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SV Taipan reports from the Galapagos Islands

by SV Taipan 15 Jun 2019 11:13 UTC
A seal waddling towards us © SV Taipan

This afternoon we headed into town to have a look around, it's a delightful little town and sea lions everywhere are so relaxed and unafraid. We were walking a boardwalk looking for a restaurant and there was a seal waddling towards us and went straight through us as if we weren't there.

A tour has been booked for Monday morning with Gian, to see the giant tortoises and the research facility, the only freshwater lake in the archipelago and a visit to a beach. Monday afternoon they will bring 460 litres of fuel out to the boat by taxi in jerry cans so we can fill up the thirsty tanks. There is no bulk fuel supply available for yachties! We will also get our Zarpe, which is our check out of the harbour, and must be received from each island, then we will head out to Santa Cruz island 43nm to the west on Tuesday morning.

Monday: After a quick wake up coffee at 7am we hailed a water taxi and had breakfast in town. I am still feeling like the ground moves under my feet when on terra firma, an effect of being on a boat. It feels really disorientating when every step I take feels like I need to ensure there is something solid under my foot before I put it down. This makes me look down all the time and that just exacerbates the sensation! Totally weird.

After brekky we headed out on a 4-hour tour out of town and into the highlands in a local taxi, actually a crew cab, like all the taxis, our driver Carlos trying very hard to be the guide in his broken English. Our Spanish is getting better, and all the locals seem to appreciate an effort by us asking "how do you say... In Spanish?" The roads were pretty rough but the back seat was quite well padded and sprung so was surprisingly not a bad ride. As we left the coast and went up to the hills the terrain, vegetation and temperature changed dramatically to lush trees and grasses and cooler. We were supposed to stop at the only freshwater lake on the islands but the heavy mist meant there would be nothing to see so we planned to do it on the way back.

So first stop the Galapagos Tortoise research and breeding centre, not their natural habitat which is way down the other end of the island and not accessible by vehicle. It is kept isolated to protect this seriously endangered Tortoise. The centre has paid and volunteer workers and collects eggs laid by the females, incubated for 90-120 days and then the young take another 4-6 weeks to break out of their shells! The young are then grown out in various pens until 5yo when they are released at exactly the same place they were collected as eggs. The little turtles are cute as buttons and we thought they would make the perfect pet, however as they live up to a hundred years you would need to make provision for them in your will, and the wills of your children and grandchildren, so probably not a good option as a pet, more a long term liability!

Got up close and personal with some mature ones, although not as big as the ones in the Perth zoo, probably much younger. They were quite funny at the feeding stations, real attitude towards each other and quite a bit of posturing going on amongst them. There are 11 different species across the islands.

Next stop the beach, on the other side of the island. A longish walk downhill through some amazing vegetation, acacia, candelabra cactus, hibiscus type bushes, and leathery coastal shrubs, all growing out of black volcanic rock landscape, lots of birds, finches and lizards. Lovely white sand beach flanked by same black volcanic rock and a lolling sea lion too sleepy to move when we arrived. Water too cold for my liking so just cooled the tootsies for the walk back up the hill. Radiant heat from the black rock made for a hot walk back to Carlos.

Tried the lake walk again and headed out for the 2 km walk up into the still persistent mist. Halfway we couldn't see anything off the track and decided that the barely visible summit, a crater rim, was probably not going to be any better, so came back down again.

As we had a bit of time Carlos took us to see a 300yo ficus which has a backpackers treehouse B&B in the top accessed by a swingy cable bridge. Scary bridge, funky tree house complete with its own cellar in the roots underground, shower and toilet (long drop) and awesome tree! We sampled a cup of organic Galapagos coffee, which was really delicious with some pretty good banana bread.

Headed back to town, lunch while the rest of town closes for two hour siesta, then back to the boat to await the fuel delivery. Fuel arrived by water taxi over an hour late and then David and Michael had to siphon 460 litres of diesel out of 50litre jerry cans finishing just on dark. Not a walk in the park!

