Our visit to the Galapagos has been amazing and we’re sad that our time is up. This is a place that all four of us hope to come back to someday.
We secured a boat tour while in Guayaquil and had our guide, Enrique, waiting for us when we arrived by plane in Baltra. He took us on a 5min bus ride to the docks where we transferred to a “panga” which is a small inflatable motorboat, to get across onto the Island of Santa Cruz. We would take many more rides on the panga in the next days. From the panga we transferred to a microbus which took us 45mins up into the highlands of the island and down to the other side where our boat was waiting for us.
Our boat was called Estrella del Mar and it has room for 16 guests plus the crew and guide. Since we arrived at the tail end of the low season, our boat was only half full. Traveling with us were a gentleman from Finland who likes to get away to tropical places on his time off (who can blame him), a father-daughter pair from Massachusetts, and a Californian on the 11th month of his 12mo RTW trip. The boat was amazing, with a fancy dining room, a common room where the crew liked to watch soccer games, 2 decks: sun & shade, and 8 double cabins. The boys got a cabin all to themselves which all of us appreciated. You’d have thought we had a gourmet chef on board, that good were our meals and everyone was so incredibly nice it made our trip truly enjoyable.
That afternoon we cruised around the Island of Santa Cruz to get to the Charles Darwin research station.
Here we saw the famous Galapagos Tortoises.
Turns out there are 8 subspecies of them, and they vary depending on what island they were found in. When the Galapagos were first discovered in 1535, the tortoises were so abundant that they were not only used for food but even target practice! Eventually, Galapagos residents began keeping them as pets and thus interbreeding them.
Of one of the subspecies there is only one individual left: Lonesome George. Although they’ve searched all the islands, they haven’t found any others like him which means that when he dies, that species will be extinct. He’s young though, only about 80yrs old so there’s still hope.
We also saw tons of the finches which helped Darwin come up with the Theory of Evolution.
I need to note my one complaint on the Galapagos here. Although the station carries Darwin’s name, no explanation was given to how instrumental the voyage aboard the Beagle to these islands was to him, or how observing these species had such a profound influence on the Theory of Evolution. I did my best to explain it all to the boys but being neither a biologist nor a historian I am afraid my explanation must have fallen short.
Ale had a bit of an accident here, to stop himself from falling he set his hand on what he thought was a tree but turned out to be a cactus and ended up with a palm full of spikes. Ouch! We did our best to pull them out but there were so many and some so tiny that he’s still carrying some as souvenirs.
After this visit, we had some time to explore the town of Puerto Ayora before returning to our boat for dinner. We cruised during the night toward Isla Bartolome with a pod of dolphins alongside.
The next morning we landed on the island and were greeted by two pairs of mother and pup sea lions.
It’s the oddest feeling when the sea lions are so unconcerned with your presence that they don’t even bother to look up. Except for this youngster who was very curious about us.
On this island we got to see some land iguanas. The Galapagos have both land and marine iguanas. Marine iguanas are black, small and use their tails to navigate from island to island.
Land iguanas are bigger, orange brown and don’t venture toward the coast.
We also saw many more red-footed boobies, blue-footed boobies, fragate and tropical birds along with gulls and pelicans. All the animals on the islands are thoroughly unconcerned about their human paparazzi and won’t even blink no matter how close you get to them. The blue-footed boobies like to make their nests right on the trails people use because they like flat land so we got the opportunity to watch them quite up close.
The red-footed boobies make their nests on low branches also next to the trails and they don’t mind people looking in at their babies.
After our morning visit we waited for the panga to take us back to the boat.
During lunch, we cruised to Isla Santa Fe where we went snorkeling around its cliffs. We had the opportunity to see, along with so many fish I don’t know names for; sea turtles, bull sharks and white tipped sharks. We forgot to bring an underwater camera from home and had bought an obscenely expensive one in Pto. Ayora but since that’s not digital, I can’t yet share any pics. 😦
During the night we cruised to Isla Genovesa. This was a real treat since it is home to so many different species it’s hard to keep them all straight. Our guide had us all on the panga by 6am in order to catch sight of one of the rarest birds here: the short eared owl. This tiny owl, less than a foot tall, comes out early in the morning and stands disguised against the brown backdrop of the island cliffs. As the thousands of petrels are flying around, it jumps up, catches the closest one and dexterously cuts its wings off before eating its belly. We got to see three of them and they were an incredible sight. Also during this hike we saw Nazca boobies, fragatas, and more sea lions than we could count.
After breakfast, we went snorkeling and if anything it was even more amazing as we had the opportunity to swim with marine iguanas (kind of creepy), sea lions and penguins! I took this picture of one as we were leaving:
During the afternoon we were dropped off from the panga and swam to the island. Some in our crew saw hammerhead sharks. I didn’t and I figured that was a good thing: I would have probably freaked out, trashed wildly about and gotten myself eaten by one. What I did see where puffer fish, sea turtles, more iguanas (yuk), sea lions, and even one humongous manta ray. Afterwards we rested on the beach for a bit.
Before heading back to the boat we wanted to catch one more glimpse of hammerheads so we headed out to sea on the panga and once more jumped off. Poor Ale, as soon as he hit the water he was stung by a Blue Bottle Jellyfish! So we pulled him up to the panga and tried to wash it off with the bit of fresh water we had left. He still needed some vinegar compresses and Motrin when we got back to the boat.
For our last night on board our guide had prepared a real treat. After climbing 381 steps (I took his word for it), we arrived at the peak of the island for this stunning view:
That night we cruised to Isla San Cristobal with such rough seas that the boys and I got terribly sick and had to lay on the deck chairs for half the night. Fernando spent his father’s day evening dining alone and running back and forth taking care of us. 😦
We were all feeling much better the following morning as we arrived at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. Here we visited the interpretation center which explained the history of the colonization of the Galapagos along with the story of the unsuccessful attempts by the governments of France, England, and the US to take the islands from Ecuador. Here we finally understood why our guide was so unfazed by the sea lions even while the rest of us couldn’t get enough. Sea lions are so abundant they literally roam the streets and aren’t shy about laying claim to benches and even kid slides!
Our time in the Galapagos came to an end this afternoon as we boarded a plane to Quito. A truly magical time which we hope we can repeat someday.