Another time, another place

Trip Start Dec 15, 2009
Trip End Aug 27, 2010

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Flag of Ecuador  , Galapagos Islands,
Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Our time in the Galapagos is nearly done and we'll all be a little sad to leave. We last wrote on the eve of our first day trip, so let me pick up where we left off.

It was an early start, off by taxi and dinghy to our boat (the "Eclipse") for the day’s cruise. Erika, the owner of the house we’re staying in, had arranged to be our guide and informed us that due to a last minute cancellation we’d have the Eclipse (intended to take 16 passengers) and it’s crew all to ourselves! The crew was fantastic, Captain Ermano, Wilmer and Fernando (the chef) were first class.

After an hour’s cruising, with Alex at the helm for most of it, we started the day with a hike around the island South Plaza, a top feeding spot for many birds and home to two separate sea lion colonies. As we disembarked, we had to be careful where we stepped to avoid the large red Sally Lightfoot crabs, which is no easy task when distracted by many baby sea lions just meters away. We watched the sea lions playing for some time while learning much about their lives from Erika. We also watched the pre-historic looking Frigate birds soaring overhead and looked on in amazement as several of them were seemingly attacking a red-billed tropicbird. We soon learnt that Frigate birds do not hunt for themselves as they do not produce enough of the oil that makes most seabirds water-resistant and therefore cannot dive into the sea to hunt for their own food. Instead, they steal food from other animals and birds and will harass the poor creature such that it will drop or even regurgitate recently acquired food such that the frigate bird can catch in mid-air. Cool to watch, but we did feel rather sorry for the sulking tropicbird.

As we hiked to the north of the island, we were thrilled on several occasions to see baby sea lions feeding from their mothers. However, we were less than thrilled by the weather as it began to pour with rain, and before long we were wet through. When travelling like this, one tends not to shower quite as often as normal, but our oily resistance layer was somewhat lacking in comparison to the local inhabitants. On the north part of the island is the second sea lion colony, but no babies to be seen here. This was the bachelor colony where old males come to lie around and die and younger males come to grow-up. It’s also where the losing male sea lion comes to convalesce after a battle to rule a breeding colony. So all in all, just like the local bar.

Wet through, we trudged back to the dock where we were picked up and ferried back to the boat. An excellent lunch did the trick to warm us up a little and we sailed back toward the main island of Santa Cruz. In a quiet cove, we were given the option of kayaking or snorkeling – we chose both (hard to say “no” to kids). Kayaking was fun; we spotted some blue-footed boobies (get your mind out of the gutter … they’re birds) on the rocks, and some neat looking fish. Upon donning snorkel gear, Alex was lucky enough to have his own personal guide (Wilmer) who kept diving beneath the surface in search of sharks and rays amongst the rocks. Although no sharks were to be found, we saw one ray and some beautiful fish whose colours were quite stunning.

After snorkeling, we returned to Santa Cruz and Puerto Ayora tired but happy. Still damp, Sarah strolled from the house down to Pelican Bay where the fishermen come in to sell their wares amongst the eager sea lions (see previous post for more details). Through much gesturing and limited Spanish Sarah succeeded in buying half of a very large fish (whose name has been forgotten already); 5lbs of fresh fish for $10. The highlight of the purchase though was watching the fish as it was filleted and then hand feeding the scraps to the patiently waiting sea lion!

Our next day started quietly, but the weather was good and so we decided to head to Tortuga Bay. Tortuga Bay consists of two beaches approximately 45 minutes walk from the western edge of Puerto Ayora. The first beach is simply breath-taking; deserted, with powder white sand and surf almost as far as the eye can see. We walked to the far end of the first beach to find the second one as we had heard that It was far safer for swimming, and as we reached the farthest point we came across a huge group of marine iguanas basking in the sunJ The beach here was bordered with trees which seemed to attract the birds or maybe it was our picnic lunch? All living creatures in the Galapagos are quite bold where humans are concerned (something to ponder for a moment) and the finches were cheeky enough to actually feed from the hand.

