Slobber Chops @ El Chato Ranch, Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos
Day 17- El Chato Tortoise Ranch
Seeing as we had made this journey from the airport to Puerto Ayora more than once now we thought we would make the most of it and go to one of the Giant Tortoise ranches on our way back down. After getting across the canal we started talking to a Spanish/Ecuadorian couple that were biologists. They were really nice and interesting and had a lot of very nice camera gear. We shared a taxi to El Chato the Tortuguero ranch which would have been so expensive without them!
We got given some wellies and walked all around the paths to see the biggest tortoises we have seen (aside from the enormous beast we saw on Isabela during the cruise). These were the biggest species on the Galapagos. It was a pretty small ranch in the end and we had walked every path and taken a lot of photos in about 30 minutes. Given that we had over two hours before our taxi was arranged to come get us, we did another lap of every path and spent time watching these giant beasts slop about in the greenest pond full of algae. They were so interesting to watch. They behave like grumpy old men. We tried to keep our distance from them but some of them were on the path so we crept round them. When they feel scared or threatened they shrink into their shell and make this loud hissing noise. After exploring for a second time, we had the opportunity to jump into some old shells and take some photos. What’s not to love? Jumping into someone’s dead body?
As Slow As They Come @ El Chato Ranch, Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos
The name Galápagos comes from the old Spanish term for Tortoise, well it is what early explorers used for the tortoises, “Galapago” actually means “saddle”, I recently found out from my Dad that the original name for the Galapagos was Archipiélago de Colón. They have to be the most famous species associated with the Galapagos. Here are some things we learnt about Giant tortoises, certainly not from the Darwin Centre or the El Chato ranch (they are particularly rubbish with information) but from reading online and asking our guides every question possible!
– They arrived from mainland Ecuador 2-3 million years ago and have since evolved into 15 different species.
– All 15 species can be divided into two shapes- Domed and Saddle-backed
– Dome-shelled tortoises lack an upward angle to the front of their carapace (shell), restricting their stretch. They tend to live on large, humid islands where there is lots of vegetation to eat
– Saddle-backed tortoises have an upward curve to the front of their carapace, which allows them to stretch up to reach higher growing plants like cactus pads. They tend to live on arid islands in Galapagos, where food is less abundant.
– The Galapagos giant tortoise spends an average of 16 hours per day resting. The rest of their time is spent eating grasses, fruits and cactus pads.
– They enjoy bathing in water, but can survive for up to a year without water or food.
Let’s Shellebrate! @ El Chato Ranch, Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos
– Small birds, such as Galapagos finches, can often be seen sitting on the backs of giant tortoises. The birds and tortoises have formed a symbiotic relationship in which the birds peck the ticks out from the folds of the tortoises’ skin.
– Breeding primarily occurs during the hot season (January to May), although mating may be seen at any time of year. Mating can last for several hours, with the male making loud roaring noises throughout (I saw this once as a child in a zoo, mortifying).
– After mating, the female migrates to a nesting area, where she digs a hole with her back feet into which she lays 2 to 16 eggs, each the size of a tennis ball. The eggs are incubated by the sun, with the young tortoises hatching after around 130 days.
– Like we witnessed on Isabela Island and from our first Galapagos blog No Napagos-Galapagos!, cmpeting tortoises will stand tall, face each other with mouths wide open, and stretch their necks up as high as possible. The highest head nearly always wins. They are pretty ridiculous creatures.
(Various Galapagos Guides and GalapagosConservation.org)
Important Tortoise Meeting @ El Chato Ranch, Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos
Back in Hostal Carliza II in the same room with white furry mould growing out of the tiles in the bathroom and the constant smell of urine from the water that was at times over powering we settled back in, already missing the cruise luxuries. Galapagos doesn’t exactly have reasonably priced accomodation. Both Carliza I and II are are run by the same rubbish woman and there are paper signs everywhere in terrible English Like “every drop count closes” which from the actual Spanish I understand to mean “Every drop counts, close the taps properly”. If you were going to make a sign in a language that you’re not so flash in you would probably get a native to check it right? It’s not like they don’t have access to English speaking tourists! Another great sign in the kitchen is “Don’t break the glass or vessels”, I mean aside from the shit translation there is more than one problem with this sign. One, it’s really low down and no one reads it, and two- no one intentionally breaks glasses and a sign is not going to stop accidents! Prime example- I knocked over a glass and hadn’t even seen the sign, Jess laughed and told me about it. If I had seen the sign, would I have still knocked over the glass? Yes. What a waste of time and paper. I hate hostels that are just covered in warning signs, fair enough save water but a lot of it just creates a really unfriendly environment.
