First of all an apology from us that this has been so long coming. Kathryn is now back in South America and shamefully we haven’t updated since she arrived the first time. As we’ve said before, the whole point of doing the blog was for our own memories. Now as I sit and try to write about the Galapagos I realise how quickly you forget, so we’re going to try harder to keep on top of it, once we’re up to date.
But first, an artistic disclaimer …. We had 10 days, and on every day we did A LOT. So my dilemma now is how to record it all for us but not bore you all senseless with my usual wordy drivel. So I’m going back to basics. Year 6 school holiday homework.
So I guess I’ll start at the top and introduce you to the team …
7pm. In the lobby. Team meeting.
Kathryn, Claire & Laura, twenty-some-things with an increasingly alarming tendency to giggle un controllably, thus becoming the ‘kids’ of the group.
Combined age; 81 yrs.
Sam, early twenties American, living Quito, his job is to meet us, brief us, take us out to dinner and get us to bed early ready for our early flight to the Galapagos. Despite common conceptions of our friends across the Atlantic he was not in least bit annoying and actually very cool.
Randy and Cybil, American, from Lake Placid north of New York State. Very lovely couple, something about Randy’s face reminded me of Little Nan.
Combined age: approx.110 yrs
Karen and Kip, enthusiastic rock climbers and walkers. Kip is straight out of Kentucky, Karen is Scottish but has been in the States for 15 yrs. She has a very interesting accent. Both quite quiet but lovely. Combined age: approx. 80 yrs
Phyllis and Walter, American, from Detroit. Phyllis’s is a little eccentric, extremely glamorous with an incredible lust for life and a knack for story telling. Walter, ex army spy during the cold war, jacked it all in (on moral grounds) to be an engineer, but indisputably still an army man. They lived in the Caribbean undercover for many years. Celebrated their 44th wedding anniversary whilst on our trip. Sort of couple you look at and cant help but wonder ‘what they were like when they were young, and espcially what they looked like’. Still hopelessly in love.
Combined age; approx. 130 yrs
Steve and Jodie, also from Detroit, the most American Americans of the group. As a couple they bore a striking resemblance to Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble. Hard to know much about them because they didn‘t sit still for longer than a minute. He is a pilot and since retiring they have been on a mad rampage to see the world. Once again a very nice couple.
Combined age; approx. 90 yrs
Chris, a Kiwi, been living and working in London for the last 11 years, on her way home to collect her pension, thought she’d see some more of the world on her way back. The most delicious little lady, same height as Claire, with a simply beautiful way about her.
Approx. age at heart. 25-30 yrs.
8pm. In the room. K,C & L, discussing how excited we are to be in such a posh hotel and that we’ll have dinner but then make our excuses and leave in order to be on tip-top form for the morning.
9pm. Group leave the restaurant and are taken back to the hotel by Sam, we decide to finish our wine outside.
9.30pm. Sam returns to the bar, owned by his friend, and informs us that’s it’s ladies night at his other friends bar. Free Mojhitos, or anything else you might want- all night. It is all very Thursday-nights-in-Croydon, but not being ones to pass up a good offer, we decide that there is no harm in checking it out if we only have the one.
Roughly 2 am. We are put in a taxi by Sam and sent home. Drunk.
7am. In the lobby, Claire and Laura bumble around the bags looking for things they can’t find. Kathryn, along with the group sit patiently waiting for the bus “as ready-as-they‘ll-ever-be.”
7.15 am All aboard the bus, except Laura who is running back in to the hotel to reclaim the safe key, with a $100 deposit and all our important belongings, from the marble step leading to the safe.
7.17 am Leave for the airport. Laura’s hysterics commence after confession of her sins.
8.am Hangovers kick in. Sleep the flight.
1 pm Arrive on San Cristobal, The Galapagos Islands. Greeted by Tim, Group leader owner of the company. Uncontrollably sarcastic 30 something Kiwi.
2 pm Lunch of rice, chicken and fish, rises Laura’s low level nausea to a Medium Level. Claire is told by Tim that she has already reached her quota of Questions for the day, 2 hours in.
3 pm Bumpy jeep ride up to the top of an old volcano, Nausea High. Laura tries by any means possible not to throw up. Walk up to a look out point. Nausea Dangerously High. 3 hr Bike ride, from the top to the coast, then a short walk over some volcanic rock and we find our selves on a beautiful white sand beach with Sea Lions lying every where. We find the nursery school on the rocks where all the pups are playing together- tear jerkingly adorable. About now we discover that you can get with in a hairsbreadth of the animals in The Galapagos, as long as you’re respectful, as they have absolutely no fear of humans. Nausea is replaced by complete awe of where we are. Stunned by the experience we free wheel back to the hotel for dinner, stopping on the way to organise diving for Claire and Laura. Expensive.
3am Claire sick.
3.15 am Claire sick, Claire sick, Claire sick.
7 am Laura leaves without a very sick L Claire to go diving with Sharks.
