Monday, April 15, 2013

Santa Cruz, Galapagos

On the last day of March, my Belgian friend Sven arrived for a two week vacation on Irie. We stayed a few more days in San Cristobal and gladly showed him our favorite sights. During his first snorkel ever, at Las Tijeretas, he had a close encounter with a sea lion, and a snorkel trip to La Loberia had us observe many sea turtles and a baby sea lion up close.  Especially the sea lion was a sight to behold. On our bellies, in three feet of water, we saw the little one play with a rock and chasing its tail five feet away.  I can´t remember the first time I snorkeled, but it sure wasn´t as exciting as this! Hours were spent watching the Blue-footed boobies kamikaze dive next to the boat and the playful sea lions swim by. 

April 3rd had Irie and her crew move to the island of Santa Cruz. There was no wind and the still air was disturbed by the humming of our engines. Other than that, it was a beautiful day, with sightings of acrobatic rays. When we passed Isla Santa F­é, the wind picked up and we continued the trip with a fantastic two hour sail towards our destination. Being near the equator, we take all the wind we can get, even if it’s short lived. Once in Santa Cruz, we met our agent Irene and, following suit, settled into the bay on two anchors. Our first impressions were more positive than expected. The area looked pretty, diving boobies all around and it even seemed less busy than San Cristobal. Where were the sea lions?

Mark and I wanted Sven to experience all three islands Irie was allowed to visit, which meant we had limited time in the most touristy of them. On the first day, we explored the little town of Puerto Ayora and gained practical information about stocking up on propane, water, diesel, oil and groceries. In the afternoon, we walked under the hot sun to the Darwin Research Center, where we observed the different stages in the life of the Galapagos tortoise, an impressive gentle giant, and we learned about the almost extinct land iguanas. 

The next day, the three of us followed a long and easy trail to the magnificent beach of Tortuga Bay. We followed the wild and turquoise waters until we reached a path to a smaller protected bay. Tons of marine iguanas posed in the sun and the shady spots in the sand offered a relaxing morning. The mangrove fringed water was pleasantly warm, but very murky, making snorkeling impossible. Some black spots moving by proved the presence of rays and one iguana got our attention when swimming through the water. After lunch, Sven stayed out, while Mark and I returned to town for some errands.

On Saturday we hired a taxi for three hours ($30) and did an inland excursion. The Los Gemelos sight consists of two sink holes, created by volcanic eruptions many years ago. The bottom and flanks of the massive holes are covered with green vegetation and the area supports Scalesia forest, endemic to the islands. Our second stop was at a long and impressive lava tunnel.  Our taxi drove to the other side, while we descended into the deep and drippy dark of the tunnel, created by a flow of lava. Slowly and carefully, we made our slippery way over rocks and through the mud, while gazing at the high “ceiling” and different rock formations. Last but not least, we visited Rancho Principias, a privately owned refuge and hang out for the giant tortoises. Our driver acted as a guide, while we walked the trails and came eye to eye with several wild tortoises. They are truly impressive!

Our last day in Santa Cruz was spent by ourselves. Sven visited the site of Las Grietas and returned to Tortuga Bay, while Mark worked on a reoccurring problem with the navigation computer and I finished a translation job. Another 6am windless start on Monday brought us, under the sound of engines (flying the spinnaker proved to be impossible), to the third and last island of our private Galapagos cruise: Isabela.

This is how little tortoises are created...

Land iguana

Fishing boats in Puerto Ayora. When fresh fish arrives, pelicans, frigate birds, herons and sea lions put up a show to get some scraps. 

There are not many sea lions in Santa Cruz, compared to San Cristobal, but they are still in charge!

The "wild" beach of Tortuga Bay

Marine iguanas love sea, sun and beach!

Marine iguana swimming in the calm part of Tortuga Bay

Giant tortoise feeding on grass at the "ranch"

Are we so small, or are the tortoises "giant"?

 Playing the stupid and "funny" tourist! :-)

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