Day 18- Las Grietas
The next day we took a water taxi across the bay where we walked through some beaches and along pathways past a salt farm to Las Grietas. Las Grietas is a kind of eerie snorkelling spot in really deep water between two cliffs. It’s like swimming through a mountain that’s been split in half. Not much to see (although I did see a big black and white striped eel) other than some large parrot fish and a couple of other fish but a really cool place to snorkel. It was really busy and we realised that if you swam further, you could climb over some rocks and get to another section. No one else was going, which is so often the case in touristy places. South Americans don’t really want to walk or swim anywhere so the busiest part is always at the start, also brilliant for us!
School of Hammer Heads @ Gordon Rocks, Galapagos
We continued through to the third or fourth section and they were completely empty so we enjoyed a swim around and spotted more fish. When we were getting out there was an Ecuadorian woman in her 50s/60s blocking the only way in and out of the pools. She looked really scared like she couldn’t swim. She asked us if it was deep and I said yeh, maybe don’t come in if you can’t swim well because there is no where to stand up or maybe get a life jacket. She kind of ignored my advice and ever so slowly we helped her into the water and kind of dragged her to one of the posts holding up the pontoon which she clung to, still looking pretty nervous. You can rent life jackets and lots of people were wearing them so I didn’t really understand why a not so confident swimmer wouldn’t rent one, I actually think they are free. We were a bit worried about her but also the other people around her. I stupidly tried to help a bad swimmer once in Uganda who was panicking and they pretty much drowned me, it was my fault because they just wanted to use me as a float but it was quite scary and I would never do it again. So when we were helping this woman we were clinging onto rocks and kind of passing her to each other so she didn’t drown us. Still though, it’s her business, until she drowns her grandchild by accident. Hey ho.
Jess’ Scared Tortoise Impression @ El Chato Ranch, Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos
We walked back to Playa Alemania which Ad and Rach had said had been amazing for turtles. We must have gotten there at the wrong time because the water was really murky and I swam right along the mangroves and didn’t see a single thing. To the point where it got so murky and I was quite far out that I spun round and swam back at full speed as I got scared that something might try to eat me!
That night we stuffed ourselves with the amazing $1 empanadas from the Santa Cruz local market.
Beast @ El Chato Ranch, Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos
Day 19- North Seymour and Mosquero
The next morning we went diving with Academy Bay Dive Centre to North Seymour and Mosquero for some chances of seeing more hammer-heads! We were picked up in early in utes and driven to the northern end of the island where you get on the ferry to the airport. This was kind of a test dive for us as we wanted to dive Gordon Rocks the following day which was a very famous dive site but you had to have a minimum experience of 25 dives which we didn’t quite have so they said if the instructors think we are competent enough they would take us. I normally muck around a bit when we are diving, not muck around as such but I do spend a lot of time doing somersaults, floating upside down or following animals whereas Jess often swims off looking for animals. On these two dives we had to be on our best behaviour and to be honest it meant that they weren’t that fun. It felt like we were training again and we didn’t see that much. We did see the biggest Galapagos shark we had seen so far but to be honest that was about it!
School of Rays @ Under The Sea, Galapagos
The crew and instructors were nice, a little bit more serious and a lot stricter than Wreck Bay on San Cristobal but I guess that was a good thing safety wise. They also had this rather stupid and sexist rule that at the end of each dive, all females took their tanks off in the water and someone would pull it up on the boat whereas the men had to clamber up the ladder with their tank on. It was pretty choppy and climbing up the ladder with the tank looked a bit precarious at the best of times. Another ridiculous part of the rule was that there were only two males on our boat and both of them were tiny. They were the dad and son of a really nice British family but the whole family were really slight. Just because they are males, doesn’t make them stronger and I think they may have felt a bit pressured into not asking to do the same as all the females. It seemed really unfair but at least they probably would earn about 18% more to make up for this hardship.
Galapagos Shark @ North Seymour, Galapagos
Day 20- Gordon Rocks
The next day, after being given the go ahead to dive the infamous Gordon Rocks we met early at the Academy Bay Dive Centre and again took off in utes to the top of the island. Gordon Rocks is meant to be the best spot to dive in the Galapagos and there are high chances of seeing large animals like sharks and particularly big schools of hammer head. The reason you have to be experienced for this site is that the current can be so strong. Bek and Adam managed to wangle a Gordon Rocks Dive by lying about the number of dives they had done and Bek had only done 11! To me, that’s nuts but luckily they had a really calm day down there and managed to see loads. Bek did almost completely run out of oxygen though and had to go up with the instructor which is exactly why in my opinion she shouldn’t have done it.
