Friday, May 2
We took a flight from Guayaquil, Ecuador to the island of Baltra in the Galapagos, where we were immediately greeted by our tour guide, Fatima. After everyone picked up their luggage, we loaded a small bus which would take us to the ferry. This bus was rather comical as I couldn’t even stand up all the way inside of it and Travis bumped his head a few times. On the way to the ferry, we wondered if we were all going to have to get out and push as we really struggled up the hills. I could have run faster than it was going! We took a short ferry ride and then once we got to Santa Cruz, we took yet another small bus to the other side of the island where we took a dinghy to the yacht. I wouldn’t really call it a yacht, but it was nice enough, sleeping 16 passengers and eight crew members. We eventually made all the introductions and there were six Israelis, two couples from Australia, one couple from San Francisco/Montreal, a girl from Wales and a really nice older man from Germany. Unfortunately, Werner, the German, didn’t speak any English and his Spanish was very limited, so it was quite difficult to communicate with him (although quite comical at times).
After everyone got situated, we went to a place on Santa Cruz called Gemelos. It was comprised of two craters, one on either side of the road. They were quite large and caused by volcanoes erupting and then collapsing back into themselves. We also saw a large lava tunnel that was formed by the force of the lava moving everything out of its way. It was very impressive and you could see how the lava had formed layers on the rocks. Of course vegetation is a large part of the islands as well and we saw some interesting species of cacti, growing almost like trees they were so high up. I had always thought that they only grew close to the ground in bushes.
Friday night the captain and crew introduced themselves and they seemed very nice.
Saturday, May 3
Each evening we travel to the next island on the itinerary (usually leaving around 2 AM), so this morning we had arrived at Rabida Island. As the dinghy got close to the beach to let us off, the sea lions were right there in the water checking us out and helping us disembark. It was fantastic! We also immediately saw a sally lightfoot crab. Its front is incredibly blue and yellow, the back has neat black and brown lines while the rest of the body is brilliant orange. Also some pelicans were acting very funny playing with sticks and trying to get out of the bushes. The other animal we saw was the marine iguana. They are disgusting! They are so scaly, climbing all over each other to keep their heat in and they also “snot” through their nose to clean out the salt water. The snot can travel a foot or so, so you don’t want to be too close! The animals are so tame because there have never been any humans who have hunted them and few natural predators on the islands, so they don’t have any reason to be afraid.
Sunday, May 4, 2003
Today we reached Bartolome Island where we saw some more lava formations. There was a large hill that we climbed, giving us a view of Pinnacle Rock, one of the most famous landmarks on the Galapagos. I wasn’t that interested in the geology and would have preferred seeing more animals! In the afternoon we sailed to Black Turtle Cove where we went on a dinghy ride and saw some golden sting rays, a shark and our first blue-footed boobie. Little did I know how many we would see later, but the first one was incredible as their body is mostly white and brown, but their feet are actually bright blue! They are known for flying above the sea, spotting their prey in the water, and diving down to depth of 5 to 10 meters to catch a fish. We looked for a turtle, but our group was a little too rowdy. We had a close encounter with capsizing, but were able to maintain control. The water was so calm and the rays were beautiful just leisurely swimming about.
Unfortunately, tonight, we had engine problems. The electricity went off in the middle of a card game and we had to use a flashlight to finish playing. The crew worked throughout the night to try to fix it, but were unsuccessful.
Monday, May 5
By morning the crew got the generator working and were able to take us to Seymour Island, where we got a look at many blue-footed boobies and frigate birds. The boobies are in their mating season and the males have a particular whistle they do while stretching out their wings to attract the females. If the female is interested, she honks back. This goes on for awhile and then the male will start dancing, which the female mimicks. After that small sticks are exchanged, which is the signal for "let's get busy". It was really fascinating to watch different couples in their different stages. Many of the birds were right on the path and one was even sitting on an egg right in the middle of the trail. The frigate birds have a large red flap of skin underneath their beaks. When they are ready to mate, they puff this red piece out like a balloon and sit on a branch to wait for a female to come calling. The females check to make sure they built a good nest before accepting them.
Because of our engine problems, we weren’t able to go to Plazas Island where we were supposed to snorkel with the sea lions, but have been promised another location to do that. We had to wait most of the afternoon for a part for the engine, but were happy that it happened at an island close enough to have parts, whereas we could have been hours away from Santa Cruz Island. A few of the passengers were discussing a mutiny, but were pacified by the great scenery and experiences of the days to come.
Tuesday, May 6
This morning we went on a two hour walk to scout some giant tortoises. We walked initially for about 45 minutes before Fatima said that at this point we may be able to see some. No sooner had she said that than we were able to see two close by. We walked on further and saw several more. They were a little difficult to spot as they were well hidden. After that we sailed to Sleepy Lion, a rock formation that looks similar to a sea lion. It was massive and very beautiful. On our way to Isla Lobos, we were excited to find some dolphins accompanying us for a bit. They were really gorgeous and made their swimming look effortless, while they kept up with the boat.
After lunch we arrived at the “Kindergarten” as Fatima called it because all the baby sea lions would play there. Probably ten or fifteen swam after the dinghy and it was here that we were able to jump from the dinghy with our snorkel gear on and swim with them. They were so curious and would come right up close to your face. Their whiskers brushed my hand a few times. Once I thought Travis was pulling on my fin to get me to turn around to show me something. When I turned around, I discovered a sea lion biting the fin! This was one of the highlights for me. They seemed to enjoy it as much as we did!
Wednesday, May 7
Today we arrived at Gardner Bay where there was the most beautiful beach. The sand was so fine it seemed more like flour than sand. Travis buried me completely in the sand and a very curious mockingbird came to check me out from head to (burried) toe. We saw some red iguanas that were sort of pretty with their coloring if you can call an iguana pretty! We took a walk along the beach and one of the sea lions was following me for a short time. Then, as Travis was taking our picture, he decided to check him out as well and got right up close, sniffing him and the camera. Can you tell I loved the sea lions?
We saw was albatrosses for the first time today. There were quite a few of them since this island has a cliff on one side of it. The albatross is such a big bird that it has to have a runway like an airplane to take off, and be on a mountain or someplace quite high so that it has plenty of time to use its wings to get airborne. We also saw several types of lizards and red iguanas.
One of my favorite things was the blow hole. There is a crack between two rocks on the shoreline and the impact of the surf causes the water to force its way up in it, creating a geyser-like effect and shooting water into the sky 25 meters high. It was incredible.
The weather so far has been very nice. Ecuador is in its rainy season, and I was a little worried that we would have rain everyday. But, it has been incredible, if a little on the hot side. Both Travis and I have been sensible and haven’t gotten burned too badly!
Thursday, May 8
Today was the Punta Cormorant Island where we were able to see several flamingos. They become more bright pink as they are ready to mate. This was not the mating season for them, and apparently they get even more brilliant than what we saw. Unfortunately they were not very close to the edge of the lagoon, so it was difficult to see them very well. We were able to walk around this beach for a bit and were able to see two more sharks swimming in the water.
On our way to the Post Office Island, we were accompanied again by some dolphins. They must have swam with us for about 15 or 20 minutes. They were amazing. We then arrived to the "Post Office" where there is a makeshift post office that has been in operation since English whalers first explored the island. It is basically a wooden building about the size of a bird house. People leave postcards and notes for friends and family. Then, the next group that comes to leave a note checks the mail to see where it is going. If it is in their city, they take it with them and when they return, they are supposed to hand deliver it to that person. You can also leave mail there for a specific person to pick up. One we saw mentioned that a friend would be arriving in the Galapagos in 2010 and to leave the postcard there until then. We found a postcard for Chesterfield, Missouri, very close to where we live, and also one for Phoenix, Arizona. We will be going to both of those places in August, so we thought it would be fun to deliver them.
Friday, May 09
This morning we disembarked early and headed for the Charles Darwin Center where we were able to see many different types of species of tortoises. The most famous tortoise is Lonesome George. Scientists think he is the last of his particular species. There is a $10,000 reward for any females of this particular species, so if you know of anyone who has a pet turtle, you might want to call the Charles Darwin Center. You never know, you could get lucky! The scientists take the eggs after they have been laid on the islands and put them in a specially thermally controlled area where they hatch. They can determine the sex by having the area be a certain temperature. Above 30 C it will be a female, below 30C, a male. Anyway, they then number the turtles and they live here in this center for four or five years before being released back onto their particular island. Other species live permanently at the center. There were some extremely large ones.
Unfortunately, our trip had to end, but we really had a wonderful time visiting all the islands, as well as making some new friends. We also learned a few new card games along the way! With only 16 passengers, you hope that everyone will get along and we enjoyed each other’s company very much. I wasn’t ready for the trip to end!