EXPEDITION ECUADOR: GALAPAGOS
If you've not read yesterday's post then hop on over there and have a read... this one will make a lot more sense if you do! This is a long one (probably the longest I've ever written) so grab yourself a snack and enjoy the many photos and memories.
18th July 2017
I thought I'd throw in what my Birthday celebrations were like to kick off this post. Although we spent most of the day travelling from Esmeraldas back to the villa in Tumbaco so that we could catch our flight to Galápagos the next day, it was actually super fun! We'd had a party the night before for my teacher as it was their birthday and I didn't mind travelling because the views were so stunning. I had a cake (which was lovely!) and also had to crack open a piñata. Blind folded and nervous I was handed a stick to which my group shouted where I had to hit at. I nearly smashed a window... oops, but luckily did not and eventually it opened.
|Map of the Galápagos with a focus on Santa Cruz, source: Pikaia|
19th July 2017
A day I was pretty excited for. We had a slightly later start than previously at 7:00, loaded our day bags into a coach and set off to Quito airport.
UIO to GPS @ 10:40
Flying to Galápagos was quite a different flight and I'm not an experienced flyer. We could only take carry-on luggage, the regulations were a lot stricter and plane a lot smaller. Our walking boots had to be fully cleaned so that we didn't carry any seeds over to the Islands that could threaten the endemic (only found in this part of the world) species. However, regulations with liquids were a lot more lenient.
There are two airports in the archipelago (group of Islands), one on Isabela Island and one on Baltra Island. We flew to Baltra, it took 2 hours and was a little turbulent but nothing unpleasant, we arrived at 12:40 local time (Galápagos is 1 hour behind Ecuador). Baltra is an uninhabited Island in the archipelago so we crowded onto a coach and drove to the south coast. From there we got on a boat and hoped a across (it was quite literally!) to Santa Cruz Island. Santa Cruz one of two main Islands (the other being Isabela) and it was to be our base for the next 5 days. We travelled from the north of the Island down to the main village: Puerto Ayora. From north to south of the Island it took 40 minutes and we were introduced to our tour guide.
|From Baltra Island to Santa Cruz Island|
|Exploring Puerto Ayora|
|Lining the Streets|
|Every evening we would walk the pier|
|Sleepy Sea Lion|
Our afternoon was relaxed and pleasant. Later in the week we would be snorkelling around the Islands so we grabbed some snorkels, our swimming costumes and went for a practise session. Galápagos archipelago is a cluster of volcanic islands formed by the movement of the Nazca Plate towards the continent, as a result there are volcanic caves everywhere. We took a short boat trip round the island to a place only accessible via this mode of transport and then enjoyed a 15 minute walk to a pool of water between two volcanic rocks. Once there, we snorkelled for 40 minutes, the Marine Iguanas watching on.
Getting back we caught a glimpse of more wildlife across the Islands including pelicans, sea lions and black tipped reed sharks. A gecko also made its way into someones room at our hostel, chasing him out was a laugh.
|Meet Sam and Calum|
|Bed for the Week (excuse the mess.. we were quickly leaving!)|
|Snorkelling Spot, pc: instagram.com/samd0herty|
20th July 2017
Warning for the next few days: I LOVE wildlife, animals and biology. Therefore I'll be throwing in a lot of facts.
We got up early and took a coach to El Chato Giant Tortoise Reserve, the home to many many Galápagos Tortoise. One of the creatures that the archipelago is famous for. At one point there was around 500 000 tortoise across the archipelago, however that has now dropped to 40 000 due to the extinction to some of the species. Although they are slow moving creatures they can move up to 1km in 24 hours, often travelling to lagoons or areas of mud and water. The purpose of moving to these environments compromises of three main things: drinking, treating lice and maintaining their body temperature. Galápagos tortoises can weigh up to 300kg and live around 180 years. When Charles Darwin visited the Islands he brought back a tortoise who only lived for 154 years. To walk around the reserve we were provided with wellies and then allowed to explore. I found it consisted of three areas: the mud lagoons, volcanic caves and orange groves. The mud lagoons were were the turtles wondered and ate guava that had fallen from the trees... I later found out that this is my favourite fruit!
The orange groves were home to another famous animal of the archipelago: Galápagos Finches. You'll probably have heard about them when discussing evolution. Darwin's Finches demonstrated his theory of evolution because the beaks on species across the Islands had adapted and evolved to hooked shapes or otherwise so that they could feed. We were also given the opportunity to pick and eat some oranges. Greener oranges were said to be more sour and yellow to be more sweet, whilst mine was green it was the perfect flavour.
Moving along we came to the lava tunnels and volcanic caves formed with the Islands almost 3 billion years ago. Walking through you could see where the lava moved and collapsed chambers.
|Guava Guava Guava|
The first hour of our afternoon allowed us time to explore Puerto Ayora and we attempted to find some market stalls one of the boys had spotted earlier in the day... however, we had little luck. Instead we walked simply up the street that on which our hostel was located and found a small ice cream parlour selling cones for only $1, so of course we indulged. I went with Chocolate.
