Galapagos Islands (21 – 26 June 2008)
We had great internal turmoil about visiting the Galapagos Islands. You see, the tenants renting our house back in South Africa had decided to vanish into thin air. So for the last three months, we had to cover the bond payments – an expenditure that we had not planned for. So with this in mind and knowing that the Galapagos will cost around R2000 per person per day for a week, we had some serious doubts.
In the end we did our calculations and decided that an opportunity like this comes around merely once in a lifetime and so we jumped at it.
TAME Air delivered us safely to the Islands that spurred Charles Darwin to formulate his theory of evolution. The Galapagos Islands are scattered over the equator in the Pacific Ocean. There are 13 large islands and over 40 small islands and islets. The Galapagos Archipelago is purely volcanic in origin, with the latest eruption on Isabella Island in 2005. These islands draw 70 000 visitors annually due to its matchless wildlife and natural history.
When Charles Darwin set foot on the islands in 1835, he was taken aback by the tame behaviour of the animals. And the animals still behave in the same way today – Eon’s zoom lens was a bit of an ‘over-kill’ for this trip, because the animals were to close for the lens to focus. Eon had to stand way in the back of our group to get the perfect shot Interesting fact is that more than half of all the land species in the Galapagos are endemic!
Our first taste of the wildlife was in transit, while crossing the bay on a ferry. We were amazed by the amount of sea birds we saw dashing in to the water or flying low above our heads. We started our trip on Santa Cruz Island, visiting the Highlands.
First up was a crawl through a lava tube and then a visit to the Giant tortoises. I could not believe the size of these things! On the way we also saw many birds, coming within inches of us. The landscape was barren lava rocks covered with elephant grass and cactuses. From the highlands it was down to Puerto Ayora to board our ‘cruise-boat’, The Free Intrepid.
We had quite a bit of excitement the first night. We checked into our cabin and when leaving for dinner, I asked Eon to lock the cabin door. He pushed the button on the lock and we went onto the main deck for a lovely dinner with the rest of our group. When we returned to our cabin, we asked the tour guide for the key (I thought it was a bit strange that they did not hand out the keys when we checked in…). Surprise, surprise – there were no keys for the cabins! The crew had to struggle until midnight to break into our cabin. In the end, Eon intervened by braking the lock. And who said crime doesn’t pay?
Every morning was an early start on the Free Intrepid. We got up at 6:30, had breakfast at 7:00 and went on island expeditions at 7:45. When returning from the islands, we first had an hour for snorkelling, swimming and sunbathing (or in my case – for taking a thousand photos of the Sally Lightfoot crabs) before returning to the boat for lunch. After lunch we set sail for the next island. At 14:00 we explored another island, followed by snorkelling and then back on the boat for dinner and socialising. What a life!
After Island Santa Cruz, we sailed to Isla Rabida. When stepping off the boat, we had to circle around a big male sea lion lying on the beach. They are quite tame, but could be aggressive, so we could no closer than two meters from it. Ridiculous, where have I ever been only two meters from an enormous sea lion?! Then we went to look at the pelicans that were nesting right on the beach. A little walk up to a viewpoint on the island introduced us to the red-faced Lava Lizards. They mark their territory by doing a sequence of little push-ups – quite an entertaining thing to watch. Then we stumbled onto something straight out of a National Geographic scene – a Galapagos snake caught a lava lizard right in front of us. They rolled down into the footpath and we watched the kill from centimetres away. The constrictor won the battle and we watched as it slowly fed the lizard down its throat.
During the snorkelling session, Eon had the privilege to see a shark up close and personal. Apparently, the girl next to Eon freaked out, the shark gave her a curious look, turned and swam away. Reminds me of that comic strip years ago on ‘Good Morning South Africa’ where the shark swam up to the humans and screamed: “Het jou!!!”
After lunch we sailed to Puerto Egas on Santiago Island. Here we saw marine iguanas – not the most attractive thing I have ever set eyes on! Their black spiky skin blended so well with the lava rocks that we had to watch our step as not to step on one. As we were walking to the snorkelling spot, we had to make way for a sea lion couple waddling out of the ocean to soak in the sun on the beach…it was as if they thought of us as some other animal; they are not threatened by humans at all.
The snorkelling was fantastic! Not only did we see a huge variety of fish, we also had a young sea lion swim with us. I am not sure who had a better time – the humans or the sea lion? I swam up to a rock protruding from the water to find myself face to face with two penguins. It was such an amazing experience – these animals don´t even notice that we are in their presence, they just carry on with their doings as normal.
On day 3, we visited the landmark of the Galapagos Islands, Pinicle Rock on Bartolome Island and afterwards went snorkelling from Golden Beach where I also had the thrill of seeing a White Tip shark! This time the penguins were swimming with us, but they are so fast that you hardly get them in view before the dart into another direction.
After lunch, we set foot on the a lava paradise – Sullivan Bay. The volcano on this island errupted quite recently, leaving a shimmering black surface with harldy any vegetation. There are two sorts of lava: lava Aa – the sharp-edged lava and lava Pahoehoe – the flowy, rubbery type. The snorkelling was a bit of a let down, so I had a crab-photoshoot instead. And the crabs worked it! I saw a mating ritual, it looked something like a crab karate dance
On the last morning of the cruise, we visited the North Seymour Island. We loved this island the most – there were animals everywhere! We had do walk around a huge male sea lion lying in the footpath. We saw the Swallow-tailed gulls with their red feet and matching red eyes. Eon´s favourite animal of the Galapagos is the Blue Footed Booby, and this island were crawling with them. They are such comic looking birds with bright blue feet. The strangest bird was the Magnificent Frigatebird with a bright-red inflated inflated throat pouch hanging from its chin. The males inflate these pouches during the mating season to attract the females – show-offs! They have a wingspan of up to 2,4 meters – quite magnificent indeed!
I absolutely fell in love with the fur seals! They all look so loving and cute, I might just move to the coast and adopt one. Other animals on North Seymour included marine iguanas, land iguanas, pelicans, penguins, finches and other birds.
Then it was time to leave our boat behind and explore Galapagos on our own for two days. So back in Santa Cruz, we spent the rest of the day at the Darwin Station. The main attraction is the incubation of giant tortoise eggs; the project was intorduced due to the near extinction of the species. After incubation, the eggs hatch and the tortoises are raised to a reasonable size and then placed on the other islands where they can survive on their own. We were excited when we saw two gianted tortoises in mating, but we were quickly pulled back down to earth when the guide explained that it was two males going at it….Gaylapagos?
The next morning we walked to a nearby white beach called Bahia Tortuga. The highlight of this beach was seeing a sea gull atacking a baby iguana. Eon got a great shot of this! After lunch we took a water taxi across the bay and then walked to Las Grietas with its two freshwater pools. Eon was brave enough to snorkel in the icy water, I rather waited until we got to the German Beach to do some snorkelling. Unfortunately, the visibility was very poor and we could not see a thing! What a waste of renting the snorkelling gear…$12 down the drain!
And that was the last day on Galapagos. The next mornig was a mix of running, taxis, busses and water taxis to get to the Baltra airport for our flight back to Ecuador…We will never forget the time on the island, it was amazing!
Click on the image below to view the gallery for The Galapagos Islands: