Ecuador Day 11 – Back On (not so) Dry Land

It was yet another 06:30 start so that people could get their luggage off the boat by 07:30 and the passengers off by 07:45. This was our final panga ride back shore and the start of the journey back to Quito. Once we’d all loaded our belongings onto the bus we set off for the ferry to Baltra. What is amazing is that you have to sail for 9 hours just to drive most if the way back.

Los Gemelos

On the way to the ferry we stopped off at a couple of sink holes called Los Gemelos. Whilst walking around we came across two species of butterfly, one of them was a Monarch. Around and inside the sink holes were many types of vegetation meaning it was the perfect place for the various types of finch (vegetarian, woodpecker, warbler) that could be found there.

The drive continued for about 15 minutes longer and we had finally reached the ferry. The fee was already paid for in the package but normally it would be 80 cents. On the otherwise we all loaded back onto another bus, this time one run by the airline and continued until we had reached the airport.

The airport itself seems chaos with so many people trying to fit in a small place – this along with the humidity made it a very warm place to be. The check-in was relatively quick though we couldn’t go through security straight away and had to wait 15 minutes. As their x-ray machine and metal detector were not in use they had a very quick manual check of our bags. Definitely very lax compared to other airports and not a patch on Heathrow.

The flight finally took off 20 minutes late and included a basic lunch. As I’m a bit of a fussy eater I left most of it. After 2 hours 45 minutes the flight landed – we were expecting it to be Guayaquil as it had stopped there on the way out. As it turned out it was actually Quito so we rushed to get off the plane. As it was a domestic flight it was nice and quick getting out the airport to meet the rep from the Andean Travel Company. Once we were on the bus we were told that due to the issues we had on the boat we’d be getting a free meal that night as an apology, and that she’d meet us there. It sounded fair enough to me and I wasn’t too angry at them anyway (unlike most).

Quito

Back at the Hotel Reina Isabel once more we dropped our bags off and went for a walk to see what was around. To start with we stopped by a pharmacy to see if we could get any cream for Andrew’s injured leg (he injured it on a rock the day before and got no help from the boat crew). After this we had a look in a bakery – I bought a chocolate doughnut and a very large cinnamon whirl for a little over US$2.00 which I thought was an amazing price. We then briefly returned to the hotel so that Andrew could apply some cream to his knee whilst we ate chocolate doughnuts.

Heading back out we looked to see what we could find in terms of souvenir shops. The one we found had many hand carved pieces including chess sets. I bought a mask made from stone for US$25. Returning to the room again it was nice to have a proper shower instead of the cold, sometimes non-functioning showers on the boat. It was also a chance to shift things between our suitcases and backpacks as we couldn’t take suitcases to Bellavista.

As it got to 18:45 we headed down due to that being our allotted pickup time for the meal. Fifteen minutes later we were picked up and taken to a restaurant that charged US$25 a head – quite a cheap apology for ATC. Sadly it turned out the drinks were not included and I paid US$10 despite only having a Fanta. By the time we’d gotten back and sorted out it was almost 23:00.

Ecuador Day 10 – Santiago and Bartolome

Breakfast was again at 07:00, as a navigation was planned for 07:30 to 11:00; though as it turned out the engines started up and we started to move at around 06:20.

After breakfast we decided to kill some time by packing our suitcases ready – we were unsure how much time we’d have in the evening so it seemed like a good idea. Not everything could be easily packed though due to some stuff being needed throughout the day.

Isla Santiago: Landscape of lava and desert

Our first excursion was 30 minutes earlier than planned so didn’t get much time to prepare. The first stop was Santiago which has a massive area of lava formations. It is a mostly barren landscape with ash and volcanic rock, with the only vegetation being a lone cactus and some scorpion weed.

Afterwards we headed back to the beach to swim and snorkel around Sullivan Bay. The water was amazingly clear and it was a great place for snorkelling and free-diving. Underwater we saw many species of fish and even saw Galapagos Penguins (basically a smaller version of the Humboldt penguin) and a sea lion swimming underwater. After what must have been about 30 minutes the rubbing of my fins against my sunburned feet was too much, but not long after everyone else decided to finish too.

Galápagos Penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus)

On the panga ride back we saw a young Galapagos penguin that was moulting it’s feathers on Bartolome island. On the boat we then saw a pair of pelicans and 3 Galapagos sharks circling the boat.

