Tuesday, 2 December 2008

The Galapagos Islands

Getting to Galapagos is simple. You jump on a flight in Quito, stop to pick up more people in Guayaquil, and then someone from your boat - I´d booked to spend a week on a boat - meets you at Baltra Airport. Or at least thats the plan, but from the moment a group of fat, old American tourists (who always seem to hunt in packs) barricaded half of Quito domestic terminal with their oversized suitcases (as they do), things didn't run smoothly.

I was warned that Quito domestic terminal was a shambles, and that people have been known to miss their flights and I can see why - at no point did my plane ever appear on the departure board. Even when we were let through the boarding gate, you pretty much had to go look for it yourself - we were pretty much let loose on the tarmac with no directions! It eventually left an hour late and malfunctioned in Guayaquil so we had to get on another, so by the time I got to the islands the dude from my boat who was supposed to collect me had gone. He had though arranged for someone from another boat to collect me.

The transfer was pretty chaotic and I ended up getting on whatever vehicle - bus or boat - had my bag on. Then the bus stopped and I was told to get off and another bus with the people from my boat on would be along in 10 minutes to get me. So I'm standing there quite literally in the middle of nowhere basically completely screwed if they didn't show up. It was quite amusing to start with but after half an hour I was somewhat less amused. I was near a park rangers hut and no wonder he laughed when, in the middle of an island with no water in sight, I explained in Spanglish that I was waiting for my boat to turn up! But in the end a bus with the passengers from my boat - the Yolita II - did turn up and we were off to see some animals.

Everyone I'd spoken to said Galapagos was brilliant, but I was not feeling the love so far. And then what was the first animal I saw? A cow. Was starting to think about asking for a refund but we did get to wonder round a field, that, although full of cows, also had lots of tortoises in, so things were getting better! All the tortoises did was pull their heads into their shells, they didn´t feel the need to attack or chase me. Or even move. At all.
Also walked through an underground lava tube, which is a tunnel formed naturally by lava cooling on the surface but still flowing underground. On the way back the bus had to stop so a couple of people could get out and move a tortoise that was sat in the middle of the road.

After that went to the boat. It was really nice and had my own cabin just below sea level. The boat held 16 people, although there was only 9 of us for the first few days. Two Dutch, two German, two Swiss, an Aussie and a Russian. The Swiss chap was called Tony - Swiss Tony! -but disappointingly at no point during the trip did he say "visiting the Galapagos islands is like making love to a beautiful woman." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swiss_Toni

After dinner on the boat, went into Puerto Ayora with Nick (Aussie) and Sasha (Ruskie), the last civilisation I´d see for a week!

The boat sailed over night to our first island. It was quite surreal when I woke up in the middle of the night listening to Tenacious D having fallen asleep with my iPod on with the boat rocking a hell of a lot from side to side!

If day one hadn´t been a roaring success, the next day blew me away, just saw so much stuff. We started at Rabida island, and got off the dinghy to find loads of sea lions on a very red coloured beach. They are obviously really used to tourists because they just lay there and ignore you. On Rabida in the morning and Sombrero Chino (Chinese Hat island) in the afternoon, as well as sea lions saw lava lizards, herons, pelicans, frigate birds, marine iguanas, fur seals, Galapagos penguins (quite rare to see apparently), loads of these bright red crabs, and blue footed boobies (a type of bird). The great thing was that we saw all of these really close up.

Snorkelled twice in the day and saw sharks. Don´t mind admitting that when I first saw one I touched cloth, but white tipped reef sharks aren´t interested in eating humans - not even me. Saw them a few times and was only a few feet away at one point, so could look it in the eyes! It could probably smell my fear! They were about as big as me. Also saw several big groups of hundreds of brightly coloured fish and swam with marine iguanas too.

Next morning we went to Bartolome island, and did a hike to get a scenic view, and walked along a beach where we saw a big sea turtle. Snorkelled again and although there were sharks I didn´t see them.

