Galaxy II First Class Cruise – Day 1, Santa Cruz

Boarding Day! All five of us (especially Rachel, Anna and Alex) were jumping out of our socks, we were so excited. The day started off with an early morning ferry ride from Isabela island to Santa Cruz island, as the cruise ship left from Santa Cruz. Once we arrived we took all of our luggage to Galápagos Best Options – the tour company we booked with to get our last minute deal on a three night, four day cruise on the luxurious Galaxy II. We had been to the Galápagos Best Options tour company office so many times it was starting to feel like a new home.

Then breakfast time. We stopped at a restaurant overlooking the water to have some eggs, hash browns and bacon. Yum. We stayed here for a couple of hours trying to upload blog posts, but didn’t succeed because all Wi-Fi in the Galápagos is sooo slow. 11:00 a.m. hit faster than ever and it was time to head back to Galápagos Best Options to grab our luggage and wait for Eddie (one of the owners) to take us down to the pier along with a few other boatmates. Here we met two very special people, Mark and Martina. Mark and Martina are a young Swiss couple who we hung around with most of the time during the cruise. We would have all three meals with them everyday onboard. We already miss them. Two dinghies were waiting for us at the pier to take us out for a quick ride to our boat.

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The Galaxy II

The boat is very luxurious and we were all in awe when we arrived. We started off with a delicious lunch that consisted of soup, beef bourguignon, cooked vegetables, and salad. One thing about this boat is that the food is excellent! We had an hour or so after lunch to get settled in.

 

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Nothing but first class for us!

 

 

 

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Noses ever so slightly pointed upward

 

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Two cabins, this one for Mum and Dad, another fore the kids – Nice!

 

 

Then back to Santa Cruz for the Charles Darwin Research Station. Charles Darwin was the man who developed the theory of evolution. The purpose of the Charles Darwin Research Station is to preserve the island’s native species and to eliminate foreign species. Here we saw giant tortoises and many different types of iguanas. We didn’t get to see much of the Research Station because 70% of it was closed and under renovation.

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Galapagos (saddle) Tortoise

 

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60% of researchers are foreigners

 

 

After, we had one hour of free time in Puerto Ayora (the main town on Santa Cruz) to explore the town – not a highlight because we had already been in Santa Cruz for three days, so we used this time for blogging. Again not much luck due to internet problems.

Back to the ship for a shower and welcome drinks (don’t worry Rachel, Anna and Alex’s were non alcoholic). Then yet another delicious meal where everyone got to know each other a bit better – there was a total of 16 passengers, including us, on board. It was a relaxing night. Then off to bed. Not fun for Alex because once we started motoring; she felt seasick. She was awake until 1.00 a.m, when we stopped motoring. That wasn’t fun. Luckily she had enough energy for the next day.

 

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Crew in uniform, once

 

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Los Tuneles

The number one activity from Puerto Vilamil on Isla Isabela according to Trip Advisor, is Los Tuneles. We were expecting a lot and were not disappointed. Los Tuneles is a wide expanse of semi-submerged lava tunnels with cacti 1oo’s of years old growing on top. The water is  gin-clear and is shallow with a sandy bottom. This aqua clarity contrasted with the black lava and cacti produced a striking, unearthly landscape.

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Cacti grow 1 cm per year – these are 100’s of years old

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Los Tuneles is filled with wildlife. In and around the tunnels we saw stingrays, turtles, sharks, a penguin, and seahorses. Incredible! In addition, from the boat there and back, we saw many giant manta rays showing their white underside as they flipped on the surface of the water. We had a particularly good viewing post when on the roof of the boat.

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Alex spotted this little guy while snorkelling, a Galapagos penguin!
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Eagle rays
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Green turtle
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White-tipped sharks resting
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Sharks in their cave, scary for us entering!
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Seahorse close to the mangroves
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Roof top viewing
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White underside of a huge manta ray

We, too, would rate Los Tuneles as the number 1 activity to do from Isla Isabela! What an awesome day!

 

Las Tintoreras, Isla Isabela – Dec. 7th

According to Trip Advisor, Las Tintoreras is the second best thing to do on Isla Isabela. We landed in the morning and booked this trip to start two hours later in the afternoon at $40 USD pp – cash, of course. It is a quick jaunt from the wharf. En route we saw eight or nine eagle rays and three green turtles in the first few minutes.

