Stolen Kiss

Stolen Kiss

March 23, 2012

Golly Gosh the Galapagos!

We can’t believe we finally made it and are off on the big puddle jump. Interestingly, (or not!) there are many Australians who have bought yachts in the Americas like us and are off home. The chant of ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie and Oi, Oi, Oi may be a little corny, but It’s great to hear and be part of, so far away from home! A group of young tourists on a charter boat made the call to us as they saw our flag!

In Santa Cruise, an Aussie from Bunbury (Amnesia II) and having Fremantle as their home port came in to anchor, rounding us and said how they liked our article in Cruising Helmsman! Oh to be famous!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Our arrival to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, (Wreck Bay) San Cristobel was handled efficiently by Bolivar Pesantes, our agent. We had contacted him from Australia via email then from Panama. He was expecting us and came aboard to clear us in ½ hour after anchoring. We immediately had our autographo, (Cruising Permit) which I would expect given our communication and the amount of money handed over.

We sort of have a handle on what happens here. Depending on your agent, you can have Floreana added to your autographo; It seems that agents in Santa Cruz will do this. Some agents are a little tardy in helping to get you organised. We have no complaints with Bolivar Pesantes. It does seem however, to be a little open to interpretation as, according to agents in Isabella, you can check in there for the 20 days without immigration, leave your boat anchored and visit other islands by ferry. However, given the costs involved with this, we felt the Autographo was cheaper. Definately the right thing to do is to organise your autographo before you arrive as this paves the way for an easy, seamless travel with your boat between the islands allowed.

Initially we wanted to see the ‘Post Office’ box that the early whalers used that was on Floreana, however the original one is now in the Information Centre in San Cristobel. The post box there before 1793! Ships passing would stop off and either drop mail off or collect it to post further down the track. Other cruisers who went over to Floreana said it was quiet and saw nothing there that they had not seen on other islands.

Peter’s sister, Ann and her husband Terry had completed their first ocean passage and were excited (or relieved?) to have arrived. They would be staying a week in San Cristobel with us and swapping with Di and Gorbar from Perth. Galapagos is a popular destination!

Two other Aussie yachts, Red Sky and Shweetie (Banana Benders!) came in the next day and to our surprise, Jeff Young (whom I raced with on Botticelli 20 years ago) owns the American flagged yacht, Sea Faulk next to us! For the first time, Aussie yachts outnumbered the American and Canadian yachts!

The sea lions in San Cristobel rule the anchorage and are the first to come and greet you as you arrive so as to check out any new likely spots to sun themselves! Fortunately for us, a water taxi service operates so we do not have to proffer our dinghy to the seals! It clearly says in the information that the seals always win! We did see them take over one cat whilst the owners were ashore. Their cockpit cushions bearing the stains from one chap who enjoyed his nap! There were about 6 on board from the transom to the cockpit!!

There is a rock pool along the shore in town that looks as though it serves as a nursery as there are many young seals playing in the pools and practicing what seals do! Two young seals were actually playing with a stick, picking it up and throwing it away then getting it again.

Gorbar got a little overconfident with the seals on a walk way in San Cristobel, walking among a group of seals. A large one took offence and snarled at Gorbar. On turning to retrace his steps, another seal actually went for him (goolie height!) and almost bit him. Gorbar, keeping his cool as usual (on the outside at least) made angry noises back and the seal slinked off. Di and I were watching speechless...unusual, I know!

There are also many marine iguanas around the rocks. The young seals like to play with their tales and we did see one iguana with a chewed tail!

The 3,000 km shore line of the Galapagos Islands is littered with marine iguanas. They grow to a maximum of 1.5 m and always face the sun when out of the water. They often clump together to keep warm.

Kicker Rock was the place to snorkel although a little rough due to an easterly wind! Rare as it was, the timing not good! Where was that wind when we needed it??? There were 3 hammer head sharks, amazing fish, sea turtles and eagle rays swimming by. We saw a lot of fish everywhere, especially large varieties. A difference in an environment that has not been over fished.

