January 10 2016.
See more pics at end of post.
Our time spent on Isla San Cristobel has been a busy and exciting. Mark, Teri Nic, Marina, the French Cape Horner, Eric, and Jan and I hired a taxi to take us on an island tour. The taxi was a small Mazda 4 door pickup truck as are all the other taxis on the island. The island is 25 miles by 7.5 miles wide and is the only island with an abundance of fresh water. This is mainly due to the extinct volcano, Cerro Mundo which has a crater lake with a larger lake sitting in a valley in its northern wind shadow. It was sunny and warm-(Too warm) when we left the port of Baquerize, but as we left the city limits it quickly clouded over and it began to rain. Hard!
Aside from blurring the view for those of us inside the cab of the taxi, the very heavy downpour soaked all those that decided it would be cool (physically as well as socially) to ride in the back of the truck. Mark, Teri and Marina sat with their backs tight against the cab while facing backward. Nic on the other hand sat facing forward while resting against the tailgate. He endured the onslaught of the hurricane force winds and rain for almost half of the one hour journey.
This day, we trekked up to the top of Cerro Mundo, saw little as the clouds were still hugging the hillside. Then we were off again, getting a scenic tour of the islands’ inland jungle until we reached the southern shore of the Island where we visited a Galapagos Tortoise breeding center. We were given a guided walking tour of the centre were free roaming adult tortoises roamed and wallow in muddy ponds. They have pens where they raise the young tortoises until they are big enough not to get carried away by a locale hawk species, then they are released back into the wilds. Apparently the hawks will pick up a young tortoise, carry it high into the air then drop it to break the shell- Dinner time!.
We left the breeding center to head to what is perhaps the most beautiful beach on all of the island, Playa Chino with its turquoise waters, flour-fine white sand Beach which is home to lounging sea lions and Marine iguanas basking on the black volcanic rocks. Jan and I opted out of the 20 minute walk through the noonday, Dante’s Inferno to get to the beach. The rest of the crew slugged through the heat and humidity to spend 30 minutes on the beach. While the crew made their beach trek, Jan and I had a cab take us to the cantina to have a few cold beers while we waited for the others. At least Nic had a chance to thoroughly dry out on his long hike through field of black lava rock and cacti. I imagined it was like strolling through a giant hibachi. Once the crew made their way back to the cantina, it was then lunch and more beers at a hill side cabana, with a spectacular view of the coast. (Lobster and Chicken for Jan and I) .The sea breeze kept the heat in check.
Then it was back to the interior where we stopped to look a t a funky tree house built on and inside a giant ceiba…tree. Access to the tree is gained by a dubious looking suspension bridge with missing lats under your feet. The tree house has a living area, tiny kitchen with a balcony big enough for two with a single bedroom-loft which you can rent for the night. If living in the branches wasn’t to your liking you can sleep in the basement which is accessed through a hole in the tree trunk. If you ever wanted to live like the “Swiss Family Robinson”, this is your chance. It was interesting and I would have stayed longer but the mosquito swams quickly convinced us to move on.
A few days late we all took a snorkeling tour out to “Kicker Rock” in a 25 foot speed boat. (That great volcanic plug that first greeted us when we arrived.) The visibility wasn’t great but we did see some 4 foot black tip sharks and got to play with sea lions. We even swam through the tunnel that pass through the width of the island. Leaving kicker rock behind we motored up the coast to a beautiful beach called Puerto Grande, where we beached the boat and explored inland looking at lava tubes and a landscape one would expect to see on the surface of Mars. Burnt, sharp volcanic rubble interspersed with cacti. No Cacti on Mars I suspect.
Back at the beach Jan and I explored tidal pools full of brilliantly red Sally Lightfoot Crabs and snapping pictures of Blue Footed boobies and marine iguanas. Jan and I snorkeled here some more but was less than impressed with the lack of marine life on the rocks. A function of locale waves and currents no doubt.
By New Year’s Eve, Nic and Marina had moved onto Santa Cruz as there time was fast running out. By now I had the engine repaired and most of the other necessary boat repairs done so we too prepared to move on to Isla Santa Cruz. Mark and Teri would stay with us for another three weeks as we move about the islands. We stayed on San Cristobel for new year’s eve and went ashore to watch the festivities. The waterfront Malacon was busy, mainly with locals all dressed to the 9s in their best or sexiest ware. Not sure why, but there were stuffed mannequins with paper-mache heads placed about. Some had photos of real people glued to the heads. We thought perhaps they were to represent friends or family members who were not here or who had perhaps died in the previous year.
Not sure, but I will dig into this ritual a bit more to find out. There was live and recorded music at several venues with hordes of children running about. Despite the amount of beer flowing, it was definitely a family affair. By 10 am we were all pooped out so we caught a ride with our friend Eric who dropped us back off on Maiatla, before heading back to his own boat. Eric’s boat had a low transom, (back end) where the sea lions were able to easily board his boat. Once onboard they would find a comfortable spot for a nap. There were days when his boat was covered in sleeping beast, from bow to stern. Eric would keep a big bumper on a rope that he would swing to clear the squatters whenever he arrived back home. There was a weak fireworks display at midnight along with the chiming of the church bells. That was enough for us so it was off to bed. But not ashore. Apparently things were just getting started and we would miss the best part of New Year’s eve, anyway the party ashore lasted till dawn, the music never stopped all night. Eric, our Cape Horn friend left for the Panama then back to france. As a farewell, after a viscous game of Mexican Train Dominoes aboard Maiatla, I gave him copies of my books so he would have something to read along the way.
After taking on fuel that was arranged by our harbour agent, and took delivery (It arrived in 10 gallon jugs carried by a water taxi) we were ready to go. We were up early and underway just as the sun popped over the Cerro Mundo. We motored out between the channel markers and the breaking surf on either side. Once clear of the harbour the wind filled in and we had a great sail on a tight reach for the 28 miles over to Isla Santa Fe, the next un-inhabited island. We’re not permitted to stop but we moved close inshore for a photo op. It was a barren island with scrub bush and cacti but here was a beautifully protected bay on the east end that would have been perfect place to anchor and cavort with the abundant marine life, but it was off limits to us. Maiatla had a 90- three island cruising permit. The only island we were permitted to stop was, San Cristobel, Santa Cruz and Isabela. That’s it. If we wanted to visit any other island we had two options, the first was to hire a local charter company to take us there. The cost of visiting the other islands this way ranged from $100.00 to $1000.00 USD per day per person, depending on the island and the level of comfort we desired. The other way was to hire a park guide directly to accompany us. This seemed like a reasonable alternative and I looked into it but I quickly back off when I found out that the cost of doing so would be $200- per person, per day. With 4 crew that would mean $800 USD per day. Ouch. So that was out.
So we skirted Santa Fee the headed for Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz which is the largest town, (15000 people?) in the Galapagos Archipelago and ground zero for the islands massive charter fleet.
More to come later.