Before we left San Cristobal, we finally managed to fit in a land tour as well as a visit to the Darwin Interpretation Center. The land tour got organized thanks again to Peace Corps Amy, who had yet another friend with a taxi. The taxis in Galapagos are 2 or 4-seater pick-up trucks with a bench or two across the back. Very practical, actually. We got a group put together consisting of Baker and Cindy of Lite N Up and their friend Popon, visiting from Bahia, Amy, Tregwer and Mary Louise of the Swedish boat Onyx, plus the 2Cs, and we actually got a beautiful day for it. Good thing, for as we left sea level and climbed into the highlands, the temperature dropped quickly. We just can't get it through our thick brains that it's not hot here! The first stop was El Junco. El Junco is one of the older volcanoes of the Galapagos, being on San Cristobal which is the easternmost island. The volcanoes get younger and younger as you go west because the Galapagos, which is part of the Nazca Plate, is moving east at 5cm per year over a hot spot in the earth's mantle. Over the eons this hot spot has created the island chain one by one! While some of the volcanoes on Isabela and Fernadina are still active, El Junco is so placid it is filled with a fresh water lake! We climbed up to the caldera rim via nice steps the Parque National has built up the smooth slope. There was little growth beyond grass evident, although we could see some spots where the Parque has burned off invasive mora (blackberry) bushes. Evidently mora and guava, introduced in the past by settlers, have run wild here and threaten indigenous plants, so the Parque is taking agressive measures to control them. The openness of El Junco's hillside is really remarkable, and the view from the rim in all directions is stupendous. The lake itself, some 270 meters in diameter, is totally produced by rainwater, and in one of those great natural mysteries (how do they get there, Mr. Darwin?), there must be some fish in it despite being 700 meters above sea level, because frigatebirds were circling and diving. We were very lucky in our timing to be able to enjoy the great view, because the garua -- a sort of chilly, misty cloud common to this time of year, blew in from nowhere in a matter of moments when we were but two-thirds the way around. Suffice it to say, it hastened our departure! Next stop was a hike on the southeastern coast down through arid lava fields with brush and opuntia cactus to Playa China, a perfect little white sand beach between headlands of lava rock. There were no sea lions, penguins, or even boobies on this beach, just beautiful white sand and little hermit crabs. The highlight of this hike was yet another fearless female vermillion flycatcher that delighted Baker by landing on his proffered finger! After the hike back, we closed out the daytrip by driving across to a lookout on the western coast which gave us a great view of our friend Leon Dormido, aka Kicker Rocker (see last update). It took much of our last day in Wreck Bay to get the Capitania to organize our zarpe. We're not going anywhere yet but between islands; it's hard to imagine why it needs to be so complicated! Imagine if we had to cope with this kid of rigamarole in the Virgins. There'd be no charter industry whatsoever. It really was the most disorganized office we have run into in Ecuador, and incidentally the most expensive, charging us a daily anchoring fee which we encountered nowhere else! While waiting for the officials to get their act together, we walked out of town to checkout the Darwin Interpretation Center. This is an elegantly designed facility, architecturally-speaking, with a bunch of fancy graphics, explaining the history of the islands yet again, this time with an emphasis on the human impact. Personally, I found the graphics very hard to read, the displays a bit dull, and there was little info there we hadn't already picked up from the guidebook. Behind the center, however, was a network of marked hiking paths that we probably would have enjoyed had we figured them out earlier.
Office Bay, Floreana
Nine days after our arrival in Wreck Bay (where does the time go?) we weighed anchor and sailed SW to Floreana, the southernmost island of the archipelago. Floreana is famous for Post Office Bay, where in 1793 a roofed barrel was set up for whalers and other seafarers to leave mail. The theory was that passing ships would collect the letters and carry them to civilization. Despite what you might think, the Post Office Barrel endures, much decorated by more light-hearted visitors, and frankly mail service in and out may beat the national carrier given the number of tour boats that make it a quickie stop each day. The idea is that visitors not only leave mail, but collect mail for their home "port." We picked up some postcards addressed to the mid-west, and we are thinking to add a sticker letting the recipients know that their card left the island by traditional means...aka sailboat. We left a bunch of letters for our mutual families' youngest generation; they should be popular as we actually put US postage on them! Anyway, we are grateful for the persistence of tradition because Post Office Bay is the only "natural" anchorage cruisers are officially allowed to anchor in! While the tour boats came and went all day, visiting the barrel and a solitary lava tube, we lingered a luxurious three days doing little more than enjoying the uninhabited setting. On our second day we were joined by Capaz, a 48' ketch from Boulder, Co. Capaz is home to a family of five, including Brian (11), Scott (8) and Chris (7), with whom we have since had great adventures. They had their own great adventure in Post Office Bay when Dad and the boys went spear-fishing for supper, only to have their catch taken off the spear by an 7' shark!