Hammer Heads! @ Gordon Rocks Galapagos
Swimming Solo @ Gordon Rocks, Galapagos
We were definitely not as lucky and the current was bonkers! We’ve never experienced anything like it. We spent almost the entire dive clung to the rocks. We saw a couple of hammer heads, some turtles and rays but it wasn’t until the second dive where we saw some really cool stuff. For the second dive the current had somehow gotten stronger and we spent a lot of it a bit deeper and clinging to rocks again (you get gloves so you can cling on and try not to damage stuff, its not coral though, it’s still homes to marine life but it is a lot harder to destroy. Jess and I were the least experienced divers in the group but we did fine.
Diving Nerds @ Mosquero, Galapagos
We had this crazy guy in our group who was in his late 30s but looked quite a lot older from Northern Ireland and he just talked nonsense the whole time. He was very strange and on the way to the dock Jess watched him pick his nose and eat his bogies for like ten minute, the thought of him makes me want to vom. Anyway during the second dive Jess, one other diver and myself had gone really deep and as we were swimming back up to join the rest of the group, we lost a diver! Luckily he was really experienced and got picked up by the boat and just waited for us, our instructor was a bit cross with him though. I think he was busy taking photos and kind of wanted to do his own thing then just got swept away. He was a few metres deeper than us and just got taken off by the current.
Watching From a Safe Distance @ Under The Sea, Galapagos
As we were swimming back to the instructor Jess was facing the other way and saw a load of hammerheads go by really close, she grabbed my tank and spun me round and we just floated watching them go by. None of the rest of our group saw them which was such a shame for them!
Some Hammerhead facts-
– the species in the Galapagos is actually called the Scalloped hammerhead
– They can be told apart from their close relatives by the ‘scalloped’ front edge of their hammer-shaped head (which is called the cephalofoil). The cephalofoil has evolved to improve vision and to provide a larger area for the electroreceptors that the sharks rely upon for hunting prey on or under the sediment.
– Their diet ranges from fish such as sardines, herrings and mackerel, to stingrays, squid and even crustaceans.
– The Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR) is one of the few places on Earth where scalloped hammerhead sharks can be seen gathering together in large schools of up to several hundred. The exact reason behind this schooling behaviour remains a mystery. In 2017, it was also found that scalloped hammerheads have nursery sites in the GMR.
– The gestation period lasts between 9-12 months and litter sizes can be large, ranging from 12-40 pups. Pups are born in shallow coastal areas and measure just 30-55 centimetres. The chances of the pups getting eaten by other sharks is high.
There was another group on our boat that dived like two minutes after us and they spent their entire first dive surrounded by a huge school of hammerheads, we were so jealous! What a difference two minutes or a few metres can make! That’s wildlife for you, but it was still definitely better than our luck the day before. We wished we could dive it again a few more times but our three weeks on the Galapagos were already up. We didn’t meet anyone that was staying longer than two weeks so we felt really lucky with our time and all of the amazing things we had seen.
I’ll Be Watching You @ El Chato Ranch, Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos
Day 21- Galapagos Goodbye
The next day we got a taxi to the north of the island (yet again!) and travelled across the canal and on the bus for the third time and checked in for our flight back to Guayaquil. We were in a bit of a depression that ended up lasting for weeks. Were the iguanas in the park in Guayaquil worth seeing anymore? Was anything worth looking at if it wasn’t like the Galapagos? Now don’t hate me for this but we felt like we had been on holiday and we were returning back home with the holiday blues. The Great Galapagos Depression, hahaha!
Our time on the Galapagos was honestly the highlight of our whole trip, it was just incredible. I will be writing a pure information and advice blog entry for anyone who wants to go and do it as cheaply as possible. It was a lot of money but we have zero regrets! Get there before you can’t any,ore and it’s all restricted! Life is too short to wait until you’ve retired, I doubt I will ever even be able to retire. You can always earn more money, the animals in the Galapagos may not still be there. If you want to go, just save up and do it!
Goodbye Galapagos, you’ve been the best!
Never Wanting To Leave @ Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos
Do I Have Something On My Face? @ El Chato Ranch, Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos