Friday, August 3, 2018

Galapagos part 4 - San Cristobal

The San Cristobal airport is 5 minutes out of town. We stayed in a super clean but chotchky-filled Hospedaje Romy. This town was clean, had real roads, nice restaurants and a fun weekend scene. The malecon that goes along the waterfront was full of sea lions and sally light foot crabs. 

San Cristobal has a real homeless problem:

We came to San Cristobal to see the Hammerhead sharks. These are the scuba diving signals for hammerheads:

The next day we had our big tour to Kicker Rock (Leon Dormido) which is a gorgeous rock formation sticking out of the ocean. 

We ended up with Scuba Eden because planet ocean, who we had booked with, had overflow. I scuba dove and the boys snorkeled. The first dive we went down to 64 ft and sat on the rocks and waited. Some large white tips showed up. Our guide Franklin took us up to 35ft  and out to the deep blue. We waited a bit and the hammerhead sharks  eventually showed up. We saw about 8 total. Five of them were circling below us. It was clear and they were pretty close. The biggest was probably 6 ft? I also swam with a sea turtle - hoping my dive buddy can share we GoPro footage. The second dive was remarkably the same in that we went to the same rocks and waited. Franklin took us up a bit and away from the rocks and the sharks showed up. Jeff, the lead diver, said that this is typical 60% of the time. Not a lot of current. Easy diving. Oh and the water was in the mid 70’s. It wasn’t cold and the super thick wetsuit was way overkill. The boys saw the sharks as well especially on the second snorkel. They were 15 ft below the surface at one point and paul dive down until they were just 5 feet away from him. Unfortunately his waterproof camera was dead by that point so our footage was limited to Leo’s GoPro and the divemaster's GoPro both of which caught some sharks far away and not very clearly, so I didn't post them here.

On the boat ride home we saw some manta rays so we chased them a bit and they swam around our boat. They often put one black fin up in the air so they look like a black shark. And they flop about in the water too, splashing. 

The next day began our arduous journey home. We took a plane from San Cristobal to a coastal city in Ecuador and then to Quito where we were from 5:30 pm to 2 am because our flight got delayed. We just barely made it into our connection in Houston and home arriving the next morning and Debbie went straight to work, landing in Denver in time to take conference calls. Sigh.

Galapagos part 3 - Tintoreras, Isabela

Last day on Isabela, Paul was sick so Leo and I went to Tintoreras by ourselves. This is very close to the pier. There were pointing out sea lions and penguins and eagle rays. We boated a short distance to lava flow that was covered with marine iguanas and sea lions. We also saw a Great Blue Heron! The iguanas were juveniles and abundant and cute. Penguins too! We then snorkeled, again in cold water so Leo opted out. There was one spot where at least a dozen sea turtles were sleeping. We saw some eagle rays, seahorses, snake,  eel.

Sequence of Great Blue Heron taking off:

This cactus was really cool. The leaves are vertical to avoid overheating at the equator:

I love these marine iguanas. I have endless pictures of them:

It was too cold for Leo to snorkel (he was all snorkeled out by then) so I went alone. the water was old but pretty clear and shallow. There were tons of megafauna:

The beach across from our hotel:

The beach bar:

Sally Light Footed crab (endless pix of these too):

The next day we left Isabela. This is the Isabela airport:

Note the complete lack of:

  • windows
  • people
  • desks/seats/tables
  • lighting
  • any infrastructure at all!
Instead of taking two speedboat rides we took a super expensive chartered flight to San Cristobal, which was the nicest island we visited. The 40 minute plane ride seated about 8. I got to fly co-pilot, which was cool. I think I have a 40 minute video of it all that I'll never watch.

