The Enchanted Isles of the Galapagos – Part 2

For our Galapagos Islands blog part 1 click here. Otherwise, enjoy part 2!

Galapagos Islands.  Ecuador.

Day 5 – Santa Fe – Punta Carrion

A morning walk around Sante Fe took us past many Bursera graveolens (aka palo santo or holy trees), so called as their bark/trunk was traditionally used for incense. Taking us on the path less travelled, Leonidas led us on a hot and sweaty uphill hike to a higher point of the island with a great view down to the bay below.

Large cactus trees and land iguanas dominate this island and we saw plenty of both. We were also thankful for the group we had on board when we passed a bunch of khaki wearing, binocular carrying, bird watching over weight American’s. How we’d all hate to have ended up on THAT boat.

Cactus, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Land iguana, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Land Iguana.  Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

Razor Surgeonfish, King Anglefish, Threebanded Butterflyfish and Giant Damsel Fish were amongst a plethora of today’s sea life, making this dive spot the most populated so far.  A lucky highlight was to be joined in the water by a bunch friendly baby sea lions. Darting around us, playing chicken, swimming up close to look you right in the eyes and lightly nudging us around the legs, this was definitely a remarkable finish to the days snorkeling.

Baby Sea Lion.  Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.
Play time with the locals

At night the crew rearranged the dining area into a dance floor complete with sound system, and both they and they passengers took to the beer fridge with force, giving it a fair hit.  Matt being Matt just had to ask the crew where the rum was (we were on a boat after all).

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.
Boat party time!

A couple of bottles suddenly appeared and the party ramped up a notch. With us passengers getting a glass or two each the crew rapidly polished off the rest and the music was turned up to 11.  Out came the GoPro on the pole for use as a limbo stick, with the lot of us having a dance to the contest.

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.
Let’s just say snorkelling is the best way to kick a hangover

Day 6 – North Seymour – Black Turtle Cove

After last nights boat party, a very hungover Leonidas spent most of the day letting out the occasional self-assuring cry of

‘I will survive’

and attempting, in vain, the convince Matt to take over as guide for the day.  Yet he maintained a great big smile on his face the entire time.

Galapagos Frigate bird.  Ecuador.

Today’s highlight was a walk around North Seymour on the northern tip of Santa Cruz Island. Home to a huge number of Magnificent Frigate birds, as it was mating season there were plenty of males with their bright red chests puffed out, none of them afraid when you got very close to take pictures.

Galapagos Frigate bird.  Ecuador.

Galapagos Frigate bird.  Ecuador.

Galapagos Frigate bird.  Ecuador.
Magnificent Frigates being magnificent

There were also plenty of blue footed boobies giving us a great mating dance display, however a large number of dead birds, a dying sea lion pup, a recently dead pelican and several sealion skulls scattered across the island led us to nickname this place Death Island.

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.
Sea lion skulls on what we nicknamed ‘Death Island’

the Crerw Resting.  Galapagos Is. Ecuador.
The New Flamingo crew giving it all that

Back on board, we asked the captain if we could jump off the boat and were met with a very serious NO. Apparently this was Galapagos Shark territory, the worst kind of shark territory as they’re kind of agressive. Sure enough it didn’t take long before four huge sharks were circling the boat, clearly visible from the upper decks.

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.
Unfortunately no shark photos but here’s a sea slug instead!

Deciding to get a closer look Matt and I hung ourselves over the edge at the back of the boat. With Sarah waving her hand in the water the sharks quickly came to the surface and several times Matt had to quickly pull the GoPro out when they came a little too close.

With nobody keen to be the first off the dingy for the afternoon snorkel, Leonidas encouraged us to

‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’

Inspired, one by one it was masks on and overboard…though we all stayed little closer to the shore than usual. It was a refreshing snorkel giving us a chance to gaze upon the likes of various Trigger Fish, Trumpet Fish, Puffer Fish, Damsel Fish and a Grunt or two (sounds tough right?).  The waters of North Seymour gave us the largest variety of fish species to date with many other types making it hard to exit the water, though a few of us kept a constant watch to the open sea for sharks.

