We were sad to say goodbye to our previous shipmates and as they drifted away from the Aida Maria, we set ourselves on the top deck. Our sadness soon turned to excitement as Angel the Capitan pointed out some Galapagos sharks in the clear turquoise water.
With our new group arrived and safely stowed in their cabins, we set off from the busy airport bay to the north west coast of Santa Cruz Island. On the black and white coast of Playa Bachas we could see turtle nests, the babies abandoning the coast long ago for safer, deeper waters.
On the black lava outcrops, marine iguanas used the low tide to feed on algae while crabs clung to the walls and herons stalked fish. A sea turtle and shark narrowly avoided a collusion in the shallow waters, the shark a lot more frightened than the turtle.
In a small lagoon, a solitary flamingo cut a pink figure against the green waters and black volcano. Another opportunity to get wet allowed us to get a better look at the tropical fish that live amongst the protected coves and bays.
Aida Maria then took a northern heading to the far lying island of Genovesa. We used this time to get to know our new shipmates and we passed on tips on how to live on board. As Genovesa was so distant, we had some open ocean to deal with but we had our sea legs and enjoyed riding the swell.
We awoke in the protected bay that was once a volcano. The calmer waters allowed us some tranquil time on the deck to view the bird and marine life. Our first activity brought us to the shores of the island, where red footed and nazca boobies nest in the trees, seeking protection from the soaring frigate birds.
Small finches fed on the cactus and under the mangroves, mockingbirds danced a mocking dance. In a protected tidal pool, a few sea lions rested and with some tempting sounds, the pup came to have a closer look at us strange humans.
We were provided another opportunity to snorkel along the rocky shore, but the movement of the ocean made the waters murky and the momentum difficult. A shark slipped by while other tropical fish navigated the choppy waters easily.
Across the other side of the bay, we climbed prince Phillip’s steps and from the view point, red beaked tropic birds soared below us, their long tales stretching out behind them. On top of the cliff, more boobies and frigate birds nested. Juvenile frigate birds were interested in our cameras awaiting returning parents to feed them.
We saw a few victims of the dual baby booby battle around the nesting sights. One of the 2 babies born will ultimately be pushed out of the nest, sent to its death. This example is the perfect one of survival of the fittest.
Amongst the unstable ground, we searched for the rare short eared owls and after a few minutes, we located some hiding in the cracks and gaps. Above the cliffs thousands of birds blackened the sky from the small bat like birds to the red beaked tropic birds and boobies. The frigate bird was also on high looking for any opportunity for a meal.
As a gorgeous sun broke through the low clouds, we made our way back across the equator again and awoke in the darkest dawn under the pinnacle rock that makes Bartholome Island famous.
We were up early (5am) in search of penguins, who are usually very active this time of the morning. We did locate a few but in the darkness, they were a bit hard to see. As the light increased, we were treated to a special sight as a group of penguins groomed and bathed in the waters.
Under the dinghy, a shark was awoken by the excitement and a few sea lions popped up for a look. It’s rare to see these sea faring birds and we enjoyed the morning.
After breakfast, we made our way back onto land, this time heading for the summit of the island. With nearly 360 degree views, we could appreciate just how small these islands are in the vastness that is the pacific ocean. The climb also gave us a fantastic vantage point from which we witnessed manta rays breaching and back flipping, cleansing themselves of parasites. This amazing show went on for the whole time we were on the island.
What was also amazing was our shipmate Winnie. At 84 years old, she was a real trooper and managed to climb the 300 steps to the summit. She was on most boat rides and shore excursions. Unfortunately, the rocky paths caused her to twist and break her ankle which meant we had to make our way back to Santa Cruz earlier than expected.
But we did manage a final snorkel around the pinnacle and the tropical fish on show were amazing. With the sun adding much needed brightness to the water, we explored around the base of the pinnacle. A few interesting fish came to say hi, including a yellow puffer fish and smaller schools adding to the entertainment while star fish cut shapes on the sea floor.
On the way back to shore, a few sea lions glided by for a look, one circling us at close range. We tried to hold their attention by blowing bubbles in the water but they continued unperturbed.
