Lodgey and Life on the Road. Stories from South America.

18 August 2011

Galapagos Islands: Isla Floreana and Isla Isabela

Day 4: Isla Floreana

Our morning excursion is to Punta Cormoran. The beach there has green, grey sand and a lagoon with one pink flamingo. 














Just past the lagoon is a lovely beach and Darwin shows us how to spot (and not step on!) stingrays disguised in the sandy, shallow waters. It freaks me out but there are plenty of punters willing to wait for the stingrays to brush across their feet.

Meg and I snorkel with Darwin and there’s not a huge amount to see until he spots some dolphins nearby. We head towards them on the boat and slip into the water. Right below us is the pod of dolphins, swirling in the water in pairs like yin and yang, clearly curious about us. They are so close it takes my breath away. Under the water I can hear their squeaky dolphin talk. Eventually they dart away and Meg and I stare into each other’s masks speechless and emotional.

Back on the boat, we’re trying to tell everyone what we’ve seen but we are talking so fast they have no idea what we are saying.

I’m buzzing.

Our afternoon excursion takes us to Post Office Bay where there is a longstanding tradition of leaving post cards, either for people you know are visiting Galapagos or for yourself. When the next visitors arrive they can deliver any addressed to their home town. I leave one for my darling friends, Liz and Gav, who are due to pass through in a few months’ time. (Incidentally, when they did arrive the post card was gone. Booo!)



That night as I’m reading in bed, the engines suddenly stop and there is shouting from the deck. I peer through my porthole to see the crew frantically lowering a panga into the water with Darwin in his boxer shorts scrambling into snorkelling gear. We have sailed over the top of a two kilometre illegal long line and it is caught around the motor. Darwin holds his breath for up to three minutes at a time, diving under the boat to cut the motor free. Eventually they pull the line in. It is a brand new line because, amazingly, there is nothing on it.

Day 5: Isle Isabela and Punta Moreno

The island shaped like a seahorse is Isabela Island. It is the largest and the youngest of the Galapagos Islands.

I wake up super early and head out onto the deck. The sky is pink and we are surrounded by volcanos. Not far from the yacht is an enormous flock of blue-footed boobies diving en masse into the surf.

Our excursion takes us onto the lake of solid lava that flowed from the Alcedo volcano.



We walk across a massive lava highway to a small lagoon filled with schools of beautiful fish and four reef sharks weaving in and out of the caves.


Our next stop is a bay where there are hundreds of water iguanas paddling furiously through the clear water. Solid black lava, clear blue water and these black water iguanas swimming with tortoises and sea lions is an incredible sight.

Our afternoon excursion is a snorkel in 15 degree water. I’m rewarded with a swim next a giant tortoise and two seahorses – apparently an unusual sight. 

We finish the day with a sunset paddle through the mangroves in Elizabeth Bay where we see hundreds and hundreds of tortoises. But after an hour of cruising, we are all sun-kissed and weary, and Jurgen the German yells out ‘right, time for beers’. Within minutes we are back on board watching the sun disappear behind the volcano to the slurping of beer.


26 July 2011

Galapagos Islands: The day I saw true love

Day 3: Isla Espanola and Punta Suarez

Overnight, we sail away from Isla Santa Cruz and anchor in Gardner Bay off Isla Espanola. From the boat, I can tell we are in for a treat. Pale blue water and pure white sand littered with sea lions and pups. 

It's a glorious morning to stroll along the beach and watch the mums tend to their young. They are the sweetest things ever. 

A pup sits at the water’s edge crying out for his mum. Moments later, an equally distraught mother spots her baby. They run desperately to each other, lovingly dive into the water together and there is a collective sigh from the audience.

*sob*

Reluctantly, we leave our paradise and sail to a new spot for our first snorkel. The water is a frigid 17 degrees and visibility isn’t great either. It's clear enough to see baby sea lions swimming playfully around Meg. A pup swims right up to my face before dashing away.

Madness.

I’m so in love with the beauty of this place that I don’t notice the water is freezing or that everyone is calling me in for hot soup. 

Several hours of sunbaking later and we arrive at Punta Suarez. This island is a bird sanctuary and it’s the breeding season. We haven’t yet stepped off the boat when Darwin steers us a different way because a sea lion has just given birth on the dock. We gingerly make our way past the exhausted pair, scrambling over razor sharp volcanic rocks so as not to disturb them. The pup looks desperately small and fragile.

On land it’s a wildlife haven. Partially blocking the path is a cluster of perhaps 50 black land iguanas all stacked on top of each like beanbags and snorting salt water out of their nostrils.


Beyond the iguanas sits a blue-footed booby watching us with beady eyes. I can’t stop staring at his bright blue feet.

