All The Gear, All The Time!

Herbal Essence Head Flick @ San Cristobal Island, Galapagos

Day 6- Santa Cruz to San Cristobal

The remaining four of us took a very early ferry back to Santa Cruz, no one was sick but it was pretty rough. We managed to change another ferry, buy some more ferry tickets, book a hotel for when we got back to Santa Cruz and book in a dive for after our cruise. Everything was so booked out and we were booking two weeks in advance.

We left Ad and Rach to get themselves settled back at Hostal Carliza II and we would see them in San Cristóbal in a few days. We wandered past the fish market again where the sea lions were like dogs, patiently waiting next to the ladies chopping up fish and getting skin and scrap meat fed to them. They were so gentle and patient. There were also pelicans and Frigate birds hanging around for scraps.

We got the 2pm ferry across to San Cristobal and saw a big pod of dolphins about half way through the journey. Even the travel days in Galapagos are amazing!

Other than being very accommodating, the people in the Galapagos are so relaxed and never in any rush. It’s no wonder really, what a place to live!

Have You Been Lion To Me?! @ San Cristobal Marina, Galapagos

We found our Air BnB in San Cristobal which was fantastic, only $17/night (literally the cheapest thing we had managed to find on the entire Galapagos) and it was so nice. We were almost in our own apartment at the back of this big house. There were three levels with a forth one being built. We had a big kitchen shared with another room that was soon to be empty so we had the whole place to ourselves. That is of course with the exception of Pixie the six month old Dachshund who we fell in love with. Every morning she would run into our room and jump on our bed, wiggle her way under one of us and lay on her back so we would scratch her belly. Very clever dog.

That afternoon we did a bit of a sweep of the tour agencies and dive shops to organise our next few days. We booked our first dive to Kicker Rock with Wreck Bay Diving, got fitted for our gear as the only date we could go was the following morning. Everything was very booked out but it really just didn’t feel like there were a lot of tourists around.

Day 7- Kicker Rock

We arrived earlier than the staff at Wreck Bay Dive Centre where we met John the Naturalist guide and Franklin and José our dive instructors. We were a group of half divers and half snorkelers. There was an older Belgian couple who had been diving for years who had a DSLR in a housing with a huge structure with arms and flashes on either end, it was amazing! That’s me in twenty years!

Kicker Rock (named by the English as it looks a bit like a football boot) is known by the locals as Leon Dormido which means sleeping lion as it arguably also looks like.

Kicker Rock @ Off San Cristobal Island, Galapagos

I get quite cold diving (I literally can never retain any heat in any climate) and even in Utila diving in 29 degree water I wore two 3mm wetsuits! So for this dive I had on my bikini, taking, rash vest, a 7mm long wetsuit plus another 3mm shorty wetsuit on top, plus socks, booties, gloves and a hood! I couldn’t turn my head or move much but I was not cold! I wasn’t exactly warm either so I couldn’t imagine losing a layer. There must be something wrong with my circulation because I barely sweat. I believe I’m just better suited for warmer climates!

On our first dive we saw loads, including one hammer head shark (which I somehow missed!), Galapagos sharks, Whitetip sharks, sea lions, turtles and a lot of fish. It was quite an eerie dive, pretty dark and against a huge rock wall that just dropped into total darkness. The visibility was not what we had become accustomed to in Utila Honduras where we got our Open Water tickets but it made it all the more creepy with the possibility that a shark could come from nowhere and suddenly be right next to you!

Into The Deep @ Kicker Rock, Off San Cristobal Island, Galapagos

The second dive was through the “tunnel” and whilst we waited on the edge of the rock we saw loads of hammer heads swimming past! One swam right over my head, maybe 3m away from me, as I span round to get Jess to film it she was stupidly being nice and helping defog someone’s mask and missed the whole thing!

