Fw: Storyteller, Day 2

Tue 11 Mar 2008 21:12
Position, 04.20S  95.02W

After a frustrating morning chasing light winds and with nothing on the fishing lines, we pulled some frozen fish out of the freezer. Within five minutes we had hooked two lovely tuna, which have been lovingly filleted and will provide the next few meals. We are being guided through the doldrums to the south east trades by Bruce, our weather forecaster from Perth. Many of the yachts have become followers of Bruce of whom one remarked today, 'He's the best thing to come out of Australia since Kylie Minogue'.
Tony's views on the Galapagos follow...
I knew this would be a great visit from the moment the nocturnal wedge tailed gulls started to share the night watches as we approached -- beautiful, delicate and ghostly.
This confidence was slightly knocked when we arrived at the capital on Isla San Cristobal for immigration and refuelling. The first two went surprisingly well but -- refueling? Our time for the refueling dock was deferred and deferred until it looked as though we would be lucky to be finished by midnight. And reports were that the diesel was coming out of an elderly and rather dirty tanker so the filter had to be cleaned every ten minutes.
Fortunately the Port Captain pulled the plug on further reuelling and then we listened to a conversation between the crew of the one boat that had refuelled and its owner ashore that went something like...
"Have you finished refuelling?"
"Yes -- just"
"Are you coming ashore for a meal?"
"Still thinking about it"
"When do you think you might be ready?"
"About an hour and a half."
"That long?"
"Well -- we have to clean the boat and ourselves...."
In my innocence I wondered what all this cleaning was about. The following day I found out.
There was a change of plan. The diesel was delivered to the boat in heavy 20 gallon containers that we had to swing aboard and siphon the fuel from. They were accompanied by a large, clean gentleman who said things like "No capitano -- you do not do the work -- I do the work" before disappearing astern to spend the entire 2 1/2 hours (excluding clean up) that the refuelling took speaking on his cell phone and bludging soft drinks off Sue.
But we were fuelled up and ready to go -- to Puerto Ayora on the Isla Santa Cruz where it all happens.
The first thing to do here was sort out payment of the entry fee to the National Park and complete a little form that goes with it. This form sensibly enough asks you to rank activities you are interested in in order of priority and includes walking, birdwatching, snorckeling, diving, geology and so on. It also included enjoying the solitude and experiencing the remoteness.
Now let me say at once -- organised tours do not actually do solitude or remoteness. And organised tours, whether day tours or longer are the most practical way of seeing what the Galapagos has to offer in the limited time available. Still it is rather daunting to arrive at one of the limited number of access points to find, typically, a small cruise liner and half a dozen cruise boats from which the population of a small town seems to be being ferried ashore in groups of 12-14 each with their obligatory guide. But it works -- we got ashore with our guide and moved around the marked trails at a leisurely pace -- had birds, iguanas and sealions so close that you could sit and be photographed with them. And we rarely saw, let alone bumped into, another group.
Now the hard question -- what did you like most? I can't answer that. I'll start with the snorkling which I undertook because it was that or twiddle my thumbs. It was fascinating. The sealions seemed to like the others more than me but I was joined by a shark as a professional courtesy.
The iguanas look very alien but have their own charm. The marine iguanas climb vertical cliff a good 100 ft high to sun themselves at the top before returning to the sea.
The sealions are clowns. I could watch their little family groups for hours. They also like climbing onto boats (especially catamarans) and seats intended for people -- but that's life.
Then there were the giant tortoises and the impressive programme by the Charles Darwin Research Station for restoring their population. Overall though, for me, the birds were the highlight. I had to see the finches. The boobies (like our gannets) were absolute clowns and their pattern diving for fish suggests training by a former stuka pilot. The pelicans are memorable for their formation flying (more so in Las Perlas than Galapagos) and the flamingos for their colour and grace: the frigate birds for their delicate skill in the air; the gulls, terns,  tropic birds and petrels for their clean beauty and company at sea. And that still leaves the volcanoes, landscapes, wonderful beaches, complex vegetation -- where do you stop? 
I had better mention fishing. There isn't any! ... except for a small number of traditional commercial fishermen handlining out of small open boats. The Galapagos islands are one big (200 mile exclusion zone)marine reserve and whale sanctuary. And you see fish like you did in NZ when I was a kid and more... I did pick up a few pointers on cutting up tuna though.
A lot of work is being done by international agencies such as UNESCO to conserve Galapagos. It is bearing fruit and well worth supporting.
Sue adds: apart from the prolific wildlife, which exceeded our greatest expectations, the highlights were a magnificent craft gallery featuring exquisite objects from Panama, Ecuador and Peru, and the local farmers' market which we visited at 6 am on Saturday morning to stock up for the long voyage ahead. And yes, Rosemary and I did help the local economy by buying a few lovely pieces from the gallery.