Yacht in the Galapagos

Trip Start Jun 10, 2012
Trip End Aug 17, 2013

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Sierra Negra Volcano Isabela
Read my review - 5/5 stars

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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Day 1:
I would definitely say the first day of our yacht tour was a great start. We got on the boat in San Cristobal. Before lunch, we met everyone else in our group. There was 16 people in total, but two were missing at that time (we picked them up later). Everyone was: Me, Mom and Soph, Jocelyn and Jen, Kathryn and Gloria, Gordan and Carol, Tom and Miriam, Louis and Teresa, Maggie, and Laura and Lisa were the missing ones. Our guides name was Franklin. Me and Soph were sharing a room, and my mom shared with Maggie. Right after lunch, we went to Isla Lobos. This was our third time snorkeling here, but I was still fascinated by all of the sea lions. We also hiked for the first time on the island. There were lots of sea lions of course, and we got to see some blue-footed boobies up close. For some reason, the sea lions here seemed a lot more friendlier than in San Cristobal, and they would just come right up to us. Franklin said to be careful to not let them touch us, because the sea lions tell each other apart by scent. If a baby had our scent on it, the mom would reject it because it would think it was a different baby. There were a couple of half-decayed sea lion corpses, which I thought looked slightly horrifiying. They were middle-sized, so they could have been either a teenager still nursing, rejected by their mom, or hopefully just a small adult that died of old age. The babies on this island were so cute, partly just because they weren't afraid of us at all.
After this we went onto the boat, when right away someone spotted orca whales. There were three or four of them. We were all on the deck, waiting for the fins to come up again, when Franklin told us to get in the dinghys. We all rushed onto the two small boats and were chasing the whales in thirty seconds. We kept with the whales for about 20 minutes. They were right by the coast, passing Isla Lobos and the place we had snorkeled earlier. Franklin said they came just for all the sea lions in the area. It was really exciting! At one point we got super close to one of the whales. It swam RIGHT under our dinghy. I could have reached down and touched it! I tried to stick the camera underwater and get a video of it, but in all the excitement it got turned off. Jocelyn was right next to me though, and she got an awesome video that she'll share with everyone. It was amazing, and definitely a great start to the yacht. We later went back to San Cristobal to pick up Lisa and Laura. I felt bad that they had missed the exciting morning. There were a lot of other cool things to follow, though.

Day 2:
The second day we woke up in Santa Fe island. We did a hike starting on one beach and ending on another. The landing was a wet landing, meaning there were no docks and we had to get off the dinghys in the shallow water at the beach. There were some sea lions on the beach, but we didn't see them anywhere else. Franklin said that there was a very rare and special species of iguana that lived only on that small island, and the entire population of them was about 500. During our hike we saw 6 of them. They were very big and colorful iguanas, splashed with light tones of yellow, orange and pink. The island was mostly rocky but filled with tons of cacti. They were all huge, as tall as normal trees. We snorkeled after the hike. The water was slightly murky, but I saw two white-tip reef sharks. One of them was right in the beginning, when not eveyone had jumped off the dinghy yet. Most people saw the second shark in the middle of our snorkel.
We went to Plazas island later in the day. There were lots of iguanas and sea lions here, and the whole island was covered with short shrubs in pretty colors of yellow, red and green. There was some cacti here, and they were all covered in bright yellow flowers that the iguanas like to eat.
Our last stop was Santa Cruz island, a big one that is the most populated island in the Galapagos. According to Franklin, it is the most beautiful island in the world (although he might be slightly biased because he lives there...). We got some ice cream there but then came back to the boat for the night.

