Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Galapagos part 3

Day 5

Today yoga guy (I think his name was Lenny) and I went on a boat tour of los tuneles, which are basically a bunch lava tunnels in the sea, many of which form bridges sticking out of the water. It is actually really good cos a lot of wildlife lives here, which you are pretty much guaranteed to see.

On the way we passed some rocks filled with blue footed boobies. These are birds not lady parts. Er, that would just be weird.

We did two lots of snorkelling here. The first one probably went for about 30 minutes, with the highlight being swimming with multiple turtles. We also saw a group of sharks swimming around each other in one of the underwater caves. It was pretty cool. Like everywhere else here, there are also loads of brightly coloured fish and some starfish.

This photo is of a big red rock crab.

The second snorkel was in a different spot, and the water was absolutely freezing. I was glad to be wearing a wetsuit, but it was still freezing cold. This time we saw a lot more fish and quite a few manta rays. Sadly, no underwater camera on this tour.

Then we got off the boat and went onto the rocks and could see loads of turtles swimming around. 

This was also the first time I got to see a blue footed booby up close. They are very cool birds . 

Day 6

I got the ferry from Isabella back to Santa Cruz. All the ferries and tours go early here so it's hard to have a late night unless you are doing nothing the next day. But no one comes to Galapagos to do nothing.

After getting checked back in to the original hostel, I went into town to try and organise a day tour to Santa Fe Island for tomorrow. No deal. Apparently all the boats to Santa Fe go on Tuesdays, which does not work for me. So, after finishing that unsuccessful pursuit, I caught a water taxi over to Finch Bay.

I continued walking until I reached las grietas, which is basically a fjord created by the volcanoes on the island.

This apparently constitutes a path.

Some sea water gets in to las grietas so it is salty, however, it’s very clear and very deep. It’s also the same temperature all year around apparently. I thought it was a bit cold, but it was also quite refreshing since it's hot all the time. 

Apparently fish can get locked in here. Lots of people had snorkels, so there must be something to see. Someone told me they didn't see a lot of fish, but the rock formations under the water were interesting.

Idiots like this guy like to jump off the top. 

The water is really deep so as long you jump out clear of the rocks on the way down, you're safe. Climbing up seems kinda dangerous though.

After swimming in las grietas, I hung out at the beach for the rest of the afternoon, so that's it for part 3. Muchos sea lions to come in the forth and final Galapagos installment.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Galapagos part 2

Day 3

Today I did my first ever dive. Neither Alfred or myself have a diving licence so we had to do a discovery dive with an instructor. This included watching an instructional video the night before, so we knew what to do in case of emergency. Ha. That'll work! I think this is something specific to South America (and probably Asia), since I'm pretty sure you can't dive at home without certification. Our instructor spoke good English though, so at least he went over everything on the boat and we knew the most important hand signals, which are the same in every language. 

So now that we know what to do, out we go on the boat, where we got kitted up in our dive. 

The first time I descended I freaked out massively being under the water after a few metres and had to come back up. After calming myself down I tried again, except this time I couldn’t equalise and my head was full of pressure. So, up we came again. 

The third time was good. No freaking out, and no exploding head! 

This is not the symbol for ok, but to go up. Fail. I like what the ocean is doing to my hair. It looks like one of those troll dolls.

Since I freaked out at the beginning my instructor held my hand. Aw, this is the closest I came to a Valentine's date.

It was pretty amazing being down there. We saw stingrays and some manta rays. 

Loads of fish.

Huge starfish (like 20cm or so). I have never seen any that size before, only small ones. 

The dive lasted around 30 mins then up we came. The water was really quite choppy now, and I’d forgotten to take my anti sea sickness pills this morning so I started feeling sick straight away. This meant I missed out on the next dive, where of course they saw sharks and turtles. 

I am annoyed I missed this.

After the dive, we headed back to the hostel to shower. Then we hired a taxi to take us up into the highlands. The trick here is to get people to come with you, as the taxi price stays them same ($30). Obviously you don’t pay the driver til the end so you don’t get stranded somewhere. Our first stop was los gemelos (the twins), which are sink holes caused by volcanoes once the magma chamber is empty. There's lots of plants and small birds up here now. Naturally that means lots of older German tourists walking around with huge zoom lens cameras.

