Well, this is different!
Our first impression of South America was VERY LOUD! People yelling in a language we didn't understand, taxi horns honking trying to get you on-board... all before we'd even left the airport. It was one hell of a culture shock. But we had our Lonely planet in hand and knew what we had to do: get cab, find hostel. As we sat in the back seats - our bags squeezed into the boot - we were whisked away into the crazy traffic, I took the plan of not looking out of the window as i had decided that "this is how we were going to die" (an often used phrase for us in South America). Honestly, I'm so glad we don't have Jeremy and were not driving in Quito... it would've been messy! But twenty minutes later and having cheated death once more we were dropped off at our hostel in Quito New Town, a swiss stylee abode, with a proper bed and bathroom. Kind of.
We went to get food then headed back for our an early night having not slept much on the plane. What we found out through out the night is that we seem to have the room next had to the Poliza car impound with a resultant array of car alarams that would be going off at 15 minute intervals throughout the night, just to make sure you never really get to sleep. They just don't care here; they will set the alarm off opening the car and just leave it going while they search for that rather nifty cassette tape of latin pop circa 1978. So blearly awake we have our first taste of South American (SA) breakfast... a basic breakfast of jam & bread (you should know their bread is not good... taste is generally ok but they choose not to serve it to gringos until it has the consistency of a dry bath sponge). But nevermind; with breakfast over it was time to go and collect our tickets for the biggie... the Galapagos Islands from the Happy Gringo.
Now then, this trip has been so long coming... it was the first thing to be marked on our world`map in the lounge back in Ruislip, it is definately a once in a life time thing to do (for us at least), and thankfully we had booked and paid for it when we were still working, so for the next 8 days we were on holiday, without having to organise anything or worry about where we going to sleep or what we were going to eat: a real treat. With tickets in hand, we headed off to explore Quito,we were staying in the modern area where all the shops, bars and restuarants are, it's very aimed at tourists but as we are it was a good introduction to South America. We ate in a very nice restaurant very cheaply, not quite sure what we had, but that's the fun about eating in a new country. i think it was chicken.
Next morning, 5am and wide awake (mixture of excitement and car alarms) showered and ready to go... another death ride to the airport, survived that, checked in and then tried for a breakfast, Tim got some eggs and dried bread i thought i had struck the jack pot when i saw muesli and fresh fruit with yogurt, it's not what you think. museli was some weird sweet coated mini sugar puffs and the yogurt was a sweet pink water substance, fresh fruit, apple piece and banana, so not all bad. Through to departures and we sat waiting, wondering which people in the small departures lounge will be on our boat? We eventually boarded and promptly fell asleep, waking just to eat then land in Santa Cruz, Baltra Island where our new home, the Golandrina would be waiting for us.
We had been given ID stickers so we could be picked out by our guide at the Airport, and it worked a treat we were flagged down by a small man in a Galapagos t-shirt. We were ushered into our group which thankfully seemed like a nice bunch of people.
We all got on our transfer bus and headed to the harbour where we had our first animal in counter, a huge sealion, which we thought was a sculpture until he started getting vocal and waddeling towards us and then there a pelican and our first marine iguana... WE HADN'T EVEN MADE IT TO THE BOAT!!!
We had to be herded by Fabrizzio (Fabi), our guide with the promise of more exciting animals and birds along the rest of our journey we got onboard the dingys, with our life jackets on we bounced towards our new home for the next 8 days. After a quick meet n greet with captain and crew we were shown to our cabin which - as predicted - was compact and indeed bijou. Like one of Pavlov's best, we had been told when the bell rings on the boat we all had to meet in the eating area... bell rang and off we went off to meet our fellow passengers (salivating ever so slightly). We met Michelle a lovely Aussie who had left he partner Richard in Quito to do a Spanish course, Paul a very tall Canadian with some very big photogrpahy epquipment (3rd time to the Islands), Saskia & Mike a lovely dutch couple who spoke very good english, 2 Danish girls both called Steine and 3 Czech girls who were already onboard.
We had lunch which was delicious, tuna steak, vegetables, and a banana for desert, i'm a happy bunny :) after lunch we all went up on deck for a fitting for our snorkels and fins for snorkelling later. we sailed to Santa Cruz Island where we got in the dingys and were left on a beautiful white sand beach, we had a walk around seeing light footed crabs who hide as soon as they detect a movement in the sand, very quick little beasties, loads of Friget birds, who have big red bulbous glands that they puff up to impress the ladies, and so many pelicans hanging around a fishing boat, and more Marine Iguanas who like Tim's shadow are a nice place to stay. Fabi our guide is very good, he speaks excellent english and knows and awful lot about the Islands, well it is his job! We walked to a lagoon on the other side of the island and came across 2 beautiful pink flamingos, back to the beach, flippers and snorkels on, it was a bit chilly but we saw some great fish. back to the beach warmed up then back on board for a very welcom cup of hot chocolat to warm up. Showered in a very small space then up on deck to chat with our new friends and watch the sunset before the bell rang for dinner. Day one almost justified the cost on its own... amazing day!
