Wow – the Galapagos Islands are every bit as awesome as we expected. Red tape and entry difficulties aside (see www.blog.mailasail.com/yachtbandit for details) that is. After being forced to go to Isla San Cristobal rather than our first choice of Isabella, we were finally granted a 20 day stay at a cost of US$715. Thank goodness or we would’ve missed some great sights, like this- a regular morning visitor.
Our seven day passage from the Las Perlas islands off Panama to the Galapagos archipelago was, as David remarked, “as good as it gets”. The winds were a little light, which was frustrating at times, but with flat seas we managed to keep Bandit sailing. Highlight was crossing the equator. As we were sailing along quite nicely at that stage we opted not to stop for a mid ocean dip but did toast Neptune.
Our final day at sea featured a lovely spinnaker run down the north west coast of San Cristobal island accompanied by schools of sea lions and playful dolphins. We also had an inquisitive hammerhead shark come alongside. At dusk were surrounded by black fins we initially thought were sharks but after seeing a few leap out of the water we soon realised they were massive manta rays.
Once cleared in, which involved having fresh produce and rubbish examined, hull dived on and holding tank checked, we were free to explore. The anchorage at Wreck Bay provided plenty of wildlife activity. We had blue footed boobies diving all around, playful sea lions, turtles and even the odd shark swimming on by.
The Galapagos archipelago consists of 18 main islands, three smaller and only four are inhabited. Thanks to Charles Darwin’s brief visit here in the early 1800s and subsequent release of Origin of Species with its theory of evolution, the islands have taken on a mythological status and Darwin himself is a romanticised hero. It is intriguing to see Darwin’s “evolved” animals in their natural state and what we found most startling – Darwin’s theories aside – is the way the animals are totally unafraid of humans. Whether it’s a marina iguana, seal, shark or bird, they allow humans to get incredibly close and there is no fear shown – in fact they interact freely and even pose for photos.
Tourism is strictly controlled in the Galapagos and therefore (we felt) at times a little contrived but San Cristobal is one island where you can indulge in several activities without a guide. A strenuous hike took us to Los La Loberia where we swam with the giant turtles. On the way we passed dozens of marine iguanas. We also had loads of fun snorkelling with the sea lions at the nearby rocks. They’d swim right up to us at speed giving us a huge fright then blow bubbles in our faces and twist and turn away – performing some amazing aquabatics as they did so before returning at lightning speed from a different direction.
We took a taxi tour to the 896m Cerra San Joaquin, an extinct volcano with a freshwater crater lake where frigate birds wash the salt off their wings and then to the tortoise breeding centre where giant land tortoises roam in a natural environment. Eggs are collected and hatched in incubators and the young tortoises cared for until they are released at five years old. Hard to believe the early settlers, pirates and fishermen (and Darwin himself) ate these defenceless creatures by the tens of thousands. Because they live for weeks without food they were stacked alive in ships’ holds.
What surprised us most about the Galapagos were the glorious beaches. We’d expected black volcanic sand and there are lots of those but also dozens of beautiful white coral sand beaches.