Travel report 15. A special edition, Galapagos!
This report is again different than you´re used to get from me, because this one only describes about my travel experiences of 8 days, starting at the 23e of Feb.
But those 8 days I spend on one of the most special places in the world, The Galapagos Islands.
The Galapagos Islands, official accidentally discovered in 1535 by a Panamanian bishop. One of the first things that attracted his gaze were the very big land-turtles, tortoises which most were carrying a very big shell, with the shape of a saddle. Because of that he gave them the name Galapago(s) and that´s how the Galapagos first got their name.
After their discovery, the Galapagos were mostly used as a base by a succession of buccaneers, pirates, sealers and whalers, who gave most of them, their mostly English, names.
They stayed relatively unknown until the Englishman Charles Darwin in 1835 came to the islands and made notes about their wildlife. The story goes that these notes provided important information for his theory of evolution, which he published in 1859. But there´s also a second story that says that Darwin got the idea for his theory from reading the letters of another Englishman named Wallace. Wallace was doing fieldwork in Asia and send
notes with his results and ideas to Darwin...
I don´t know how much those letters contributed to the developing of Darwins theory, so for now I shall only give you a short explanation of the official story:
When Darwin came to the islands he saw on the different islands different kinds of Finches (small birds), 13 in total, which were that much changed that they´d become new species. They´re endemic to the Galapagos and because the islands are 1000km separated from the main land and free of the influences of this mainland, Darwin started to think of a solution.
He came with the idea that all those 13 different species a very long time ago should have started as only one species. However during every generation of species there will be born a few species which are genetically a little different, mutations. Some of those mutations got bigger legs, bigger wings, or a different beak. If these Finches fly and nestle on the different islands, with different vegetation and live conditions, some of the mutations with bigger legs or a different beak, will have better changes to survive than the original species. For example, on some of the islands it will be easier to get food when you´ve a beak that´s more sharp to cut it open. The mutations with beak that´s more sharp will live longer and have more time to expand their own new offspring with a more sharp beak. If this process continuous a few generations it will, in the end create a total new species.
This is a short definition of Darwins Theory, with thanks to an American traveller. Now I will go on with my own experiences about and on these islands.
First some general things I found out and think about the Galapagos Islands myself:
Too start with, what I think is one of the best experiences of the Galapagos; that it all animals seem to be fearless of human beings and sometimes even curious to meet us, amazing! I will get back to this later on in my story.
I was also surprised that the Galapagos park and most of its island are much bigger than I thought. This makes it even a bigger challenge to preserve it the way it is and I´ve to admit that the do a very good job. It seems to me that everything on these islands is very well organized, as well to protect the islands in any way they can, as also to educate and work together with the locals to let them understand how important their islands are. Doing al this they organisations who protect the islands even manage to give the tourists who
visit the islands, their time of their live!?
The only people that seem to be unhappy are the fishermen of the islands. Part of it is their own fold, some ways of fishing just don´t fit in the Galapagos, but they also have to follow many roles, with sometimes to less compensation.
All right, this were some of my thoughts about the Galapagos, I will now continue with my own story. To keep it short(er) I will only tell you about my highlights on the moments I experienced them. So reading this report you can keep in mind that on some of the islands there´s more to see and to do than I write about.
Day one, the arrival.
I start my trip with the arrival by plane on Baltra Island and the transportation to "our" boat. It´s a 16m tall glassfiber sailing boat, called Merak, with a crew of 4 persons, a captain, a sailor, a guide (always necessary and after we discovered later, a very good cook. I was also lucky to share this boat with average only 5 other nice travellers, which can really make a big difference in how you experience a tour like this, thanks to them.
Our first visit this afternoon is to Las Bachas Beach on the Island of Santa Cruz. Soon after we arrived we saw already some black Marine iguanas, endemic to the Galapagos and the only iguanas who can eat under water. We also saw some nice looking red/orange crabs, our first curious looking sea lion, several (sea) birds of which some are also endemic to the Galapagos (like the Darwin Finches) and even a Greater Flamingo. I also learned this
afternoon why the flamingos look pink; They´re born white, but while they´re eating their food from the mud during their live they get also a lot of red minerals from the soil into their body. So the older they become, the more pink they will get.
Just before we leave there arrive more boats with maybe 50 other tourists. This spoiled our fun a little, but that´s not very fair spoken, because we´re tourists to.....
Day 2, a great day!
Our first landing today is with a small boat on South Plaza, a rocky dry island with some strange cactus trees growing on it and on the other side a small cliff from where we could see many seabirds from a close distance. The main inhabitants of this island however are the endemic land iguanas, which spend most of their day lying under the cactus trees. They´re waiting until it drops some of it thick leafs, so the iguana can start eating them. Only we saw one iguana who was a little more smarter and handier than the others and had found a way to climb into a cactus tree. So he didn´t had to wait and could even eat more fresh leafs. if his capability to climb is a genetically gift, perhaps this iguana can be the first of a new species...?