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Then we saw two GALAPAGOS PENGUINS! They were sitting on the rocks. We didn’t see them at first as they are only 30 cm high and blended in with the lava rock so well. We were all in such awe; my eyes welled. We excitedly watched, photographed, and recorded from our small boat for the next 10-15 minutes while the odd ray swam by. Just before we left, a third penguin darted by in the water. It was amazing. These penguins are the northern most penguin and only found in the Galapagos Islands. They are common on the western side of the island only accessible by 16 passenger cruise. It was a very special treat to see these indeed!

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Galapagos Penguins – northern most penguins, only in the Galapagos

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White marking around “cheek” identifies it as mature

 

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Las Tintoreras itself is a number of lagoons that are formed by black lava that poke out of the sea. We walked along a trail atop the lava; the jagged lava formations/ landscape spread before us seemed like another planet. Another few minutes along the trail we came to a narrow grotto where you can view Tintoreras (white-tipped sharks). Along the 75m grotto were about 25 sharks resting in the warm shallow waters below. At times, the territorial damsel fish would swim towards the sharks encouraging them to stay away.

 

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Jagged lava – looked like another planet

 

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Grotto is ~ 75 m in length and had ~ 25 tintoreras resting on the bottom
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Quatro Tintoreras ( four white-tipped reef sharks)

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We then walked a little further, watching not to step on two baby lava lizards, to a beautiful sandy cove surrounded by black lava. Here four adult sea lions and one pup rolled in the water and made their way from water to beach and back. Marine iguanas moved along with them; neither species seemed to pay attention to each other. Near the end of our looping trail we saw a turtle slowly cruising and surfacing in a lagoon.

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Four lava lizards

The tour ended with a 45 minute lagoon snorkel. The water was a pretty aqua blue and although it looked inviting, it was cold. The highlights of this snorkel included two very large porcupine fish, 6-8 green turtles, and two baby stingrays. The best part for all of us was a swim through a 75 m narrow lava grotto with a sandy bottom, depths of 4 to 12 feet, and lots of damselfish, parrot fish, and sergeant majors.

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Porcupine Fish 

What a great tour! If this is ranked as the second best trip on Trip Advisor, I can’t wait to do the number one ranked tour, Los Tuneles.

Isla Isabela

The Isla Isabela posts are a family effort; they are the same on all our blogs due to Wifi challenges and time constraints.

Isla Isabela is the largest island in the Galapagos archipelago covering about 4,500 square kms. We took the two hour “ferry” ride from Puerto Ayora Wednesday morning (Dec.7th) and arrived at 9:00 a.m. The ferry cost $30.00 US per person and there is a $10.00 US per person entry fee to the island. Of course, no credit or debit cards – cash only.

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Isabela from the water
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Isabela pier

The only town on the island is Puerto Villamil, a sleepy, sand street town with a very laid back feeling. It sits on one end of a beautiful, long powder sand beach. With an island population of about 2,400, the town is incredibly quiet and it’s obvious everyone knows everyone. There are only small hotels and hostels in the town – no large chain hotels here (yet). Unfortunately, it appears the sand streets may not be around for much longer as new sidewalks have been built and I imagine the streets will follow. The vast majority of the island is inaccessible by land due to lava terrain.

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Two kms from our hotel, beach about three kms long
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Anna crossing the finish line, training for track and field
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Casa Los Delfines, top floor room
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Sand streets for now
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Private terrace at Los Delfines

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Isabela is the western most island in the archipelago and also the youngest with four active volcanoes. The islands are “born” from volcanoes and drift eastward at a rate of a few centimetres each year, all the while, slowly sinking.

One day, Graham, Alex, and Rachel rented bikes for a couple of hours (while Tina and Anna had ice cream and chilled on the beach). It was an eventful couple of hours as we saw pink flamingos, giant tortoises at a breeding centre, a red lagoon, and rode our bikes along the beach. We all felt we could have easily spent another week here snorkelling, exploring, and relaxing.

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Pink flamingos
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Tortoise breeding center, sorted by age
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Red lagoon

On Saturday morning, Dec. 10th at 5:30 a.m. we hoped in and on (the girls rode in the back) our pickup taxi to catch the 6:00 ferry back to Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz. Just as we were about to leave, Graham’s keen eye spotted a Galapagos TT ( not to be confused with the booby). The TT (aka Tilley Tourist) has very distinct markings from the Tilley hat, after which it is named, to the seven pocket travel vest and nine pocket zip off travel pants (never enough room for compact field guides and field glasses). This particular one was a banded TT due to the stripe around its middle, known as a fanny pack.

