Galapagos Islands… best place on earth

blue_footed_boobyWe spent 10 days in the Galapagos Islands and loved every single minute of it! This place is amazing and teeming with the tamest wildlife you could ever imagine. I could have spent 6 months here alone, but that would just be greedy 🙂

We flew out of Peru and into Ecuador with great relief. Peru was one big tourist scam and we just wanted a day without feeling cheated. And we found it in Guayaquil. We were charged the correct fare in the taxi, the correct rate at the hostel and a reasonable price for lunch (with a lovely lady who spoke very good English!). It was a breath of fresh air and we loved it. We spent the afternoon shopping for some things for our trip to the Galapagos Islands that we had booked the week previous. And we stayed in a hostel with pygmies, cockatiels and parrots (as part of a breeding program).

The next day, we were driven to the airport to start our 10 day break on Galapagos. After having our bags scanned, getting an official card made up and getting a personalised final call for our flight, we were finally on our way! 2 hours later and we touched down on San Cristobal.

We caught a taxi to a B&B (without the second B, so I guess just a B) that I had received a reply from only that morning. We had planned to stay elsewhere, but I took a punt. And what a great punt that was! When we arrived, the man who owned the house (but not Nelly who ran it – it was called Casa de Nelly, or Nelly’s House) greeted us warmly and invited us in.

He took us upstairs to our rooms and we had separate rooms, bathrooms, a shared kitchen and an outside deck with hammocks, sun lounges and a beautiful view over the town and bay! It was stunning and the perfect place for us to spend the next 2 days chilling. All for US$20 pppn. Sorted!

iguana2We settled in and then went searching for something for lunch. So we left the house and walked down to the beach where we saw about 10 sea lions basking in the sun. Awesome! We knew we had to stay 2 metres from them, but it was proving a little difficult as they were everywhere! I was so excited!!! We then walked along the boardwalk and saw bright red crabs, iguanas and sea turtles (though the boys didn’t believe me).

Stumbling upon a place to eat, we were told to sit down and the food just came without us ordering. We thought it might have been someone else’s order, but there were no other tables of 3, so we just ate it! Turns out it was a set 3 course menu with juice! We thought it was going to cost us a fortune (there were no signs saying how much anything was), but it was nice, so we just prepared ourselves for paying US$50 a head or something. Nope. US$4 per person. Bargain!

We strolled around and then made our way back to the beach where we saw pelicans, blue footed boobies and more sea lions. I was in heaven!!! I was giggling all the way back to our house for a siesta.

That night, we walked through town in search of food. Along the way, we found that the whole population of sea lions had beached themselves for the night and it was even more difficult to get past them. A few of them yelled at us for disturbing their sleep! We also saw two babies playing on the sand and a heron stalking in the water… how cool! There was absolutely no one around, but the days we were there were public holidays, which also meant most of the shops were closed.

The next day was a complete chill out. We watched movies, did some washing, lay about in the hammocks and on the sun lounges and ate when the need arose. It was such a great rest day and great prep for the next day when we joined our cruise!!!

We got to the airport and there was nobody around. Literally nobody. We found out later that we hadn’t turned our clocks back an hour when we landed so the whole time we were working on mainland time, not Galapagos time! Explained a few things, like why the streets were deserted at 8pm at night!

So anyway, we met some of the people on our cruise (and were delighted to meet 2 Aussies from Melbourne and a nice Spanish guy), jumped on the bus and headed to the Galaxy. When we got on the boat – wow. This was the nicest boat Kim and I had ever seen, let alone stayed on for a week!! We looked all over the boat, checking the ins and outs and loving every square inch!

