Galapagos 2, Ecuador
Apparently winter is just round the corner here. The definition of which seems to be when the sea gets very choppy and too cold too swim in. Given my non-existent “sea-legs” we decided to go on a trip round the islands now before our classes start. Our trip was of the “budget” variety and with Tim, the only Kiwi who lives on this island. He married a local girl and has set up his own tour business – “Galakiwi”. We set sail on his boat with about 10 others for 4 days. In my wisdom, I had decided not to take any sea sickness tablets as they usually render me virtually unconscious for the whole day. Instead, by the time we arrived at the first island, Floreana, my stomach was not happy. Unfortunately this was the spot we were doing our only dive of the trip. After some moments of girly pathetic-ness I jumped in and tried to will my stomach not to show itself. The dive was great and Jason saw a turtle and a shark (I was too far behind him), but the current was extremely strong and at times it felt like being in a washing machine. Jason had to come back and drag me along as i was getting left behind (my hero..)! Hence a few moments after getting back on the boat the sea lions were happily sniffing away at my breakfast on the surface of the water…. after poor Tim had washed it off the side of the boat! Once on land things improved…. Floreana has only a few inhabitants now, but originally was home to some famously dodgy characters. (A vegetarian who had all his teeth removed and then died when he ate a piece of chicken for one) It also has a 200 year old ” Stamp-less Post Office” which consists of a wooden box where you put your postcards. The next person to come along then looks through them and delivers by hand any that are addressed to the area which they are from. This system was apparently started by the island smugglers. For the next leg of the journey I found my place on the boat – horizontal on the top deck with my eyes closed. I could just about make 2 hours with no sickness! We arrived at Isabella , where we were to spend the next 2 nights. Isabella is the largest island in the Galapagos, but for reasons I don’t really understand has virtually zero tourists. The majority of cruise boats don’t stop here (thank god), yet it is most definitely the most beautiful and interesting island we have seen so far. The only town is a few sand roads and simple houses and a couple of simple guest houses.Jason was most impressed by the lamposts which were made out of zig-zag shaped bracnches from trees. It felt like how I imagine the Galapagos were 30 years ago before tourism boomed. Locals stared at us and life seemed even slower than on Cristobal (which is really saying something!). The next day we spent 5 hours on horseback discovering the world’s 2nd largest volcanic crater. The sad thing is that this is one place where giant tortoises used to roam in the wild, but thanks to all the introduced species that humans bought with them to the Galapagos (dogs, goats, rats, pigs etc) the tortoises were dying out. (A volcano erupted on them in the 80´s which didn’t help either I s´pose..) Most of the ones that were left were taken into captivity to breed. The amazing thing is that the tortoises on each island adapted themselves to survive the conditions and evolved into different sub-species with different shaped shells. We did get up close and personal with them at the breeding centres though, they are even more huge than I imagined. There must have been something in the air that day as all the males were trying to clamber on top of the poor (much smaller) females to mate, and they were all falling all over each other! Apparently giant tortoise copulation is a very prolonged affair (not to be tried at home said the guide!) and males make an enormous racket (which we heard..). Anyway back to the horseriding…. as usual I had the laziest horse of the group (Rosita), and hilariously Jason ended up on a poor mule! While Rosita and I held up the back of the group, I was in fits of laughter as I saw Jason galloping off into the lead on his little mule as he suddenly realised that whipping horses is the only thing that makes them go here! I spent the first 2 hours crashing into trees as some cowboy bloke behind me whipped all the lagging horses into action and they all tried to over take each other. That aside the views were spectacular, a huge crater on one side and the blue ocean on the other, nothing but barren bush land in-between. The next energetic feat was to climb into the crater and to the summit where sulphur steam still rises out of the ground. Again it felt like being on the moon. I am not sure that I will voluntarily spend 5 hours on a horse again though, when I got off it took me 10 minutes to move either leg! Later, as the group of now bow-legged tourists wandered round the town, we discovered the town on Isabella only has one bar. It’s perfectly placed though on a gorgeous long stretch of sandy beach with palms trees and hammocks – my kind of bar! The next day was definitely the highlight for both of us. First I got to see a long-awaited group of Penguins – hurrah! (I have been desperate to see one since we left and so far only managed one dead one in NZ)Then Tim took us to a lagoon in an inlet near the main island harbour. He told us we were going snorkelling and he was sure we ´d see sharks. We imagined the odd shark from a distance, but nothing could have prepared us for the sight of dozens of 5-6 ft white tip reef sharks within touching distance! The lagoon is apparently where they rest a lot; they seemed so docile they couldn’t have cared less about us being there. They just lazed on the bottom in groups. The sea lions played together right next to them which I thought was odd! I was just getting over this sight when one suddenly headed straight for me. You have never seen me swim so fast… I was out of the lagoon in seconds!(Apparently they don´t attack humans but this one didn´t look that friendly I can tell you…) The last night was spent on the most touristy island – Santa Cruz which we didn’t really like other than for it´s “Supermarket” which was a heaven for us compared to the one here! Most people fly into here to start their cruises. The main town there is much larger than on San Cristobal and quite commercialised – we are glad our charity is not based there. We hiked to a gorgeous beach, and whilst I was too lazy after all the week’s exertions (up at 6am everyday!) Jason walked to a lagoon and saw some cute Marine Iguanas. The last day included more snorkelling near another small island called Santa Fe. Up until this point the waters hadn’t been that clear but there they were bright blue and crystal clear. We saw rays, puffer and parrot fish and swam with a huge shoal of colourful surgeon fish. Everytime we snorkelled the sea lions were so curious about us. They have a special trick of swimming straight for you and then duck diving just before they crash into you which can be quite un-nerving! Then it was back to the boat for the journey home (by now I had resolved to take sea-sickness tablets) . We staggered onto the boat armed with enough sackfuls of goodies from Santa Cruz to sink it (e.g. tinned tomatoes- what luxury!). As a welcome home we were treated to a spectacular air display: a group of about 50 blue-footed boobies hovering and diving into the water as we entered San Cristobal harbour. Home Sweet Home! In 4 days I think we had seen more wildlife and birds than in our whole lives, and all for about 1/4 of the price we would have paid on a normal cruise!