Saturday, 25 September 2010

Islas Galàpagos

*Note: knowing the difficulty of writing this next post - I`ll try not to use the saying ``WOW`` too often.

Before flying to the wonderful islands, we had no choice but to stay one night in Guayaquil. Guayaquil in 2 words: Tel-Aviv, and in a bad way. It`s hot, humid, crowded, and the taxi drivers will take advantage of you. Lets not talk about this horrible place any more.

In order to enter the islands one must pass through strict nature preserving stages:
1. Scan your big-bag at the Guayaquil airport for any kind of organism.
2. Pay the 10$US entrance fee to I don`t know who...
3. The air-crew will spray your handbag on the plane to kill any other organisms.
4. Pay the 100$US entrance fee to the National Park.
5. If you plan on crossing between the islands alone - another inspection on every island.

Landing on Baltra island, the friendly-chubby looking guide awaits the group: 8 loud Italians, a couple from the Czech-Republic, and us (a loud 6 person Israeli family). 16 per. in total.
We all drove off to the closest pier where we got to meet our boat (Guantanamera) and crew. Waiting for the rubber-boat to transfer us we already got to see wildlife in action! Blue-Footed-Boobies dive arrow-like dives into the water, Brown-Pelicans scouting for pray on the dock & boats, and Magnificent-Frigates just hover around the sky waiting for the weaker birds to make a mistake and catch something.

First stop for the boat was Bachas Beach. A good start. The rubber boat landed us on a sandy beach, and not long past before we saw the big, black Marine-Iguanas. Lots of Crabs nest on the black rocks near the water as well. I say it`s good because you get to see bit by bit, and can get used to the fact that wildlife in the islands - is just not scared, and very up close.

South Plaza Island was an improvement! The best place to witness the great Land Iguanas. These creatures resemble small dinosaurs. they are up to a meter long and have a greenish color to their peeling away skin. Their favorite food is the huge Cacti (leaves, fruits, everything!) which they wonder around looking for all day. We also got to see colonies of Sea-Lions, cute and make you want to hug them. But what really caught our eye - was the exotic Red-Billed-Tropicbird, long tailed and just pretty.

Last stop of the day - Isla Santa-Fè. A sandy beach filled with Sea-Lions resting & cuddling welcome us into this paradise. Mocking-Birds, Lava-Lizards & the Galàpagos-Dove were the new animals we got to meet on this island. We even got to see Blue-Footed-Boobies - well, we thought it was up close just then...

At night, the boat would sail the long distances - So every morning we would wake up to a new scenery. Morning of day number 2 brought of to Isla Española. On this trip, the animals were all sitting & posing on the trail. making us (the tourists) circle around them, or try and not step on them - in the case of the Marine-Iguanas. These black creatures appeared in bigger and bigger groups each time, cuddling in order to maintain their body heat. The Blue-Footed-Boobies were dancing, the white Nazca-Boobies were flying all around, but then...we reached animal heaven.
The Waved-Albatrosses are AMAZING! At first we didn't know how much. They were just sitting there, nesting. Then we saw them walk around - and do their special mating dance (if it doesn`t fit - you`re not it!). And then - they flew! With a wingspan of 2.25 meters they just look like F-15s in the sky. They can`t really lift themselves up, so they always nest next to cliffs - that way they just have to jump. Amazing! or did I say that already??

The next day was not supposed to be anything special. Punta Cormorant, on Isla Floreana is a dead (without animals) beach, but what we witness was really unique. A female turtle, was late to return to sea - and was in the middle of digging her way out of her hole. All we had to do - was to wait for her to get out, and just watch the show.She was really scared of all the tourists waiting for her outside of her hole (almost circling her), she almost regretted ever coming out of her hole - but then took all the courage she could grasp - and ``ran`` her way back to sea. She was really slow on the sand, but once her body touched the water - she was gone.

The next stop of the day was also on Isla Floreana. Post-Office-Bay is know mostly for it`s weird tradition - There is a Postcard-Barrel on the beach, and ever since pirate times, people leave and pick-up post-cards & letters and have them delivered to their addresses. So we left our own - and took some as well (from Israel!). Apart from that - we went to see a Lava-Tunnel, and witnessed the football match tradition played by the crew members of the boats.

4th day, and we thought we saw everything. Santa Cruz island is the most populated one. Puerto-Ayora is the biggest ``city`` on the Galàpagos islands, and it`s the most touristic as well. probably 90% of the income of this town is tourism. Who can blame them?
On the Santa Cruz island is the famous Charles-Darwin-Research-Station, where people come to see the giant Land Tortoises, and the celebrity ``Lonesome George``. You can also take a tour deeper into the island and witness the giant tortoises in the ``wild`` (it`s still a preservation park).

