Slept like a log again despite severe rocking and the engine thrumming a wall away from my ear. We were at Punta Suarez on Espanola island, and after breakfast went ashore past incoming breakers, to walk past sea lions, lots and lots of black iguanas, masked boobies with yellow beaks, some with brand new chicks, and hood mockingbirds. We stopped at a huge blowhole to watch the surf pound the black cliffs. At iguana nesting areas, scores of lizards shuddered heads agressively at each other, protecting their territories, and occasionally came together to butt heads. At a distance, the king of the food chain, the galapagos hawk, sat on a bush.
Back on board we motored around to Gardner Bay, had a swim and lunch and relaxed for a while. In the early afternoon we piled into the motorboat and headed for a nearby rock off which Diego had seen sharks. Against years of cultural training, it was into the water, to take turns diving down to catch a glimpse of two sharks lying in an alcove under a rock, their beady eyes peering through the water, staring at us like a couple of interrupted lovers. It felt strange to be churning the water with my legs a few metres above those two, I can tell you!
Then to Tortuga (turtle) island, a small scrub-covered outcrop of volcanic rock, where we snorkelled in clear aqua water, seeing beautiful schools of yellow tailed surgeon fish and lots of other colourful fish I don’t know the names of. Unfortunately while treading water I managed to whack my in this case un-flippered big toe against a barnacle-covered rock, resulting in shallow but painful cuts.
More serious relaxing on the boat as we moored for the night. I was reading ‘The Beak of the Finch’, about Darwin, the Galapagos finches that inspired his evolution theories, and the researches who continue to study the finches in the Galapagos today. Perfect reading matter!
Started the morning with a landing at Punta Cormoran, a beach loomed over by a prehistoric-looking domed hill. Boobies wheeled in the sky off the beach, taking turns to plummet like spears into the water for fish. Just inland we came upon a shallow lake and near the shore, four bright pink flamingos balanced like ricketty puppets made from feather dusters. As I squatted on the muddy shoreline one walked towards me, and for ten minutes we eyed each other at close range. I turned around and saw the rest of the group standing further off, even the guide surprised by this rare closeness. Eventually, my legs aching, I slowly rose and walked away. Almost in unison the flamingo stepped back into the lake, like we were two old friends who had come to the end of a quiet chat.
We walked to a gorgeous beach, then back to the boat. With snorkel gear we motored to Devil’s Crown, an outcropping of rock, an old submerged crater, sitting in clear water, light aqua in the centre shallows, dark around. Flippers protecting my feet this time, it was an amazing snorkel – I came close to two white tipped coral reef sharks under a rock, then saw another, about two metres long, swim close by. Beautiful schools of fish, starfish, a manta ray. Something I’ve never been good at – ‘popping’ my ears to equalise pressure and dive a lot deeper – I finally got the hang of, and felt a whole new freedom in swimming down deeper to explore.
A couple of guys and I swam through a short underwater tunnel in the rock that lead to the middle of the outcropping. On the way back, fighting the current, two of us collided by mistake, and when I turned around to check him out, I floated quickly to the top of the tunnel and scraped my head and the small of my back on the barnacles. Another head wound! By the way, that whack from Nazca has become a scar … well, eventually it will fade!
Bleeding from various parts of my body I climbed back into the launch …
On shore at Post Office Bay, where a barrel stores mail to be picked up and delivered by anyone happening to be going the right way, a system started in 1793. Nearby, Pirate Cave took me back to days of reading the Secret Seven and the Famous Five – a deep, dark cave we navigated with torches, that led to a high partly flooded passageway, where we waded through the cold water.
Back at the beach we watched as another tour boat, the Lolita, was forced to beach itself after holing its hull. The other tour group ended up hitching a ride on our boat, while the Ecuadorian seamen (described hilariously and aptly by an English guy in his accent as ‘ham-fisted fools’) swarmed shouting over the boat rescuing wet luggage, patching the hole and trying to stop the boat keeling over. Tied together by a rope the two boats began heading north to Puerto Ayora at a snail’s pace. The other group salvaged their wet gear and told us stories of cockroach-infested cabins and incompetent crew. Feeling good about having paid a few extra bucks for our luxury, we hung around the front of the boat with a few rum and cokes, talked and looked at the stars overhead.
Morning found us at Puerto Ayora, the main settlement on the islands, on Santa Cruz. As groups went on a Thursday and Sunday rotation, some of our group left, including our increasingly distracted guide, and were replaced by a new English guide, who was excellent, and four of his friends whom he’d finally convinced to holiday with him in the Galapagos. I moved to a much better deck cabin. Our friends from the Lolita were gone to try and salvage their trip and argue with the tour operator.
After breakfast we motored to shore to visit the Charles Darwin Research Centre, and saw baby and adult giant land turtles, including Lonesome George. George is the sad last survivor of one of the eleven species of land turtle on the islands. When he’s gone, that’s it for that species.
In town, a very prosperous-looking place with a Caribbean feel, we bought beers and munchies. In the afternoon, after lunch on the boat, we got a bus with a temporary guide, to see a bit of the Santa Cruz highlands – an ancient huge sinkhole, a lava tunnel where lava used to flow just under the surface, and a farm where giant turtles ‘roamed free’, though the fact that a local charged $2 and they headed straight for the (annoyed and hissing) turtles, made us suspicious of that. In general the highlands were lush and green, and it was weird to see ‘normal’ animals like horses and cows in the cultivated areas.
Back in town for a beer, then back to the boat to meet our new guide and travel companions (already the rest of us feel like ‘the old group’). Our guide was with his wife and child, and while he was working he obviously really pleased to have his friends with him. He really brought the rest of the trip alive by describing the geography and wildlife in detail, and by being really enthusiastic. The last guide was soon forgotten!
After dinner we took the opportunity of being in port to go ashore and get together with the some of the people who had left. The night was hot and humid, and we relaxed at a groovy bar with no walls and a dirt floor, to have a few beers and play table soccer and pool with some locals. By now used to the swaying of the sea, it was a strange feeling of coming home to get off ‘still moving’ dry land and back to our boat.