One night in Guayquil then back to the airport to catch a plane over to the Galapagos Islands! On arrival to Guayquil airport you have to pay $20 for a transit control card and all bags are ‘checked’ for possible contamination (nuts, seeds, plants). We accidentally smuggled nuts in, which may have triggered an unforeseen series of events but we will never know I guess. A short plane ride to Baltra (and a $100 park entrance fee each), then a bus, a ferry and another bus got us to Santa Cruz and our hostel. We went up to the Charles Darwin Research center where it explained about all of the conservation projects in the Galapagos and had loads of captive tortoises for breeding. Saw the local fish market where there were lots of sea lions and pelicans waiting for scraps!
Rented snorkel equipment and headed to Tortuga bay near Puerto Ayora, via a lagoon of mangroves - Tortuga bay is a crescent shaped beach with calm water, perfect for swimming - we headed out with our snorkels and first met a crab who thought he could take Chris on, then saw a ray swimming through the water, and later a turtle popped up! Unfortunately the water was so murky we couldn’t see far in front of us (the fine white sand is lovely to sit on but makes the visibility rubbish) and it was a bit freaky being able to feel sealife but not see it, especially as we knew there were sharks in there, so we retreated and took a taxi boat back to the town. We spent some time asking about tours with different operators, trying to suss out the good deals, and mulled it over lunch. Then we went for a swim in Grietas, a canyon with clear water and huge fish swimming at the bottom. After we went back to the tour operator who had impressed us most with his salespitch, and did our best to haggle for 3 boat tours, including diving, and a trip to Isabela Island. Felt pleased with ourselves and celebrated with a jug of homemade sangria (using a carton of Argentian wine!).
Day 52 - Tour 1
Early rise, some Colombian coffee and jam on bread in preparation for our first big tour! Met at the dock around 8am, refused the recommended wetsuit ‘We’re English, we’re used to the cold’ and water taxi’d to our vessel, with 8 other fellow snorkelers. 30 minutes later we were at La Fe, a small rocky area of calm water off the coast of Santa Cruz. Our guide told everyone to get ready to snorkel, our 8 fellow snorkelers all put wetsuits on…. Wimps.
We were the first two in the sea, sure it was cold but it had nothing on a night out at winter in the Toon. The first snorkel was for 30 minutes and we followed our expert guide who would point out anything he could see. Immediately we were greeted by a playful sea lion who swam up to and in between us, following our group for a few minutes then taking a break on the rocks. Then we saw a huge sea turtle who bobbed his head above the surface for breathe and then went back down, completely ignoring us. Next was a small stingray who slid along the seabed like a hovercraft. There were plenty of tropical fish, big and small. Our 30 minutes was up before we knew it, back onto the boat for a hot chocolate and dry ham and cheese sandwich.
Next a 1 hour boat ride to Pinzon, an tiny uninhabited island, for two more 30 minute snorkels. By the time we arrived the clouds had cleared and the sun was out. A second slathering of factor 50+ required! Back into the water and an immediate sea turtle, then a dive down to a coral gave us a great view of a huge hiding stingray and a lobster. We then swam to the shallows where the water was really warm and we encountered at least 3 bathing white tip reef sharks. Something slightly scary about being within touching distance of a 5ft long shark but they were definitely more scared of us big bobbing humans… as they swam away. Then back to the boat for some lunch and dry off before our third and final swim.
We’d seen a penguin up on the rock so we swam across to it, amazingly it got into the water and swam between use really slowly. Right next to it was another sea turtle, they were so close to each other it was like the penguin was riding the turtle (I like to think so anyway). More sea turtles and lots of fish then we got close to the rock to watch some Blue Footed Boobies on the rock, take off, fly up, circle and dive down into the sea for some fish!
A final swift 1.5 hour boat ride back to the Santa Cruz port and tour one was complete! Our only failure was not taking the wetsuit, not because the water temperature was too cold but because we both got slightly sunburnt by the equator sun rays! (Even with a few top to toe slatherings of factor 50+ suncream on!)
The bad news of this once in a lifetime adventure was my GoPro died this morning, meaning I couldn’t take any photos. So if you want to see what it was like, come to the Galapagos! (Or wait for the update to this blog as we’re awaiting images from a fellow snorkeler!)
Day 53 - Tour 2
Arrived at our tour office at 6.40am as requested - the office was closed and no sign of anyone opening it - we are starting to understand ‘Island time’... eventually showed our tour ticket to the staff on the pier who directed us to our ‘ferry’ to go to Isabela Island (big speed boat). After a fairly smooth 2.5hr ride we arrived at Isabela, found our hostel and were picked up for our next tour - to ‘Los Tuneles’ which is an awesome volcanic landscape with loads of wildlife. We saw Galapagos penguins and sea lions on shore, sharks resting in caves and on the seabed, lots of turtles having their lunch and two seahorses! Then we went for a walk on land and watched the famous Blue-footed Boobies perform their mating ritual. The male makes a whistling sound to attract a female to his nest and lifts up his big blue feet one by one to show off the colour - the brighter blue the better. Then he whistles and lifts his wings, and if the female is interested she quacks and lifts her wings. Then to seal the deal he presents her with a gift - a small stick or stone. If she takes it, then it means he’s in! The female we were watching kept rejecting his gifts - but she may have been put off by the 20 tourists surrounding them! Later we ate noodles for dinner and chatting to our hostel pals.
Woke early to go on a hike to the ‘Wall of tears’ which is the remains of a huge wall built by prisoners in the middle of the last century (Galapagos used to have some pretty rough prison camps) - from the top is a view of the Island and along the route were lakes and beaches to investigate - we met some Iguanas (coming out of the sea from their morning dip), tortoises, a baby sea lion and flamingos! It was a beautiful but hot and and took six hours, so we did little else until our ‘ferry’ back to Santa Cruz which was the bumpiest boat ride ever!
Day 55 - Diving trip
Up super early to go diving… In the Galapagos! We joined the group in town and got a taxi to the north of the Island then a dinghy to our yacht. I was excited the boat had sails but was told we would be motoring to the dive spots. Chris and I were doing the ‘discovery dive’ because Chris doesn’t have a licence and I haven’t dived for 12 years and needed a refresher, so we watched the cheesy video and then met our divermaster, who ran through the basics but essentially said to ‘have fun’ and he would take care of the rest! At the surface it was very choppy, as we started to descend Chris had a momentary panic about his lack of gills, but quickly realised he really could breathe underwater with this equipment, and then he loved it! We bounced along at the bottom of the ocean, watching sting rays, white tip reef sharks, little eels and big shoals of fish, then I did a second dive and saw some big Galapagos sharks and spotted-eagle rays gliding past. Chris had a snorkel during my second dive, the water was really choppy and visibility wasn’t great but he did see some white tip reef sharks and a load of fish. Magical stuff! Later we were cooked a delicious veggie curry by our mates in the hostel and we drank Sangria and shared travel stories.
Time to leave the Galapagos, which is really sad. Even though we crammed so much in there is so much more to see and do! We’ll have to come back! We shared a taxi with a couple to the airport, turns out the lady, Veronica, was a tour guide for the Galapagos and was on her way to pick up some guest. She made the taxi driver stop at some canyons on the way for us to see! When we got to Guayquil we ate some chicken and went to bed.