We had a delicious lunch back on the boat and then a walk around a beach with John the very questionable guide. We assume it’s a lost in translation thing but I didn’t really believe everything he told us. He told us that Marine iguanas have two penises (Peni?!) and that the reason was that when they mate they go either side of the female and it increases their chances… This sounded ridiculous at the time but it’s what the guide said and everyone nodded along. I later found out that they actually have a ” hemipenis” which means their penises are kind of split like a snake tongue and it means they can hold onto the female during sex (a bit disgusting but cats are very similar). So John was totally wrong. Marine iguanas are the laziest animals on the Galapagos and only sleep, eat and sneeze salt (outside of breeding). They have the highest functioning desalination glands out of all animals. When they have no food, they can shrink their size by 20%, including skin, organs and bones! I checked this as this also sounded really ridiculous but apparently it’s true- they start with their cartilage and then their actual bones

Iguana Take You To Paradise @ San Cristobal Island, Galapagos

shrink! They can dive up to 20 metres and for up to two hours at a time. They can even stop their own heart beat! John also told us that the Galapagos sea lions could dive down to 680m which also sounded like nonsense. After a bit of research and talking to other guides later in our trip I found out that the Galapagos sea lion is most closely related to the Californian sea lion that have been known to dive down to 300m. Our more trusted Cruise guide Fabiàn told us that there was a report from a submarine of a sea lion at 513m in the Galapagos.

After an amazing couple of dives with HAMMER HEADS (!!!!) we were followed home by a big pod of dolphins! Just another incredible day in the Galapagos!

Turtley Cool @ Playa Baquerizo, San Cristobal Island, Galapagos

Day 8- Playa Baquerizo

The next day we walked to Cerró de Tijeretas which is a Frigate colony. It was quite a decent walk and we hiked up and over the hill and wound down the other side across a few beaches before reaching Playa Basquerizo. It was almost empty and we jumped in with our snorkels to see so many turtles and marine iguanas feeding and swimming, just phenomenal!

Someone Is Lion In The Background @ Near Playa Baquerizo, San Cristobal Island

We are a little pic nic on the beach before our second snorkel where we saw even more turtles (one with a very damaged shell, probably from a boat). Everywhere you looked were at least three turtles, tons more marine iguanas.

On the walk back we went into the Interpretation Centre. Now this really was worth going to (unlike the Darwin Centre). It had loads of well laid out information and frankly a story about the rather unsuccessful relationship between the Galapagos and tourism.

DID YOU KNOW that 64% of profit for the Galapagos goes externally (mainland Ecuador or abroad) to agents and operators that books tours, diving and cruises. 30% of the money earned through tourism goes directly to the cruises. Cruises are so popular here and a lot of the companies that run and operate the cruises are internationally owned. This leaves just 6% of profits going to port based local services. Now to be honest, I don’t think this is necessarily the tourists fault. If you are going to the Galapagos, it’s normally for a relatively short trip- the average trip is between 5-9 days. If you only had a short time, I wouldn’t want to leave anything to chance either, especially when tours and cruises do sell out. We booked our cruise from Quito which is as local as we could have gone because we would have risked not getting on a cruise that we wanted. We booked everything else locally while we were there or directly through local contacts but I can see how this is a difficult task. Also, the Galapagos has some really huge cruise ships, the bigger the cruise, the less money goes to the local economy and the bigger the negative environmental impact. They also have a problem with the huge increase of unsustainable tourism which brings in more and more tourists every year with a lower value per visitor.

Galapagos Gull Among Christmas Tree Iguanas @ Española Island, Galapagos

The local population relies on imported food, which is mostly transported by ships posing health risks and again potentially allowing invasive species. The best way forward would be to increase agriculture and grow local, organic products but that is expensive and the high price doesn’t necessarily represent the value. A lot of the land use currently is agriculture but they still have these issues. A steady increase of entry points on each island causes a greater risk of introduced species which is very damaging to the ecosystem.

Their energy and water supplies are a nightmare. Isabella and Floreana rely on water brought from other islands like Santa Cruz who have their own desalinisation plants but also struggle from water shortages. The local population is growing and so is the demand for energy. They had a bit of a wake up call when a ship carrying oil (called the Jessica) sank in 2001. They highlighted that they need to invest in three main areas- renewable energy technology, energy distribution solutions and responsible and measurable usage. Based on the fact that most of the information on display seems to be dated to 2007 all of their targets were obviously set 10 years in the future but it’s now 2018 And we can see no evidence of the targets achieved. For example, they had planned to go 100% renewable by 2017 which when you look at things is an absolute joke. We have seen maybe three wind turbines, all on Isabella. Either whoever set these targets massively over estimated them or they have simply not worked which is, in my opinion, the fault of the government. Interestingly, this information centre was all funded by the Spanish government.

