Highly Evolved – The Galapagos Islands

From Fish’s posts about our time in Ecuador I’m sure you can imagine how pissed off I became over the last month. From Mike’s Palace Of Misery (Fish didn’t mention my least favourite thing about Mike: he’s a raging misogynist who believes that women shouldn’t use shovels because it’ll cause irreparable damage to their ovaries) to generally getting the sense that Ecuador is going to hell in a hand basket (there’s not one person we’ve met in the last month who hasn’t either been robbed or been in a hostel that’s been robbed), I was ready to tell Ecuador to go fist itself and then run away in tears.

But we were going to the Galapagos! Through a long series of events that started back in May our apathy toward the Galapagos Islands changed into a mission to make sure that we got there. Our fabulous friend Fay was going in September and we decided that we’d make sure we could be there with her. It was going to be her birthday there after all. We then convinced Mon and Anton to get in on the action and they made the journey across three countries to join in. Fay’s friend Heath Stephenson, or ‘Hdacih Ftechodnson’ as his airport pick-up sign said, flew in from the UK to join. We’d managed to secure some bargain flights over to the islands and Anton, in all his organisation-and-planning loving glory, had created an itinerary for our week.

How could Heath Stephenson have walked past the person waiting for him with this sign? I mean, it's only slightly off, right?
How could Heath Stephenson have walked past the person waiting for him with this sign? I mean, it’s only slightly off, right?

We got our little crew together and we were off!

Unfortunately, the feeling of getting screwed over was only heightened by the first 24 hours of our time on the islands…

  • We had to pay a $20 fee before we could even check into our flight
  • Upon arriving at the Galapagos you had to pay a $100 park entry fee
  • Boats between islands didn’t pull right up to the dock (despite being perfectly capable), you had to get in a water taxi and pay them $1 per person to take you 50 metres to the boat
  • When you get off the boat at the next island you pay a $5 ‘dock use’ fee.

Ecuador managed to piss me off even 1000km off the mainland. This may not sound like much money but when you’re homeless and unemployed like we are it all adds up. Especially because food and accommodation was 100% more expensive on the islands. Those islands were going to have to show me some pretty damn good tortoises to turn my attitude around…

Thankfully, the Galap (which is what you call it when you’re seasoned South American traveller) provided.

It’s been said that on the Galapagos you’re like a guest in the animal’s home, and I really like that as a description. There are animals everywhere and they do not give a shit whether you’re there or not. Sea lions (my new favourite animal, btw) are all over the docks and boats that are moored in the harbours have to have nets over them so the sea lions don’t jump up and hang out on them like they’re in a Rick Ross film clip. There’s a law that you have to stay at least 1 metre away from the animals at all times which can be pretty damn difficult when sea lions are taking a nap all over the jetty.

Public benches aren't just for humans
Public benches aren’t just for humans

Marine iguanas are everywhere too but I just couldn’t bring myself to like that animal. They’re ugly as sin and I refuse to believe that they won’t hurt me.

Pure evil
Pure evil

We spent time on two of the main islands – Isabela and San Cristobal – and snorkelled so much I got a mouth ulcer from the snorkel and a blister on my feet from the flippers. Despite being bloody expensive to access, it’s easy enough to not spend money on activities in the Galap because the animals are all right at your doorstep. We spent a lot of days just visiting free stuff and treated ourselves to two paid snorkelling day trips.

The Blue Footed Boobie - mascot of the Galap
The Blue Footed Boobie – mascot of the Galap

You know what’s never tickled my fancy? Birds. I don’t give a shit about birds. I could not be a twitcher if you paid me. I’d never heard of the Blue Footed Boobie until people started talking to me about the Galapagos Islands. The Galap did change my mind, however, about a couple of species…

-Flamingos are interesting because anything that pink and that bendy which chooses to stand on one foot despite having two is okay in my book.

– As a believer in science and the theory of evolution, Galapagos finches are pretty important. They’re boring birds but when ole Charlie Darwin noticed the subtle differences between these guys on each of the islands he clocked on to evolution, so you kinda have to respect them.

– Blue Footed Boobies have more than just blue feet and a hilarious name. They’ve got sass and they do a little dance when they’re trying to woo a lady boobie. I liked them too.

Mon and a boobie just contemplating life
Mon and a boobie just contemplating life

Despite September being low season, the boats to go to Los Tuneles – claimed to be the best snorkelling in the Galap – didn’t have room for all 6 of us, so we sent Fay and Heath out and Monton, Fish and I went for a walk to The Wall of Tears which was morbidly cool…

Back in the early 1900s that Galapagos was a place for outcasts and weirdos and prisoners. Isabela had a prison on it. It was inhumane and poorly run and was by all accounts a horrific place. One of the things they made the prisoners do was stack rocks to make the most pointless wall ever – The Wall of Tears. It doesn’t serve any function and many men died whilst working on it. It’s still standing there – about 150 metres long and 6 metres high – in the middle of nowhere, doing nothing. There were also some wild giant tortoises which were cool.

