Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Galapagos (18.01.2014 - 25.01.2014)

This is gonna be a big post, but the Galapagos where also one of the bigger events in our trip so far. An experience for a lifetime! So keep on reading!

The day after arriving in Quito we spent looking for a last minute deal for the Galapagos. We soon found one for a first class cruise which was knocked down to less than a quarter of its official price. Which meant we had to fly early the next morning to the Galapagos, ! The first class treatment already started at the airport in Quito, where a guy was waiting for us with our tickets and helping us to get quickly through the extra baggage checks. Your not allowed to bring any kind of seeds to the islands, so they screen your bag and then seal them for the journey.
After touch down we met the rest of our companions for the trip. In Quito we had already met Olga & Barend from Holland. Knowing the official price of the trip we were afraid to be on a pensioner cruise. But it turned out we weren't the only one jumping on this last minute chance, Tamara & Steve from Australia did the same. Together with a couple from Sweden in the same age we had a group of people about half the age of the other passenger.

After we got our cabin assigned we soon left to visit Dragon Hill on Santa Cruz island. On this island a group of land iguanas developed which feed mainly on yellow flowers, from which they got their yellowish skin. We also saw some flamingos and the first of many marine iguanas to come.

Our cabin on the Domenica was probably the most luxurious accommodation we had since we left home. A giant bed in a big room with a decent bathroom. The shower had hot water with proper pressure and a rain shower head.
The boat had space for 16 passengers and was run by 14 crew members, including the naturalist guide. Breakfast and lunch where in form of a buffet while you could choose between two menus for dinner. In the front of the yacht was a crane to hoist the two dingy's on deck for the longer journeys. On the top deck where some sun chairs and sun beds together with two jacuzzis ^^.

The next morning we went to explore turtle cove, a mangrove bay in which sea turtles seek refuge and mate. It was plain voyeurism, us watching the two dozen of sea turtles humping and thumping around in the water ;) We also saw our first shark, excited!
In the afternoon we went to snorkel next to the island shaped and called Chinese Hat (looked more like a Pizza Hut building imho). The water was rather cold, but there where crazy amount of fish! Highlight was the group of sea lions swimming right past us, awesome! After a quick jump in the jacuzzi to warm up we visited the island and the many sea lions resting there. You could get really close, the didn't show any fear. Just watch out for the bull, he doesn't like it if you intrude on his territory. On the way back to the yacht we saw the first penguins! These are the only penguins living on the northern hemisphere and look awfully cute ;)

Because of the tight schedule and long days the evenings where usually short and everybody went to bed early. During the second night the captain took us up north to the island of Genovesa.

So the next morning we woke up finding us in the former crater of this volcano island which collapsed a long time ago. After breakfast we took to the dingy's and had a look at the thousands (if not millions) of birds nesting. On the way we saw some fur sea lion, a different species than the one we had seen before. The literally have a mane which gave them the name sea lion in the first place. Once on the island we saw blue-footed boobies, red-footed boobies, nazca boobies, swallow-tailed gulls, frigate birds, storm petals and even a short-eared owl. The nickname of bird island is clearly justified!
In the afternoon we went snorkeling and again where amazed by the masses of fish. The parrot fish where huge, all of them. Something we had never seen before.
Later on we landed on the beach where our guide showed us some more birds, sea gulls, finches and herons. Afterwards we could sit in the surf while the sea lions where swimming around us. We went snorkeling again and saw some whitetip sharks, nice.
As a finish we could explore the cauldron by kayak where we saw some sharks jump out of the water. Not so nice if you can't see them below you...

The next island we where back south on Bartolome island to enjoy the view. Then our boat took us to the other side of the island where we could go snorkeling again. There where some whitetip sharks to be seen and even a octopus trying to blend with the rocks. Our guide then took us to another spot a bit further away which was even more full of fish if this is even possible. And then a fearless penguin showed up and didn't mind us, he just kept on hunting, bumped even in some of us. He was like a torpedo in the water, crazy fast and agile.
In the afternoon we embarked to visit the island of Santiago to have a look at the lava formations. It felt like being on the moon, barren black rocks and nothing else.

As finish of our five day trip we visited the tortoise reserve to stare at these giants. The land turtles can get well over a 100 years old. The eat mainly grass which gives them wind ;)
After a short stop over to have a look at a giant lava tunnel our group split up and we headed to Puerto Ayora where we stayed for two more nights.
We visited the station where the bring all the giant turtle eggs from all the different islands. They hatch them, tag them and care for them till they are big enough to be release back on the island they where from. Which takes several years ;)

Our guide had told us about a place where we had a high chance to see hammerhead sharks. Melanie sadly had the cold but Olga & Barend joined me and we went for two dives at Gordon Rocks. It was bitter cold, we had to dive in a thick wetsuit with hoodies and gloves but it was definitely worth it! Not even five minutes in the water we saw a huge manta ray pass by and not much later the first hammerhead. More showed up later together with a galapagos shark. On the second dive we saw more hammerheads, galapagos sharks, a bunch of whitetip sharks and even a sea lion catching fish! An awesome and unforgettable experience!