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After a 6-day passage from Panama, we arrived in the Galapagos ready to explore this unique destination!
Arrival & Formalities
We arrived Saturday morning to Academy Bay, Santa Cruz. We had our anchor down by 8 am, and I set to work baking brownies and cleaning up.
We had kept in touch with our agent, Johnny Romero, via sat phone emails and he was expected in the morning. There are several cruising boats here, but it is not crowded. We have read that a stern anchor is recommended but we aren’t using one (yet). We don’t think anyone else here is either. There are a few boats here that we recognize, although no one we know. We had also read that the anchorage is rolly with lots of traffic, but so far nothing we can’t handle.
Formalities kicked off with Johnny arriving via water taxi. One by one our officials arrived in the same manner. We had a total of five men on board. Everyone was offered (and accepted) bottles of water and brownies. We make sure to have bottled water onboard for officials, a tip from our Agent in Panama, Roy, because the officials are greeting on strange boats all the time, and they don’t know how that boat got their water; via water maker or municipal, and what’s the quality?
In the group was Johnny, two Ecuadorian Coast Gaurd men, an environmental and agriculture guy, and a ‘diver’. Johnny helped us translate, and the CG and ag guys worked on the paperwork simultaneously. The CG guys asked to see navigation equipment and safety equipment. We showed them all our electronics at the helm station and pulled out fire blankets, life rings, life jackets, and our medical kit.
The agriculture guy went down into our starboard side and poked a vacuum around in a few places to check for infestations. We also got a fumigation certificate from Panama, although the certificate doesn’t actually mean that you got fumigated. (Weird, right?)
The ‘diver’ was actually a guy with snorkel gear and a go pro. He got in the water and swam up and down the waterline looking at the bottom of our boat. Since our bottom job in Nanny Cay, we’ve only had to clean the bottom gently three times. Once was in Grenada and then twice were in Panama – when we first got to Las Perlas and then just before we left. We knew that they are looking for invasive species, primarily, but we were concerned about general cleanliness too. At some point on our passage we went through some muck, and while the bottom is clean, the waterline has some nasty stuff on it. But, no worries, we passed our inspection – if you don’t pass they make you go back out to sea and have the bottom cleaned professionally.
It’s hard to tell what the formalities would have been like if we didn’t have a (relatively) shiny and new boat. I’m sure the agriculture inspection would have been more thorough, since older boats are more likely to have infestations. We also were asked if we have any live animals or plants aboard, but there was no inspection of our provisions or alcohol. David and I have been eating a lot of our tuna lately, as we had heard that you can not have recently caught fish onboard. We still have two loins in our freezer from the Caribbean Sea, but no one seemed concerned.
Noonsite was very helpful for our planning of the formalities. I also read any blog post I could find of cruisers stopping in the Galapagos. But, a lot of things were wrong. For example, we had read that your clearance papers from Panama need to say your next port is French Polynesia. Not true, our exit papers say Galapagos.
We have a 20-day, one island permit to visit the Galapagos. That means that Starry Horizons will stay here for up to 20 days, but we can travel to the other islands through other means. You can get a cruising permit for longer, but it’s more expensive, so we are just going to try to pack everything we want to do into less than 20 days. We had read online that as of 2016 this 20-day option was no longer available. I was also told that by an agent that I had contacted before we booked Johnny.
We’ve found that we have free wifi here – the network called Sopla Por la Education provides 45 minutes of free internet every 24 hours. We connect to our wifi extender and the signal is ok – slow to load and not fast enough for calls or uploading videos. Our laptops can also see it, so that’s another 45 minutes for each laptop but the lower signal makes it even slower. And, if I stand outside I can get a terribly slow signal that occasionally disappears with my cell phone.
Water taxis are prolific, and cost between 80 cents or 1 dollar per trip, depending on the time of day. They have a few socks they can take you to, or pick you up from your boat. You can hail water taxis on channel 14.
What To Do In Santa Cruz
We had an amazing time exploring Santa Cruz. The Galapagos has such unique landscapes and wildlife.
