All aboard the Galapagos Vision

Trip Start Oct 13, 2010
Trip End Feb 22, 2012

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Flag of Ecuador  , Galapagos Islands,
Tuesday, November 1, 2011

After a few weeks of working in the school I had a week off to do some exploring of the other Galapagos Islands. The advantage of living on Santa Cruz is that you can pop into the travel agencies and pick up last minute cruises at cheaper prices. The travel agents make a few calls to the boat captains and tell you what's available in the next couple of days. Even better if you can leave the same day! So I decided to go across to San Cristobel to meet couple of volunteering friends and then pick up a cruise for four days on the Galapagos Vision catamaran.

So on Friday I packed a bag and set off for the island of San Cristobel with another volunteer, Emma who is from the UK as well. We made the two hour rough crossing on the 'launcher' speed boats which go twice a day. There were no seats left inside and the boat was clearly overloaded, there were still people arguing trying to get on and in the end a man in military uniform told them to get off. We had to sit by the motors at the back and as a result got soaked within 5 minutes of setting off! On San Cristobel we met up with another volunteer friend, Kaileen from the USA. When we arrived there was a protest going on, we were told that sadly a tour guide had died after a suspected heart attack out at sea and apparently either no ambulance came to his aid when they got to land or they didn't have the necessary equipment to save him. Even the sea lions were joining in the protest. With all the tourism it's easy to believe that the Galapagos is more 'developed' than it really is.

The next day we all went on a snorkelling trip to Kicker Rock - it's actually two massive rocks some way off the shore (it feels like the middle of the ocean) which you swim between, and it's home to sharks, sharks and more sharks :) There are white tipped sharks, Galapagos sharks, dusky sharks and hammerhead sharks as well as sea turtles, rays, various fish .... Everyone was a bit scared because we had heard stories of the current being so strong that you are dragged between the rocks so I was expecting some kind of water roller coaster but once we got over the shock of the freezing cold water it was not that bad! At first there was nothing, and then we started seeing the sharks. Loads of them, more than 30 or so, swimming a couple of metres below us! I saw a beautiful eagle ray swimming below me and a few stingrays, plus plenty of sea turtles outside the channel between the rocks. Everyone was pointing out sharks, its a bit strange when someone shouts 'shark!!' and you all rush over to get a closer look rather than getting the hell outta there! Best of all, a big Galapagos shark swam right by me just a couple of feet away. Just after that moment the guide told us not to get to close to these ones - it was a bit too late for that! I've just had a look on Wikipedia and it seems they may not be quite so harmless as the guide said! Unfortunately the photos I took on one of those single use Kodak cameras have come out really crap, and most of them didn't come out at all :(

This was one of the best experiences ever - I certainly got my shark fix!! For now, anyway! We ended the day going to a local club, Iguana Rock, where there was a fancy dress Halloween party going on. One of the most bizarre scenes I've ever come across - on stage there was a dance off featuring a red Indian, a man dressed as a woman, a Muslim and a ghost. Yep, a woman had come as a Muslim holding a bottle of beer. The red Indian and the tranny seemed to take joint first prize. Hilarious!

On Sunday it was time to board the Galapagos Vision for my cruise! Having chosen the cheapest option and the lowest class I wasn't sure what to expect. After a year of travelling I don't bother to ask many questions any more as I don't really care about the things I used to. The only question I asked was the sleeping arrangements - I did draw the line at one boat where I was told I'd have to share a double bed and they couldn't guarantee it would be with a woman.  So I arrived at the port on San Cristobel and there was no sign of the catamaran .... a helpful man in a water taxi told me it was anchored way out and took me over there for $1. And what a pleasant surprise! The catamaran was lovely, small with only 5 cabins and 10 people. I shared the room (and the bed) with a nice Dutch girl and we even had an ensuite bathroom with hot shower!! I wasn't even expecting any kind of shower ... on the last boat cruise I took I didn't even get a bed. We had a great bunch of people, everyone around the same age apart from an Italian man in his 60s who seemed to be on the wrong boat as all he did was complain in Italian. He told everyone that he only speaks Italian and German - not a word of Spanish or English - not much use in Ecuador!