Isla Santiago

For the afternoon we headed over to Bartolome. To start with most people went to the beach but as I was already sunburned I opted to stay on the boat and read. Afterwards I joined then for a walk on Bartolome that was along a boardwalk with 370 steps. The best thing about it was how close you could get to Galapagos hawks. Apparently this area had also been used when filming Master and Commander.

Galapagos Hawk (Buteo galapagoensis)

To end the day we finished packing our suitcases ready for the following days flight back to Quito. It probably didn’t help that the boat by this time had started it’s 9 hour cruise back to Puerto Ayora. This made it particularly difficult to get things packed without them rolling across the cabin. That’s just part of the fun of being on a boat though!

Isla Bartolome at dusk

Ecuador Day 9 – Baltra

Santa Cruz: Bachas Beach

Following the previous days intended itinerary we had breakfast at 07:00. However we realised we hadn’t moved anywhere. Our guide came down late for breakfast with the bad news that the boats engine still wasn’t working – they had attempted to get the boat started last night but once again it had spewed smoke.

Getting a definite answer of what we’d be doing today or for the next couple of days was impossible – he said only the National Park and the company could decide that. Our only access to the company or the National Park though was the Captain who was eventually dragged downstairs to talk to us. Unfortunately he didn’t speak any English so all communication had to go through our guide. Even after that they didn’t give any satisfactory answer and it meant at least another day of tours would be missed or cut short.

At around 09:10 we were told a boat was on it’s way to pick us up and take us to Bachas beach in 35 minutes, but by 10:30 there was still no sign of it. By this time the mood on the boat was sinking fast with everyone standing around expecting a once in a lifetime tour but not seeing anything. One couple that had joined us shortly before hadn’t even had the chance to do any of their itinerary yet. Amazingly 10 minutes later the boat arrived, sadly it only had one engine and not two like the guide had expected, so instead of 35 minutes it took 1 hour.

Bachas beach is an amazing sandy beach with some of the softest sand I’ve come across. The heat from the sun was intense and after only a few minutes I was starting to burn again. After a short walk we got to some rusty metal protruding from the sand with a couple of oystercatchers wandering around them. Apparently the metal scraps were part of barges that were left there during World War 2. Due to the locals pronunciation of barges this is how the beach got named Bachas.

American Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber)

Just after this we saw a great sight – three flamingos drinking in a lagoon. Never having seen any before I took a sully number of photographs before we headed back to the beach. On the beach the water was amazingly clear and you could see little white fishes swimming up to the beach and escaping before the tide washed them ashore. After 30 minutes on the beach we then headed back to the speed boat that took us to our boat.

Black Turtle Cove – Mangroves

We were back on our boat after 14:00 for a late lunch and after about 30 minutes was back on the other boat on another 1 hour journey. This time the boat was taking us very near to Bachas beach to a place called Black Turtle Cove. The cove is an area we had to switch to the pangas for due to it being densely filled with mangroves. Within minutes of arriving we spotted baby sharks, a spotted eagle ray and a pelican.

Galápagos green turtle (Chelonia mydas agassisi)

Slowly we moved around the mangroves and for some if it we had to switch to using oars. Eventually though we saw several turtles swimming around and surfacing for air. In this area we also saw another spotted eagle ray and a golden ray. Moving around for a while we did see some more turtles before heading back as the sun set. Just before leaving the mangroves the 3 flamingos we’d seen earlier flew overhead to go to either another island or a different part of Baltra.

Black Turtle Cove Sunset

By the time we were back on the Galapagos Voyager it was dark. For our evening meal we actually had a nice gammon steak with pineapple sauce. Afterwards we were told that they’d almost finished repairing the engine and that we’d be visiting the volcanic island of Bartolome in the morning.

Ecuador Day 8 – Disaster Aboard the Poseidon

At last our day of scuba diving had come. Over night the engines had cut out at 03:00 and by the time we got up for breakfast the boat was being toed by the two pangas with the hope that the National Park would allow an excursion on North Seymour instead of Santa Cruz. At a speed of 1mph they were hoping to reach the island within an hour though as torrential rain started to fall it was not looking good. The crew had started siphoning fuel from the boat to use in the pangas, so it would only be a question of what gave out first – the waves pushing the boat back or the fuel in the pangas.

