Travelblog SA#6: Galapagos Part 3 (San Cristobal Island & Santa Cruz Island)

23rd-26th June 2018

Some of my final days in the Galapagos were spent on the island of San Cristobal. Of all the inhabited islands, it had the best-maintained town and it was close to Tijeritas Hill; a spot famous in the archipelago for being a nesting zone for frigates.

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Whilst walking around the area I saw something I was not expecting at all on the Galapagos Islands: a wild furry animal about the size of a small fox. I still do not know what it was for it was a little too big to be a cat and had an angular head. Unlike the endemic species of the Galapagos this creature was shy and slinked away, so I didn’t manage to get a photo of it.

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The bay just below Tijerietas Hill had a lot of turtles, stonefish, huge schools of yellow-tailed grunts, rays, and also a colony of playful sea lions which got into the water and swam with me. On the Galapagos Islands there are some things which you get desensitised to – such as seeing iguanas and pelicans – because there are so many of them everywhere, but swimming with sea lions was one of the things I never grew bored of.

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In the afternoon I set off for La Loberia, a beach a few kilometres away from town which is famous for its abundance of sea lions. By chance I found myself wandering into a street festival. I did not know the occasion or what they were celebrating but I watched for a while and soaked up the atmosphere while they danced, drank, sang, and played their instruments.

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By the time I reached La Loberia, it was almost sunset and the sea lions were settling down for the evening upon the shore. It was a rather eerie moment, and I took some wonderful photos.

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I left San Cristobal the following day but picked a boat leaving in the afternoon so I could spend some more time snorkelling with the sea lions at Tijerietas. I was feeling very content by the time I returned to Santa Cruz (the island my journey in the Galapagos both began and would end). I had achieved almost everything I intended. I’d seen so many things, including penguins, blue-footed boobies, frigates, tortoises, turtles, and so much of Galapagos’ strange, almost alien landscape. There was only one thing left on my list, and that was to see a hammerhead shark.

I heard stories of them being sighted in a set of mini islets off of Santa Cruz called Gordon’s Rock, but the sightings were not guaranteed. I only had one day left so I signed up for a day of diving, hoping that I would be lucky. I only had enough money in my tight budget for one shot anyway.

The first dive was a little ropey. The currents were being unpredictable so our instructor had to change our course and some of the other divers ran out of air early and had to go back up. It was my first time going underwater for over three years, and Gordon’s Rock is a drift dive with very strong currents so I was, quite literally, jumping into the deep end. I was a little disoriented at times and came back up with a headache. We did manage to see a hammerhead though, as well as lots of Galapagos sharks, turtles, and a huge school of barracudas.

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The second dive went much more smoothly. The instructor knew what was going on with the currents by then and figured out how to work around them. We saw so many hammerheads that I stopped counting and the landscape of pinnacles covered in coral was beautiful. I was lucky enough to be buddied up with a dude with a GoPro, so here is a video.

 

If you would like to see more photos and videos from the Galapagos, click here.

Also, click on the following links if you would like read Part 1 or Part 2 of my time in the Galapagos.

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Travelblog SA#5: Galapagos Part 2 (Isabela Island)

20th-22nd June 2018

As we got onto the boat we were handed two things; a life jacket and sickbag. It was an indication of what was to come, for it was a rather rocky journey. The sea was rough and the people at the back of the boat kept getting splashed, but mostly they just laughed about it.

At one point a man went to use the toilet, and they had to slow the vessel down. Perhaps it was just sheer luck, but it was at that exact moment we ran into a school of dolphins and everyone got up to watch as clusters of them broke from the surface and did flips, almost as if it was their way of saying ‘hello’.

It was ironic because I have, in the past, gone out on boat expeditions with the specific intension of seeing dolphins and been unsuccessful, and here it suddenly happened by accident.

As the boat pulled into Isabela Island, we were greeted by a group of sea lions who swam around us, coming up for air a mere few feet away. I got off, found a place to stay, and then wandered around the town for a bit. I was offered a last minute deal for a tour to a place called ‘Los Túneles’ so, only a few minutes later, I was back on another boat.

On this journey we encountered even more creatures. This time; manta rays. And the boatmen slowed the vessel down each time we passed one so we could watch their dark fins creeping over the surface of the water. On a couple of occasions they swam face up and I could see the outline of their white bellies.

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Los Tunels is a series of strange rock formations by the coast of the island and, as one of the many protected zones of the Galapagos, it can only be reached by sea. As well as being an interesting landscape in itself, it is also home to an abundance of wildlife. The first stand-out species we spotted were a group of Galapagos penguins.

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And we were also taken on a walk, where we came across some blue-footed boobies. We got to watch the male make his mating display to the female. A video of which can be seen here.

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Later on, we also came across a blue-footed booby with a recently hatched chick.

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And then we were taken snorkelling, where we spotted sea horses, turtles, sharks, rays, and lots of tropical fish.

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Getting back onto the boat later that afternoon, I realised this was probably going to be one of the highlights of my time on the Galapagos.

