Monday, November 28, 2011

Galapagos, Ecuador 30 Oct – 8 Nov 2011

On the 30 October 2011, I finally landed in Galapagos. My dream to come to this island has finally come true. :-) At the airport, I finally met a gal from Malaysia after 5 months of travelling,  she is just here to visit Galapagos. We had a quick chat before she went on with her 8D7N cruise. The airport is located in Baltra Island, this island has just the airport and the military base. I hoop on to the shutter bus and boat to cross the Itabaca channel to Santa Cruz Island, Puerto Ayora is where the central of the activities are located. On the way to Puerto Ayora the landscape is amazing, the island looks like a flatten volcano that pops up from the sea, the northern part is covered by trees that only have dried branches and trunks just like in winter. The southern part is more wet and green and has more farms and villages.

First day in Galapagos, excited to go diving, upon arrived I went hunting for dive packages. Most of the dive shops here are located in Puerto Ayora, all along the 1 KM Street of travel agency and souvenir shops. There were probably around 10 dives shops and out of all only 2 are big and organized. The 1st big dive shop that I visited is fully booked for the next few days, they have 1 slot left for the next day but it was going to Santa Fe Island. I have done enough study to know where I want to dive as I want to make full use of the money I spend here. So my target is to go north islands not south.  The 2nd big dive shop was not running a trip the next day. I was disappointed not able to find a space for diving. All the other small dive shops are either not having enough people to go diving or they don’t look professional to me. End of the day, I found one that is going to Gordon’s Rocks (a famous dive site at the north east) on the day after. I booked and paid as I didn’t want to miss this chance. I was told to come back the next day to try out my equipments. They told me the trip leaves at 5am in the morning. They said that they are licensed to dive. OK, it sounded a bit suspicious to me but I kept my finger cross. In Galapagos, I learnt that only authorized Dive Boats are allow to dives and only selected sites are allowed, this is a way to control and reduce damages to the environment and reef. So no diving on the 2nd day, I booked myself a day trip to Floreana Island.
Floreana Island is 2 hours by speedboat south of Santa Cruz. It is one of the 4 Islands that are inhabited in Galapagos. The island has long been a favorite site for whalers, pirates and early settlers. We arrived to Puerto Valeaco Ibarra, only 200 people lives here, it’s the smallest town in Galapagos. From here we took an open-air ranch truck/bus up to the highlands of the island where we visited the tortoise corral. We arrived during the feeding time, they were given yam leafs for their meal, they are fed 3 times a week. We watched them moving slowly to the feeding ground and all of them seem to know that it’s time to eat. They look so hungry! 

After we got enough of photos and videos we hike up to the hill to see vistas of the island and the ocean beyond. There were some caves which were built by pirates for shelter and we visited the spring which is the only source of water to the island. We got back down to the small village for our lunch and head to the black beach. Here I saw my first wild sea lion. He was resting on the rock getting a suntan. We moved closer to take photos of him, he was not bothered by us. :-) On the beach, there were lots of red crabs and a few marine iguanas. Then we found a few more sea lions lying around. When we left the island, the park ranger checked all our bags to make sure we do not take anything with us. The boat captain drives us to a snorkeling side, when I jump in the water it was ice cold! I couldn’t stand a minute in the water. We saw some sea lions and penguins in the water and on the rocks. Finally another 2 hours ride back to Santa Cruz.

In the evening, I pass by the dive shop to try out my rental equipment, looks like the trip is on, :-) they have 4 other divers and all of them are quiet new less than 20 dives.  I took a 5mm long suit and a 2mm shortie. It doesn’t fit me well, they are either too big or too small. This one is the only option I have, a bit too tight to breath, hopefully after getting in the water is better. So the plan is to leave 5am in the morning, so that we can be back by noon before the sea gets rough. It sounds fishy to me! I think they are diving illegally with an unlicensed boat and trying to escape the marine park ranger who will often check the dive boats in the area so they choose to go early before everyone gets up. I just hope that nothing bad will happen, it is risky but this is the only option I have to dive in Gordon’s Rocks. Cross my fingers! :-)