The fourth and final anchorage available to cruisers is off the town of Villamil on the SW corner of Isabela, the largest island in the Galapagos. We sailed west on a windless day in tandem with Capaz (actually we LEFT in tandem with Capaz and arrived about an hour after them! Can we say "Big engine!") The anchorage was tucked behind what looks almost like a man-made seawall, which is in reality a scattering of barrier islets comprised of wildly eroded lava rock. By repute it is the most popular Galapagos anchorge with cruisers, but that is certainly not based on it's comfort level. It's a bouncy anchorage, which was tightly packed with cruising boats as we rounded into it with our high temperature alarm sounding! Talk about timing. We scooted to the front and dropped our hook rather less deliberately than usual, and got the engine shut down quickly. The culprit? Depleted coolant thanks to a leaking fresh water pump. Always grand to end six hours of motoring with a shot of adrenalin! We stayed in the Villamil anchorage for six nights dividing our time between pump repair (Don likes to approach these projects slowly and thoughtfully when he has the time!), reading, excursions ashore and fishing expeditions with the Capaz clan. The town was quite different. Despite a relatively small population and also relatively little tourism, with the luxury of space, the street plan is wide, although the streets themselves are sand, and the houses well separated. There are more stores than you would imagine, and several great panaderias, all of which we checked out in the search for useful foodstuffs! Restaurants made little money from us, however, since getting in to and out from shore was a bit dicey with the tidal change, which exposed a huge maze of rock to negotiate. Not a good nighttime thing! Our big adventure, a horseback trip up the Sierra Negra Volcano (1370m), took place one day late. I say that because the day before our excursion was beautiful and sunny, while the day we all went -- the 2Cs, the 5 Capazies and Harold and Lise from the Danish boat Mega Dream -- was cloudy, and, you got it, drizzly and cold on the mountain. I'm sure the vistas across the caldera, at 10k wide one of the largest on earth, are spectacular. We couldn't see ten feet! On the northern side, we dismounted and hiked down through lava debris to Volcan Chino, which erupted in 1979 for a lunch stop with a view said to overlook Elizabeth Bay and Fernadina. We saw a glint of water in a momentary cloud break. HOWEVER, all that said, we had a ball. How can you not with three boys and bunch of adults giggling and jiggling through the mist on a herd of horses being driven forward by the clucks of their owner driving them from the back of the pack!?! It really was a most amazing operation. The horses are among 25 belonging to Modesto and his family, but only one person attends if the group is under eleven! After we climbed from the open pickup truck, Modesto disappeared into the mists with no explanation for some 45 minutes, leaving the gringos to snack and speculate and to try and stay dry and warm. When the chips and cookies were nearly gone, Modesto reappeared with ten horses (not counting the two 5 month-old foals taging along!) strung out head to tail. The "tack" was comprised of homemade pseudo western saddles made from rebar covered in padding and plastic. Cinches, stirrup straps and bridles that were no more than loops around the lower jaw with reins knotted back were made from polyprop rope! There wasn't a horse in the group that looked big enough for either of the two captains! They may have been small, but the horses proved to be a hardy, wel-trained, willing bunch and they carried us all, despite hugely varying levels of experience, without mishap several hours up the wet muddy trail and back again. The head to tail thing evaporated the moment we mounted, and from then on it was a free-for-all herd, with bodies bumping and shoving as whoever got closest to Modesto at the back suddenly quickened his pace through the pack! Don got given the only horse with an attitude problem. Don named him Trigger. On the way back down the mountain in the truck, Modesto took us by the Isabela tortoise-breeding center where we could see both dome-back and saddle-back giant tortoises of many sizes. We also swung by a salt water lagoon in order to add flamingos to our Galapagos bird list. Speaking of which, we were all thrilled to finally see several male vermillion flycatchers, from whose bright red coloring the species gets its name! The other