The next day’s adventure was a trip to the highlands where we visited “Los Gemelos” (the twins, no nothing to do with Boobies) two massive 400m deep craters formed when the roofs of two huge sub-terranean caves collapsed. Then we spent time watching giant tortoise roaming (somewhat slowly) across open pastures tearing into the grass seemingly unperturbed by the tourists until the odd idiot (in this case an Englishman) would rush at them with a camera whereby they would hiss and retreat into their shells (did he think he was going to miss something?). Funny how a 7 & 8 year old can behave appropriately around wildlife but some adults can’t? We also got to try crawling inside of giant tortoise shells (after the previous owner had vacated, naturally) and discovered why they move so slowly, although I bet they didn’t get their feet stuck like Derek. After our tortoise exploits we walked through lava tubes – massive tunnels created following a volcanic eruption where the outside of the lava cools and solidifies and the inner molten lava continues to flow. The tunnels were as high as 6m in places, and as low as 0.5m at one point where we had to crawl on hands and knees!

Our last full day in the Galapagos was probably our best. We had booked another day trip to one of the other islands, North Seymour, on the Eclipse boat again, much to Alex’s delight as he had become good friends with the crew on the first trip. This time we weren’t alone and shared the boat with 8 other people (all from the US of A). The structure of the day was much like the last trip and we sailed approximately 40 minutes to North Seymour, where we disembarked and hiked around the island. Unlike South Plaza which is a feeding island, North Seymour is a breeding island and therefore certain sightings are more or less guaranteed. We saw lots of wildlife, including Sea Lions, Sally Lightfoot Crabs, Frigate Birds (greater and magnificent), seagulls (these are cooler than they sound as they are a type of seagull that is endemic to the Galapagos, they have really big red eyes as they hunt at night and live mainly on squid as squid glow in the dark…who knew?), blue-footed boobies (Sarah’s favourites) and marine and land iguanas. Many of the birds we saw were nesting and so we also got to see baby frigate birds and both seagulls and blue-footed boobies incubating their eggs. Mother nature also has a crueler side that the kids took some getting used to and during our hike we saw many deceased birds and a few dead sea lions and iguanas.

After hiking it was back to the boat; while waiting for the dinghy to pick us up from the dock Derek thought it would be neat to have a picture of Sarah and the kids with the boat in the background, however with backs to the sea, they did not notice (nor were they warned of) the extra large wave coming and what should’ve been a dry landing finished with Sarah and Alex getting a surprise from the sea!

Next activity was deep water snorkeling and after donning the snorkel gear, we looked out over the edge of the boat to see sharks circling the boat! We hopped into the dinghy anyway and sped off along the coast a little way to snorkel … away from the sharks, right? Wrong! Alex counted 18 sharks close to us in the water, and I mean close! They were white-tipped reef sharks which seemed rather intimidating until we watched them being harassed by a sea lion who was chasing them and nipping at their tails! After boarding the boat we saw several marine turtles, a hammerhead shark and a shoal of flying fish. Unfortunately we couldn’t land on the next intended beach (where we had hoped to see marine turtles and their nesting areas) due to the rough sea and so sailed to another island instead when disaster struck….Lauren’s hat blew off and went “sailing” overboard into the oceanL

But, it was Captain Ermano to the rescue who presently jumped into the dinghy and sped off in the direction of the hat. Before long, both hat and dinghy were out of sight…..but, surprise, surprise, Captain Ermano came speeding around the other side of the island with waving hat in hand to the great relief of Lauren and applause from the passengers. I think he knew how to milk a crowd better than some of the sea lions.

We soon anchored near to another beach, but instead of hopping into the dinghy the usual way, Derek and the kids leapt off of the top of the boat and swam to the dinghy! (Alex of course, had so much fun doing it that he had to do it again). On the beach we saw pelicans nesting in the trees and some abandoned turtle nests.

After a long and tiring day with packing still to be done we decided to have dinner at the house. What could have been a dull evening of packing was livened up by an intruder! Editorial comment – So, to Sarah swimming with sharks is” kinda cool”, wrestling with attack-monkeys “quite the experience”, and accosting a scorpion –“ manageable”, but a mouse in the house – it’s a travesty, a disaster … and I quote “GAAAGGH…. GET IT OUTTA HERE!” Ok not quite accurate – I left out the swear words.

All in all, the Galapagos Islands are truly amazing, from another time long long ago. It was an expensive week, but one that will be hard to top. Next stop Quito again for a few days before we head further south to Peru. Take care and if you’re in the UK or Canada stay warm and enjoy the snow...
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Brian & Kerry on

Looks like you are having too much fun and may not want to ever come back. Don't blame you though. The weather here has been good although not as warm as your's. Derek - we won our first game of the New Year last night. A 5-2 drubbing of a team that beat us last time. Take care and talk to you soon. Brian, Kerry and Family,

bob poseluzny on

Great pictures . Looks like all are having a great time. I particularly like the big

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