After lunch, we made headway to the main island to bring Winnie to the hospital. We were still on high alert, spotting the occasional manta jumping. They got closer and closer until about 10 metres from the bow and the boat and then they stopped all together.
In the anchorage, we said our goodbyes to Winnie and her daughter Shirley as they headed into town for medical treatment. We sat on the back deck with our shipmates, enjoying a drink, talking music, language and politics while a strawberry orange sun set in the west and a mocha full moon rose over the eastern horizon.
A calm night merged to a calm morning and as we slipped into black turtle cove aboard our trusty dinghys, a squadron of blue footed boobies shot overhead. The cove provides a perfect place to young turtles, fish and sharks to rest and grow up. It was surprising when some of us saw a few baby hammerheads swimming away, their heads comically large compared to their bodies.
Pausing at a small inlet, black tip reef sharks slept at both the entrance and exit while a few rays used the faster flowing waters to make a quick exit. A large heron broke from its fishing trance to make for more peaceful waters.
On the other side of the inlet, turtles broke the waters seal, gasping for air while more sharks and rays glided under us. We explored further into the cove, a few small spotted eagle rays flying close to the surface.
As we exited the waters, four large marbled sting rays provided some entertainment and blue footed boobies rested on the rocks nearby. A little further down the coast, at a place called Dragon’s Hill, we walked amongst the dormant grey trees and green cactus looking for land iguanas.
These reptiles are descendants of the marine iguanas (not the other way round apparently) and enjoy the more arid areas of the islands. We located a few gorgeous lizards lounging in the shade, one large boy made the others look small.
Straight after the discussion on reproduction techniques, we were given a first hand example as a large male gave chase to a female. She outwitted him and scampered down the path.
As we arrived at the beach, 2 males were locked in a battle of dominance. Ultimately 1 male clamped down on the other’s neck, trying to shake it into submission. Spotting an escape route, the wounded male ran off, scaring the life out of our Texan friends.
With the water visibility poor, our snorkelling session was not so long and we opted to enjoy the beach. That afternoon, we motored back to Puerto Ayora where we enjoyed a final dinner on board. We were actually allowed to spend another night in our cabin and departed early in the morning having said our goodbyes the previous night.
We swapped the Aida Maria for a smaller craft which took us across to the other island of San Cristobal. This island has a more relaxed feeling than Puerto Ayora and we enjoyed seeing the sea lions lazing on the local beaches.
Near the airport, a larger swimming beach provided us with a chance to get close to a colony of sea lions. While some sun baked, others floated in the water, raising one flipper out of the water waving to us. Some tourists were getting a little bit close to many of them and we felt uncomfortable at their behaviour, so we headed back to town.
We were nervous and yet excited the next morning as we headed out to the famous dive location called kicker rock. Here a wall drops 50 metres above and below the surface of the water. After checking all our equipment, we dropped down into the chilly waters.
After getting our bearings, we swam along the wall admiring the crisscrossing effect the hundreds of fish produced. As we rounded a point, the unmistakable shape of a shark appeared out of the darkness. Over the next 10 minutes, a large shiver of Galapagos and black tip reef sharks shimmied by. It was impressive to see so many hunters in such a small place.
As a strong current pulled us through a fissure, more sharks appeared before the warmer waters, lifted us up to a shallower depth. On the 2nd dive, Sandra had some trouble equalising and this meant she spent more time trying to swim comfortably than enjoying the surroundings.
Still a large funnel of barracuda kept a close formation, whilst hundreds of other fish stayed close to the wall. A large sea turtle emerged through the haze of fish and another slept under a large rock. A small fish was perfectly camouflaged on a rock whilst above, another turtle drifted by.
We kept searching for the famous hammerhead and we were quite disappointed not to get to see one in the open waters, but the dive still revealed another world that the Galapagos Islands have to offer.
That evening, we enjoyed more sea lions on the beaches under a setting sun before returning to the main island of Santa Cruz and then a flight back to the continent.
Thanks to the crew of Aida Maria and especially our guide, Ruben. And thanks to our shipmates on our second leg.