Here are a few more of our photos from Galapagos
Here are a few more of our photos from Galapagos
We arrived in Isabella after a pleasant crossing from Santa Cruz at four in the afternoon on Friday. We weave through the shallow reefs to an anchorage off the main and only town, Villamil. It’s a beautiful anchorage. The ocean swell crashes onto the beach on one side of the bay, we are tucked behind some small low rocks that protect the eastern side and in the distance are the rolling volcanic hills that cover the Island.
We are, as always in Galapagos, dependent on water taxis that, as we are to discover, are few and far between in Isabella but this evening we are lucky and one picks us up after ten minutes. Nothing can land through the waves near the beach in Villamil so we are dropped at a dock a fifteen minute walk from town. The path in is adorned with flags from around the world welcoming visitors and the road is of smart new paving stones. As we reach town however the roads turn to sand, there is hardly anybody around, it feels like we are walking onto the set of a Spaggetti Western, we expect a gun slinging cowboy to come around the corner at any moment. But of course the town is actually full of the same friendly people of Galapagos as we have met on the other islands and a mix of backpackers and middle aged adventurers.
There are plenty of small restaurants and bars and we sit down at one watching the sunset behind the hills looking out over one of the best beaches we have ever been on. A curve of soft white sand a mile so so long, interspersed with the typical jet black volcanic rocks of the Galapagos. Being on a great beach with the surf rolling in always lifts our spirits, we rather like it here.
You can’t explore much without being on tour, so we join a group for a snorkel around ‘las Tunnels’. Galapagos was formed by volcanic activity, in places as the molten rock cooled the outside formed a crust with the lava still running underneath, as the lava runs out this forms caverns and tunnels which over time have collapsed and eroded to create a unique landscape.
The sea has began to invade these areas and as everywhere here, forms a haven for wildlife. We are not good at tours we rebel at being herded and the visibility wasn’t brilliant but even we had to admit that this spot made for a gob-smacking snorkel. Where else in the world would you see a school of golden Rays glide serenely over a giant green turtle, a pelican posing with penguins, an eight inch tall sea horse nestling in the weeds, large marble rays and sleepy white tip sharks all in one place.
The Galapagos has produced so many brilliant photos, I will publish them in an extra post. We set out for Marquesas so will be at sea for about three weeks and the blog will be restricted to text. The AIS signal will no longer reach land after about fifty miles but you can watch our progress at http://my.yb.tl/sailrayatracking/.
Being onboard seems to have inspired our friends to become film directors. Here is the link to the video Stephen produced of our journey from Panama to the Galapagos, writing the accompanying music as we went along.
Again the password is Raya
Thursday 10th March
At the risk of repeating myself, the Galapagos is amazing. As we sat down to lunch at the waters edge, little did we know that we were sitting down to a full on wildlife show. Casually swimming past we saw a 4ft Ray, three turtles, a marine iguana and numerous sea lions, one of which jumped, out of the sea into the hotel pool and then onto a sun lounger.
This however was just the side show, the main event was produced by the incredible birds. The sky was full off hundreds of them – black lava gulls, sleek shearwaters, circling frigate birds, comical pelicans and the stars of the show, synchronised diving blue footed boobies. A group of three or four boobies continually flew a circuit of the bay before right in front of us, at great speed, diving straight down into the sea, popping back up, gullets full, all in exact formation. We hardly knew where to look next, agog at the spectacle. When you did turn away to enjoy your food, you were quickly distracted by the squeal of delight from your fellow dinners or the large splash as a pelican hit the water, just a metre from us.
The Galapagos lies at the meeting of two Pacific currents, the cold Humboldt current and the warm equatorial current, the mixing of the two brings huge amounts of plankton, that in turn attracks the wildlife. The day before we had joined a two tank dive boat for a trip to Seymor Island. We entered the water and right there were a vast shoal of large fish, uncommonly, of many varieties swimming together. The visibility is never brilliant here but it was clear enough to see below us and eventually swimming amongst us numerous six foot long white tipped reef shark, three or four times we saw the bizarre silhouette of groups of hammerhead sharks and a couple of elegant blue spotted eagle rays. The highlight of each dive however were the huge manta rays, some four metres accross, that glided gracefully above our heads.
