The much anticipated Galápagos arrived and we took the first plane in months over to the islands...
Normally blogs are a bit shorter but this was worth a day by day addition!
Pitched up in Santa Cruz... Almost stayed in a really nice hostel but ended up with a smelly fan room, standard! Visited the Charles Darwin research centre where giant tortoises are bred and some info on the islands is listed. Charles Darwin being the Godfather of the Galápagos!
On route the road and pavement had loads of, what looked like dead, iguanas. We nearly told the warden only to realise that they were just basking in the sun! Being in Galápagos all animals are so protected and so unafraid of humans they are literally everywhere and don't even blink and eye when humans are around!
On route home we stopped at a fisherman's market where the local catches are brought in for sale. The same bit David Attenborough stopped off at in his Galápagos series! Sea lions and giant Pelicans casually chilling with the fishermen getting their scraps!
Tours booked for the rest of the trip that night and a walk down the pier, only to find more sea lions causally sleeping on benches and footpaths!
Day 1 and no proper tour taken but already seen everything from iguanas, giant Pelicans, blue foot boobies, giant tortoises, sea lions and loads of other smaller animals and reptiles!
First tour of the trip and off to Isle Isabela. The day didn't start great, the speed boat journey is meant to be 2 hours or so but the crossing is so choppy everyone is handed sick bags when boarding the boat and most people at least feel sick! Our boat broke down so the journey took about 5 hours after changing to another one!
Once we arrived on the island we immediately started our tour expecting it to be the next day so a manic start to the week!
All aside, the tour guide cheered everyone up, got everyone going and excited for the tour. We had planned a visit to the lava tunnels, naturally created thousands of years ago and snorkelling around the bay's.
We only made it to the planned spot because of the skill of the captain, literally dodging and jumping though the reefs to get to the calm bays! The tours here cost phenomenally more than the rest of South America, $100+ but the guides are experts in the field so worth the extra. All questions about the islands, wildlife and plants are answered!
During the snorkelling trip we saw a giant sea tutle within about 5 minutes! Literally the size of a door frame at home and completely comfortable with people swimming around! Amazing sight. Apart from various fish and reef, we also saw a few white tipped sharks swimming under us! Couldn't believe how much we saw so soon, and just snorkelling!
Hectic day ended well! Great start to the week! We found a little hostel for the night and caught some much needed sleep!
Early 7am start! Good going considering we didn't have any tours booked! First stop the giant tortoise breeding sanctuary. The sanctuary must have hundreds of tortoise ranging in age from new borns to full adults! Due to the introduction of so many un-native species on the islands over the years, many animals can't survive birth without intervention. So breeding farms help out in the early stages before letting the animals back in the wild.
The tortoises are only fed 3 times a week and we arrived just at the right time and were able to feed the youngsters! The adults were absolutely massive, slowest things ever but probably helps to explain why they can live over 150 years!
After the tortoise sanctuary we took a stroll down the beach. An old fashion sailing ship was moored off shore, impressive sight and like something out of a pirate or explorer film!
Even just on a random beech you see land and sea iguanas. Seeing the dinosaur like reptiles and how they've adapted to land and sea must be how Darwin came to some of his theories!
Also on the beach were Pelicans and sea lions. Sometimes within a meter of space you see 4 or 5 different species all casually living together! The beauty of animals that have no worries about natural predators!
That afternoon we had our boat scheduled back to Santa Cruz so just spent a few hours snorkelling. As with everything out here, more amazing sights! Apart from all the fish and star fish etc... We snorkelled across a huge manta ray laying on the bottom of the sea bed! It must have been a few meters wide by a few meters long with a really long spiked tail!
Only day 3 and 1 scheduled tour completed and yet every day has been amazing so far!
Back to Santa Cruz and looking to book a scuba dive, the main attraction being hammerhead sharks, every day promises to be good!!
Set of early as always for 2 dives today, both being along the coast of Santa Cruz, the first at a dive site called Isolote Mosquera and the second at Seymour Norte.
In true South American style everyone is so laid back they are nearly horizontal but we made it to the dive sites relatively on time! Normally you have to put all your gear together and at the end of the day account for it, clean it and pack it but today it was all done by the team so a nice and relaxing change!
The first dive lasted around 47 minutes at a max depth of 22m. The second was around 56 minutes and a max of around 16m so both quite nice chilled dives. On both dives though, the entrance and decent was off the boat but in quite choppy water, once about 3m under you don't even realise it though. The currents weren't too bad either, only getting some of a current at the end of the first dive. In our groups we had around 6 so fairly decent numbers and a decent range of experience.
In both dives the standard marine life and coral was around, quite similar to the dives I'd done in Thailand. General things we spotted aside from the coral were parrot fish, eels, star fish, Angel fish, puffer fish and hundreds of different types of tropical, colourful fish both swimming alone and in big schools.
Some really good things I'd never dived with before on the first dive included loads of different types of sharks! Mainly white and black tips. Ranging from half to maybe 1.5m in length. Towards the end of the dive we also saw a sea lion weaving in and out of the water, unbelievable swimmers and never seen them under the surface before!
