04 – 07 July: San Cristobal to Academy Bay, Santa Cruz ~ 00 44S 90 18W
Heading Further Afield
We had seen everything we could by foot from the anchorage in San Cristobal so decided to hire a taxi for the afternoon to see the rest of the island. Most of the island is uninhabited, without even roads, but there is one newly paved road that climbs up to the volcano and over to the south eastern beach of Puerto Chino, all the taxi drivers do a “tour” driving along this route, pointing out the areas of interest and waiting while we did our sightseeing.
First stop was El Progreso, the oldest and largest tree on the island, in its high branches a tree house has been built, deep down in the root system there is a room dug out and it was previously home to early settlers here. An added bonus was they did a passable coffee to set us up for the rest of our tour!
Next it was a slow climb into the highlands and into the cloud cover. Since arriving in San Cristobal we had not seen the top of the volcano, each day it is shrouded in cloud, bringing rain to the hills to support this fragile ecosystem. Today we escaped the rain, just a fine mist settled around us as we hiked to the top of El Junco.
At the top there is a small freshwater lake where we were lucky enough to see Magnificent Frigatebirds diving low and dipping their wings to clean out the salt, they also looked to be feeding on insects just above but they are generally scavengers stealing food caught by other birds so maybe this was just an illusion. We circumnavigated the crater rim, snippets of the view across the island came but quickly disappeared in the mist.
Finally the Tortoises
Next it was on to the Jacinto Gordillo Tortoise Centre, we were very lucky to have a large group of school children leaving just as we arrived so we virtually had the centre to ourselves during our visit.
We took our time with these prehistoric giants, watching them lumber about with such difficulty under their on weight. Their movements are slower than slow motion and they only undertake a few steps at a time. Still we should take into account many of these specimens are over 100 years old!
Most of the Galapagos Islands have a tortoise species endemic individually to them as they have all had to evolve separately to survive in their unique environments. Some have longer necks to reach higher vegetation, some lower shells so they can fit into smaller spaces ~ they all have their own special story and it is fascinating to see them breeding and surviving in these remote volcanic outcrops in the South Pacific.
We had a final stop at Puerto Chino, a pretty bay with white sand surrounded again by black volcanic rocks ~ just how they end up with such beautiful white the sand is to do with the sediment at sea, but it is just so unexpected. The beach was deserted, we watched more turtles swim, sea lions and pelicans dual for space on rocks, bright yellow Maria canaries whizz by at speed, and finches pose by breaking waves while we took their photos.
We were content that we had seen all San Cristobal had to offer us and had very much enjoyed our time there. With a 50 mile trip to Santa Cruz we did a dawn departure accompanied by bobbies and albatross and headed west. Guess what? - the wind was STILL in front of the beam, however we kept Balvenie comfortable and the miles quickly ticked away.
By mid afternoon we had arrived in Academy Bay, Santa Cruz and all our reservations about the suitability of the anchorage came to fruition. It is the only anchorage on Santa Cruz we are permitted to visit, it is on a lee shore (so the tradewinds blow straight in) and there is very little, if any, protection from the swell which was running at just under 2 metres. The best spots for anchoring were jam packed and the harbour was very busy with tour boats ferrying their guests back and forth (ghastly ride!!), water taxis, local fishing boats and barges unloading a coastal freighter. As if the swell wasn’t bad enough the wash from all the passing traffic just kept the water churned up, all day and night. We immediately decided this was not a place we wanted to be, but officialdom can not be ignored in the Galapagos and we needed to complete the check in and out processes before we could leave.
We spent a day seeing the sights close by. A visit to the fish market could not be missed where I had to fight for position with the cheeky pelicans and sea lions (did you notice the sea lion under the counter in the shadows!!). We spent a couple of hours in the Charles Darwin Centre learning more about the islands and their unique inhabitants and we saw many many more tortoises of all age and size from teeny weeny to giants.
We received our exit papers late on the second day and endured another night at anchor, by dawn the wind was gusting to 25 knots and life jackets were donned before we even lifted anchor. These were not conditions we would ever chose to leave harbour in, but they were certainly not conditions to be riding at anchor at either. The entrance to our last permitted stopover on Isla Isabela was on another lee shore, although the anchorage sits more protected behind rocks, it was another 55 miles away ......
If We Couldn’t Get Into Isabela Next Stop Was French Polynesia!