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Galapagos......strange isles!

semi-overcast 17 °C

Our trip to the Galapagos was eventful but maybe not as we had intended. We flew from Quito to Ecuador's second city, Guiyaquil, and then took the same aircraft on to Galapagos....or that was the plan. As we were on the second leg, all of a sudden, the oxygen masks dropped down in front of us. This was an old 737, so of course not all of the masks dropped down, including those in front of Trina and Lucy, who were in the row ahead of Robert and me. Everyone on the plane was calm, especially as there seemed to be no difference in the plane's atmosphere. No obvious drop in pressure. Then the crew started scurrying around, getting everyone to put their masks on, the plane started to lose altitude and the pilot announced we were returning to Guiyaquil. People became a bit more agitated at this stage especially as the masks did not feel as though they were working!

Anyway, after 10/15 minutes it became clear that we still had normal cabin pressure and we made a slow return. Aerogal's crew were pleasant but completely uninformative, so no explanations or apologies were given. However once we landed at Guiyaquil, we were told that a replacement plane would be made available in about 30 minutes. Having been in this situation with BA, I have to say that I was highly sceptical that another plane would be either available or fuelled, loaded and crewed in that time. As it turns out, I was wrong and 30 minutes later we were embarking. Consequently we arrived at San Cristobel in the Galapagos, a little shaken but not stirred!

Of course, our boat that we were due to join had moved along with its itinerary. Fortunately it was only a 30 minute ride away by banga banga (we were told this is the local word for dinghy...pulling our legs?......Not so dissimilar to the Xhosa for tractor...ganda ganda......but maybe my leg had bells on then too?

I digress. We caught up with our boat in time for our first excursion on shore. 97% of the islands is National Park and entry is strictly controlled so all the boats' route and excursions are agreed the week before at least and cannot be deviated from, so the number of people in any one point at any particular time is highly regulated. This is where our visit became in a sense unreal. We had just spent nearly a week creeping around the jungle, keeping as quiet as possible, eyes peeled, ears pricked seeking out the wildlife. In the Galapagos it either ignores you, so you have to watch every step to avoid treading on an Iguana or Blue-footed Booby or it comes right up to you to investigate you, as do the Mocking Birds on land or sealions in the water. In some ways we found this very difficult to come to terms with. For example you would have the following conversation with the guide. One of us would see a bird in the distance. We would shout out, "What's that? Just coming into land, by that thorn bush at two o'clock?" Our guide, Billy, a veteran of 24 years would say, " Oh don't worry. We'll see lots of those round the next corner." Sure enough, round the next corner there would be a nesting colony of Boobies or Albatrosses or whatever, and we would walk to within two metres of them and they wouldn't bat an eyelid!! Somehow, I think we all found that this made it less special or exciting.

That first day, we walked on San Cristobel seeing mainly Blue-footed Boobies, Frigate birds and learnt the difference between seals and sealions. (Do you know?) Overnight we then cruised to Espanola. Cruised is a loose term. Both Trina and I awoke at midnight to what we thought was the anchor being dropped. No such luck! This was the anchor being weighed. We subsequently learnt that our boat only had one serviceable engine, so we ground our way through the night!! On Espanola, the main attraction was the Albatross colony, along with Boobies, Shearwaters, Petrels, Frigatebirds, Tropicbirds. This was thrilling...not so much seeing them close at hand on the ground, but in the air, where they conducted flypast after flypast around the cliffs, as though each of them was Jonathan Livingston Seagull for that afternoon. We also had our first swim with sealions here. They too conduct frequent "flypasts", though at considerably closer quarters. All a bit unnerving for those of us who feel water is not our natural habitat. Fortunately Lucy held my hand though I swear the only reason I was shaking was because the water was freezing even with wetsuits! We also met with many a Marine Iguana, though I'm glad to report, all these were on land.

Our penultimate island was Floreana, a dry, desolate looking place in this their dry season. Here we were lucky to see 5 Flamingoes, who deign to island hop and so are not as predictable as other species. Otherwise, Floreana seems as famous for the lurid tales of early settlers on the island and its ancient post box, used by sailors 2-300 years ago. The tradition continues and so we left Robert's 18th birthday card there, for delivery in 2012. No stamps needed!

More snorkelling in Floreana, where if anything the water was even colder. (Billy had already helpfully declared that he never swims before December!) Here we were promised more close encounters with sealions ("Lucy!"), sea turtles and sharks ("LUCY!!!"). Fortunately only a sea turtle turned up! Huge. Ugly. But amazingly graceful underwater.
On our last day, (Robert's 16th birthday!) we saw the sea turtle's land based cousin...the Giant Turtle...equally ugly, even bigger and no grace in sight! Mind you they need to conserve energy as they are estimated to live to 200 years old. Looking at them, you would believe it!

So that was the Galapagos! If I come across less than enthralled, then that reflects well our reaction to it. In some ways this was a reaction to our week in Napo. When we were in Napo, we were commenting that we were glad we were seeing the jungle first and then the Galapagos. The Galapagos would be the climax of our trip. In the end, we all felt the other way round. Seeing "wild" animals so close, and such strange looking animals in some cases, is very special but we quickly became very blase. I started wondering what the world would be like, if we humans, the earth's greatest predator, had been vegetarian. Would the animal world be like it is on the Galapagos? Then of course I remembered that the animals and birds in the jungle were wary and hiding as much from each other as they were of us. It reminded me that I was equally uninspired by the wildlife in New Zealand, where again there are few natural predators. Makes it all a bit tame.....on land.....whereas if sharks could become veggie, I'd be a whole lot happier.

Our other reflection was on the people. we were supposed to be on a pretty upmarket boat. It was well furnished if a little tired (and one engined!). The boat crew were also a little "one engined" in comparison to Napo. They were pleasant enough, but they did not exhibit the same care and pride in the experience they were sharing with us foreigners. Robert and Lucy would say I am complaining now which I am not. I'm rambling but I hope also giving a sense of how much we appreciated what we had experienced in the jungle at Napo Wildlife Centre.

Posted by NoyesRus 14:15

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