On the second dive aside from all the sharks again we also saw a huge manta ray! Blackish in colour with the usual spots underneath it was meters in width and length and looked amazing gliding through the water! Also around the main big one were a few smaller infant manta rays!
So although we didn't see the illusive hammerheads we saw so much I hadn't dived with before it was well worth the trip! The dive instructor also carried a Go-Pro camera throughout both dives so hoping for a few good pics!!
Maybe another dive to Gordon Rock planned where the hammerheads are nearly guaranteed but we'll see how the week goes! If anything these dives have got me looking forward to more dives as we head further north!
Next few days we were to spend on the island of San Cristobal, another crazy 2 and half hour crossing by speed boat to start the day!
The first day we had a 'free day' so planned a bit of snorkelling, a light trek and a visit to an island museum.
First stop for snorkelling was La Loberia. A secluded little bay, few sea lions and their pups chilling around the beach and the usual iguanas. The bay was protected by a rock breaker so pretty calm water. First snorkel we saw giant sea turtles, one of my favourite marine animals of the trip and loads of tropical fish.
The next stop was Punta Carola, not great for snorkelling but great seeing the surfers off shore! Crazy waves. The museum, or as it's called locally, the interpretation centre, was just next door as well. It gave a fascinating history of the islands, mostly sad and lucky it's the protected World it is today.
The islands have been ravaged by pirates and 100's of thousands of giant land tortoises were killed by whalers from around the World (mostly Norway). Used as a vicious prison. Attempted to be 'claimed' by the English, French and USA. Dynamited by the USA and made into a B52 air base during WW2 and even used as an Ecuadorian military training ground in the 1970's! Many countries attempted to set up paradise colonies on the island but the harsh living conditions made it near impossible. Now although protected heavily, the biggest threat is the increase of human inhabitants and the needs they bring with them.
The museum also mentions Darwin, not interested to much in formal education, dropped out of medical school and on board a boat that only used Galápagos as a stopping ground rather than as the main point of the voyage, he is now considered one of the leaders of modern thinking.
After there we went on a little stroll round an island walk, took a few snaps with a big statue of Darwin and headed back. Of an evening over 700 of the islands 1000+ sea lion population make their way to the beach after 10 hours of fishing, impressive sight, especially all the babies!
Boat trip and snorkel before heading back to Santa Cruz. About 10 to the boat but most of which we knew from our Christmas and New Year crowd who we've not been able to coordinate any tours with so far, so looked forward to the day!
First part of the trip was a short snorkel around a bay, and a guided tour to see and learn about some of the wildlife and plant life. Sea was a bit murky because of the strong tide but still managed to see a few giant sea turtles and an octopus. Only in Galápagos would that seem like 'not seeing too much' on a short snorkelling trip!
Second half we took a trip to a rock formation an hour off shore called Kicker Rock. Big rocks in the form of an obelisk, weirdly made entirely of ash during a past volcanic eruption!
It was a tough snorkel around the rocks. Deep water, without being able to see the bottom, high and strong tides also needing to snorkel through small gaps in the giant rock formations!
Aside from a hectic workout...! Between the group we saw sharks (white or black tip, unsure from above), sea turtles, a sea lion up close, loads of colourful fish and some of the group said they even saw an illusive hammerhead! Good day but difficult snorkelling! Think deep water should be saved for diving and shallows for snorkelling!
Last night for a few of the guys so hitting the 'sea food strip' where you can get amazing sea food for anything between $10 - $20! Got a really good 'orangey-pinky' colour fish, not sure of the name! Glad I managed both a random fish dish and nice prawn dish whilst in the middle of the Pacific Ocean in Galápagos!!
2 dives at Gordon Rocks! One of the most famous dive sites in Galápagos and it didn't disappoint!
First dive we had great visibility, depth of about 28m and decent 44 minute bottom time. Second dive we had about 10-15m visibility, depth of around 27m and again 44 minute bottom time.
Both dives required a quick decent and we had to deal with the odd currents, sometimes much stronger than others. When the currents were too strong on the second dive we had to do some wall diving and use the under water cliff for support.
Both dives were amazing in terms of marine life! The final day and I finally got to dive with the hammerhead sharks!! A school of around 15 on the first dive and 16 or so on the second made the dives, amazing sight! Even a few of the guys who had dived 28+ dives around the islands on a liverboard boat said this dive site and dive was up there with the best!
It was like diving into an aquarium! At one point we had around us...
Big Galápagos sharks
White/ black tip sharks
Giant sea turtles
Giant Spotted eagle Rays
All at once!!
Apart from the thousands of fish and marine life some other things to point out were...
Streamer hogfish - (fish with lump on head)
Pacific Burr fish
Chocolate chip star fish
What made it even better was the great dive company we went with. They also had a good under water camera with them so hoping for some great pics!
Great end to the trip... Literally once in a lifetime place to visit and would love to come back! No wonder Darwin thought up one of the greatest theories of all time here!!
Last night chilling around Santa Cruz, a couple of well earned drinks, the first since New Year...! Then preparing for the flight back to the mainland...
Galápagos... it's been amazing!!