We arrived safely at Puerto Villamil on the island of Isabella on Monday
after a very uneventful trip (which is exactly how we like them) from
Panama. Somehow we seemed to avoid the squally thundery bit of the ITCZ and
had a pretty good sail for most of the way without having to do an excessive
amount of motoring which is often a feature of this particular passage.
To help protect the islands, private yachts are (correctly) very tightly
regulated and monitored here in the Galapagos and there are really only
three anchorages one can visit without having a National Parks guide on
board and paying an extortionate amount in fees ($200 per person on board
per day including the guide on top of all the fees for agents, permits,
anchorage fees etc). The result is that the yachts all get packed together
into these three small anchorages, so when we arrived at Villamil needing a
decent night's kip we found the anchorage completely full and ended up stuck
out in the swell near the entrance with a stern anchor out to keep us from
rolling. The good news is that we have since moved and are now in the most
perfect spot in the quietest part of the bay.
In keeping with the regulation of the park the Ecuadorian bureaucracy
provides a really world class lesson in how to produce complete paralysis in
a system. Even by Latin American standards it is complicated and there are
so many laws and rules that the Navy, tasked with enforcing the regulations,
have no idea what you are actually allowed to do and not to do. Fortunately
the Ecuadorians generally seem to be a very friendly bunch so the best way
to deal with the system seems to be to smile a lot, not get too stressed and
hope if you wait for long enough and are still smiling they will eventually
give you the required permits and paperwork. I tried to help by buying an
Ecuadorian Navy T-shirt from them which I think knocked at least an hour off
our total check-in time!
Once you have managed to deal with the admin of arriving you finally get the
chance to admire the extraordinary surrounding in which we find ourselves.
Apart from the small town which we are anchored off almost the whole of
Isabella (and it is a big island..70 miles from north to south) is
completely untouched. The slopes of a huge volcano run up from the shore
into the clouds to the north of us. The sea water and shores teem with life
and even just popping in to the water with fins and a mask to check how our
anchor was set I was joined by a couple of playful sea-lions. The rocks in
front of us are covered in penguins, iguanas and bright red crabs (they look
like they have already been cooked) and of course ashore we will be on the
lookout for the giant tortoises which still roam the island. Some of the
islands have lost their individually distinct species of tortoises (the
famous "Lonesome George" on Santa Cruz) but here there is still a pretty
healthy population that has not all been eaten by passing sailors over the
centuries. So there is lots to see and only a limited period of time as the
western horizon is calling and we have a tendency at this point of wanting
to get on with this year's "big" passage.....the 3000 nautical miles between
here and the Marquesas and the first islands of Polynesia.
Sorry for the lack of pictures but our Sat phone seems to be uploading
messages very slowing at the moment and the only available internet link
here in Villamil has been down for a couple of days.