A COUPLE OF DAYS ON THE ISLAND
After overcoming our small financial crisis, we secured an early flight to the Galapagos that would give us two days there before we needed to meet the boat.
We arrived on Isla San Cristobel, the capital of the Galapagos, after a trouble free flight and we were immediately adopted by a friendly local surfer named Sergio. Sergio gave us just enough time to drop our stuff at our hotel and grab my board before we were off in a taxi to a spot known as Tongo Reef. I had read about this place and it was definitely on my list of places I wanted to surf.
It was actually just as well that Sergio did adopt us because to get to this place you have to go through a military base, take the road as far as you can and then walk for a further 15 minutes. When we got there we discovered that there wasn't a lot of swell, but there was also no one out and a perfect 2 foot left was breaking along the point. You could ride the wave for about 150m and apparently as it gets bigger it just breaks further and further along the point.
We both had heaps of fun waves and Suzie chilled out on the beach with the friendly marine iguanas and sally light foot crabs.
Once we had started the walk back we discovered Sergio had another surprise for us, we were going to go back via a short cut. The short cut just happened to be across the runway of the airport we had arrived at just a few hours earlier. Running past guard stations we looked right looked left and right again before scurrying across. I am not actually convinced it was that much shorter but it was something different.
I surfed Tongo Reef twice more with the conditions pretty much the same.
One afternoon while walking back from the surf we stopped in at a nice looking beachside bar for a cerveza. As soon as we set foot inside the place we were greeted enthusiastically by "Curly" an Irishmen who it turns out was sailing on a yatch from Fremantle.
Anyway after a few beers Curly took us to meet the rest of his crew, and along with La Cocaracha (the local get anything man that Curly had befriended the day before) we joined them all for dinner on the yatch. It was a great night, sitting on a Fremantle based yatch in the Galapagos drinking and eating - we would never have expected it.
TIME TO MEET THE BOAT
We met the Aida Maria on a Thursday morning and got settled in our cabin pretty quickly. Everything was amazing. Our cabin was equipped with its own shower and toilet and there was plenty of space above and below deck for chilling out. It also wasn't long before we found out that the food was excellent.
It turned out that we had joined a group who had already been on the boat for 4 days. A great group of people who only confirmed what we suspected - that we were in for a great time!
The general running of things was that the day would begin with breakfast around 7am and then you be off for a swim, snorkle or explore on one of the islands. We would all then return to the boat for lunch before heading off again for more exploring. Generally after that we were greeted back at the boat by some sort of sumptuous snack before enjoying a hot shower followed by a cold beer while the sun sunk into the sea. Before you knew it it was dinner time and after that our guide would give us the run down on what we could expect the following day.
Mostly we would then crash in our bunks and the boat would steam through the night (anywhere from 3 - 12 hours) to get us to our next destination.
We didn't visit every Island in the Galapagos archepelligo, but in the 8 days we were on board we certainly visited a fair few. Specifically we visited: San Cristobel; Santa Cruz; Baltra; North Seymour; Bartolome; Espanola; Floreana; and Santa Fe. Each island was different to the others and offered different wildlife experiences.
The Galapagos is famous because of the uniqueness of its flora and fauna - inspiring Charles Darwin to develop his theory of evolution. Interestingly, while there are certainly species that are common to all the islands there are also species that are only in one area of the Galapagos.
One of the reasons this is so is because each island is quite different. They are all volcanic and quite arid but they differ significantly in their age. The Galapagos is situated on the Nazca techtonic plate which is shifting steadily in a south east direction towards the South American continent. As the plate moves it does so over an active volcanic hotspot and as one island severes its link with the hotspot a new island is begining to be formed. Consequently, some islands are more developed with respect to how long life has been there and therefore are more diverse with respect to the species that are able to exist.
One thing that is common to the majority of animals that live on the Galapagos is how unafraid they are of people. As you can see from our photos it is really easy to get really close without disturbing the wildlife so it was possible to get a very good look at animals that you normally think yourself lucky to catch a glimpse of.
The animals are unafraid because once they are adults there are basically no large predators meaning that death is mostly brought about by a lack of food or old age.
Everyday was an absolute feast of wildlife. While walking on islands we saw: marine iguanas; land iguanas; larva lizards; salley light foot crabs (bright red in colour); blue footed boobies (including chicks); nasca boobies; albatross (including chicks); brown pelicans (including chicks); herons; mocking birds; finches; pink flamingos; frigates; gulls; red billed tropicbirds; galapagos penguins; and sea lions.
While snorkling we saw: white tip sharks; spotted eagle rays; various rays; green sea turtles; sea lions; eels; and an amazing array of fish.
We were even surprised one day by a humpback whale travelling with her calf and a juvenile just a short distance off the stern of our boat.
Special mention should also be made of our visit to the Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz. While the Station undertakes a variety of marine and terrestrial research it is work on the giant tortise that it perhaps is most famous for. Before ultimately being settled by Ecuador the Gallapagos was often visited by Europeans and other sailers from all over the place and these visitors had a distastorous effect on the giant tortise which were used as a source of fresh meat and oil.
The research centre has a breeding program for the tortise that has been very successful and on some islands where the population was desimated they now have a viable breeding population. One such population that will not recover is that from Pinta Is. That is because there is only one tortise left - Lonesome George. He now has a comfortable home with two female tortise (who he isn't interested in) at the research centre and has become quite the tourist attraction.
These creatures are truly amazing and very big. No one knows exactly how old they live, but they do know that they live for at least 180 years and how they know that is because 2 specimens taken by Darwin all that time ago are still alive today! Nice story huh.
Our adventure finished as it had begun - on a Thursday at San Cristobel and now more then ever we realised that our journey was really starting to wind up.
Although not deliberately planned, we are both very pleased that our trip to the Galapagos occured in the late stages of our travels. Not only is it a highlight still fresh in our minds, but it was also a great way to escape some of the hardships (if you can call them that???) of being on the road for six months.
We both now have dreams of returning and spending some time here as volunteers at the Darwin Research Centre.