We had booked our boat tour online while we were in Cuenca. We paid US$620.00 each for an 8 day tour, although I think we could have paid less if we had booked it in Puerto Ayora. Along with the US$390.00 we had to pay for the return airfare from Quito (that's each) the Galapagos Islands are a rather expensive destination. We had to catch take a bus, then a ferry and then another bus up to the airport to meet our guide, Miguel. We then took another bus to the harbour nearby. We managed to board the boat without dropping any of our bags in the water and met everyone else on board. We were the only new people on the boat as everyone else had already done the circuit of the North Islands. We had booked a cabin with bunks to save money so we were pleased to see that the bottom bunk was as wide as a double bed, and that meant we could use the top bunk as a shelf. Soon after we arrived we had lunch and I was disappointed to see that despite checking they served vegetarian meals before I booked the trip, I was given the same as everyone else but without the meat.
After lunch we sailed for about half an hour to Bachas beach and made our first wet landing. To make a landing in the Galapagos Islands you take a dinghy from your boat and make either a wet or dry landing. I was a bit worried about getting my camera wet while getting out of the boat but as long as you didn't get out as a big wave approached it was fine. We walked round to another beach and saw marine iguanas walking about and sea turtles in the water. The marine iguanas have quite short stumpy legs and a very long tail. They move quite slowly on land but very gracefully in the water. Further along the beach there are some remnants of a harbour as the Americans used this area as a military base during the Second World War. Just behind the beach there is a brackish lagoon with some greater flamingos in it.
After seeing the wildlife on the island we had a bit of time to relax on the beach. It is very hot in the Galapagos Islands at this time of year so it was lovely to cool down in the water. At about 4:30 we returned to the boat and sailed to the point between Baltras and Santa Cruz Islands. While we were there a new chef came on board and I hoped that this one had been told I was vegetarian. Unfortunately when we had dinner a bit later on (green beans and cauliflower for me) it became obvious that he hadn't been told. At about 8 we started to sail for a couple of hours to the Plazas Islands, where we dropped anchor and stayed for the night. We stayed up on deck for a while to watch the stars and it was incredibly peaceful. The slight rocking of the boat helped us to fall asleep easily.
We started the second day with breakfast at 7 and then made a dry landing onto South Plaza Island. To either side of the landing point there were sea lions lying around on the rocks and swimming in the sea. After walking a little way we started to see land iguanas. They have much bigger legs but a shorter tail than the marine iguanas. They eat the flowers that fall from the prickly pear cactus and can wait underneath for a flower for up to a week without food or water. We walked upwards for about 50m and came to a sheer cliff. Below you could see various birds including frigate birds. Apparently these birds cannot actually dive into the water to catch fish because the weight of the salt water when it dried would prevent them from being able to fly. Instead they have to steal food from the other birds or try to kick up fish on the surface and catch them. If they do accidentally get sprayed with salt water then they will go and find a heavy dark cloud and wait under it until it rains, or fly up through the cloud.
Further along the cliff there was an all male sea lion colony. This is where they come when they need a rest from mating and protecting the females. It is amazing how easily the sea lions manoeuvre themselves up to the top of the cliff. There is a theory that some of the older sea lions have committed suicide here by throwing themselves off the cliff. Walking back round the island we saw lots more land iguanas sitting right on our path. They were not at all timid and would just sit there as we passed them. There was a family of sea lions resting under a cactus that kept making funny noises like they were burping. Initially we were unable to board the dinghy beacuse there were some sea lions blocking our exit, but Miguel managed to get them to move by clapping his hands. We snorkelled round the boat for a while before lunch and then sailed to Santa Fe Island.
There was supposed to be really good snorkelling here but the water was very cloudly and we didn't see much apart from fish. From the dinghy we saw some sea turtles but they had disappeared by the time we got in the water. At about 3 we took the dinghy for a wet landing on the beach. There were sea lions lying all over the beach. A small one moved up to someone in our group and sniffed her leg. At one end of the beach there was a young Galapagos hawk. It was allowing people to stand within a metre of it without flying away. We followed the trail around the island and saw more land iguanas. One had a mocking bird on it, picking off the parasites. When we got back to the beach we were the only people on it and we watched the sea lions lying around, playing, chasing each other and swimming in the sea. We took the dinghy back to the boat and had dinner. At about 8 the crossing to Española Island began. This was supposed to be one of the roughest crossings of the trip and despite taking some sea sickness tablets I was sick. I spent the rest of the journey up on deck thinking it might have been a mistake to book an 8 day tour.