We met at the jetty 5am in the morning, the sea was a bit choppy. By the time we reach the dive side, the sun is up but the water is still COLD! The DM explain us the dive plan, we are all going to do a back roll together into the water with maximum depth of 26m bottom time of 50 minutes. After putting up the 7mm suit and hood, I felt like a robot, rigid in movement and felt suffocated. We hurry to get in the water and the DM signal down! We all got under except one who has problem with equalizing. We hang around under water for 10 minutes before she could come down. The visibility was around 10m and we had big surge. We were surrounded by loads of fishes. Slightly after 30 minutes, one of them signal low on air, the DM looks a bit frustrated and signal all of them to ascent together while I stay with him to continue the dive. We saw a few large turtles and a sea lion hunting for fish. They moved fast! I managed to get a few shots luckily. :-) After 45 minutes we ascent, at the surface of the water, the DM puts on his SMB after looking around and no sigh of the boat, then we saw the other group which are still floating on the surface after 10 minutes. Finally the boat appeared from the back of the big rocks…phew! The sea was choppy with big surge, I was not feeling well with the tight wetsuit. Back on the boat, we were given a sandwich and juice. I was not feeling very well so I didn’t take the sandwich just the juice.
After an hour of surface interval, we suit up again for a second dive. Hopefully this time we will be luckier with the hammerhead. We dive the same site again, this time we will cross from one roc to another to look for the hammer. The gal who can’t equalize was asked to follow us closely from the surface while she takes her time to equalize. We did better this dive, everyone was able to stay together for the entire dive. We were welcome by 5 spotter eagle rays and some huge turtles. A few sea lions zoom pass us and a few white tip sharks as well came check us out. While at the end of the dive at around 10 meters, the hammerhead appeared from nowhere, we first saw one which swam away fast but then another one appeared closer and then 2 more just pass 1 meter away from me. Wow! They were huge!  I was struggling to take clear photos of the hammer with the 10m vis and of course with the surrounding fishes around us. :-) I was happy, the dive was intense with loads of action and the encounter of 4 hammerhead sharks! Back on the boat, everyone was happy and smiling but I threw out twice due to the tight wetsuit and big surge. After that I felt better. :-) We had a good day and no other boat is on sight and we made it back to Santa Cruz by noon. The DM made us all a CD of photos taken on the trip. I was very satisfy with the 2 dives, on the plus side I saw everything that I wanted to see and on the minus side I wasn’t comfortable with the cold water condition and 7mm tight wetsuit so I decided that it was enough for the trip, I will spend the rest of my time and money on some land trip instead.

On the fourth day, I booked a 2D2N trip to Isabela Island. Isabela is the biggest island in Galapagos, it is formed by 5 volcanos and the volcano formation makes the island looks like a seahorse. The trip leaves at 2pm so I have time to visit Lonesome George at Charles Darwin Research Center. I was lucky that George was having his meal at the time I visit, he looks different from the rest of the tortoise I have seen. He has a tall front shell and a long neck. He has 2 females in his enclosure unfortunately till today he can’t reproduce yet. He is the one and only species left in this world from Pinta Island of Galapagos. Even if he can reproduce with the 2 females it will be a hybrid because the 2 females are not exactly the same species as him. I wish him good luck!

So I took the 2 hour speedboat to Isabela Island, we were picked up by the guide from the hotel, yes the package includes the boat transfer, 2 nights stay in a nice hotel with private room, double bed, hot shower, aircon, TV, internet, all meals, tour to Sierra Negra volcano, snorkeling and visit Tintoreras Island . It’s been some time I didn’t get this comfort! :-) After dropping our bags, we went to the Flamingo lake, we saw about 17 flamingos, they are residence in this island but only about 200 left.

On the fifth day, we climbed to the crater of Sierra Negra Volcano. We took a pick up to around 800m and hike to the crater ring at 1100m to see the 2nd biggest caldera in the world. It was impressive! In the afternoon, we went snorkeling in the bay of Puerto Villamil and for 30 minutes 2 sea lions was playing with us, it was so much fun. Then we went for a short walk on Tintoreras Island, here it is a breeding ground for marine iguanas, we saw thousands of marine iguanas from all sizes lying on the rocks and sand. They spit salt water from their body all the time, so when we get close for a picture we have to be careful. :-) That ends the wonderful day at Isabela Island.

