Monday, 27 March 2017

Magical Galapagos and diving with sharks!

After anchoring in Wreck's Bay, our first day has been rather frustrating as we had to wait ages for our agent to come and then we had to wait for a whole team to come aboard Tin Tin ... there was one guy from the Armada (navy)- very formal in his white uniform and cap!, one from immigration, one from customs, one from health and environment, and a diver to check how clean Tin Tin's bottom was! Anyway we were finally cleared at about 5.30pm and allowed to go to shore.

Whilst we were waiting for clearance I went for my first paddle on Dora in Galapagos and there are sea lions everywhere! They're quite inquisitive and certainly not shy and were happily splashing around me and basking on their backs in the sun. They have gorgeous little faces with whiskers and ears and then a huge blubbery body! A lot of the boats around us especially the fishing boats have been overrun by them as they bask on the decks... it's only a matter of time before we had a keen visitor astern who snuck up onto the aft steps of Tin Tin! We've also seen two spotted eagle rays mating!

When we go ashore (finally!) the whole pier and steps are covered with sea lions, occupying even the benches! After our meal out we take the water taxi back to find Dora had two sea lions sleeping on her, I really thought they would struggle to balance on her but they seemed very comfortable...Oh poor Dora!

The next day we ventured to Playa de las iguanas which was very dramatic with huge boulders made from volcanic lava bubbling into the sea and large dragon-like iguanas soaking up the sun.

There was big surf crashing against the rocks but further in, sheltered by the breakwater was a calm bit of sea where there were more sea lions and two turtles poking their heads out so scrambled across the rocks and dove in with my go pro to film them . They were pretty large and just gorgeous! They're really docile and swim along so gently. I think they are wonderful creatures! It makes me sad that so many were eaten in Darwins day. Actually mainly tortoises who could go without water for a whole year were piled into whaling ships alive and there they would stay confined until they were killed for the ships supper. Reportedly thousands were slaughtered each year. Even Darwin ate them when he visited!

If we're not looking at the human impact on the land. It doesn't feel yet as if much has changed from Darwin's time, having read his account of the Galapagos. I still don't think the animals of the island have learned or yet evolved to be afraid of humans as they really don't give a monkeys if you get close, quite surprisingly the birds.

When we started to walk back from the bay, the heavens opened and it chucked it down! I don't know what it is about me and water but it felt sooo good and I relished in this torrential rain, washing away the salt from my skin. That is what was making this whole island so lush. I think Charles must have come at a dryer time of year (must reread to establish his dates here) as what he described was an arid and unforgiving landscape that he couldn't quite believe that anything thrived here. He does say though towards the end of his stay here, the rains came and suddenly the dead looking fauna came to life and flourished very quickly..

Here on San Cristóbal we visit a huge volcanic crater bowl called El Junco perfectly round and filled as a lake. The panoramic view of the island is stunning and I try to imagine to the time it was formed all those millions of years ago as an erupting volcano.

One of the most incredible experiences I had those first few days in the Galapagos was my snorkelling adventure to León Dormido (aka Kicker Rock) I went along with some ecology students who were all equipped with diving gear to study he wall. I wasn't diving this time as I needed to have a refresher dive as it's been so long since PADI. As soon as I was in the water looking down through my mask I spotted 2 sharks, learning from my guide that they were black tip sharks. They were very long and wonderfully graceful as they snaked menacingly into the depths. We swam the circumference of the rock studying the abundance of life along the steep wall which plummeted vertically 50m below, beautiful star fish, colourful coral, striped endemic Galapagos fish, parrot fish and turtles. We entered one entrance of the cave which cut right through the rock. As we entered the darkness, below I could see sharks gliding in the depths. They were smaller than the black tips and I was informed they were the great Galapagos sharks. The fish didn't seem to be too bothered by them so I free-dived down to get a closer look at them and some footage on my go pro! Whilst we were in the cave, the waves came crashing in with a whole load of playful sea lions who had fun dancing around us and diving for fish. They were huge and it could've been quite intimidating but I just thought it was the most wonderful experience playing with these creatures and they made me laugh so much into my snorkel!

We had a a gentle night sail over to the next island Santa Cruz but we received a Mayday as dawn broke over little Santa Fe island en route to Santa Cruz. Dad contacted a small local cruise boat who came out to search, although they had not received it. It kept being repeated and finally the position was that of a boat at anchor in a bay. The cruise boat went to investigate, but after about two hours we reckon it was an error in their AIS system (or ours perhaps). The Santa Fe gremlins also stopped our speed working, then our GPS. Very eery!

Arriving in Puerto Ayero, Santa Cruz poor Papa had to deal with yet more formalities which seem to take up so much of his time. We do however, get round to exploring some of he island where we walked through huge lava tunnels which were formed when the outer layer of molten lava flow solidified. The tunnels seemed to me quite vulnerable to collapse as there were huge chunks of fallen lava partially blocking the tunnel. They were over a km long and at one point we had to crawl under on our bellies! We also walked through the lush green forest around the tunnels and saw more giant tortoises eating guavas in the torrential rain!

I decided that I couldn't miss out on a proper dive experience here in the Galapagos, where the marine life is some of the best in the world so I booked a dive and told them I would need a refresher too! Papa and Justin joined the trip to snorkel. So we set of on our boat trip with our guides and two other divers at the crack of dawn. Once reminded of the ropes by my wonderful instructor Luis, I soon relaxed and remembered how much I love the underwater world! It's so peaceful down there and magical. We swam with about 15 hammerheads and a group of about 10 white tip sharks really close to us we could almost touch them! They didn't seem bothered by our presence and they glided around very gracefully with a slight menacing glare. We also saw a family of spotted eagle rays and it's amazing to just float there whilst they go about their daily life around you, I was so entranced by them that I followed them temporarily losing my dive group! It's ok, our guide had a bell and I was shortly reunited with them. I wanted to stay down a lot longer in this dream world but our tanks were getting low so we had to surface and there was a strong undercurrent so we were having to hang onto rocks below. There were huuuuge parrot fish and puffer fish and rainbow fish and zebra fish and hundreds of Galapagos striped fish and amazing azur starfish!

Thank you Galapagos for sharing your beautiful nature with us. I hope you are protected and conserved enough to sustain your magical life and rare beauty.

I'm sad to leave these magical islands so aptly named as "Las Islas Encantada" but onwards we must sail South across the Pacific towards the Marquesas Islands.... a long voyage that should take us around 21 days or more..

Hasta lluego mis amigos!


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