This will be a long once, because the Galapagos were SO amazing!!
Jo and I spent our last day in Quito, last Saturday, wandering around Old Town, and getting ready for the big football match between Ecuador and Uruguay. Everyone we saw was wearing an Ecuador football shirt, so obviously we had to buy some! After checking into my fabulous 5 star hotel (it came with the Galapagos trip!) we went back to our favourite spot in Quito, the Magic Bean, to watch the game. Ecuador scored in the second half, and the place went wild - people were hugging and kissing each other, and everyone was yelling! We only got to celebrate for 45 seconds though, because before we knew it, Uruguay scored. It was a tense game until the end, when the stupid biased ref carded the goalie and Uruguay got a free shot on net, winning the game for them. We were very sad!! Jo came back to my fabulous hotel room to watch movies, and we had a very sad goodbye...but hopefully I'll see here again soon!
Sunday we woke up early to head to the Galapagos! The flight we were on didn't have assigned seating, so I got to sit in first class...such a lovely way to start the trip! At the airport on Baltra island we were met by our fabulous and enthusiastic guide, Mauricio. We had a short bus ride to the dock, where we were met by sea lions lounging on the benches! Our boat, the Queen Beatriz, was amazing. I had my own cabin and the staff were lovely and helpful, and the food was amazing! Sunday afternoon we went out in the dinghys and toured around the mangroves in Black Turtle on Santa Cruz island. From the dinghys I saw my first blue footed booby (very exciting!) as well as giant sea turtles in teh water, sharks, and beautiful rays. On land we saw a great blue heron, pelicans that dove into the water so close to our dinghy that we were splashed, and a few marine iguanas, along with many other beautiful birds. It was a fantastic way to start out in the Galapagos! As the sun set 7 or 8 frigate birds flew around our boat, occasionally diving into the water. They followed our boat each night we were there...it was incredible!
During the night we sailed to Floreana island (it was a bumpy night and I felt a bit sea sick...thank goodness for gravol!) In the morning we visited Post Office Bay, where pirates and sailors used to leave letters that would be picked up and delivered by other boats. The practice still occurs today and we all left postcards. The rule is that they must be hand delivered, so mum and dad, you should expect someone to deliver a post card to your door in the next few weeks! Mauricio told us that it's more reliable than Ecuadorean post! We also went down a lava tube into a lava cave, where this crazy Irish man lived in the 1800s for 5 years. After that we went to the beach and went on our first snorkel adventure. We saw so many sea turtles, and they swam so close to us that you could touch them (of course we didn't though, that's against the rules!) I got some incredible pictures though.
In the afternoon we headed to Punta Cormorant, where we walked along the beach with sea lions and sally lightfoot crabs. We walked to the lagoon, where we saw flamingos and finches, and then went to Flour Beach, a beautiful white coral beach where sea turtles lay their eggs. In the water there were TONS of sting rays...every time a wave went out we saw 15-20 of them, babies and adults! We then sailed to Devil's Crown, a volcanic crater in the ocean, where we had our second round of snorkelling. We saw lots of colourful fish, and I saw with a white tipped shark for five minutes before it dove into deeper water! We were on the lookout for hammerhead sharks as well, but unfortunately didn't see any. It was such a fantastic day!
Tuesday was my favourite day. During another rough night of sailing (that I missed most of because of the miracle of gravol) we sailed to Española island, the oldest visible island in the Galapagos. We spent the morning at Gardner bay, a beautiful white sand beach that was just packed with sea lions! We took so many amazing pictures with them...they're not scared of humans at all! The beach is mostly females with babies, and one dominant male that parades up and down the beach barking at us and any other males that threaten to take over his territory! We also saw some marine iguanas lying lazily on the rocks. We went snorkelling out to some rocks by the beach, where I saw another shark, and a lot more colourful fish. Mid morning, we sailed to a small island nearby, where we went snorkelling with sea lions! They love to play with snorkellers...they would swim right up to us, nip at our fins or goggles, and then twirl around in the water with us! It was amazing...I was playing and twirling around with sea lions for about an hour!!
After a delicious lunch, we sailed to Punta Suarez, a beautiful point on the island. We spent almost 4 hours hiking around. We first arrived at the beach, where we saw more baby sea lions than anywhere else in the Galapagos...some had just been born that morning! There were also lots of marine iguanas swimming and lying in huddles on the rocks and the beach. We saw blue footed boobies and Nazca boobies nesting right along the path, and got to see some of their babies! We even got to see the famous blue footed booby mating dance...it was incredible (and very funny! The male walks around with his feet high in the air, while the female watches, quite unimpressed!) We are lucky that this is the time of year when the waved albatross is on the island. These birds spend 2 years at sea, never touching land, before coming to mate and raise their babies for just 6 months, only on Española island. We saw many albatross babies, getting ready to make their first flight at the end of November, when they'll spend 5 years (!) on the water before they're old enough to come back to the island to mate. Albatross mate for life, and they have a very intricate courting dance, which we got to see - the hit their beaks together as if they're swordfighting, and then move around each other, seeming perfectly choreographed. It was so cool...I felt like I was in another episode of Planet Earth!! We also saw friagate birds, tropic birds, and oystercatchers flying around the cliffs on the point. There were marine iguanas and lava lizards everywhere.
Tuesday night we had a farewell cocktail with our crew, before sailing back to Santa Cruz island, but the opposite side to where we visited on Sunday. We woke up VERY early (5 am!) to get to the Charles Darwin Research Station, where scientists are trying to increase the populations of giant tortoises and land iguanas. We got to see the tortoises as babies and older ones, and even met Lonesome George - believed to be the last of his subspecies, so he can't mate with any of other tortoises. They keep trying to find him a mate though...poor guy! He's thought to be about 100 years old, and these tortoises live to 150 or 200 years!
We then took a bus into the highlands of Santa Cruz, the natural habitat of the giant tortoise, where we saw many of them grazing in the fields and cooling off in small ponds. They are so cute...and again, we could get so close to them, they weren't afraid of us at all!
Leaving the Galapagos yesterday afternoon was very sad. I had another night in my fancy hotel and this morning went back to the Magic Bean, where I'm spending two more nights. I actually like it better than the fancy hotel...the staff are much nicer and the atmosphere is more relaxed and fun...plus the food is amazing! Last night a few of us watched the Ecuador-Chile football match, Ecuador's last chance to make it into the world cup. Unfortuantely, Chile is a great team, and watching the game reminded me of watching the Leafs play - they got so close to scoring, and then just choked. Chile won 1-0, but it was still fun to watch.
I have two more days to spend in Quito, which I'm happy about because I really love it here! Then I begin the 40 hour journey to San Francisco, involving 3 flights and a 22 hour layover in Lima. I'm excited to see the fam though, before I head off to Malaysia and the next stage of my big adventure!
I've also changed my travel plans a bit...after South East Asia, I'm headed to Kenya for a safari in Masai Mara park, then to Cape Town for a week, and then in mid-December I'm going to Ghana to volunteer at an autism centre for a month. It should be an incredible experience...I'm really looking forward to it!!
Here are some pictures...
Check out the last picture in this album..so cute!:
And of course, the AMAZING pictures from the Galapagos: