sea. It has huge parrot fish and eels in it that were deposited as eggs but cannot escape as adults, interesting snorkeling but very busy.

Every evening during our stay there was Carnival – children’s bike parade, live music, fashion show, the crowning of the islands Queen, kids throwing water bombs and spraying ‘espuma de carnival’ at each other, the adults dancing and drinking. Every morning around 7am I’d see revellers walking home with their shoes off – they know how to party!

“There is a Miss Galapagos competition, alongside a wood modelling display at the same time. A bit ironic.”
“Hope your wood isn’t on display”
“It came second”
“There’s a change you old romantic”
“It’s that time of year”

CRUISE ON ENCANTADA

In this photo above, we did a route from the central island (Santa Cruz) down and around the sea-horse shaped island (Isabela) to the left.

Day One

Picked up at the airport on Baltra and taken to the boat. Lunch (tuna soup with potatoes, croutons and rice) and shown to our cabins. Great – bunk beds, wardrobe, bathroom with shower, air con. Different class to the San Blas boat!

Sailed to Cerro Dragon (Dragon Hill) where we did a walk and saw Marine & Land Iguanas. Also passed by a salt pool and 2 flamingoes (there are only 400 in Galápagos) – very lucky. Lots of Opuntia cacti which the Land Iguanas and Donkeys (introduced) rely on for food. On some islands without tortoises, iguanas or donkeys, the Opuntia does not have spikes – it had to evolve them to protect itself.

Dinner was chicken in sauce with beans and sweetcorn, and afterwards we watched a Galápagos shark (about 6ft, can be dangerous) looking for the needle fish that were attracted to the light of the boat. As the boat took off we had a sea lion swimming alongside for ages – incredibly fast, like a torpedo, and you can’t work out how they are propelling themselves, they don’t seem to move anything. We also had a nocturnal gull flying alongside the boat.

Great first day spotting!

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Day Two

Overnight sail to Villamil town on Isabela, but everyone slept well. There were a number of other boats around – a popular stop for cruises and day trippers.

Scrambed eggs for breakfast and off to Tintoreras to look at the “aa” lava and the iguanas. Amazing and strange scenery – the black, pointy “aa” covered in lichens. Lots of iguanas fighting and nesting on the pathways, couple of sea lions and pups playing at the waters edge, saw some famous Galápagos penguins (a lucky spot), and also two Tintoreras Sharks (the white-tipped ones) resting in shallow water – they are the only shark that sleeps. Also had the obligatory foot injury – scraped my toes on the “owow” lava trying to point something out to Jim.

At 10am we went snorkelling in the same area – saw turtles, shark, ray, sea lion and loads of big fish (mostly parrot).

Lunch was lentil soup, fish stew with beans and salad, then cooked banana in evaporated milk. Scrum.

We went to shore after lunch in Villamil and to a land tortoise breeding centre. So many! They keep a number for breeding – maybe 10 of them are +100 years, 30 are +20 years (as long as the centre has been running), and the younger ones are released back into the wild.

After that we walked to the “Wall of Tears” for a bit of human history – convicts were kept here and made to build a nonsensical wall in the middle of nowhere, just to keep them busy. It’s big. And it’s lava, so it kept falling down.

Hiked to a couple of viewpoints to observe the vast, untouched landscape of bare white trees, covered with moss-like lichens that soak up the humidity in the air, and opuntia cacti.

Dinner was beef stew, mashed potato and veg. Pud was a birthday cake for one of the guests.

Straight to bed early – very tired from excursions. Great night’s rest.

Day Three

Woke up at Punta Morena and took the dingy after breakfast to an amazing Pahoehoe Lava landscape for some “Ultimate Rock Pooling”.  Jim likened it to walking over a massive elephant dung heap!

So English rock pools have anemones, starfish and maybe a crab. In Galápagos you walk 3km back from the coastline and you find pools supplied by the sea like small oases. They may be filled with hundreds of yellow-tail mullet struggling for air, or flamingoes, or ducks. Around the pool there will be a few mangrove trees, but otherwise all you can see for miles is black lava punctuated by catcus (lava, candelabra and opuntia).