8 am Kathryn and Claire board Christine (Tim’s boat) for a morning of snorkelling at Kicker Rock. Laura Dive, sees lots of fish, get out the water first, remaining 3 divers see a school of Black Tip Reef Sharks and some Rays. Gutted.
11 am Laura catches up with Kathryn snorkelling, she has seen the sharks too. Laura then has to swim the 50m back to her boat not wearing her mask just in case she does see the sharks whilst alone in the open water. Claire is lying on the boat feeling terrible but being a soldier.
1 pm 2nd dive consisted of hanging on a rock at the end of a canal being flung around by the current waiting for the Hammerheads to pass. It was completely different to any diving I’ve done before. The current is strong, the water is cold and the depth is at least 100m underneath my 25m. Still no sharks but lots of fish and an incredible swim along the bottom of the canal whist all the life passes you by.
3 pm Laura jumps from one ship to the other in the in middle of the ocean and we all head to yet another island for some lunch on a black sand beach on a practically deserted island with an eerie history of misdemeanours and murder. Again wildlife everywhere. We really had found paradise.
We arrive back and disaster strikes, Claire’s purse with all her money, all our kitty money is missing from the room. No one can remember when she lost it because she was so ill. Left in the room? On the boat? ‘No se’. Look every where, 5 times, no jothryn go out to find the others to see if any one has seen it, speak to the hotel staff, speak to the police. Claire understandably devastated made worse by the fact that she is sick.
7 am Over breakfast the hot topic is our terrible loss and what to do next.
8 am Whilst packing Laura finds Claire’s purse in her wardrobe (different room). Turns out Claire left it on my bed and the kind cleaning lady hid it. Panic over. All a little embarrassed. We head to another island -Isabella, the most beautiful of them all, stopping along the way for snorkelling
5pm One foot off the boat and we all fall completely in love with Isabella with it’s sandy roads and laid back Caribbean feel. Few group drinks in a perfect beachside bar, tables made out of un processed trees, empty liquor bottles (tastefully) tied to a tree blowing in the breeze, cocktails strong and sweet enough to put a few hairs on your chest and of course ‘Bob and Jack’ (Bob Marley and Jack Johnson who have followed in every restaurant and every bar EVER since) playing as we enjoy some good food and another early night for the reformed London girls.
7 am A 7 hour trip to the top of an active volcano which last erupted in 2003 with our naturist guide, Pablo. Quite possibly the most passionate person I have ever met, luckily for us his passion is The Galapagos Islands (and surfing) and he can tell you literally anything you want to know about The Islands, their inhabitants and the extraordinary array of wildlife. We certainly put this to the test. The trip was amazing, admittedly the back end was a little more challenging as we trekked across volcanic fields for two hours whist being taught about each plant, animal and micro-organism we see. This was wonderful, but by that time it was hot, we all had blisters and Kathryn only had one contact lense left in, God knows why, so the Trek down the volcano was interesting for her, but the source of much amusement and she handled being a Cyclops with surprising grace and lack of complaint. A Harris through and through.
7 pm Claire still not 100% and makes a speedy exit from dinner fearing another bout of sickness, but luckily manages to ride it out with the aid of a bottle of broad spectrum antibiotics provided by a team mate. Kathryn not so lucky.
1 am Kathryn Sick, Kathryn Sick, Kathryn Sick
8 am Claire and Kathryn feeling a little worse for wear but powering through (Kathryn puked in her snorkel), we went snorkelling with Sharks, Turtles, Sea Lions and thousands of fish.
Just cruising around the bay on little fishing boats spotting animals every where, including the most northern and 2nd smallest Penguin in the world, so close to you is one of my favourite memories of the trip.
Pm It’s the tortoise breeding ground (they’re flippin’ gorgeous) and The Wall of Tears built by prisoners out of Volcanic Rock purely to keep them busy. A permanent reminder, along with the endangered and now extinct species, of the islands dark past, put to a stop by the islands inhabitants on the grounds of inhumanity. There was also the small matter of a coup in which the prisoners went on a revenge mission killing the guards etc. I won’t go into history but for somewhere so incredibly beautiful with such perfect ecological harmony I find it ironic that the human history, even there, is full of death, deception and misery.
Another boat trip to our final island spotting Albatrosses flying high, Giant Manta Rays jumping out of the water and literally dozens of Dolphins riding the waves caused by the boat was simply incredible. (see video) More snorkelling en route.
Taken to the farming land for Plantain, Bananas and other such exotic things, where Giant Tortoises roam freely. They are absolutely enormous, their poo is bigger than Claire’s foot...
That afternoon we go to the most beautiful white sand beach for kayaking, we saw hundreds of Marine Iguanas, packs of Manta Rays and White Tip Sharks under the Mangroves with Stalks and Pelicans, but to name a few.
Am. Taken to meet The famous Lonesome George at a wildlife centre and the rest of the day is ours.