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Taxi to ferry
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Banded TT with fanny stripe at mid section
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Ferry to Santa Cruz – early morning, busy days, sleep when you can

 

Los Kioskos

We have been to Los Kioskos a few times. Imagine a narrow side street lined with tin-roofed restaurants on both sides. Each night they put out tables in the street and create a restaurant row of sorts. Each place is very similar and they are all trying to get you to eat at their restaurant. The big attraction is the fresh fish and lobster they have sitting out in front to show you the menu of the day. Prices range from $5-$15 per person. This is a cheaper alternative to eating at the main restaurants that are closer to the water on Abenida Charles Darwin.  A combination of grilled chicken, rice, beans, fried plantains, salad, fresh juice and beer totalled $37 USD. We ended up eating here three times. This was a great way to have a yummy meal without spending to much.

 

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Chicken, rice, and beans for super

 

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Hair dryer used to get coles hot

The content of this post is mainly from Mum and Dad’s blog.

 

 

Las Grietas

IMG_3962.JPGThe trail to Las Grietas was fairly smooth. It only took us about 20 mins. Anna and I walked ahead to try to get to our swimming spot first. There was a look off at the top with a nice view. We walked down the steep steps to see an amazing grotto that seemed to go on forever. Water filled it making an amazing swimming spot.

We were told to take our snorkeling gear and we were glad we did. A wharf was situated off to the side which all of us eventually jumped off. We all swam about 60m until we reached some rocks. Dad, Alex, and I climbed over the slippery rocks and made it to another pool. We stayed floating on the top avoiding rocks.

 

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Lava tunnel

 

People told us there was a lava tunnel we would be able to swim though. That meant swimming under water through a lava formation to get to the other side. It seemed like a long tunnel but luckily there was a rock to push off. It looked intimidating but it was not as hard as it looked. The other side was not as pretty but it was cool that we got to swim through the lava tunnel.

On the way back we had to swim through the lava tunnel again, this time without a rock to push off. For me it was not so smooth. I was under water and started to float to the top, that meant scraping along the rocks and finally making it to the other side. It did not feel very good but I think it was worth it.

 

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Anna jumping

Going back the same way we climbed over the rocks and slowly swam into the water. I was quite cold now as the water wasn’t warmed by the sun. Anna had a couple last jumps and then we packed up for the walk home. This was a great and adventurous way to cool off.

 

IMG_3966.JPGOn the way back we stopped at the Allemande Beach. Anna being the fish she is, was the first and only one to go in.

The water taxi back only took about 2 mins (it was just across the harbor).  Next, Planet House and finished off the day at Los Kioskos (see next post).

Pinzon and La Fe, Snorkeling

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Us in our rain capes and Anna asleep

We were traveling on a boat with five other passengers. My family made the wrong decision to sit on the splashed side, which meant we had to wear hooded rain capes. It felt like a very long ride but it was worth it.

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Sugar Bread Rock

 

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Sea lions in cliffs

 

We could see something in the distance and it ended up being our first stop. This was Sugar Bread Rock. This lava rock was very tall, going up so high it was hard to see the top. We stayed on the boat and putted around to see all the animals. Some that we saw were blue boobies, mask bobbies (now known as naska boobies), and sea lions nestled high in the cliffs.

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Channel at Pinzon

Pinzon is an uninhabited island not far from Sugar Bread Rock. This was where we would snorkel. The water was so cold it felt like ice. I wanted to get out but I was told we would see some amazing things. We saw many types of fish including huge parrot fish, king angel fish, and schools of blue tang. Sharks would just lay on the ground blending into the background. It was very cool to swim with white tipped sharks.

As we entered a channel something came up for a breath… It was a sea lion. Now more and more sea lions were appearing. We were lucky enough to see 2 week old pups! They made the most amazing noises as if they were babies crying.

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Green Turtle

On the way to our boat we saw a couple of green turtles that were quite large and had some very cool barnacles. Although there were so many things to see I was ready to get out of the water. Everyone headed back and you guessed it I was the first one out of the water.

Hot chocolate was poured and I was so grateful, but I couldn’t hold it because I was shaking so much. Next, pastries. They were so good.

Then was the turtle snorkel which I bowed out of because I was still freezing.

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One of the many iguanas

La Fe was on our way home. This was only a walk. La Fe is made out of volcanic rock formed by one of the five volcanos that made the Galapagos Islands. Over 100 iguanas were hidden in the rocks. We walked over the rocks and took lots of pictures of all the marine life.

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Sea lion in the sun
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Young blue footed booby (you can tell by the shade of blue)

Sea lions were mostly swimming but one was on land. I managed to get a pic without stepping on an iguana but it was hard. Also blue footed boobies and mask boobies were resting at the water’s edge.

 

On our way home we took the side that logically would not get splashed but we were proved wrong. We couldn’t have asked for a better day!