We did a tour of the customary volcanic crater and the tortoise hatchery with our own driver at $10/hour with two other (Australian) yachts.  It was a lot cheaper than an organised tour but we did have a young German lady that was crewing on one of the yachts who spoke 4 languages fluently, one of course being Spanish!  Ann and Terry enjoying the could you not??

The islanders are very proud of their breeding program as they started from 14 tortoises (10 females and 2 males) and now have their stock to 2000. The tortoises had almost become extinct due to the early poaching of them from whalers who took them aboard for fresh meat.

The walk over to Charles’ Darwin statue which overlooks his landing bay on San Cristobel is a worthwhile walk, with lots of birds and an opportunity to snorkel, depending on the swell. There is a gun from WWII located there (seemed like a good idea at the time??) ………The Americans had a base here on nearby Baltra Island; a small island to the north of Santa Cruz, 40 miles away.

Changing crew in Galapagos was easy despite what others had said. With Ann and Terry departing, we were eagerly awaiting Di and Gordon who were expected on a different airline, the flight number being the wrong flight for the day! (Amex Platinum Travel made the mistake!) Di and Gorbar also got a surprise when they went to leave Ecuador on a non-existent flight. However, all was not lost as they arrived on the flight Ann and Terry left on!

Di and I had our customary Pina Colada, something that was started in Port Douglas, Queensland, on Jules’ yacht in the early 90’s. We have one whenever we meet somewhere in the world.

We ventured over to Santa Cruz Island, (light winds but the wildlife made up for it) by all accounts lots to see and do; great town but a crappy anchorage! Spot on!

The anchorage is exposed to the prevailing wind with the cruise boats muscling in and taking the best spots. Might is right! However they were mostly considerate towards us with one apologising for anchoring on our face for a night or two.

Lonesome George, 90 to100 years old, a longer neck tortoise from Pinta Island (he has to reach up and eat cactus) is the last of his particular species and is in the Charles Darwin Centre on Santa Cruz. He is huge and the rarest living creature on earth! These tortoises are much larger than the ones we saw on the Seychelles.

Land iguanas (a little larger than their marine brothers) hang out in the Research Centre as well.

We were availed many opportunities to see tortises. Of the 9 species in the world, 5 are located on Isabela. As their eggs would not survive in the wild due to introduced species eating or destroying the eggs, the hatcheries on each island are doing an amazing job of increasing the population.

Lava tunnels were fun ..

and we had our our resident geologist in Gorbar to fill in the gaps so to speak. Nearby there are tortoises roaming around the fields. as well as the tourists!!!!!!!!!!! These ones have much shorter necks as they have low grasses to feed on. (hmm!)

Large tortoise shells could almost fit on Peter's back....the male tortoises having a concave shell underneath to aid in their mating. Apparently they give off very loud grunts during their fun, which can last up to 9 hours!! They have to chase the females and convince them........

Gorbar (aka Lord Litchfield) spent much time ambling long taking lots of excellent photos and indeed won the ‘boobie prize’… Blue footed boobies are beautiful birds with loads of character. As with most of the wild life, you can get up close and reasonably personal to take a photo! Eventualy we got some great pics of them sitting on the rocks near Stolen Kiss in Villamil (Isabela).

From our anchorage in Puerto Ayora (Academy Bay) Santa Cruz we also did a snorkel tour around the bay at Loberia Is and across the western side of the cliffs. Lots of fish, a few sharks and seals. The turtles were a little elusive.  A walk from the Waterfront Hotel along a path, behind an old boat yard, across the rocks and swamp brings you to a grotto (11m deep) with clear water and sand on the bottom.

 Beautiful swimming with some parrot fish to boot! Las Grietas is its name and a worthwhile hike across very sharp lava rocks.

We have had some fun with the underwater camera!

Another hike took us over to Tortuga Bay; a stunning white sandy beach with many iguanas in the surf and strolling along the beach. It is a long walk across a stony path (once you get to the park gate) but so nice and cool when you make it! Most of the parks are only accessible by foot!