We had a briefing and Roberto (our guide) told us the deal with the ship and the itinerary for each day. That day we would be cruising to Sea Lion Island for a snorkel and a walk on the island (just off San Cristobal), then back to San Cristobal for the first part of the night.

sea_lionSo off we go to Sea Lion Island. We decided that wetsuits weren’t needed, so we jumped in only to wish we had got the wetsuits after all. But as soon as we were in, we saw 2 sea turtles and a sting ray!!! Awesome! After that, we snorkelled along the island where we were met by a very playful sea lion who scared the bejesus out of Kim… he came right up to his snorkel mask, then shot straight down into the water – he nearly jumped out of his wetsuit! Celine, another girl on our tour had a similar experience and I nearly drowned laughing at the two of them!! It was hilarious! We saw loads of gorgeous fish too and one huge sea lion who we were warned to stay away from! A very successful first day of snorkelling!

That afternoon, we caught the dinghies to go for a short walk around the island. There were loads of sea lions lazing about everywhere and making their very attractive calls to each other. There was also a pelican whose wing had been broken and he sadly died 🙁

crabWe also saw a whole heap of bright orange and red crabs, iguanas and blue footed boobies. We learnt all about the sea lions that ranged from a few days to years old. They were all adorable (even if they were a little stinky).

That night back on board, we had an awesome dinner (the food was great) then sorted through photos and headed to bed. So far so good with Kim not getting sick – we hoped it would stay like that!! That night around 3am, the anchor came up and we set off for Santa Fe Island. We knew it was 3am because it was really noisy and everyone woke up to hear it!!

After getting back to sleep, we all awoke when we docked at Santa Fe the next morning. It was great to wake up in a new, beautiful place! We could get used to this lifestyle, that’s for sure!!!

So our first adventure after an awesome breakfast was a wet landing (i.e. your feet get wet) on a beach where baby sea lions and their mums lazed about or playfully swam through the shallow waters of the beach.

galapagos_hawkWe then took a walk over the island past some cacti while we looked for land iguanas. We eventually found some and they were bigger than I’d expected! We also saw loads of lizards and 2 gorgeous Galapagos doves. When we walked onto a different beach, we saw 4 hawks that were eating a dead baby sea lion 🙁 Just another example of how nature is damn cruel.

We then walked back to the first beach where we rode the dinghies back to the boat. On the way, we noticed all the sharks lurking around – they must have been waiting for a baby sea lion to jump in the water. I’m glad I didn’t see it happen. But I was slightly worried about the fact that I would soon be snorkelling in these waters!

Sure enough, about 30 minutes later I jumped off the boat (hitting my leg on barnacles on the boat and drawing blood, mind you) in with the sharks to check out the underwater life. I stayed close to Kim as I thought I just might scare myself to drowning if I saw a big enough shark!! Unfortunately (yes, unfortunately) we didn’t see any sharks, but we did see loads of awesome fish, sea lions and most spectacularly a booby who dove into the water right in front of us to catch a fish! We saw him go back to the surface, gobble it up and fly off!!!! Right past my head!!! It was awesome and we were all amazed that he did it right in front of us!!! Definitely a highlight 🙂

frigate_birdAfter lunch on the boat, we were cruising again to Black Turtle Cove, not far from the mainland of Santa Cruz. Over lunch, I noticed bird shadows from above the boat, so immediately after lunch, I headed to the top deck with the camera to find about 10 or 15 frigate birds circling and landing on the boat! I got some great shots of them up close – they were quite big with a massive wing span. We learnt that they can’t get wet (they don’t have the oils for it so they won’t be able to fly), they can fly for hundreds of miles without needing to flap their wings and they steal food from other birds! There is a tropic bird with a long tail that they stalk, pull their tails and wait for them to cough up the food they just ate!!! OMG, that’s hardcore!

After we docked, we all jumped back in the dinghies for the most amazing ride through Black Turtle Cove. We saw pelicans, boobies, frigate birds, searched for and found sharks looming around under the dinghies and most amazingly sea turtles! We got some fantastic shots (wall shots I reckon) but more importantly, we got to witness two sets of sea turtles mating! It looked like a difficult task too in water (they kept coming up for air), but it was quite a spectacle. The poor female goes through 3 or more partners and the males bite each others fins to get them off her for their turn. Not very nice hey? I can’t remember how long, but it goes on for quite some time and she ends up being exhausted – not surprisingly! It was quite a show, that’s for sure!

sea_turtleAs we drove around through the mangroves, we could hear all sorts of splashes going on, which we assumed were also mating sea turtles, though it could have been anything!