I come from a long line of rock wall appreciators. I think you'd have been impressed, Dad...
I come from a long line of rock wall appreciators. I think you’d have been impressed, Dad…

Fay and Heath came back exclaiming how mind-blowing Tuneles was so we were pretty excited to head out for our turn the next day. Unfortunately the weather turned nasty for us which put a dampener on things (mind the pun!). We still saw sharks, penguins, sea lions, sea horses, star fish, rays of all kinds, turtles, and a multitude of fish.

The look on this turtle's face gets me every time. Courtesy of Mermaid Mon and Chief Photographer Dicklegs www.mumwearefine.com
The look on this turtle’s face gets me every time. Courtesy of Mermaid Mon and Chief Photographer Dicklegs http://www.mumwearefine.com or follow them on instagram

The weather didn’t lighten up which didn’t bode well for our journey over to San Cristobal. September is low season for a very good reason: it’s the time when the seas are roughest. Luckily for me I fall asleep within ten minutes of taking a sea sickness tablet. The others, especially Mon, weren’t so lucky. Apparently I slept through the most dramatic of boat rides; the waves were so bad we were being tossed and turned like we were in a washing machine, there was more spew than there was plastic bags to catch it, and one guy got so sick his limbs started cramping up and all the locals were handing him alcohol to sniff.

The crew. I promise that creep isn't abducting Mon, Anton is behind that moustache somewhere.
The crew. I promise that creep isn’t abducting Mon, Anton is behind that moustache somewhere.

As far as I was concerned it was a lovely nap and we arrived to San Cristobal with perfect blue skies and sunshine. San Cristobal was by far our favourite island. We hired bikes and rode to two different snorkelling spots (I was pleased the Mon had also watched ‘Now and Then’ as a kid and was happy to sing ‘Knock Three Times’ with me to re-create that scene). The first place was gorgeous and was a turtle fest. There was something extra special about just stumbling upon a bunch of turtles rather than being led to them with a tour group. We’d only seen sea lions out of the water by this point and I was on a mission to swim with one.

Fay and a very friendly sea lion. Remember that movie Andre? About the girl and her sea lion best friend? God that was good!
Fay and a very friendly sea lion. Remember that movie Andre? About the girl and her sea lion best friend? God that was good!

The next place we visited answered all my sea lion-y prayers. It was sea lion central! They were EVERYWHERE! There were old ones and young ones and sleepy ones and active ones and sunbathing ones and swimming ones. I realised that sea lions are just like the water version of dogs which is probably why I like them so much. We finally got to swim with them and it lived up to all my expectations. They really were not fussed by the humans at all. If only I wasn’t such a goody-two-shoes; if I didn’t care about that 1-metre rule I would’ve cuddled the shit out of one of them.

Want. To. Touch. It... So much self restraint.
Want. To. Touch. It… So much self restraint.

The pinnacle of our Galap experience was a day trip we did out to Kicker Rock. It’s a big-arse rock that just looms out of the ocean and has a channel that you can swim through. We went with a tour company that had a catamaran so even our Mon didn’t feel sea sick. The day was perfectly sunny which made snorkelling magical – you could see really deep and the way the sunlight shone through the water was really cool, even if you weren’t looking at sea creatures. It was crazily deep – about 100m I think – which was pretty scary. I was sure something was going to lunge out and eat me. We saw fish and turtles and sharks and sea lions. There wasn’t as much to see as Tuneles but the setting was spectacular.

Heading out to Kicker Rock on a bluebird day
Heading out to Kicker Rock on a bluebird day

They saved the best bit til last and I still can’t work out how they definitely know that these animals are going to be there… We were just swimmingly along merrily and suddenly realised that underneath us was a MASSIVE school of fish that clung together and moved as one entity. There were 6 sharks all just cruising along beside it and a sea lion was playing around swimming through the fish, which would just part to make way for it, and then it’d chase the sharks and nip at their tails. My words can’t do it justice and if anyone was above water they would’ve heard some pretty strange squealing noises coming out of my snorkel.

Courtesy of Anton and his mad Go-Pro skills, www.mumwearefine.com
Courtesy of Anton and his mad Go-Pro skills, http://www.mumwearefine.com

I could’ve cried, it was so awesome. We would dive down too and the fish would make a wee tunnel for us to swim through. I would’ve stayed there all day (peeing in my wetsuit for warmth and out of excitement) but they made us leave. The experience was topped off when just a couple of seconds before we got out of the water there was an explosion of fish as a boobie dived down and grabbed one in its beak. We were on a high all day after that though. Anton has some sweet Go Pro shots that tell the story far better than I do, have at look at mumwearefine.com (and please don’t pay too much attention to how much more awesome his site is than ours!).

Courtesy of www.mumwearefine.com again. It was definitely worth bringing those two.
Courtesy of http://www.mumwearefine.com again. It was definitely worth bringing those two.

So, our time in the Galap started shakily but finished strong (especially because our last night was spent eating tacos and watching The Castle). I think I’ve reached the conclusion that it was worth the $800 each. Some people suggest that within the next five years the Islands will be closed to tourists. I don’t see that happening, but then again, with all the shit that is going down in Ecuador, I’m glad I went when we did because who knows what will happen.

Title Time: ‘Highly Evolved’ by The Vines

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