We had arrived in Española overnight and had breakfast before disembarking at 8. It was a dry landing and again there were sea lions and marine iguanas near our exit. Some of the iguanas were an incredibly vibrant green colour. These are adults because some birds eat the young iguanas and they would stand out too much if they were brightly coloured. There were a couple of blue footed boobies on a raised platform but it was a bit difficult to see their feet. We started to walk around the island on quite a rocky track. After a while we could see some birds that were about 15 metres away in a large flat clearing. They were albatross and they are only found in the Galapagos Islands on this island. They need the clearing to make their clumsy landings and then they walk about 20 metres to a cliff to make a takeoff by just jumping off and flapping. By the cliff there were hundreds of masked boobies, with lots of chicks. The chicks look like they are covered in cotton wool and in some cases they are so fluffy they look bigger than their parents.
We were not able to see many more blue footed boobies because at this time of year they prefer to go to Isabela Island where there is a cold current on the west all year round. They are more likely to find the food they need there. Below the cliff we could see a marine iguana swimming around. It's movements looked a bit like those of a crocodile. There was also a sea turtle that would occassionally raise its head out of the water, but most of the time it just looked like a big circular shadow under the water. We spent about two hours on the island before taking the dinghy back to the boat. We snorkelled around the boat before sailing for about half an hour to Gardner Bay.
Again the water was not very clear so when we went snorkelling I swam straight to the beach. Gardner Bay is a beautiful beach with pure white sand and turquoise water. You also have to share it with lots of sea lions. I watched one tiny one and it only had the strength to move a little way at a time before collapsing. Some of the sea lions were very inquisitive and would come and inspect our belongings or just lie next to us. I spent most of the time there relaxing, just glad to be on land. I was not looking forward to the evening because we had another long trip to the next island of Floreana. Fortunately the crossing was a lot smoother and I was able to go to our cabin and sleep through it.
We woke up early to go to Post Office Bay at 6:30. This is a bay that has been used for many years by pirates and bucaneers to send mail without stamps. You just drop off your mail and pick up any mail there than you will be able to deliver. We didn't find any that we could deliver as it was mostly for America but we left ours hopefully anyway. When we got back to the boat breakfast was ready for us and while we ate we sailed to our next destination of Punta Commorant. After landing we followed a trail through to the other side of the island. In the middle there was a large brackish lagoon with several flamingos in it. From a viewpoint above the lagoon it was possible to see the markings that had been left by the flamingos as they moved around. Once we made it to the beach on the other side we could see a couple of sea turtles in the water close to the shore. There were lots of Sally light-foot crabs running about over some rocks.
Afterwards the dinghy took us over to a crater in the sea. We started swimming outside the crater and swam with the current until we were inside it. I didn't really see much to start with as visibility was quite poor. Once we had got inside of the crater though the water was fairly shallow and you could see lots of different fish. One fish was very long and thin. There were several starfish including a small thin purple one. We stayed in the water a long time and once we were all finished we went back to the boat and showered. Soon the boat was heading back to Santa Cruz Island, a 5 hour journey. I opted to eat in Puerto Ayora that night but even there I wasn't having much luck. I ordered pizza with pineapple (piña) and it came with chicken (pollo). I was surprised to find that I actually felt a bit land sick and felt a bit better once we returned to the boat. Maybe I could manage 8 days after all.
The rest of the people on the boat had finished their tour so after breakfast they left. We spent the morning lazing on the beach near to the Charles Darwin Research Station. We met Miguel for lunch but none of the new people had arrived yet. By 2 they had all appeared and we headed off for a tour of the highlands. Fairly soon the temperature was a lot cooler. It only took about 15 minutes to get to our destination but we all got thrown about a bit in the back of the trucks. We wandered towards a grass clearing in front of the forest to see some of the tortoises in the wild. The males weigh up to 300kg and the females up to 100kg. There are a lot less females than males because the pirates used to take them onto their boats for food and found it much easier to carry two females rather than one male.
Even up to 20 years ago people on the island were still eating them as they didn't realise the impact it was having. The National Park stopped it by offering them an income to look after the tortoises. We saw 4 tortoises on the trip, although there are thousands on the island. When you get too close to them they will retreat into their shell. The females have a much rounder shell than the males. Next on the agenda was some lava tubes. On the way there we stopped to see a sign that said 'Danger, tortoises crossing'. The lava tubes are formed by the lava on the outside of a flow cooling, but not the middle, leaving a tunnel. There were a lot of rocks on the floor where part of the tunnel had caved in.