Flying Albatross @ Española Island, Galapagos

The information made me come out feeling a bit guilty and bad for being a tourist. After thinking about it for a while, I feel like if the government would implement some stricter rules around sustainable travel they could see some small improvements with tourists and the damaging effects of tourism almost instantly. For example, ban plastics properly! They have a weak and barely unenforced “no plastic bags” rule on entering the Islands but when you are actually there you can get plastic bags for free at the supermarket, every container is plastic and we even found a shop literally called “Plastic Magic” on San Cristobal that sells balloons, plastic cups and cutlery and all sorts of party ware crap. Sell alternatives! There is money to be made in tote bags and wooden products! Be stricter with everything, pay rangers who don’t stand around on their phones and who actually care about the future of this beautiful unique area. Pay people that will tell stupid fucking tourists off for disobeying the rules! Introduce fines and a warning and then a final “get the fuck out!” system. We have witnessed so much utter stupidity on our travels it’s unreal and being in a place like this where tourists are basically allowed to do whatever they want and who are not reprimanded then it’s no wonder that all the finches sit round you on the beach waiting to be fed. One of the finches is going to evolve a beak into the shape of a small hand so they can just go round accepting food off stupid tourists (who don’t consider them wild animals) and take selfies!! Anyway, rant well and truly over, lets get back to the incredible wildlife!

Day 9- Punta Pitt

We arrived earlier than the staff again at the very chilled out Wreck Bay Dive Centre. On the boat we got suited up in many layers and because there were so many people diving the process of getting people ranked up and actually off the boat was really slow. Plus people were just flapping about and just needed to come the fuck on. Suddenly the boats swaying took over and it was almost vom-o’clock. We managed to avoid this by literally seconds as we were both going green but it was a very close call! On our first dive it was literally like a fishbowl. Crystal clear clarity seeing turtles, sharks, rays, eels, lobsters and enormous schools of incredibly colourful fish. The schools would just swim right round us, even the fish were uninhibited.

Schools Out @ Punta Pitt, San Cristobal Island, Galapagos

Back on the boat we stopped for a snack and a tiny seal pup climbed onto the back of our boat! It was literally just like those You Tube videos I watch!! It was so cute but blind in one eye. Hopefully it makes it to adulthood!

Bold @ Punta Pitt, San Cristobal Island, Galapagos

On our second dive the clarity was again excellent and we saw sharks, turtles, rays, garden eels which were amazing. It was just like The Little Mermaid and when I saw the garden eels, the soundtrack was going round and round in my head while schools of fish wrapped around us.

We had done this day trip specifically to go to the only place where you can see Red-footed boobies. Unfortunately we had thesame questionable guide John, from the other day. We docked into the island at Punta Pitt and went booby hunting. We managed to see more Blue-footed boobies, Red-footed boobies, Red- billed tropic birds and Galapagos gulls.

Underwater Somersaults @ Punta Pitt, San Cristobal Island, Galapagos

Some facts about Blue- Footed boobies;

• They lay one to two eggs and normally only one survives.

• They take turns feeding young.

• The females are bigger than the males, even when they are young.

• Females have larger pupils which is actually really visible.

• Courtship- Males make the nests and try to entice females. Not really a best, more like a small pile of sticks so he may make two or three as back ups. He spreads his wings and stands up tall. Then does a little dance to show how blue his feet are. The more turquoise the feet, the more they eat (as the colour comes from the sardines they eat), thus the better the hunter and therefore the better the mate. Once the female chooses her male and pile of sticks, she also does a little dance and that is how they recognise each other from now on.

• They make nests on the ground but historically they made them in trees, hence the shit compromise of a few twigs on the floor.

Lunch @ Española Island, Galapagos

The Red-footed boobies however still nest in trees. They are more numerous but harder to see as they are a little more shy and also their colonies are only in certain places. In 1998 the population of Red-footed boobies was as low as 105 in Punta Pitt, thanks to preservation efforts the population reached 604 in 2014. There must be huge conservation efforts that go into the wildlife side of things, it’s just the tourism management side that feels evidently quite poorly managed.

Red Feet @ Punta Pitt, San Cristobal Island, Galapagos

We saw babies being fed who were white and fluffy but still gigantic. We saw a few more little sea lion pups on the beach that were tagged so hopefully someone is looking after them!

We had a really nice group on the boat, a french family with three young kids, two of whom dived (the eldest couldn’t have been older than 12). We had a great crew and nice instructors- Angel and Ronnie.

These Eyes buda-buda-dah @ Punta Pitt, San Cristobal Island, Galapagos

When we returned Adam and Rach were waiting for us at the dock and we had a family dinner back at our awesome air BnB where they moved into the room on our level so we shared that big space and kitchen and of course Pixie.

