Experience of a lifetime in the Galapagos

Trip Start Mar 31, 2008
Trip End Jul 04, 2008

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Darwin Yacht

Flag of Ecuador  , Galapagos Islands,
Thursday, May 15, 2008

So after deciding that even though the Galapagos is super expensive we reasoned that it was still way cheaper than coming back to Ecuador again because we missed it the first time.
After Baņos we headed to Guayaquil (the comercial capital of Ecuador) we arrived at 7.30pm off the bus and after finding a place to stay - I cant be 100% positive but a sneaky suspision that this was our first stay in a ´´love hotel´´. We walked into town and down to the waterfront which has been turned into a lovely walkway and botanical gardens. It has 24hr security and restraunts and bars exercise areas and playgrounds. Nev thought it was the nicest city water front he had ever seen - high praise indeed but it was lovely and safe even at night.

The next day we headed to the airport to catch our flight to the G Islands. We had lunch onboard and thought we would get our moneys worth by having 2 glasses of red wine each (in a little over an hour) We arrived and met with the rest of the people on our tour boat and our guide Sergio. Very quickly we were wisked onto our boat and spotted our first wildlife. Not hard when they are sea lions lounging on park benches a the wharf. I had previously stocked up on sea sickness drugs and was well on my way to spending the next 5 days with a slightly fuzzy head. We were assigned to our rooms which was a bit of a chore for the guide as the alocations were not correct and he was having trouble adjusting, most of us thought we could probably just grab a bunk and be done with it but the guide had other plans. Eventually this got sorted after 30mins and a bad attitude from the guide, nev and I were in a downstairs cabin on top of the motor (bunk beds and private shower and toilet). Diesel fumes were our main gripe with the room (understandable given we were the last 2 berths to be booked) but apart from at night we hardly spent any time there. The boat had a communial soloon and dining area plus a large upstairs deck area for everyone to enjoy. There were 16 people on board with a good mix of Canadian, Australian, British, Swizz and Danish.

After lunch (all the food on the cruise was amazing) we motored to Las Bachas Beach on Santa Cruz island for our first excursion.
You may have noticed that we ate lunch on the plane and on the boat, so you can imagine with all the exercise we had done today (walking from the taxi to the check in gate) we were going to be putting on some weight on this cruise.
This is a beach where marine turtles lay their eggs and we were only permitted to walk in certain areas (below the high tide mark mostly) we could see the turtle tracks and also the large indentations were the eggs had been laid. We saw heaps of crabs and our first marine iguanas. We were on the beach for about 3 hours and during that time we were able to snorkle. Our first snorkle in the G islands revealled an amazing array of fish and underwater creatures (sea slugs, star fish, and some corals). Nev and I spent about an hour snorkling and then went for a walk on the beach. This was not super smart as at the beach there were large Horse Flies that like to bite you when your skin is soft from the water, so we slapped and danced our way up the beach and then we saw some frigate birds flocking and diving at the sand near the turtle nests, everyone gathered and we watched as the birds massacared about 12 baby turtles (they were early hatchers). It was sobering to see the Pred-Prey relationship at work.
Then it was back to the boat (using the rubber inflatable with outboard). And onto our next destination which turned out to be stocking up the boat with fresh water for showers and food etc. This took a while but was fine as we were getting to know the other passengers and had no further ¨destinations¨on our itinery for this day. We watched as some fisherman unloaded a catch of large fish onto the wharf and we all mentioned how we thought it was a marine reserve, which it is, we never found out if we had witnessed illegal activity or not.
After a saftey briefing and what was to be our regular daily 6.30pm briefing (on the plan for the following day) we had dinner and then relaxed with our new ship mates.

Day 2 and we are eating breakfast at 7am. During the night the crew started the engine and motored over to our next destination of South Plazas Island. Nev had trouble sleeping what with the diesel fumes but I slept fine (earplugs and sea sick drugs make for a peaceful sleep). We started the day with a dry landing onto the island to see Land Iguanas, Sealions, birdlife and cactus. Nev had some trouble with his camera lenses fogging up (temperature difference between aircon cabin and warm island). We proceeded with an excruciatingly slow walk around the tiny Island. It was great to see a sea lion make its way to the ocean down a 20m vertical cliff, and watch as the Iguanas munched on the prickly cactus. We left this island and motored over to Santa Fe Island. After lunch we were all really keen to get into the water to snorkle with the sea turtles we could see from the boat. Eventually, after a decent interval to wait for our 3 course lunch to go down, we started snorkling and saw some turtles swimming around and also just chilling on the bottom (about 10m down). Then we continued snorkling for about 60mins and saw some huge schools of fish and also played with our first sea lions, incredible. During this snorkle we saw a marine iguana swimming and eating some seaweed. We were quite tired after this snorkle (lucky we had so much lunch!) and just relaxed for a while before heading over to the beach to have a short walk and take heaps of photos with the sea lions that covered the beach. On the inflatable ride back the guide spotted a small hammerhead shark (about 1.5ft) and we followed it for a while on the way back to the boat. After dinner we played some cards with the aussies (Greg and Marika) as the night wore on, no-one really wanted to go to bed as the boat was moving to our next destination and it was quite rocky, many people were feeling quite sick but not me (go the drugs!). So far today was the most amazing snorkling Nev and I have ever done (better than Great Barrier Reef).

