12th May 2013
Isla Isabella, Galapagos Islands.
We have been anchored here in Puerto Villamil for a week now and every day we are amazed and delighted by the wildlife in and around the bay. Our introduction to the Galapagos started 2 days out when a Red Footed Booby landed on our pulpit and stayed for the afternoon. The next afternoon another landed on the railing and stayed the night. Its tail nicely poked out over the sea´┐Ż... or so we thought. A nights hospitality had left us with a rather messy bow to clean up. Not quite as bad as the mess left after the boobies visited us on the way to Australia from Chesterfield reef, but still an unpleasant calling card! Here the birds have plenty of rocks to mess up so leave the yachts alone
Around the anchorage sea lions glide effortlessly under the yachts and flip themselves onto the fishing boats for an afternoon snooze. Boobies and frigates dine on schools of sardines. The frigates circle before diving down to scoop up the fish with their hooked beaks. When the sardines venture out from under the protective shade of the jetty, boobies dive bomb in well organized squadrons. They hurtle towards the water, at the last moment they tuck in their wings to dive into the water a moment later popping up like a cork, catch swallowed they take off and join the queue to have another go at the sardines . Turtles, rays and penguins also keep us interested. Pelicans swoop low across the water, wingtips brushing the water before they crash ungracefully into the sardines. Small terns flit around ready to pick up the small fish that escape out the side of the pelican's bucket of a beak. Small fish dart out from under Tuatara as soon as a crumb of bread hits the water.
One night I was rudely awakened with a dollop of water on my face flowed by another dollop. I was then fully awake so went outside to investigate and saw a sea lion playing with a fish right by our boat. I can only presume it had got a bit carried away and sent the water in through our hatch. I was lucky the fish didn't come as well. If we get tired of the wildlife we can watch the tourists going in and out from the small passenger boats that call in for a day or two on their Galapagos circuit. But of course we haven't stayed on board all the time. There are things to see and places to go. The David Attenborough Galapagos TV series is showing in NZ at present and for those who have seen it you probably know more about the islands, wildlife and history than I do. So I won't bore you with those details just what we have seen and done.
We decided to just visit one island, when arriving by yacht we can pay to go to three islands or just go to one. We decided the cost was too much for three islands, around $900US for us whereas one island has "only" cost us just over $600US. That includes park fees, agent fees, port fees etc. We chose Isabella as many yachts had given good accounts of the island and activities available. The sea horse shaped Isabella is the largest island in the group but seems to the least amount of facilities. Although everything we needed, laundry, restaurants with wifi, hairdresser for a much needed haircut and a small but adequate supermarket.
Get a group of cruisers in a bay and there are always tours and activities to join in to. One afternoon a group of us got a taxi out to the Wall of Tears and walked the 8 kms back to town. The Wall of Tears is a large stone wall built by prisoners in the late 1940s , as the name suggest it didnt turn out well. They were meant to be building their own prison but prisoners and keepers died, prisoners revolted and the project ceased in tears. " the weak died and the strong cried".
The steps lead up to a great view of the island, the surrounding trees and cacti provide shelter for the Galapagos tortoises and a myriad of native birds. We were able to pat several wild tortoises although none as big as those we had seen at the breeding sanctuary behind town. By the time we got to the beach part of the walk it was virtually dark so we didn't see any iquanas or sea birds before we collapsed gratefully in front of a cold beer at Caf├ę Rosario. Conveniently the first building we came to after the beach!
The next day was the trip to Los Tunnelos. We skimmed across the water at 25knots, the fastest we had all been for a while, in an open boat to visit the tunnels, bridges and pools of an old lava flow. On the way we stopped at a pile of rock jutting out of the sea, a perch for blue footed boobys and sea lions. On the leeward side protected from the swell a female sea lion reclined on a soft bed of seaweed, snoozing in the sun while her baby fed. Both took no notice of the clicking cameras and noisy motor. We spotted huge manta rays as we speed towards the coast. The boat took us in through a gap in the surf and we motored quietly through narrow blue passages of black lava rocks. Mangroves and cacti grow on the rocks with no visible soil to nurture them. After a time of wandering around on the rocks spotting seals and rays in the huge pools we went off for a couple of snorkels amongst the rocks. I don't snorkel but Alan enjoyed himself, spotting white tip reef sharks, turtles and lots of fish. To get from one snorkel site to the other we had to go out into the sea again and there we saw more Manta Ray, this time the boat stopped and those who were keen jumped out and if they could catch them swam with the Manta. For Alan this was the high light, swimming above a huge Manta Ray, probably about 3 metres from wing tip to wing tip. The Mantas were so close to the surface we had a great view from the boat. Alan has just come back from a scuba dive at the nearby island of Tortuga, he has seen hammer head sharks and a big school of golden rays among other things.
As David Attenborough will have told you documentary watchers the cold current is a reason for all this out of place wildlife, penguins and sea lions in the tropics. We have felt quite cold ourselves, 2 or 3 nights out from the Galapagos we got out warm clothes for night watch. The last night was so cold I hunted out a scarf to wrap around my head. Being right on the equator we expected to have a warmer time for our third crossing.
We,ve nearly done all the things we came to do and see, the Marqueses are beckoning albeit from a long way away. Our cash reserves have dwindled, no banks or ATMs here on Isabella, no business takes credit cards so it must be time to go. Yachts are still trickling into the bay although I suspect we are the tail end bunch of the Pacific voyagers this year. A number of yachts left Isabella a few days before we arrived which is just as well, the anchorage is quite small. Most of the eleven presently here will start west over the next week. We plan to leave on Tuesday to undertake our longest passage hopefully no more than 3 weeks at sea. Our fellow cruisers on the Southern Cross SSB Net, will keep us company and we of course have sailmail to connect us to the world. I will update the blog every few days or if I get really bored everyday!!