At about 09:30 we left the crippled boat behind and boarded a panga that took us over to the diving boat and got kitted up quite quickly. Due to the speed they were helping us at we never really had chance to do proper buddy or buoyancy checks. One of the more worrying things at this point is when my oxygen tank made a loud noise and started spewing air – this actually deafened me for a few seconds.

Panamic Cushion Sea Star (Pentaceraster cumingi)

The first dive lasted about 30 minutes and during it we saw a load if manta rays, eagle rays, and White-tipped sharks amongst many less exciting species such as octopuses. Towards the end of the dive James had about run out of air despite him telling the guide he had 50 bar left. At this point he switched to the dive master’s octopus and started to ascend to the safety stop. As my air was getting low too I ascended with them, and during the 3 minute stop was constantly looking at my air due to it getting closer and closer to 0. Fortunately just as I was about to run out the safety stop was over and I broke the surface with just enough air to put a bit in my BCD to stay afloat. It was nice to have reached my deepest depth yet though – 17.9 metres. This was despite the fact we were told it was a 15 metre shelf.

Whilst waiting for the other divers to come up I started to feel very seasick and vomited several times. Not the best of feelings after a dive – but before that it had been an okay dive. I didn’t bother eating after the dive due to feeling unwell, but after a quick snorkel I decided I was feeling better – at least enough to try diving again.

Razor Surgeonfish (Prionurus laticlavius)

For the second dive we moved location and had about 300 bars to start with. I wasn’t feeling great but diving is supposed to help with seasickness. Unfortunately I felt quite low on energy due to having not had lunch and also had a dry mouth making it hard to equalise properly. On this dive we saw many White-tipped sharks including one that passed about 30cm behind me. By the time we saw a rather large snake and an octopus I was getting quite tired; partly due to the strong current we were swimming against.

The combination of tiredness and having to work harder used our oxygen up quicker than normal and after about 25 minutes James had to use the guides octopus again. Instead if starting ascending immediately as is common practice the guide led James round for a bit pointing out more sea life; in which time my own air had dropped to 50 bars so started to ascend with them. After about a minute safety stop the guides air ran out also so had to cut the safety stop short and make for the surface. On the surface due to lack of air in his own tank the guide had to manually inflate his BCD to stay afloat. If he hadn’t have messed around underwater and had instead started to ascend as is normally recommended we could have had a proper safety stop. I think had me and James been on our own it would have gone a lot smoother.

Once everyone else had returned to the dive boat it took the two of us back to the Gran Poseidon (the registered name for the Galapagos Voyager). It took 3 or 4 attempts to line the front of the boat up with the back of our boat and then had to walk round the bow to jump over onto our boat. During the second dive I hadn’t been able to use my underwater camera, back in our boat I found out why – the housing had leaked.

Upon returning to our boat we found the pangas had gone to get supplies whilst everyone waited on board. In the morning they had gone over to North Seymour instead of Bachas beach and in this time they had still not managed to fix the boats engine. A while later a few people went on an unscheduled snorkel just as something to do, but the other passengers patience was starting to wear thin. I didn’t go on the snorkel due to being too tired from diving, but when we were told we’d be spending the next hour on a sandy beach with nothing but female sea lions I decided to pass. We’d already wasted the previous day doing nothing interesting and visiting beaches, I didn’t really feel like getting burnt and bitten on another beach – I prefer to have something to do.

That evening we were told they’d got a part for the boat that would be fitted by 01:00 the next day and that we’d be continuing to Bachas beach in the morning. This meant we’d be missing Genovesa.

Ecuador Day 7 – San Cristobal

Magnificent Frigatebirds on Leon Dormidos

It was an earlier start than we were used to – up at 06:00 to watch Frigate birds nesting on Leon Dormido – a sheer-walled array of rock. After breakfast we then continued on until we reached San Cristobal; the other island with an airport.

“Leon Dormido” Rock formation

One dry landing later we took a bus to the interpretation centre to have a look around. Though personally I don’t think it was worth the effort – most of the information can be found online anyway (and without grammatical errors). Once we were done there we were driven back into town to do some shopping; I bought a hat for US$15 and a keying for $5.

Isla San Cristobel: Interpretation Centre

We had to wander around for a while due to the pangas being late to pick us up. During this excursion we dropped off an American couple but gained a British couple as we were heading back. Lunch consisted of a nice cordon blue chicken and a very tasty cake for dessert.