Our plane:

My seat on the airplane:

View of Isabela's beach. Our hotel is down there:

Galapagos part 2 - Los Tuneles and Cabo Rosa, Isabela

We took a speedboat from Santa Cruz Island to Isabela island. Isabela was the least developed of the three inhabited islands we visited. It was actually a bit of a dump. The main road was dirt and we lived near the end of it, with some broken down shacks. We were a few houses from  this rooster that cock-a-doodled from 12:30 am to 8:30am every night. It sounded like it was in our backyard. Earplugs did nothing to block this sound. 

That night Paul had food poisoning too, and it ended up being worse than what we had on the boat. He was sick for three days. The next day we were supposed to go on our highlight day tour to Los Tuneles. Leo was recovering from being sick and paul couldn’t hold down water so they stayed in bed. I went alone and it was jaw dropping. It was like being in a zoo but without the cages. We boated out to the Cabo Rosa lava tunnel area which is not very deep, snorkeled and saw several caves where White tipped sharks sleep. It feels like invading their living room. We’d dive down and The guide Eduardo would hold us down (because our wetsuits were so buoyant). We swam with 5ft white tips and especially smaller black tips that were curious about people. There were some giant sea turtles, a seahorse at the bottom attached to a branch of old mangroves. It was incredible to see this many megafauna in one dive/snorkel trip. The water was cold even though we had wetsuits and when we got back in the boat for a ten minute ride to Los Tuneles, I shivered, teeth chattering the whole time.

White tips sleeping in their cave:

Black tips coming to check us out:


Sea snake:


Galapagos penguins

At Los Tuneles it’s skittle colder but clearer. A penguin swam with us when I jumped in. We swam in some flooded lava tunnels and caves. Then we dried off and walked on the lava. A’a lava, which is what the Hawaiians call the lava that’s hard to walk on. The Spanish adopted Hawaiian terms. We walked to where the blue footed boobies were nesting and saw a tiny baby under its mom, about four days old. We saw two boobies doing their mating call. The males whistle and show off their tail feathers and wingspan and then stomp their blue feet. 

The boys decided that night that they’d try the same tour. We had originally been scheduled to climb the Sierra Negra volcano but it was erupting a bit so all tours  were cancelled. I could have done some hike or trip by myself or do the same tour again with the  boys so I opted to hang with the family. 

Second day tour was amazingly the same. The boys froze to death too and paul opted out of the Los Tuneles snorkeling because he was so cold. But the seahorses were where left them and the white tips sleeping in their caves and the tortoises still in the shallows. This time we dove into Los Tuneles and swam through the tunnels which was cool. And cold. And we didn’t get a good view of the baby booby. I keep telling Leo you have to pee to keep the wetsuit warm.

Leo and I are the two on the right:

Leo and I had a great time with the sea turtles. This is me checking him out:

And posing while everyone sticks a GoPro at the guy:

Leo taught the turtle how to dab:

Family at Los Tuneles:

Yellow pufferfish:

Leo at Los Tuneles:

The Galapagos! part 1

We started off in Quito, arriving very late. Quito is at 9000 feet, so even though it's on the equator, it was 60-70F and cold at night, and had an arid climate. It's quite a lovely city, surrounded by mountaints. We stayed in the new town area but hung out mostly in the old downtown area. Here's the main plaza

Of course, no trip to the tropics is complete unless you eat the fantastic fruit available. I don't even know what these giant green things were, but they were very sweet.

Here's what they look like on the inside:

Quito had some great murals:

Ecuador is famous for its chocolate and the Republic del Cacao is an awesome (albeit pricey, $10/bar) place to taste different types of chocolate:

Since we're not big museum folks, we did an obligatory stop at the fancy cathedral (Basilica del Voto) with the gorgeous stained glass:

The next morning, we left Quito at 4:30am to catch an early flight to Baltra island in the Galapagos with our cruise group. There's wind turbines at the airport on Baltra!

Getting from Baltra airport to Puerto Ayora where the cruise boat depart is tricky so we went with the tour group. Interestingly, the buses were old Chinese buses. We first did a tour to see the Galapagos Tortoises at Reserva El Chato. The tortoises are huge; they're old; and they can live a year upside down without food or water (sounds awful to me, but pirates used to do this for food).

