9. Galapagos!

Our last morning with Rafael was very emotional, we grew so fond of him on this past 11 days that it seemed to feel like we were leaving a long known friend…

Galapagos was one incredible adventure that seems to be impossible to describe in a few paragraphs.  I will however do my best here not to bore you with five pages as I would like but rather to tell you about this wonderful experience!

We could not choose a Galapagos cruise because John had his doubts about sea-sickness, EC Travel oriented us towards an Island Hopping program that they had that seemed to be the right choice.  Basically, we would visit on the next 5 days the islands of Floreana, Isabela and Santa Cruz by sleeping in different hotels in the islands and doing the visits in the morning.

Since the account of each day will take me for ever, I have decided to break the tour into the three islands that we visited:

Santa Cruz

Academy Bay

Santa Cruz is the main island in Galapagos.  Our hotel, the Red Mangrove Aventura Lodge was a perfect option in this little town.  We were amazed that the town was so big! Ignorant as we were, we thought Galapagos was not as densely populated as we found out.  Our hotel was located on the far side of the town and on our first day we visited a small islet called La Loberia (Sea lion den) and a beautiful white sand beach called Tortuga Bay.   The navigation to the Loberia took only about 20 minutes from the main docks of Puerto Ayora, on this small islet we found about 10 sea lions lying in the rocks and we did some snorkel!  The water was pretty cold! About 70 F! So doing it without a wetsuit was very chilly!  Nevertheless, our first experience snorkelling in Galapagos was incredible!  Some sea lions swimmed around us and the rocky bottom was filled with colorful fish!

Our hotel in Puerto Ayora

I must admit that I was super scared at the beginning because Galapagos is filled with different species of sharks and I really did not know how would I react if I found one!!  Also, some sea lions were pretty huge!  Eventually the cold water was too much to take so we came up and continued navigating to Tortuga Bay.

On our way to Tortuga Bay

This white sand beach was beautiful, however, it is open to the general public and John and I were a bit dissapointed to find trash on the beach and things like that, we took a small snack and hiked into a path where we saw our first marine iguanas and a lot of an endemic cactus that I cant remember the name :).

Tortuga Bay

Iguanas taking sun

With our guide at the twin craters

Puerto Ayora

Galapagos Turtle

More Galapagos Turtles

At night, after having a delicous dinner at the deck, me and John took some bikes from the hotel and went around Puerto Ayora for some beers and evening fun.

On the next day we visited the highlands of Santa Cruz, we went to the Twin Craters and hiked around lava tunnels that were formed years ago.  We then took some paths where we could see our first wild Galapagos giant turtles!  Later they took us to this hotel called Galapagos Camping, a very special place that has houses in trees where you can stay at with a beautiful view of the sea.  The best part of this hotel was that wild Galapagos Turtles visit this area and lie down around the gardens!  We had lunch here and went back to Puerto Ayora where we visited the Charles Darwin station and saw the famous Lonesome George :).

Floreana

Floreana!

Floreana is the least populated of the 4 populated islands in Galapagos.   It only has about 30 families settled here and electricity is generated by solar panels entirely.   It is however, the first island to become populated as it is the only one that has a fresh water natural supply.

The story behind this first settlers is quite interesting, I am quoting frommers here with the account of the story:

“When German philosopher and dentist Dr. Friedrich Ritter set off with lover Dora Strauch in 1929, he foresaw the lack of dental facilities on his island utopia, so he removed both his and Dora’s teeth, replacing them with just a single set of steel dentures. Sharing is caring?

Their written dispatches tempted other dreamers to venture onto Floreana’s arid shores. Most gave up quickly when faced with the daunting challenges of physical and spiritual survival there, but not Heinz and Margaret Wittmer. They established a home with Heinz’s son Harry and soon enough gave birth to Rolf, the first Galápagos-born citizen.

