2011 - Galapagos
2nd – 5th March
Wednesday 2nd March
We arrived at San Cristobal Airport in the Galapagos Islands at about 5.30 p.m. after a traumatic journey (see Ecuador diary). “Galapagos”, in fact, means “Tortoise”.
The afternoon activity had to be abandoned but we took a very short ride to the beach where there were hundreds of sealions as well as numerous birds. These included a Great Blue Heron which we managed to get good photos of.
We were transported to the Galapagos Explorer II by Zodiacs which are little more than rubber dinghies.
The evening meal was quite late (8.00 p.m.) and after a first briefing meeting we left for our cabins, totally exhausted and unable to remain for the second talk. Despite this we still had a very poor night’s sleep.
Thursday 3rd March
Following a wake-up call at 6.30 a.m. (!) we remained totally exhausted and both suffering from a bad cough.
It took a spectacular trip to draw us out of a rather negative state of mind.
Again, we took the Zodiac to the island which we had moved to overnight – Espanola Island.
From the moment we stepped ashore, we had to be careful to avoid treading on all sorts of creatures – iguanas, birds, sealions etc, etc. Never had we seen such a proliferation of wildlife. In addition, they seemed totally undisturbed by our presence. We saw Bluefooted Boobies at close quarters as well as Masked Boobies, Marine Iguanas etc.
Being on the Equator, the temperature was already high before 8.00 a.m. In addition, the ground was very rocky and in our somewhat delicate condition, we did find it hard work to negotiate our way. Yet, it was an amazing experience and certainly unlike anything we have previously encountered! We have photos showing some of the wildlife that we saw and purchased a glossy card to help us identify them.
We returned to the ship by 11.30 a.m. very hot indeed. Jill went to a lecture on the Galapagos tortoises whilst Adrian caught up on a little sleep before lunch.
In the afternoon we decided to stay onboard rather than venturing out onto the beach or taking a glass-bottomed boat trip. It transpired that Ann, Brian, Vera and Julian had been the sole occupants of the glass-bottomed boat but we were happy with our decision nonetheless.
After the evening meal (8.00 p.m. on the Galapagos Explorer II) we decided to get an early night since we have to leave the ship at 7.30 a.m. tomorrow morning. We therefore were in bed by 9.30 p.m. – opting to miss out on the ship’s karaoke evening which we gathered consisted of painful renditions solely by the crew! We got to sleep fairly quickly and, propped up by the largest number of pillows ever, slept without coughing until we were woken up at around 1.00 a.m. by immense crashing and banging as the ship made some manoeuvre or other. We then had very patchy sleep until we got up at 6.00 a.m. for our breakfast half an hour later.
Friday 4th March
We had cruised over night to Santa Cruz island and landed there before 8.00 a.m. Due to a quirk onboard, the local time (back one hour from mainland Ecuador) is not adopted. Therefore, in fact, we were ashore before 7.00 a.m.! - It was already very hot.
We docked on the outskirts of Puerto Ayora so that we might visit the Charles Darwin Research Station where the highlight is Lonesome George – the sole survivor of the dynasty of tortoises from Pinta Island. Lonesome George has been matched by DNA to two females from Isabella to recreate his species. Thus far there is no success. George is 85 and tortoises usually live for 200 years.
The ancestors of the modern Galapagos Tortoise came originally from Chile and are not found on all the islands.
It takes six strong men to lift one giant tortoise!
There were an estimated 260,000 tortoises originally on the Galapagos Islands and the numbers then down to as few as 10,000. Due to the breeding programme, there are 26,000 currently.
There are 11 different species on 7 different islands. Originally there were 14 species. 3 are extinct already. The following factors have contributed to the drop in numbers:
On some islands volcanic
islands lead to the destruction of the giant tortoise because they could
not escape the molten lava and died during the eruptions.
Thousands of tortoises were taken as food by pirates. Tortoises can live aboard a ship for up to a year with no food or water – therefore they were an attractive source of low-maintenance food. A 1904 photograph shows hundreds of empty tortoise shells on the beach of Espanola Island where they had been discarded after the animals had been eaten. Many tortoises and turtles were taken back to the U.K. as a status food.
The tortoises are bred and are kept in the Darwin Centre, where we visited, until they are 5 years old. Then they are released into areas of the Galapagos Islands not open to the public. The temperature at which their eggs are kept determines whether they will hatch into male or female tortoises.
After visiting the Darwin Centre and its environs, Adrian and I, Julian and Vera, went with Victor (the local guide from Condor Travel, Guyaquil) to get some medication for our various ailments. We both still had horrendous coughs and extremely sore throats and Julian an ongoing upset stomach. Victor hailed 2 taxis and we went for $1.00 each vehicle to the hospital area of Puerto Ayora where there was an array o pharmacies up and down the street. Victor wanted us to go to the hospital but we said we preferred not to (we didn’t want to acquire any other germs there – feeling we had enough already!). In the end, he went to enquire there what antibiotics would fit well with the malaria tablets we are already taking and we ended up with a plethora of medicines and pockets that were lighter by some £40.00 sterling.
We bought a t-shirt and hat for Jill in the small town and then caught the zodiacs back to the ship – arriving there at about 11.30 a.m. After lunch Adrian had another sleep and Jill edited the photos and made up this diary.
We didn’t go ashore later in the day since it looked as though it could rain and, with the “wet landing” involved, we decided not to bother given the fact that nothing new in the way of wild life was likely.
Before dinner, we had a protracted meeting about the arrangements for leaving in the morning and then, after dinner, Adrian and I went to bed given the fact that we were still not feeling at all well. Jill decided to start taking the antibiotics to try and shift the infection and we both took the supposed “Cough Medicine” which consisted of effervescent tablets that produced and orange coloured drink when added to water. Unfortunately this was an “Expectorant” type of cough medication and resulted in us both coughing for most of the night. We decided not to take it again.
Saturday 5th March
After another bad night, we were brought to full consciousness by the dulcet tones of the wake up call at 6.30 a.m. We put our bags outside our cabins by 7.00 a.m. as required and then, after breakfast, sat up on deck reading and making up the diary.
After a video, we left Galapagos Explorer II at 10.30 a.m. bound for the little airport at Baltra and our flight to Guayaquil. The airport at Baltra was “quirky” and more like a cattle shed than an airport. There were hundreds of people with little room to seat them – but a diversion was provided by the number of colourful market stalls just in front of the open-sided airport “lounge” and Jill managed to find another t-shirt to buy as well as a small stone Galapagos tortoise.
The flight back to Guyaquil was without note save for the fact that that there was no vegetarian meal and also the door to the cockpit was often left wide-open. The attendants suffered from the customary lack of customer service that the Ecuadorians seem to have – with the notable exception of three of our guides. We took a 3 – 4 hour bus journey from Guyaquil to Manta and the good ship “Discovery”.