02.06. - 08.06.2002: Galapagos trip on the Mondriaan

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Sunday, 02.06.2002: Quito - Baltra

We were woken up by the alarm at 00-30am and put the TV on to watch Argentina v. Nigeria (1-0). Then we went back to sleep and set the alarm for 4-05am to watch the last 10 minutes of Paraguay v. South Africa (2-2). England v. Sweden (1-1) should have been on at 4-30am but they showed adverts for the first 8 minutes of the match and Helen nearly went mad!

We left the hostel at 7-20am, picked up Lesley at her hotel and went to the airport by taxi. We met the guy from EtnoTour at 8am to get our flight tickets and vouchers, checked in and waited in the waiting lounge until our plane took off at 9-30am. It was a sunny day and we were able to see Mt. Cotopaxi in its impressive beauty. We had a short stop-over in Guayaquil to pick up more passengers and finally landed in Baltra at 11-45am island time (12-45 Quito time).

Marcello - our guide for the first Galapagos trip - met us in the airport lobby after we all had paid 100US$ fee for the National Park entrance. He seemed to be quite disorganized and the whole group got confused with him. Anyway, we finally took the bus down to the harbour of Baltra.

We had to wait for the zodiac to take us to our boat but it didn´t bother any of us because we had time to enjoy the beautiful sunny weather and watched the diving of the blue footed boobies into the harbour water.

The Mondriaan - our two mast schooner - was a fantastic boat. The cabins were all downstairs - fairly small but efficient. Thank God we haven´t got all our stuff with us - we´d never fit it in the cupboards!

Our Mondriaan cabin

We had lunch in the big dining room upstairs - several tables nicely set up with comfortable chairs. The salad, spagballs, hot potatoes, cauliflower and fresh fruit were set up at the buffet table. Yummy!

Our group was fairly young with lots of different nationalities. We were lucky because the Mondriaan usually takes oldies from the States who can afford a trip like this on a regular price. Nearly all the members of our group had got on the boat with a discount.

After lunch the Mondriaan left Baltra and we got a most informative talk on today´s activities - we all had problems to understand Marcello. He wasn´t clear at all when telling us about the plan for the day. He jumped backwards and forward all the time so we all lost track after two minutes.

At 3-40pm we arrived at Bachas Bay - a lovely sandy beach with pelicans, frigate birds, sally lightfoot crabs and a great blue heron.

Bachas Bay

The zodiac took us to the beach. It is famous for the many turtle eggs laid under the sand. We watched many frigate birds and a great blue heron circling the sand holes. They are just waiting for the hatching of the turtles. Marcello taught us to watch out for flies sitting on the sand. They can smell the turtles coming up. Unfortunately only 5 out of a 1000 turtles make it to maturity. We were quite sad to see the short turtle tracks around the rim of the sand holes. Most of them never make it to the water.

We had our first opportunity to go snorkelling but the water was very murky so there was not much to see. After a beautiful sunset we got taken back to the Mondriaan at 6pm - visitors to the National Park areas on the Galapagos Island are not allowed to stay any longer to keep the wildlife intact.

We were all looking forward to a hot shower and the yummy dinner afterwards. After dinner the Mondriaan went north around Baltra & Seymore Island and then headed south across to San Christobal.

It was a beautiful night and we all went up on the deck to watch the stars. It had been a long day so we went to bed at 10pm.

Monday, 03.06.2002: Baltra - San Christobal

Helen got woken up at 3-40am because the boat was swaying badly from side to side. She thought we were going to tip over. The shampoo fell off in the bathroom. Kirsten was fast asleep - Thank God. We got woken up at 5-05am by the anchor being lowered. We had stopped in a shallow bay at San Christobal.

After watching the sunrise we joined the crew in front of the TV for the second half between Ecuador and Italy. The crew was dressed in the Ecuadorian football shirts and celebrated the first world cup match of Ecuador ever.

After breakfast there was a change of plans due to a refuelling stop so we swapped the afternoon activities to the morning. We sailed to Isla Lobos and at 9am got on the zodiac to go over to the island. The sea lions were swimming around the zodiac and we had to make our way through them on the dry landing. They were so cute!

Sea lions on Isla Lobos

We did a short walk on the island to see loads of blue footed boobies, iguanas, lizards and a couple of frigate birds with their red sacks fully blown up to attract the females.

Isla Lobos walk

It was an extremely hot day. We quickly went back to the Mondriaan to get our snorkel gear and went for a fantastic hour in the water swimming with the sea lions. It was amazing how they imitated our moves. They came swimming towards us lying on their backs and blowing bubbles into our faces. What a great experience!

