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Galapagos - December 2011-February 2012


From December 17th, 2011 to January 17th, 2012

In the rain season, we only had one thing in mind, reaching Galapagos Islands. At the scale of countries we visited in south America, Ecuador is very small. From the border of Huaquillas, in one day and a half, we drove through the Oro Verde, kilometers of banana plantation in a tropical climate, then crossed mountains in the fog before reaching Quito under the rain.

In Quito, we looked for a space on a scuba diving liveaboard boat reaching Darwin & Wolf Islands. Without even checking, some agencies informed us that the seven vessels in procession of a permit to dive around those islands were fully booked for the months to come. One of them confirmed space on the Agressor, but had no last minute discount. On the internet, airlines were showing that flight were full for the next few days. However, on Expedia.com, not only there was space, but at a better price. With patience, we came upon the agency called "Galapagos Last Minute" who had a good offer on the last yacht added to the market, leaving two days later. The only problem was we had our flight ticket for December 18th to Santa Cruz Island, while the cruise was leaving on the 17th from San Cristobal Island. Thanks to the efficiency of the agency who managed to change our tickets, the following day we jumped on the plane for the start of our VACATIONS !

It was only after we arrived in San Cristobal that we discovered the luxurious Buddy Darwin yacht on which we would spend the following eight days. The boat having been launched only 2 month before, diving equipment was still new of very good quality. We rented seven millimeters semi-dry suite, gloves, boots and hood to keep warm, each diver was equipped with a flag and a waterproof radio so we could be located quickly in case of drifting. On board, each cabin looked like a luxurious hotel room, with private bathroom, hot shower and giant plasma TV. On the sundeck, long chairs and a Jacuzzi were the perfect place to rest between dives. In the lounge and dining area we enjoyed the refined menus of a super chef and the open bar. Two zodiacs allowed us to dive in two groups of five. After each dive, we were greeted with warm towels. It was so crazy !

    

Although the yacht helped to make the cruise more enjoyable, it was for the quality of the sites around Wolf and Darwin Islands (186 km and 229km, from the north tip of Isabela) that we broke the piggy bank. After a check dive a few steps away from San Cristobal, we set sail for twelve hours of night navigation to the site of Cape Marshall, northwest of Isabela. During our three immersions, we were greeted by manta and mobula rays, schools of tuna and barracudas as well as playful fur seals.

    

After a second full night's sailing, we were awakened by the cries of birds living on Wolf Island's ancient volcano caldera. For the first dive of the day, three magnificent spotted eagle rays were getting cleaned while "flying" against the current, a few meters away from us. We would come back in two days, in the meantime, we headed to Darwin. At the end of the whale sharks season, we were under no illusions about meeting them. Darwin's Arch was so fascinating. About twenty meters deep, installed as in a theater, clinging to volcanic rocks, we admired the show happening right in front of us. As Galapagos sharks, silky sharks and hammerhead sharks attracted all of our attention, we did not even look at wandering green turtles, swimming moray eels, trumpet fishes and other tropical fishes. It was only after we drifted into the blue that we saw the shadow of the giant, the majestic whale shark moving like a submarine! They were females which could be recognized by their big belly full of eggs. The whale shark is part of the shark family and despite its size which could easily exceed ten meters, it is not a marine mammal. Of the five dives on this site, we saw two to four whale sharks each time. In addition to their sounds accompanying us during all dives, we also had the chance to have the visit of some bottle nosed dolphins. From the zodiac, it was sometimes the pilot whales, or an orca which surprised us.

    

Back to Wolf, an army of hundreds of hammerhead sharks swam in from of us for minutes, without interruption. After three days in relatively warm waters, our blood was frozen by the fresh Humboldt current. It was because there was a different marine life to be seen that we jumped three times into the water of Punta Vicente Roca, northwest of Isabela. We discovered the sunfish, here called Mola mola, a rather curious creature. From the side, it has an oval body, no tail, but two huge fins, one on the back, one under the belly. It measures about three meters from a fin to the other. From the front, it is flat and has a mouth with teeth which strangely look like ours. This fish normally lives about 200 to 300 meters below the surface, but comes to the shallower water cleaning station in order to get rid of parasites. It was also here that we discovered the flightless cormorant, endemic to the Galapagos. Over time, the wings of this bird have atrophied. No longer able to fly, it moves on its feet and plunges to a depth of several meters in order to feed. We also sighted penguins swimming at the speed of a torpedo.

    

Finally, it was at Cousin's Rock, north of Santa Cruz that we enjoyed our last two dives. There were more coral, tropical fishes, rays, octopuses and magnificent white tip sharks. After seven days out to sea, we reached the mainland for the first time in order to meet Giant Tortoises. On the land of this former farm where they were once hunted, tortoises graze peacefully and freely in green fields. After the last night on board the Buddy Darwin, we disembarked on San Cristobal for Christmas Eve.

    

Accompanied by some friends we met on board, we spent two days on the island and had very easy Christmas dinners. We felt in love with sea lions lying on benches, flower plots, docks and sidewalks. After a night in Puerto Ayora, on Santa Cruz Island, we reached Puerto Villamil, on Isabela Island.