Nothing associated with boating is simple, not every port has a marina (affordable or otherwise), not every port has a boat friendly fuel station (hence the jerry cans), try finding a supermarket in a foreign port, where most locals, even in hospitality, don't speak much, if any, English (we are trying with our Spanish!!!), try finding a hardware store to buy a bit of siphon hose, where would you get a local flag for the mast, as is the courtesy when arriving and staying in a new port?

We dined on board tonight, a yummy Thai chicken curry a la Kris, totally delicious followed by another Galapagos coffee with a dash of Chivas (the only real way to drink whisky!) We head to Santa Cruz tomorrow after breakfast, about a six hour sail all going well, but then again we are boating, so who knows?

Wed 29 May 11.50pm From Santa Cruz

Tuesday started earlier than planned when the taxi rocked up at 6am to pick up the empty jerry cans, we were still all asleep and not happy as we had a big day ahead. We arrived at Puerto Arayo Santa Cruz yesterday at 4.30 pm at low tide, once again a little later than I anticipated, partly due to my over-optimistic calculations and partly due to the now usual average seas and unhelpful wind and current.

An overall pleasant enough sail but a whole day has gone just getting here and we have such little time left. Poor Michael was again under the weather as soon as we left anchor, sadly not as a result of the night before but due to the boat's movements, the upside being that as he sleeps it off, the trip goes much quicker for him! We were shadowed for a while by the Ecuadorian Navy patrol boat, and although it was unlikely they would have boarded us, we watched them out of the corner of our eyes until it was clear they weren't interested in us, nothing to hide, just didn't fancy being invaded by heavily armed guys in hobnail boots looking for something to do!

We passed Santa Fe Island on the way, uninhabited and we can see why all we could see was sheer cliffs and pounding surf around the edges and dry parched landscape with candelabra cactus as far as we could see. If you managed to get on the island alive there would be no shelter food or water.

The anchorage in Santa Cruz is sandy so our spare anchor should be sufficient to hold Taipan, it was an anxious first few hours until we were sure we would not drag in the swell and the incoming tide. The anchor alarm was set and it would go off during the night if we dragged more the 50m. The agent's man Gustavo, came on board with some helpful information maps and advice.

We anchored behind Blue Stag a 62ft catamaran from New Zealand probably worth a couple million, it is huge and looks luxurious and we ran alongside them for a while during the crossing from Panama City, in the middle of the night, we know this because of the AIS (Automatic Identification System) signal they sent out which identifies location, name, speed, heading and size of boats to others in the area. It was satisfying when they left us for another course as they were having just as hard a time of it as we were! A rough night had by all due to the incoming swell ALL night, Taipan rolled from side to side and we woke this morning feeling like we had been through the wringer.

They are seriously into recycling here and all rubbish must be separated into plastic, cans, bottles and general rubbish. It is collected from the boat for a small fee as and when so we offloaded a teeny 3 coles bags which has accumulated for over a week by four people. While at sea anything organic goes overboard but everything else gets stored in the dingy hanging off the back of the boat until the next port.

Onshore it felt like everything was going from side to side, even David, a seasoned sailor could not remember the last time he felt like that. Today we had to book our flights out of Galapagos to the mainland to connect with our flight from Santiago on 1 June. Hoped it would be Saturday but sadly on Friday available so one less day here, our adventure is almost over! Bookings took two hours in a take a ticket and a seat and wait for your number to be called in Spanish system! I can count to 6 but not to 59, so we just watched the local girl who pushed in in front of us in the doorway, she knew she needed a ticket while we stood there gawking at the number of people waiting for the one agent on duty!

David and Kris meanwhile, went anchor shopping but could only find one big enough for the QE2 or small enough for a tinny, so no luck there and they are still hopeful their diver friends may find the lost one in Las Perlas. As Taipan is holding on the one we have, it is not so urgent.