Meeting back at the hostel around 14:30 our group walked through the town to the Darwin Research Centre (this was the place I desperately wanted to go to at some point!!). It was a well structured centre: easy and enjoyable to walk around. Our tour guide showed us a white berry that had been useful when Ecuadorians had first arrives on the Islands, serving purposes such as glue or hair gel. The main museum room at the centre was about the natural history of marine life, featuring the skeleton of a whale and stunning photography from across the archipelago. Animals at the centre included a land Iguana from Santa Fe Island. The species were removed from the Island and placed in the centre after dogs and goats were introduced and out competed the endemic (only native to) species putting them at risk of extinction (see some of the problems us humans can cause!). Wild dogs and goats have now been removed from the Island and the Iguana's are slowly being reintroduced. Our tour guide also got us into the Lonesome George exhibit - it was meant to be closed for a few days for maintenance so we were extremely lucky. Lonesome George's story is known because he was the last Galápagos Pinta Island Tortoise and passed away in 2012. Each Island holds its own species of Galápagos tortoise and therefore species on different Islands can not produce fertile offspring together. Although scientists attempted to mate George with tortoise from Española Island, due to the similar saddle-back shell shape, they were unsuccessful.
However the research centre also carries out other work: incubating tortoise eggs in danger of predators (females at 29.5ºC and males at 28ºC).
|Galápagos Land Iguana Catching Rays|
|Detailed Map of the Galápagos Archipelago, source: Expedition Trips|
21st July 2017
This was an exciting day. A short walk to a dive shop and then to the marina to catch a taxi boat which took us to our main vessel for the day. It was a 50 minute boat right round to Pinzón Island past the Nameless Rock - though we didn't know it was big enough to be on a map at the time! Now it was time to snorkel. We put on our masks and fins and then hoped into the water at our first stop sight. Within 5 minutes we saw a Green Turtle, Yellow Turtle and beautiful pink, green and blue Parrot Fish. Getting back on the boat for a mid-morning snack we travelled up to the northern points of the Island, it was a rocky cove and there were man-groves. We spotted more Green Turtles and two Galápagos Sharks in the mangroves before swimming back down the side of the Island where there were lots and lots of Sea Lions: one main male with approximately 25 females. The best part of swimming with them was the 4 to 5 month old calf who swam all round the Island and kept doing somersaults between us.
Our final stop was half an hour away to more choppy, darker and deeper waters. On the rocks we were lucky enough to see the bird Blue Footed Boobies (they live for around 12 to 14 years) nesting - their feet really are bright!! Looking under the water it was a lot calmer and we saw swarms of little sharks as we swam towards the Island. Looking between the mangroves we saw more Sea Lions and Marine Iguanas. There are four different types of mangroves and we saw all of them: red and white are the two most common but black and berry are also present in the archipelago.
|Off the edge of Pinzón Island|
|Spot the Crab|
22nd July 2017
Today we volunteered on an Eco-coffee Farm next to the ranch we had visited on the first day. Putting on wellies at the companies work house and went into the field where we split into groups of three (Calum and Sam in mine) and dug out triangle shape compost holes and lined them with stones so that when it rained they would maintain their shape. We were on the side of a volcano so there were a lot of rocks. We then went round the farm and picked oranges and grapefruits. At their work house we ate the oranges whilst trying their coffee (I'm not a usually a coffee fan but this was amazing!!!) and homemade orange jam. We were also shown how to extract Yuca (when spelt as 'yucca' it's an ornamental plant) roots, something we had been eating a lot but didn't know what it was. It's very similar to potato in texture and sometimes in taste. We then went back down the volcano with buckets around as and picked coffee beans... I never knew they looked the way they did. You have to pick them when they are red, green ones are not ripe. Taken to a little restaurant for lunch, we then walked up to the owners house and spent the afternoon sorting through the good and bad roasted coffee beans. Once we had done this it was back to Puerto Ayora where I grabbed a pineapple and coconut ice cream from our favourite $1 ice cream parlour and then after dinner a guava flavoured (the BEST).
23rd July 2017
Our last full day on Santa Cruz meant we had ourselves a lie-in but my room-mate and I got up early so wondered down to the supermarket to buy some pastries: chocolate and raison. Changing into our swimming costume we walked to Tortuga Bay. The beach appears in two parts, the first for surfing but no swimming, snorkelling or entering the water because of the extremely rough tides. The second part is a lot calmer as you turn a corner, it is lined with mangroves. We were given the day to just relax and unwind. It wasn't particularly warm or cold so to throw ourselves into the water we ran.
After a long time swimming Calum, Sam and I went on a photography adventure and found ourselves in a cactus field. It was a nice break from a busy beach. I thought it would be nice to chill on the beach, but the guys had other ideas and I quickly got thrown into the water. We then attempted to make a human pyramid (something I have never done before) being 5'3'' I was on the third (top) tier. It lasted less than a minute before we all fell into the water.
Whilst what I'm about to say thankfully didn't take away from the trip I thought I would throw it into the post just in case anyone stumbles across this when considering visiting Galápagos. Some peoples money was stolen from our hostel Darwin. It was done by people who had access to our rooms but we don't know who and they did go through peoples belongings to find it.
|Spot the Hermit Crab|
|Masses of Marine Iguanas|
|The Modern Day Dinosaur|
|Guardian of Tortuga Bay|
24th July 2017
GPS to UIO @ 12:45
This was an adventure I'll never forget, but it's not over yet...
Thank you so so much to Sam for letting me use of his photos, they're amazing!! Head over to his instagram (@samd0herty) for more!