18th Jun 2012
OMG!! The Galapagos Islands are awesome! From the moment our plane touched down on San Cristobel Island to the time it took off from Santa Cruz Island 8 days later it has been an amazing experience. We have mountain biked, snorkeled with sea lions, penquins, sea iguanas, turtles and numerous other marine life, kayaked, climbed volcanoes, visited tortoise breeding centres, island hopped in a speed boat and generally had a non-stop week of unforgettable experiences!
We had three nights on San Cristobel island staying at the Blue Marlin with our group of 13 plus Jose Luis aka Pepo, our guide and Carly the intern. We met Tim Cooney and his partner Crystal who own Galakiwi, the company we made the tour with and Tim is the son of Bill Cooney our long-time accountant from Alexandra. The first afternoon following lunch we went up to the highlands and then mountain biked down to the ocean where we encountered our first lot of sea lions - basking on the beach or swimming in the sea right next to the locals swimming so of course we joined them - very cool! Next morning we were up early and onto the boat we would be using for the week and off for our first snorkeling activity - a few sea lions joined us for a play in the water which was a neat experience. Then on to Kicker Rock for more snorkeling with a chance of seeing some sharks but thankfully it was the usual array of fish, sea lions and turtles. Also the birdlife is varied with blue-footed boobies, red-footed boobies, Nasca boobies, frigate birds and terns everywhere as are the marine iguanas which sun themselves one the volcanic rocks and feed on algae on the rocks in the ocean. Lunch is on the boat, anchored at Puerto Grande beach (accessible only by boat), then a quick swim and back to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno to visit the Interpretation Centre. A short walk from there and we can view the bay we visited in the boat in the morning where Charles Darwin first landed in The Beagle and a chance to get a photo with the man himself! (See photos). A stroll back to town where we watched the sun set while having a well-deserved cerveza and seafood dinner. After breakfast next morning we depart by boat for Floreana - the least inhabited of the main islands with only about 120 residents. On the two and a half hour journey we encountered a large pod of bottle-nose dolphins. Pepo estimated there were 150-200 dolphins and boy did they put on a show - the boat slowed down and made circles and the dolphins were all around us - it was an incredible sight with some of them jumping metres into the air! Brian got some good video footage but I was too busy watching and only got a short video on the iPad. We had a pre-lunch snorkel before going ashore but the water was a bit murky with a lot of wave action but we did see a couple of turtles! After lunch we visited the highlands to view the caves that the first inhabitants used and learned of the colourful history of some of the early settlers including the Wittmer family at whose hotel we stayed the night. We also viewed a tortoise sanctuary where they are kept as protection against other animals that can compromise their environment. I went for a walk to the pier to view the sea lions playing and watch Pepo have a surf before we went for dinner at the Baronesa. Next morning Brian and a few others took an early morning walk before breakfast, then we packed the boat up and had another snorkel before departing for the largest of the islands, Isabela. This early morning snorkel was rewarding as we saw four Galapagos penquins in the water and then they climbed out onto the rocks for those still on the boat to get a photo op as well!! Pepo took some great video footage of the penquins with Brian's underwater camera as well as turtles and sea lions. The two hour journey to Isabela was uneventful and after we checked into our hotel at Puerto Vilamil - The Jungle - we visited the Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre which was pretty neat as we saw the tortoises in all stages of development. A stroll along the boardwalk back to the hotel and we saw beautiful pink flamingoes and pintail ducks.
The next day, Wednesday, was the one I was dreading as we had the walk up the Sierra Negra volcano which is one of the most active volcanoes in the Galapagos with its last eruption being in 2005. After being driven quite a way up the volcano in a chiva (an open-sided truck with seats) it was a 45 minute hike up to the caldera which has a diameter of approx 10km! We got a good view as the weather had been cloudy and rainy for most of the week. We hiked around the rim for another 6 or 7 km and then stopped to have our packed lunch before continuing on over a huge lava field to Volcan Chico, a parasite volcano, which offers views right to the north of Isabela including three more of the five volcanoes on Isabela. The hike back up to the rim wasn't as bad as I thought it would be and so with a great sense of accomplishment we returned to our hotel for a much deserved cerveza before dinner in town.
Another early morning start and we were kayaking round a protected bay enjoying the wildlife. However, Brian had to go in a double kayak with Raymond after Raymond tipped out shortly after getting in and he was not alone as Peter and Jane both took an unexpected dip! We then took a taxi boat round the same bay and disembarked on an isolated islet, Tintoreras or Shark Alley, which is an iguana nesting site and home to hundreds of marine iguanas. We watched as two playful sea lions chased and tried to nip the tail of a reef shark where they come to rest between feeding forays out at sea. This was followed by our last snorkel in a calm inlet where we saw turtles resting on the sandy bottom and being cleaned by small fish, marine iguana, a diamond ray and finally a beautiful marble stingray which Pepo got fabulous footage of! Several of us rented mountain bikes and rode about 6km out to see the "Wall of Tears" which was built by convicts and still standing over 50 years later - a remnant of Isabela's penal colony past. Brian and I swapped bikes as mine had gears which kept slipping and despite this he was first there and who should he see but David Attenborough who was out filming another documentary on the islands. The rest of us just got a glimpse of him sitting in the truck when we arrived but when we told Carly she was gutted as he is her idol!
Our final boat trip took us across to Santa Cruz island the next morning and after two hours we arrived at this busy port town and checked into our very interesting hotel before heading off to the Charles Darwin Research Foundation to hopefully get a glimpse of Lonesome George - the last tortoise of his sub-species from Pinta Island. A glimpse was all we got as it was very hot and he was under a tree in the shade. Because it was so hot we opted out of a 45 minute walk to Tortuga bay and instead went for a swim at the smaller beach close to the hotel but the water was great and very welcome! After a spot of shopping we all met for a final dinner and Brian was asked to do the "thank-you" speech and so had composed a poem which went down very well! We were up early the next morning to watch the All Black vs Ireland game while having breakfast and 5 minutes before the end when it was all tied up we lost the TV reception! It came back on and then went off again with 2 minutes to go! We were very pleased to see that a Dan Carter wobbly dropped goal had secured the win for us so we had a good start to the day. We packed up our gear and headed to Primicias Ranch in the highlands to see a huge underground lava tunnel and then to see Giant Tortoises in their natural habitat. After that we headed to the airport on Baltra Island and had to take a short ferry ride which was quite unusual. Brian and I were flying to Guayaquil and then on to Lima while the rest of the group flew straight back to Quito so we exchanged emails, handshakes and hugs. It had been a wonderful week in the islands with lots of amazing wildlife, laughs, activities, fabulous food, good company, a great guide in Pepo, and memories that will last forever!!
Pink Flamingos Isabela
Sierra Negra Volcano Isabela
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