The Galapagos Islands are quite famous. The big draw being the unique and diverse nature of the wildlife! Within our first two days of being on the islands we`d seen iguanas, birds of every sort, giant tortises, hammerheads, rays, turtles and swum with sea-lions! So whats all the hype about then?!
We`re doing our best to see this place independently rather than on a SUPER expensive cruise/tour that most gringos go in for. So far so good. We hung around on the main Island (Santa Cruz)for 4 days or so and in that time managed to get in a beach day, the Giant Tortises, a couple of dives and a day zipping about the highlands on a pair of motor-bikes! Coo-wul.
So the day of the Scuba diving saw us head out to "Gordons Rocks". Its a series of rock mounds (or pillars) both above and below surface, with all sorts of weird currents and some really deep crevasses etc. All this current action draws in a lot of the funky marine life like rays and hammerheads - hence the fame and popularity of the dive.
When we first set off on our boat with our group of 5 fellow divers and a guide I kept wondering when we`d get to the dive boat? Lo - the wee boat we were travelling in WAS our dive boat. So yeah - it was a bit of a rough trip out there but once we got to the site there was usually some sort of sheletered spot where we could park in relatively calm waters to kit up. The first dive had us down to about 25m. Along side a massive wall of old lava. All pock marked and FILLED with gorgeous fish, plants and the rest of it. Spotted a huge turtle almost immediately and then along came the stars of the show - a group of 6 hammerheads cruising on by in the channel near us. All a bit shadowy and very VERY shy - but still a thrill.
At this point, one of our fellow divers (we ended up dubbing her "Liability") had a bit of a freak-out and needed to be escorted to the surface. Like good little divers we all waited in the one place for the return of our guide. And waited and waited. A VERY cool place to wait - but as air and time were both lapsing we decided to follow the lead of our most experienced member and off we went for a bit of an explore. He`d dived this sight quite a few times so managed to lead us along the right way and through an awesome wave driven swim through. One minute you`re swimming but not moving and the next minute the water direction changes and you`re being launched through a channel between two enormous pillars. Then the next thing you know theres another giant turtle swimming serenely right at you! How GOOD is this?!
Up we popped at the end of our air - and were only mildly dismayed at the lack of a boat. Bobbed about in the swell for a while enjoying each others "did you see the.." stories until the boat reappeared. Minus the guide. He`d gone back down to find us. All ended sweetly enough as we were eventually reunitied with our guide and off we set for our lunch and sea-lion swimming spot.
Swimming with the sea-lions was one of those experiences that is so amazing that you wonder if you`ll ever realise just HOW amazing it is/was. A whole group (flock, school, herd, pack???) of them were frollicking about and when we snorkelled on over, they were more than happy to include us in the frollicking. We were so lucky to have a million wonderful encounters such as bumping noses with one, having two of them nibble on my fins, mimicking another much to its wide-eyed delight and watching Ben play chasey with them! Big FAT WOW! How GOOD is this?!
Second dive that day saw "Liability" lose a mask overboard, then fall overboard herself (with all her gear on but no air in the bcd) and then not bother with the safety stop on the way back up at the end of the day! Where the hell DID this girl get her dive ticket? DID she get a dive ticket?! Anyhoo - didn`t spoil another great dive for us.
Our beach day was spent at a stunning (yep we were actually impressed by a beach!) bay called Bahia Tortuga. White sand, shiney green mangroves, sleepy marine iguanas and a bay of gorgeous still blue water. Tops spot to chill out, swim, relax and get sun-burnt. Of course. Bloody gringos!
Wanting to see the highlands of the island - but not on a tour - we got clever and hired a pair of motorbikes. Yeee-hah! Zoomed about and checked out some lava tunnels and sink holes. The islands are all volcanic! The lave tunnels were HUGE. Big as a train subway at least - and filled with swirls and patterns and weird creations of once flowing lava. Turned our torches off midway through and were immersed in COMPLETE blackness. Eeerie. Our way back into town was down an outstanding mountain road. Complete with s-bends and the like to keep a pair of Casey Stoner wannabes well entertained! Throw into that a STUNNING sunset following us home. How GOOD is this?!
Time to do another island. Caught the inter-island ferry (a smallish boat that takes on some impressive swell) across to Isla Isabella. Much less settled than Santa Cruz - to the point where the towns streets are actually all sand. Trekked up to the gigantic crater of Volcan Sierra Negra and were blessed with a cloud-free day. This time of year has the Humbolt current bring in a lot of moisture and cloud cover over most of the islands. But not this day. Saw the whole immense crater and trekked lower to an abutting volcano with a totally Mars-like landscape and sulfur stiking crater. Dotted amongst all this is the weird Volcano Cacti and of course - more lizards.
Having heard some talk of a tops snorkelling spot close to town, we ventured off to track it down. After a boardwalk trail through some dense mangroves, we pop out at a lagoon of crystal clear water. Tide flowing in or out from breaks in the rock ring all around. In we plunged and were delighted to spot Eagle rays, more fish and a lone sea-lion all making the most of this stunning sanctuary. How GOOD is this?!
Not done with snorkelling yet, we had another excursion across to the islands just in the bay of the main port. Lots of wonderful nooks and crannies filled with more marine life including Galapagos sharks, penguins, turtles and more rays. Its all a bit overwhelming really. Took a stroll along one of the islands and came to a Shark "viewing" channel. A channel formed by the old lava has become a bit of a shark resting point. Literally DOZENS of white-tipped reef sharks all hanging about in this one tiny stretch of water. Clear enough and close enough for us to stand gawping as long as we pleased.
Naturally everywhere we go theres also dozens of Marine Iguanas. All clambering over rocks and each other in their bid to warm up after their latest dip in the sea.
We`re back on Isla Santa Cruz now. Have got permission to go camp at one of the beaches on the east side of the island. So camp we will. With a week left here on the islands we`re hoping to get in this camp, plenty more snorkelling and hopefully another dive over at our final Island (San Cristobal).
Galapagos.... so far so good!