The Galapagos : Part 3 – The Central Islands – Lava, Sharks and Orca’s!

It was hard to imagine there could be more to see having seen so much in our first few days on the southern and eastern islands of The Galapagos, but we were not disappointed with our last few days! Every day I have seen or experienced something new and amazing! Even as I came to the end of my week-long Galapagos adventure, I could easily have stayed longer. Though I have to admit staying on dry land and getting some wi-fi sounds appealing. I’ve missed the blog and can’t wait to publish these Galapagos articles and tell you all about it! I also have many more adventures to come – next stop Peru! Watch this space…

Santa Cruz

Our first island in the central region of The Galapagos was Santa Cruz. Here we dropped off some passengers and acquired some new ones. After brief introductions we walked through the colourful town of Puerto Ayora to reach the Charles Darwin Conservation centre for tortoises. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, up until the 19th century pirates (mostly from the Uk actually) used the Galapagos  islands to hide on after pilfering the gold which the Spanish were taking to Spain from South America. They took tortoises with them when they returned to their ships as a source of meat with a long shelf life, (Tortoises can survive without food or water for 1 year.) But this dramatically depleted the tortoise population in the Galapagos. Add to this, that often the pirates bought with them mammals from mainland including goats which wandered away, bred in large numbers and happily chewed through 50% of the islands vegetation in 100 years, thus reducing the food supply for the tortoises significantly.  It was a sad story for tortoises and now the islands inhabitants and naturalists are working hard to re-populate the island with tortoises. They are close to reaching the desired numbers and so actually the programme won’t need to run for much longer.

At The Charles Darwin centre we also heard the sad story of Lonesome George. Lonesome George was a saddle back tortoise from Pinta Island and was the only one of his kind remaining. Efforts to find a female for him to mate with and even attempts made at mating him with another similar type of tortoise, did not prove fruitful. In 2012 he passed away making the Pinta tortoise an extinct species. His body was preserved via taxidermy and is available for tourists to see at the centre. It’s a slightly surreal experience!

In the afternoon we had more tortoise spotting opportunities, this time in the wild. We took a drive into the hinterlands to a farm where the tortoises roam freely. A while back, tortoises were the bane of farmers lives. They ate the sugar canes and fruits they grew but they were unable to protect their goods as tortoises are protected and allowed to roam free as per island laws. This made life in the farming industry financially difficult and frustrating. Eventually the problems were resolved when the government offered farmers the chance to open up their farms as tourist destinations to see wild tortoises as there are so many (due to the supply of sweet goods for them to munch through!) This kept the farmers and the tortoises happy and they co-exist peacefully now. Whilst at the tortoise farm, we also had the opportunity to walk through a lava tunnel (where lava runs away and cools from the outside creating lava rock. It’s not for the claustrophobic but it was very interesting to walk through, if not rather eerie!

Santiago & Bartolome

The following day we headed for Santiago Island. Here we took a walk to Sullivan bay on the lava rock formations formed about 100 years ago. It was really interesting – it almost looked like the surface of the moon, only black! Dotted with the occasional lava cactus , rocky hills in the distance and the occasional lava lizard, it made an interesting place to walk. We were also lucky that a Galapagos Hawk took interest in us and flew over to say hello, pose for a few photos then soar off into the distance! Possibly one of the best photography opportunities offered to me by the Galapagos and there were many!

After our lava walk, we donned our flippers and headed out for a snorkel off the beach. We were all very excited to spot our first Galapagos penguin perched up on the rocks minding his own business. Others were even luckier to see another penguin hunting for fish and also to see a white-tipped reef shark! We were assured we were more likely to see sharks at our next snorkel destination near Pinaccle rock  but wildlife can be unpredictable and sadly no sharks were found. I did however get a fleeting view of another penguin zooming past me in the water and another few perched on some rocks. The fish were also fantastic.

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The same afternoon we headed for Bartolome island just across from Santiago. We climbed over steep red volcanic rocks to the summit (spotting a little snake along the way) in order to see the stunning view from the top. Sadly the sun was low in the sky creating tricky lighting for photos but trust me, the 360 degree views were just stunning!