We were pretty stoked, so after dinner, we went through photos again and compared with Amy who had some awesome shots as well! It was a great day and we were so glad we made it to Galapagos!!!

Next day, we headed to Genovesa overnight when we also crossed the equator. We were sleeping at the time, but I would have loved to have seen water go down a drain 😛 So anyway, once again we woke to a beautiful new location. We were in the middle of a crater that was surrounded by an island that went 2/3 way around us in a circle.

Our first adventure this morning was on Darwin Beach where we had another wet landing to see an island swimming (or rather flying) with so many birds! Most of them were babies as this was their nesting site. They were everywhere, you actually had to be careful where you stepped at times!!

nazca_booby_chickWe saw birds with red eyeliner (they looked really cool), tiny weeny crabs that would only show if you were absolutely still, red footed, blue footed and nazca boobies (their babies looked like they had white feather boas around their necks, quite funny really), frigates, tropic birds, finches and our old friends the sea lions 🙂 We spent a few hours wandering around and learning about these birds and how they have evolved differently to adapt to their environment. One very interesting thing was how the 3 types of boobies don’t compete for food. One finds food close, another type further away and the other type even further away. Very cool.

That afternoon, we snorkelled further down the crater edge. It was a little murky because this marine area is quite rich in food and as a result, marine life. We were happily snorkelling though, when both Kim and I (and we later found out Raymon as well) were stung by a jellyfish. My jaw went numb and Kim’s neck was stung badly. Not knowing any better, we ripped the thing off and ouched and ahhed, but we continued on for a bit before we jumped back on the dingy as our time was up.

After lunch, we must have all been a bit sleepy because a siesta was definitely on the menu. We were due to snorkel again at 2pm and Kim and I were umming and ahhing right up until 2pm (the bed was sooo comfy and we were soooo sleepy). But at the last minute, we jumped into our wet togs and headed for the back of the boat. But the only person there was Raymon! It seems we all had the same idea! So we waited for 10 minutes then just set off on our own.

It didn’t seem like far to swim, but it was actually quite scary. The water was deep and it was at least 200 metres from the boat to the edge of the crater. It was about half way that both Kim and I realised how easily we could be mistaken for sea lions in our wetsuits and be shark bait. We soon kicked up our speed and finally made the rocks. Raymon had a bit of a rest on the rocks while Kim and I tried to snorkel, but it was really murky and you could barely see anything.

We were so relieved when a dingy with Jimmy on board came out to save us. We all jumped in and got driven back to the boat. Thank goodness! No more stressing about being a shark’s afternoon snack.

After another short siesta, we all jumped on the dinghies again and made our way to the Prince Philip steps on the other side of the island. On the way we got to see Galapagos fur seals – they were scared by us and we were told that they were almost hunted by humans to extinction. Interesting that not many of the other animals in Galapagos ran from us except the ones that were hunted by humans.

On the island, we saw so many booby babies (that sounds really cool, don’t you think?) all over the island. Including one that seemed to be raped by an older male 🙁 Poor thing. Worse still was that someone in our group thought it was lovely – obviously not realising what was happening. We tried to search for the short eared owl amongst the volcanic rock, but we were unsuccessful. We did get a fantastic sunset though and made it off the island smack on our 6pm deadline.

That night, Amy asked the captain if we could set sailing earlier (i.e. while we were awake) so we could get a decent sleep. Great idea! Except the anchor was getting stuck and it took 3 hours to actually reel it in!! It wasn’t so bad though because Kim and I both opted to sleep when the boat was moving, so we were happy to stay up a little later than originally planned! Still not sick though, all good!

The next morning we awoke to the views of Santiago Island and Bartolome island. These were islands that had been extended by volcanic rock about 100 years ago. Which also meant that there was not much growing on these parts of the island (all of Bartolome). That morning, we took a dingy across to walk on the lava at Sullivan Bay. We learnt the difference between a. a lava (it hurts to walk on in bare feet i.e. ‘ah ah’) and pahoe hoe lava (it looks like rope).

We learnt all about the lava and the island before jumping back on the boat to get ready for snorkelling. We were dropped off on the edge of the lava to swim all the way around to the beach, which was quite a long way. As soon as we jumped off, someone spotted a shark and followed it, but Kim and I were too slow, so we let them go. In the meantime, a penguin had decided to swim right past us! So we chased after him! He stopped for a bit where we got pretty close before darting off in the water, leaving us for dead – they are so fast!!

Well, we were pretty excited about that and thought that nothing could top it… until a sea lion that was particularly curious started playing with us! He swam around and around us, getting really close to each one of us, including making Kim almost poo himself again! Hilarious! This lasted for about 20 minutes and we had to be basically dragged into the boat to go back for lunch. It was incredible and an unforgettable experience!

That afternoon, we snorkelled along the cliffs of Bartolome island where we again saw (and swam alongside) loads of penguins. They are so fast!!! This time Ben joined us, even though he couldn’t see too clearly without glasses or prescription lenses. Kim and I spent most of the time making sure he wasn’t swimming out to sea! We saw loads of fish, sea lions, sting rays and some sea turtles and of course penguins! At one point, I saw three swim by me and I came up to tell Kim, but by the time I did, they were gone! So fast those little things!

Again, reluctantly, I was dragged out of the water and back to the boat. Though Amy and I stayed in as long as we were allowed to waiting for a sea lion and penguin that were darting around the bay where we finished showing up again (which they did).

batholome_islandThat afternoon, we went onto Bartolome Island again and walked up the volcano to a lookout point to watch the sunset. It was gorgeous and we watched as we talked to an Aussie from Tassie who was on holiday with his two sons.

Another unforgettable day as we set sail for Santa Cruz to dock before bedtime. Well, bedtime for normal people, Kim and I again opted to sleep while the boat moved to avoid getting sick… stomachs were still in tact at this point and looking good!!

The next day was a dry day – no snorkelling on the agenda. We started out with a trip to the Charles Darwin Station to check out the tortoise breeding program. We saw 1 week old to a few month old babies and some that were a few years old. We tried looking for lonesome George (the only tortoise left in his species), but he was hiding from us. We even went back after the others had left, but he was still nowhere to be seen 🙁 We also got amazingly close to some of the biggest tortoises imaginable where we took some cool photos.

After saying goodbye to our entire group except Raymon, we bought some t-shirts (something we never ever do – an indication of how much we liked this place) and walked into town as we had some free time. We wandered past the fish market, checked some emails and then headed back to the boat for lunch.

giant_tortoiseAfter lunch, we met with the new group of people that joined the boat. People from all over the world and again a couple from Oz 🙂 Our first stop as a new group was a farm on Santa Cruz that opens to the public because giant tortoises graze the grass on their land. Well we thought the tortoises at the Charles Darwin Station were big, these guys were massive! And so tame – they let us get so close to them without showing any signs of bother whatsoever! I was completely fascinated and once again in love with another species of animals.

Our time was once again too short (I could have stayed there forever) and it was time to leave – but the driver was nowhere in sight! We eventually found him and he drove us to a lava tunnel that we walked through for about half an hour. The tunnel took us as low as about 50cm high where we had to crawl through on hands and knees. It was also quite fascinating but also a little worrying when you consider there was absolutely no structural support 🙂

That night we left late to our next destination, Floreana Island. This was the first night that I slept right through the engines starting and the anchor coming up – must have been tired!

Floreana Island was our next island to explore. Our morning stop was a wet landing at Cormorant point where we watched more sea lions on the beach, checked out another type of mangrove on the beach and then watched as a German couple blatantly ignored instructions not to take anything off the island. They were picking out olivine crystals from the sand and pocketing them. I told them it was not allowed and they just stopped, didn’t return the ones they had already stolen.