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The following day, I went to explore more of the island by myself, and I saw lots of species of birds. The first were a group of flamingos in the lagoons just outside of the village.

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And I believe this is a young egret.

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I do not know what this bird is, so if anyone can tell me please let me know.

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A Lava heron.

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Towards the end of the trail I reached the Wall of Tears, a historic monument to abuse of power. It was constructed in 1946 by prisoners who were forced to build it under cruel conditions for no reason but the amusement of the men in charge, as it never served any function. The Ecuadorian Government felt it wrong to wipe out this shameful moment of their history, so they have kept it to serve as a reminder.

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On my final morning on Isabela Island, I went (for the second time) to Concha de Perla, a small bay near the port which is known for its snorkelling. Lots of tropical fish and the odd turtle can be found there, but on this second visit something special happened. A family of sea lions were there, and the father and child both got into the water and swam with me for a while. They were very playful and kept swimming right up close to my face and then twisting away to dive down to the ocean floor. I copied their movements as best as I could (by dunking downwards and spinning around in circles as I swam back up to the surface), and I also followed the young one for a while as he darted between schools of fish and caught the odd one in his mouth. I eventually lost them though because I spotted a huge sting ray sleeping in the shallows.

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As the boat sailed away from Isabela, later that afternoon, sea lions were swimming around us, blue-footed boobies were circling the air above, and pelicans were diving into the water to catch fish. It was almost like music, and it was quite the send off.

 

For more photos from the Galapagos, click here.

To read Part 1 of my time in the Galapagos, click here.

Travelblog SA#4: Galapagos Part 1 (Santa Cruz Island)

18th-19th June 2018

You don’t have to try very hard to encounter wildlife on the Galapagos, it finds you. That was something I learned very early during my time here. Even as I strolled out of the airport and onto the shuttle boat – towards the main island, Santa Cruz – I saw my first pelicans. Most of them were resting on the rocks, but I witnessed a couple of them circle the air above and then dive, head-first, into the water, and rise again with fish wriggling in their beaks.

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And then I got onto a bus which trawled across a strange, dry, and yet beautiful land of volcanic rocks, small trees and cactuses.

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The Galapagos Islands are unique in a number of ways. They were largely cut off from the rest of the world from the day they rose up from the oceans and the species which did manage to make it here found their selves in a dry and barren place. But, even though the landscape was harsh, they didn’t have much competition, so they diversified – often in very strange ways – to survive.

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And there are no predators. Which is why the wildlife here are so tame and even playful. Over thousands of years, fear of other creatures has been bred out of them.

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You soon get desensitised to the sight of sea lions and iguanas. They are everywhere, lazing on the beaches and piers, indifferent to the humans wandering around them.

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On my first day, I only had enough time to visit the Charles Darwin Research Station. It was a good place to begin, for it had lots of information about the island’s history and the numerous projects of its volunteers to help maintain and restore the archipelago’s huge diversity. Much of their efforts are spent raising the number of land tortoises. When I said the island lacks predators that were true until the invasion of humans who – until recent decades – used to eat them. The sea-farers and pirates, who were among the first humans to visit these lands, learned that the hardy creatures could be stored on their backs and live for up to a year without any food or water, making them an irresistible food source while out at sea.

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The Charles Darwin Research Station was also a great place to spot finches, and I spent much of my afternoon there wandering around with my camera, trying to get good snaps of them as they flew between the trees.

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I also got to see ‘Lonesome George’, the sole survivor of a subspecies which were wiped out when feral goats were introduced to the island of Pinta. In 1971, he was taken to the Charles Darwin Research Station and given a comfortable life for his remaining years. A few attempts were made to try and breed him with females of a similar species, but none of the eggs were viable. He died in 2012 and was estimated to be over 100 years old.

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Visitors are only allowed to see him in small groups at a time and are also made to acclimatise in cold rooms when they enter and exit so as to not let too much heat in to stop body decomposing.

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During my second day on Santa Cruz, I went to see the rest of the sights around Puerto Ayora. Beginning with the walk to Tortuga Beach, I got to see more of the Galapagos’ strange vegetation.

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I was one of the first to arrive at the shore and there were lots of iguanas. I also got to see a great heron up close.

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I then walked to the far side and reached a mangrove forest which was full of crabs, more iguanas and pelicans and, possibly the highlight of the day, a blue-footed booby. I think I was very lucky, as most people have to go out on tours to see these creatures.

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I also went snorkelling in the lagoon, which turned out to be a nursery for lots of young black-tip and white-tip sharks.

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Las Grietas was another highlight of Puerto Ayora. It is a small canyon formed by tunnels of lava and its brackish waters are fed from both underground rivers and the sea. There are lots of tropical fish.

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Tomorrow I am sailing to Isabela Island, where I am hoping to encounter even more wildlife from the Galapagos.

 

To read Part 2 of my time in the Galapagos, click here.click here.

For more photos, click here!