The Galápagos consist of many islands. Only four however, are inhabited by people. There are two airports. One on Baltra, an empty island, you have to catch a boat to the bigger island, Santa Cruz. About fifteen to twenty thousand locals live here. The main town is Puerto Ayora. It is a pleasant place. Lots of restaurants, hostels and hotels. There is the Darwin Research Centre within walking distance. A pleasant white sand beach on the other side, where you find lots of marine iguanas crawling along. At the Darwin Research Centre there is a lot of history and back ground. I spend a good two hours there, reading and trying to take it all in.
One day I rented an electric bike, and drove fifteen kilometre inland, to El Chato Ranch.
It made for a pleasant drive! When I arrived, this huge tortoise was crossing the road, I had to stop, and took many photos. At the restaurant, I could charge the battery, while I explored some underground caves. Then walked around the property. I lost count of how many tortoises I came across. On the way back, the bike just stopped! This couldn’t be happening! It was fully charged! Now what? Luckily I was close to the guard house of a local hotel. I had met Cristobal, the guard, in the morning, when he was kind enough to let me use his toilet. This time he rang the rental company. The number on the pamphlet was not responding. So here I was, ten kilometres out of town and no transport. Just then a large truck came out of the hotel grounds, Cristobal stopped the truck, explained the situation and before I knew it the electric bike was loaded into the tray of the truck. Another adventure, another lovely local.
About three kilometres out of town, Juan, the driver, dropped me off as he had to turn in another direction. ” it is all down hill”, he said. ” you will be fine, ” he said. And there I was, on the crossroads of the main highway. Considering how far I would get, with the crooked bike. Luckily Julio, the taxi driver, sat in his cab on the corner, watching me. Offered me a lift, and dropped me off, right in front of the office door. The rental company paid for the taxi. Mainly because I just told them, “pay this man!” It was a loose cable! The elderly man looked at me and said, “you should have plugged this cable in”. Duh, do I look like a mechanic? Mind you, three men looked at this bike and not one realised there was a loose cable! It was all in fun though.
Nadine was staying in another hostel. Here she had met Guiliana, from Germany. The three of us got on tremendously well. We would meet in the evening to catch up on what we had been doing. Have a meal together, have a glass of wine. Very enjoyable.
I made an awesome tour to Seymour Island. I saw nesting blue footed boobies, mating red necked frigates,( frigate macho con la bolsa inflada) flightless cormorants and many, many different species of finches. It was incredibly clever how these tour groups organised themselves. It is about an hour walking around this island. So one group goes left, while the other group goes right. After half an hour you meet in the middle, but most of the time you have the feeling that you are alone on the island. I saw the large land Iguanas. Which were yellow/ orange in colour. They drink the water of the cacti. All the animals have adapted themselves to their environment. Charles Darwin figured this out all by himself, which made him famous. Natural selection! These arid conditions on the islands vary, hence the animals adapted to the islands they were on. After snorkelling for an hour we returned back to town.
Tours vary in price and one does well to shop around. However, having said that, the more expensive tours have better and bigger boats, more lunch, include wet suits etc. I would ask around at three places and pick the middle priced one. There are so many last minute bargains. I decided to NOT go on a cruise. A five day cruise, all inclusive costs U$1000. I did speak to people who had managed to bring the price down a tad. What stopped me in the end wasn’t the price. It was the idea of being on a boat with a whole lot of strangers 24/7 for FIVE days! I get claustrophobic, and the not being able to get away when needing time out would drive me nuts. Different strokes for different folks. I decided to do a day tour on each island, and do a lot of walking, renting bikes and see as much as I could.
The ferry ride to Isla Isabela was smooth and fast. In less than two hours I was on the island. After Santa Cruz, which is the most developed island of the four, the sandy streets and the small size of the place, shocked me. It was also more expensive hotel wise. I decided to stay in the nearest hotel, and look for a better deal the morning after. I ended up in hotel ” Insular”. Great room, good price for five nights, and very friendly people! The first thing I did was to book a snorkelling tour to Los Túneles.
We had to snorkel in a group, which I found hard to do! The water was very clear, and we saw so many enormously HUGE sea turtles! I started to count them , but after twenty I gave up! One swam right underneath me! Not knowing the correct protocol when meeting a sea turtle face to face, I tried to swim backwards! I went to the surface and so did the turtle, he looked me directly in the eyes, and I heard him sigh! ” another bloody tourist”! Everybody else saw sharks underneath a lava tunnel, I didn’t, as I was watching the BIGGEST manta pray EVER!!
It was an amazing day! I rented a push bike and rode to the “Wall of Tears” . A huge wall built by prisoners between 1946-1959 when the island was a penal colony. It was hot and humid. Hard slog going up and down the hilly road! Going down was as scary as going up! I climbed up to the look out and sat in silence, just birdsong, nothing more. It was fantastic. On the way back I stopped at one of the many playas, hidden in the mangroves, and…….met Guiliana! This is one of the nicest things while travelling! When you bump into the same people more than once! Guiliana was walking up to the Wall of Tears. I went on to La Playita, a beach full of Marine Iguanas. It is funny how, when you first see these wonderful creatures, you take thousands of photos, and then after a few days, you go, ah, another Iguana!!