Anyway, the beach appeared green due to these crystals which were quite unique (I think it will eventually go back to sand colour if tourists like those kept at it!). After this, we walked to a lake on the island where there were flamingos. Not a huge population, but there was a baby who looked like he’d been abandoned by his parents 🙁 He seemed quite stressed, poor little thing. Just another example of how harsh nature is.

Next we went to a lookout point where Roberto told us the mysteries of disappearance and deaths of people on the island. Spooky! Next we walked to a beach where we watched sea turtles waiting in the shallows of the shore to come up and lay their eggs on the beach at night as it was nesting season. This is why there is a 6pm deadline to get off the islands, so the sea turtles can lay their eggs undisturbed. We learnt about how they lay their eggs and the survival rate of their young. Simply amazing is all I can say!

We were all enjoying the relaxing time on the beach simply watching nature, but it was time to go for a snorkel, so we all headed back to the boat. This was the first time that Ben decided to snorkel with fins and it wasn’t the best place to try. We were taken out to very deep water where we would ride the current around a crater. I was a little worried about it, let alone worrying about Ben! But we did find sea turtles, a couple of sea lions and the tiniest little fish you have ever seen living in rocks that would stare at you if you stared at them!

The current was so strong that it was hard to get anywhere! Kim and I passed a portion of the current, but Ben couldn’t get past a part, so we called the dingy and got him to take us around to the calm part where we jumped back in 🙂

Back on the boat for lunch, our afternoon was at Post Office Bay where an informal posting system is at work. We were told to write a post card and put an address on it. When we got there, we would try finding a post card that was written by someone else with an address that we could hand deliver it to! This was how the islands posted mail many moons ago, so we took part and found a postcard to someone in Coburg (we think). So we hope to deliver that when we get home! The majority of postcards were from the US, not many from Oz at all, so the Coburg find was quite a lucky find!

Next we walked to a lava tunnel that we climbed down into. Nothing lived in there – not even bats. And the water was freezing! But our guide had told us that in some of these tunnels, scientists had found blind fish and insects that had adapted to their conditions! This place is truly enchanted!

That afternoon, we snorkelled off the beach that we landed on and it was one of the best snorkels yet! We saw 3 sea turtles, including 1 that had a white shell that made it easier for Ben to see and 1 that was sleeping on the bottom. We were having such a great time watching these turtles that we didn’t want to go back when everyone headed, so I dragged by heels and took my time.

penguinWhen I got close to the shore, I just hung around for a bit. Then I heard Kim whistling at me and telling me there was a penguin not far from me! So I raced over (and Kim joined me) and we spent the next 10 minutes watching 2 penguins dart around and feed less than a metre away from us!!! I was having a ball, giggling as they’d dart in and around catching their dinner. They are so fast and not fussed if we were there or not! It was fantastic and I loved every second of it! Unfortunately it was time to go and we were called in.

But that night, we had a dingy tour around some of the small islands just off the coast of Floreana Island. On this, we saw 1 day old sea lions – they were sooo adorable! We also saw blue footed boobies, more penguins, sea turtles and finished with watching the sunset over the water… A truly magical day in the Galapagos Islands!

The next day we awoke at Espanola Island. Our first stop was a lovely walk along Gardener beach where we watched sea lions, sea turtles from the beach, land iguanas, crabs, birds with red rimmed eyes and hood mockingbirds that wanted to drink our water if we didn’t hide it from them. It was another lazy morning where we all were happy to sit in the sand and chill out! But once again, snorkelling was on the menu, so we headed back to where we landed on the beach, put on our snorkel gear and swam out to an island not far from the shore.

Along the way we saw a huge sea turtle and then when at the island we snorkelled with our first shark! Whoo! He wasn’t too big, so I wasn’t as scared as I thought I might be! We saw lots of fish as we circled the island.