At 14:30 we headed back to the same island and took a bus to a beach full of shells. After over an hour of this we were then given another hour in town. If I’d known this was the plan for the afternoon I’d have spent it reading on the boat. On our return the meal was beef, pasta and carrots followed by a kind of chocolate moose. As we were told the boat would be navigating from 23:30 against currents until 06:30 another early night was required.

Ecuador Day 6 – Espanola

The boat had been moving for most of the night which meant more sleep deprivation. Again breakfast was at 07:00, so no chance to catch up on sleep either!

Galapagos Albatross (Phoebastria irrorata), Española

The panga was a bit of a rough ride due to some high waves, but we made a dry landing onto some rocks. The landing area was quite sandy so again was filled with sea lions. The walk on this island was around 3Km in sweltering heat, and featured the usual wildlife with the addition of nesting albatrosses and a Galapagos hawk. About halfway we came across an area used by marine iguanas for nesting. Some were digging holes, whilst others watched; occasionally a fight broke out over territory as well. At the end of the walk is a blowhole where waves from the ocean blast up metres into the air. Afterwards it was then a u-turn heading back the way we came.

Blowhole

The boat then moved off around to another part of Espanola whilst we were eating lunch. At 14:30 it was time for another deep water snorkel. This time the water was incredibly clear with the visibility being over 10 metres. I didn’t see any fish I hadn’t seen before but it was pleasant to be in water so warm. An hour later we were back on the pangas to get back to the boat. Quickly getting ready we then headed back out to a beachy part of Espanola where we had a free hour to do whatever we wanted. We left as the sun set and we were greeted by peach juice and ham and cheese sandwiches.

Española: Beach

The evening meal was grilled pork with potatoes and rice. I skipped the desert which was a tree tomato – apparently they have a very sharp flavour and a lot of seeds. To end the evening we all went up onto the top deck to gaze at the stars. Being so far from built-up areas meant the conditions were perfect for astronomy.

Galápagos Marine Iguana

Ecuador Day 5 – Plaza Sur and Santa Fe

Sleep during the night didn’t work well due to the boat moving to the next island at around 03:00 and the waves being incredibly choppy. We were up at 06:00 for a small breakfast, got our stuff ready and headed over by panga to Plaza Sur at 08:00.

Isla Plaza Sur

Landing on Plaza Sur is easy due to the concrete jetty. Almost immediately we were greeted by sea lions, marine iguanas, land iguanas and swallowtail gulls. Walking along the marked path we saw many more but also saw other species such as lava lizards, herons, frigate birds, Galapagos terns, sheer-waters, Nazca boobies, a tropic bird, and many Sally light-foot crabs. It was a very warm walk with the sun beating down on us – the amount of insects trying to bite us didn’t help either. We stopped near sea lions on the coast for quite a while as we were told more about the local sea lions than I could take in. After a walk up to the cliffs the path started to loop back to where we started but passed by an area used by iguanas for nesting. During the walk there was a period of about 10 minutes that it rained, but it wasn’t that heavy.

Galapagos Land Iguana (Conolophus subcristatus)

Back on the boat at 10:30, a snack was there waiting for us and shortly after the boat got moving again. Not long after the movement started James started to feel seasick and headed back to the cabin. He did attempt to come down for lunch at 12:00 but couldn’t face it so disappeared again.

Swallow-tailed Gull (Creagrus furcatus)

After lunch we tried on some fins ready for snorkelling and at around 13:45 we had anchored near Santa Fe. For the past few hours the rain had been heavy, but by the time I went snorkelling at 14:30 the rain had stopped and the sea had calmed. The snorkelling was great as I saw many different species of fish and even saw some blue-footed boobies on the nearby rocks.

Blue-footed Boobies (Sula nebouxii)

After about an hour we headed back to the boat by panga and quickly got ready for another excursion, this time to Isla Santa Fe. This landing involved wading through the water onto a sandy beach full of sea lions. Unfortunately I had left my camcorder behind on the boat so couldn’t capture any video of the sea lions sun bathing and being playful.

Wandering around the island we didn’t see anything we hadn’t already seen. It was quite a muddy island but didn’t rain whilst we were there. A couple of people did spot a snake but it was gone before I got there. We then travelled back by panga as the sun set behind us.

The evening meal consisted mainly of potatoes, chicken, and some vegetables I didn’t like. After the previous sleepless night I went back to the cabin just after 20:00 to try and get some sleep.

