Isabela - Last Stop in the Galapagos!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Isabela - one of the northern islands in the Galapagos was our last stop before our epic Pacific crossing. It had a very different feel to it than the other islands as it doesn't receive too many visitors outside the usual boat tours. The beaches and wildlife were abundant and the marine life (again) was amazing. We only had a handful of days here so we decided to organise a boat tour with our friends on Chilli Cat and Maloo to 'Los Tuneles' a series of volcanic tunnels and outcrops which could only be reached by speedboat and locals 'in the know'. Snorkelling in crystal clear water with turtles, sea lions and manta rays was the order of the day - we are so spoilt.

On the way back to our boat we spotted dozens of manta rays along the coast. The speed boat operator slowed down and allowed those who could keep up, time in the water with these graceful giants. This was a major highlight of our overall time in the Galapagos. They are majestic!

 The Galapagos penguins would hang out and sun themselves on the rocks near our boat.

These guys are everywhere - it was so easy to pass the day just hanging out with them on the beach.
The blue footed boobies were another delight to watch. They dive into the ocean from a great height and swim underwater in pursuit of their prey. I loved sitting on the bow of our boat, enjoying a morning coffee and watching them plunge into the water around us. They are distinctive with their bright blue feet which is a sexually selected trait. Males display their feet in an elaborate mating ritual by lifting one and then the other up while strutting before the female. 
Although our time in the Galapagos was rushed and a little stressful as we didn't follow the proper protocol for legally being there we were both surprised at to how much we enjoyed the islands. The wildlife and serenity of the islands was amazing and definitely put the Galapagos on our top 3 places we've visited so far on this trip. With our time on land behind us we now have to mentally prepare for the challenge ahead - a 2895nm sail to the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia.

Underwater Bliss in the Galapagos!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

After our great time in San Cristobal – we set sail for Santa Cruz where diving was high on the priority list. Given the lack of coral but the mixing of ocean currents and temperatures we were told that diving in Galapagos was second to none for big fish. Heading out at the crack of dawn we motored into the wind for 45 minutes to arrive at Gordon Rocks. A legendary sight famous for hammerhead sightings. Mike and I have seen our fair share of shark activity but hammerheads have always eluded us so we were pretty stoked to see what was on offer. Unfortunately it wasn't in the cards for us that day but we did see plenty of other biggies!

White tip reef sharks having a snooze

The currents coming in and out between the rocks made for some of the most challenging diving we have done, at times we were literally holding onto rocks for fear of being swept away with the current. 
The visibility was pretty poor but there was lots of activity underwater – including sealions, white tip reef sharks and more turltes than we could count.

Spotted Eagle Ray

and finally for an amazing finale to our second dive…. A whale shark appeared out of the depths. It was a juvenile - maybe 4 meters in length, SO incredible! Watch the video here. Whale shark sightings are not that common in these waters, Academy Bay Diving said they’d be lucky to have one a year – I guess luck was on our side. Such an amazing experience to have 5 minutes with this ocean giant.
Not quite having her fill of underwater encounters - Megan signed up for another day of diving and snorkelling out at Florianna where the fish were abundant and sea lions were the main feature! They were very curious about us and came super close - almost too close...

Karline - my dive buddy!
At one point everything was dark because there were so many fish in front of me. I was literally pushing them out of the way to swim forward.
We loved our time in the water but we have to keep pressing on - up next is our last stop in the Galapagos Island chain - Isabella!

Darwinian Bliss - Galapagos!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Galapagos - the "home of evolution" -  is all about the wildlife and you can't get much closer to nature than on San Cristobal where sea lions co-exist with villagers on a daily basis and giant tortoises roam the island.
The Ecuadorian authorities don't make it easy or cheap for cruising boats to visit. There is a lot of expense and bureaucratic paperwork involved in cruising here. The ideal situation is to be organised enough to arrange an 'autographo' 2 months ahead of time with an agent.  We found it very hard to find the details on this ahead of time, but currently (April 2013) an autographo allows the typical cruiser 120 day stay as well as the ability to stop in the three major islands. 

Unfortunately, we left things a little late and weren't able to obtain the correct paperwork, however we found an agent who was willing to help us (for the right price...) gain access to the three island we wanted to visit - San Cristobal, Santa Cruz and Isabella. We paid $860 in fees ($100 per person in park fees then a range of clearance/port fees and $400 in agent fees) - this was the same as our buddy boats who got the autographo, but so far (writing this in Santa Cruz) we've been able to go to the same places on a dodgy basis.

The hassles and cost make the Galapagos a destination some cruisers avoid, but for us it's been worth it to see the amazing wildlife here.
Sharing the benches at the water taxi dock.

A true highlight was sharing our boat with the many sea lions in the bay. They would jockey and argue with each other over who was getting which step. We had up to 3 on our boat at any one time. Even after building up a big defence of fenders and a large cooler box they managed to break through and were almost in our cockpit before we politely asked them to leave :)

 Enjoying the sun and tranquility on Lazy Bones.
The big downside to the seals on board is that a) they are noisy and b) they aren't toilet trained, so leave quite the mess!
In order to see a bit of the island,we shared a taxi for the day with our buddy boats - at $7pp for 8 hours it was cheap as chips! How many Aussies can you fit in a ute?
 First stop was the El Junco Lagoon - a freshwater lake 700 meters above sea level and one of the few permanent fresh water bodies in the Galapagos.
 The lagoon was supposed to be teeming with birds but it was pretty quiet...

Next up - Galapaguera to see the giant land tortoises.
 Not all of the Galapagos tortoises are the same. They belong to 11 different species that evolved as a result of geographic isolation.

Most of the tortoises are reared in captive breeding programs to ensure their survival. They are weighed and measured each month to ensure they are healthy before being released back into the wild at age 5.
A little one being weighed and measured.

We were also lucky enough to see two tortoises mating on their own - not sure why but we seem to have great luck at catching wildlife doing the dirty!

 Amazing local cacti trees called Opuntia - are only found in Galapagos

Last stop for the day was Puerto Chino - a beautiful white sand beach on the east coast. Great for body surfing!
The next day we left for Santa Cruz island.  Along the way, we stopped at Barrington Island (or Santa Fe Island).  There were four mooring balls here for the large tourist cruises, but the local park ranger waved us in ... so who are we to complain!

We had a fantastic lunch break swimming with sea lions & turtles on this isolated island ... before the rangers wised up and asked Charles on Chilli Cat for his permits.  Since we didn't have any, he quickly changed his tune and told us we were there illegally and had to leave ASAP.

Sea lions - so energetic under water and very curious!

  There were huge green turtles as well!

After this fantastic afternoon stop, we continued on to Santa Cruz.  Since we weren't supposed to clear in until Monday, we were able to do a little sight seeing on the weekend.  

Santa Cruz is known for the Darwin Research centre, where you can see more tortoises and land iguanas.
 A Galapagos Land Iguana, which is endemic to the Islands and found nowhere else on earth.
 Colorful crabs!

 The marine iguana is an iguana found only on the Galapagos Islands that has the ability to live and forage in the sea, making it a marine reptile. The iguana can dive over 9m into the water! 

Up next - some diving on Santa Cruz before we head off for Isabella!