Astra Blog: Galapagos (Part 1) 29.04.08 - 03.05.08

Jeremy & Sally Paul
Tue 13 May 2008 19:03

Astra Blog: Galapagos (Part 1) 29.04.08 – 03.05.08


Tuesday 29.04.08


Academy Bay, Santa Cruz, Galapagos. After the best part of six days sailing and much anticipation we finally arrived in destination. Our first concern was to drop a stern anchor to combat the rolling resulting from an appreciable swell. Ash sweated over this task under George’s supervision whilst Sally and Jeremy met the representative of our Agent in the Galapagos. Unfortunately, it is a requirement that all yachts have an agent. This was even less fortunate in our case as our agent was nowhere to be seen and instead we had to deal with his minion, Javier, who soon identified himself as a mine of misinformation and a bit of a pillock.    


Tent firmly erected, we took a water taxi into Puerto Ayora the local town. It should be noted that we took a water taxi on Javier’s advice as he kindly informed us that nobody used their tenders in the bay. This turned out to be one of many bogus tips and we used the tender for the rest of our stay!

Once in Puerto Ayora we were keen to follow Javier’s bar and restaurant recommendations. Puerto Ayora is a relatively small town so were a little surprised to find that our local expert had sent us off in pursuit of a closed bar and a non-existent restaurant!


After a good traipse around the town we sought refreshment in a charming little bar that was to become something of a daily favourite. After a few jugs of Caipariñ­a, Jeremy and Sally returned to Astra and entrusted Ash and George with the task of reconnoitering the local nightspots. Once again they demonstrated their maturity and intelligence by partaking in a sober investigation of what Puerto Ayora has to offer. They were not disappointed and came home unusually well-oiled.


Wednesday 30.04.08


Aside from a varied collection of wildlife, Puerto Ayora has three things in abundance: bars/restaurants; dive shops; and shops selling tee-shirts featuring the aforementioned wildlife. None of us was overly excited by the latter, and the bars had already received a good going-over. This left the dive shops to be researched. Ash expertly conned the tender through a rocky opening into a shallow cove where, after negotiating the treacherous ascent to a marine iguana covered jetty, we were able to find the aptly named and highly recommended Dive Iguana. Sally was keen to book a dive to see some of Galapagos’ more friendly non-pelagic sea-dwellers and, if possible, to give sharks a wide berth. The lady in the dive shop explained that you can not really avoid sharks in the Galapagos – they are just part and parcel of diving in this location. With this in mind, Sally, Jeremy and Ash booked two advanced drift dives for the following day in Floreana.


In the evening Ash and George ran into some lovely Australians they had met the previous evening, Angie, Golden, and Greene (real names!). In Puerto Ayora it is very rare to only meet someone once; it really is a very small place – if you meet someone once you are nigh on guaranteed to bump into them the next night.


Thursday 01.05.08


Jeremy, Sally and Ash awoke bright and early for their dive trip to Floreana.  With the dive equipment assembled and breakfast consumed the dive boat picked us up from Astra at 7.45 for the 2 hour boat trip to the dive site. The trip was fairly straightforward; the captain did 50 knots the whole way while a German chap vomited his breakfast over the side and our dive guides demonstrated their maturity by putting sun cream in their friend’s mouth while he was asleep!  Finally we arrived at Floreana and the boat anchored in the shelter of Champion Island so that a test dive could be done, this involved checking we had the correct weight and that we had not forgotten how to clear our masks and recover our regulators on the sea bed.  This went swimmingly, so the boat then proceeded to Enderby which was a rocky promontory with strong current and a moderate swell which produced powerful surges.  Our dive master gave us without doubt the best briefing we had all week, then the captain maneuvered in close to the rocks and with a “1, 2, 3, GO” we all plunged over the side and swam clear of the reversing boat.  After a quick surface check we dropped beneath the waves.  The visibility was absolutely incredible and it was all of a minute before we saw our first white-tip shark cruise past us.  As we drifted along the wall we were treated to some stunning sights, there was a cloud of fish so dense that it blocked out the sun as we passed beneath it, there were lobsters hiding in the rocks and many large angel fish.  As we approached the top of the wall, the current increased dramatically and threatened to pull us straight over the top.  Fortunately all had been issued with some very fetching gardening gloves so that we were able to hold on to the sharp rocks.  This urge to hold on was dramatically increased when we saw what was the other side of the ridge; around ten white-tip sharks were serenely circling around the rocks in front of us, it was a beautiful sight.  After several minutes of hanging onto the rocks with a streamer hogfish just watching, we felt quite comfortable with the situation and assumed that that was as close as we had to get…we were wrong!  Jimmy our guide signaled to follow him and then swam straight over the edge and across the gap; to our surprise we followed him.  Jeremy and Ash nearly had a head on with a rather inquisitive shark; Jeremy kept his cool and managed to get a great photo.  Sadly the air finally ran out and we departed in pairs to do our safety stops.  This involved swimming out into deep water praying that the sharks wouldn’t follow and hoping that the captain would have the boat there to pick you up!  On this occasion all went well.