 

Back to Santa Cruz

Our final full day was spent back on Santa Cruz Island this time at Bachas Beach. Here there were small spikes of rusted metal poking out of the sand which we learned were remnants of small boats which tried to get too close to the shore and were wrecked by hard lava rock under the sea. (Hence our boat was far out at sea and our pangas took us to the next beach which we walked from.) Just behind Bachas beach was a salt water lagoon where we were hoping to see flamingos but sadly the lagoon was empty but for a few iguanas and a couple of ducks! However, we walked to another smaller lagoon and were awarded with a sighting of one lone flamingo – albeit a speck in the distance! Hopefully I’ll have more luck seeing flamingoes in Bolivia!

Once again we had 2 snorkels, one from the beach and another off the boat. The beach snorkel was the best this time as I saw a shark swim past! Probably a white-tipped reef shark and about 1 metre in size. It was a fleeting view but I was happy to say I had officially swam with sharks (and survived to tell the tale!) Some of my boat companions were lucky to spot some bigger Galapagos sharks from the boat – at least 3-4 metres in length so I’m kind of glad we didn’t meet these snorkelling! I was oblivious whilst catching some rays on the sun deck watching the frigate birds soaring above us as they often did when the boat was moving! (Yes a few unlucky passengers did get pooped upon…)

Our afternoon got even more exciting! Firstly we went searching for land iguanas at Cerro Dragon. It was a really pretty part of the island with lost of impressive cactuses, a lagoon and a great view of the volcano peak. But best was getting to see the larger much shyer yellow land iguanas. As they are not so chilled as their marine cousins, it felt like more of a reward to see them! Shortly after we spotted a few and got our photos, we heard over the radios that wild orcas had been spotted close to our boat! There are only 12 orcas known to inhabit the Galapagos Islands and it is rare for them to stray from the west islands. So rare that Adriana, one of our guides who has lived on the Galapagos most of her life, had never seen them and was as excited as we were.

We ran back to the boat so quickly, hopped straight in the panga and headed for where we could see lots of frigate birds gathering. Apparently they feed on the remains of what the orcas don’t eat so they were a good indicator where to go! It seemed to take ages to get there especially as the sea was quite rough. We all were tense, keeping our fingers and toes crossed we wouldn’t get there too late! But then we saw the orca breach creating a huge splash! Eventually our pangas caught up with them but then it was a guessing game where they would surface making photographing them pretty tricky! At one point we were all staring off into the distance on the right side of the panga when we heard a loud Pffff – the orca had breached just metres away from us whilst we had our backs turned! However, clearly curious, the orca hung around a while and even swam right under the panga! (That was a slightly tense moment!) It gave us opportunity to appreciate just how HUGE they are! Apparently they can grow up to 8 metres and can hunt great white sharks! (Yet Roberto insists they are safe to swim with and has done so himself – brave man!) We finally got the photos we wanted of the black and white killer whale creating a huge splash right next to us. It really was incredible!

So now after 7 days sailing the Galapagos, we had seen sea lions, sharks, penguins, a porpoise (small dolphin,) sea turtles, giant tortoises, stingrays, marine iguanas, land iguanas, orcas and countless types of bird and fish! We’d even seen a brand new baby sea-lion just born! Surely we had seen all the Galapagos had to offer? So it was a struggle to get out of bed at 5.30 the next morning to take our last panga ride to Black Turtle Cove (especially as I doubted we could see much more from the panga than we’d seen on our walks and snorkels!) But as usual a case of fear-of-missing-out  or ‘FOMO’ struck and I certainly was NOT disappointed! We saw LOADS of sharks swimming around the mangroves including baby hammerhead sharks! They were actually pretty cute! We also got to see two sea turtles trying to mate (turns out it’s pretty tricky!) Apparently this is incredibly rare to see and so we felt so lucky as we went back to our boat for a final breakfast and a sad goodbye to our incredible hosts and guides who couldn’t have looked after us better throughout our trip on the Monserrat.

Whilst I was sad my trip to the Galapagos was over, I felt truly lucky to have experienced so much in my 8 days . It was more than I could have imagined and I left knowing that the Galapagos Islands were a very special place indeed! If you ever get the opportunity to go, I would encourage you to grasp the opportunity – you won’t regret it!

 

As always I love to hear from you! Have you been to The Galapagos? Which was your favourite Island?

If you enjoyed this you may enjoy reading about the other islands here

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