The Galápagos Islands

I arrived to Guayaquil, Ecuador, pretty late thanks to the bus and had the skeleton crew manning the hotel (North Star). I’d picked this place because it was close to the terminal. The room was quite nice and had a fridge in it! The aircon didn’t work though so I’m wondering if it was a sort of DIY fix!! I was also surprisingly told breakfast was 9-11 which was good as I wanted to get a decent amount of sleep. It wasn’t. It ended at 9… sigh, apparently the girl that told me this error was new.

I spent the morning looking at galapagos tours last minute. Very curious that the system involves leaving a message and waiting for a response when it genuinely is last minute (some even seemed to be selling for same day!), a phone number might make more sense.

I tried a local place with some food I’d never heard of but spent most of the day hunting down trips for the Galápagos Islands. I’d cut it pretty fine as usual, leaving it to the day before and there was a bit of a palava trying to get cash out for a minimum cash payment as well as secure flights with a nearby shop as well (according to skyscanner there were no flights but fortunately that was a lie). After a bit of frantic running around I was booked in for 8 day’s on the islands, with 5 of them being a cruise.

I was pretty excited about this so perhaps was why I didn’t sleep too well. Either way I was up and made it in good time to the airport for the two hour flight to the Galápagos Islands, Baltra in particular was the name and was greeted by the tour guide Rafael and herded onto a bus with a few other tourists making up the 16 strong group on our boat. We got the the harbour and on to our boat for an int introduction to the crew and the standard safety briefing which included a drill with our life vests on the top deck. It was a nice vessel with a good common area and plenty of space to sunbathe!

The first stop was Islote Mosquera which is effectively a small mass of sand surrounded by some rocks, which as these islands are all volcanic, are black and igneous. We walked around a little in the sand learning some more about the flora and fauna, seeing a few sea lions before getting stuck in to some snorkelling. Admittedly there was not a great deal going on – just a few different types of fish and one shoal, so a Dutch guy called Koen and I decided to try off a different part nearer some sea lions. Low and behold a curious pup was staring at us and eventually joined us in the water with its mum joining shortly after so we managed to get a nice bit of footage with the cameras. I apparently got too excited at the start and didn’t press the button properly!.. but got another chance later on. Then it was back on the boat for some chill time, dinner and a beer before bed.

Early start the next morning for breakfast and a 7 am start at one of the island in plazas near Gordon rocks (which I noted as had been recommended as a good place to scuba dive so I may be back here after my cruise…). The early start was thanks to the fact that a massive 100-man boat was going to be there at 7.30 and Rafa wanted us ahead of them. It was pretty cool, we saw lots more sea lions, avian species and some iguanas – including a pair having a fight over a nearby female which was pretty cool. I couldn’t believe how close we were able to get and how tame the animals were…. they were literally right in front of you and didn’t care much that you were here. We even saw a mum sea lion nursing it’s pup right on the designated walking trail. Then it was back to boat to sail to Santa Fe, where we saw lots of sea lions, land iguanas and an eagle. In the dinghy back to the boat we came across a good few sharks right by the boat as well as sting rays in formation. Overnight sail to isla Española but still slept really well despite the rocking.

The next day I came across my first turtle whilst snorkelling, but it wasn’t doing much other than hiding under a rock so I left it be and moved on quite quickly. Later we headed to Punta Suárez and were pretty amazed with the marine iguana population. There were so many of them everywhere! Apparently this is the only place in the world you find marine iguanas and seeing them swim around looking for food was awesome. Further into the island we came across a load of Albatross, with a few chicks who, thought not yet able to fly, would be making the long trip to the waters at the south of South America, which is a substantial distance from here. The albatross is one of the few true marine birds meaning it can live without shore for long periods of time. We also saw several pairs of Nazca booby, which lay two eggs and the chicks battle at birth with only one survivor! We enjoyed the scenery around the cliffs and chilled out by the blowhole which shot up a spray of water under pressure whenever a big wave came into the cave beneath.

The last full day was at Isla Santa María where we started at Post office bay, so named because of its history of being where the post was dealt with for the islands for quite a long time… since the pirates in the 1700s. It’s still used a nice tourist attraction where you can put in a postcard into the barrel and hopefully another tourist will pick it up and endeavour to deliver it by hand. There were a couple for London I spotted so I have taken them with me for delivery when I eventually return home.

We then went snorkelling off the shore there and saw loads of turtles feeding on the plant life by the nearby rocks. Next up we got back on the boat and moved a shirt distance to Devils crown which had some amazing snorkelling, easily the best of the trip, also with some savage currents and it got pretty ropey at one point. As well as the many huge shoals of fish, I also saw Golden ray and white tipped shark, it was great. Then as though that wasn’t enough, an Aussie guy from our group spotted what he said was a whale from the dinghy as we were heading back to the boat. Unexpectedly (for me) our guide humoured him and we went speeding off in that general direction, we were all peering out in the distance when suddenly something big breached right in front of the boat, it was a 6-7 metre juvenile hump back whale. What an absolute treat. Within a matter of seconds half of us were back in the water frantically swimming after it and for the faster of us, were rewarded with the amazing experience of swimming with a whale and I even got some on my mini camera. Koen made an awesome video which includes a clip of this:

Flamingo lagoon and walk around Punta cormorán. Baking heat in high noon but we saw a penguin zipping along the shoreline trying to catch fish that were jumping out of the water to try and evade capture.

The next day a few of us waved goodbye to the cruise vessel and after a quick visit of the Darwin centre on Santa Cruz Island, the remaining guests staying on for a bit longer also. The centre itself was interesting with a lot of information in the flora and fauna of the islands, efforts to restore endemic populations along with the past and present threats to its success.

In the afternoon I checked into a hostel with two guys from the cruise also sticking around on these beautiful islands for a couple of days more. We then took a taxi to El Chato which is a nature reserve for giant tortoises and has three lava tunnels that you can walk through. We also larked about a bit inside some old tortoise shells, which if nothing else should give an idea of the intense scale of these guys… they can be 150kg plus and live 200 years.

Unfortunately they became endangered as a result of pests humans introduced as well as humans themselves… and there are records of ships taking loads of the animals on board to provide fresh meat over the duration of their voyages as you don’t need to feed them much and it’s not like they will get away… then it was back for dinner and a short trip to a couple of dive shops to kit out for the next couple of days of scuba is lined up earlier in the afternoon!!

I went to a couple of spots with Koen including las grietas which is a cool spot a short water taxi and walk away from the main dock. You can swim in the relatively warm water in a mini cañón.

My last couple of days in galapagos were focused on scuba diving and both days I got day trips out on a boat for a morning dive, lunch and afternoon dive at Mosquera and Gordon rocks as I’d hoped. I got very lucky with availability and hit the spots I wanted. I had dinner and drinks with Koen and a few Dutch/German guys we’d met and on the last night shared a bottle of wine with the hotel staff back in Guayaquil before my departure from the airport the next day.

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