The Galapagos are an island chain consisting of 19 volcanic islands, where 2 are still active. For the most part, the islands are rocky little vegetation although they do get rain. They are famous because Charles Darwin visited them in 1835 while on board the British expedition ship, HMS Beagle. From his observations here, Darwin was actually a botanist, not a biologist, he formulated his “Origin of the Species” and set forth his thesis that evolution was the result of “survival of the fittest”. The Galapagos islands had been isolated from outside influences and outside “contamination” for thousands of years due to their location. This resulted in animals surviving here (because they had no predators) that are found nowhere else on earth.
Amongst other famous species that are found here are the giant tortoises. It has been estimated that when Darwin visited the islands, as many as 200,000 giant tortoises still existed here. The tortoises were popular with passing ships (especially whalers) as provisions. Tortoises can live for months without food or water and for the crews of the sailing ships it was child’s play to capture and drag the helpless tortoises onto their ships. The tortoises were then slaughtered along the way as the crews needed food. The tortoises weigh up to 3-400 kilos (close to 1000 pounds).
The most famous of the tortoises was Lonesome George, the last of his kind, he was a tortoise from the island of Pinta. He died in 2012 at the age of 120-130 years. Most, including me, think that George was the oldest Galapagos Tortoise, but that isn’t true. The London zoo has a Glaapgos Torroise, still living, that they received from a ship 263 years ago. It was fully grown then and since tortoises don’t mature before they are 40-50 years old – then the one in the zoo is over 300 years odd.
So think about being born before 1720 – now just what was happening in the United States back 300 years ago? Well, it wasn’t the United States – it was British and French colonies. James Fennimore Cooper was writing stories about Natty Bumpo and his Leatherstocking tales. George Washington wasn’t born yet.
Today there are 3 large centers for raising tortoises on the Galapagos. They raise about 3-4 thousand tortoises per year and set them out in the wild, the aim is to repopulate the islands with the native species. The tortoises are set out when they are 25-30 years old – before that they can’t survive. They also become sexually mature at that age, giving the naturalists the chance to see if they are capable of multiplying by themselves.
The naturalists have also managed to find some tortoises with genes from the Pinta islands tortoise, meaning that Lonesome George was not the last of his kind. We saw a hutch with hundreds of Pinta baby tortoises waiting to grow up and be set out in the wild. The naturalists are hoping they are all fertile and will be able to multiply by themselves.
There is a legend about the Galapagos, that is not a legend. On the island of Floreana there is an old barrel, known as the “post office barrel”. In past times, when a ship would pass the Galapagos, they would drop off their mail in the barrel and check the mail that was there. If there was a letter addressed to, say San Francisco, and they were bound for San Francisco (even several years later), they would take the letter(s) with them. When they eventually reached San Francisco or ran into another ship going that way and gave the letters to them, they would go to the address, knock on the door and say, “mail from Galapagos”. All free of charge, of course, even though it is considered good manners to offer the “mailman” a drink. The system has worked for several hundred years and still works.
Imagine getting a letter from a friend delivered that way?
Unfortunately, our visa does not allow us to sail to Floreana, so we won’t have the possibility to send our friends and families a letter.
We arrived on San Cristobal mid-morning and went through their ungodly bureaucracy – Vinni has described this in her blog so I won’t get into it. The bay here is packed with sea lions and seals. They are everywhere and love to sleep on the piers, stones and even the boats. All the local boats are either overflowing with sleeping seals and sea lions or else they have put up barbed wire on the sides and stern to keep them off. They can jump very high – unless your stern or sides are at least 4 feet higher than the water – you can be sure to get visited.
The crew of one boat was away for a couple of days and immediately their bathing platform was occupied by several seals and sea lions. This is a center cockpit boat and some of them even invaded the cockpit and were sleeping there. Our neighbor on the other side, a catamaran also had visitors. Despite their having barricaded their steps with fenders, a couple of determined sea lions managed to get on board, so when they got up one morning not only did they have to chase them away from their bathing platform, but they had one on their front deck. Another catamaran here in the bay has lain surfboards over their steps and that has kept them away, even though several try to get on board every day. We’ve barricaded our platform with big fenders, despite this – every day a little seal comes along and tries to get aboard. He hasn’t made it yet – but he keeps trying.