Horse Conch. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

Chef Chino managed to bait us out of the sea with a rumor that a batch of fresh ceviche had been prepared. Said by Leo to help with a hangover, we all dug in to another triumph by Chino. Back into the dingy we motored out to the mangrove covered Tortuga Negra, or Black Turtle Bay, used by the turtles as a calm sanctuary. We spent an hour or so cruising around the many inlets with the now familiar site of a little head surfacing every so often.

Sea Urchin.  Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

Black turtle Bay.  Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

Black turtle Bay.  Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.
Green sea turtles taking refuge in Bahia Tortuga Negra (Black Turtle Bay) 

With our time in the bay coming to an end, Leonidas suddenly points into the distance, as his eagle eyes had spotted something. Heading over we were all stoked to watch a mother spotted eagle ray with two babies, swimming along the edge of the trees. Heading back to the boat we watched blue footed boobies dive like kamikaze pilots into the water to catch fish.

Day 7 – Cerro Dragon – Ballena Bay / Eden Island

Walking around the cylindrical peak of Cerro Dragon seemed like a great idea to begin with. The waist high grass and hundreds of spiders hovering in webs in both trees and grass ensured it was soon deemed a very bad idea. Whilst the rainy season ensured we saw the islands at their green best, it turned out this path wasn’t one that was being frequented by the other boats. We did however manage to spot a couple of local tortoise and some very big orange land iguanas, which made the trip worthwhile.

Espanola Is, Galapagos, Ecuador.
Cerro Dragon

Galapagos Islands.  Ecuador.
It’s fine, the grass isn’t that long…much…

Galapagos Islands.  Ecuador.
The reason Sarah hated today’s hike

After surviving the circumnavigation of Cerro Dragon we again dive into the waters to a reef just off the coast. This time we spotted, along with many others, several massive lobsters, a Moray eel, Blue-chin Parrotfish, Azure Parrotfish and Mexican Hogfish. We also spotted a porcupine fish as big as a football hiding under a rock, and with a nasty look on it’s face it gave everybody a real fright when they spotted it.

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.
Sea lions coming to say hi

Never tiring of the snorkeling we head over to Roca Eden where again plenty of species are spotted, many being seen for the first time by us. We spotted some huge sea slugs and huge red sea snails in shells as big as a shoe. These included Scissortail Chromis, Bravo Clinid, Rainbow Runner and Red Cardinals.

Land Iguana.  Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

Land Iguana.  Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.
Matt doing his best land iguana impersonation

The afternoon was spent walking on Eden Island where we spotted birds including an American oyster catcher, Great egret, a lone flamingo, mockingbirds, a lava heron eating small fish trapped by the tide and a great blue heron who appeared to be flashing us.

Galápagos Blue Herron.  Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

Galápagos Blue Herron.  Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

Galápagos Blue Herron.  Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

Flamingo Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.
A flashing heron and a lone flamingo

Heading back to the boat for the final time, we were joined by a curious juvenille sea lion who proceeded to follow us back to the boat. Our final dinner was cause to celebrate when we were kindly presented with a delicious leaving cake, miraculously cooked in the tiny kitchen by our amazing chef ‘Chino’.

Chef China's Farewell Cake.  Galapagos Islands.  Ecuador.
Our awesome leaving cake, thanks Chino!

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

Moored up once again in the port of Santa Cruz for the last night on the boat we chill out by reminiscing about the last 7 days on the seas.  Hoping for a good nights sleep, Matt escaped the slightly stuffy cabin, opting to sleep on deck (he wasn’t the only one), happily having his best night’s sleep of the trip.

Galapagos Islands.  Ecuador.

Galapagos Islands.  Ecuador.

Day 8 – Charles Darwin Station – flight

Having failed to make a single sunrise on the trip, we rose early to catch a glimpse of the last one, bumping into a couple of shipmates who had the same idea.

