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Monday, June 29, 2009

First week in the Galapagos

We arrived at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (which is a mouthful, so it's more commonly called Wreck Bay in honor of a cargo ship sunken on the bottom), here on San Cristobal (accent over the "o") a week ago today so it must be time for me to submit a report. Last Monday, after a visit from our agent (Bolivar) and an official from the navy/port captain, we stayed on the boat resting and tidying up from the passage. Tuesday we joined Bolivar for a visit to Migracion and joined our friends on Wind Weaver for lunch on the brand new malecon before returning to the boat. Wednesday it rained and we stayed on the boat. Thursday we took a boat tour to Isla Lobos and Leon Dormido. Friday we visited the interpretive center and walked its trails. Saturday we snorkeled at La Loberia and Playa Mann. Sunday we hired a taxi guide to tour the Galapaguera Semi-Natural with a stop at the beach at Puerto Chino. Except for our arrival on Monday and our beach day on Saturday the weather has been mostly windy, gray and cloudy with some occasional drizzle interspersed by short periods of sunshine. The dreary weather coupled with the fact that we have to pinch ourselves to remember that we are in the fabled Galapagos (because, really, we are just living on our boat in yet another anchorage), may be what's dampening my enthusiasm, but here are some of the highlights.

The best thing that makes it feel like it's not just another anchorage is the baby sea lion who is often joined by friends to play around and underneath Nakia. This is an absolute blast to experience because they swim under the hull blowing bubbles which you hear exploding, and you can feel the vibration in your feet through the cabin sole. They like to rub on the rudder and splash around the waterline as they chase each other around. One early morning I watched a dozen of the little ones porpoising across the bay, and it looked like one of them bonked right into the side of a yellow catamaran. Maybe they were going too fast for it to see the anchored boat in time. Then they played for a minute in the space between the two hulls of the cat. Ziggy watches their activities with wide eyes, and looks at us as if to say, "What the heck is that?"

Part of my problem with some of our travels is that I attempt to duplicate the experiences that friends arriving before us have raved about. I need to learn instead that we have to go off on our own adventures in order to create the best memories. That's how Oaxaca, Mexico ended up being mostly not so fun, while the Quilatoa loop in Ecuador was an outstanding trip. I had tons of detailed info from a friend for the former, and we mostly winged it for the latter. So where Carina raved about their all day boat trip to the NE tip of the San Cristobal, we had an okay time on a shorter version. We didn't have the experienced guide that they had (which added nothing special to our tour), and they went with a larger group of cruisers while we went with one couple and their two small children. Our weather was cloudy so the snorkeling wasn't ideal especially for Kicker Rock where you snorkel over a deep chasm making it difficult to clearly see the Galapagos sharks swimming far below you. It was our second snorkel of the day and I was too cold to stay in the water for long, but John spent some time enjoying the variety of fish hanging around the sheer sea walls. The better snorkel was at Isla Lobos where a large sea turtle stayed near the boat munching on "grass" on the shallow bottom. John found a marine iguana just under the surface of the water eating algae off the lava rocks. I had a curious young sea lion come by for a close up look at me before I had to get out of the freezing water (maybe 72-74 F), and then I watched from the boat as John engaged a group of 3-4 little ones by throwing a large sand dollar like a frisbee. It was delightful to see them chasing it down and pushing it with their noses or grabbing it in their mouths before dropping it for John to throw again.

Our land tour yesterday was nothing spectacular, again maybe because it was a mostly drizzly, gray day. The Galapaguera, where they keep some giant land tortoises in captivity for a breeding program, was lovely and interesting. The trails were excellent and we saw several tortoises of varying sizes. We had enough of a break in the weather for a visit to the beautiful white sand beach at Puerto Chino where the tourists were doing a little body surfing. We were running short on time and had to choose between lunch and a visit to El Junco Lagoon. Since it had started to rain in earnest we opted for food over the muddy trail and poor visibility at the lake. In retrospect we should have just gone straight back to the boats for lunch and saved ourselves the cost of the meal. Jorge, our guide, spoke excellent English, was extremely knowledgeable about plants and animals, and took great care of us. I would highly recommend him to anyone willing to pay $20 per person for this tour (a shorter version can be had for half the cost from the Spanish speaking taxi drivers); he can be contacted through Sharsky Tours on Espanola street just off the Malecon (through which we also booked our boat tour).

By far the best time we've had here was one we almost missed out on. We hired a $3 taxi to run us out to La Loberia past the airport and just on the southern side of the westernmost tip of the island. It was a clear sunny morning but the wind was really blasting and waves were breaking on the lava rocks as we walked the trail to the steep sandy beach. After the freezing cold snorkeling of our boat tour I wasn't looking forward to getting into the water again. The tide was low and there was good protection from the surf in the shallow water but it still didn't look very inviting. John mused that it would take something very interesting like a sea turtle or a reef shark to convince him to get in the water. We stood there in indecision, ready to bail out on our snorkeling adventure, when we spotted a sea turtle coming up for a breath of air. Thus committed, we donned our gear and waded into an underwater Disneyland that has made the trip completely worthwhile. I still get excited just thinking about it! There were lots of fish, and the mixed lava rock and sand sea bottom was littered with mossy green spiny "decorator" urchins which had covered themselves with pencil urchin spines, shells, and other debris for camouflage. I could have spent hours examining their unique decorating choices. We spotted two free-swimming octopi (one very small one, and the other medium sized), and a long Tiger Snake eel hunting in the rocks. John dug the largest shell we've ever found out of the sand, which he discovered was intact because it still had the animal living in it (it goes without saying that we always return these where we find them). A couple of larger sea lions (one definitely a young male) came over to check us out without getting too close. But the highlight of the day was the sight of six sea turtles dozing over a patch of sand in the relatively warm shallow water. They hung motionless just over the sand or wedged next to a rock with their flippers extended in a completely relaxed position, and appeared to be snoozing with their eyes open in the calm water. At regular intervals they swam to the surface for a few breaths and then dropped to the bottom again to rest. It was magical! We hope to pay a return visit if we can get another sunny day with a relatively low tide.

They take siesta very seriously here and everything but the restaurants and a few gift shops are closed anywhere from 12-1 until 3-4 so I haven't done a bit of shopping yet. We also haven't visited either of the two largest grocery stores because we're still well provisioned from Panama and Bahia. But we'll be sure to check those out, along with the local produce mercado, before we leave for the Marquesas around July 12.

Linda and John