San Cristobal – Galapagos

I was up at 3.30am. Unable to sleep anymore. Partially thinking that I would oversleep. And also a huge headache (probably from altitude. Paranoid.). 
6am, I was off. Driving out of Quito. 
There weren’t many people around. Just those who had been to the early markets, dressed in traditional clothes and wrapped in blankets. A couple out for a run. And some stray dogs. 
As we were driving down the motorway, the sun was rising up over the Andes. A light mist hanging over the valleys. And Cotopaxi volcano was glowing orange. So beautiful. The driver even asked if I wanted to stop and take some photos. A casual stop on the hard shoulder of a 3 lane motorway…! 
I arrived back at the airport at 7am. 
Flights to the Galapagos have a slightly different check in process to normal flights. It’s still in the domestic terminal, but first you go to the Consejo de Gobierno desk, on the right hand side of the terminal. 
Here you pay $20 and get handed a piece of paper. Apparently this is ID that you carry with you whilst in the Galapagos. Mine has the wrong dates on it though. Interesting. 
Then you are directed to a separate scanning area. Bags are checked for food. 
Obviously I have food with me (vegan problems). I had checked the list of ‘green’, ‘orange’ and ‘red’ foods beforehand and made sure I only had ‘green’ food. Oats, cereal, protein bars, rice cakes, nuts (as long as they are in a sealed bag with a date and manufacturing information on). All fine. They seemed to think I had chia seeds. Nope. Sadly not. Fruit is not allowed – but I didn’t have any. 
The whole purpose – they are keeping the Galapagos free of foreign seeds/potential contaminants. Which is good. 
Then the usual bag drop and normal hand bag scanning. Obviously I was stopped. As always. Dive kit always looks dodgy. 
My flight isn’t direct. We have a stop off in Guayaquil. I thought about stopping here for a day to look around, but from what I have read it is not very exciting. From the air it was dull, grey and buildings for as far as you could see. 
After an hour at the airport, time for the final part of flying. To San Cristobal. 
The Galapagos. 

Unusual species. 

Untouched (kind of). 

I cannot wait. 
The Galapagos is comprised of 13 main islands, scattered 1,000 km from the mainland and home to 1,000 species found nowhere else in the world. 
My first stop is San Cristobal, the fifth largest island, but the second most populated (after Santa Cruz). The islands are 97% uninhabited and conservation efforts are in place to preserve the islands. 
We landed at 10.30am in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, popping through the clouds offering a first glimpse of the arid landscape and black volcanic rocks. 
This is still part of Ecuador, so no passport stamp which was disappointing. But you do have to pay a $100 national park fee when you land. 
The airport is basically in the town, just 1km away. But I have too much luggage so caught a $2 taxi for the 5 minute drive. Left my bags in my room and went out to explore. 
The town is small. Just a few streets of cute small colourful buildings, a bright green church and several rows of tour booking agencies. 
First task – find a day trip for tomorrow. I wanted to go to either Espanola or to Punta Pitt, but as it was quiet, there were no trips running to either. So ended up with a 360 tour around the whole island, stopping off at different points. Not what I wanted to do, but hopefully will be good anyway. 
I walked along the malecon. And instantly, the sound of sea lions. Swimming by the harbour. Sitting on steps. Laying on rocks. So cute. And some marine iguanas hanging out on the edge of the rocks – the only sea-going iguana in the world. 

Then – to the highlands! The only real way to do it is to hire a taxi. $60 for the afternoon. 
We headed out of town and into the countryside. The weather changed from being sunny to being cloudy and threatening to rain. 
San Christobal is the only island in the Galapagos which has fresh water and our first stop was at El Junco lagoon. This was a hike up a 650m tall hill, to reach the edge of the lagoon. 
The walk was pretty – through a fern forest, some pretty flowers. And able to watch the clouds moving in. Awesome. 
The lagoon itself wasn’t too exciting. But there were frigates skimming the water, washing the salt from their feathers. And the hill did offer nice views across to the ocean. 

Next up – the Galapaguera. A tortoise reserve. There used to be 15 different species of Galapagos tortoise but several are now extinct. Each island has its own different species as they have all evolved away from each other. The Spanish word for tortoise is Galapagos, and the islands are named after the ones which were found here. 
This reserve is kept as a natural habitat and has a breeding centre, where the smaller ones are kept until they were large enough to be released. 
As soon as I entered, there were two huge tortoises strolling across a path. How awesome. They were huge, with large domed shells. 
There was a path leading around the area. I didn’t realise how long it was. It took me an hour. Walking through a wonderland. Tortoises, some eating, some sleeping, some walking around. Finches, darting around everywhere. The Chatham mockingbird – found only on this island. And not a single other person the whole time I was there. Just so amazing. 