Day 3 Up early again 6am to try and catch the sun rise (about 15min too late) anyway nice to be up with only a few people around. We were now at Espaņola Island, at Gardiner bay. We snorkled here  and although there were less fish there were plenty of sea lions  to frolick with and to dodge on the beach.  After snorkling Nev went for a jog up the beach with Greg dodging sealions and their poos, after which Nev and I went for a walk up the beach and spent some time with a marine iguana just chilling out. We jumped back on the boat and cruised to Gardiner Island (10 min away) - strange I know but Gardiner Bay is not on Gardiner Island (at least I dont think it is). We took the inflatable and headed around the far side of the island before getting dropped off and snorkling our way back to the boat. We saw heaps of fish (large schools) and many kina and star fish. And the inevitable sea lions (still very cool) we snorkled in some cool caves. I really liked the way the light shone under the water when you were in the cave looking out to the ocean, really blue and luminesent.  I headed back to the boat before Nev and missed seeing 2 sea lions playing volleyball with a puffer fish. So back on board and we are having lunch before cruising to Punta Suarez (still on Espaņola Island) which is famous for bird life and marine iguanas. We steped onto the island and were amazed at the numbers of marine iguanas, they were all piled up ontop of each other and all over the rocks. We walked to the albatros colony, very cool, these ones are a bit smaller than the type in dunedin but we were so close to them that they looked just as big. We saw some nesting on eggs and others flying around and doing not very delicate landings. We saw some albatros doing a mating dance which lasts about 20min (this was very special) and we sat on the rocks at the cliff where we could see albatros, boobies (gannets) and shearwaters taking off and landing. After a bit we walked over to where a blow hole in the rocks was gushing sea water over the top of the cliff and a large colony of Blue Footed Boobies and Masked Boobies. We were shown how to tell the males from the females (larger pupils in the female). We saw some other birds including the mocking bird and Galapagos Dove on our way back to the boat. What an amazing day: the albatros were very majestic and impressive and the Blue footed boobies were funky.

Day 4 our last full day. We got up early and headed off for a walk to check out the Flamingos in a lagoon.  They are the most amazing shade of shocking pink, they have no natural preditors here so I guess they can be as bright as they like. We walked over the hill to another beach to check out the rays, we were told to shuffle our feet along so that we didnt stand on the rays and they would move out of the way, this (hopefully) prevents you getting a barb in your leg. We saw heaps of rays and one touched my foot, it was very soft like being touched with silk but still super freaky and obviously I shreked. We also saw some small sharks in the water here. The other feature of this beach is when you dig into the sand the darker wet sand has a Green colour to it. On the way back to the boat we saw some penguins froliking and nev managed to get some great photos. Then we motored around to the beach where we had seen the rays and sharks (mostly small ones) and went snorkling. I was quite aprehensive about snorkling her but once I was in the water I was ok. We all snorkled as a big group as we looked for hammerheads and other sharks. The first cool thing I saw was a large Ray crusing on the bottom then a turtle swam by about 5 m away, super cool. The water here was the deepest we had swum in 15-20m deep but the visability was awesome. I could see starfish the size of dinner plates on the bottom.  As people spotted things they would call out and point so that we could all see. In this way we saw 2 Hammerheads (big ones - 2m long) swimming beneath us, and obviously we followed them for as long as we could keep up. Then we saw a black tipped reef shark (2m) and many more Sea Lions not to mention heaps of types of fish and more Rays. We clamboured back into the inflatable and were wisked over to a reef called the Devils Crown (an old submerged volcano top). We snorkled around the outside and then through the middle. We saw 4 White Tipped Reef Sharks cruising around (about 2m long) and more Sealions, Turtles and Rays. These two snorkles were the most amazing ever! I was totally freaked out about seeing the sharks but Im told these types are harmless and once you start watching them they are just so impressive that you forget to be scarred. After about 2hrs in the water we were exahsted and headed back to the boat for lunch and the cruise to the main island town of Puerto Ayora. We went into town for some souveneer shopping and then back to the boat for dinner (food at the town was very expensive) then we got dropped back to town for a night out, we had a great time recollecting our snorkling and boasting to some people who had been diving and not seen any sharks yet.

Day 5 and our last day, we woke up and packed before breakfast. We headed onto the island and for the Charles Darwin Centre where they have Land Tortoises in Captivity. The tortoises from each different island developed differently and are now all different sub-species. The centre is rearing the tortoises in captivity and then releasing them back to their islands of origin once they are 4-5 years old and there shells have hardened enough to withstand attacks by the introduced preditors such as rats and dogs. The centre was very informative and although we only saw tortoises in captivity we felt that they were being well looked after and it was a worthy project to support, therefore Nev felt justified buying a few souvineers from the shop at the centre. After this is was off to the airport which involves a 1hr bus followed by a 10min ferry and another 10 min bus. While we were on the ferry we saw an amazing site, a huge number of blue footed boobies (gannets) feeding on a school of fish, they were all circling and diving into the water at the same time, it was amazing they didnt crash into each other. I got a cool video of this on my camera but as it was the first time ive used this function I also captured alot of irrevaliant stuff, so If I can figure out how to edit it I will post it for you all to see!
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