These are real shells. They are huge!

As we left the reserve, we saw a large male tortoise trying to mate with a tiny female tortoise. He walked really fast (for a tortoise) and finally caught her. If you can't see the video, you can go to: Galapagos Tortoises mating

We then went to the Darwin Research Station and saw more tortoises including these really cute 4 week olds:

Cactuses in the Galapagos look like trees:

The Galapagos has manzanillo trees. I remember similar trees in Grand Cayman. The fruit is poisonous, the bark and sap are irritants and if you take shelter under one of these trees in the rain, it'll 'burn' and blister your skin. Unfortunately, they look just like ordinary trees.

Then we boarded our super fancy (and super expensive) yacht - the Natural Paradise:

We had one super fancy deluxe room on the upper deck:

with its own balcony:

Here's Leo on the top sundeck:

They also had a jacuzzi which had warm (not hot) water in it. Still it was nice, because the Galapagos water is COLD! The Humboldt (El Nino) current comes up from the southern tip of South America. That's why there are penguins there. We had a champagne toast on the boat, met the rest of the passengers (16 of us), and motored to Genovesa Island overnight. The beauty of the cruise is that you travel overnight so you don't waste your days on boats and are sleeping during potentially rough open water crossings. Genovesa is one of the three 'highlights' of the Galapagos - the others being Espanola island and Isabela island.

At Genovesa we saw frigate birds (the males have red chests that they fill with air to attract females):

Here's a Nazca booby:

This is the red-footed booby:

We also saw a short-eared owl, but it was too far away to get a good picture. We had a nice dinghy ride in the bay and did some snorkeling. We had what I thought was a great lunch of ceviche. Then visited huge numbers of boobies and frigate birds and sea lions and Sally light foot crabs. The boys crashed out after:

I had felt pretty ill all afternoon and finally lost my cookies at dinner and was down with food poisoning for the next day. Pretty miserable to get sick off the lunch on a fancy cruise. Leo also got food poisoning from the ceviche, but it wasn't as bad.

That evening, the boat generator broke. The emergency lights went on in the rooms, making it difficult to sleep. There were no emergency lights in the bathrooms, making it difficult to be as sick as I was. Our second cabin was in the lower deck and had no operable windows, making it hard to sleep without air conditioning. So it was a miserable night, but in the morning, they got the generator going a little bit, just enough to make breakfast. By this time we were on Santiago island. We had a nice, cold snorkel. Some people saw a shark. I saw a blue footed booby dive into the water very deep, grab a fish and torpedo out of the water like a rocket. It was pretty cool.

Unfortunately, the boat generator broke again and they determined we'd have to stop the cruise and get the boat fixed back at the airport. Without power, there was no running water and you couldn't flush the toilets. This was a real problem for someone with food poisoning. We spent the rest of the day heading back to Baltra. I will note that I complained to the cruise company and they gave us a partial refund. There were some frigate birds who kept circling the boat. I was convinced someone on the upper deck must be feeding them because they kept slowing down when they reached the upper deck. Turns out they were perching on various parts of the boat:

We got to the Ikala Hotel late that evening. It's a really nice hotel although the shower had that warm (not hot) feeling of solar water heating and sure enough:

We had a fancy dinner - most of us got lobster which was spiny lobster (not like Maine lobster) but still tasty. They took the group to a forest hike very early the next morning. We had been scheduled to do a beach trip and see crabs and flamingos and so were a bit disappointed and skipped the forest hike to sleep in and recover from our illnesses. We had lunch in Puerto Ayora at a nice restaurant and Paul got either food poisoning from the fish soup or had some contaminated water in his drink. Either way, he got really sick for the next three days.

We boarded an afternoon ferry to Isabela Island. It was really just a speedboat with 35 people crammed into it. The open water crossing had some big swells. Leo got seasick and barfed his entire lunch, which was quite a lot. The 35 people all moved away from him.