Next stop was Rancho El Manzanillo to see tortoises roaming around. These ones were just walking along the road up to the ranch. 

It is so cool seeing them walk. They are pretty slow as you'd expect and when you get near them they go back into their shells and hiss at you. 

Since it had been raining we had to wear gumboots. Hmm, if I knew we'd be wearing these, I'd've brought socks!

Some of these tortoises are 150 years old. Ella and I wondered if they would need Viagra at that age, but the Chilean boys told us they would be fine since have Latin blood. Lol. 

This lake looks really polluted but it's not. The trees around it drop leaves into the water, which then grow like vines (or something). They turn red when when exposed to sunlight, hence the name "the red lake".

Here is an owl hidden in the men’s toilets. The owner took us in to show us. I had to stand between two urinals to take this photo. Nice.

Next we went to the lava tunnels, which were highly overrated in my opinion. Plus water kept dripping on us because of the rain, and it was really muddy and dark. 

This kid was our guide and told us the history of tunnels (I think. I couldn't really understand).

Hmm, child slave labour? I asked the Chilean boys to find out the deal. Apparently he is on school holidays and helping his parents out with the ranch. But today is 14th February, so I’d like to know when they go back to school here. Seems like a long summer to me. I'm from the Southern Hemisphere and Aussie kids go back to school in late January.

Also, he needs more training on how to appropriately guide people with a torch in pitch black.

Day 4

I was up early again today to get the boat over to Isabella, the largest island in the Galapagos. It has a beautiful long sandy beach.

The boat takes 2 hours but I remembered my anti sea sickness pills this time, so all good. An older Canadian guy (like in his 60s) got off the boat came with me to hostel I had booked. I hope I'm still travelling around in my 60s. Anyway, we hung out for the afternoon since he’s a Asthtanga yoga instructor and a vegan. He does this thing where he gets photos of himself doing headstands where ever he goes, including cliff edges. That seems kinda dangerous to me, but I like the idea of doing random headstands around the place.

I was less enthusiastic about the sand in my hair afterwards.

Then we went to the tortoise park for more tortoises. First we had to get past these guys.

Unlike yesterday these tortoises seemed ok for people to be up close to them and were a bit more animated, although they were in enclosures and you aren't allowed to touch them.

This was definitely the best place I saw tortoises and I learnt something new. Like most of the tortoises being bred in the Galapagos, these animals need to be protected for the first few years of their lives, but will be released into the wild when they are old enough. Basically no babies can survive on their own in the wild thanks to introduced species. Once again, humans have done a fantastic job at fucking things up by bringing over the usual pests with the first settlers. 

I also saw an interesting sign here, which said that no one alive today will still be around when these tortoises reach maturity. I thought that was an interesting yet slightly depressing thought about our mortality.

I think tortoises look so wise, like Gandalf. 

And also prehistoric, alien and a bit scary.

Up the road from the tortoises is a lake with flamingos in it. I think this is the first time I’ve seen them in the wild. Such beautiful birds. I blogged about them here.

After heading back into town, we searched for some dinner. You can get fruit and veg on the islands, but most of it does not look that fresh, probably cos of the heat and I assume a lot of it is imported. Anyway, we found enough ingredients for a salad, and everywhere sells cans of chickpeas, beans etc. I bought a can opener in Guayaquil since ring pull cans have not made it to South America yet, so we were set for a tasty, cheap vegan dinner. See you can make friends with salad - other vegans.

Next up: turtles and boobies.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Galapagos part 1

Day 1

I arrived in the Galapagos Islands after about a 2 hour flight from Guayaquil. If you fly into Baltra you have to take a free bus down to the ferry (which then takes about 5 minutes and costs 80c to cross to Santa Cruz, the main island). It's hot and the water is a beautiful turquoise colour, which kinda makes you want to go swimming straight away.

Of course, there's always one dude who decides to backpack with a guitar. Why??? Guitars are good, but not when you're travelling. I bet he regrets carrying that around everywhere now that he's here.

Once you're off the ferry, you can either take the bus (if you know about it – lots of people don’t) or a taxi to Puerto Ayora, the biggest town in the Galapagos. Interestingly the public bus is supposed to cost $1.80, but I met a few people whose bus charged everyone $2, just cos they wanted to charge them more. This seems to be how things work here.