Getting ready for the snorkel trip

While we were having lunch the Mondriaan went back to San Christobal to get some fuel. In the afternoon we took the zodiacs again and went to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno where we boarded a van and went to the information centre. There was loads of information about the flora and fauna on the Galapagos and the volcanic history. As it was too hot to take in all the information we walked up to the Frigate Bird Hill - recommendation from Marcello - which turned out to be a big gun instead of a nice viewpoint. Back on board the Mondriaan we watched the sunset before going to dinner. The chef had cut out a donkey face with a pipe out of a water melon.

Tuesday, 04.06.2002: San Christobal - Española

At 8-15am we got onto the zodiac and had a wet landing at Gardner Bay on Isla Española. It was a white beach full of seals. We went for a walk on the beach and saw loads of mocking birds, marine iguanas, blue footed boobies and crabs.

We quickly went back to the Mondriaan at 9-30 to get our snorkel gear and went snorkelling near a big rock. We were instructed by Marcello to stay in a group and follow him, but after 5 minutes he went back to the zodiac - his mask apparently leaked - so Damien became our fabulous guide. The water was very cold but we were lucky to see two white tipped reef sharks, a reef cornet fish, loads of rainbow wrasses and multi coloured parrot fish.

After lunch we moved to the other end of the island and at 2pm we got into the zodiac to go to Puerto Suarez. We spent 2,5 hours looking at seals, iguanas, lizards, loads of blue footed boobies, nazca boobies, red-billed tropic birds and a Galapagos gull. It was a fantastic walk and you really had to be careful not to step on the animals. We also saw a Galapagos hawk and loads of waved albatrosses who were either sitting on their eggs or flying near the steep cliff.

Puerto Suarez walk

We all felt sorry for Mary - a Scottish lady with a great sense of humour - who´d been told by bloody Marcello that it was a very difficult walk, so she decided therefore not to bring her camera. Well, the walk wasn´t difficult at all and she managed it easily! She´d told us later that she went with Exodus to the base camp of K2 in 1989 and that was what you would call difficult!

Back on board we were greeted with yummy mini sausage rolls. At 5-45pm the crew put up the sails and we went off in the zodiac to take photos of the Mondriaan in the sunset.

The Mondriaan in the sunset

After dinner the boat set course for Floreana Island and we all enjoyed a relaxing night on the top deck watching the stars again.

Wednesday, 05.06.2002: Española - Floreana

We got up at 5-15am to watch Germany vs. Ireland. We spent half an hour searching for the TV channel but had no luck. So we had to rely on the radio (1-0 Germany after 10 minutes). But after the first half the reception went so we didn´t know the final score!

We took the zodiac at 7-45am and had a wet landing on a red beach on Floreana island. We walked along a gravel track to see a few flamingos at Cormorant Bay.

Flamingos at Cormorant Bay

Afterwards we went to a beach on the other side where we saw fresh tracks from giant turtles that had gone into the sea and also lots of dead birds and dead fish. Anja (one of our travel agents) said that Floreana is an island known for mysteries. A load of German settlers died mysteriously, one by one, including a vegetarian who died of food poisoning after eating chicken!!!

The snorkelling was fantastic near Floreana Island. We were lucky to swim right next to a 2 meter large manta ray. It´s amazing to see how fast they are in the water - their movements look so gentle. Unfortunately we didn´t see any hammer sharks. People from a different boat went snorkelling at 6am and saw a big bunch of them right next to the turtle beach!

The boat then moved to Post Office Bay where you can drop letters and postcards without a stamp. Rules are that you take one letter/postcard out of the post box before putting you own in and then get a stamp in Puerto Ayora and send it off. Amazingly it seems to work!

At 2-30pm we left Lesley on the boat and went off to Black Beach and then on a rickety old truck for a very bumpy ride into the centre of the island to see giant turtles in captivity, the original cave house of the Wittmers (last of the original German settlers on the island to survive).

Lonesome George - he´s the only one left of his species.

Turtles on Black Beach.

We walked through lava tubes and saw a vermilion flycatcher that is not often to be seen. Back on board we all ribbed Lesley about her "activities" with the crew whilst we were away!

After dinner we moved off on a 5 hour journey to Santa Cruz - very, very rocky!!! Kirsten and Hans-Peter had a very interesting talk about the formula 1 circus. Hans-Peter is the PR agent of the Sauber formula 1 team and gave away some insight information. Poor Vania was rescued by Lesley. "Boy, can Kirsten talk!" said Vania.

