The Galápagos! Part one of…many

imageWe’ve been here for not even three full days, and we’ve already seen so much on just one island that I can’t even begin to fit it all in one blog post. This place is just stunning, with the rugged natural beauty, the clear water and air, and the varieties of wildlife that can be see here and nowhere else in the world.

Officialdom

The one thing we’d dreaded about the Galápagos was the clearing in and inspection process. Stories abounded of numerous officials traipsing around the boat, impounding food and generally causing stress. Of late the Ecuadorian government has been more aggressive on checking boat bottom cleanliness, again we’d heard stories about boats being denied entrance to the park and being send forty miles off shore to clean their bottoms at sea before they could pass inspection. The laws require all vessels to use an agent which is also expensive and intimidating, and the paperwork to be able to stay longer than 20 days and visit more than one island is expensive to do. We feared for the life of Bob, Danielle’s hermit crab, as we thought he might violate the seemingly draconian import laws.

The reality couldn’t be more different than we expected.

The agent handled the paperwork efficiently. When we dropped anchor we were quickly greeted by some men in uniform who boarded the boat. Apparently they are the equivalent of Ecuadorian marines. They had a lot of questions about the boat and a form to fill. They were polite and spoke little English. However they really wanted to learn more, when we broke out our “Spanish for Cruisers” book they were thrilled and excited to learn all the English words for things like “life jackets”, “flares”, “fire extinguisher” and so on. An easy mutual “English and Spanish for Boaters” study session ensued with us teaching pronunciation. Later our agent’s representative came by and spoke to the soldiers and us and told us he’d be back in an hour with the officials. We used the time to take our showers and tidy up the boat a little more.

The group of officials that arrived could not have been friendlier and more helpful. Sure, they opened cabinets and looked in the engine room and took pictures of our holding tank. Their diver inspected the bottom (cleaned the day before we left Panama) and they looked at our fruit and vegetables, telling us just not to eat it in the park. Bob the hermit crab caused much amusement when they asked if we had any pets or animals on board. Given that he is about the size of a fingernail he wasn’t quite what they expected, but the sight of three officials hunched around this tiny crab trying to figure out what he is was quite amusing. All in all they spent about an hour with us, we signed some forms for them and paid the agent for the fees and we were clear. Of course we had prepared – all my documents were organized and out, we cleaned the bottom, tidied the boat, picked out produce carefully and so on, but it was a pretty painless process for us.

Tripping Over Sea Lions

The Galapagos Sea Lion is a close relative of the California Sea Lion. They are EVERYWHERE here on San Cristobal. And they have no fear of humans. Quite literally when walking around the water front you really need to watch where you are walking because you could fall over one of them; they may object to this. Sometimes one will squawk if you startle them but in generally they are completely non-plussed by the presence of human beings. Which is good, because despite the best efforts by the town the sea lions go pretty much where they want. There are always a few on the landing dock and it is not uncommon to find them sleeping on or under the park benches which dot the water front.image

We had always enjoyed watching sea lions at the various aquariums we’d visited over the years, their antics and play sometimes were just fun. In the wild, on their own and free it is ten times, a hundred times more fun to watch them. While the older sea lions sleep on the rocks the young ones are constantly playing and engaging in antics. They chase each other around, body surf in the waves, and wrestle. Any floating object – a piece of wood, a hunk of watermelon rind or a plastic bottle (unfortunately some get in the water) all become toys for the playful critters. This morning there was what looked like a three foot by four inch strip of outdoor carpeting that let to endless games of tug-o-war as two or three enthusiastic youngsters splashed and played with it endlessly. Even the larger old ones will pick up a chink of melon rind and give it a shake and toss.

These were among the first Galápagos creatures we saw. There is one dark side to them…while they love sleeping on rocks and beaches the also seem to love sleeping with the rocking motion of being on a boat. Almost all of the local boats have festooned their transoms with barbed wire or some other deterrent. Those that have not are playing host to one or more sleepy sea lions, sometimes a dozen or more. Some friends of ours with a more sea lion friendly swim platform have had repeated attempts at boarding by furry, barking visitors. They are known to climb into dinghies if they are left in the water too, so nobody uses dinghies – instead we use the local water taxi services to get in and out. With no sea lion-safe places to park the dinghy none of us want to come back to an inflatable with two or three sea lions happily ensconced on board.

Our First Walks and Tours

Our first night in town after our arrival we were all fairly tired, but we went on shore and met up with another boat that we’d been in touch with by e-mail and SSB. We ended up having dinner, but that did not of course preclude time spent watching sea lions before and after dinner and walking around town. We agreed we should visit the “Interpretation Center” the next day.

The Interpretation Center provides a good overview of the Galápagos from the geology behind the formation of the archipelago, the history of human occupation of the islands, and the problems faced today and how they are being solved. It provides a nice framework to see the islands with. A little more understanding of how this collection of volcanoes happened to form up at the convergence of several Pacific Ocean Currents does help to make some sense over how the animals that are here live the way they do.

Attached to the Interpretation Center is a walking path back through the hills to reach a cove where one can snorkel and look out over the water. Throughout the path are scenic overlooks. It was on this walk that we saw our first Blue Footed Booby and our first Marine Iguana, two of the species the Galápagos are known for. I’m going to save the pictures of those for another post as we have since gotten some better ones. Look forward to some galleries on Facebook too as soon as I get a better internet conenction!

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