I arrived at the hostel, which is in a residential area and not near the main town area. But this is ok, since taxis to go anywhere in Puerto Ayora for $1. And it was quiet at night. All white utes on the island are taxis. And riding in the back is not illegal. In Guayaquil, I saw a ute load of coppers sitting in the back of one. Someone then told me they saw a ute load of coppers with big guns in the back of one in Mexico.

I presume, if you live here and want to buy a ute you need to get a different colour. I also think it makes sense to have utes, since pretty much everyone here has luggage, or they are hauling around oxygen tanks and diving gear, and half the roads outside of  Puerto Ayora are dirt and muddy. I also like that the Galapagos taxis don’t hassle you. Everywhere else in South America (and Asia for that matter) they seem to think that if they beep at you while you’re walking along, you’ll suddenly change your mind and realise you do want one, even though the 50 taxis ahead of them have done exactly the same thing. Grr, so annoying!

Anyway, I was the last new arrival at the hostel today. The owner is an American guy who's been living here for about 3 years. Interestingly he does not appear to speak much Spanish, even though he lives in a place where most locals don't speak English (I'll get to that). I even heard him talking to his wife (a Galapagos local) in English. I'd be really annoyed if I wasn't fluent in the local language after living somewhere for that amount of time. Anyway, he was just about to do his tour of the town with the other 3 new guests, 2 guys from Chile and a girl from Germany so I go to go too. So, off we all went back into town in a taxi that cost $1. 

This sea lion lives under this counter where you can buy freshly caught fish.

Sometimes he has to fight with pelicans to get the fish scraps.

First look at marine iguanas. Their camouflage is excellent. 

After seeing where things are located in the town, we looked into day tours and diving trips for the next couple of days. It pays to shop around since different places will quote you different prices for the same tours.

Day 2

This morning the Chilean boys (Alfred and Fabien) and I went to the Charles Darwin Research Centre to see the giant tortoises being feed at 8am.  

Unfortunately, the boys operate on South American time, and we got there about 8.30 and missed it. I was hoping they would eat at the speed they move, but that would not appear to be the case. 

But look, tortoises!!!!

Then we saw the baby tortoises. There are different sections for different ages. Kind of like school

Once they reach about 5 years of age (I think) and their shells are about 20-25cm, they get moved to a wild area, where there are other tortoise populations. Then it’s do or die time basically. However, they are all tagged with microchips so the scientists can work out which ones survive and where they are. Kind of like lowjacking.

Within the centre grounds, there is a beach. 

This is where we saw marine iguanas swimming for the first time!

It is cool, they don’t use their legs at all, just their tails. 

And there were these beautiful red rock crabs as well as black crabs with turquoise tones all over the rocks. The black ones don't show up well at all in photos so I haven't put any up here.

After the research centre, we met up with Ella from Germany and headed to Tortuga (Turtle) Bay. This about a 2.5km walk from the entrance to the national park. All over the island you can see cactus trees growing everywhere. 

Turns out these are native to the Galapagos. After they reach a certain age (I’m guessing) the trunks lose their spikes and become more like tree trunks. I also like that the tiny finches here have adapted and can nest in their branches despite the spikes, and they also eat the nectar in the cactus’ flowers. Nature is pretty awesome.

Finally we reached the beach. Hooray. It is super hot here and we couldn’t wait to get in the water.  There were marine iguanas everywhere. 

Like the cactus trees marine iguanas are also only found in the Galapagos. This one was minding our bags while we went for a swim. 

Then his mate showed up.

Walking back, we stopped in at this rock pool which was pretty good for snorkelling and swimming with pelicans.

Ecuador is having an election this weekend so every night the entire local population (it would seem) decides to rally for a particular party. Tonight was the blue party (I only know colours). 

Also, I heard that for the two days leading up to the election, no one is allowed to buy or drink alcohol. Not sure how true this was, but the booze did appear to be roped off on Sunday. Although this may have been a Sunday thing. I don't know. What I do know is this policy would be a death sentence for any party in every other free country around the world. I wonder how they got it in here?

Anyway, that's it for part 1. Next up is my first ever dive.