For our surface interval and lunch break, we returned to Champion Island and went snorkeling with some young sealions who were extremely playful and spent the entire time mocking our swimming abilities!  Lunch done we moved to Punta del Cormoran, we followed much the same procedure and nearly landed on a rather surprised white-tip shark!  Unfortunately, the visibility here was not good, despite this we did see turtles and two large Galapagos sharks but it was a bit of a disappointment after Enderby.  Tired and content we headed back to Santa Cruz where we were dropped on Astra where the non-diving George was readily awaiting to dispatch the gin and tonics and soak up stories of the bottom of the ocean!


Friday 02.05.08


Friday was a quieter day with a few essential boat jobs needing to be done and a little bit of planning for the week ahead. Unfortunately the generator stopped working as it had overheated. Jeremy having re-read the entire manual and systematically eliminating potential causes of the problem finally found the culprit: a fish had rather foolishly swum up the water intake for the generator and had become firmly wedged in the sea-cock. Having done a few jobs, George and Ash took the tender for a bit of coastline exploration. They were disappointed to find that they could not tender to any of the beaches as the surf was massive however they did find a little creek where they were able to see some blue footed boobies and some sealions.


In the evening Sally and Jeremy went to dinner with some of their dive companions and George and Ash disappeared to their usual haunts to hook up with the now very familiar faces of Puerto Ayora’s social scene!


Saturday 03.05.08


Keen to see some of the flora and fauna above the water we decided to put Sally’s diligent research into action with a visit into the island’s interior. After an hours drive along bumpy dirt tracks we arrived at a remote ranch famed for its giant tortoise population. Our taxi driver underwent a metamorphosis from a somewhat laconic conductor into a nature expert-extraordinaire, pointing out all manner of different plants including coffee, guavas and papayas. Then the piece de resistance, the giant tortoises! Upon sighting, Ash watched respectfully, Sally moved with trepidation, Jeremy brandished his camera and George proceeded to chuckle for about five minutes. Comic in appearance, they do not do a great deal but they do excel at slowly munching leaves, plodding around with movements so slow as to be imperceptible, and retracting and protracting their E.T. like faces.


Having had our fill of tortoises, our taxi driver took us around the corner to the famous lava tunnels. Here he scoffed at Ash and George for wearing flip-flops in what promised to be slightly rough terrain. The tunnels were formed by cooling larva flows: as the flow cools from the outside inwards it forms a solid igneous shell, the inside of which pours onwards and out to leave a tunnel. As we descended into the lower end of the 400 yard tunnel we met a group with a tour guide. The tour guide took one look at Ash, turned back to point into the cave and inquired “Do you live here?!”


It seemed that the taxi driver was correct to mock our choice of footwear. After a rather mucky passage through the tunnel, which included slithering on bellies at one stage, we emerged into the light covered in mud. George and Ash were rather smug about their choice of footwear – by luck rather than judgment they emerged unscathed – and were able to give their feet and flip-flops a quick wash; Sally and Jeremy are still trying to get the silt out of their once-were white trainers now, over a week later!


In the evening we had Trish and Ellen over for dinner. Sally, Ash and Jeremy had met Trish and Ellen on their dive trip to Floreana and had identified them as formidable dinner guests both worthy and capable of Astra’s hospitality. Once again, Sally managed to prepare a fantastic feast of chicken curry, washed down with a fair amount of liquid accompaniment. Stomachs pleasingly full, Jeremy retired to the blue cushion and everybody else went ashore to sample the delights of the boys’ favourite nightspots, Bar Bongo and the nightclub Panga for more drinking, dancing and cavorting. Not surprisingly we ran into our Aussie friends again and while Sally, Ellen and Trish called it a night, Ash, George, and the antipodeans went off to the lagoon for a spot of night swimming. Much fun was had by all.