On the sixth day, I took the earliest boat at 6am back to Santa Cruz because I wanted to find a cruise that leave on the same day up to the northern islands of Galapagos. I went back to the same agency that I used and got myself a 4D3N cruise on a 16m sailboat. :-) I was happy and look forward to see all the birds up north. The 4D3N cruise include a visit to the El Chato farm in Santa Cruz where we can see tortoise roaming in the wild, all meals, tour guide, visit to 4 islands and snorkeling. I met 3 gals and an Ecuadorian couple on board. The crew members are a chef, 2 captains and a tour guide.

We left sailing at 1am in the morning, we sailed for 5 hours to arrive at Rabida Island. Our first island visit! We first got into the dingy for a visit around the island, we were given detailed explanation of the island, environment, birds and wild life. We saw blue footed boobies, frigate birds, fur seals with babies and marine iguanas lying on rocks. Then we landed on the red beach of Rabida Island covered with red sand. There were so many sea lions laying on the beach, some babies as well. We trekked up the hill and have a swim on the other side of the bay. The water was not as cold as the south island. During snorkeling we saw a few white tip reef sharks, sea lions and a huge Galapagos shark. We were lucky!

Next stop is to sail to Chinese Hat Island for some snorkeling. We had a beautiful sunny day. We snorkel near to the bay of Chinese Hat Island, this time we saw penguins swimming too close to us that we could touch them, we also saw a spotted eagle ray, some white tip reef sharks, turtles, stingray and a sea lion who wants to play with us. He picked up a stick and then brushes his face on my hand while I took a video of him. Ohhh.. that was the best moment! :-) I was so contented! I wish I could stay longer but the guide said we have to go… the boat continues to sail to Bartolome Island and we arrived during a beautiful sunset. Here we spent the 2nd night. The meal cooked by the chef was top class, I could easily put on a few pounds if I stay for a longer trip. :-) This night we had a good sleep without the sound of the boat engine.

On the eighth day, we woke up with a beautiful view of Bartolome Island and Santiago Island. Today we walked on the lava formation of Santiago Island. The lava flowed from the source which was 30km away, 1/3 of the island was formed by the lava. We could see many different patterns of lava formations, only 2 type of plants can grow on the lava crack, the lava cactus and another type of grass.
We did our last snorkel here around Bartolome Island, then after lunch we hike up to the view point of Bartolome Island. The view was breath taking, we had a clear day we could even see the Pinta Island up north where Geroge was borned. Tha boat continue to sail to North Seymour Island, our last stop for the cruise. We arrived just after sunset and spent our last night here.

On the ninth day, we woke up early at 5:30am to have a early start to North Seymour Island to view some of the sea birds. Here on this island we could see Frigate birds mating, the male will inflate their red pouch and make a clicking sound to attract the female where the male Blue Footed Booby will mate by making a dance around the nest, from 3 babies only one will survived.
We also saw the yellow land iguana here, one of the 3 species found in Galapagos. That's the end of my 4D3N cruise, we were dropped off at the Baltra Island jetty. I had a fantastic time and contented to be able to see all these unique wildlife. I can’t believe I am actually here and being able to witness all these amazing moment and not just the same watching on National Geographic. :-) My flight departs next day, so I spent one more night in Puerto Ayora just lazing in the hotel and have a walk in the town.

Galapagos – Hotel Lirio Del Mar - $15 for private room with attached bathroom and WIFI available
Galapagos – Unknown Hotel - $10 for private room with attached bathroom

Galapagos Tourist Card - $10
Baltra Island to Santa Cruz Island by boat - $0.80
Santa Cruz Pier to Puerto Ayora by bus- $1.80
Isabela Island Port fee - $5
Puerto Ayora to bus terminal by taxi - $1
Bus terminal to Santa Cruz Pier - $1.80


Galapagos - 2 dives including all equipments and lunch - $160
Galapagos –Day Trip to Floreana Island - $65
Galapagos -2D2N Trip to Isabela Island - $150
Galapagos – 4D3N Trip to North Islands on Merak Sail Boat - $500


  1. Great blog, great photos, great lay-out - really enjoyed visiting your blog!