30.01.2011 - 13.02.2011
Sunset on San Cristobal
One of the first things to say about the Galapagos is that it is not a pristine, unspoilt, uninhabited paradise. The 3 largest islands have towns with (very small) airports and extensive farming, whilst most of the islands are infested with ferral cats, goats and rats. This part was a little disappointing..
There are 2 main ways to see the Galapagos, the first is to take an expensive cruise round the areas of outstanding natural beauty - many people get straight off the plane and on to a boat - the other is to arrive on the islands and take day trips, transfering to other islands by 'lancha' speed boats. I'm glad I did both as they give a different experience.
My volunteer placement on San Cristobal Island was a great introduction to the Galapagos. The farm aims to provide produce and education on conservation issues to the local community, whilst also helping to keep invasive species under control and support the endemic flora and fauna. In practice this generally meant macheteing undergrowth and digging holes. The placement provided plenty of time to relax in the hammocks, and play footbal with the locals. The local port is a nice town, with tropical heat, and the novelty of sea lions lounging around on the pavements.
Football pitch by Hacienda Tranquila
Sea lions taking a rest on one of the boats in the harbour
After leaving my camera on the plane on the way there I decided to go on an island hopping mission to try and find a new one. One of the other volunteers was planning a trip to Isabela - the largest of the islands, and not included on my cruise itinerary. They also very kindly let me use their camera so I have some great photos. It rained solidly for 2 days but the 3rd day was beautiful. This was my first real taste of Galapagos wildlife - penguins, marine iguanas, blue footed boobies, pelicans, frigate birds, sea turtles and giant tortoises - and volcanic landscapes (Volcan Chico).
Volcan Chico - Isabela
Pelican & Surfers
The Isabela Crew!
Having already had a taste of the Galapagos (and having located a camera!) the cruise was the perfect way to get out on to the uninhabited islands and sea the full range of wildlife. Days consisted of short hiking trails on the islands, and snorkeling round the shore. The landscapes are absolutely stunning and the animals are so used to people that you have the sense that they would even let you touch them. The catamaran held just 10 tourists so visits to the islands didn't feel overcrowded, and lounging about on deck whilst sailing was pleasant, along with the added excitement of spotting marina turtles and sinister looking fins in the water.
Highlights were swimming alongside marine turtles, and also in the midst of a school of around 30 dolphins!
Marine turtle - quite happy for me to swim alongside him, easily within arms reach
Marina Iguana - Macho
The Galapagos is probably the first place I've been where I actually felt a part of the natural environment. So often the human world and natural world are 2 separate entities. Here you can walk amongst the animals with the sense that they just accept that you're another one of the species with interests here. This courtesy is seemingly extended between most species - it's quite common to see iguanas, sea lions and boobies in very close proximity, if not sometimes literally one standing on top of another.
Marine iguana and baby sea lion
Marine iguanas - lie on top of each other in groups to help preserve heat
Proud parents - the blue footed booby
Inquisitive sea lion
Galapagos landscapes range from fairly dull scrub land to simple but stunning volcanic formations. The north west coast of Santa Fe at sunset is definitely up there with the most beautiful places on Earth that I've seen. Brilliant fading sunlight illuminates a volcanic shore through biblical cloudscapes above, whilst sea lions bark, lava lizards scurry amongst the rocks and colonies of marine iguanas stacked one on top of the other spit salty deposits in to the hot evening air. All to the sound of the waves gently crashing on the shore.
The island of Bartolme is a more recent addition to the Galapagos, and looks a little like the surface of the moon. One of the formations you can see in the photos here is just 500 years old, when lava errupted from beneath the sea to create a new extension to the island of barren volcanic rock.
Sea Lions in the Storm
Catamaran at Dusk
The Happy Couple