Darwin’s Backyard

 

Amazing view of Isla Bartolome

 

 

If you have been following this blog you know that back in the beginning of our trip we had our passports stolen. I mentioned that I was looking for the silver lining in this situation. Well, as it turns out because we got our passports stolen and had to wait for new ones it left a gap in our schedule. So, we decided to take the leap and head to the Galapagos Islands for a week. Wow what a silver lining!

 

Visiting Galapagos Giant Tortoises at the Darwin Research Station

 

Amy found us a last minute deal on a 60 foot Catamaran. We spent the next 5 days sailing around the islands and another two staying on San Christobal scuba diving. The Galapagos Islands lived up to expectations and much more. We started our adventure on the island of Santa Cruz from Puerto Ayora. From the moment we stepped from the taxi the wildlife was already on our face. Lying on the ground in a park across the street from where we were having lunch was a sea lion.

 

Not a care in the world

 

The boys were excited and fascinated. They started exploring the seashore and came across some more sea lions, marine iguanas, and a multitude of birds including giant pelicans. Our first main stop was the Charles Darwin Research Station, which was about a 20-minute out of town. There the center has a captive breeding program for giant tortoises. We were able to walk into an enclosure in get right up close to the giant tortoises. They were huge! The most famous of the tortoises is named Lonesome George. He is the last surviving member of the Isla Pinta sub species of giant tortoises and has been living at the park since 1972. As of right now he has two girlfriends living with him in captivity, so lets wish him luck that he can create some heirs.

After motoring all night we made our way to Isla Rabida for our first shore excursion. We jumped onto a Zodiac and sped to shore and were greeted by a beach full of sea lions.

How cute is this guy?

Mothers, Fathers, and cubs played about in the surf and the sand. At one point we watched a mother breast feed her pup not five feet from us. We put our snorkel gear on and jumped into the water to play with the sea lions and search for sea life. Alex and I got a chance to see a marbled ray and schools of different fish. On our way back to shore a couple of playful and curious sea lions came to play and one actually bit one of flippers in a playful manner. After snorkeling we had to board our boat and head to our next destination. One of the cool sites was seeing different sea birds dive-bombing for fish around our boat. In my head I had The Ride of the Valkyries playing.

 

Hitting the beach of Puerto Egas the first thing you notice is the wind carved walls that border the beach. It makes for a cool site. We hiked to the other beach and got a chance to see thousands of marine iguanas. It was to the point that you had to watch your step or you would step on one.

Hey...I think you have something on the corner of your mouth

This was the one and only time we got a chance to see the Galapagos Fur Seal. They were cute animals that had giant moon like eyes. Imagine the eyes of Puss in Boots from Shrek and you get an idea. That night after dinner we sat out on the bow and took blanketed sky full of stars. It was amazing and strange at the same time. Being from the Northern Hemisphere the night sky down here is totally different. So everything the sky was foreign and new.

 

Isla Bartolome was next destination on the itinerary. We anchored in a picturesque location called Sullivan Bay. There is path that leads to the top of a 114M summit. There you get scenic views of the bays below and a huge landmark named Pinnacle Rock. At the beaches below you get to snorkel and view wildlife. On one of the beaches we stood up to our knees and had more than ten white tip sharks swim around us. You would think I was nervous, but I was more excited and intrigued.

White Tip Shark swimming at my feet (no zoom!)

However that changed when two very large shadows came into the picture in the form of bull sharks. Time to get out of the water! On the other beach we all went snorkeling again. Amy and Alex were able to a Galapagos Penguin sitting on a rock. Lucky for the rest of us we made a detour on our way back to the boat to get a close look at the little creature. Nick was ecstatic. To those that don’t know he loves penguins.

Nick's favorite...Galapagos Penguin

 

At this point in our journey we couldn’t see how the next place could be any better than the last. Did the islands have any more surprises for us?  Yes it did in the form of Boobies. On the island of North Seymour are some of the best colonies of Frigate birds and Blue-Footed Boobies. What fascinating birds these two are. First is the Frigate bird that has a large red throat sack that expands when it is trying to impress a mate. Tyler turned into a National Geographic photographer trying to get up close shots of the expanded balloon. Next was the Blue-Footed Booby.

I heart boobies

There feet are so vividly blue. The photos do not do them justice. Not only are there looks interesting but also there behavior is peculiar. They have a dance they do to try to attract and impress a mate. In a nutshell we basically were visiting a large bird nightclub with a bunch of males strutting around trying to impress the chicks.

 

Getting back on the boat we found out about the attempted coup that took place in Quito while we were gone. We became a little worried since the presidential palace was three blocks from our hostel. Fortunately for us the political firestorm was quelled and peace was reached before we were back in town.

The next morning we woke early to explore the small sandy island of Mosquera. There live some of the biggest bull sea lions in the region. The bulls patrol the beach front swimming back and forth for up to three months before they are weaken from not eating and get beaten out by another bull. This was the first and hopefully only time I will get chased by an enormous bull sea lion. Man can they move quickly! Farther up the beach Nick and the boys were getting acquainted with some sea lion cubs. One small one actually was sniffing Nick’s feet. It was so cute.

Nick made a new friend

 

For the next 6 hours we were on the open ocean heading to Sante Fe Island. As we made our way past Gordon Rocks Alex, Amy, and I sat on the side of the boat and watched Manta Rays jump. Huge Manta Rays would clear the water and do flips before entering back into the ocean. No one knows why exactly they do this, but take it from me it is cool to watch. One actually jumped with 4M from our boat.

At Sante Fe Island we went for another snorkel. Nick got a chance to see a Marbled Ray and a Green Sea Turtle. However, he got cold and went back on board. Alex and I snorkeled the rest of the time. We saw tons of fish, turtles, and rays. The highlight came when I was cleaning my mask. I had it off and Alex pops his head out of water and tells me there is a huge shark underneath us. As I rush (panic) getting my mask back on I finally get it back on a see a white tip shark (thank God!) resting on the bottom not 5 meters from us. After snorkeling we had a quick hike and came back to shore to board the boat, but before the Zodiac came for us we witnessed at a 3 meter long Bull Shark chasing sea lions not more than 3-4 meters off shore. This was the same area we were just snorkeling! Later on I read that back in 2001 a snorkeler had been attacked in this cove by a Bull shark and bitten on the head. I guess it wasn’t that big of a deal since they lived.

 

On the deck of the Galapagos Vision by Kicker Rock

The next morning we sailed around a landmark called Leon Dormido or what many call Kicker Rock. We had breakfast and ended our boat ride in Puerto Moreno. There we checked into our Hostel and visited Wreck Bay Diving to get fitted for our dive gear.

 

Wreck Bay Diving were great. The dive master Shy was very safe and thorough. He made sure that Alex was safe and looked after the whole time. We went on a 2-dive trip the next morning out to Kicker Rock. Before our dive he wanted to do a tech dive to assess our skills.

Geared up and ready to dive

During our quick dive Alex and I got a kick out of the many sea lions that darted and dived around us the whole time. During our dive Tyler and Nick donned wet suits and did some snorkeling. They also got a chance to swim with the sea lions and one sideswiped Nick. Our two dives were awesome. The current was a little strong but the sea life was excellent. We saw turtles, rays, and fish. On our last dive we spotted a huge hammerhead shark.

 

Like Bill and Ted once said we had an excellent adventure. Just think if it weren’t for our passports being stolen this experience would never have happened. Lesson to all…things usually happen for a reason you just have to find the meaning.

 

 

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