It is now we realise that from the moment we arrived we had been kept, with incredible punctuality (yes the Peacock’s included) to the action packed schedule above, with only the odd 15 mins here and there for a change of clothes etc. So when we were told we had a couple of hours on own, that is with out drill sergeant Tim keeping us in line, we didn’t quite know what to do with ourselves. Needless to say we battled through with some souvenir shopping.
Pm. Dinner in an amazing restaurant for our last night where rare tuna is served on an incredibly hot slab of volcanic rock. Muy Rico!!
Back to Quito, the blow softened by a luxury hotel and a few free drinks at Bungalow 6 back in company of the lovely Sam commiserating the immanent departure Kathryn.
(I might add that “Take a sabbatical” and “Come back” was the general gist of the nights conversation. She is now sitting next to me in Peru and we’re on our way to Chile.)
Kathryn; The biologist, left having fulfilled a lifelong dream of seeing The Islands
Claire; Left ferociously plotting the mot feasible way to get back to Isabella Island and do some voluntary work on “The Turkey Farm”. I think what Claire meant was “The Tortoise Farm”.
Laura; Left with the nick-name giggles.
Collectively a very happy trio.
Claire, Kathryn and Laura are huddled up together on the boat after some snorkelling trying to warm up when Steve asks permission for another photo of us because apparently, and we not ones to argue, we “are adorable” he then eagerly adds …
“You know what I love about you girls, it’s not just that your pretty … You touch each other all the time too!” And goes on to explain that in America everyone would think we were lesbians. “but we’re related!” exclaims Kathryn. Apparently that doesn’t matter, State Side we’re gay.
So there you have it. What my on-my-holiday-style-writing can’t communicate is the little bits in between that puts the colour into our 10 Day Tour. Painting a picture anywhere close to what is etched in our memories is a near on impossibility but I’ll give it a shot…
First and foremost, we laughed until we cried every single day. Each morning we woke up happy and excited about what we were doing. Like everyone else, I’ve grown up watching and listening to David Attenborough, I’ve read the guide books and listen to peoples stories but never could I have conceived that a place that magical existed in any thing other than fairytales.
Marine iguanas, prehistoric animals!, still roam around everywhere totally untouched by humanity. Their faces and their armour is awesome.
You are literally tripping over Sea Lions; they sit on the boats, the doorways to the hotels, the pavements and all over the beaches. If you happen to be in the water with them they play with you, diving, twisting, picking up and playing catch with Sea Cucumbers and if you’re lucky they’ll kiss you on the nose like the do each other. When not playing tag in the water they crave bodily contact so they lounge around every where piled on top of one another making it practically impossible to stop taking photos. When you wake up in The Galapagos the only things you’re likely to hear are the waves crashing, the birds singing and the barking of the Alpha-male Sea Lion swimming up and down the beach letting everybody know that He.Is.The.Daddy. Quite literally.
The birds are so fearless that you could scoop a Darwin Finch up in your hand. You see these animals, not through binoculars, but right next to you - hundreds of them. Birds with electric blue feet, Black Frigate birds ‘The pirates of the sky’ that puff out an enormous red heart from there chest as a mating ritual, Albatrosses, Pelicans, Doves, mini Penguins but to name a few and they quite literally look you straight in the eye and pose graciously for photos.
Turtles leisurely swim with in a couple of inches of you as you snorkel, and we’re not talking one or two- we went snorkelling and saw at least 20 just chilling out on the sand just below you. The volume of different fish is incredible. On this same snorkelling trip we swam through a crevice in the rocks and swam over dozens of White Tip Sharks sleeping, or at least they were sleeping until Steve arrived! As they woke up they all started swimming, waking each other up in a dominoes effect until they were all swimming back and forth with so much grace, it really is a beautiful thing to see as they brush past you totally un-phased by your presence.
You read any thing about the Galapagos and it is likely to be described as one of the few remaining places where nature is still working in harmony, relatively untouched, well un-destroyed, by the destructive path of humans. That is now. The Galapagos is a National Reserve with extremely strict rules; gone are the days of pirates, whalers, over fishing and of Charles Darwin riding on the back of a 200lb Galapagos Tortoise. This said, despite their greatest efforts to preserve their enchanted paradise, many of the tortoises are now extinct due to the human appetite when they were loaded still alive and stacked up on galleons for food. But the Galapagan’s attitude is remarkable, it goes without saying incredibly green, and there is a clear attempt (not by all) to utilise the money from tourism to preserve their paradise and all of the beauty inside it.
For us, spending time with people we would never normally mix with from completely different cultures and different generations; our team, all the naturist guides, the boat workers not to mention the charming, charismatic and deeply sarcastic Tim guiding us every step pf the way, was as much of an experience as the islands themselves. Also very touching was the way in which we were received by them and constantly complimented on our usually close relationships with each other. If we could have had you all with us we would have, but for us we’ll forever have the memories of the three of us being blissfully happy and living for such a short time in a world that could not be further removed from where we have come from.
It is a truly magical place and I speak for all of us when I say just how lucky we are to have had the chance to experience it, and together.
Muchas besos y abrasos (kisses and hugs)