especially neat excursion in Villamil is to the barrier islets themselves. Here we found a lunar landscape of angular black lava towers inhabited by lava lizards and, along the shore, thousands of marine iguanas. Marine iguanas only exist in the Galapagos. They are distinguished from their land cousins by their color (black with white specks to match the lava rock), by being uglier (not easy), and by having adapted to a totally vegetarian diet of marine (underwater) algae, a perfect example of Darwinian theory. Also on one of the islets is the "Shark Pool". This is an apparently natural corridor of water through the island that attracts numbers of white-tipped sharks. On any day you can easily look down on a dozen or so millng around. On our second visit, we had a sea lion pup doing aquabatics through and overtop the sharks, each oblivious to the other! The sea lions were definitely a major element of the anchorage at Villamil. They were always around the boats and through the night you could hear them fishing under the boat, their exhalations bubbling up around the hull til you'd have sworm there was a scuba diver down there! We had a pup make itself quite at home in our dinghy, taking the sun stretched out on the pontoon. But the absolute best sea lion story is Don's. As he says it will probably be his fishing story of the year. "I have been fishing with the Capaz boys (including their Dad) in the dinghy just about every night. The boys have so much energy and enthusiasm for everything, it has really been fun to be with them (although I am also glad that I am not their father, because there is absolutely no way I could have enough energy to keep up the pace 24 hours a day like Dad does!) Anyway, the boys liked to go in our dinghy because it is bigger. We take two rods for the five of us and there are lots of directions on what we should be doing and how we should be doing it. Chris, the youngest is the most ardent fisherman. Every night we catch something. We don't always get it into the boat... but we hook them and we get all the excitement of the "big catch" with each hit. "On the last night I went with them the oldest boy, Brian, was in charge of my rod (I drive, so I don't have rod duty), and he got the first strike. After about 2 minutes, the progress of getting the fish to the boat was not good, and he tired. Dad (his) took over, I turned the dinghy towards the fish, and we started to chase it. In about 2 more minutes the fish surfaced way, way, way out from the dinghy...it's a good-size fish. We could tell from its tail which was sticking out of the mouth of this much bigger sea lion (not a good day for the fish!). For the next 15 minutes we chased this stupid sea lion that has our fish. At one point, this took us right by an official Navy vessel. Mind you, we are not entirely sure it is legal for us to be fishing in Galapagos waters, however at the sight of us they just pointed and laughed. Finally, after going forward, backwards and sideways, the sea lion got back to his reef shelter and the line got cut on the sharp lava rocks. Once the line was free the thief took off to the open water on the surface with the fish hanging out of his mouth, us still chasing him in the dinghy and all 3 boys screaming at him to "drop our fish!!!!". It was pretty funny and I'm sure this will be the fish story of the year for me. Oh, yeah....did I mention that was our last lure!!!"
We are now back rocking and bobbing in Academy Bay. The town has had a complete personality makeover now that the airport here has reopened. All the shops are open, the shelves are well stocked, and tour agents are out hustling business from the throngs of tourists on the streets! But of course!!!! We are here to get ready for our passage back to Western Panama. Capaz and Lite N Up are here, too, and they also are getting ready to leave, only westward to the Marquesas. It is going to be hard to part ways, although we will find more old friends as well as new ones back in Central America. We have had a good stay. It is probably not the way to DO the Galapagos. To DO the Galapagos you need a two-week trip on a good tour boat with an English-speaking naturalist that can take you to all the far-flung corners of the archipelago where the most exotic creatures like the flightless cormorant, waved albatross and Galapagos penguin reside, where outrageous volcanic formations stand isolated, and where are, of course, the really special world-class dive sites where whale sharks dance with the manta rays.
The 2C Galapagos
Wildlife Check List