On Isla Isabel, near the ferry, is Concha de Perla, a coral reef, where one can go snorkelling for free. I snorkels with two sea lions playing around me! Four little penguins diving for food, while I watched them up close! At the end I got terrible cramps in my foot and right hand. When I finally managed to get back to the platform, I asked the time, I had been snorkelling for over two hours!! There is a place one can walk to and see flamingos, there were only six there, not very impressive! When you have seen thousands in Namibia, six is a bit understated! I did contemplate booking a dive or two, but settled just for snorkelling in the end. Ever since I dived on Ras Mohammed in Egypt and ran out of air, I am a tad frightened. ( well, no I am petrified!)
I caught the ferry back to Santa Cruz after six nights on the island. It had been raining the last two days, which gave me time to work on my diary and read some books, and not having to do anything at all! ( which is great, by the way!) the ferry ride back was so incredibly rough, not that I noticed as I fell asleep as soon as I sat down! When we arrived three hours later( it is less than a two hour ride, normally) in Santa Cruz, every body walked of the boat with a small black plastic bag in their hands, I wondered what presents people had been given? Later that day I bumped into a couple from Slovenia, with their nine year old daughter, who were on the same ferry. The mother told me that her daughter and I slept the whole ride, while everybody else puked in small, black plastic bags!!
The next day I booked a tour to Pinzon island, where I would see hammerhead sharks for sure! I had hoped to leave on the ferry for Floreana, but everything was booked full. The tour to Pinzon was a bit of a flop, as the motor of the boat broke down. There were seven people on board. Two Americans, one German, two French, one young Ecuadorean and myself. The guide tried to get the boat swapped over, but couldn’t get a ” new” boat. He asked the question if we wanted to turn back or go on? Well, the American couple turned around and said, ” we are going on, we came to snorkel, and snorkelling is what we are going to do”! Hm. Interesting.
As soon as this sort of thing happens, my hackles rise. I was in favour of getting my money back and turning back. ( it was going to take something like seven hours there and back!) So I asked everybody to think about what they wanted to do, and in five minutes we would vote! The Americans were NOT happy! I explained the concept of Democracy to them in very simple terms! Four of us wanted to return, one was neutral, and the decision was made. We would return! Before we could let our guide know what had been decided, the captain made an executive decision to turn back! This took us over five hours as it was! Without seeing anything! I received a voucher for a tour on San Cristobal.
The next day I left for Floreana island. This is the smallest island with about a 170 people on it. It has a very interesting history, murder, intrigue and mysteries never solved. I found a lovely hotel near the jetty. I asked a woman where the main centre of the island was, she looked at me as if I was mad! This empty black lava road was IT!! I did find a wonderful restaurant, Conchalagua, whose owner Betty, was a fellow pilgrim de Camino de Santiago! I snorkels with lots of turtles, sea lions and stingrays. In the afternoon I took a camioneta to the top of the mountain, where I walked around for two hours, seeing lots of tortoises, fresh water springs and old caves. The caves were first used by Patrick Walker, a pirate, who was dropped of here, probably because he was a naughty boy! He grew tobacco, pumpkin and made alcohol which he swept with visiting boats!
In the afternoon watching a mother and baby sea lion playing in the surf, I also saw a mother and baby stingray. They gave quite a good show, just for me! There weren’t many other tourist on the island. Very quiet, peaceful and serene. On my last day I walked to the lagoon, where one solitaire flamingo pranced up and down. The path was hard to walk, as it was all lava rocks. Still plants grew there, which always amazes me. I liked this small island. You didn’t have to do anything, just enjoy nature. There was a tourist office I was told one could book tours there, but I didn’t see it open once! Two nights was all I had, and back to Santa Cruz for my final island, San Cristóbal.
San Cristóbal varied from he other islands! It was dirtier, more rubbish every where. Hotels were more expensive, less clean. I changed my room after one night at a hostel. The owner gave me my money back without asking WHY! She knew! ( the bed and bathroom were clean, but it was small, cramped and the walls were filthy! First time I paid without checking!) found another lovely place, which is where my 360 tour, started from, so it all worked out. The tour was amazing, snorkelling at Kicker rock, we saw hammerhead sharks, only two, which is unusual as normally they swim in schools. I didn’t realise how BIG they were! A white tipped shark, but it looked just like a big grey blob laying on the ocean floor. The snorkelling conditions weren’t very good. The water was murky and with my eyesight deteriorating rapidly, I couldn’t see much at all!
San Cristóbal’s foreshore is fenced off for the thousands of sea lions, who live there. They are a sight to behold. It became my favourite pastime to watch the sunset while watching the sea lions. One little pup, skinny and under nourished, tried to find his mother. He was neglected by everybody. After his exhausting search, he climbed upon a small rock, and went to sleep. I made an effort daily to seek him out, to see how he was doing. On my last night, I found out that he had found his family again. Sea lions are incredibly territorial, and will fight for their space. Outsiders are NOT welcome, this little one was literally slapped away, over and over again!
On my last day I decided to have my Galápagos tattoo! My little blue booby on my ankle! I was so incredibly sad to leave, but after three weeks, and an enormous amount of money spend, it was time to fly onwards to Quito, to start my real travels!!
underwater photos downloaded from facebook