Sea Lions on Deck!
Sea lions are notorious in the area for boarding boats and making a mess. All boats with a transom use fenders to block off access. We blocked off the port side completely and blocked the starboard side at the top of the steps. We were hoping to give the sea lions a restricted area to come visit us; hopefully to confine their mess to the starboard transom.
David woke up first Saturday and when I got upstairs, he said that apparently our fender blockade didn’t work.
“Do we have a sea lion back there??”
“You are looking the wrong way. “
Guess who was hanging out on our trampoline??
Apparently we had a weak link in the blockade. The sea lion was like a sunbathing cat; he occasionally opened his eyes and looked at us but didn’t seem to care too much.
Thursday morning I woke up at 2:30 am to hear some unusual noises. Every morning we’d 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. The 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 proactiveness greatly reduced the clean up required in the morning, and a shuffling of fenders (hopefully) dissuaded another sea lion visit.
Friday night after dinner we turned on our underwater lights. At first, we got a lot of small fish, but then we spotted about half a dozen two-foot long black tip reef sharks circling around the lights. A pelican joined in, coming really close to us and clacking its bill at us.
Then, I heard someone take a deep breath in between our hulls. I actually said “David?” as if he may have jumped in without me noticing. Swimming out from between the hulls was a sea lion! This happened several times, as they seem to like coming up in between the hulls for a breather before racing off to eat more fish.
We needed a generator day and David had plans to wash the boat. We thought we’d have to shoo the sea lion off the trampoline. I was hoping to get to see him waddle back to the stern but once David turned on the generator the sea lion slipped under the seagull striker and flopped into the water.
David washed the boat and we waited for Johnny to come back with our passports. He did a water taxi drive by to tell us they were delayed (understandable, as it’s Easter Sunday) and he’d be by Monday.
The next time we tried to use our lights, a boat came by and told us they weren’t allowed. That was a big bummer, and I’m not entirely sure why, since the city docks have underwater lights on them as well.
A Lesson in a Small Package
When our awesome friends were visiting us in Panama, the last day we decided to split up….Hans went to the airport for his flight, David and I went to run errands, and Sara, Trevor and David K went out to do some touristy stuff. We gave the later group our second set of keys – if they ended up beating us back to the boat, they could take the dinghy out and get in. Unfortunately, we forgot to get the keys back before they left that night.
Obviously our friends felt really bad, and David and I discussed what to do about the keys. Could we survive with just one set until June, when we flew back to the states? I was worried that if we tried to ship them to us, we could get stuck somewhere waiting and it would be (relatively) expensive. We decided that we’d give it a try, and had our friends ship the keys to the Galapagos, care of our agent.
And guess what? We just barely got our keys in time to take advantage of a weather window. It’s our first time mailing something to us outside the US (the USVIs don’t count). We had to email back and forth with FedEx’s representatives in Eduador while we were underway from Panama using our sat phone – which irritated me, as I’m a bit protective of our (expensive) sat phone minutes. And of course all the emails were in Spanish, and I had a hard time translating. Using your desktop, gmail will translate messages for you, but the translation comes off not always understandable. And sometimes, when an actual person emailed me, their English left a bit to be desired. Thankfully, I was able to forward emails to Johnny, our agent, and he gave me instructions. This would have been extremely difficult if we didn’t have an agent right now.
I had to go to the bank and pay the customs money via deposit to the Ecuadorian company. The cost was $130, for a set of keys in a small package. Grrr. I don’t even understand what this money goes towards, but at least it’s (probably) not as expensive as re-keying our boat.
We forgot a previous lesson too. In the USVIs, we had a package arrive at the FedEx office, but go out for delivery and not get delivered. It’s a mistake to rely on the delivery person plus whoever is going to sign for your package. Instead, you are better off having the package held at the FedEx office, where you can come pick it up yourself first thing in the morning instead of waiting for delivery.
Sara shipped the keys on March 18th, and we got them on the morning of the 7th, just a few hours before we left the Galapagos.
Preparing to Depart
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.