Day 2 started early with a 7am transfer to Bartolome Island off which we had docked during the night. More sealions greeted us at the jetty with one male swimming around barking his head off protecting his territory. We didn’t intrude on his territory and instead started hiking along the wooden pathway to the pointy peak of Bartolome. On the way, we spotted loads of little lava lizards scurrying around the sandy red soil, before stopping to pick up some of the lava rocks on the side of the path, some of which were dense and heavy, and others which were light as a feather, betraying their size. On the top, we enjoyed some great views stretching out to the point of Bartolome Island, and across the black Santiago Island where lava had years ago engulfed two smaller independent islands, and way off into the distance past more islands where we saw the day-tripper boats coming into view. It was only 9am but it was getting hot and we could see the heatwaves reflecting off the ground, so we descended and made a quick trip back to the boat to get our snorkels. The beach on Bartolome was of soft golden sand and a family of sealions were playing on one side, so we snorkelled over and played with them which was great. We spent over an hour in the water spotting loads of different types of starfish (the chocolate chip one made me hungry), a penguin sunning himself on a rock, loads of sea cucumbers, numerous colourful fish and right in the middle of the bay, huge fish eating seaweed and then vomiting it out, where other smaller fish would rush in and eat it – curious behaviour but fascinating to watch.
In the afternoon, we took a small trek on the black ropey lava of Santiago island. Ninfa and I had already seen plenty of lava in Hawai’i so we were pleased when we went back to the boat to get the snorkels again. There wasn’t a whole lot of fishlife around the shore of Santiago as the lava rock does not support a lot of marine vegetation for the fish, but as we were nearing the end of our time, we spotted something neither of us had seen before – a shark! It was about 6 feet long and swimming a long way below us, but we followed it for a few minutes and got a great look. It was a white-tipped reef shark which is not interested in humans. By this time, we had spent too long in the water, and the zodiac (dinghy) from the boat had come to pick us up. We told the driver about the shark, and he told us that the sharks with a white tip on its dorsal fin are harmless, but get out of the water if we saw one without a white tip. Back on the boat, we were drying off when we saw a big stingray swimming past the boat. I was still wet so I jumped back in to get a look, but by the time I swam around it was gone. My eyes were still adjusting to the light underwater when I saw a big fish swimming around way below me. I strained my eyes to see what it was – a big shark about 8 feet long. It was circling around and rising in the water, and then I realised it didn’t have a white tip on its fin. Cue panic! I started swimming as fast as I could to the boat and jumped on board in a flash. Ninfa had been watching from the boat when a lady on board said “he saw something he doesn’t like”, and then watched as the shark rose and cut its dorsal fin through the surface of the water and off out to sea in a perfect Jaws Junior audition.
That was all the fun for day two and overnight we sailed a very rocky journey, during which I fell in the bathroom and broke the toilet seat, to Isabella, the largest island in the Galapagos. Another early start as went off hiking into the highlands and to the Sierra Negra caldera, the second largest caldera in the world after Ngorongoro in Africa. It was a misty morning but the clouds broke for a great view over the caldera. On the way down we stopped at a lagoon to watch a few flamingos feeding before strolling around the village a while. On the beach there was a huge iguana sunning itself, and as we got closer, we saw that the black rocks were literally crawling with iguanas. Around the jetty, there were sealions everywhere. They were hilarious – lying on the paths, and even lying sunning themselves on tables on boats in the harbour.
In the zodiac on the way back to the boat, there were turtles everywhere and we were dying to go snorkelling. We didn’t waste anytime and were dropped off along a rocky shore. We played with a sealion for a bit at the start who was jumping out of the water and playing for the camera. Ninfa spotted a few stingrays hiding in the sand, and then a little further on, another sealion came to join us. There were four of us, Ninfa, me, Myron and Rudy, and the sealion was very playful. After a while we were petting it, but it kept swimming away when we did. After a while the sealion became more comfortable, and very soon became very fond of me in particular. She (it was a girl) was rubbing against me as I was swimming and kept swimming up and looking into my face. Then she started trying to pull my mask off with her flippers. We were all laughing and amazed to be honest, and we were all buzzing after such an interactive experience with a wild sea mammal. And then, just to top it off, we spotted a huge eagle ray, big, flat and round with a body wider than the span of my arms – truly huge. We were all on a high when we got back to the boat, and our last snorkel of the trip had turned out to be the best, and no sharks!
