Galapagos Islands Adventure Week

Day 1 – Dec 1, 2005 – Getting there from Quito Ecuador

Today was a big travel day. After having breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant, we took off for the airport at 6:45 am. The drive was only about 20 minutes but our GAP representative had to direct us to have our bags x-rayed, tagged and then checked in. We were told we could only check in 7kg of baggage but I think everyone went a little bit over. Kirsten and my baggage alone was 40kg plus our day packs.

I think the main reason for the limit was not the airline but rather how we were to get to our boat and the storage capacity on the boat touring us around the Galapagos Islands. We waited over an hour at the airport before our flight boarded. Our AeroGal flight then left for Guayaquil (1 hour) on the West Coast of Ecuador where we deplaned and waited another half hour before boarding and flying 2.5 hours to the Galapagos island of Baltra. Baltra is separated from the main island of Santa Cruz by a narrow strip of water. After waiting an hour (and visiting the airport shops) we finally caught a 5 minute bus ride to a straight of water between the two islands. Here the water was the most amazing turquoise blue colour that reminded me of the ultimate postcard ocean picture.

We motored across with our luggage for the 5 minute boat ride and then caught another bus which took us through the south arrow straight road to the centre of the island. At first the island was barren and dry, but as we approached the higher altitude in the centre of the island, it became lush and green. This continued as we headed East the rest of the 45 minute bus ride until just before we reached the main city of Puerto Ayora. 5 minutes from town we transfered to some pickup trucks that took us the final bit to the boat dock where we boarded a Palapa boat which took us and our luggage to our main boat for the next 5 days.

We were a bit exhausted by the time we completed this day long trip around 2 pm so we enjoyed a lunch on board before our first Galapagos excursion.

The Pte. Ayora harbour was filled with dozens of boats of varying sizes. The most amazing part of it was once again the turquoise blue water throughout the entire harbour. Overhead were dozens of blue foot boobies that would fly around and then from 50+ feet in the air they would dive straight down into the water like a torpedo. Within seconds they were again at the surface of the water gulping down their prized fish. It was an amazing site to see these kamikaze like birds diving straight down from such a height.

Around 3 pm we boarded a small boat for the Charles Darwin research centre. Here we had our first look at the local wildlife. On the dock where our boat dropped us off, we were greeted by seals and a few enormous and ugly looking iguanas. They just sat there ignoring us as we snapped a few photos of them laying lazily in the hot sun.

We then walked about 5 more minutes to the Darwin Research Center looking at lizards and cacti along the way. Once at the centre we had a look at the variety of displays which talked about the Galapagos Islands and noted the degrees to which a number of the species were endangered or extinct. It also described the types of introduced species such as goats, dogs, cats, pigs and rats that have negatively impacted some of the islands and how they have been able to eradicate some of these introduced species from some of the islands.

The rest of the research centre seemed to be dedicated mostly to turtles and a few iguanas. We were able to get up close to a number of gigantic turtles that were over 150 years old. It was explained that turtles always keep growing. There is one turtle called George who is the last of his kind. They have tried mating him with other breeds of turtles for over 30 years without any luck. We also saw where they are raising turtles to the age of 3 to 5 years old before releasing them into the wild with a strong shell (before that the shells are too soft and open to predators). They had a variety of turtles in varying sizes with numbers painted on their shells so that the island they came from could be identified.

Following the tour of the centre we had an opportunity to walk slowly back through the town to where we would catch a panga back to our boat. We had 1.5 hours to look at the shops, collect souvenirs, and experience the flavour of the Galapagos people in the city of Pte Ayora.
In the evening we had a delicious dinner before retiring to bed early.

Day 2 – Dec 2, 2005 – Travel to a New Island

Our second day and first full day on the Galapagos Islands was filled with what these islands are all about. Birds, Animals and Geological wonders. Up at 6, breakfast at 7, out on the Pangas (small boats) by 8am. Our day started with a visit to North Seymour Island. It was a dry landing as we motored out to a natural rock outcropping and each of us hopped off of the boat directly onto the rock wall. Waiting for us were some seals who were sunning themselves on the rocks. The seals were everywhere along the coastline. The main reason however for visiting the island was t get a closer look at the different types of frigate birds that nest on this island. We wandered around making sure to stay along the designated path marked by the frequent double white posts that indicated the left and right sides to the trail. This is done so that people do not step on nests or wander aimlessly through the islands.

Along our hour and a half walk, we had many chances to see the baby frigates in their nests (for two years until they loose their white baby fluff they are fed and cared for by their mother). We also saw a few male frigates inflate the red pouch under their necks to attract their female counterparts. This was not as common this time of year as it was not the traditional mating season. Many of the nests where these birds were congregating were within four feet of the trail we were walking on. It was amazing to come so close to these animals. After passing through the centre of the island, we skirted the edge of the water where we saw more seals surfing in the water, lizards and an iguana strangely in a bush next to a baby frigate bird.

Our first full island visit was complete and so we returned to our boat to get changed for our snorkeling or scuba diving experience. Along the coastline of this island. I chose to do the scuba diving and so I slid into my wet suit and booties, snapped on a weight belt and selected a mask, snorkel, fins and tank for the upcoming dive. We motored out on a panga to a site close to where two other dive boats had gone, put on our tanks and fins before flopping over backwards off of the little boat.

The sea-life was more varied than I had ever seen before. On this dive, the current carried us halfway around the island so we had very little paddling to do. Among the sea-life we saw were plenty of colourful yellow fish, sharks, giant starfish and a swimming sea turtle. It was eerie to be under the water to see the life of these islands from such a different perspective. It was quite fun as well to coast along the shoreline in the steady currents to enjoy the sea-life below.

After 35 minutes underwater I popped up to the surface with one of the other divers to see the panga only a few feet away. He had been following us. The panga driver helped us take off our gear before we flopped into the boat like one of the seals we had watched earlier in the day. We met up with the main boat on the other side of the island as we had coasted so far and the others had finished snorkeling. We were then on our way to Sombrero Chino (3 hours away) while we had lunch and caught a bit of an afternoon siesta.

The nap was a special treat and the second one I remember taking since I started my 2 week trip. It was much needed after being on the GO nonstop. I woke up in the afternoon to see the most picture perfect white sand beach outside my bedroom porthole. The beach was surrounded by lava rock and had a small white sand patch of beach where dozens of seals would congregate. This was our first wet landing and so we all put on our sandals and swim gear before heading off for the beach. There was at least half a dozen cute little seal pups on tis beach and we had to ensure that they did not come up to us (mothers will abandon them if they get a human scent on them).

From this beach we had an hour to do some snorkeling. I brought an underwater camera along and was able to get pictures of seals and tropical fish. The colour of the turquoise water and white sand made for postcard perfect pictures. It truly was a breathtaking beach in the middle of nowhere as I could not see white sand along the coastline anywhere else. I would say this was my favorite beach and relax location on the entire trip.

From this point we took a short 15 minute walk along the coastline to get a different view of the volcanic geography of this island that had a cone in the middle and was tapered down on the sides (like a Chinaman’s hat). Also we were able to see the remains of a hollow lava tube that came along the mountain down to our trail. It was a curious site and in a few places had been broken so we could see how hollow it was along its length. We were also able to see a few seal colonies with baby seal pups along the coastline. One of the seals were only a week old as our guide had mentioned they came by last week within an hour of it being born.

Following this short walk we headed back to the boat and cruised the waters to the island of Bartolomé. This is the island we were to visit the following day but rather than wake up everyone on board to travel through the night, they decided to do it in the evening. Along the way we stopped by Baimbridge, a hollow mountain crater with flamingos along the centre water shore of brine (mixed sea and freshwater).

We arrived around 7 pm when we had our briefing about the following day, ate our dinner and got an early night sleep. Its wonderful to get plenty of rest!

Day 3 – Dec 3, 2005 – Relaxing Exploration

RELAXING is the best word to describe today. We woke up after a good full 8 hours sleep at 6am, had a bit of free time before a 6:30am Buffet Pancake and fruit breakfast. By 7am we were off to go exploring Bartolomé Island. Again we had a dry landing on the rock face to the left of the famous and unforgettable Pinnacle Rock and followed the trail/boardwalk’s 375 wooden steps almost to the summit of the highest volcanic cone. This island was covered on the side we explored with moon like splatter cones that were formed.

