Finally the first day of our adventure rolled around. On the morning of January 14th 2017 we checked out of our hotel in Puerto Ayora and caught a cab up to Rancho Manzanillo to meet our fellow shipmates. They, like the majority of Galapagos cruisers had been picked up straight from the airport and we were intrigued and (we confess) a little apprehensive about the folks we would be sharing the next 8 days with.
As we got to know each other an impressive 3 course lunch, we knew that we were going to have a ‘whale of a time’ and we were right. After lunch and a brief lecture by our guide on the do’s and don’ts of the Galapagos (primarily don’t touch and don’t get within 2 metres of any animal) it was time to see the giant tortoises that range freely around the ranch. These seemingly prehistoric giants were everywhere and completely unconcerned about us. They were much more concerned with each other, at least the males were as it was mating season. No fancy courtship behaviour here though, the males follow a female until they manage to get her temporarily stuck and then mount her. There second favorite pastime was semi submerging themselves in a handy water/mud hole. After cooling off and thoroughly covering themselves with mud, out they come to feed. Grass, cactus and poisonous fruits have little food value, so they eat a lot of it. Oh yeah, did we mention the tortoise poop logs?
From there we clambered aboard our mini bus and with the driver weaving around the tortoises sunbathing on the roadway we meandered back to Puerto Ayora and our next port of call. The Charles Darwin Research Centre is an information center dedicated to continuing the ongoing conservation work required to preserve the unique biology of these islands.
Back once more to the van and onto the dock where we got our first glimpse of the Mary Anne. After being ferried out to her on one of the two pangas (dinghy’s), we were assigned our cabins and settled in. The Mary Anne at 119 ft is a good size, with spacious decks and communal areas. The cabins not so much though. Ours was somewhat on the small side, although it did have a double bed with a single bunk above. We had a small en-suite bathroom with a tiny shower stall and surprisingly a regular flushing toilet and not one of the dreaded ships heads.
The rest of the day passed in a blur of safety drills, introductions, a briefing of tomorrow’s activities, a wonderful dinner of fresh wahoo. With our fellow travelers jet lagged and weary it was an early night for all.
Our first full day dawned clear and calm, we were on deck before 6am as the rising sun lit Cormorant Point on Floreana. Our day started with a short panga ride into shore and we were on our way to visit the salt ponds and their resident Flamingoes, glowing cotton candy pink as they filtered the briny water for shrimp. From there it was a short walk to a soft sand turtle nesting beach-evident from the multiple tracks left behind by last night’s females. Gazing into the shallows we spotted dozens of small stingrays and had a run in with a small shark who almost beached himself chasing fish onto the beach right by my feet.
Back on board we had a drink and a snack before getting our snorkelling gear sorted. Take the wet suits offered! You need them the water is cold, as we soon found out.
Our destination was Devils Crown, a roughly circular outcrop shielding a snorkeler’s paradise. Not sure what was more shocking, the cold as we hit the water or what we saw beneath! Fish overload, with schools of different species ‘layered’ at different depths in the clear sea below. It was a staggering, somewhat overwhelming experience even for us who have snorkelled and dove in many parts of the world. For the novice snorkelers it was mind boggling.
Exhilarated and chilled its back to the Mary Anne for a 3 course lunch before heading off to Post Office Bay. This has to be one of the most touristy spots on our itinerary. Centuries ago seafarers wanting to send mail home had to rely on fellow seafarers! They would choose a handy location and leave carefully addressed letters and packages in the hope that the next boat along would be heading in that direction and be able to pass the message along. The remnant of that system is a barrel ‘post box’ clearly marked a sort walk on shore. Today’s visitors leave a postcard in the barrel and then sift through the pile already there to see if they can (ideally) hand deliver one in return.
Then it was time for our second snorkel of the day, right off the beach. Turtles everywhere! Grinning from ear to ear we hung out in the swell with them, as they calmly grazed between the algae covered boulders. They didn’t give a damn that we were there and would surface right next to us when it was time to catch a breath.
Tired, cold and exclaiming ‘OMG’ it was back to the boat for a hot shower, a sunset drink, dinner and an early night. Which was somewhat delayed, by a sea lion racing through the school of fish attracted to the galleys lights in search of her dinner. What a day, this alone made the trip worthwhile, yet there was much more to come.
Day 2 started with a trip into the small town of Puerto Velazco Ibarra, Floreana, here we saw marine iguanas in full courting colours. Seemingly draped over every rock of the harbour and the dock, were clumps of females and youngsters, the large males guard their territory with head bobbing displays and hisses. Add to that the nose exhalations of excess salt flying through the air and you could imagine yourself trapped in a Jurassic Park movie.
From here we clambered aboard the truck/bus and we were off to explore Floreanas oldest settlement. Evidence of where old caves in the soft friable rock had been extended to shelter both humans and their beasts were easy to see. Especially when supplemented by the carefully preserved photographs of that era. Here we saw yet another sub species of tortoise and lots of Darwin’s multi purposed finches.
An anticipated highlight of this trip was to be our afternoon sail to Isabella in search of whales and dolphins. Although the sails were up, with little wind we motored along with nary a whale in sight. Oh well, it was perfect for catching up on some sleep, reading or to soak in the vast expanse of still calm ocean with nary a ship in sight. After another exquisite sunset we readied for bed and dreams of another day.