Upon our arrival, we were delighted by the tranquility of this place. There were kilometers of white sandy beaches and volcanic rock with sunbathing marine iguanas. A path leaded to the historical "Wall of Tears" which was built by the penal colony. A short walk through the mangrove tunnels and lagoons was leading to the Giant Tortoise breeding center. Since the introduction of some animals such as dogs, cats and donkeys, tortoise breeding in the wild is no longer possible as predators eat or destroy the eggs. To ensure longevity of the specie, the center takes care of eggs and tortoises for a few years before releasing them into their natural habitat.

    

Our favorite activity was the snorkeling at Concha y Perla. The colorful coral was here replaced by volcanic rocks and a three millimeters wetsuit helped support the water temperature. It was in this amazing spot that we could freely play with the sea lions blowing bubbles to our face. There were also plenty of huge sea turtles which could be observed eating algae, being cleaned by dozens of fish or taking their breath at the surface. This place was also the habitat for some stingrays hiding in the sand and juvenile spotted eagle rays swimming with grace. By taking the time to look between the rocks, we discovered a world of porcupine fish, small octopus being chased by other fishes, schools of barracudas, sea stars, sea urchins and all kinds of tropical fish who immigrated in the Galapagos. With a little luck, we even spotted a white tip shark and a sea sneak. Over time, we learned to swim with the iguanas crossing the natural pool without frightening them, knew where to watch the dance of the small transparent shrimps and tried to understand when the best time to play with sea lions was.

    

Today is the 17th of January, it has been a month we are in the Galapagos and we are not yet ready for the rain on the continent.


From January 17th, to February 7th 2012

Tired of visiting Ecuador in the rain, our friends Sabine and Gerard got tempted by the Galápageño's sun and joined us on Isabela. It didn't take them long to fall in love with the place. With Sabine's curiosity who is an excellent diver, we discovered new treasures, including the hiding place of some white tip sharks, reached in a few flipper strokes from the beach.

It was on February 5th that we set sail off Isabela, after a month and a half in this surreal environment. This was the first day of a long journey that began for us. Destination: Switzerland ! Aless's mother was diagnosed with a tumor and the desire to be at her side during the treatment became the new priority. A boat took us to Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz, where we spent the night. The following morning, a taxi drove us to Baltra airport, on the other side of the island. Our flight to Quito made a long stay in Guayaquil for maintenance of the tarmac, before we could find our van in good shape in Quito. In the morning, we left the city before rush hour in order to reach the Colombian border.

Click here to read the following story in Colombia.

See the album "Galapagos - December 2011-February 2012 & February-March 2013"

Galápagos - February - March 2013


From February 1st to March 16th 2013

After a 4 h20 flight, a taxi, one night in Quito, another taxi, another 3h20 flight, 15 minutes bus drive, 5 minutes boat ride, 1 hour bus drive, another 2h30 boat ride, we finally arrived on Isabela. Our friends Martine and Jean-Jacques (met in Ushuaia two years earlier) were supposed to be in the Galapagos, but where? In our hotel of course! What a pleasure to see them again. With the help of our friend Jaci how has been living on the island for the past 17 years, we found a small apartment in her neighbor's house. It was a large room with 4 beds, a kitchen and a bathroom, located right on the beach. The following day, we moved in with our friends.

Without losing time, we jumped into the water equipped with our fins, mask and snorkel and guided them through the underwater life of Concha y Perla. After a few days, our friends were fascinated by the Isabeleño rhythm. In a phone call they extended their stay by changing their flight back to the continent. During ten days, we enjoyed knowing each other, had deeper discussions and cohabited with ease.

    

After the departure of our friends, arrived Luc, a longtime friend from Geneva. He managed to organize his trip according to our dates, without informing us. He found himself with a prepaid hotel on Santa Cruz Island. Oops... Coming all the way to such a beautiful archipelago, according to our dates, to find himself so close but so far at the same time, it only happens to Swiss people... Luc decided to change his plans and joined us on Isabela for about a week.

A few days after Luc arrived, we welcomed our Brazilian friend Marcello. We sympathized with Marcello a year and a half earlier in San Pedro de Atacama (Chile). As a biologist, he has always dreamed of visiting the Galapagos, that's why he jumped on the occasion and decided to join.

This year we had a closer friendship with our neighbor Jaci. We often shared breakfast, played volleyball, cooked some cakes and most importantly, we spent a lot of time in the water, observing the wildlife and discussing about the underwater world.

    

For several weeks, we rediscovered the island which continued to unveil its wonders. Each of our trips to Concha y Perla revealed new treasures. Despite our touching interaction with the manatees in Florida, sea lions kept a big place in our hearts. Because they love toys, we gave them a snorkel. One of them caught it and it did not take her long to understand how to hold it in the mouth. Every morning, we threw the snorkel towards the playing sea lions and Sally the Snorkeler (that's how we named her) would hatch it and taunt her friends. She would even give it back before to swim away.

