The time has come: Galapagos PART I

Thank you for waiting patiently while I fumbled to get this post out. I know I left you all in high suspense, but alas, your wait is over. Thank you everyone who made this dream come true for us. The Galapagos Islands are some of the most amazing places in the world. We had such an amazing time and did not want to leave, and we couldn’t have done it without you guys. Thank you again!

The pictures are going to tell most of the story, but here’s the extensive outline with as little dialogue as I can manage. We flew into Santa Cruz Island (Baltra Airport), and set to work making out a plan. The cheapest (and best) way to do the Galapagos is to plan everything when you’re there. Not only do you get prices, that are often at least 50% less than booking ahead, but you also directly support the local economy, instead of some American company, or a giant travel agency on the mainland.IMG_7759

Saturday morning, after an hour and a half plane ride, a bus, a ferry, and a bus, we got to Puerto Ayora, the main town on Santa Cruz. After popping into a couple of hotels looking for a good price, we found Hotel España, just a couple blocks off the main strip. Next we headed to Academy Bay Diving to book our scuba diving. After talking with Alice, who I had emailed already, we decided on waiting until Wednesday to dive at Seymour North and Daphne (two different islands just off Santa Cruz). So now we have Sunday through Tuesday to kill. I emailed Wreck Bay diving on San Cristóbal because we also wanted to dive at the famous Kicker Rock (Leon Dormido). They had availability at the end of the week, so now our plans could be formed:

Head to Isabela Island Sunday morning through Tuesday afternoon.

Spend Wednesday and Thursday on Santa Cruz

From Thursday afternoon until Monday morning be in San Cristóbal

Back to Santa Cruz Monday afternoon and fly out on Tuesday

The way we travelled between the islands were small speed boats. They cost $30 per person each way, which is much cheaper than flying. On Santa Cruz and Isabela the boats don’t come right up to the dock. Instead a water taxi (a smaller boat) takes you from the dock to the boat. This is not an option, it is the only way it is done. Once you’re on the boat they tell you that it costs a dollar per person. What the why?! Yeah, it’s only a dollar, but I just paid thirty dollars for this boat trip, and you didn’t tell me I had to spend money to get to the boat? Why do I? The boat is 50 feet away. If you carry my backpack I can swim there. We found the process very off-putting. If the boat companies just charged me an extra dollar or two and then paid the smaller boats themselves then it wouldn’t feel like every islander was trying to rip off every tourist. Which is what it feels like. Especially because the food prices are outrageously expensive ($6 for a beer that says on the bottle $1 and at restaurants on the mainland is maybe $2).

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 Baby black tip reef sharks

 

The driver on our boat to Isabela was also the worst driver we had, or possibly the ocean was super rough, or most likely, both. I got stuck at the front of the boat where it is the bounciest and got terribly sea sick. But we arrived to Isabela and it was a delightful surprise after Puerto Ayora. Here are some of my favorite guys who were waiting at the docks with us.

 

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Lava heron

 

The town of Isabela is tiny, with no paved roads, and pretty beaches at every turn.After a little walking around we found another nice hotel for a good price, with a little negotiating thrown in. We had lunch at a local spot where they didn’t have any water for sale, but did have fresh coconuts: even better! We later learned that no one had any water for sale because there was no water left on the island. After asking a couple places and getting the response “there is no water,” not “we don’t have any water,” we finally realized that water hadn’t been delivered in a while and all the stores were out. Luckily every hotel has a big five gallon jug, so we didn’t die.

Back at lunch we met a guy who gives tours and we set up a kayaking tour of the bay for that afternoon. Just paddling through the bay we saw numerous sea turtles and got really close to some galapagos penguins and… wait for it…blue footed boobies! It was super fun and very exciting to see my boobies up close and personal. I know you guys want to see them too, so here they are.

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BOOBIES!

Among other animals, including tons of sea turtles, we also saw these guys:

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Camouflage penguin

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Blue heron

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Marine iguana, penguin and pelican

After kayaking we also found an awesome restaurant, which is an even greater thing than you can imagine, because all the food in the Galapagos is not only incredibly overpriced, but terrible. Like really bad. So it was super exciting to find a good restaurant. It’s called Coco Surf and it’s just south of the square.

