The Galapagos Islands, Santa Cruz: 11-16 Mar 2020

The Travel:
1 hour taxi to Quito airport, 1 plane journey + additional Galapagos checks + additional Corona virus checks, a bus, a ferry, another bus later and we arrived at our temporary hotel until our double booked hotel made our room available.

The Place:
The town of Puerto Ayora was larger than I had anticipated. It’s not that it was large at all just that when I imagine the Galapagos I didn’t think of towns or people. However, the animals are definitely here and are living happily with the humans. The pelicans have practically been tamed as they patiently wait for cuts of fish as the fishermen clean and prepare their catch at outdoor butchering tables. Marine iguanas play statues along the sidewalk. Sea lions have their favourite lounging spots on benches with no regard for humans passing by or posing for photos. The odd looking tall tree-like cacti line the well paved seafront streets.

The Accommodation:
Sir Francis Drake Hotel
Private room with on suite a couple of blocks back from the sea front. Good clean rooms with hot showers.

Costa Del Pacifico:
Pretty much same as above but with a king sized bed and one street closer to the sea front. Any hotel feels pretty luxurious at this point in the trip.

The Food:
This place felt like a real holiday destination with a lines of restaurants and bars along the sea front. More like US prices here which hurts a little bit for South America but it is an isolated island so it makes sense. Also the official currency is the US dollar. So many places to eat and such good food! I felt very spoilt and very happy. We found the most amazing crepe place (Agua) and had the most delicious crepes. Vegetable curry savory crepe and kinder crepe for desert- sooo yummy! Adam almost adopted a baby gekko at this restaurant as one refused to leave him (shout out to Gekky). We went back twice. We became locals at a cafe serving great stone baked pizzas, milkshakes and ice-creams.

There was an entire street that in the evenings became pedestrain only as tables and chairs were set-up in the road. It was kind of like street food in that it was literally in the street but without the street food prices. I didn’t fully understand it as for the same price I could get a sea front restaurant.

I’m not a huge coffee lover but I got converted at the coffee lab (endorsed by Darwin apparently) with their frozen vanilla coffee slushies.

What We Did:

Scuba Diving: Seymour & Mosquera with Albatross dive shop
One of the best dives I have ever done, not for the coral (Belize & Hawaii have it there) but for the amount of marine life. The dive company were fantastic. We enjoyed the hour boat trip out to Seymour island taking in the sights and the cool sea spray out on the front of the yacht.
On the first dive we spent a leisurely hour swimming with white tipped sharks and watching them snooze. These sharks are basically just big fish and did not mind our presence in the slightest. It was strange to lock eyes with these creatures, see the awareness and make a connection in a world that we really didn’t belong. I was able to see the lines of teeth inside one of their open mouths which served as a reminder of the harm they could potentially inflict. We saw the odd turtle and ray as we swam through multitudes of colourful fish. Parrot fish followed us around and clams closed as we passed by. It was so much fun I didn’t want to come up.

We watched the snorkelers play with the sea lions and saw the unbearably cute sea pups waddle down the sandy banks of Seymour to play with the human visitors along with the odd curious fin nibble here and there. I was super jealous that I was an observer rather than participating but we had many more sea lion experiences to come and our next dive was definitely something special.

Dive two had us going deeper and losing a little visibility but that only added to make it more magical and eary as we watched shadows pass by in the near distance and materialize into black tipped and hammer head sharks. These are what people think of when they think of sharks. 2-3 meters creatures swam by us and sometimes unsettling circled us to see what we were. We literally sat on the sandy bottom watching them pass by.

I’ve kept my 100% record of throwing up when in or on water but this dive was definitely worth it.

Explored the Darwin Museum:
Eggs from the surrounding islands are taken, incubated and hatched in a protected habitat in order to protect the tiny tortoises from predators. To balance the population the eggs are incubated at temperatures varying by 1.5 degrees to produce either male or female tortoises. The tortoises are released back into the wild at 6 years old. Once they are 20-25 they can then reproduce themselves and the process starts again. Both domed and saddle back tortoises live in the sanctuary. It was just memorizing to watch these slow moving old creatures go about their daily routines (mainly finding shade or eating). They don’t need to hibernate here as it hot all year round.

We learnt that humans are the reason that the Galapagos Islands need a conservation program as the first human visitors ate the tortoises to near extinction or introduced predators to the islands. We saw the body of Lonesome George behind glass in a temperature and light controlled room. We had to enter an acclimatization room that cooled us down from the outdoor heat before entering the room where he -I want to say lives but stands forever in death I guess is more accurate. Poor George was the last of his species of giant tortoise but there is still a search for any living females so that with the magic of science the species could potentially be restarted. Diego’s story had a happier ending. He was a giant tortoise of another species that was also near extinction. He was taken to San Diego zoo but returned to the Galapagos as part of a breeding program which resulted in him having 800 decedents. After his very busy life he was returned back to his home island and into the wild.

Being so close to the equator it was extremely hot around midday and we had a few moments where we were under prepared with not enough water and no hats. We had to quickly hunt shade a few times and learnt from our mistakes. I now have a very nice Galapagos hat.

El Chato & wild giant tortoises:
We enjoyed a morning walking through lava tunnels and looking for giant tortoises. It was so much fun to hunt them down and see them in their natural habitat. Many were chilling in the pools. Bucket list item checked off.

Las Grietas:
Grietas literally translates into the crack. We swam in the cool crystal clear waters in the fracture between two tall cliffs. It was a nice way to cool down and very refreshing.

The Good: The amazing animals

The Bad: The midday heat

The Verdict: The most magical place on earth is not Disneyland it’s here.

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