For anyone that doesn't know, the Galapagos is a group of islands approximately 1000km off the coast of Ecuador that have been formed (and new islands still being formed ) by underwater volcanic eruptions. At present there are somthing like 13 main islands with over 100 islets and rocks.
My Galapagos adventure started by flying into the island of San Cristobel, one of the south east islands. Due to a number of restrictions in place (all national park visits have to be accompanied by a registered tour guide, restricted number of tour boats allowed, not being allowed to dive off cruise tour boats etc) i had booked onto a land based tour of the south east islands so spent the following 9 days with an international group of 8 others and our tour guide, Maricio, who was born and raised on one of the islands and knowledgably (& patiently!) answered our thousands of questions.
After staying in hostels for the last 5 weeks the 2 nights in the Blue Marlin hotel in San Cristobel was a touch of luxury, complete with towels and free soap and shampoo and even a swimming pool!
We were given an hour after arriving to unpack and freshen up for lunch, but me and my roommate, Sarah, couldn't wait to go and explore so we headed straight downtown to the pier where we were greeted by sunbathing sealions, everywhere... literally!!
They were sleeping on the beach, on the rocks, on the sidewalks, on the children's playground, on the benches meant for human occupation, and we even found one sleeping inside the children's water slide! I immediately had a smile on my face, and it hasn't disappeared since!!
After lunch we hired bikes from the highpoint in the island and cycled back down into the town.
En route we stopped off at an 800 year old silk cotton tree which has been converted into a tree house, not only a house up high in the branches which has a balcony, kitchen, bathroom, seating area and 2 bedrooms, but you can also climb inside the trunk and down beneath the ground to the honeymoon suite, kitted out with a double bed and flushing toilet!!
After a beer here, the next stop was the beach where i finally got to realise a dream of mine... I swam in the sea with sea lions in the wild!
There were about 4 of them that wanted to come and play, so Maricio reminded us at this moment of one of the many national park rules... do not touch or chase or feed the animals.... now try telling that to the sealions who insisted on playing by biting our legs and ankles! I came out of the water bleeding!! One of our group had his an underwater camera which one little pup made his mission to try and eat... that's going to be a great movie!!
The next morning I got to fulfill another dream... I did my first dive in the Galapagos! We started with a check dive where the 2 of us divers in the group went off to quickly check weights etc whilst the rest of the group snorkelled and we later joined them. This site was really shallow and populated with sealions, pelicans, herons, friagtes and blue footed boobies.
The sealions are so inquisitive and playful, its incredible to see the change from the clumsy lazy creatures you see on land to the elegant and graceful creatures that twist and turn effortlessly around you in the water, whilst getting dive bombed by pelicans and herons searching for fish!!
We then went off to our dive site, Kicker Rock, where I then experienced the best diving I have done so far... there were no pretty corals and visibility was fairly low, with big swells and some strong underwater currents, but the 2 dives were spent swimming with what seemed like hundreds of sharks... white tip reef sharks, black tip reef sharks, Galapagos sharks, and even a couple of hammerheads, as well as turtles and at one point about 12 giant rays passed over us. It was really incredible and the most ecstatic I have ever emerged from a dive!!
Our final afternoon on the island was spent at the interpretation centre which explains the formation and history of the islands and we took a walk to some viewpoints and a monument of Charles Darwin.
After dinner and a few too many drinks, 2 of us decided to wander down to the pier to have a final look at the sealions, and sat on the semi circular bridge watching a pup reunite with its mum who was sleeping on the bench opposite us. It's a funny process ... the young feed off their mums for up to 18 months, and they reunite every night by the pup and mum calling to each other (which sounds a bit like a belch or someone being sick ) and the pup will then go around all the mums trying to suckle on each of them and being chased off by each wrong mum, until he eventually fnds the right one!! So to sit there and watch this pup and mum calling to each other and finally finding each other, then nestling up opposite us was amazing to watch. What we didn't realise whilst this was all happening was that at both ends of the bridge exactly the same thing had happened, and feeding mums do not let you anywhere near them, let alone pass them, so at 1 in the morning we had been barracaded in! The only thing for it (after much pacing and drunken consideration!) was to jump onto the volcanic rocks below... luckily the tide was out and i only came away with a couple of grazes!
The Galapagos really is a paradise . Not in a caribbean white sands, turquoise sea and swaying palm trees whlist slurping on a pina colada sense, although i have found a couple of those beaches now, but a rugged wilderness paradise with incredible nature and wildlife, where the animal kingdom rules and allow us humans to come and be their paparazzi ... I'm convinced that from time to time the sealions and lizards and birds have actually stopped to pose for my camera!!