08.11.2009 - 15.11.2009
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The Galapagos Islands were once a fabled land to a small child, a child who did not know exactly where they were, only that they were apparently truly special. Fast forward through years of study, wider reading and travel to various places that both small children and adults dream of - it is only now that we truly understand the magic that is the Galapagos. It doesn't matter what ones belief is we challenge anyone to come to this place to leave not feeling blessed. We have had the privilege of witnessing nature at its most inspiring and most heart wrenching. The pictures taken and the words that come from the tips of my fingers do no justice to the experiences we have had over the past 8 days.
Leaving Quito behind early one Sunday morning, our arrival into the Island of Batra was straight forward. During the transfer to our boat, Millennium, we were pleasantly surprised to find the group to be of a mixed age. Grabbing a last minute deal on a first class catamaran we were slightly concerned that we were going to be travelling with an older stuffier group of people (no offence to any parents or grandparents reading this!) The magic started the moment we arrived at the dock, while waiting for the runner to collect us and take us out to the Millenium, we found a baby Marine Iguana on the nearby rocks alongside the famous Galapagos crab that is fire red in colour and whose name currently escapes us. At the same time a Pelican was cruising centimetres above the bay no doubt looking for his next feed.
Following an introduction by our guide, greeting and meeting the other passengers who were already on the boat and having our first of seven 3 course lunches we returned to shore for our visit to the Charles Darwin Research Centre. Darwin is a man who is either deeply respected or heavily scorned, depending on view points and which side of the fence you stand on. The Darwin Research Centre, however, while named after the man who gave birth to the idea of evolution barely touches on the subject, at least not within the tourist viewing areas anyway. The main purpose that we could ascertain during our visit was to educate people on the impacts of foreign animals and plants as well as provide a breeding program for the endangered species of the Galapagos Islands. A visit to the research centre provided opportunities to photograph baby tortoises, iguanas and to get up close and in one boat members case a little too personal with the giant tortoise when they accidently stood on ones nose.
The Galapagos Island tours vary in length from either 4 or 8 days with members of the tours changing over on Thursday's and Sundays. Arriving on Sunday we joined people on the boat who been there since Thursday. When it came to photographing the wild life in the Charles Darwin Centre it was perfectly clear who feel into what category. The people who arrived that day (including us) went absolutely gaga at the fact that we could stand, sit, and kneel within 1m of these beautifully wrinkly creatures. The others however took the obligatory picture, but didn't feel the need to snap the couple of thousand we all took because earlier that day they'd been experiencing them in the wild.
We had been waking up at 7am for the past 3 weeks and this will be continuing through this week as we are on the coast for our third week of Spanish School. However, waking up at 7am during our time in the Galapagos no longer felt like an arduous task. This I think was due to the realisation that the trip had begun and that we were most definitely in the Galapagos. This was reinforced on Day 2 when we pulled back our curtain to find the boat nestled in Santa Fe Bay. A trip out to our private balcony allowed us to witness two sea lions playing together, jumping out of the water in unison.
Having left behind the main Island of Santa Cruz, Santa Fe was our first real taste of the Galapagos. As the runners pulled into the bay we were greeted by a colony of Sea Lions, our first of an infinite number of encounters that we had with these beautifully doe eyed animals. Mothers were feeding their babies, the babies that weren't feeding were exploring the shore line and the dominant male was making himself heard as he paddled close to the shore. Our time on Santa Fe was spent getting acquainted with the endemic species of land Iguanas living inland. Hannah had the fright of her life when one took off across her path in pursuit of a male who apparently entered the invisible boundary of his territory.
Our highlight of Day two was definitely the afternoon snorkelling session. In the hour that we were in the water we were lucky enough to swim with a mother sea lion and her baby, a giant manta ray and a white tipped shark. Well, I saw the shark; Hannah was thankfully oblivious. I don’t think my hand would have survived the vice like grip she would have exerted had she been aware of its presence.
After 8 days of staring into the doe eyed faces of hundreds of sea lions you could be forgiven for not getting excited about yet another encounter. However on Day 3 this feeling was the furthurest thing from our minds as we disembarked on Rabida Island to check out the view, snorkel and watch the islands colony of Sea Lions. Rabida is the Galapagos’s only red beach due to the heavy presence of iron ore. The earthy red brought back memories of the Agean Coast line in Turkey at sunset and made for a beautiful backdrop against which to take photos of the islands inhabitants. One little fella driven to curiosity by his hunger came all the way up to my feet, inspecting my big toe in the hope that it would turn out to be something edible.
Our luck in the water continued as we had ocean floor seats to a sea lion using a blow fish as a beach ball and this was the followed up by a penguin on a sugar rush. Both events were caught on video by a member of our cruise and I’ve uploaded them herehttp://www.4shared.com/file/156849914/9dd22afd/Penguin.html? and here http://www.4shared.com/file/156866714/b5ef44c1/Sea_Lion_and_Blow_Fish_Best_Part_2.html? if anyone would like to see them.
It was during our time at James Bay that we witnessed both sides of nature. Mother Nature is a beautiful and giving entity, without her the world would be devoid of majestic beings. However a world can only survive if it is balanced, tipping the scales in either direction drives populations to extinction and it is here on the Galapagos that Mother Nature’s balancing act is most evident. We felt such an infinite degree of sadness when we found a baby sea lion close to death. Its skin was loose and its fur completely dry, it had been over a day since it ventured into the water. The only action it could muster was to call out for its mother intermittently. Our guide informed us that if its mother didn’t return within the next 24 hours it would die and that only 15-20% of new sea lions survive their first year. They typically pass away because their mother failed to return in time with food or even worse their mother was attacked and killed while looking for food.
This Island also gave witness to hundreds of marine iguanas returning to the shore line after feeding on the green algae nearby. They basked in large groups sharing each other’s body heats whilst soaking up the last rays of the sun before the chilly evening set in. Upon taking up their basking position their only movement was the occasional raise of their head to clear their sinuses of the salt from their early afternoon swim and algae feast. Having witnessed these creatures up close one can understand how it was possible for someone to dream up the idea of Godzilla. They certainly aren’t the prettiest Galapagos inhabitants.
The rest of the week continued in much of the same vein. However it was on the final two days that we had our encounters with my favourite of the Galapagos creatures. This took part whilst having another snorkelling adventure (what a hard life!!) It was this day that we swam with 6 or 7 Sea Turtles. These majestic streamlined creatures were hypnotic to watch. Their patchwork of colours across both skin and shell glistened as the morning sun cut through the crystal clear water. Like most of the Galapagos animal they very rarely paid attention to our presence. It was only when one swam directly above them that their instincts kicked in that we were able to witness their graceful movements. Whilst graceful and seemingly slow, our mask and flippers was no match for the speed that they generated. In fact a friend was taking a picture of me with one, when it took off and dove between my legs.
Our last day started off ridiculously early (5am!!) as we were off to witness Giant Tortoises in the wild before catching our flight to the mainland. We happened upon a group of approximately 12 Tortoises grazing in a pond. Hannah was absolutely mesmerised whilst watching them try and manoeuvre around each other. She describes it as ‘watching natures slow moving dodgem cars.’ It took one Tortoise 10minutes to leave the pond and then eventually slowly wander off in search of shade. They are also interesting as they have an incredible amount of gas and air within their shells and hiss/creak when they move their enormous bodies.
Hoping on the aeroplane we had a mixture of happiness and sadness. Happiness at the fact that I was glad to finally be off the bumpy boat and sadness because we were leaving behind one of our best trips ever!