The Galapagos are the “tortoise islands”, and what more suitable than to be welcomed by an army of sea turtles upon arrival to San Cristobal? The islands have also been called the “Islas Encantadas”, and we were indeed enchanted by this special place. When reading about the islands, it seems like accessing the various sites is very restricted and that wherever you go, you have to be accompanied by a naturalist guide. This is definitely not the case. Paved trails lead the way to many spots of interest, which you can visit on your own, but you can of course also opt for one of the many day tours that are offered to see more remote sites.
All three islands we visited were volcanic, and full of wildlife, both on land and in the sea, but each also had its characteristics and local charm.
The sea lions, although also present on the other islands, had picked San Cristobal as their favorite, literally surrounding Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. If they wanted the bench for a nap, you had to seize the space for them. In the late afternoon, the beach was an inferno of noise – a combination of bleating sheep and hung-over Roskilde festival guests – males fighting with other males to keep their territory, babies whining for milk and youngsters playing with each other. In the night, the sea lions elegantly hunted fish close by, their secret revealed by bubbles forming around Ella and a tail of phosphorescence following their track. When snorkeling close to the big-handed-Darwin statue, you would yourself swim with them and even obtain eye contact, while schools of tiny fish would wrap you up, mostly trying to escape from the hunting barracudas or diving blue-footed boobies and frigate birds. The sea turtles were more peaceful, primarily interested in the patches of grass underneath them, and not at all in the impressing school of grey-yellow surgeonfish passing by. In Baquerizo Moreno, we were introduced to the concept of “almuerzo” (lunch), in this case chicken soup, well-spiced pork, rice and salad, accompanied by “tomato fruit” juice, served in a family restaurant where mama was behind the pots and pans, papa was serving her delicious food, while chatting with the guests (he wanted to join us to the Marquesas!), and the daughter serviced the people who came for take-away (when she was not on her smart phone 😉 ). When up on the volcano “El Junco”, we almost felt “at home”, with its Scottish/Welsh feel, all green and with grazing cattle – but the swarm of Galapagos finches, made famous by Darwin, reminded us where we were.
The volcano we visited in Santa Cruz was not really a volcano, but rather two collapsed craters, called “Los Gemelos” (the twins), where you could play with the echo and walk in the wonderful surrounding forest of scalesia, a tree endemic to the Galapagos. Our favorite animal encounter was with the giant tortoises crossing the dirt road on the way to Chato Ranch. Funny to imagine that these enormous creatures walked around everywhere in the Galapagos before whalers, pirates and buccaneers started exploiting them. The goal of the snorkeling at Las Grietas was, for once, not to see animals, but to have a zen moment watching the rays of the morning sun break the water and seeking towards the bottom of the volcanic cleft, creating a divine atmosphere. More magic was encountered at the small food market on Duncan Street, where families set up their stands with various delicious and cheap local food, while their children were playing and people came by for a quick bite and a chat. We were eager supporters of the “empanada family” – but it is probably good enough that we don’t have access to this every day, else we would see it on the hips 😉
On Isabela, we bought fresh fruit and vegetables directly from the farmer at “Troja”. We went into the fields with him, and he harvested what we needed on the spot. This way you can get produce of different ripeness, which is perfect for the greens to last longer on a passage. Meanwhile his dogs followed us, the chicken and geese wandered around, his family was working with the crops and his son helped picking down the pomelos. On the way back, there were blissful smiles on all our lips 🙂 You also get a little solemn when looking down at the impressive crater of the Sierra Negra volcano, where what looks like a small stone in the middle actually corresponds to a 4-storey building… It doesn’t get any worse when the weather is so clear that you even can see three of the other Isabela volcanoes in the distance. As black as the lava from the volcanoes, big marine iguanas were hanging out close to the pier at Puerto Villamil, so numerous that you would stumble into them if you didn’t watch your step. They would also be swimming in the mangrove at “Concha de Perla”, together with sea lions, the abundant sea turtles and majestetic spotted eagle rays. But the young blue-footed booby that we met in “Los Tuneles” was the one who melted our hearts, when he played with Henrik and his camera. These animals, like many on the Galapagos, have never experienced that humans might be dangerous creatures. Due to this fearlessness, you can get quite close, and the wildlife encounter thus becomes even more intense.
Our last experience, when waving goodbye to the Galapagos, being whale sharks and jumping rays underlines how mesmerized we were by the tortoise islands.