After civilization, we got back to reality. Isla Rabida invites us back to nature with Cacti without spikes! No Land-Iguanas on this island made it possible for these strange trees to develope.
The Pinnacle on Isla Barthalome, leaves you breathless of the world`s creation. On Barthalome, we climbed a volcano, saw a smaller one from the top, lifted some very ``heavy`` rocks, and got to see where Darwin slept ;)

On an everyday basis, we would go on snorkeling dives. The water was cold, but there`s a whole other world underneath the waves. Sea-Lions would make you wonder who`s the tourist - as curios as a two year old, they would swim around us, getting near our faces with their mustaches and then swimming away. Chewing our yellow fins. Barthalome was the best dive for most of us. Dad & Inbal got to see a race between a penguin & a shark! Penguins swim like torpedoes in the water, and you get to see them just for a glimpse of a second.

Surviving the toughest night of our sailing life (we had to cross the equator some how!), we were happy to reach Isla Genovesa. North-East of all the islands, this is the only place to see the Red-Footed-Boobies & Great Frigates. The Red-Footed-Boobies are unique and nest on trees. the also have red legs and blue bills. When in juvenile stage, they have a white body which all together resembles the American flag. The Boobies and the Frigates are both sworn enemies. Even so - they nest on the same tree, and usually - on ``neighbor-branches``. Frigates destroy the Boobie`s nests, rebuild them - and live there - and vice-versa.
Genovesa itself is a volcano. The boat`s harbor is the crater, and the land is the underwater mountain`s perimeter. The most special animal on this island in my opinion is the Galàpagos Owl. Not like any other owl - this one prays during the day! It is very hard to spot due to it`s magnificent camouflage.

North Seymour was the last island in the cruise. Here we finished of our ``check-list`` by seeing the Magnificent-Frigates with their inflated red sacks. They inflate their sacks only during mating season, and due to the fact that on North Seymour, the Frigates nest all year long - it`s most likely to see them inflate their red sack on this island.

The end of the cruise means the end of Galàpagos, or does it?
My family decided we`re going to live this once in a lifetime experience just a bit more...
The boat left us where it picked us up on the first day: The airport of Baltra island. From there, we had to take a bus, a ferry, another bus and a speedboat in order to reach Isla Isabela. On the first two days, we were obligated to a tour we booked for seeing the island. Included in the tour, was an evening tour (not worth you reading time), a walk up to see Volcan Sierra-Negra - the world`s second largest crater, which erupted on 2005. And a snorkeling dive near the island.
The climb to the volcano wasn`t as hard as we thought it would be. The so common open sided truck took us almost all the way up, from there it was a 3 hour ascent (not to steep) and a 2 hour descent on the way back. The crater itself is amazingly black.

The snorkeling afternoon also got to be great fun. We found a very pleasant turtle which didn`t mind us petting it and swimming next to it for almost half and hour. I saw my first spotted ray!

We heard about Campo-Duro by mistake, and did not know what to expect from it. Turns out it`s the personal little heaven of the crazy-briliant-minded owner. He took management of the place with a vision of turning it to an ecological farm for the use of tourists and tortoises alike. The national park lets him raise about 20 juvenile tortoises. If you`ll be nice - he`ll also let you in to their farm. He built ecological showers for the use of the campers, and invented his own ``egg tree``.

The day after that (our last active day on the Galàpagos), we took a walk to see ``Muro de las Lagrimas`` (The Wall of Tears). This wall was erected by convicts in the first half of this century when this area served as a penal colony. Many prisoners died during the work of the construction, giving it its name.
On the way to the wall, there are beauty spots with explanations about the fauna, flora and geology. There`s also another tortoise research station on the way, which experts in the unique species living on Isabela island.

The next day was a crazy transport day. Speed-boat, private-taxi, ferry, bus, plane & another taxi is the list used in order to get in one piece from Isabela island to Guayaquil. Not easy.
That night was the last of me and my family together (until my return home...), and so we celebrated in a very good meat-stake dinner. Thank You!

Tips for Islas Galàpagos:
- Española & Genovesa were my favorite islands. If you have to pick - pick at least one of them.
- Bring some snacks with you - after 4 of 8 days, you really get sick of the chicken/fish with your rise.
- Try and bargain your snorkelong gear into the bargain. We added a lot of money after knowing the deal was already ``all included``.
- If you`ve got the extra time, staying on one of the islands is not as expenssive as the cruises. Isla Isabela and Campo-Duro are recommended.

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