Back on the boat we see and swim a little with our first shark (a grey one of about 2m), before we leave to Santa Fe Island. Whow, the bay of Santa Fe is really beautiful! It´s filled with crystal blue water and is surrounded by black rocks, very white beaches and some green vegetation. To snorkel here was even more amazing! Not because of the coral, there hardly was any, or because of the beautiful fishes, incl. even some big rays, no, it was amazing that we could swim along with sea lions and even some big sea turtles!
When we went to the beach, after snorkelling, the big sea lion colony, which was lying there, didn´t care anything about our presence. We could just walk, sit and even lie between them and then sometimes one of the pups would just come close to us to sniff and look curious to those new visitors, very sweet :-)
Day 3, arrival at Espanola Island.
In the morning we went first to the beach of Gardner Bay were we saw for the first time some lava-lizards and red/black Marine iguanas. After this we went to snorkel a little bit, but I found it not very special.
In the afternoon we went to a cliff on the other side of the island, Punta Suarez. Here we saw more and more beautiful red and black/green coloured Marine iguanas. We were even lucky to see some Nasca Booby´s (seabirds) with chicks and from very close a brown Galapagos hawk. A dangerous combination I think...
Day 4, Floreane Island.
We woke up at Post Office Bay were we could have send a postcard from the oldest mailbox of Ecuador, if the guide had told us that we had to bring our own postcards. The idea of this mailbox was/is that everyone can leave their card in here and whenever people leave the island they can take out some cards which are addressed to someone who ´s living close to his or her destination ,so they can deliver it personally.
Later we visited a shallow muddy lake were a small colony of pink and even a few young, white flamingos were eating.
After snorkelling in the nice water of Devils Crown we sailed, unfortunately mostly with the engine, to the touristic capital (village) of the Galapagos Islands, PTO. Ayora on Santa Cruz. This turns out to be a big and (touristic) friendly village.
Day 5, Santa Cruz Island.
Because the fishermen, who were striking against a new law, had blocked the entrance to the Charles Darwin Research Station, we couldn´t visit that one. Instead we went on our own to the very nice white and soft beach of Tortuga Bay, to relax a little and enjoy the waves.
At 2:30pm we went with a pickup to the highlands of Santa Cruz. My greatest experience here is to see a few very big land turtles, tortoises. Some of them look almost like small dinosaurs and can weight more than 250kg! Unfortunately we didn´t saw the ones with a saddle shell.
Day 6, penguins!
This morning we wake up in front of the coast of Rabida Island. This island has a different beach of red volcanic sand and behind the hill it offers a nice view on a rocky brown, red and black desert landscape, with the green of the cactuses, but also the azul blue colour of the sea.
The snorkelling around here I found beautiful again. There´s more coral, of course a lot of colourful small and bigger fishes, but also some very sharp red, yellow and even blue sea stars. Again we saw a nice grey shark with a white point on the top of its fin, but the most beautiful animal we saw was a small blue with white, dotted octopus!
After this we "sail" to a natural canal between the islands of Santiago and Sombrero Chine. On the coast of Santiago I saw my first penguins! The Galapagos Penguins, which are the second smallest penguins in the world and we went snorkelling around them! They were sometimes even more curious of us than the sea lions and it was funny and interesting to see them swimming :-)
Something else I should not forget to mention is that we saw on this trip also 4 baby sharks under a rock and guarded by their mother.
Day 7, Volcanic landscape.
This day we start with a landing on Sullivans bay, between Santiago and Bartolome Island. This bay is made of relative young lave of not much more than 100 years old. Everything looks still very black, broken and sharp, but on some places you could already spot the first vegetation that starts to grown, lava cactuses. This visit gives a good example about the existence of the Galapagos Islands.
If we walk later that morning up the hill of Bortolome we have a great view of the volcanic landscape, of different ages with different colours of erosion. During snorkelling from the beach here we see again some penguins, but also a very big Ray.
3 And a half hour later we land in frond of North Seymour to snorkel. But the water is a little wild and not clear enough. However above the water I see two very small and young see lions and we also see for the first time a male Fregate Bird with its big red throat sack full of air.
Day 8, final day :-(
Today we get up at 5:30 to bring at 6:15am a last visit to North Seymour Island. This time we go on land to see the funny looking Blue Footer Booby´s (seabirds with blue feet), doing their meetings-dance. Very funny to see, they´re look almost like clowns 8that´s how they got their name). Now we also see more male Fregate Birds with their red sack full of air to impress the females. i only think that they´re a little to late, because we´re lucky
to see already some chicks of the Fregate birds...
Than it´s unfortunately time to say good bay to our boat, its nice crew and al of the Galapagos, to fly back to Quito :-(
Monday evening 1 March:
So what´s now my total impression about the Galapagos, after being there for 8 days? It´s beautiful and will be difficult to describe. I was happy that after all it was less touristic than I thought, and I hopes it stays that way, but I also want to advise everyone to visit at least once in your live the Galapagos Islands to get the same experience I had. So perhaps one of the best descriptions I can give about the Galapagos is one I heard this week from another traveller: "The Galapagos is almost as close to paradise as you can get." The only problem with paradises always seem to keep it a paradise, let´s hope this one will survive....