After clearing into the Galapagos Islands at Santa Cruz, David and I set out to explore all that Santa Cruz, Galapagos has to offer.
The Galapagos Islands are a small archipelago of volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean. They are, politically, a part of Ecuador. Santa Cruz is the second largest island in the Galapagos and is the most populous of the islands.
Monday the 28th we got a water taxi and went into town. We did a little bit of walking around, doing recon at dive shops, travel agencies, and the stores. Then we headed out for the Charles Darwin Research Station. This included a stop at the National Parks Visitors Center and Playa de la Estación. We saw many iguanas out in the wild (even swimming!), pens with different kinds of tortoises in them for the breeding programs, and learned a bit about what research goes on in the facilities. The whole compound is under construction, and our visit was entirely outdoors. The construction is a really beautiful series of buildings planned to house a lot more information. Not a great stop right now, but I bet it’ll be great after the construction finishes.
Back in town we grabbed some ice cream and talked a few plans. We were looking at last-minute cruise deals, and didn’t find anything for less than $950, which we thought was too much for a) sitting on various beaches, which is not my favorite activity and b) sitting on a boat, which we do all the time! We booked a scuba trip instead.
Tuesday David had a headache (too much sun), so we stayed on the boat for a quiet day. We were also told that we aren’t allowed to use our underwater lights. That was a big bummer, and I’m not entirely sure why, since the city docks have underwater lights on them as well.
Wednesday we did our dive with Academy Bay Diving. The staff was all really great. We did the North Seymour Island dive. We got up and at ’em at 5:45 in order to be at the dive shop at 6:40. Thankfully the water taxis run 24/7. We were offered a small breakfast and then packed up for a short drive. We got on a dive boat and headed to the island.
First, we stopped for a general briefing and to test out our weights. The water here was shallow and sandy, so we got geared up and spend about one minute testing our gear. There were seven of us for the dive, and one guy doing a Discover Scuba lesson, which ran in between the main dives. From the boat, we could watch the frigate colony on the island, and although we’ve been seeing frigates for months, we finally saw some of the males with their red, inflated throats.
While the Discover Scuba class was going, the 7 of us were free to swim around. We were not provided snorkels, but David and I had brought our own masks and snorkels, so we got to snorkel around. We saw large parrot fish and angelfish.
Next, we took off for the two dives. They blend together a bit, but the reason we picked this dive was to see the large animals. That part did not disappoint! We saw:
- Hammerhead sharks (David’s favorite)
- Galapagos sharks
- White tips reef sharks resting on the bottom (my favorite)
- Manta rays
- Spotted eagle rays
- Thousands of garden eels
- One sea turtle
It was an interesting experience, especially compared to our last dive with Noam and Dalit in the BVIs at the Painted Walls. The Painted Walls were packed with coral and colorful small fish. This dive at Seymour was sand and blue vastness interspersed with something very exciting swimming through your line of sight. Awesomely, our dive trip included the footage taken by the dive instructors, which was good because we had some technical difficulties with our GoPro.
Thursday morning I woke up at 2:30 am to hear some unusual noises. Every morning we’ve woken up to find that a sea lion has outsmarted us and climbed over our fender blockade to hang out in our trampoline. And, to add insult to injury, they leave before we wake up so we end up with all the mess and no cute sea lion to fawn over.
So, 2:30, I’m up, and find a sea lion vigorously rubbing herself on our trampoline. She’s also left a giant “present” on our port side stairs. First order of business is getting her off the boat, which is attempted by extending our boat hook as far as possible, leaning (naked might I add) out of our forward hatch and trying to poke her. When that doesn’t work, I launch the boat hook like a javelin and off she goes. I clean up the mess with water and a brush. When the mess is left to sit, it won’t come out with any of the gentler deck cleaners, so we (read: David) have to soft scrub it out. Thankfully my nighttime proactivness greatly reduced the clean up required in the morning, and a shuffling of fenders (hopefully) dissuaded another sea lion visit.
A mere few hours later, we got up early to beat the heat and walked out of town to Túneles de Mirador, a lava rock formation. To get there, from the central square we picked up the Avenue Padre Julio Herrera, the only road that leaves town. The entire walk was almost 3 km and took about 45 minutes and it was quite hot – reminiscent of the southwest US. We arrived at 9 and had the whole place to ourselves!
The tunnels were formed when lava followed over the land. The top layer of lava cooled and the bottom layer continued to flow. Then the volcanic eruption ceased. Over time, collapses in the tunnels opened them up to human exploration. The whole tunnel walk was about 50 meters, and took us about 15 minutes. Then we chugged back to town.
Learning from the hike to the tunnel, on Saturday we got up even earlier for the hike to Las Grietas, a fissure rock formation with snorkeling. This location is rumored to be really busy so we wanted to arrive as early as possible. You take a water taxi to the Angermeyer dock (you can tell them Las Grietas and they get it) and from there it’s easy – follow the signs!
We arrived at the site around 8 am and had the pools to ourselves. There are three pools; the first one is long and deep, the second rocky and shallow, and the third long and deep with large fish living in it. We were so glad to have the place to ourselves, as we had heard of people showing up and getting turned away because it was too crowded. The sign says maximum capacity 48 people!
We even saw a bright blue eel in the first pool. The water is amazingly clear and deceptive. I read that it is 65 feet deep! Afterward, we walked the trail that runs alongside the chasm. It provided us with nice views looking down and a view over Academy Bay.
The rest of our visit here was fairly laid back and quiet. Unfortunately, we had some communication issues with our agent, Johnny, about understanding how we can accomplish a few things and leave. While some of the communication issues were on Johnny’s part, the big one was that all of a sudden, his emails started getting put in my spam box. He was answering my questions, but I wasn’t seeing it. I would have liked to make it to Isabela Island for a few nights, but we weren’t able to make it happen.
While I’ve heard a lot of different things about the other islands you can go to (San Cristobal has sea lions like the plague and Isabela is remote and beautiful) I think we picked the right one. Although I am sad we didn’t get to snorkel Las Tuneles on Isabela, we get to snorkel all the time. Our adventures in Santa Cruz were truly unique to the Galapagos. We won’t have many opportunities to experience diving with hammerhead sharks, swimming a natural fissure like Las Grietas, or walking through a lava tunnel.
Today we have winds cooperating to get down south. We are taking off this afternoon, and expect to be at sea around 20 days. Our next port will be Hiva Oa, French Polynesia.