Driving into the shimmering setting sun of the northern Peruvian desert, we were closing another countries chapter but opening a new adventure in the small country of Ecuador. The cross border bus ride was pleasant enough and after a few hours sleep, we were deposited in the Ecuadorian heat of Guayaquil.
We had about 24 hours in this town and went about organising the final details for our trip to the islands of Galapagos. Checking out the newly developed malecon (boardwalk) and the renovated colonial buildings of the town, we felt the cross cultural mixes of Latin America, Africa and of course Spanish dominance. It was also refreshing to hear the salsa music again after the repetitive rhythms of the southern countries.
It was also great to be back in the warmth and we strolled the town. The main square is home to iguanas who lay about the park in the sun. On closer inspection, the iguanas were actually on almost every sculpture, tree and rock in the park. Pools of turtles added another element to the interesting park.
The next morning, we touched down on the volcanic archipelago called the Galapagos Islands, on Santa Cruz Island. It was something of a dream come true for us and we were eager to get to town, talking with a few agencies and cutting up 2 tour itineraries to make a perfect cruise of the Galapagos Islands.
At the Darwin research centre we regarded giant tortoises and iguanas that are kept here for breeding programs, established to mitigate mans impact on their natural habitat. The centre is quite informative and gave us an insight into some of the endemic species that call Galapagos home.
A small beach nearby gave us a great view of the contrasts that are the back drop of any Galapagos holiday: black volcanic rocks and turquoise/blue waters. Marine iguanas grazed in the shallows and cooked on the rocks. Back in town, sea lions would claim the seats and laze on most of the jetties. Their nonchalance attitude at the gawking tourists was refreshing. During the nights, baby black tipped reef sharks patrolled the illuminated waters and the occasional sea lion would frolic amongst the taxi boats.
Across the small bay that is known as Puerto Ayora, we wandered past a few salt lakes. The green looked tainted while the pink lakes provided some colour to the surroundings. In a small fissure brackish, water provides a nice pool to swim and practicing snorkelling. It’s a popular location so we headed back to a small beach to enjoy some sun, sand and sea.
With our tour organised, we packed our bags according to the maritime conditions and boarded a small “ferry” that had us thumping our way to the neighbouring island of Isabela. This island is the largest but has a small community on its southern shores. There is a more laid back vibe here than on Santa Cruz and we enjoyed a pleasant stroll through town and along the main beach front.
With only 1 day free before we boarded our cruise boat, we set about exploring the nearby attractions. Hiring a wetsuit to combat the chilly temperatures, we plunged into the waters of Concha y Perla, a small bay near the harbour. Here a lot of fish used the mangrove as a protective base as did some of the sea lions to sleep through the day.
A couple of marine iguanas snaked through the waters like an ancient dinosaur or Godzilla, and a large sea turtle appeared from the depths. Later, we slept on the beach and then took a walk through a small lagoon scattered with flamingos and other water birds. We stumbled across a giant tortoise breeding centre and checked out the variety of sizes of these shelled animals.
With the fading light, Steve headed back into the water at Concha to try find a few sea lions playing, but they only appeared once he was out of the water. After a quick meal in the town, we slept early as we had an early start the next day.
At 7am we were collected from the dock and commenced our 8 nights cruise around the Galapagos Islands. Aida Maria was our vessel and she was a beautiful boat with 14 guests already on board. After breakfast, we got chatting with all the guests and we were very happy with the people. We had a great mix of nationalities, ages and genders.
We fell into the routine quickly with three fantastic meals per day, multiple activities each day and plenty of down time whilst navigating these amazing islands. We used the time to get to know everyone and share our experiences, learn about other cultures and discover a new world that is Galapagos.
But our first official day started back on the island of Isabela where we were delivered to a small walking trail leading us to the mirador of Sierra Negra. The caldera is the second largest in the world after Yellowstone national park and the views reveal a gorgeous contrast of black lava flows and green flora.
Back at sea level, we stopped in at the giant tortoise breeding centre where we again viewed many different aged tortoises going about their slow business. We started at the older group and made our way to the youngest. With a few hours to spare, we were free to roam the beaches. We opted to go back to the small pool of Concha to try spot some more marine life and our move paid off with a gracious sea turtle enjoying the calm waters and a few sea lions passed through once we were out of the water.
As a waning moon rose over the ocean, we enjoyed the cool evening on the front deck, getting to know our shipmates. We cruised the whole night and the rolling and rocking motion of the boat and freezing air conditioning meant we slept little but awoke to a gorgeous sunrise and calm conditions.
On land, at a location called Punta Moreno, we walked over the black (hardened) lava flows. Small lagoons allowed some colour to survive in the barren landscape, including 3 species of cacti and the occasional flamingo. In tidal pools, a large puffer fish fluttered by and a white tip reef shark slept in a cave.
In the water, we snorkelled amongst the lava shore. 1 sea turtle became 2 which became 4 and many more, all grazing on the sea greens. We floated amongst them and with the strong current we occasional had to make emergency manoeuvres to avoid collisions. The cool water kept us moving and many turtles were seen during our time in the water.
During lunch, we moved to Elizabeth Bay where we boarded the dinghys and moved into a protected cove. Penguins, sea lions, flightless cormorants, pelicans and a large heron were all along the shore guarding the entrance. The cove acts as a fish nursery and resting area for young turtles and sea lions. The mangroves creating the ideal conditions for them and a perfect place for us to view these gracious animals.