Thursday, 06.06.2002: Floreana - Santa Cruz

Lorraine had to leave the boat at Puerto Ayora at 7am to catch her flight. At 7-50am we got the zodiacs to the quay at Puerto Ayora and got onto an old bus to take us to the area where giant turtles live in the wild. The turtles live freely on a farm in the centre of Santa Cruz Island. The farmer has set up a little wooden shelter with drinks, toilets and information, so tourists are welcome to go on a 1,5 hour guided walk across his land.

A good path lead us straight to a huge turtle resting on the path. We knew already by the fresh poop (big and quite wet!) we came across only seconds before seeing her. Afterwards we left the path and went through grass and rough ground. It was a very hot and humid day but we were awarded by 8 giant turtles altogether. Some were huge and Marcello was guessing them at an age of over 150 years weighing about 250kg! The weight of the shield alone is about 30% of the full body weight. One turtle was completely covered in mud.

Giant turtles on Santa Cruz Island

After another short bus ride we went to Marcellos uncle to see the big lava caves. We were also allowed to pick grapefruit and oranges from the fruit garden. After lunch on the Mondriaan we got two new passengers - Charlsie and Eugene from the States.

While all the others went to see the Darwin Research Centre we checked all the travel agencies at Puerto Ayora for another cruise boat. We had already decided to extend our stay on the Galapagos Island rather then going back to Quito for another 6 days. We couldn´t find a tour so decided to go back to Puerto Ayora after the cruise for a couple of days. We checked a few hotels and found the Estrella del Mar - a nice but simple hotel in the town centre. Helen put our names down for a 3 night reservation and discovered Prue´s name in the list. And then only seconds later Pam and Chris walked into the hotel!!! The world is so small!

Tonight was party night - passengers and crew left the Mondriaan to check out the local bars and dance clubs. We found a nice open bar with great music and lots of dancing was going on. Vania - slightly tipsy - doing weird dance steps with Hans-Peter. Giovanni was making a big play for Allison and Eve finally got her dance with the captain. We all had a great time and finally left at 12-10am (instead of 11-30pm) to get the zodiacs. We stayed up till 2am but there was nowhere to sit - Lesley and the captain had commandeered the rear, Giovanni and Allison had commandeered the front and Vania was in the middle, between bar and stairs, with three other crew!!! It certainly had been a "rocky" night sailing off to Rabida Island.

Friday, 07.06.2002: Santa Cruz - Rabida & Santiago

Lesley came into our cabin to explain that England had beaten Argentina 1-0 - according to the captain! Might have to delay the celebrations until we can confirm this!

After breakfast we went for a walk on Rabida Island to see the different types of Galapagos finches. Charles Darwin developed his evolution theory on the several adapted species of Galapagos finches. Then we went snorkelling along the shores of Rabida. Again it was amazing! Right next to the beach was a massive shoal of striped saleemas (they look like sardines). Millions of them formed into a big black mass. Damien saw a blue-footed booby diving into them and catching one.

At 11am we were heading for James Bay on Santiago Island and got there just after lunch. While Helen and Mary stayed on board, the rest of us took the zodiac and went on a walk over the lava. Mind you, Lesley and Vania decided to play football with the crew.

This was certainly the best walk on our Galapagos cruise. We´ve seen a big heron catching fish, a smaller lava heron, marine iguanas fighting in the water, a sally lightfoot crab chasing an iguana, lots of sea lions playing in a natural lava pool, two oyster catchers and a bright yellow warbler bird.

Fantastic walk on James Bay

But today we also saw cruel life on the Galapagos. A tiny sea lion who looked very skinny fighting for his life. His mother must have been killed. Marcello told us that the guides are not allowed to interfere with nature so we had to leave him without any help. Later on we discovered another sea lion giving birth but the baby sea lion got stuck on his way out and the mother was screaming in pain. The little one was obviously dead and Marcello wasn´t sure if the mother will survive in the end. Again we couldn´t help. Very, very sad!

While Lesley and Vania finished their football match, the rest of us went snorkelling from the beach and we were lucky to swim with the sea lions again. We also say a couple of black-tipped sharks (about 1m long).

Kirsten was lucky that her camera still worked. Whilst taking photos of the marine iguana in the water she slipped on the wet rocks and slowly went into the water. She managed to raise her arm and keep the camera away from the water but couldn´t stop sliding on her bump into the water. When she finally came to a halt Marcello offered help to rescue the camera. Kirsten should have known better to hand it to somebody else because Marcello dropped the camera onto the rocks! Thank God, Kirsten could stop it from rolling into the water! The zoom was blocked afterwards but Kirsten managed to get it working again.

We got back on board at around 5pm and the boat moved along to the west of the island where we spend an hour looking at Buccaneer cove. Loads of boobies were diving into the water - splash, splash, splash.