    

It took two stays on the island to finally organize a trip to Los Tuneles. With some friends, we organized a "private" tour. That morning, the water was so calm that the ocean had turned into a mirror. Within the hour of navigation required to reach the site, we saw many copulating sea turtle showing their back at the surface of the water. We also had the chance to spot a manta ray, but it disappeared before we had time to jump into the water. After surfing the wave and crossing the channel leading to Los Tuneles, we navigated with caution in this natural maze. What a peaceful sight. Volcanic rock shaped arches, bridges and pools. Cacti grew on top of the rock while coral would grow underneath. Juvenile fish were safe here to prepare for the open sea. While snorkeling, we admired schools of surgeon fish, white tip sharks, several kinds of fish ball, octopus, moray eels, sea lions, rays... To top it off, on the way back, dolphins showed their nose and after jumping into the water, swam with us for a few moments.

    

In February, it was the nesting season for marine green turtles. At nightfall, preferably at high tide, a walk on the beach gave us the opportunity to observe the long lay process (1h30 to 2 hours). One morning after sunrise, a turtle finished covering her nest a few meters away from our house and walked back to sea.

    

A few days before we left the Galapagos, we reached Santa Cruz in order to scuba dive in Gordon Rocks, known to be a washing machine where hammerhead sharks can be seen. We left Puerto Ayora at 5 AM for a 40 minutes drive to the channel on the other side of the island. It took another hour and 40 minutes of navigation to reach the dive site. That day, the current was low, the visibility was quite good (approx. 12 meters) and hammerhead sharks, Galapagos sharks, white tip sharks and several types of rays were waiting for us. Focused on the "big fish", we did not even pay attention to the abundance of fish such as huge schools of barracuda, angelfish, hieroglyph fish, scorpion fish... We returned to this site the following day for another two dives. Unfortunately, my camera was not in the mood to cooperate during the two days of diving. I could not take any picture of the show.

From Puerto Ayora, we visited Tortuga Bay. A good hour walk was required to reach this small, isolated beach which is completely protected from the waves. When we arrived, a small school of golden rays was swimming in the shallow water.

The following day we left the Galapagos for the mainland. Arrived at 3 PM in Guayaquil, we left our stuff at the hotel and set off to explore this city which we did not know. In the city, Iguana park is home to (you guessed it...) a colony of land iguanas in the wild. The kings of the park where sunbathing near an artificial pond, on the tree branches or on the immaculate lawn. We continued our walk on the Malecon 2000, located along the Guayas River. On this Sunday afternoon, animations succeed. Kids attractions, boat tours and open air restaurant were full of people. Within a few hours, the idea I had about this city completely changed.

    

At 3:30 AM, the alarm rang, it was time to catch a taxi to the airport, destination Tulum.

During this stay, I faced situations and images related to the impact of man on the marine life. I was horrified and felt a great helplessness in this wonderful and precious underwater world we destroy indirectly and often unconsciously.

I discovered a horrible propeller injury on a sea lion fin, showing great pain. There was no vet on Isabela, "it is the nature" said the national park ranger. I was disgusted. A young sea lion we named Leonacita (small lioness in Brazilian) was injured in the neck. Guided by email by a Brazilian veterinarian (friend of Marcello), I decided to disinfect the wound in secret for two weeks. I also found myself face to face with a sea turtle to whom I delicately removed a hook which was piercing the neck, without touching nor scaring the animal.

    

Here is a series of documentaries revealing some stories which are hidden by governments, more obsessed by profits than conservation.

Shark Water : In an effort to protect sharks, Rob Stewart teams up with renegade conservationist Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Their unbelievable adventure together starts with a battle between the Sea Shepherd and shark poachers in Guatemala, resulting in pirate boat rammings, gunboat chases, mafia espionage, corrupt court systems and attempted murder charges, forcing them to flee for their lives. Through it all, Stewart discovers these magnificent creatures have gone from predator to prey, and how despite surviving the earth's history of mass extinctions, they could easily be wiped out within a few years due to human greed. Click here to watch the movie.

The Cove : The film highlights the fact that the number of dolphins killed in the Taiji dolphin hunting drive is several times greater than the number of whales killed in the Antarctic. They claims that 23,000 dolphins and porpoises are killed in Japan every year by the country's whaling industry. It was awarded the (2010) Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. The film is a call to action to halt mass dolphin kills, change Japanese fishing practices, to inform and educate the public about the risks, and increasing hazard of mercury poisoning from dolphin meat. Click here to watch the movie.

The Earth : This documentary features the journeys made by three particular species, the polar bear, African bush elephant and humpback whale, to highlight the threats to their survival in the face of rapid environmental change. Click here to watch the movie.

Mermaid : This film is about the existence of mermaids. Everyone is free to believe it or not. Personally, what shocked me are the hundreds of whales and dolphins stranded around the world, possibly due to active sonar tests by the Navy.Click here to read an article about this subject. And click here to watch the movie.

Click here to read the following story in Tulum, Mexico.

See the album "Galapagos - December 2011-February 2012 & February-March 2013"