In contrast the day before we had followed a trail through a cactus forest, in the Galapagos the cactus have evolved to grow tall on a tree like trunks, to avoid being chewed by the iguanas and tortoises on the ground. Driving through the highlands if you don’t look too carefully the scenery often looks almost like the English countryside, but down in the arid zone by the coast we have been no where else even similar.
It is difficult to explain quite how abundant the wildlife is here, just sitting in the cockpit I am surrounded by fishing birds, the continual splashing of jumping fish presumably being chased by something bigger. A turtle frequently pops his head up to say hello and the occasional sealion still attempts to defeat the fender defences on the swim deck. Walking through the charming, friendly town the people share thier public spaces quite happily with the animals. At the small fish market there were more animals than people, Pelicans quietly waiting with a couple of sea lions for their turn to be thrown the guts of the next fish.
Ian has arrived to sail the long leg to Marquesas, but first we have a few more days in the Galapagos we sail to the third island of our stay here, Isabella.
We stood on the deck and waved goodbye to the thirty two yachts on the World ARC leaving for the Marquesas Islands, with mixed emotions. The previous morning we had left San Cristabal for the second island on our visit to the Galapagos, Santa Cruz, in the hope that we would catch the rally just before they left. We were keen to see our friends on the Oyster 56, Into The Blue, we had met early on in our mutual ‘around the world’ planning phases, had crossed the Atlantic with them but as they were part of the World Rally we hadn’t seen each other since St Lucia. We had a great evening together discussing our experiences in Panama, looking forward to the trips ahead and discussing the pros and cons of life afloat. The time together with our friends and other participants reminded us of the support and camaraderie that travelling in a rally brings, we had considered joining the World ARC at the beginning of our travels but they whiz around the world in just sixteen months, we plan to wander around much more slowly.
We had had a nice few days in San Cristabal. The small town of Baquerizo Moreno made up for its lack of sophistication by its incredible friendliness and the National Park have done a good job of providing well marked paths for us to discover. These meandered through the cacti, palo santo trees and lava fields to beaches and cliffs where you could see the plentiful wildlife. The paths were challenging enough to give you the pretence of an intrepid explorer but without requiring too much effort in the tropical heat or distracting you from the surrounding views. The preservation of the flora and wildlife is admirably the top priority of the people here and they work hard to look after thier unique environment.
The platform where he stands gives fantastic views of the north coast and the thousands of birds that nest in the cliffs. We saw frigate birds, gulls and to our great excitement a blue footed booby. We met bobbies sailing between Grenada and Bonaire, they are incredible divers that plunge straight down into the sea to catch their prey. In the Galapagos there are three varieties one of which that has vivid blue feet. Their mating ritual involves them proudly raising these bright feet as high as possible and much like the tortoises yesterday showing off their long necks, the highest foot attracts the most females. The girls here obviously have a thing for lofty achievers.
Over the next few days we shall be exploring Santa Cruz, however our tourist hats must be mixed with our working hats as we begin preparations to follow our friends across the 3000 miles of Pacific Ocean to Marquesas.
The novelty of the sea lions on the swim deck wore off abruptly when in the middle of the night I popped my head up to check all was good with our anchor, only to discover a huge male lounging in the cockpit on our cushions. That he had managed to get up the back and on to the deck was a bit of a shock but we were to discover they are a lot more acrobatic than we thought. He was very reluctant to give up his comfy spot but he eventually moved back to the stern when I shoo him away. However he refused to retreat down to the swim deck, as I walked towards him he leapt towards me, barking and baring his teeth. I jumped back with a scream, grabbed the boat hook and a faux battle commenced, eventually after a few threatening stabs towards him I finally persuaded him to back down. I blocked the gate as best I could with buckets and tied lines across between the stantions. The most disconcerting thing was not my ten minute fight on the aft deck but the fact that none of my fellow crew members so much as turned over in their beds! I returned to nightmares of one falling through the hatch on top of us while we slept. What we ask ourselves would you do with 100kgs of angry sea lion below decks?
Rick tried tying a criss-cross of ropes across the swim deck but they just wiggled between it all until they found a comfy spot to sleep and then complained noisily when they had to untangle themselves to get back into the water. So then he tried hanging all seven of our large fenders off the stern but they just push them aside and slide underneath enjoying the shade they provided. However it does seem to prevent them getting up on deck, so we have come to an uneasy truce.
