We left Panama City on March 6th and 5 days later we reached the Galapagos. The first indication we were getting close was the huge yellow-fin tuna we fished and all the sharks that appeared to savor the bloody leftovers. As we made our approach, more and more turtles popped their heads to the surface. When we anchored, sea lions circled the boat. We rapidly understood that it would be impossible to leave the dingy out without having to go through the hassle of chasing sea lions out every time we wanted to go in. Sea lions bathing on our aft steps was acceptable but stumbling on one comfortably settled on our cockpit lounge was too much. Since then, the kids developed a tremendous roar to hooch them away and we blocked the steps with fenders. In the town of San Cristobal, sea lions rule: they take over the benches on the boardwalk or simply block the way. On one beach right in town, hundreds of them cuddle up on the warm sand and go about their business without minding the people around. A pup fed from his mother while two big males quarreled. The young ones were particularly curious and were great fun to swim with.
Having been created at different times from underwater volcanoes, each island of the Galapagos is unique. The older ones have tropical forests and fields of grass while the younger ones are predominantly barren, covered by a blanket of black lava rock. With the kids mounted on horses and the adults walking beside, we followed a trail until we reached the mesmerizing sight of the caldera of Sierra Negra in the island of Isabela. The 10 kms diameter of the caldera stood like a lake of black lava surrounded by a perfect ring of deep green. On one side, the green ring was broken by a patch of even darker black from the last eruption ten years ago. A spooky haze hovered on top reminding us that the volcano was still very much alive. As we continued our route to another volcano, we stumbled upon a giant land turtle. This turtle had reached the frontier of where she would venture- beyond this point laid a hostile field of lava rock with deep canyons, lava tubes, “frozen” lava waves, and gas escape holes. There are ten different species of tortoises in the Galapagos and each one is adapted to a specific volcano area. In a similar way, the famous Darwin finches have evolved slightly differently from one island to the next depending on the resources available.
Anchored in Isabela, we woke up every morning to a chase between penguin and sea-lion around the boat. Both are masterful swimmers and are quite playful. To add to the spectacle, blue-footed boobies dive-bombed into the water at incredible speeds. Black-tip reef sharks cruised around. When we went to shore, the pontoon was monopolized by lazy sea lions and sun-bathing iguanas. Tristan was absolutely fascinated with the marine iguanas hurdling on top of each other and squirting sea water from their nostrils as he got closer. He could not point fast enough to the hundreds of bright red crabs skipping across the lava rocks. We were lucky to fall upon a patch of green coast where several male frigates were puffing up their red pouches under their beaks to court the females. In a scuba dive, Gonzalo and I missed the hammer heads that were around, but we swam closely to humongous devil manta rays , giant turtles, and a 3 meter Galapagos shark. The blend of freezing Antarctic currents and warm equator currents, that makes all this biodiversity possible, made for a rather invigorating dive!
The town of Isabela was rather quaint with dirt roads, restaurants, mom-and-pop shops, wandering dogs and “Iguana X-ing” signs. After school, the local kids head out for the waves and surfed until sunset. I crossed off one item from my bucket list by taking my first surf lesson. I managed to stand up on my board but would probably be better off getting a few tips from the marine iguanas that tackle any size wave with absolute ease. As another first time experience, I got stung by a small sting ray that I stepped upon! Ouch! It was terribly painful at first but without any consequence at the end. Kenza and Rocio had their daily rendez vous with friends on the beach to boogy board and create passages between the pools amongst the lava rocks. Between one item and another of his never-ending “to do or fix list”, Gonzalo cranked up “Milky Chance” and savored his last sips of Caribbean rum.
In our last days in the Galapagos, we focussed on provisioning. The stores were poorly stocked and the market displayed just 2 stalls of half-rotten produce. Luckily we had stocked up in Panama on dry goods and just had to replenish the fresh food. We found a “finca” where we picked everything 100% organic right from the rich soil: tomatoes, green peppers, pumpkin, onions, eggplant, cabbage, banana, pineapple, lemon, orange, papaya, passion fruit, watermelon and mango. To our complete astonishment, the best way to buy meat was to ask a local to go hunting in one of their reserves: “a fresh cow please for in a weeks time”!
Despite the exaggerated entry fees for arriving by boat to Galapagos, we will not regret our passage to these unique islands of fascinating creatures. We replenished our souls with many unforgettable land experiences, giving us the strength to confront the big blue in our next challenge.