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Date: 09 May 2012 19:22:31
Title: Fabulous Galapagos (excessive superlative warning)

Lat 00:54.37 S
Lon 089:37.03 W

We're back on San Cristobal after a fantastic 5 days on two other islands, Isabella and Santa Cruz. We saw everything we came here for - except for the illusive hammerhead sharks!

On Friday morning we took an early flight to Isabella. The view from the plane was amazing as we flew over several other islands. As we approached Isabella, all we could see along the coast line and leading inland was lava flow - vast areas of Isabella are covered in black granite from previous volcanic eruptions. There are 5 volcanoes on Isabella are all are still active - the last eruption being in 2005. Isabella and the western islands of the Galapagos are the youngest islands, and San Cristobal and Espanola on the Eastern side are the oldest. Hence the Eastern islands tend to be more "green" with more vegetation, and the younger islands where the volcanoes are still active are covered in black lava flow and have the barren, moonscape that the islands are famous for.

Our guide Pablo met us at the airport and after a brief stop at our hotel we headed out to the tortoise breeding centre which is the best one we saw with huge numbers of tiny tortoises. We also saw two oldies going for it and having a good time which was hilarious - the poor old guy seemed to be attempting a sideways mount - it didn't seem to be working! Pablo was a great guide and we learnt a lot, not having had a guide on San Cristobal. My two tortoise facts are:
1. Tortoises are not fertile until they're 50 years old - good job they live until 150 then!
2. The breeding centre can determine the gender of the baby tortoises by the temperature that the egg is incubated at; 29 degrees will produce a female and 27 degrees for a male

We then headed into the wetlands where we saw flamingoes and our first marine iguana, which turned out to be a huge male and bigger than any others we saw. They are very strange creatures and so very tame! I guess they are what the galapagos is famous for, but it is still bizarre that you can kneel 1 foot away from a wild, 1 meter long iguana and it doesn't move. We also saw a "wild" tortoise that had been released into the wild, and walked through a dense mangrove forest.

In the afternoon Pablo guided us on a trip to the Tintoreras which are low lying islands a short distance from the town of Vilamil where we were staying. These islands are made from volcanic ash and lava, and are a breeding location for marine iguanas and sea lions. The iguanas blend in so well with the black rock that we quite often found ourselves a few inches from one before it would move it's head and we'd see it! There are thousands of them on the islands, all sunbathing on the rocks and pulling poses for the cameras. Our luck with spotting wildlife continued in the afternoon when we went for a snorkel after the walk and saw two massive sea turtles, and 4 black tip reef sharks!

Vilamil, the town where we were staying, is very laid back and much more how I imagined the Galapagos to be than San Cristobal. The roads are dirt roads, there are no 5 star hotels and the bars and restaurants are all very rustic.

The next day we went up the volcano - Volcan Sierra Negra which is about 1600m. An 18km hike took us around the crater and across the lava field from the eruption of 2005. It was really awesome to walk through the lava - such a barren and mountainous landscape with only cactus breaking up the black and red rock.

On Sunday we went on a snorkelling trip to a place where there were caves and tunnels made from lava. We saw loads of giant sea turtles - again completely unbothered by our presence and allowing us to get with a metre of them. We also saw a couple of black tipped reef sharks. The second part of the trip was meant to be to some underwater lava tunnels that you can swim through, but the sea was too rough to swim there, so we headed to Isla Tortuga (Turtle island) which we were excited about and had heard we might find some hammerheads! After a 40 minute boat journey one of the engines failed and unfortunately we had to turn back to turn. Denied hammerheads again!

On Monday we got the 6am ferry to Santa Cruz island, which is the main tourist island and consequently has the largest town. We were amazed to find that there is a population of 20,000 people living on Santa Cruz. Not quite the isolated islands I was expecting. We were met by another guide, Sylvanna, who took us up into the highlands to see sinkholes, lava tunnels and tortoises in the wild - well, not really in the wild as they're on a farm so easy to see, but they are there voluntarily and are free to leave so they can call them "wild". There were lots of guava trees on the farm, and Archie decided to try out the local produce, against advise from the rest of us. Needless to say a few hours later his body decided to evacuate everything and anything in his body, although very luckily he made it back at the hotel before the eruptions began. In the afternoon we hiked to Tortuga bay which was a beautiful white sand beach where we swam right up to a blue footed booby on nearby rocks (it's a BIRD!) which was cool, and also saw some baby sharks playing in the mangroves.

Yesterday we took advantage of the shops in Santa Cruz although struggled to find any decent meat in any of the supermarkets - 25 days of frankfurters was not an option so we asked a taxi driver and he took us to a place where we bought about half a cow and the guy cut it into steaks with a bansaw so we are set for protein! We got the ferry back to San Cristobal and are now ready to leave for the Marquesas! It's a bit daunting with 3000 miles to go until we next step foot on land - that's a lot of ocean, and a third of our total trip in terms of distance. The boys have invested even more money into fishing gear so we have great expectations!

We are expecting it to take anywhere between 17 days (Jamie and Archie) to 25 days (Geoff). The winds look good and we won't have to go far to get into 15 knots. We still can't update the blog from the damn sat phone, but we can send and receive phone calls and texts so our wonderful families are sending us weather updates via text! They will also be updating our position on the blog every 5 days or so, as we will be checking in with them via the phone.

Wish us well! Next update will be in June!

Lots of love from the Mystic crew xx

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