A quick trip back to the boat and then we were off again to another island for snorkelling. This time, on the way, loads of dolphins were swimming alongside us! We did some large circles as they followed us and you could see 10s of them all around us and in the distance! Simply beautiful creatures and so graceful 🙂

We were going to snorkel along a very steep cliff. I had opted not to wear a wetsuit as I think I’d grabbed the wrong one and it was too big for me. So I worded up Kim and asked him to let me know if there was something good and I would jump in at that point so I wouldn’t get too cold. After about 10 minutes, he told me there was a sea lion and I jumped in. At that point, 8 people had given up due to the cold (and they were wearing wetsuits) and that dingy took off back to the boat. So anyway, I had timed it perfectly as the sun was shining on this part of the cliff which kept me warmer. There were huge schools of fish everywhere and it was quite deep.

I was so lucky, because a pelican dove into the water right in front of Kim and me again and took a bunch of fish and ate them on the surface! And after that, we watched 3 sea lions playing with each other for age’s right in front of us! Yep, I love Galapagos!

During lunch, we cruised to Suarez Point where we got off for a walk on the island. It was hot. And I mean hot. There was no shade at all and the sun was beaming down on us. I don’t think one of us escaped from being burnt that day even though we all wore sun cream.

But the walk was fantastic. We saw oodles of iguanas that were all facing the sun to warm themselves up before braving the cold water to feed. They all lay on top of each other! We saw tiny baby blue footed boobies who were no more than 1 or 2 days old. We saw boobies sitting on their eggs and protecting them from the sun with their bodies. We saw Nazca boobies who were also nesting and then we walked to a blowhole where we sat and saw amazing displays of water shooting into the air.

albatross_chickNext we walked along a path right past the nesting grounds of the albatross birds. Apparently this is the only place in the world where they nest and they travel thousands of miles at a time all over the world. Incredible birds these are and we got to see loads of them nesting! We then walked to what Roberto called the albatross airport because the albatross tend to launch themselves off a cliff instead of using too much energy trying to lift off the ground to fly. So we watched one walk all the way over to the ledge and dive off into flight! It was quite entertaining!

We were glad to be back on the beach where we found a tiny bit of shade (and nosy hood mockingbirds) and a slight breeze.

galaxyThat night, we had a goodbye cocktail, exchanged email addresses and also sailed back to San Cristobal. But Kim and I felt a bit woozy (Kim more so), so he skipped dinner to sleep through the sailing and I had to depart straight after dinner! But we got a great sleep though!

The next morning, we awoke back in San Cristobal where we packed up our stuff, had breakfast and then headed to the Interpretation Centre where we learnt all about the plates of the earth, the formation of Galapagos and evolution. It was quite educational and very interesting.

Afterwards, we took a walk (that was also quite hot as the sun was quite harsh) where we had beautiful views along the west coast and where I could spot a sea lion playing in the water from way above. We also stopped by a huge statue of Darwin that seemed slightly out of place (i.e. in the middle of nowhere). Perhaps that was where he landed?

team_galaxyWe wandered back into town where we were taken to the airport for our flight back to the mainland. To be honest, I was devastated to be leaving. I could spend my whole life there and be a very happy woman, but that would be greedy – it was someone else’s turn. And Kim and I couldn’t help but think that the people getting off that plane to start their visit where in for the most magical trips of their lives! And that is exactly what we thought of it. A unique, magical, (relatively) untouched place that reminds us exactly what went wrong in our world and what we must do to stop it from continuing.

Back in Guayaquil, we said our goodbyes to Raymon and headed to our hostel. Surprisingly the service was much better this time and we got to meet the baby pygmy on the owners shoulder – so cute! We also found out about the power outages the whole country was experiencing. They only had power a few hours a day and businesses were losing ridiculous amounts of money. It was because the country relies on hydroelectricity and there had been no rain. Ouch!

That afternoon, Kim asked a taxi driver to take us to the lighthouse (or nearby). For some reason, we ended up at a statue of Christ on a hill. Close, but not the same as a lighthouse!! We had a good giggle and found where we were aiming to go and ended up walking there ourselves. It looked far, but it was only about 20 minutes to walk. So we walked down the boardwalk along the river in the city which was lovely. We then headed to a shopping centre where we watched a movie and said goodbye to South America. The next day we set off for the States…

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