Day 10- Española

The next morning after quite a bit of deliberation we set off on our trip to Española Island. The only deliberation was the cost but you had to go on a tour and with a guide. So, $200/pp later (!!!) we arrived early at Wreck Bay Dive Centre and left 7.45 on the boat. After an easy two hour boat ride we landed at the only entrance to Española island. You are only allowed along one path around the island and the entrance and exit point is the same. There is also a limit to the number of people who can visit so it is quite protected. It is also the oldest island in the Galapagos.

It’s CHRISTMAS! @ Española Island, Galapagos

Nazca Booby Courtship @ Española Island, Galapagos

As soon as we set foot on the island we saw hundreds of Christmas tree iguanas, sea lions with tiny pups playing on the beach. We continued on to see a skeleton of an iguana, a decapitated booby that our guide just couldn’t explain (obviously very uncommon) and as we turned a corner we saw two Blue-footed boobies doing their mating dance!!!! It was just incredible! We saw the shit pile of twigs, the stretching, the bowing, the dancing AND the presentation of the stick! As if this wasn’t enough we also saw the Nazca booby also doing a courtship dance, another creepy yet very cool iguana skeleton and then a Galapagos hawk! We all gathered closer to the hawk to see under the bush it was standing on was a sea lion that had literally just given birth to a pup! Placenta and blood and all! It was so tiny and our guide said it was very premature and quite unlikely to survive. The sea lion mom was dragging it around and trying to get it to feed or wake up a bit, it was so sad. There was another sea lion that was just getting in the way and I wanted more than anything to rescue the poor pup from this nightmare. The horrible Galapagos hawk was just waiting for it to die and then it was going to swoop in! Emotions were running high as we just stood and gawked and then we glanced over into the background and there they were- albertrosses! They were doing their courtship ritual too!

Back From A Quick Dip @ Española Island, Galapagos

And What?! Albatross Chick @ Española Island, Galapagos

In shock, we continued on to some blow holes that were supposed to be a highlight but to be honest we were so overwhelmed with amazing wildlife that we had seen that day, we didn’t really have space to process blow holes! I think they were good?! It was unbelievable the amount of wildlife behavioural stuff we saw that day! We were exhausted just from it being so emotional!

Back at the dock, instead of getting in the boat via the motorised dingy, we hopped in the dingy and the woman on the boat pulled us all back to the big boat rather than putting he engine on!

Albatross Courtship @ Española Island, Galapagos

We had some lunch on the boat before dining our wetsuits and snorkels to go and see what was around. As soon as we jumped in we were suddenly playing with about ten seal lion pups! We saw some turtles too.

Two hours back on the boat we had some beers on the beach and watched the loudest sea lion honking and barking away at had women for what seemed like no apparent reason.

Home for a family dinner cooked by Jess and Adam.

Presenting His Stick 😍 @ Española Island, Galapagos

Day 11- Taxi Tour

After a nice lazy morning and family breakfast of no less than three egg omelettes each cooked by Ad. We were feeling a little queasy when we set out to find a taxi that would take us round a few sites of San Cristobal.

We really lucked out as not only was this bloke a taxi driver, he basically acted like a tour guide and was just so friendly! First we went to Puerto Chino, which is debatable named because it’s so small and sounds a bit like “Chico” or an array of other made up reasons. We saw loads of sea lions swimming and Blue-footed boobies diving in from a great height and catching fish.

We sat and ate some crisps and were suddenly surrounded by little finches. Darwin’s finches (of which there were 13 Different species until very recently where a 14th species was discovered) who’s beaks have evolved like tools for eating different things such as bugs and berries. They have now evolved into food-stealing off tourists finches which meant they would happily hop on your hands or legs without fear. We tried our best not to feed them despite how cute they were.

Adam NOT Feeding The Finches @ Playa Chico, San Cristobal Island, Galápagos

The now 14 species of Darwin’s finches are so similar that they are thought to have evolved from one pioneer species of finch that flew over from the mainland thousands of years ago. They evolved into different species due to different environments and different types of food. They are very clever, some species drink blood and use sticks to break open seeds that they want to eat. The Mangrove finch on Isabela is in great danger of extinction.