In search of less awkward wildlife we took a tour to the highlands. Here there is a fresh water lake in the caldera of an old volcano, El Junco lake. There is rumoured to be lots of wading bird life and extrodinary views across the island, unfortunately for us, we climbed up into the clouds and could see nothing more than a round body of water. We descended back down to our taxi and continued on to the Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre, La Galapaguera. These lumbering beasts are truly gigantic, many of them sixty or seventy years old. Each island has its own indigenous sub-species, all of which became endangered and some species extinct after years of providing fresh meat for passing ships and latterly by the introduction of goats that ravaged their food source. Most of the goats have now been irradicated and the breeding centres are making good progress at re-establishing sustainable populations. We spent a fascinating hour or two watching them wander about there large park. We found a large group at a feeding station, two of which were competing for the attention of a smaller female. To show you are top dog each tortoise stretches his neck as high as possible, the highest stretch wins the girl.
To finish the morning we stopped for a cooling swim at a beautiful cove, the waves crashed against the rocks and for a moment we almost could have been in Cornwall. Reality soon hit as a seal lion emerged through the waves and called for her pup, that emerged from the rocks and excitedly waddled towards her, the rocks themselves appeared almost alive as they heaved with a thousand small black crabs and then we realised some were actually alive they were small marine Iguanas.
As we sailed and grew more confident in the boats surprisingly high speeds in the light winds, we turned slightly further into the wind and pushed forward on a straight course to the Galapagos . It felt like the boat was gliding effortlessly over the increasingly calm water. We had a strong current helping us along and as the breeze dropped further we marvelled at our continued rapid progress.
Finally, Wednesday afternoon and about 120 miles out, the wind dropped so low sailing was impossible and we started the engine. The sea became glassy smooth, the humidity increased and an erie mist hung in the air. At just after nine in the evening we approached the equator. We had suspended the watch system so we could all enjoy the moment and share a bottle of champagne. Tradition requires when you cross the equator for the first time that you make a donation to Neptune, so we filled five glasses, one for each of us and one for the ocean. The conditions were so peculiar we switched off the engine and moved to the back of the boat to fully witness our introduction to the South Pacific. Ghostly shapes of birds flew around us, the full moon shone through the dense mist casting a silvery sheen, the water, seemingly viscous, undulated slowly under us and the warm humid air enveloped us in a damp hug, none of us had experienced anything like it.
Slowly the morning sun burnt off the haze and the Islands of Galapagos came into view.
By ten we were making our way into the anchorage in Wreck Bay, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on the southwest tip of San Cristabal Island and the first stop of our visit here. Access by yachts is very restricted we have a pass to visit three of the islands but are limited to the one designated anchorage on each island.
Our agent hadn’t replied to my latest emails and we had no clue how to proceed with all the processes we knew we had to get through before we could go ashore. We flew the yellow quarantine flag, a hang over from the days when all crew had to be past fit to go ashore and is these days flown to indicate that we have yet to check in with customs and immigration. We needn’t have worried within minutes of dropping our anchor and while still drinking our ‘got here’ beer, the agents island representative was onboard sorting things out for us. We were informed the authorities would arrive at four that afternoon until then we must stay on the boat.
We were allowed to have a swim however, so feeling hot in the humidity we dived in. One of the attractions of these islands is, with no predators, how unafraid the large animals are here and soon after getting in we were swimming with sea lions. In fact one immediately laid claim to our swim deck barking at us as we approached the swim ladder and getting out of the water became rather precarious. It seems to have become the favourite spot of the bay, with battles occurring to secure a place on the warm teak. It is amazing to watch them, despite their rather grumpy nature, but they are very noisy, constantly barking at each other to maintain their place and loudly snoring in their sleep.
On the dot of four a water taxi approached carrying six officials, one a diver who went into the water to check our hull, everyone else crowded into the cockpit and an orgy of form filling took over the boat. There was one person from immigration, one from customs, an official from the Nation Parks Organisation, the Port Captain and one from environmental control who walked around below searching for unwanted foreign species. Luckily all was past fit except for one rather mouldy looking orange that was, with a suitable amount of tutting, carefully bagged and taken away. Passports and forms were ceremoniously stamped and then it was hand shakes all round and we were free to enter Galapagos. It may have been a bit over the top but it certainly beat trudging into town and waiting around hot, bleak custom offices to be grunted at by glum bureaucrats. Galapagos gets the thumbs up so far.