The first morning we were here, we were awakened at 5:30 by strange noises under our hull. We weren’t sure if Capri was sinking or what. It was bubbling and screeching right under our keel. It turned out it was several young seals playing under the boat. They were chasing each other and talking with each other and the bubbling was from the air bubbles they let out hitting the bottom of the hull. We’ve gotten used to this noise – but it still is strange.
Everywhere here there are seals and sea lions. They throw themselves and snore anywhere they can get to and like. – you see them up on the streets and by the houses. There is nothing to be done – they aren’t afraid of people and if you get too close and they bothered, they will chase you down the beach or street until they feel you have been properly cowed and then they go back and lie down and sleep. The small ones, especially the seals are unbelievably cute and have the most beautiful “Bella Donna” eyes. Unfortunately, seals and sea lions stink. The smell really is unpleasant and we’re happy that we have been able to keep them off Capri.
But enough about seals and sea lions. Our cruising permit doesn’t give us permission to sail between the islands – Capri has to stay here at San Cristobal. We can go visit other islands though, by ferry. One day we took the ferry over to Santa Cruz the big commercial island. Santa Cruz is the hub for all the ferries in Galapagos, meaning that you take a ferry to Santa Cruz and then one from Santa Cruz to the next island. San Cristobal is the “Capitol” of Galapagos though. All government offices are located here. We decided to anchor at San Cristobal because the pilot books say the anchorage is much better and calmer here. At Santa Cruz the swells run right into the bay and the boats need to use two anchors – one aft and one forward.
Here on San Cristobal we are only 4-5 pleasure boats – not many, but every day several “live-aboard” dive boats come into the bay, so there is a lively nightlife in the town. The Galapgos live off tourism – there is no other industry. Not only are we surrounded by seals and sea lions, we are also blanketed by Frigate birds with their 5-6 foot wing spans, not to forget all the pelicans that hunt fish here in the bay.
So we paid our $120 US (things are not cheap here) for a round-trip for 2 and boarded the ferry at 7 a.m. Santa Cruz is f42 nm away and the trip takes two hours so you can now guess what kind of ride we were in for. The “ferries” are speedboats with 650HP outboards on the back and since they make the 42nm trip in 2 hours, including the slow speeds in and out of the harbours, it means they blast along at 30+ knots. It is, to say it mildly, a shit sail. The boat pounds it’s way through the waves and the ride is so hard that you are sure it will pound itself to pieces. When it hits some of the larger waves, it literally flies through the air and hits so hard you end up gnashing your teeth. It is far from pleasant and many get seasick. We were lucky, the morning trip was relatively mild, with small waves. We were able to make the trip without having to hold on the entire time. The ride home in the afternoon was a different story – the waves had risen and we simply pounded along and everyone was overjoyed when we finally got in.
As Vinni said more than once – let’s hope we don’t hit anything, a sleeping whale or a log – if we do it will be Good-bye. The helmsman won’t have a chance to save the boat and it will make somersaults through the air.
We arrived in Santa Cruz and walked the couple of miles out to the Darwin Research Center, where they raise the giant tortoises and this was something we definitely wanted to see. And we saw tortoises in all ages, including the most famous one of all, Lonesome George, who is dead but they have him stuffed and mounted so he appears to be alive. We got detailed knowledge about giant tortoises and also the Galapagos Iguana, another endangered species that is only found on the Galapagos.
Certainly worth the trip and the $120. There isn’t much to say about Santa Cruz. It is very touristy and every shop is selling T-shirts and souvenirs with pictures of tortoises, sharks and the like. The island is going “up-scale” as the tourists get wealthier and wealthier, now sporting expensive jewelry stores and very expensive clothes. There is also a Spa and several “eco-hotels” and “eco-massage” etc. If you’ve ever visited Santa Fe New Mexico, you’ll know what I mean. Out little town on San Cristobal doesn’t have anything “eco”. There are stores selling t-shirts and souvenirs, but not very many.
Santa Cruz should get some praise for its big supermarket – it was great to be able to buy salamis, tortillas and many other things we are short on – San Cristobal supermarkets have very little.