We stopped off at a weird treehouse place with apparently one of the widest/largest/somethin g or rather trees which we weren’t too fused about so we continued on to El Junco Laguna. El Junco is famed for being able to see frigate birds come in to wash their wings in the fresh water. We walked up and looked over but it was too misty, we could see frigates cleaning the salt off their wings but not really clearly.

We were dropped by our awesome taxi driver guide at La Loberia. We casually bumped into Marco and Lara the German couple from our San Blas trip who had just arrived.

We had a pic nic lunch and Ad and I went snorkelling with the sea lions and turtles. We saw a huge black turtle that was probably the biggest I’ve ever seen. We played with the sea lions a bit although these sea lion pups did this thing where they basically played chicken with biting your face off. They would torpedo over to you and open their mouths as if you bite your face and then swim away at the very last second. It was somewhat terrifying but they were having a lot of fun. When you dive down with them and spin around like them they seem to also really like that.

No Skin Off My Nose @ San Cristobal Island, Galapagos

Back on the beach we watched an mainland Ecuadorian woman lay right next to the sea lions and pretty much make her friend do a photo shoot on her phone. We were at La Loberia for probably two hours and the photo shoot did not stop the whole time we were there, although there was an outfit change. She even lay right next to a mother sea lion that had recently been feeding her young and pose as if she were a sea lion. It was not only really embarrassing to watch but also so annoying as no one respects the animals at all. They just want that perfect photo. I love taking photos of animals and sometimes with animals but it’s all about luck. They are wild and should not be harassed just for a photo. In the end Rachael had had enough and had a go at her in Spanish, the woman then replied in English and pretended to not speak Spanish. So Rach told her off in English too, it was pretty great!

We walked back into town to save on taxi fair, quickly showered and changed and went out for dinner with Anita, Paul and Marco, Lara, a San Blas reunion! A few drinks and rounds of Monopoly deal.

Nazca Booby Looking Nuts @ Española Island, Galapagos

Day 12 – San Cristobal to Santa Cruz

We set off early back to Cerró Tijeretas to have our last snorkel with Ad and Rach. We saw sea lions, turtles, fish and a lobster. We also watched and Ecuadorian family scream and shout about sea lion pups getting close to them. I was underwater and saw a seal pup sort of chasing this woman, she was trying to swim away but was not very good at swimming and was just screaming and kicking. She kicked the pup in the head twice (by accident but still). The pup also thought this was a great game and carried on chasing her. Not only was her big screaming group blocking the only way to climb in and out of the water, none of them respected the animals at all. I swam off and was watching some other seal pups and then a guy from that group swam over to the seal, right over the top of it and started kicking and freaking out. He wasn’t deliberately trying to kick the seal lion pup but he had no control swimming so couldn’t help it. And he swam over to it! I had a massive go at him and told him to calm down and stop kicking. What an idiot! It’s people like that that are ruining the Galapagos. We heard that it was soon to be changed so that everyone who comes to the islands must have every part of their trip on a tour. This is going to be devastating for the day trip only companies but also it makes it all totally unaffordable. It’s barely affordable as it is! Such a shame but it’s all about protecting the landscape and animals. They should have more rangers at the sites you can go to without a tour and be a lot stricter. If you’re too close or doing something stupid like kicking an animal whether it’s and accident or not you should get a warning and then if it happens again you should be asked to leave. It shouldn’t be goody-two-shoes likes us telling people off.

You’re My Albatross @ Española Island, Galápagos

We said our sad farewells to Ad and Rach as we genuinely thought we wouldn’t see them again until the UK, swung by the Interpretation Centre again for one last read and went home for lunch. We said the saddest goodbye to Pixie who would squeeze her chipotle little sausage body under the gate and follow us out whenever we left the house. We had to keep running her back or locking her in the house so she wouldn’t follow us.

We got a ferry back to Santa Cruz and checked into Hostel Carliza I the swankier older sister of Carliza II as it had no space. We weren’t overly impressed and preferred Carliza II. We ran into Adam and Bek who we had no idea where staying there and went out in search of the best $1 empanadas in the history of $1 empanadas that had been recommended to us from a British guy we had meant in Cartagena in Colombia. They were from the market up the road from Carliza II and came in cheese, chicken, beef and prawn, they were incredible with chicken coming up top every time.

Later that night we had happy hour cocktails and their two Australian friends who knew four of my very good friends in Melbourne because they all worked together at Bunnings! What a small world!

The Office Christmas-Iguana Party @ Española Island, Galapagos

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