Someone has a sense of humour in re-modelling their choice of transport. We understand the tortoise but don't quite get the elephant!

Before we departed the very busy port of Santa Cruz, we managed to get to the Saturday morning market. What a treat in the quality and variety of produce that is all grown in the mountains. The best we have seen in a long time!

Although we are restricted where we can go, Galapagos does a great job in their conservation efforts and are working towards ridding the islands of introduced species. There are many young volunteers who come here to do the hard work of re-planting natural species and generally assisting the conservation effort.  All our money goes towards helping this process. Every taxi driver we met is in on the conservation road, making sure we do the right thing. San Cristobel aims to be totally green energy (wind power) users by 2017 and are nearly there now. Other islands are following suit. Their biggest issues are sustainable numbers of people living on the islands and tourist numbers, along with water availability.

Arriving in Puerto Villamil on Isabela, we felt that we had found the jewel of the Galapagos being a small but protected anchorage with dolphins, sea lions, blue footed boobies, penguins, marine iguanas and sea turtles to boot, all around the boat. We have now ticked all our boxes! The town is very laid back with basic provisions and sandy streets, much like the Maldives. It is mainly a back packer village that is expanding rapidly. When a supply ship comes in, the local men work very hard unloading all by hand. Everything is brought in from somewhere else.

As soon as our anchor was down a young seal cased our boat and immediately tried to get up our stern, even with Peter standing by explaining to the seal this was not going to happen. The seal tried and tried and eventually gave up after slipping down the stern each time. We could not figure out which part of ‘no’ this chap did not understand. At low water, the young seals could be seen surfing the sand bar near the pier.
We spent a bit of time watching the penguins. Feeding time with a pelican or two, the penguins would try to steal the fish from the pelicans. They would charge at the Pelican’s beak when it was full of fish, trying to pry it open. Failing that, the penguins would then peck at the pelican’s face!  The pelican’s really get a raw deal as little birds also chase the pelicans, sitting on their head waiting for a fish to be dropped. Poor pelicans!!

The penguins would also call out for the mate when they had lost them. The call would go out then they would put their head underwater trying to see where they were. This behaviour went on for some time when one of the penguins found a new friend and was playing under our boat, chasing the minnows hiding under the hull. They move so fast and were so difficult to photograph. However..........

There are some great walks up to the old quarry past the local lakes to see the pink flamingos...that really are seriously pink....

On the way to the old quarry, the small lakes are home to many other birds and wild life...

Snorkeling in nearby Concha Perla which is a lagoon near the anchorage which opens into the sea, surrounded by old lava tubes that had collapsed. With clear water, many fish,a ray or two soft and hard corals, it was sheer delight.

The tour that blew us away was out to Los Tunneles (lava tunnels that have collapsed and formed a landscape of lagoons with clear water). It’s interesting that this tour is not written up anywhere. It is about 1 hour in a very fast boat (small) that was zooming along at 25knots to a place we think is called Cabo Rosas.

On our way we stopped at Union rock to see the boobies nesting on top, with an iguana and seals. How do they get up there? We also passed many huge manta rays that were at least 3m across.

Now to get in the tunnels is a very hairy, brown pants type of “S” entry through the enormous pounding surf. It just happened to be a 2m swell running the day we went.  There was a boat full of young tourists that went in ahead of us. With no GPS, our driver sat outside the surf break for a good half hour watching the surf waiting for a break. This was a little nerve wracking! Being brave, (or not!) when we finally did make the break, I was sitting on the floor not wanting to look. I could see the concerned faces of Di, Peter and Gorbar. Of course, the photos never show the height of the surf....and we were all too busy hanging on. The fact that we had to don life jackets on our way in did not inspire confidence.

With a fast boat, our driver gunned the engine on the back of a wave, backed off so as not to run into the back of another, ran along the swell then in between two very large groups of rock and we were in! Wow!! How on earth did he find the narrow gap which was only just wide enough for us!! I wanted to ask him how many times he had done that, but was afraid of the answer!!!! Apparently our driver was called Gato (cat) as he has remarkable eyes!

Once inside, the labyrinth of rock pools was amazing! We went to watch the green turtles swimming through a part of this. Black lava rock, remnants of lava flows forming tunnels that had collapsed.

Of course we now had to get out through the surf. Peter assured us that this was easier. However, after 4 attempts and one reversing rapidly away from a wave (in preference to turning!) our driver zoomed out through the braking surf at just the right moment. With my back to the waves, I did notice a look of horror on Peter’s face as a wave rose above us and started to break. We were up and over in no time and the driver did the right thing and slowed at the top so we did not launch ourselves out through the back of the wave! Phew! We all breathed a sigh of relief. He did a great job. Having speed on our side (2 Yamaha 115hp engines) was a comfort.

Our next stop in through smaller surf was to be our snorkel place. Once again a labyrinth of lagoons and rock pools which housed white tip reef sharks and many enormous (bigger than us) green sea turtles. The turtles were not bothered about us swimming, hovering above them and continued on their way and feeding. The ‘WOW’ factor was certainly there. We all agreed that this was one of THE most amazing tours we had been on.

Near where we are anchored, we took a guide around the Tintoreras; lava pools that are the nursery for seals, white tipped reef sharks, rays, marine iguanas and seals. The WOW factor continued! We saw them all! On our 1 ½ hour snorkel back to the anchorage, we had swum with seals, penguins and saw many fish and coral.

A festival in Villamil marked their anniversary. We stayed for the horse racing; a large event with bookies to boot. The horses were a little wild, which did not deter the locals (and us) from lining the main street come race track. We figured that as they had difficulty stopping the horses, getting them around the corners to make a circuit would be totally out of the question.

Fancy pirate hats were made from palm trees to add a point of interest to the passing parade.

Whilst we were in Isabela, 6 tradional Polynesian canoe yachts came in. They have been sailing around the Pacific for 10 months showng that the early Polynesian sailers really did sail effectively in these boats; indeed they were amazing navigators using the stars and the ocean swells for direction. The crew comprises of different nationalities of people that surround the Pacific. We spent some time aboard. They are amazing people. All energy is solar, even for the engine. They are also raising awareness of conservation of the oceans. Their website is

After being told we cannot check out of Isabella as there are no immigration officers here, our agent can organise this for us. As this is the most western island, it saves us a 40 mile trip east, in the prevailing wind to clear out at Santa Cruz.

Di and Gorbar caught the ferry back to San Cristobel where they will fly out. At least we did not leave them on the beach at 0400 like in the Seychelles! Having to get our wire for our lifelines that failed to turn up in Panama on time, I spent two days on the ferry between San Cristobel and Isobela collecting the wire from another yacht who kindly delivered it in the Galapagos for us.

It rained the day after Di and Gorbar arrived and again on the last night, getting quite a soaking each time.  Warm and wet works for us!! Otherwise it has been dry and not too hot. Being able to swim off the boat again has been an enjoyable treat after not being able to do this since Baja Mexico.

 We plan to depart around March 26th for our 3 week sail to the Marquesas and have our head around the time frame it will take to get there. We will be with two other yachts, Red Sky and Shweetie, both Aussies.  However, at present there is no wind out there!! Some yachts are already there with a lot more leaving around the same time as us.  The weather is said to be settling down after March 21..equinox. There are a lot of yachts here now, far more than when we arrived. At least 30 yachts in San Cristobel and another 30 in Santa Cruz.

Our haul out in the Tuamotos (atolls not unlike the Maldives) is planned for mid-May. It is only another 400 miles or so to Tahiti where we will meet Barn and Anita in July. Our timing is so far on track.

Our stay in Galapagos certainly has been memorable and an amazing start to the Pacific adventure. Peter, who had his birthday in Cuba last year, gets to have it in Galapagos this year. Have to be happy with that! No guessing what Peter got for his birthday!

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