As we headed into the sunset, it was all eyes on deck as we tried to spot whales who were known to frequent the channel between Isabela and Fernandina Islands. We had no luck but still enjoyed another evening on the deck.
An early bell raised most of us from our sleep as bryde’s and humpback whale spouts were spotted lighting up the morning sun like bastille day fireworks. Before landing on shore, we headed out on the dinghys trying to get a closer look at some of these giants of the ocean and as we turned to shore, one bryde’s whale broke the surface a few metres in front of us.
Landing at Punta Espinoza, we were careful with our steps as marine iguanas spread themselves across the paths, soaking up the warmth of the sun. Overhead a pair of gracious Galapagos hawks kept an eye on the shore.
It was here we learnt about the destructive power of El Nino on Galapagos’ flora and fauna. Last season, it claimed thousand of marine iguanas, dying of starvation because the warmer waters restricted the growth of the algae, marine iguanas’ main source of food. Most of these carcases were removed due to the smell but a few remained as a reminder.
A few sea lions rested amongst the lizards and on a single sweep of the bay, 16 sea turtles were seen floating near the surface. A family of flightless cormorants fished in the waters while back on shore the theme of death continued as we came upon whale bones.
Back in the water for another snorkelling experience revealed more sea turtles in the murky water. We chanced upon a marine iguana feeding, its large claws holding it down while it gnawed at the algae. An octopus was harassed by plenty of fish and adopted many different colours trying to get some rest.
Whilst we cruised to our next destination, we spotted plenty more spouts and we were again rewarded when a whale broke the surface in close proximity to Aida Maria. Under a large cliff, a manta ray cruised by and blue footed boobies dive bombed from a high.
Sandra was the first in the cold water at Punta Vicente Roca, which is known for its large cave, and along the cliff we snorkelled while sea lions played amongst us, penguins shot past like bullets and turtles calmly regarded us from below.
In the cave, many blue footed boobies kept an eye on us while we searched for different marine life. The murky water making it tough to see, we even failed to notice a sea lion who stalked us from behind.
Crossing the equator on smooth waters, manta rays revealed the tips of their wings as they glided by. One ray breaching and performing a perfect back flip a few metres off the bow. As we cruised over the top of Isabela Island towards Santiago Island, the swell increased making it rough going. The rock and roll was amplified by our cabins location in the front and we moved to the saloon to sleep for the night (or tried to), thankful for some fresh air.
In the grey dawn on the western coast of Santiago Island at Puerto Egas, fish jumped and splashed in the calm waters while sea turtles and lions slipped by regarding us with their black eyes. We strolled the rocky volcanic shore, crossing natural bridges, peering into the depths below. Marine iguanas clung to the rocks whilst a white tip reef shark searched for breakfast.
Discarded Sally light foot crab shells added a splash of colour to the black shore. The crabs shed them to grow a new, larger shell. The solitary Galapagos seal lazed on the rocks as we sauntered past, enjoying the warmth as the sun rose higher. It was on these shores that a working salt mine was established until the early 1900’s before the national park was established.
Snorkelling in the clear waters of Puerto Egas, we were again treated to an array of marine life. Parrot and puffer fish kept our eyes wandering while smaller schools added colour against the dark backdrop.
But of course it was the larger animals that provided the entertainment. Sea lions streamed by easily, some not caring about us while others came in for a closer look. Ultimately we bored them and they disappeared to be with their kin. In a tight space between the rocks, a sea snake explored the small gaps in search of a meal.
As we headed back to shore, a white tip reef shark came for a closer look and offered us a perfect opportunity to follow it. It graciously moved ahead like a true master of the water. Back on shore, a double arch in the rocks gave us a better look at the crabs and some of the bird life as well as the sea lions laying on the rocks.
Motoring to our next destination back aboard Aida Maria, a few frigate birds used the wind from the boat to catch a free ride. Their scimitar wings and forked tail gave us a clear picture as to why they are known as the masters of the sky. The iron rich island called Rabida appeared and was in stark contrast to the rest of the islands. The deep red colour became more apparent as we cruised in the sheltered bay, dropping anchor and heading ashore.
Green cacti, red earth with grey flora and turquoise water provided perfect scenery as we walked to a point to get a view over the bay. Sea lions and sharks could be seen clearly in the waters below while a shallow, green lagoon added to the diversity of this island. On the beach, the usual suspects lazed, swam and fished.
Back in the water again we explored below the cliffs we walked earlier, enjoying the clear waters and looking for the bigger animals. It was the schools of fish that provided most of the entertainment, keeping a tight formation whilst they patrolled the waters. A small shark disappeared into the distance and a few sea lions snuck past on reconnaissance.
As we departed that evening, we enjoyed the setting sun with our shipmates, a gorgeous setting sun at our backs providing another great end to a day. At North Seymour Island, we began the day early, a dawn walking tour gave us an up close view of nesting frigate birds. The males large red throat sacs blown up to attract females who floated low on air currents in search of a mate.
Blue footed boobies guarded babies on the ground amongst the frigate birds and sea lions. It was a great start to the day in what was ultimately the end of the tour for the rest of our shipmates. As they departed, we stayed on board awaiting our new group to arrive, Galapagos sharks patrolling the waters below warning us to stay dry for the day.
We had an amazing time exploring the western regions of the Galapagos and our shipmates were very laid back and friendly. We look forward to seeing them again in the future.
Thanks Helene, Ingunn, Alette, Maddie, Abby, Bibi, Ben, Zoe, Lauren, Vincent, Tom, Jack and his parents.