Every evening would be the same, the bell would ring and we would be shown the agenda for the following day so we knew what we had to do and when, then we would have an amazing meal followed by Pauls footage of the day on his video camera then we'd chat, read books or throw up depending on how choppy the sea was and long our journey to the next island would take. It was such an exciting adventure to wake up every morning at a different island.
Our second day would be a Genovesa Island, by 8.30am we were all bushed from our exciting first day and retired to our cabins ready for a fun packed adventure the following day. What we did experince is that when the boat is actually moving our cabin is right by the engine room and it's
Awoken by the bell for breakfast; feed and on the dingys to explore our next island.
We cruised around looking at the Fur seas on the rocks and the sea lions (that stay on the beaches), we docked and walked up Prince Philips Steps where we were greeted by Nazcar Boobies and Red Footed Boobies.
We walked along the cliff spotting a super Short Eared Owl, who looked like he was sporting a lovely pair a fluffy brown slacks. Being perfectly camouflaged, they are quite are to find so we lucked out on that little feller.
Back to the boat and all change into our wet suits, deeper water was chilly. All covered up and snorkels on we went out in the dingy's where we dropped into some very choppy water but what we saw was amazing with in minutes of floating around we spotted a hammer head shark which Tim managed to get briefly on his video camera as he swam below us, we followed him for sometime through amazing coloured schoals of fish.
Back to the dingys after an hour or so in the water i had a shock when i touched the rope on the dingy that was covered in jelly fish and got a handful and sting, not quite as bad as Vendula (one of the Czech girls) who wasn't sporting a wetsuit (because she was so sore from sunburn - DOH!!) and got stung all over poor thing. So we were greeted by the crew and lots of bottles of vineger, like i said i only had a hand to worry about poor Ventuala was doused in it like a bag of chips.
After another lovely lunch and little Siesta with ear plugs we were at a new Island, Darwin Island, back in the dingys we had a lovely walk along the beach where there were 4 sea lions just chilling out, they are know as the golden retirever of the the Galapagos island, and they are lovely. It very hard for me not to go up to them and stroke them, but we have to keep the wildlife wild and two metres away - hrmphh.
Back on board, agenda, food, film followed by one hell of a night, all hell broke out when we started moving it was quite a rough crossing and as i lay on the floor of our cabin trying to think away the nauseaus felling i was having while Tim had already gone up on deck where he would spend the night not fighting the nauseau feeling...needless to say the following morning the crew were doing alot of washing down of the boat! i believe everyone was ill in the night, but thankfully that is the only really long crossing we have to do.
Bertolome Island - Santa Cruz Island
Bell rang, breakfast, everyone looked very rough, we all joked about our evenings adventure, needless to say breakfast went largely uneaten. We headed off to our new island on the dingys. We got onto Bartolme Island and walked up the 135 long wooden steps up the volcanic ash mountain, a nice work out first thing, well i thought so anyway. Unfortuantley my memeroy card on my camera decided it would die on me, thankfully i had been backing up all my pictures onto Tosh, so only lost a couple from the morning and thankfully Paul had a spare 2GB card that he gave me, thank you so very much again paul, very much appreciated and you know that if there are any pics of mine you want let me know! We were also lucky enough to get some of Paul's - frankly amazing - photos... the beauty of DSLRs!! From the top of the Mountian you had a great view of the surrounding islands that we would also get to soon. On our way back to the Golandrina we saw our first galapagos penguin, such a funny little thing, watching us from the rocks.
Back to the boat wet suited up, and back in the sea, warmer than yesterday but still with a chill, we saw giant star fish that was such a vivid red and orange colour and so big, schoals of parrot fish, it was like swiming through finding Nemo, then we were joined by 2 sea lions who wanted to play with us and chew our fins, i sneaked a stroke of them, well they came to me! so very lovely but then on our way back to the boat Fabrisco spotted 3 white tipped sharks in a deep cave, we had to dive down to see then which was quite a deep breathe moment, i dove down and was greeted by 6 eyes stairing at me, through the darkness.... awesome.
After luch we headed to Santa Cruz Island and Black Turtle Cove and the Mangroves, we spotted our first Blue Footed Booby who was very cool, we we're all back in the dingy slowly creeping into the mangroves so as not to scare the wild life, and what a sight we floated quietly through some bamboo reeds into an opening and there were four giant turtles gracefully swimming around and just being. i think they were playing with us as they would hide under the boats then float back up to surface and then disappear again. Tim got some underwater footage from the boat, they seemed to like the little red light his camera has on it. We then moved round to see 5 white tip sharks hiding under a tree branch in the water. Back to the boat, to watch the sunset and have dinner. Life is good.
Islas Plaza - Sanat Cruz Island
Bell rang at 5.30am, thankfully there was no sailing last night so we had a good night sleep, we got on to the Island before breakfast when is was still dark, head torches were a necessity (thank you White juniors), we were greeted by so many sea lions, big Alpha males, mummies and babies, one looked very fresh indeed. Some beautiful fauna with such vivid colours and lots of cactus trees in various sizes plus a fair few iguana.
