Dragons, a big fat volcano and a few funny looking sharks. Amongst other things. In four days. Only in the Galapagos.
Where it all changed for ever
No country wanted the Galapagos Islands, back in the nineteen century, for they were too isolated and too inhospitable. But what seemed like hell for humans, was in fact paradise for some animals – birds and reptiles – who thrived in an environment free from predators.
Some say the archipelago is best visited by small expedition vessels that can last for up to two weeks. Others, prefer to be based in one of the three inhabited islands and make use of day trips.
Us? We wanted a bit of both – without the hefty price tag if possible. So we chose not to book anything other than our flights and try our luck.
Islands ruled by dragons
The first day on the islands can be overwhelming. Dollars seem to fly away from your wallet without you noticing. It is hot, very hot and everywhere you look you can find those creepy looking “things” basking in the sun.
First, find accommodation for the night. Then, pay a visit to ten or forty travel agencies and try to negotiate a good deal for a cruise. And don’t forget to draft an itinerary for the first few days. Since we are at it, should we go diving as well? And you three – what are you looking at?
With everything sorted out, we walked around town and realised we were surrounded by wildlife. A sea lion on a bench, a few pelicans there, baby sharks and golden rays in the pier, and… is that another one of those marine iguanas??
The truth is, animals rule this land, they decide where to sleep, where to eat and where to shit. The rest of us can only watch, try to be quiet and learn to respect their privacy.
(Yes – marine iguanas are as cool as they look)
Let there be fire
Since our cruise was not due to depart for a few days, we had some time to explore the islands on our own. Next, Isabela, where we would stay for a while. No paved roads and no ATM’s, tourism has not fully arrived here, yet.
One of the youngest islands on the archipelago, it was formed by the merger of six volcanos, most of which are still active. The largest of them all, Sierra Negra can be visited. With a 10km wide caldera, it is pretty impressive.
The aftermath of the last eruption – from 2005 – can easily be distinguished amongst the older lava flows. It is hard to believe that in a few thousand years all of this will probably change and become green, like the older islands.
Not much in terms of wildlife here, understandably given the conditions. However, we later learnt that there are more wild tortoises here than in all other islands. Life finds a way. Always.
Next up, the ocean.
The dip of your life
As we go down, we seem to spot the tail of a shark. Excited, we look around for our guide and much to our dismay, he is just trying to get the other divers to pose for a picture – sorry, we have not come to the Galapagos for that, I want to see animals! Like that eagle ray!
The visibility was not the best and the water was freezing cold, but who cares. Within a few minutes we were surrounded by hammerhead sharks. So gentle and so shy. Later, a marbled stingray made an appearance – what a place this is.
We were diving in Gordon’s Rock, an extinct volcano, with moray eels, a huge octopus, two sea lions and a rather curious sea turtle.
I remember thinking that our second dive of the day was not that good. Only a couple of octopus, more eagle rays, another sea lion and two sharks. “Not that good” – right. That’s precisely the challenge in the Galapagos. To realise, that every second spent here is very special. To understand that seeing “yet another sea lion lying on the beach” is not normal. That having marine iguanas basking on the sun on every corner is pretty amazing.
The other locals
It is impossible not to see sea lions and marine iguanas, at least on the inhabited islands. And not far from them, on the rocks, bright coloured crabs, who unfortunately are a bit picture-shy.
On those first days, we also spotted quite a few birds, including pelicans and penguins. And our old friends, the flamingoes.
There is so much fauna, that flora can easily go unnoticed. Which would be a real shame. Where else could you see cactus like these?
We stayed in small guesthouses and we are so glad we did so, for it allowed us to also meet the people that call this place home.
Some arrived twenty or thirty years ago, others were born here. Most have adapted to the new times, changing their life as farmers or fishermen for one dedicated to tourism. They value what they have: these days, even Ecuadorians need a special visa to come and live here. Part of keeping the delicate balance of the islands.
And it seems to be working. The towns are clean and everyone seems to respect and protect the wildlife. Life goes on in The Galapagos, slowly but steadily.
A part of us will forever stay in Genovesa.