Galapagos Islands.  Ecuador.
Sunrise from the bows of New Flamingo

A quick stop at the Charles Darwin Centre saw us catch a glimpse of the Cactus Finch, with its long thin beak evolved to reach between the cactus spikes, the difference between this, the Ground and Darwin finches, with their short, thicker beaks to crack seeds.

Galapagos Hawk.  Ecuador.
Galapagos Hawk

With Leo joining us for the trip to the airport, we were given the chance to ask a few questions about his run for mayor of Santa Cruz and his work to help protect the islands. When tortoise Lonesome George, the islands most famous resident and last of his species, died in 2012, found dead by his caretaker of 40 years (40 YEARS!), Leo decided to act.

Leonidas our guide for the week.  Galapagos Is.  Ecuador.
Proud and passionate Leonidas

He was strongly involved in petitioning the government to punish a tourist boat caught fishing a large amount of lobster outside of season. Three months and many letters later, the boat was fined, however they were immediately allowed to continue operating without any further punishment. Leo’s passion for his home is obvious, and we can only hope you’re lucky enough to have him as your guide.

Leonidas demonstrating his love for the islands and why he's the best guide out there, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Leonidas showing his love for the Galapagos

The Galapagos is a place that has been relatively unharmed by the touch of man.  To be lucky enough to basically rub shoulders with the varied unique and endemic wildlife makes this one of life’s treasured moments.  Leonidas our guide is so passionate about the preservation of such a special place, his home, that he is running for Mayor of Isla Santa Cruz and we wish him the best of luck.  A charismatic gentleman with a great sense of humour to match, and as seen firsthand is held with high regard in the community, we have no doubt Leonidas should command the majority of the votes.

The New Flamingo crew, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Team New Flamingo

Our budget trip still cost us a total of $3,500 though at no time did we feel like corners had been cut or that we missed out on anything.  Our advice to anyone looking at making this trip is to do it sooner rather than later as there are rumors that the entrance price of USD$100 is set to double. This along with the fact that the only two budget boats left doing these trips (New Flamingo and King of the Seas) will eventually be out of commission and won’t be replaced with similar vessels means the cost of experiencing the Galapagos is going to sky rocket.

Masked Boobie.  Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.
Masked Boobie

Our tips for enjoying the Galapagos on a budget

  • Choose a tour that works for you, paying a little more if necessary. You won’t regret it.
    • Some people choose to do wholly land based trips, meaning they pay for ferries to wildlife hot spots and other islands.  This works as you can completely customise you trip.
    • Others will chose to do a four day boat trip then add extra days of land based trips, again for customisation or budget reasons.
    • With both the above two options you will inevitably miss out on certain things, as some of the distant islands can only be reached if you’re on a boat tour and sleep on the boat (ie Floreana and Espanola).
  • Bring snacks (check what’s allowed through at the airport first), bottles of rum (of course) and any essentials from the main land. Everything has to be either shipped or flown in, and with several cargo ships sinking in the week we were there, things here are expensive.
  • Leave the fear behind.
  • Remember NOTHING IS GUARANTEED. Wildlife is wildlife and seasons will also predict migratory patterns, mating, newborns, flora in bloom etc. We travelled in April, the rainy season, yet saw hardly any rain. All of the islands were green, mating season was in full swing and many migratory birds had arrived. The water was also pleasantly warm, we can highly recommend travelling at this time of year.
  • Remember if you book budget don’t expect five star. Although we went budget there was plenty of room, the food and crew were great and the guide was fantastic.

Flying into the Galapagos Islands.  Ecuador.

In summary, we can certainly say this was one of the biggest highlights of the trip so far. Our recommendation? If you want to blow your backpacker budget, head to the Galapagos. If you want to blow your mind, head to the Galapagos!

Galapagos Fur Seals.  Espanola Island, Ecuador.

Missed Part 1? Check it out here.

Just want more fabulous photos? Flickr’s the place to be!

Galapagos Island.  Ecuador.

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