As we reached the top we saw a beautiful panoramic view of the islands below, the straight and harbour beaches that separated it from Santiago Island. It was the same view used in the movie “Master and Commander” as they spotted the enemy French ship on the other side of the island. A bit exhausted from the climb, we followed the same path down the mountain. As we were about to get into our panga boat we saw a great variety of endemic animals of the area. Within very close proximity we saw crabs, marine iguanas, pelicans and seals. As we hopped into the boat and were heading to the snorkeling beach, we spotted a pack of penguins directly in front of our boat. They were just swimming along less than 10 feet in front of our boat. It was fun to watch as they splashed around and passed on by.

We continued on to the beach where we were dropped off to go snorkeling around pinnacle rock. It was a beautiful view of the sea life and fish as I came around the bend to the rock. As I looked a bit closer I saw a stingray laying down under a rock overhang. It was at least 3 to 4 feet across.

As I continued on I was caught by surprise as three penguins swam by me. They were within 3 feet of me and were just playing in the water as they scooted along. I swam in the same direction they went in hopes of catching another look at them with my underwater camera. To my surprise either the same group returned or some different penguins came to pay me a visit right in front of pinnacle rock. They were swimming and splashing around me in all directions. This definitely was my most interesting snorkeling experience ever.

As they left, a few seals came swimming around to top off my snorkeling trip. They circled around me in enough time for me to take some underwater photographs of them and become a little nervous in regards to their strength and size. They just swirled and spun in the water and seemed to just be playing around. They too came within about a foot or two of me. It definitely was an amazing snorkeling experience.

Following snorkeling at the beach, we headed for our boat and bee-lined for a rock 20 minutes away near the harbour. This was my second scuba dive of the trip. After checking our gear we dropped down backwards off of the panga and descended slowly into the water below. This time we did not follow the rock but rather an underground shelf of terraced rock. On the terraces it was covered in a green plant that was growing everywhere. On this dive we did not see as much sea life. It was also quite cold in many spots as the cold water oozed into my wet suit a bit and cooled off my bare hands and head. I don’t know if it was the temperature that scared away some of the sea life but we still saw a sea turtle, a school of barracuda as well as lots of fish swimming down vertically along the cliff wall. This was probably my deepest dive at 102 feet. Although not as interesting as other dives I was able to stay down for 38 minutes and enjoy a proper safety stop at 18 feet before surfacing.

After lunch I was able to catch another short siesta before our last excursion of the day. First we motored past Daphne Minor and circled Daphne Major island where we were able to do some bird watching. In addition to the usual frigate birds we were able to view some less common masked blue footed boobies. We then continued on for the North side of Santa Cruz to look at a Mangrove forest growing along the water.

To get to the Mangroves that formed little channels and an empty harbour, we took a Panga Boat ride along the perimeter of these trees. It was interesting to see how these trees would send off roots from their branches, through the salt water into the ground below. These trees seemed to thrive on the salt water and formed a natural haven for all types of wildlife. We saw dozens of varieties of birds including a closeup look at a blue footed boobie. Our boat must have been within four feet of him as he sat perched on the rock.

We continued around the bend even deeper into the maze of mangroves and as we did, we saw some splashing in the distance. We approached the area and then cut the motor off and paddled to see some giant sea turtles. There were at least 6 in a group, some mating. They rolled around in the water and splashed around for at least 5 minutes. We got some great pictures before moving on to see some birds. It was a magical place to see all the animals, pelicans and other birds perched in the trees. Behind the greenery of the mangroves were the parched moon-like desert lands of the coastal parts of the island. It was almost like an oasis in the desert when looking at those mangrove trees.

In many cases we could see the pelicans perched on the fairly thin branches of the mangroves. It was amazing to see their big bulky bodies balancing precariously on the limbs and sometimes walk awkwardly on the branches. In a few cases I thought they would fall down but they just fluttered their wings a bit as the re-grasped their footing.
That was the end of our excursions for the day. We had a great three course meal with spinach soup, rice, fish and chocolate cake with sliced peach for desert. Once again we were ready for an early night as we motored most of the evening to the cove between Baltra and Santa Cruz on the East side.

Day 4 – Dec 4, 2005 – Final Day of Lizards, Iguanas and Sea Lions

This morning we were awakened around 5am as our boat pulled anchor and headed for the waters between North and South Plaza Islands on the East Coast of Santa Cruz. By breakfast at 7am we were already anchored in the calm waters between the two islands. At breakfast Kirsten was a bit surprised to get a little something extra in her bowl of cereal. After a bite of granola she discovered some thick spider cobwebs in her bowl and could not stomach much of the rest of her breakfast.
Others in the group were also feeling a bit disgusted as they had already finished their meal.
Following breakfast we took the boat out to South Plaza Island where we took a walk along the cliffs on the South Side of the island. As soon as we landed however we were surrounded by a number of sea lions and their newborn babies. One of the sea lions were estimated to be only one week old by our guide as he pointed out the umbilical cord. Right behind the shoreline of the sea-lions we could see dozens of marine and land iguanas of different sizes and colours. Behind in the bushes where we could not go were their nesting areas.

As we mounted the slight slope of the island down the narrow section we approached the 60 foot cliffs that ran the far length of the island. Here we saw lizards, iguanas and hundreds of birds flying and nesting on the steep rock face along the far side. They would fly around together in groups. Also it was amazing to see sea lions at thee tops of these cliffs laying down on the edge. Our guide explained that these sea lions would scale the cliff walls as this was their area. Perhaps a little less desirable but more of a bachelors area if they were unable to claim a commune of heiroms as their own. Following our trip back to our boat (Cruz del Sur) the scuba divers of our group had a chance to go to Gordon Rocks (only 20 minutes away). They did their dive but did not see the hammerhead sharks they were looking for.

Next it was down south to Santa Fé island. We pulled into the lagoon just after a late lunch on a rocky boat. I was surprised a few of the pale people on the boat were able to stomach the meal on the rocky seas but they did.

We then had a wet landing on the beach where we were greeted by about 50+ sea lions and a few little babies. The walk was a short one but we took our time roaming the trails where we saw a large number of gigantic cactus and a few colourful land iguanas. It was a great place to take pictures of the turquoise blue lagoon with a white sand beach. In the distance it looked like palm trees on the far side of the lagoon but they were actually the same cactus that have no needles on the trunk, only on the upper branches that come out. They are a peculiar type of cactus. Many of them must be at least 70 to 100 years old as they do grow very slowly.

After heading back to the beach we boarded our panga’s (boats) and were about to leave when we noticed about 8 shadows in the shallow water. They were identified to us a s reef sharks and they were just hanging around the shoreline around the territory of the sea lions. They were splashing around in the water under and around our boats. After a close look we headed back to the boat to get changed for a bit of snorkeling.

The snorkeling was not as good as the first day but there was plenty to see. Lots of colourful yellow tailed fish and a few rainbow coloured bottom feeders. There were also a few orange coloured ones mixed in. At one point I had someone take a picture of me with my underwater camera because there were thousands of small silver minnow-like fish all around me. They came very close and were so numerous that it was overwhelming.

A few of the other snorkelers saw a shark go by while others who had opted for a boat ride saw stingrays close to where we were snorkeling. After swimming out a fair distance I opted to accept the offer of the Panga driver for a ride back to our main boat where we had started snorkeling from.
The remaining 3.5 hours of the evening was laid back with everyone just sitting back to talk about our various travel and Galapagos experiences. Most sat down to relax with a drink before the evenings farewell Bar-B-Q dinner. Only 4 of our 16 people were planning on staying on longer.

Kirsten and I started feeling a bit sick from the bouncing motion of the boat. Our bedroom was in the front side of the boat and for 4 hours, the boat bounced up and down over the choppy waters as we motored from Santa Fé to San Cristobal. We decided after packing up our gear in our room that in order to make it we had better go to higher ground where there was some fresh air. So we headed up to the third deck in front of the captain’s helm and laid down on the lounge chairs. Off in the distance we could see the lights of the city Puerto Baquerizo Moreno glowing over the horizon. Our captain was steering the boat in that direction. As we lounged around it was relaxing to lay under the stars. Although the area we were laying down on was covered, we could see a clear view of the stars, water and lights in the distance. Even with the bouncing motion of the boat, it was relaxing. To get to sleep we both had to take a gravol as the boat was not scheduled to arrive until 11:30pm and by 9:30pm we were already exhausted.

Day 5 – Dec 5, 2005 – Goodbye Galapagos

This morning we woke up in the harbour of San Cristobal to say goodbye to the intriguing and unique Galapagos Islands.

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