Next stop – Puerto Chino. A 15 minute walk through arid cactus land, to reach the beach. White sand and bright blue water. It was so pretty. 
Being a weekend, there were quite a few locals here, surfing and hanging out. The beach was small, but I walked around. Feeling odd scratches on my legs – like I was walking through sharp long grass. Horse flies – biting me. Super annoying.

On the way back to town I asked the taxi driver to drop me off a La Loberia. A beach near the airport. 
This beach is covered in black volcanic rocks. There was supposed to be marine iguanas and sea lions here. I walked for around 10 minutes and saw nothing except for pretty landscape. It was about disappointing. 
Then I spotted a sandy beach in the distance. I decided to head there. 
That is where the action was! Well sort of. Sealions hanging about on the beach. And one smaller baby one flapping around on the sand and into the water. So cute!
This is also where the guide was hanging out. All sites seem to have them – you have to sign in. Not sure why. All the sites are free to visit. He was nice and told me to carry on along the beach (even further!). 
So I did – and I found the marine iguanas! They are so camouflaged against the black rocks. Laying around in the sun. One was right in the middle of the path. 

Marine iguanas in the Galapagos are the only ocean going iguana and can expel salt water through their nostrils. So every now and then is the sound of them spitting! Marine iguanas able to shorten their length in an El Niño event, when oceans are warmer and algae (their only food source) is dead, which is pretty cool. 
I turned around when I saw the cliffs. I had walked for several kilometres. Such beautiful landscape everywhere. 
I walked back the way I came and when I was nearing the exit, the guide found me. And walked me out. He didn’t speak much English and my Spanish is limited. He was young and obviously excited to talk to a white girl. Kind of cute. 
From the beach entrance it was a 3km walk back to town. Along one very quiet road. Nothing to look at. Disappointingly no taxis came by. But one car did – and the guy offered me a lift back to town. Awesome. Clearly in most countries this isn’t something I would usually do. But it seemed ok here!
It was 5pm by the time I got back to town – so much walking this afternoon. But literally incredible. I cannot stop smiling. 
I dumped my things and went out to find food. ‘Supermarkets’ are not a thing here (despite it being labelled so in Lonely Planet). I would hardly even describe it as a shop. It sold watermelon for $7 each (!). Potatoes. And cleaning liquids. That’s all. Not that exciting. 
And restaurants seemed to be closed. Don’t know why. But I found an open bakery so just bread for dinner then!

Sunday 25 June 2017
There were no trips running to the places I actually wanted to go to today, which was disappointing. So after a while contemplating what to do yesterday, I decided to just go on the only trip that was running. A 360 degree tour around San Cristobal. At $130 for a day, nothing comes cheap in the Galapagos. 
I had to be back at the shop by 7.15am and after some waiting around, I was with a group and on a small boat by 7.45am. Easy when you struggle to sleep beyond 5am. 
We were heading anti-clockwise around the island. It was quite wavy and threatening to rain. 
After just over an hour of bumping around, we arrived at Bahia de Rosa Blanca. A white sand bay, surrounded by mangroves and volcanic black rock creating small tide pools. We were the only ones here. And it was beautiful. 
We had a while to wander along the soft sand and through the mangroves. There weren’t many animals around, lot of crabs (and the red Sally Lightfoot ones which are ubiquitous across the islands), a pelican and some other sea gull birds. 

Then we climbed up over some rocks to a lagoon just behind. Then clambered back down slippery rocks into the lagoon to snorkel. 
It was ok. The viability was terrible. We went in a massive loop around the whole lagoon. There were a few turtles, rays, white tip reef shark. 
Then back on the boat round to the tip of the island – Punta Pitt. 
We could not get off the boat, but instead parked the boat right next to various different parts of rocks. All completely covered in birds. This is the only place in the Galapagos where all type of boobie – blue foot, red foot and nazca boobies nest. And there were thousands of them! Blue footed boobies are so cute. There were also lots of crabs scattered across the rocks. It was awesome. 