In the afternoon we went to Turtle Cove where we watched turtles mating. I´m sure the turtles were hoping for a little privacy rather than having two dinghies full of tourists taking photos, but they carried on. When they´d finished the male swam off really fast, presumably off for a cup of tea and a cigarette. We also went looking for sharks and stingrays in the cove but didn´t find them.

The island of Seymour Norte was the destination the next morning. There we saw the male frigate birds inflating this red thing they have on their chins to try and impress the ladies. We also saw blue footed boobies diving beak first into the water trying to catch fish.

This was changeover day so everyone except myself and the Dutch couple, Harry and Linda, left the boat as they had either already been on a for a week or were just doing a 4 day 3 night trip. Over the previous few days, the German guy thought he could eat more than me but don´t worry, he learnt his lesson. New people then arrived and we had 16; we were joined by some Canadians, and American chap, and a group of American students, but luckily they weren´t like English students as they seemed to know how to behave.

In the afternoon we went to Bachas beach on Santa Cruz island. Saw flamingos and iguanas. From the beach saw a shark silhouette in the water but didn´t see any when snorkelling.

Monday morning was South Plaza island. Saw a baby sea lion only a few hours old, and some iguanas fighting over a cactus, which is where they get their water from. Saw the cross breed land/marine iguanas of which only a few exist. We also saw the bachelor sea lion colony where the males who have just lost a fight go to recharge their batteries before going to fight the dominant males to try and have their own colony. Those that win have their pick of the females.

Santa Fe island in the afternoon, where we snorkelled and swam close up to some big sea turtles and a load of stingrays.

Next day we went to Suarez Point on Espanola island, where the ´Albatross airport´ is, so we saw albatrosses take to the skies. Also saw some nasca boobies and some very brightly coloured iguanas. Snorkelled from the beach and saw a load more stingrays including one burying itself in the sand. Also swam with sea lions which was good. They don´t half go quick, and they come really close to you, so you turn your head and see one right next to you. Thought they were sharks to start with!

Had to take evasive action on the beach when a baby sea lion ran towards me. I wasn´t scared, honest, it was because if they touch you they could pick up your smell and their mums recognise their young through smells so they could get abandoned and die. And I doubt a baby sea lion wants to smell of lynx anyway.

The last full day we visited Floreana island, which had a green coloured beach. Saw a flamingo lagoon and the now usual array of sea lions, lizards, birds, iguanas etc. There are sea lions absolutely everywhere and you almost become a bit like "not another sea lion!"

Post Office bay in the afternoon. This is where people would leave mail years ago in the hope that others would take it back because they weren´t going home for so long. Now tourists leave postcards there and other tourists will take them back to whichever country and post them there. I don´t send postcards (as I´m sure some of you have noticed) but I did send some because I didn´t have to buy stamps!

Went in another lava tunnel nearby but this one you end up swimming in by torchlight. We only had two torches and my American student friends weren´t amused when I turned my torch off and said "thats not a good time for the batteries to run out."

Saw sharks while snorkelling again, and our guide dived down to go and annoy it. He did the same with some stingrays too. Also swam with some big turtles. At one point one came up underneath me and bashed into me - scared the life out of me as I didn´t see it coming.

On the way back to Santa Cruz island, lots of dolphins swam with the boat which was really good. They were so fast, with some jumping really high out of the water.

Next day in the morning we visited the Charles Darwin Research Station where lots of tortoises are looked after. Saw Lonesome George, the last tortoise of his kind. He has been living with two females of a similar species for the last 37 years but didn´t fancy mating with them until now. Still, when you live to 250 years I guess there is no hurry. After that flew back to Quito (the journey back was less traumatic, and the some of the views from the plane window weren't bad either).

Overall Galapagos was really good. To see so many animals and to see them all close up was pretty amazing. It was also fun living on a boat for a week, and the rest of the people on the boat were nice. Its not a cheap place to go but it was definitely worth it.

1 comment:

Rachel said...

at last! you've finally seen dolphins