25 April 2013
After 1000 miles and 7 days at sea we reached the Galapagos, population about 22,000. Owned by Ecuador, the islands were the inspiration for Charles Darwin's theories of evolution. Many birds, plants, and all of the reptiles are exclusive to these islands. Of the dozen or so islands only a few are inhabited. The whole group is considered a national park and cruisers are restricted to 3 or 4 different ports to anchor in. If you just show up you are limited to 21 days and cannot go to another island with your boat. If you plan ahead and use an agent you can pay for a permit to visit 2 or possibly 3 other islands and stay up to 60 days. It is all very regulated and they do check and will tell you to leave if you break the rules.
Our first port of call was Wreck Bay on the island of San Cristobal, population 2500. The first thing you notice are the hordes of sea lions, they are every where, and unafraid of people. The second is the large fleet of live aboard dive boats that converge on the island. The cold Humboldt Current brings nutrient rich water to these islands, and along with that a myriad of marine life. Two species of sea lions, a small population of fur seals, many species of sea turtles, sperm whales, killer whales, manta rays, many species of sharks, the worlds second smallest penguin, marine iguanas, and huge schools of fish. Even though water temperatures are in the sixties diving is a big industry due to the abundance and variety of life. There have never been a shark attack here and they attribute it to the fact that there is such a rich supply of prey the sharks don't need to eat us funny looking creatures. One guide said all Galapagos sharks are vegetarian but I am doubtful.
The people are very friendly, the town neat and clean, and you can get a good dinner for $8, lunch for $3 or $4 if you eat where the locals do. We spent 2 weeks here hiking the trails, snorkeling among the sea turtles and sea lions, and enjoying the scenery.
Our next stop was Puerto Ayoro, also called Academy Bay, on the island of Santa Cruz. Puerto Ayoro is the largest city in the Galapagos, population about 10,000 and the most touristy. Which also means the best shopping foe food or supplies. Cruising in these remote areas you soon learn to look in every store to see what they may be selling, as they may carry anything. A local pet & feed store in the front also sold building supplies, tools, toys, fabrics, and house wares in the back. There are almost as many "tour operators" as tourists. At least two on every short block so deals can be made. We took a few all day tours at inexpensive prices and learned a lot from our guides about the land and the people. There are quite a few paved trails starting in town to various beaches and scenic spots.
Our last port of call was Villamil on Isla Isabella, largest and youngest of the Galapagos and the least populated, about 1200 people. No paved roads in town, limited shopping, and very friendly people. This is what you expect to see when you think about the Galapagos. Not a lot of tourists come here to stay on the island, mostly back packers and cruisers. There are lots of things to see and do here and can be very reasonably priced. We toured volcanoes, marine iguana nesting grounds, farms in the highlands, an old prison, tortoise reserves, a rodeo, a 3 day festival with a horse race down the middle of town. All the restaurants sell a lunch special for $3 or $4, usually consisting of a soup, small salad, meat or fish, rice, and a fruit drink. We had had a delicious lunch at Aloha Mary's of fish and the other things so we went back a few days later and ordered lunch again. The soup had some kind of meat? we could not identify and the main dish also had a meat we could not identify not found very tasty. A local we had befriended came in for lunch and educated us. He said "we in Isabella are organ eaters". The main dish was cow stomach, and the soup was made with either a cow or a goat hoof. After that we asked what was for lunch!!
Being islands everything gets shipped in by cargo ships from the mainland. None of the ports had commercial docks or water deep enough for them to get close. The ships anchor out a quarter mile or so and all cargo is loaded onto small barges or boats and brought to shore, where it is off loaded by hand or small cranes. You will see everything from food to building supplies, furniture, appliances, and even mall cars and trucks . It's very interesting to watch. Gasoline and diesel fuel are also transported this way and they are subsidized by the government. Locals pay just over a dollar for fuel, cruisers pay from $4 to $6 depending on where you are.
The islanders are also very environmentally aware and recycling is practiced every where. They try to ship out as much recyclable material as possible back to the mainland. All public garbage cans are marked for what goes in them and we rarely saw any litter. We met a couple along one trail that was on Isabella on business. The government was planning to put up a huge solar power array that would cover over two acres of land and be able to power the whole town. There would also be a back up generator that would run on bio diesel fuel, that is made of recycled cooking greases, oils, etc.
We enjoyed our 7 week stay in the Galapagos very much but it was time to move on to French Polynesia. Hope you enjoy the photos.