Day 3:
We stayed in Santa Cruz the third day. In the morning, we went to a tortoise conservation place. The babies were so tiny compared to the huge adults, who reach over 500 pounds. The longest recorded age one of these giant tortoises has ever lived was 235 years old! That seems unbelievable. They are believed to frequently reach up to 180 years old. We got to see the enclosure where Lonesome George used to live. The two females that were put in with him were still there. Lonesome George was the last tortoise of his type. People tried to get him to breed with similar types (the females they put in his enclosure), but he wouldn't. He died in June of 2012, and lots of people were sad because it meant that whole species died out. However, Franklin said that many tortoises had their DNA tested, and there were a couple that were the same species Lonesome George was. So he wasn't the last one after all. They are testing thousands but have only found a few. In the meantime, Lonesome George's corpse is in a lab and will possibly be cloned. That kind of creeps me out.
The tortoise population in the Galapagos is very low, because pirates, explorers and buccaneers killed them for food in the past. There are a few tortoise conservation places in the Galapagos, but the Santa Cruz one is the biggest. We walked back to town and strolled along the shops, went on the seasaw on the playground, and eventually got on the yacht for lunch.
We later went to the highlands, where many tortoises live in the wild. They like that area because the air is a lot more humid than the rest of the island. There were lots of giant tortoises on the road we drove on towards where we hiked. We went to a reserve, in a place called El Chato. We ended up seeing lots of tortoises, and even a pair mating. We had to put on boots to go into the reserve because of the mud, and that there were tons of biting ants. On the way in there were some tortoise shells we could go into to take pictures. They were so huge, me and Soph could both fit in one with extra room to spare. There were a couple hanging ones, and Franklin stuck Lisa into one. Soph got a turn afterwards, but I didn't want to. Those ropes holding it up looked pretty thin.
We went to lava tubes afterwards. The tubes are formed when lava flows from the volcano, but starts cooling down around the sides. Eventually the whole outside has turned into rock but the inside keeps flowing. The tube goes from the volcano all the way down to the ocean. The lava tube can be re-used multiple times by different lava flows. We walked in it, and it was huge! That lava flow must have been really big. At one point though, we had to crawl on our hands and knees. We used the mud on our hands to make warrior stripes on our faces. Eventually it dried and the mud just rubbed off as dust.

Day 4:
We stayed on Isabela island, the biggest Galapagos island, the whole day. In the morning we were first supposed to visit the Wall of Tears (a wall built by prisoners as a punishment), but we did something even better: we hiked a volcano. The Wall of Tears was on the itinerary because it is never certain if the weather will be good to hike on the volcano. The volcano was called Sierra Negra. It took about a half hour to hike to the top. The crater was absolutely enormous! The last eruption in it was 2005, so it was very dry and just filled with lava rock. There was tons of mint growing along the trails, so we picked them, put them in our waters and chewed them. On the way back, we gathered a whole bag of it to make mojitos the next night.
We went to another tortoise conservation place. On the way there we passed a small pond (really a construction site filled with water) and it had six flamingoes, all standing tall on one leg. The tortoise place was smaller than the Santa Cruz one and it had flat-shelled tortoises. There was a pair of tortoises mating there. It seems hard, with how huge they are.
We went into a super tiny town after this. We had to stay for two hours because a bus would have to bring us back to the dock. Everyone else had brought their swimsuits except for us, so we couldn't swim at the beach. There was a place that was supposed to have flamingoes...but there were no flamingoes.. We ended up going to an internet place where it was only $2 for an hour. I hadn't been on the interent for five days, but I just went on Facebook and my blog. We got coconuts later when we were waiting for the bus.

Day 5:
We were still on Isabela, on the west coast at a place called Punta Moreno. We hiked there in the morning. It is just a huge lava field. The lava is wavy and cracked, forming cool patterns. There was a type of cactus there that lives in conditions with virtually no water. It is like a bunch of spiky fingers sticking up from the ground (Gordan said it should be named 27-fingered Pete), and it can travel along the ground, new parts growing and the old parts dying. The lava field was just so desolate. There were a couple ponds, surrounded by vegetation. Other than that, the only plants were 27-fingered Petes and a few other cacti. We had three volcanoes in view from where we were hiking: Sierra Negra (that we had hiked on the day before), Cerro Azul, and La Cumbre from Fernandina island. La Cumbre was the most recent eruption in the Galapagos so far, in 2009. Franklin said there is usually an eruption every three years or so. One large pond among the dry lava had some flamingoes. There were also a couple ponds closer to the ocean. In one, we saw a white-tip shark, a sea turtle, and an octopus. It was the first time I'd ever seen an octopus in the wild. It was a foot or two in length, and had patterns of blue and brown. It disappeared quickly between some rocks. The animals got there during high tide. There was a little path to the ocean through some mangrove trees, but it was rocky at the time we were there. On the way back to the boat, we saw a single Galapagos penguin. We were all so excited, because it was the one thing we kept asking Franklin if we'd see. It was standing right at the end of a rock, the water lapping its feet. It was molting so it couldn't go in the water. It was super cute! Everyone snapped like 20 pictures of the single penguin. There were also tons of marine iguanas there. They were all over the rocks and in the water. They look like creepy serpents when they swim. We also saw some flightless cormorants. They are big, slim black birds with long necks. They have wings, but the wings look super frayed and tattered. It's just the way they are born though.
We headed back to the boat to get our snorkel gear, then went snorkeling. The water there was pretty murky because it was right where lots of waves crashed down. There were a few green sea turtles though. I got really close to them so I got tons of pictures. I was sort of the designated picture-taker for when we went snorkeling, because I liked diving down and I wasn't afraid of getting really close. At the end of our snorkel, it was only me and a few others. Everyone else was back at the ship. There were a few flighless cormorants floating on the top. I was taking a picture of one from underneath, when suddenly it ducked under. It flew through the water with lightning speed, and emerged again several seconds later. Another one went underwater and sped around. Then it started swimming at me. It went straight at my camera, trying to bite it! I kicked away backwards, and then the bird decided to swim after Jocelyn. That cormorant tried to attack us for about 15 minutes. I managed to get one video, while it was attacking Jocelyn. The other times, it would come after me every time I had my camera out. It tried to bite me tons of times, but it never could because I would start kicking and sending bubbles everywhere. It got the camera twice though, and it bit Jocelyn a few times. It had a sharp hook at the end of it's beak too, the reason I was scared of it biting me. It was very graceful and fast underwater. That was a mean bird though.
We took a dinghy ride later to search for some wildlife. It was though tons of mangrove trees, a very peaceful setting. To all of our delightment, we got to see more Galapagos penguins. There were a few of them. Some were done molting and swimming around, but the others were confined to the rocks. They were so tiny and adorable. There were also lots of green sea turtles there.
We had a party that night! We had mojitos (non-alcoholic for Soph and I) made with the mint we picked the day before, and played music. Alejandro (our awesome bartender and waitor) blew up balloons and put them around the gathering area/living room/dining room.

Day 6:
We started off on Isabela still. We took a sort-of long walk in the morning. On the rocks at the beginning, there was lots of grafitti. The carved grafitti is from early explorers saying their name and the date, but there was also more recent grafitti made with spray paint. It used to not be illegal, but it is now of course. The trail here was really pretty. It was probably the place with the most vegetation I've been to in the Galapagos. It seems weird that the same island was so different in different parts (the lava field, then tons of plants). We walked past Darwins Lake, and to the top of a hill. There, we had a nice view of Darwins Volcano. I could see a couple of pretty yellow Darwins finches also. Coming from the top of the volcano, there were streaks of black. These were the parts where lava had flown more recently and replaced the forest with rock.
Later in the day we went to Isla Fernandina, on Punta Espinoza. There were TONS of marine iguanas at that place. There were just huge groups of them everywhere. They blocked our paths and spit salt. We also got to see a whale skeleton on the walk. I'm not sure of the whale type. I think Franklin said it was found on a beach, then laid out on the trail so people could see it. It was probably around 25 feet long. There were also more 27-fingered Petes here, which I think are actually just called lava cactus.
We crossed the equator on the boat. I took a video as the coordinates GPS changed longitute from south to north. We actually got certificates saying that we crossed the equator (even though we've crossed it lots of times before).

Day 7:
The last full day on our yacht tour was pretty awesome! We took a walk in the morning by James Bay on Isla Santiago. Our walk was on lava rocks, like pretty much everywhere else. There was a salt mine in that area, because the seawater would get trapped into a lagoon and evaporate, leaving only the salt. We saw Galapagos fur seals for the first time. They are smaller and furrier than sea lions, and really cute. The whole trail was really pretty, with lots of little pools and layered rock. There was a Darwins toilet there, that was a hole in the rock shaped like a toilet bowl, and underground tubes pushed the seawater in and out to make the flushing appearance. After the walk we snorkeled off the beach in James Bay. It was a black sand beach from the lava rocks. That was definitely the best snorkel I've ever done. The water was crystal clear, right down to the black sandy bottom. But the snorkel was really awesome because of all the sharks I saw! I ended up seeing 8 or 9 of them, all white-tip reef sharks. I wasn't scared of them one bit. One time, I was alone and I saw one. I started following it, and another guy from a differnet group joined me. It swam over to a few people from my group. It was actually only a few feet behind Jocelyn, but her back was turned and she didn't see it. Despite me saying "look guys, shark!" I don't think any of them heard me, and Jocelyn still didn't turn around. The shark continued to swim, so I continued to follow it, taking tons of pictures along the way. Eventually I got to a place that was slightly murky, a result of the waves crashing down there. Another shark had joined the first one. I pointed it out to the guy beside me, and he pointed out another shark to the right side of us. I floated for a second, looking at the sharks when I noticed another one to the left of us. I turned to point it out to the guy, but he was gone! I was slightly scared, because I was alone with four sharks around me. Only slightly though. I knew it would be very rare for one to attack. So I just floated, taking pictures as they swam slowly around. Then one of the sharks in front of me turned and looked at me. My heart jumped when it swam straight towards me. When it was about three feet from me, it swiftly turned away. Then it swam towards me again, and again it swam away. I was confused as to what it was doing. Then I remembered what I had learned before swimming in Kickers Rock. When a shark is about to attack, it will swim in figure 8 patterns in front of you. This shark was doing the figure 8. As soon as I realized that, I turned and kicked my flippers as fast as they would go, sending a storm of bubbles behind me. I only relaxed when I was with the rest of our group. So that was the only time I have been afraid of a shark, but I think it was perfectly reasonable. The rest of the snorkel was filled with cool fish, more sharks, and a huge stingray.
Later in the day, we cruised to Rabida Island. We didn't hike there, but we snorkeled for the second time that day. The beach was filled with bright red sand. It was the first red-sand beach I've ever been on. The hills and rocks near it were red too. The color was from some type of volcanic material, modified by various environmental factors. There wasn't much during the snorkel, but the red sand really fascinated me.
We headed to North Seymour island after the snorkel. Me and Soph both got to drive the boat for awhile, and I thought it was pretty easy. On the way through the ocean, we saw tons of manta rays, flying fish and dolphins. Especially dolphins. We would see them jumping through the water towards us, and the next second they would be right at the bow of our boat. They came three different times, and they were all different dolphins I think. The second time there was actually only one, and the third there were about twelve dolphins. They were bottlenose dolphins, the most common type. They seemed to like showing off for us. A couple of times when they jumped out of the water, I got splashed from up on the deck. The boat was fast but they kept up easily. They would swim at the bow for about 5 minutes, flipping and making whistling noises, then do a final spin underwater before leaving. Everyone was delighted about them. They were so cute! Some of the dolphins had bright blue patches on them, which Franklin said were little sharks. They would just hitch a ride by attaching to the dolphins' skin. The flying fish were also really interesting. I had no idea they could fly that far. They would jump out and soar fast through the air, just a few inches above the water. They soared for a while before they flopped back down into the water.
That night was also really cool. During dinner, some people were getting up and going outside. When Tom came back we asked what was so interesting out there, and he whispered "I'm not supposed to say because the cook doesn't want everyone getting up." Not able to contain my curiosity, I got up anyways and went out onto the deck. Franklin was standing there, staring at the water. "What-" I started to say, but he shushed me and pointed. As soon as my eyes adjusted, I saw it. Sharks. There were so many! They were big Galapagos sharks, and they seemed to be circling the boat. Right after dinner everyone rushed out onto the deck. There were sea lions too, and it was interesting to see that the sharks payed no attention to them. Usually a sea lion would start chasing a flying fish, and a shark would join in. They would be chasing it together. The flying fish would try to fly, but they could only stay in the air for so long. A couple of times they would smack into our boat, probably not seeing because of the dark. But then a sea lion would follow right after it, making a dull thump. I went onto the very top deck later, and I found that I could see tons of sharks from there. There was much more than I could see from lower down.

Day 8:
This was our last day on the yacht. Everyone was friends now and we were sad to say goodbye. In the morning, we were on North Seymour Island, a tiny one. We did one last walk at 6am. It was short and muddy, but we got to see tons of frigates and boobies. It was mating season for the frigate birds, so the males had their chests puffed out. They were like huge red balloons attached to their fronts! Every once and awhile, they called for females with a strange noise accompanied with shaking their heads back and forth. It was almost mating season for the blue-footed boobies, so they were getting ready. They were scattered everywhere, building their nests. Some males were already trying to score a female by dancing and showing off. Their dances consisted of walking up to the females, feathered tails stuck up, and making whistling sounds in her face. Then they would slowly walk away, return, make noises, etc. They would also sometimes make honking noises and spread their wings out in front of the female. I thought it was a funny-looking dance.
After the walk, we had breakfast and headed to the airport at 8:30. I already miss the yacht - and even more, everyone on it. It was a really fun experience. Everyone left to get on their flights, but we were staying in Santa Cruz for another 2 nights.
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