 
There is an abundance of birdlife here. Blue, red and grey-footed boobies, albatrosses and their chicks, and frigate birds with their bright red, puffed out chins.

Darwin tells us about the albatrosses – how they fly to New Zealand to feed before returning to Galapagos to nest, how they mate for life, how the live for 50 years - and how they always find their way back to their mate. 

A wandering albatross swoops in towards us, its enormous wings spread wide, landing on unsteady feet. Darwin believes it’s been at sea for a while. The bird makes its way past the hundreds of nests before approaching a female. They dance shyly around each other and he realises she isn’t the one. He moves on. We watch as he wanders through the crowd looking lost. 

Eventually he spots a lone bird on the other side of the breeding ground. Darwin motions for us to silently sit and watch. What unfolds before us is the most romantic, precious thing in the world. 

An albatross finding his mate. 

The wild surf crashing over the rocks in the background adds to the drama. But the stage belongs to this loving pair who clack beaks in perfect unison, wail, duck and weave around each other, dance, bow, curtsey and kiss, for what seems like forever. 

It’s too precious to photograph. Geezer tries.

video

As we solemnly make our way back to the boat, I notice that Darwin has a delightful spring in his step. I love it when a guide is so passionate.

We arrive back on the boat hours late. The crew don’t seem to mind and absorb our energy. 

What a magical day. Beers and bed!

11 July 2011

Galapagos Islands: Days 1 and 2


Day 1: Isla Baltra and Isla Santa Cruz

We arrive at Isla Baltra on South Seymour Island amidst chaos – tour guides screaming for lost tourists and the baggage claim area looking more like a luggage disposal unit. You can tell we’re still in South America.

I step outside away from the mayhem to watch it from afar.

A guide from a different company tells us to board his bus and everyone looks confused. Eventually though, we arrive at our yacht – an older style 30 odd foot boat with plenty of character. 


Cachalote. It’s our home for the next eight days. I like it. 

Darwin, our guide (yep that’s his real name), greets us on board and we are shown to our cabins. The bunks fit snugly in the cabin and if you breathe in you can edge your way into the bathroom. 

I score the top bunk with my very own porthole. 

Happy.

There are ten others in our group: an Indian father and son, who are serious photography enthusiasts; a family of Ecuadorians with the grumpiest teenage son in the world; a quiet young Canadian couple; 3 older Germans and us. Everyone sits in complete silence.

Up comes the anchor and our first stop is Isla Plaza where we are panga’ed off the yacht onto a strange, arid, volcanic rock beach. We get our first glimpse of land and aquatic iguanas, sea lions and bright red crabs that contrast heavily against the black rock. 


Darwin is knowledgeable, enthusiastic and extremely passionate about the islands.

My first glimpse of Galapagos. Weird and so wonderful. 

When we board our boat, the silence amongst the group has now been broken. We set sail for Isla Santa Cruz where we can go into town. But we opt to stay in and lie on the deck with beers staring skyward, watching frigate birds swoop around the mast. 


On the water, I feel truly content. And, that night, for the first time in ages I sleep like a baby with the gentle rocking of the boat.

Day 2: Isla Santa Cruz

At 7am sharp we are woken by a bell for breakfast. Having survived on a backpacker breakfast of bread and ham for seven months, I’m dying for some fruit and eggs. 

I greet everyone and get a lame response. Tough crowd.

We are briefed on the day’s events – a morning trip to the Darwin Research Centre, where they have an extensive breeding program for the Galapagos tortoises, and an afternoon excursion to see some massive volcanic sink holes, 20 metre high lava tunnels and tortoises in their natural habitat.

We are anchored in the most beautiful bay – turquoise water, loads of fish and pelicans flocking to a crowd of fisherman gutting fish on the dock.


At the research centre, amongst thousands of tortoises in the breeding program, sits Lonesome George, the last of his kind and a conservation icon. It’s thought he is at least 100 years old and scientists have been frantically looking for a mate. 


The babies bred here must learn to roll off their backs before they are released into the wild. I love staring at these pre-historic looking creatures. Their noisy, raspy slow breath and their desperately slow movements make them seem wonderfully ancient. 

In town we stock up for Hunter’s birthday. It’s slim pickings but we find enough party gear and booze to make a fuss.

We’re waiting for our ride back when we hear a familiar Australian voice. It’s Tom, a guy we met on our Antarctic cruise who we have bumped into randomly throughout South America – at a football match in Buenos Aires, at a parade in Cusco and El Chalten.

We are back on the boat for aperitifs and dinner, and it’s barely 8pm when I climb into bed. 

Knackered but happy.