Out neighborboat is owned by Elina and Wojtek and their 1 ½ year old son, Paul. Elina is Italian and a former high jump champion. Wojtek is German and has had his one leg amputated above the knee and that is a horrible story. He was a soccer playing and playing his last game as an amateur – he had signed as a professional with the German Fortuna club and was starting there the week after, when the goalie fell on him and he broke his leg. Unfortunately, not only did he break his leg, he also tore open the artery in the lower leg. When that happens, you need to have an operation within 6 hours to reconnect the artery and veins, or else the leg will die from lack of blood.
To make a long story short – several doctors and several hospitals totally screwed up and he did not get operated on in time and when they finally got him to a hospital with doctors that knew what they were doing, it was too late and they had to amputate. Unbelievably bad doctors.
But Wojtek is made of sterner stuff than most. After he had gotten his prosthetic leg, he went into intensive training and ended up winning gold medals in the Para-Olympic Games in the 100 meter and 200 meter sprint and in the long jump. The next Para-Olympic games he “only” scored two silver and one bronze.
Respect from me.
Now they are circumnavigating and have founded a non-profit fund whose purpose is to help disadvantaged amputees around the world. When they visit islands, they look for amputees who can’t afford a prosthetic leg and then they pay for the plane fare for the person to the mainland where a technician molds the holster that fits around what is left of their leg. Wojtek and Elina then fit the prosthetic and each the person how to walk with it.
I simply can’t say enough good words about this – they have my upmost respect.
There is also a tortoise raising facility here on San Cristobal and if you take a tour of the islands, you visit it and other points of interest. It was almost laughable – here the tortoises walk around freely and you don’t have to stand behind a fence or wall to look at them. The only rules are do not touch them and please stay 6 feet away. The six foot rule can be difficult to obey – especially when a thousand pound tortoise decides to take a stroll on the path.
So we didn’t have to take that horrible ferry ride over to Santa Cruz to see the tortoises – oh well – we did get to buy a lot of provisions.
The town here on San Cristobal is nice, but we’ve seen all there is to see and we need to get on our way. We’ve also just been told by our agent that we can’t get our visa extended and we need to leave at the latest Tuesday (today is Saturday), so the next couple of days will be spent getting Capri, and ourselves, ready for 3500nm and 4 weeks at sea……………………..
We went diving yesterday and I’ll let Vinni write about that. I got a problem when we went down that I couldn’t equalize the pressure in my ears. When you dive you need to equalize the pressure every couple of meters or so that you go down or else you will cause extensive damage to your ears – not to mention the unbearable pain involved in not equalizing. So diving was impossible for me and I stayed in the boat while everyone else dove the first dive. I practiced equalizing and it seemed to get better when the second dive came around I also went in the water and I could equalize, but only down to 5 meters, thereafter I simply couldn’t. So I stayed up at 4-5 meters and swam along the cliff wall looking at the encrustations and corals there, which was an experience. But I didn’t get to go down and dive amongst the Hammerhead sharks like Vinni did………………………………..
We also had to get our propane gas bottles filled. As usual, a pain in the a**. Firstly, there is only one person on the island who does this (illegally). Second, he can only fill bottles with an American connection (thank god that we have a whole box full of adaptors). Third you have to ride with him for an hour over to the other side of the island to his house where he fills it.
This took all afternoon, but I did get 4-5 papayas and virtually a whole banana tree full of bananas for free.
Finally, we need to clear out. Naturally, this requires a personal visit to the immigration office at the outskirts of town. So we took a taxi and proceeded to fill out a huge number of forms, get them all stamped and signed etc. etc. etc. The immigration officer then asks us when we are leaving and we said mid-morning the next day.
Uh, uh – no way. We have to get out immediately. Like right now, within an hour or maximum two.
Now every single other country we have cleared out of (and we’ve cleared out of quite a few), have a 24 hour rule. Once you clear out, you have 24 hours to get out. It took a lot of debating before he grudging allowed us to stay until the next morning. We finally told him (as was true) that we had sent our clothes out for washing and we couldn’t get them back before the next morning.
Welcome to the Galapagos!
Wotjek from Imagine has a drone and he was kind enough to film Capri for us. So here is Capri from the air and you also get to here most of the theme song we have adopted to lead in our videos – enjoy!