This challenging idyll was shattered with the arrival of the self-described Baroness Eloise Wagner von Bosquet and her entourage of three “companions,” Rudolph Lorenz, Robert Philippson, and Felipe Valdivieso. Valdivieso quit Floreana almost immediately. The newly self-enthroned “Empress of Floreana” exercised almost complete control over the tiny community’s supplies and communications. Clad only in her favorite silk underwear, she controlled access to the supply ships, and bathed naked in the island’s only reliable water source. She also played her various lovers against one other, and frequently denied visitors access to the island. Some say she brought Dr. Ritter into her complicated web of lovers.

Things came to a head in 1934. Primary lover Lorenz had been degraded to servant in favor of Philippson. After a violent dispute, Lorenz took refuge with the Wittmers. In March 1934, the Wittmers found Lorenz alone and hysterical; he told them that the Baroness and Philippson had left Floreana on an American yacht to seek new shores. Lorenz soon arranged to be taken to the mainland.

The Baroness and Philippson were never seen or heard from again. Lorenz and a Norwegian fisherman named Nuggerud disappeared. Dr. Ritter, a vegetarian, was poisoned from eating contaminated chicken. Two severely decomposed corpses were eventually discovered 260km (162 miles) north on barren Marchena Island. Evidence suggests that they were Lorenz and Nuggerud, who apparently had starved to death.

Dora Strauch finally returned to Germany to publish her version in Satan Came to Eden, while Margaret Wittmer wrote Floreana: A Woman’s Pilgrimage to the Galápagos. Both volumes contain firsthand accounts of the events mentioned above, but the early Floreana history remains, in many ways, a mystery.”

The Red Mangrove in Floreana was more of a basic setting, about 10 bungalow style wooden crafted cabins along a black sand beach.   No A/C was a killer, but totally understandable when the island’s power supply depends entirely on solar pannels.

Sea lions on the docks!

Floreana breeding center

During our navigation to Floreana we had some friendly visitors!  Dolphins were all around us and I just couldn’t be happier!  All the sea-sickness and roughness of the ride went off straight away as we could see this marvelous mammals swimming and racing our boat.    Soon after we arrived to Floreana we started a trail that took us up to the caves were Margaret Wittmer lived and then visited a Galapagos Turtles breeding center.

On the afternoon we headed to Playa Negra and did some snorkel with rays and sharks!  This scary creatures kept on swimming all around us and I must say that after a while you feel more comfortable around them!  Nevertheless, my heart kept pounding like crazy and I felt that they could sense that and that I why they were swimming all around me!  So I came out of the water about 15 minutes later but was glad to have taken the chance!  John on the other side stayed for about an hour and came back all blue for the cold water hahaha.

For dinner we visited this house next to the lodge where a nice local family was in charge of our local dinner.  We and the other guests, including Maria and Jonas our new german friends had a wonderful time here.

Sunset at floreana

Marine iguana at the docks

Isabela

We left for Isabela early in the morning and arrived to the Red Mangrove Isabela hotel.   This was once again a perfect setting, it is a beach front hotel at a white sand beach where sometimes you have marine iguanas bathing, taking sun and swimming around at the beach.

Isabela Lodge

We arrived late so decided to walk around the small town and then headed to a small bar across the beach for a cold beer with Maria and Jonas.

Our beach at Isabela

Blue footed boobies

On the next day we visited the Tintoreras and did some navigational visits around nearby islets.  The Tintoreras has a small and beautiful path were you can watch white tip sharks (tintoreras) lying down on a channel next to it.  Around this path you can see many iguanas, sea lions and beautiful scenery!  We then continued to the nearby islets where we did snorkel again, and had the chance to see galapagos penguins!!

Tintoreras bay

Tintoreras bay

Marine Iguanas

We played around with the sea lions while snorkelling at a nearby beach and then took the “panga” back to the hotel for our little siesta time. (Love ecuadorian siesta time I must say).

At the next day we made a short visit to the beatiful beach of Humedales.  And returned to Santa Cruz on the afternoon.

On the next day we boarded the plane back to Quito and waited to our flight back to NY.

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