The night before we left Quito we had dined at a place called Fried Bananas and met a lovely lady named Nicole who was also heading to the Galapagos. While walking down the street in Isabela we saw her again and ending up heading back to Coco Surf to have dinner with her. She had gone to San Cristóbal first and dived at Kicker Rock, but we realized that we were both diving on Wednesday at Seymour and Daphne! I was excited to have Nicole on the dive with us because we hadn’t been diving since our course certification in Panama a couple months before. The Galapagos are known for being non-beginner diving spots, and if you recall, I am mildly terrified of diving, but like so much that it’s worth the internal torture. So having an experienced diver there made me feel a little more comfortable.IMG_0017

The next day we hiked the volcano on Isabela. It’s a five hour hike that gradually ascends to the crater on top of the volcano, which is one of the biggest volcano craters ever at 12km across. We then headed down and up some more through some lava fields where the volcano had erupted many times over the past hundreds of years. The different colored layers show when the volcano erupted: black rock completely covers recent eruptions, and plants start to grow after hundreds of years. So higher ground that is fully green is from thousands and thousands of years previous, while the path we walked on was only a couple hundred years old.

IMG_0048The hike was long and the pack lunch the guide had given us was terrible. A sandwich with bread that fell apart in your hand and was sprinkled with dry tuna fish and two thin slices of cucumber. That and a banana was supposed to sustain us for five hours.

Our guide also didn’t tell us anything we couldn’t have read on wikipedia, so if doing it again I would just hire a taxi to drive us to the base and do the hike ourselves and spend the money we saved on a proper sandwich.

Lava ends up creating tunnels because it’s at different temperatures when it’s flowing on top of itself. Then, hundreds of years later, it can cave in on itself, and out pops a Zoe.

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That afternoon we took a stroll along the beach front and through a path that led to the tortoise breeding center. The one on Isabela is much bigger than the Charles Darwin Center on Santa Cruz, and the path to get there winds around lagoons filled with all kinds of awesome birds including flamingos!!!

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The lagoons are full of metals that make them red. #no filter.

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Black Necked Stilt

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Stilt and Iguana in red, red waters.

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Marine Iguana

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Plovers

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Lava Gull

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S, M, L, XL

When we got to the breeding center I tried to ask a guide if I could pay him to be in his group and he kept on interrupting me, telling me he was busy and that I should talk to the ranger. The very nice ranger just told us to stand around the groups and listen. So we did. It was kind of awkward, but also awesome. They did a demonstration showing the stages of a tortoise fetus. We saw him at one week, two weeks, three weeks, four weeks, and then one month after hatching. How cute is he?!

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Their shells stay soft for two years so the center keeps them safe from rats and other human-introduced predators until their shells are hard enough to protect them.

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Two year olds

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Old man

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I am a giraffe in disguise

The next day we arranged a snorkeling tour with Joseph, the guy who had taken us kayaking. We just walked to the boat dock, and down a little path where there was a tiny dock for people. We jumped in the water there which was surprisingly chilly considering how warm it was outside and how beautifully tropical it looked. The snorkeling proceeded to be the most amazing snorkeling ever and it was straight off the dock. We went across the little bay right in front and climbed over some sharp volcanic rocks. This was uncomfortable more so because the horse flies around here are terrible. They love wet skin, so if you’re covered in sea water they swarm you and bite, hard! It’s impossible to traverse volcanic rock quickly, especially when barefoot, so we got quite a few bites. They even try to land on your back when you’re snorkeling!

But back to how great the snorkeling was: just on the 30 meters across the first bay we saw a bunch of rays and three white tip reed sharks, even though the water was kind of murky. On the other side of the rocks the water was super clear and we swam into a sea turtle napping bed. There were so many turtles just chillin’ on the bottom. Like these guys.

We got to some neat coral, and saw a ton of fish, starfish, more rays, including a giant marbled ray. He must have been six feet across and at least two feet high. He was very cool. We saw more and more turtles, a couple penguins, and a bunch of marine iguanas feeding and swimming. The marine iguanas can stay under water feeding for hours. Then they lay on rocks tanning for a few hours until they’re hungry again.

When we got back to the tiny dock we even saw a baby octopus tentacle snaking out from under a rock. I had to get out of the water because after two hours I was freezing, but Chris continued swimming around the dock and seeing more rays. The dock area was always full of sea lions, iguanas, and pelicans. The sea lions often took over all the benches, even if you’re already sitting on it. They don’t care. Watching them climb up on them and fall off of them is hilarious.

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That afternoon it was time to go back to Santa Cruz and get ready for diving. Luckily the boat back was much smoother than the one there, and I got a seat at the back. Coming up next: our first Galapagos scuba dive. I promise it will come a lot sooner than this one.

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