Back to the boat for breakfast and to say a farewell to most of our new friends as they would leave today and we would be sharing our small space with a new group of people. We arrived at the main Island which was our time to explore, unfortunatley is have hammering it down with rain so a small town with not a lot going on didn't take too long to explore. it was mainly full of tourist shops. We all met up later at the Darwin Centre where we got to see all the tortoises that are being bred and put back on to their correct Islands, we also got to hang out with some BIG ones, including Lonesome George, who is the last surviving tortoise from Pinta Island and although they have tried to breed from i believe he is firing blanks, well he is apparently over 170 years old! It was so cool to see these giant beasts but it would of been nicer to of been able to view them in their true enviroment not in captivity. We got to see some giant Land Iguanaza who had some great colours on them.
We later headed down to the beach which was a good walk away from the harbour and the sun was trying so hard to come out, we had been promised the most amazing beach of white sand and blue sea, and walking laong the wooded walk way we weren't dissapointed, it was lovely, would of been even nicer if the sun had actually come out, i ws so excited it had been the first long strip of sand that was inhabited by sea lions of animals for a few days, off came the flip flops, i rolled up my trousers and started running backwards and forwards a long the shore line, so very very lovely, felt so good to be able to stretch my legs after being on a boat for 4 days, I also got very wet.
Sadly we had to say a goodbye to Michelle and the Steine's and go and meet our new people. When we got back to the boat we moved rooms, Tim and i had managed to secure a room upstairs away from the engine, ready for a quieter night sleep. After we had showered we were greeted by our new shipmates. And it was... different! The original ship-mates were a cross section from several different countries but the new ones were almost all Dutch for some reason! This in itself is not a bad thing but it is natural that they will tend to communicate almost entirely in Dutch which limited communication with the rest of the group. Thankfully there were some lovely young people, a young man named Pim and 2 young ladies Pauline and Iniga, 2 lovely Austian youngsters Martina and Lucas also a Brit, Emma Jones (.org)!
The HIghlands- Santa Fe Island - Santa Cruz
We headed up to the wet highlands early walking through fog to get there, when the fog decided to pass we were greeted by some spectacular views, and some amazing greenery and volcanic craters in the earth. Lots of Galapagos finches and doves also flying around. We sailed on Santa Fe Island where we had another snorkelling session joined by a group of sea lions once more (who would've thought you could get used to sealions?) and also a turtle who swam with us, Tim has some great footage i dove down for a closer look of him. It was a great to be able to swim with these beautiful beasts we've been so lucky. We spent more time on Santa Fe island where the beach was filled with sea lions, the big Alpha males were making some impressive belching and grunting noises. Lots of families of sea lions... once again i had to edit the photos.
Espanola Island - Punta Saravez Island
Today we got to view the most wonderful blue footed boobies, doing thier singing and dancing of their courtship. such a funny little dance. lots of squawking, clicking and flapping of wings and stomping of their little blue feet. Again we have far too many photos. The Boobies also shared their island with many an albatross and their ugly babies. These are huge birds that quite frankly scared me. As we salied along later that afternoon we were guided by lots of dolphins, swimming alongside the boat and showing us the way. It was awesome to have them so close jumping out of the water we all sat at the front of the boat (that'll be the Bow, that's for you dad) and watched them mesmerized by their swift moves.
Today's Island is half volcanic rock/sand the other side is a beautful white. We saw some great stingrays in the shallows, tim nearly trod on one (Paul did!). After a lovely walk around the very quite island, dodging the odd sea lion sleeping in our path. We later headed to the Whalers Post Office, which is a wooden barrel that was initially set up in the 1930's by a British Whaling ships captain who would leave letters and parcels that would then be taken by other ships going in that directions, how cool is that? The idea is that you get it hand delivered, it'll be nice to know if you get any postcards to see if this actualaly works, so if you have recieve a postcard from us with a random UK stamp on it or if it just arrived through your letter box then it works...
After the postcards we headed down into the depths of the Island, again head torches were needed, i had decided not to go into the deep dark wet watery hole, Tim decided he would with his camera. It was quite ery watching as the lights faded away and the voices fell silent waiting for then to return, thankfully a while later the soggy boy arrived back smiley and sodden.
Excitedly i had another run up and down the beach while tim has a final beach snorkel, he managed to stand on a turtle as he was walking backwards with his flippers on, very funny to see, probably not a funny for the turtle but he did hang around and swam with Tim for a while after the incident. We had a final night sail so Tim and i took a magic tablet each and hoped for a less choppy nights sleep.
North Seymor Island
We now officially have our sea legs, we slept very well being rocked from side to side, the others didn't fare as well. It was a 5.30am wake up onto the Island just as dawn was rising, a lovely sight. We saw the Magnificent friggat birds with thier puffed up red necks to impress the ladies, and my what an impressive sight! We saw some huge yellow and red Land Iguanas that just wait outside the Boobies nesting area waiting for the parents to leave so they eat the babies, they must eat quite a few as they were huge! Back to the boat for our final breakfast and a good bye to the crew.
This truly was one of the most amazing places we have ever seen, and we feel so honoured to of been able to view these Islands and their inhabitants. Honestly start saving now it so worth it, or you could just look at all our photos instead and make belive that you have been there too!