Just around the corner we stopped in Bahia Sardinia. A tropical white sand beach, bright blue water and volcanic surroundings. Amazing. 
We had lunch here – they gave us mini lunch boxes, I had rice with beans and vegetables. Was actually really good! 
And some snorkelling. Nothing to see. Except for the sea lion which was swimming around in the bay. I only saw it for a few seconds as it zoomed by underneath me!
As we continued south, along the western coast we stopped off at some rock formations – Cerro brujo. Again covered in birds – nazca and blue footed boobies. Plus some large pelicans swimming around underneath.

These rocks were cool – they had holes in them that gave great views of kicker rock. We also went inside a small cave area. So much life everywhere – so untouched. 
The final stop of the day was Kicker rock. The rock is supposed to be an amazing dive site. We were just snorkelling. And it wasn’t that great. The current was strong. And visibility was bad. I saw a couple of turtles, and that was it. The only cool thing was the colour of the rock – covered in small corals, bands of colour from yellow, to orange, to red. 
We got back at 4pm and I was exhausted! Despite not being that excited about the day trip, I actually loved it. 

Monday 26 June 2017 
Of course I was up again at 5am, but lazed around until about 8am. And time for some hiking!
I headed back through town and got distracted by all the sea lions plus a blue footed boobie hanging out on the shoreline. You don’t need to even leave the town to see all the animals! This town is amazing. 

I continued along the coastline, past Playa Mann (a beach on the western side of town), again full of sea lions. And headed up to the Interpretation Centre. 
The building holds a small exhibition, giving information about the islands. Showing how land is used for agriculture, how they try to prevent foreign species entering and prevent tourism for destroying the islands. 
But the more exciting part – the trails behind the building. There is a walking loop, going all around Cerro de las Tijeretas ‘frigate bird hill’, with some paths leading off to various look out points. 
The path started out through the arid landscape – cactus and various yellow flowers. Then started heading upwards. I made it to the top of the hill and had views back out across the town and the other way, across a bay towards Kicker Rock. There were lots of birds in the sky – frigates, gulls and pelicans. Just amazing. There were a couple of look out points up here. And whilst I didn’t see any nesting birds, the variety of plants and birds and the amazing view were incredible. 

I headed back down and towards a rocky beach with crystal clear blue water. Here it was possible to snorkel with the playing sea lions. But I didn’t bring my stuff. So instead just sat in awe. 
I carried along the path. More look out points. More finches. Lava lizards. Birds. 
There was a sloping path from the hill down to Punta Carola. This beach was amazing covered in sea lions. Marine iguanas. And birds. 
Then the walk back into town. I didn’t realise I had been out wandering around for 3 hours. 
After a bit of shopping, I got an ice lolly and instantly it started to pour with rain. Typical. 
I was back at the hotel by 12.30pm. Then caught a taxi back down to the main pier (only a 10 minute walk, but I have too much luggage!). 
Everywhere I have been so far has been incredible. A complete wonderland. 

Now for a week of diving. 

My group gradually began to arrive at the pier and we were taken on pangas over to our boat for the week. We were mostly single travellers and younger than I had expected – a few people of similar age to me, or marginally older. 
I’m staying on the Humboldt Explorer, for a week of diving. Exciting! But also terrifying, I have been reading all the reports about how difficult diving is here. Despite being relatively experienced having done over 1,000 dives, the reports make me doubt myself!
The first thing – a briefing. About how diving works here and how we are going to stay safe in the strong currents. 
Then some lunch. I was so hungry – having barely eaten for several days. But they hadn’t got the message that I was vegan. So there was very little for me to eat aside from vegetables. Not a great start to the week. But the staff were super helpful and said they would sort me out for all other meals (fingers crossed!). 
We were supposed to be going for a check dive. But there were lots of people hiring gear (to my surprise – it’s very expensive to hire) and there wasn’t enough. So they had to go back to town to find some. 
It was gone 5pm by the time we were entering the water. And the sun was beginning to set. We didn’t have time to go to the proper dive site, so stayed in the harbour, only diving long enough to check if we had enough weight (very salty water coupled with thicker wetsuits means more weight needed). And just as we were getting out, a sea lion came to play! 
So we stayed a bit longer, just at the surface. As he swam all around us, blowing bubbles, coming right up to us. Grabbing fins. So cute! 

It was almost dark when we got back on board. Shower. And dinner. Dinner wasn’t too exciting, they were still not planned for vegan food, so I had some broccoli, rice and salad. Which was fine. 
My body is still completely confused with the time of day, so I was asleep by 9pm. 


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