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    IV. SA Ecuador/W4b, 5d: Galapagos 2 EN

    May 20, 2017 in Ecuador ⋅ ⛅ 27 °C

    The Galapagos Islands:
    Probably the world's most amazing cage-less zoo, most of the animals are endemic and sooo close up to just half a metre so that you do not even need biniculars to watch the unique unusual characteristics and behaviours of island birds, reptiles, mammals and marine life that cannot be found anywhere else in the world, 1 in 4 endemic species live here. Many do not have natural predators, are ecologically naive, virtually fearless and uneffected by visitors which explains that they come so close. You will definitively be visually and intelectually stimulated by the beauty, natural history and evolutionary processes of these islands.
    The 7,800km land area have been declared as the world's first natural world heritage site in 1978, UNESCO biosphere reserve in 1984 and the Galapagos Marine Resources Reserve is the 2nd largest marine reserve in the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
    The population of the four inhabited islands (Santa Cruz, Isabela, San Cristobal and Floreana) is controlled by regulating the numbers of permanent residents and by limiting the stay of temporary residents (tourists, volunteers, workers) to 6m. There are only 50 visitor sites which can all only be seen during daylight from 6am-6pm. Heavy rules are installed such as no eating, drinking, smoking, touching/feeding/chasing/flash photographing of plants and animals, removing items, venturing of the trail as well as restricted fishing and no water and jet-skiing.

    The most common animal types are:
    - Reptiles:
    giant tortoises, marine and land iguanas, lava lizard
    green sea turtle
    - Mammals: Galapagos sea lion
    - Birds:
    Land birds (seen inland, feed on land):
    Galapagos Hawk and Darwin finches
    Shore birds (farther inland, shores and mangroves):
    Lava Heron
    Sea birds (nest on land but feed fish and squid):
    Flightless cormorant, waved albatross, G Penguin
    Blue Red Nazca Boobies
    Frigatebird, red skin flaps inflate to football-size baloons in 25m to atrract females
    - Marine life world-class snorkeling and diving
    Sally lightfoot crabs
    White- and black-tipped reef shark, G, hammerhead,
    Manta, golden, spotted eagle, sting ray
    Fish, sharks, rays

    Land-based vs cruise
    - Cheaper
    - Hotel no shaking, all facilities restaurants entertai
    - Time consuming going back and forth on day trips
    - limited to close, central islands
    - Only 1 site a day never early or late

    Fr, 19.05 Baltra, Eden
    If you visit the Galapagos Islands you will spent a lot of money anyway - so spent it wisely and invest in a cruise, it is just so much better than island hopping and absolutely worth it. With $600 for a 4d cruise I got a relatively good deal within the 3rd category tourist superior (there are luxury, first class, tourist superior, tourist and economy) but you are better off spending a bit more for having a less shaking and more stable boat, more space and better food.
    Our boat 'Solitero George' was simply amazing: nice clean cabins with windows and private bathroom including hot showers, sun deck, common and dining room with a small bar, pretty good snorkeling equipment and an amazing, if not to say best cook ever. The whole crew was just incredible and really looked well after us and the group of 16 people was quite young and international apart from an elderly Chilenean couple but they were also really nice. At the age of 25 it was my very first cruise and I was happy to see that there were also other solo travellers and not just couples and elderly.
    In total we were 16 guests (Cherman from Hong Kong with who I was sharing a cabin, Chilenean couple Osvaldo y Antonia, Austrian-Swiss couple Gonca y Patrick, Australian couple Lima y Emilia, 2 Brits guys and 1 Danish girl Charlie, David and Senka, 4 Swiss Toni, Lukas, Jael, Yadena and 1 German guy from Hamburg Luk. The crew was about 9 members
    (Billy and William guides, Ricardo dive master, Angel captain, Wilson barman/cleaner, Victor cook, Osvaldo and Jonathan sailors and Richard engineer).
    After our first amazing lunch of chicken, salad, rice and beans with a good orange desert and a short introduction we went to our first snorkeling spot in Eden where we already saw many fishes, sting rays and also a sea turtle. On the land we could also already spot the first blue footed boobies.
    Coming back we got a yummy snack of yuca and green bananas, I had an incredibly hot shower well deserved after snorkeling in the pretty cold ocean and then enjoyed a delicious tuna dinner with potatoes, green beans, vegetables, salad with strawberry covered in white sauce as desert.
    After sunset our boat was followed by 3 1,5m long Galapagos sharks, many night birds and sooo many stars - I just lay down until 10pm to soak it all in and fully enjoy the moment :)