Galápagos Sea Lion (Zalophus wollebaeki)

Ecuador Day 4 – The Galapagos Islands

We arrived at breakfast 10 minutes before it was due to start, but they were late starting. This meant we had to eat breakfast quick due to a 7:00 pickup to get to the airport. For once the bus was late leaving even though it had gotten to us on time. Fortunately it only took 10 minutes to get to the airport where a representative from the Galapagos Voyager helped us check-in and gave us a card to fill in for our arrival on the island.

Clearing security was quite quick but they had to scan by my pack twice – probably due to the amount of camera equipment in it. The flight back to Guayaquil was short, but it took an hour to unload most the passengers, refill and take on more passengers.

At around 11:00 Galapagos time we landed on Baltra. The immigration control was fairly quick but it took around 30mins to get through baggage claims. For a few minutes it did worry me as I couldn’t find my bag straight away. We then met up with Byron who was our tour guide for the Galapagos Voyager. The suitcases were loaded onto a truck which went on ahead as we got onto a coach that took us to a channel where we boarded a ferry to cross a channel to Isla Baltra.

Isla Santa Cruz

Upon disembarking we found many different types of crab scurrying along the rocks and a Galapagos Pelican sitting on a roof. We then joined our luggage on a different coach and started our journey across the island.

Our first sighting of a giant tortoise was one sitting in the road. Around this time there was also an incredibly strong downpour more or less timed with our guide talking about rain on the islands. At the time when we found the tortoise we were going through private land not part of the National Park due to or having been settled on before the island became protected.

Galapagos Giant Tortoise

At the end of the private dirt track (apparently this used to pass as a road) was a place where you could observe giant tortoises in the wild. Before walking out into the grassland we put on some wellingtons due to the amount of mud along the path. Almost immediately we found a young tortoise, and there was a lot of birds and butterflies about. Just after walking through a very muddy patch we got our closest encounter with a giant tortoise. It didn’t move much but we did see it eating. After looking at it for a few minutes the heavens opened up and started to rain heavily. Instead of heading for shelter we carried on the tour. At this point I had to protect my camera and lens by hunching over due to the annoyance that I did not yet have access to the waterproofs in my suitcase.

We then found another tortoise bathing in a muddy puddle with rain falling all around it. By this time the rain was coming down so hard I couldn’t keep my camera or my big lens dry. Once we reached shelter we took a look at some tortoise shells, and it was a good opportunity to switch to my smaller lens so that the other could be protected. We then changed out of the boots and had a quick look around the souvenir shop.

Gran Poseidon: The Galapagos Voyager

Leaving the giant tortoises behind us we then headed for Puerto Ayora where the Galapagos Voyager was anchored. In small groups we transferred to the yacht by panga whilst our luggage was loaded onto another. On board the ship we were assigned our cabins and moved our luggage into them. At this time we also got to hire a “shortie” wetsuit for $25 – although we had already hired one for diving it was worthwhile for the numerous snorkelling sessions we’d get.

Lunch on the boat consisted of garlic bread and a vegetarian spaghetti bolognese. The group then loaded into two pangas and headed back to shore. As we no longer had any ground transportation our guide flagged down 3 taxis and sent us off in them to the Darwin Research Centre (which is now a breeding centre not associated with Darwin).

Land Iguana (Conolophus subcristatus)

Once we got off the taxi it was still a 1Km walk to our destination. Along the way we kept an eye out for wildlife and came across some marine iguanas bathing in the sun near a jetty. As the walk progressed we also came across yellow warblers, a Galapagos mocking bird, and stood under a poison apple tree which is good for giant tortoises digestive systems. Scurrying around over rocks we could also see numerous lava lizards – of which the females have red faces.

Inside the breeding centre we saw young giant tortoises of various ages, and then some fully grown ones. Sadly Lonesome George was not about so we didn’t get to see him. Moving on to the lizard enclosures we saw land iguanas.

Galápagos tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni)

By 17:30 the tour was done with a free hour before we needed to be back at the dock. To start with we went back to see if we could find Lonely George, but sadly we could not. Instead we started heading back to the waterfront and visited many shops along the way. I managed to find a nice looking t-shirt for $16, and a fridge magnet for $2.

Back on the boat we were briefed for the next day and had an evening meal which actually included vegetables such as carrots. After having shown off some photos I then headed back to my cabin to sleep.

Galapagos Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)