That evening we did head off to the banks of Shark Alley to spot some sharks resting but to our disappointment, there were none. But what an amount of marine iguanas – thousands! And in such a small space. They were swimming, purging, and even fighting, ramming their heads against each other in territorial fights. And on the beach there were loads of sealions and even a baby that was playing with a leaf in the water, and then trying to bite all the marine iguana’s tails- gorgeous!
The next day was our last full day in the Galapagos, and after another rocky night, we docked off the shore of Santa Cruz, home of the Galapagos’ largest resident, the giant tortoises! We took a bus up to the highlands of Santa Cruz where we took a short nature walk around the Twins, two volcanic craters on either side of the road, but the craters were here first. We saw some nice birds including some of the famous Darwin finches which are highly adapted to their respective ways of life, as well as some pretty lava gulls. After our walk, we descended again and took a side road towards the tortoise centre. The tortoise centre is a protected space where the tortoises roam wild, and there was a big one lying on the side of the road as we drove down. Galapagos tortoises actually redefine the word big, because compared to the rest of their species, they are huge! We were able to walk around them as they lay around in the shade, or in the dirty water of the ponds, although one in particular was feeling a lot friskier than the rest and raced (for a tortoise) across to get friendly with one of the females – no shame!
That afternoon we took a zodiac to the Darwin Research Station which is home to a lot of protected endemic animals of the Galapagos. As we sailed in, we finally saw one of the elusive blue-footed boobies – a sea-bird with big blue webbed feet, a little in the style of a circus entertainer. As we unboarded, a group of lazy marine iguanas greeted us with some habitual purging. The research station is home to a breeding station for giant tortoises who would otherwise be vulnerable to the introduced species of predators during their infancy. In addition, we saw a few golden land iguanas, lying around like leftovers from the dinosaur age. And speaking of extinct creatures, myself, Ninfa and Rudy were patient enough to wait and see Lonesome George emerge from his shady hiding place in his abundant pen. Lonesome George is the last surviving member of a Galapagos Tortoise sub-species. When he dies, it’s over, and lamentably this situation has largely been brought about by the murderous habits of hungry seamen in the past. The station is attempting to mate Lonesome George with two females of a closely-related sub-species, but so far without success, and whatever happens, this will be a hybrid species. It was a strange and poignant sensation seeing the last surviving member of a species, and really brought home the fact that a lot of our rich biodiversity is at risk, and sad to think that things can get to such a sorry state.
Our last night on board was enjoyed with lots of bootlegged rum from Myron and Mary, and we bid them farewell as they decided to stay on in the laid back town of Santa Cruz for a few days more, and we all gave them a good send off. Everybody was very pleased with how the trip had gone and the atmosphere on board. Our last endeavour then was a dawn rising the following morning to admire Kicker Rock, a rocky outcrop off the shore of San Cristobal island and home to many boobies, frigates and other sea-birds. As we sailed around the rock shone in the morning light as the waves pounded against its feet, and Galapagos sharks circled around below the boat – did I recognise one of those? And then it was off to San Cristobal where we landed and spent an hour or so hanging out with the sealions on the shorefront.And that was that. The Galapagos were definitely worth the trip and the money. You will never experience the same interaction with animals anywhere in the world, ever! Their evolution in a remote island archipelago far from the threat of natural predators leave them fearless, and in the case of the tortoises innocent of the dangers of humans. It’s like a Garden of Eden of wildlife, a survivor from before the Ice Age, and the living source of one of the greatest theories in the history of humanity, there for everyone to see with their own eyes. And there’s so much more to see that we didn’t see – whales, whale sharks, hammerhead sharks, multicoloured iguanas, inflatable-throated frigate birds … all part of an amazing, amazing place. Loads of photos are here.
Travel TipsTAME and Aerogal seem to operate a monopoly of two on the routes from mainland Ecuador to the Galápagos. Try as we did, we couldn´t get cheaper. Students under 26 however will get around $40 off each way. Non-student return is about $400.
We booked our tour in Quito with the Zenith travel agency. We recommend them. While other agencies were trying to cream some extra profit from us, Zenith immediately gave us the best price, and the price that we ended up taking. Only one couple on the tour paid less than us – $20 per person less, so practically nothing. All agencies are based around Avenida Amazonas in downtown Quito.
We travelled on the Galapagos Odyssey which is a good boat with good guide, good food, etc. We would probably recommend it, except for the fact that we forgot 4 t-shirts and a pair of shorts in our cabin wardrobe. Mysteriously, these items were never found, and we have no doubt of dishonesty on the part of some crew members, especially as the owners told us the ship went for repairs straight after we left – the guide was at the airport picking up new passengers for the boat when we were leaving! Small loss, but dishonest nonetheless. Ecuador was not good for our possessions.