Back to the boat for snorkelling – and it was FREEZING! We managed about 20mins in the murky, cold water – enough to see a couple of big turtles, some big fish and lots of spiny urchins that we were trying hard to avoid! Had really wanted to see seahorses but it was too murky and wavy.

Lunch was chicken soup, lovely fish in salsa verde, red cabbage and courgette with salad. Then strawbs and cream mousse… as we navigated to Elizabeth Bay.

It was left to the group to organise ourselves into 2 groups for the afternoon’s water safari… so I took the lead and we did a show of hands. Jim and I went for the later group so we could have a siesta! The water safari was nice, inside mangrove areas – very peaceful apart from the penguins whizzing around under water trying to catch fish. Saw blue-footed boobies, penguins, seals, the flightless cormorant, tuna feasting on sardines, pelicans diving, gulls trying to steal food from the pelicans… nature in action.

Dinner was chicken leg in stew, cabbage salad, rice.. yum. Then 3 leche cake – VERY delicious. Certainly get fed well on this boat – plenty, and tonnes of veg and salads.

… Trying very hard by this point to remember everything we’d seen and done, days and animals start to merge in to one another and forget what islands looked like.

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Day Four

Woke up at 6am to see the graffiti from whalers and buccaneers at Tagus Cove, where Darwin landed and stayed. Only one other boat with us now. Boat continued on to Punta Espinoza on Fernandina. We took the dingy to the shore and picked our way over VERY slippy pahoehoe lava. Behind us was another group of much older tourists – each with a walking stick, going extremely gingerly and falling here and there. Hope they didn’t do too much damage!

Saw lots of smelly iguanas, mostly the males (the only ones that swim) going out to sea to feed. Also saw a Galápagos Hawk mother and squawking child, hermit crabs, and eagle rays on the way back to the boat.

I was pretty tired by this point.

Snorkelling was cold again, not quite as bad as the day before but very murky. Did see an iguana feeding on algae underwater, and a scorpion fish hiding in the rocks!

Lunch was potato soup, lentils and fish cooked in batter. Then strawberry jelly and mousse for desert.

Had a quick siesta and then out for a snorkel below some huge dramatic volcanic ash cliffs. Serious number of turtles hanging out in the water – maybe 20 or 30. Just amazing, everywhere you swam they would come looming up out of the gloom. Covered in algae, they float around in the current waiting for fish to give them a clean. Lots of big King Angel fish here too, black but with bright neon orange and blue markings and white stripe.

“I’ve been practising my calls… the call of nature”

Dinner was spaghetti bolognese, garlic bread.. then banana bread for pudding.

During the night the boat had to stop because an illegal fishing line got caught in the propeller. There were two huge tuna caught in the line.. dinner for another day!

Day Five

Wet landing on a black volcanic beach. Saw my favourite animals.. the little Galápagos Fly Catchers. If you stand still they come and sit on your head, or your hat or your hair.. looking for nesting material. So much fun! Also saw lots of fur seals hanging around a lovely blue pool – sleeping in the waves, or in amazing nooks in the lava really high up away from the water.

We walked into the water after the trek and snorkelled – white tipped sharks, sea lions, mullet, swimming iguanas… you know, the usual!

After lunch we went to Rabida Island – my favourite of the trip. Amazing blood red beach, the erosion of lava rich in minerals. We snorkelled and saw lots of sea lion, playing with cameras, 2 sharks, star fish, loads of fish… incredible warm and crystal clear water.

Day Six

Our last day was just an early trip on the boat around Daphne island, looking at sea lions and frigates and blue-footed boobies.

And before we left the boat, of course I had another foot injury… this time almost ripping my little toe off on a steel strut next to a wooden plank pathway down the side of the boat. Deep, and destined for a few days in socks on flights… gulp!

 

A funny video we made for Lily and Charlie Torrent:

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