    Sa, 20.05. North Seymour & South Plaza
    After a pretty awesome morning breakfast with hot chocolate, orange juice, cereals, strawberry yoghurt, dark toast, scrambled eggs and even 3 different types of cheese, chicken and ham we reached North Seymour Island which is known for a large number of
    frigatebirds, black birds with the male inflating its red baloon to impress the female. On our 2h hike we were very lucky to see 7 of them at the same place fully inflated, it is only done 2x a year. As its feathers are not waterproof it cannot fish and thus constantly chases boobies to steel their food - that is the reason why they are also called pirates of the sky. We also saw pelicans and blue-footed boobies which all can get 10-15y old; Albatros and flamingos can reach the age of 40. On the way back we also spotted some yellow land iguanas that are originally from Baltra and can get as old as 60-70y.
    Back on board we got treated with some oreos and crisps to regain energy for the snorkeling trip where we saw again many animals such as sea lions, turtles and even a hammerhead shark and eagle rays. Again, it was really windy with many waves and rather cold water so I really appreciated my hot shower afterwards.
    For lunch we had an amazing spaghetti shrimp dish with salad, vegetables and yummy fruit desert - it is a pure luxury to get healthy and tasty salads, fruits and vegetables; doesn't happen too often in these heavily on meat based South American countries :P
    After enjoying some free time and a good siesta we reached the Plazas Islands east of Santa Cruz in the early afternoon. North Plazas is only used for research and South Plazas known for its black land iguanas and sea lions - we were again quite lucky and got to see an only 5m old cute baby. However, never trust a sea lion: they can be really fast, you should never stand on their territory and as soon as they start barking swim away or float, never show your leg and never circle babies even though they will try to steal your flippers, snorkels or even bikinis :O We then continued further to the cliff formation to see many pelicans and to get a panoramic view of the landscape and the bachelor sea lion colony. This island is also the only place where land and marine iguana cross and might interbreed with each other. The birds nestling at the pretty windy and cold cliff were following our boat at night because the splashing gets out the shrimp and they have to feed their babies at night. Again, I have to stress that traveling is the best uni in the world: you just get so much info and can directly see the theory in practice :)))
    Back aboard we got another snack, this time the yummi maduro con queso (cooked banana with cheese), I enjoyed the best sunset while taking a shower and then another delicious dinner.
    We had to cover quite a far distance that night (10-12h), mainly on open water: oh yes, the boat was shaking a lot - I had the feeling of being drunk, walking around and especially down the stairs was more than a challenge and best is not moving around too much and laying on the stomach; I was again quite lucky and did not get any motion or sea sickness.

    Su, 21.05. San Cristobal
    As usual I woke up quite early around 5am and we had already ankered. I took the chance, made a hot chocolate and enjoyed a nice sunrise with amazing colours and a first glimpse of Kicker Rock, a famous cliff formation north-west of San Cristobal and known as outstanding dive and snorkeling spot.
    Around 8am we had a wet landing on Witch Hill, a beautiful white coloured beach with crystal-clear blue water, mountains and volcanic scenery plus lava flow in the background. We had more than 3h for swimming, sunbathing, walking along the beach, reading, relaxing etc. Being a nesting area of sea turtles and sea lions we even got the chance to swim and snorkel with them, an amazing experience :)))
    After a delicious typical Cerdo de pollo lunch with watermelon as desert we made all the way up to Pitt Point located north-east of San Cristobal and one of the only two places to see the red-footed boobies (after the north island Genovesa). The landscape was amazing and around 3pm we had another wet landing at Green Colour Beach where we were directly greeted by sea lions. It was also one of my highlights as it was an amazing 2h uphill hike or climb on the volcanic arch with 360* view of the surrounding oceans, mountains and volcanos and the nestling place of the red-footed boobies. In total, there are 3 types of boobies all of which can only be found here at Pitt Point: blue-footed (nestling on ground, 3 eggs, 10-15,000; known for its dancing), red-footed (nestling on bush, 1 egg, 200,000) and Nazca/Masked boobie (nestling on cliff, 2 eggs, 10,000). The blue colour only comes with sexual maturity after 2-3y and the better fed and blood circulated the darker the blue, directly after diving the feet are black.
    For dinner we got treated with an amazing fish shrimp dish with salad, brokoli, potatoes and rice and a pretty yummy lemon cake. As it was the last evening there was also a toast with the whole crew including salsa dancing afterwards :)))

    Mo, 22.05. San Cristobal - Baltra/Santa Cruz
    On Monday we had to go again all the way back to the Canal between Baltra and Santa Cruz - another pretty shaky 10-12h at night but I am a really fortunate sleeper ;)
    On our snorkeling trip in the morning we had a final highlight by seeing many sharks and an abundant variety of pretty colourful fishes, had a last delicious breakfast, some more free time and then had to say goodbye to Solitero George and the lovely crew members, having had a real blast these 4 days :)))

    So what where my highlights?
    - Coming close to the Galapagos Giant Tortoises
    - Seeing so many land and marine iguanas
    - Swimming with sea lions, sea turtles and penguins
    - Snorkeling/encountering sharks and manta rays
    - Coming face to face with blue- and even red-footed
    - Gazing at the incredibly inflated red baloons of fragate birds
    - Bird watching of pelicans and others
    - Gaze upon wild flamingos
    - Touring deserted islands with delicious sea food
    - Falling in love with Isabela Island
    - Hiking up an active volcano
    - Climbing and snorkeling through lava tunels
    - Relaxing at Ecuador's nicest beach Tortuga Bay

    The Galapagos Islands are indeed pretty expensive and you have to calculate $100/d (3-4 times of my usual daily budget) if you want to see and do something - but it was worth every cent; and after all, YOLO You Only Live Once and if you are already here in Ecuador there is just no excuse not to do it; there is just nothing comparable in the whole world and I am so glad that I did it, both island hopping and a small cruise - plus I got an awesome tortoise and hammerhead shark stamp in my passport :)))
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