We arrived back in Puerto Ayora at about 4:30 and had a couple of hours to kill before we went on the boat. Once we all got back on board we had dinner and I got fish and chips while everyone else got meat - a big relief. We started to sail at about 1 and I had to go up on deck as I felt ill. I managed to sleep up there until the sea was a bit calmer. I don't think anyone slept too well that night.
We had sailed to Rabida Island during the night but we arrived a little behind schedule because one of the engines had broken. After breakfast we made a wet landing on the beach. The island was a red brick colour, including the beach. There were yet more sea lions. Just behind the beach there was a brackish lagoon with several flamingos in, including a very young one lacking the colouring of a mature one. There were also several sea lions around the lagoon and Miguel said that their prescence disturbs the flamingos and may cause them to leave. When we returned to the beach we were taken further round the island to start snorkelling, again using the current to our advantage.
The water wasn't any warmer than it had been in the south but it was a lot clearer. This was our best snorkelling trip so far. I saw a white tipped reef shark and an eagle ray and finally got to swim with sea lions. There was a whole group of the swimming around us. They move so gracefully in the water. Sometimes they head straight for you but at the last minute veer off in another direction. Others in the group saw a sea turtle gliding through the water and just by the beach there were some penguins swimming around.
We headed back to the boat for lunch and then sailed to Chinese Hat Island. The island is supposed to look like a chinese hat but I thought that description was rather tenuous. It is set in beautiful surroundings with turquoise water and small white sand beaches. We went snorkelling again and it was as good, if not better, than in the morning. I saw a snake, a couple of eagle rays and a huge sting ray. Something had taken a huge bite out of it. Near to the beach some very young sea lions started to swim with us. I still thought that they were going to swim into me a few times. As soon as I had got out of the water some penguins appeared. I got back in and was able to watch them swimming under the water. They get so much power just from flapping their wings. It wasn't far to the boat so I swam back. We all had showers and then sailed up to Bartholomew Island, where we spent the night.
We started the day with a visit to Sullivan Bay on Santiago Island. There is just a bare volcanic landscape for miles with a volcano in the distance. We were able to see the different shapes that the lava takes on. Some looked eerily like ropes and others like tree roots. Miguel told us several different names for the lava but they all sounded made up, such as 'Ow-ow-ow' for the sharp lava. It was incredibly hot and there was no sign of wildlife anywhere. The island does have a large problem with goats and has been using 'Operation Judas' to reduced the population. They put an electronic tag on a female and monitor her until she finds a group. They then kill all the group except for that female using rifles with a silencer. This leaves the female confused and in search of another group. The poor goat must thing that she is a bad jinx.
Next stop was Bartholomew Island. here we climbed up about 360 steps to a viewpoint. From here we could see the two bays below, like two Cs with their backs to each other. I had seen this place in a few photos and there is a similar formation on Phi Phi Island in Thailand. In the back ground we could see the massive Santiago Island, which has an unbelievable mix of colouring. We went back down the steps quite quickly and waited for the dinghy. Back at the boat we had lunch and I took a nap - all this sightseeing was tiring me out.
In the afternoon we got dropped off at one of the two bays. We walked through to the beach on the other side but didn't spot much wildlife there. We returned to the first bay and got our snorkelling gear on. We swam over to some rocks and got very close to a pelican and more sea lions. On returning to the boat we were told that Javier, one of the crew members, had been bitten on the toe by a fish. We didn't really fancy going back in the water after that and this was our last snorkelling session of the tour. Later on we sailed to North Seymour Island and spent the night there. As we were sailing some dolphins swam alongside the boat. As I tried to sleep I could hear sea lions just outside the window of our cabin.
We had a dry landing onto North Seymour Island at 8. We were expecting to see frigate birds on here and we were not disappointed. The male magnificent frigate bird has a red chest and as part of its mating call it blows it out like a balloon. They have a very strange shaped wing span when they fly above you. At one point I nearly trod on a sea lion because it blended in so well with the colour of the path. Our visit was over too soon and our next stop was the harbour on Baltras Island, where we had to leave. From the harbour we could see two sting rays having a fight on the surface of the water. It was a very bizarre scene.
We took the bus to the airport and from there headed back to Puerto Ayora. We went back to Residencial España, the cheapest place we could find (and just as good as some of the more expensive ones). I went to see the doctor again and he said I would be alright to dive now, so we had a few more days before flying back to the mainland.