Today Marcellos briefing was after dinner. Thank God, it was very short! We had loads of questions but nobody dared to ask them. We were too afraid of the long and rambling replies from Marcello that didn´t answer the question!

Saturday, 08.06.2002: Santiago - Bartholomé

We got onto the zodiacs at 8am and went across to Bartholomé Island. Only Lesley stayed on board to get some sleep! It was another beautiful sunny day and on our way over we´d seen two male penguins trying to mate!

Gay penguins

Then we had a really nice short walk on wooden boardwalks up to the summit (about 350m above sea level) of Bartholomé Island. We enjoyed the great view from the top and took a group photo. Most of the island is covered in lava and in the distance we could see the most recent lava flow from 2 years ago - huge! Helen picked up one of the "heavy" lava rocks and did her Helenator impression!

On the summit of Bartholomé Island (about 350m above sea level)

Then we went around the island with the zodiac and saw loads of fish in the clear water, some seals and a big black shark. Back on board we got our snorkelling gear. Kirsten went arse over tit climbing into the zodiac - she´d slipped on the wet rubber and landed straight on her arse in the centre of the zodiac. Everybody had to laugh about this fabulous little stunt!

Lesley and the captain (!) joined us for the snorkelling. It was great. We have seen loads of white-tipped reef sharks swimming straight at us, five penguins went straight passed Kirsten, Damien spotted a beautiful puffer fish and we were surrounded by seals again. Lesley hadn´t seen anything - what´s that about love making you blind? After an hour the water got too cold so we went back to the Mondriaan.

After lunch we relaxed in the deck chairs for two hours before getting back into the zodiacs for another snorkelling trip. This time we went further around the island and were rewarded with an eagle ray, a marble ray, more reef sharks, pacific boxfish and a moorish idol. Excellent!!

At 4-30pm we went off to see the penguins on land again and this time we got really close to them.

Penguins on Bartholomé Island

Afterwards we went over to Sullivan Bay and had a very slippery dry landing directly onto the lava. It came from a lava vent about 104 years ago, not from a volcano, and left beautiful rope patterns. Absolutely amazing! Even cactus and other small plants were growing on it - but only very sparsely.

Just before 6pm we walked back to the beach to get the zodiac there rather than from the slippery lava. We took off our boots and waited for the right time to get into the zodiac (the waves were quite strong). While waiting for her turn a sea lion came right up to Fabienne and nearly kissed her face! There are so curious and not afraid of human beings at all!

Nearly all of us had made it safely into the zodiac when loads of frigate birds were circling over a nearby turtle nest. When one got a turtle Marcello couldn´t stop us from leaving the zodiac again and we raced over to the nest to see the turtles hatching. The sun was down already and we could see the flies sitting in the hole. Marcello looked onto his watch and knew he had to get off the beach by 6pm (park regulations). But this time we didn´t want to miss the hatching and refused to go back to the zodiac.

So he quickly put one hand into the nest and caught a tiny baby turtle, which was hovering just under the sand. Marcello put it down into the sand and we surrounded it so the frigate birds couldn´t get it. The turtle fumbled around in the sand with sand in its eyes, very slowly trying to get its bearings. No wonder they don´t survive long - it takes them about 15 minutes to get to the sea!

Marcello picked it up and we took photos and video. Then he put it back into the sand. They have to orientate themselves so they know where they were born and can return one day and burying eggs onto the same beach.

It didn´t take long for the baby turtle to do a 4-point turn, then it was off, racing for the sea, which is always the brightest spot at night! Once the legs are moving they don´t stop anymore - its like they put a motor on which can´t be switched off anymore. It was going like the clappers, stumbling over the small sand ridges, which were like mountains for it.

Marcello picked it up again and washed it in the sea, so the little turtle knows what it feels like. Then we took it onto the zodiac back with us to the Mondriaan where the crew put it into a bucket of seawater until it got dark.

It was our last night together and we got cocktails - tequila sunrise. We christened the turtle "Lucky" and sung happy birthday to him or her? Marcello didn´t know if it was male or female. Just before we left Bartholomé Island at 6-30pm, Chino knelt down and released Lucky into the sea. Aah, she was so cute and gorgeous, we all said goodbye, hoping she´d live a very long time.

Rescuing our baby turtle Lucky

The cook did a fantastic job on the evening meal decorations, we also got a cake with "Goodbye friends" written on it.

Fantastic Goodbye dinner

The rest of the crew had painted all our favourite Galapagos animals on the drawing board - all of them with tears in their eyes. The crew certainly liked us a lot. I´m sure we were a lot more fun than the oldies they usually get on board.