Day One of the cruise took us around San Cristobel to a sea lion colony where we saw a newborn sea lion pup - the umbilical cord was still attached! There is a rule on the Galapagos that you have to keep 2 metres from the animals unless they approach you, and it's impossible when the sea lions are so curious and come right up to take a closer look. We go to shore in the 'zodiac', a kind of motorised dingy. The food was really good on the boat but the Italian man sent every meal back without even trying it - this is such a cliche but he actually said he only eats spaghetti and cheese! The crew were great and there was always a variety of music playing, my favourite was the 80's mix ... I swapped tunes with one of the crew who was only 18 and got bluetooth working on my phone so I now have a load of Bob Marley to chill out to, thanks Willian :)

Day Two took us to the uninhabited island of Espanola, the main reason that I chose this cruise. It has almost the entire world's population of the 'waved' Albatross bird and an abundance of 'blue footed boobies' as well as the amazing red and green coloured iguana. One of the most interesting things about the Galapagos islands are how different species are endemic to specific islands, so the iguanas look different on Espanola, Santa Cruz and Isabela. We went for a hike in the morning, only the cruise boats can come here and its strictly controlled so there weren't many people. Wow - words cannot describe how incredible this was! There were huge birds everywhere - it was hard not to trip over them and the 2 metre rule was impossible. There were albatross, boobies, frigate birds resting on the rocks and totally unperturbed by human presence. Next to then were big iguanas sunning themselves and huge colourful crabs wandering past. Marine iguanas are fascinating creatures - around the corner we saw about 20 of them just staring at us, all facing the sun with their heads raised. The guide explained that they do this to cool down, using their head to shade their backs. Marine iguanas can survive half an hour underwater. They have a special gland to process the salt water, and they get rid of the salt by spitting which they do if you get too close! Very funny to watch somebody being spat at. When they come out of the water they need to warm up before they can be active again and during this period they hardly move. This makes them very vulnerable to predators and this is the reason they only live on the Galapagos as they don't have many natural predators here. But if they get too hot then they die, so then they have to cool down again. We learned so much during the few days on the cruise as our guide was so informative. He took it seriously though, firing questions at us and getting annoyed if we didn't know the answer. The albatross is also fascinating - it mates with one partner for life. But the best bit is that every year all the birds migrate to Peru for a while, separately, then when they return they have to find each other again! They do this by a unique 'dance' during which they are able to recognise their partner's movements to identify the right one. In the afternoon we went snorkeling and saw lots of sting rays and a couple of penguins. The Galapagos penguins are the second smallest in the world but the La Nina (opposite of El Nino!) weather conditions have adversely affected the population here and we were lucky even to see two or three. Espanola was the highlight of the trip, the sheer number and proximity of the birds was how I imagined the Galapagos to be.

Day three of the cruise took us to the island of Floreana. A very different, volcanic environment with black volcanic sand, this is home to Post Office Bay. 200 years ago sailors set up a post system whereby boats returning to the mainland would take their letters. Nowadays people can leave letters and postcards and the idea is that you look through and find one addressed to somewhere close to your own home, then you hand deliver the card when you return! I found one for a family in Norwich so I will deliver it when I get back, especially as it said 'please give the deliverer a cup of tea'! Swimming we saw some interesting trumpet fish who have huge jaws like a trumpet. I got in the guide's bad books by not recognising the type of fish from a pile of bones he was holding up. He looked at me like I was the most stupid guest ever to set foot on his boat and said 'you don't know much about fish, do you?' to which I replied 'er no, not really' and Lisa (who lives just down the road from me in Hitchin!) and I cracked up laughing like school kids.  Snorkeling here was fantastic - we went out of the bay in the zodiac and swam around some more huge rocks as this is where the interesting (and bigger) marine life hangs out. The current was so strong and the waves so big that I actually could not swim around the corner. I stopped swimming for 2 seconds to adjust my mask and was carried back to the boat. After several attempts and narrowly avoiding smashing into the rocks the guide physically dragged me around to the other side. The water was crystal clear and very deep, an unusual combination. We saw literally hundreds of fish, funnily they were being dragged sideways by the current! There were more white tip sharks and various types of rays and of course sea turtles. It's funny how at first I thought seeing a sea turtles was just amazing but now its like 'oh its just another turtle', and the same with white tip sharks!

We also went into the 'lava tunnels' on Floreana - basically a pitch black tunnel leading into a cave with enough water to swim in (nobody wanted to swim!). We stumbled in with our flashlights, it's interesting because the tunnels were made when the lava from the volcanoes forced it's way out of the earth. The entire island of Floreana is actually a volcano.

So that was my Galapagos cruise ... I saw more animals, learned more information and had the most fun in just 3 days than the 4 weeks I have been living here and taking mini trips. I would recommend to anyone going there to spend the money on a cruise, yes its more expensive but a week of planned activities and a knowledgeable guide are worth so much more than two weeks of DIY Galapagos. Now there are only a few days left before I leave this amazing place and get back on the Gringo trail in Ecuador ...

More Galapagos photos here:

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