After some retail therapy, we headed to the Charles Darwin research foundation centre, next to the beach just out of town. Saw a huge land iguana and the famous marine iguanas in their natural environment, laying in the sun all over the path to the beach and on the beach and in the water. No desire to swim with them, near them or even close to them, ugh! But very interesting nonetheless.

At siesta time here everything shuts at 12 until 2 or 2.30 incl the Centre, cafe and bathrooms, so we spent one and a half hours traipsing around in the very hot sun waiting for the Centre to open again, interesting but not sure it was worth the wait.

Next stop, more coffee!!! Next stop very late lunch. Got a call from the agent to confirm our tour booking for Thursday, yeehaa, we are riding horses up the volcano, hopefully to the crater. We need to catch a ferry for a two hour trip to Isabella island at 7am (another early start) and then to meet the guide, get a car ride to the foot of the volcano (active) and meet our horses for a four hour there and back trek. Celebrated that with a happy hour strawberry Daqueri then back onto Taipan at 6.30 pm and thank goodness the rolling had stopped, enjoyed a David version of pina colada complete with ice crushed(smashed) by Michael with a hammer, some delicious Kris's breadmaker fruit cake followed by a coffee and Chivas and a bit more fruit cake before heading to bed. Thank goodness we are not rolling tonight, we'll not yet anyway. It's our last full day tomorrow and we plan to go out with a bang,... damn, she's rolling again!

Thursday 30 May from Santa Cruz

Our last day with Kris and David on Taipan so we are cramming it all in! 5am rise to catch a ferry to Isabela Island, the largest island in Galapagos. Water taxi to the Pier then after a 1.5 hour wait for another water taxi to the ferry, what ferry? Its a sports boat, a really old and tired sports boat, with 650 hp motors and bench seats all around the edges, all stripped bare and a huge space in the middle, and except for the lucky four sitting across the back, everyone is side on. Without any to do the crew points to the roll of black doggy bags hanging from the roof and does a charade of someone puking into a bag (we get the message) and we are off! And the ride is for two hours! It was one of those slam dunk slam slam dunk trips which lasted the full two hours, unlike any other sideshow ride you have ever been on. There is a toilet on board, but they would never have to clean it, as it would be impossible to leave your seat and get to the toilet alive enough to use it!

Still alive we Arrived at Isabela and were welcomed by a penguin popping out of the water to say hi then off again. Into another water taxi to the jetty, the pier would be an exaggeration and low and behold we have palm trees white sandy beaches and just need a pina colada to set the scene (and after that trip across).

Our guide, Tanya, was waiting and we hopped into the bus to head to Sierra Negra the largest active crater by area in the world!

The drive up is pretty, very lush farmland, cattle horses bananas mangos maize citrus but quite primitive(think Bali style). We arrive at the ranch??? at 900m and there are the horses we will ride to the edge of the crater. We are very excited as it is over 10 y since Michael or I rode, a bit less for Kris and David. This is our pushing the boundaries activity (we try to do that on each holiday) there are 3 new hips between Kris and I so there are some extra boundaries we are pushing, it is also close to 20 years since Kris and I rode together from our dressage days. They are a pretty fine (thin) scruffy (unbrushed) bunch and as we eye them off we are all wondering which one we will get, we have booked "quiet horses for walking only" there is a flea-bitten grey, a couple of redheads and a dark bay.

Hmmm, we didn't look at the gear, holly molly that was something else, they must salvage the rope from down at the jetty cos each horse has most tack made out of green rope, and I mean hand made! Bridle- made of rope, reins made of rope, Stirrup leathers-made of rope, crupper- made of rope, hell even the stirrups were tied to the "leathers" with green rope! I know they are eco-friendly here and there is no greener way to get around than on a horse but I do like my horse gear in leather, oiled and clean rather than green (unclean plastic), maybe it was recycled milk bottle caps?

But jokes aside we did all fall over when we saw the saddles, various degrees of gaucho style x western saddles except for one which was more of a tree and less of a saddle, two pieces of wood, framed in reo bar, yes REO bar, it was simply indescribable, so now we are really sweating it, who gets that one?

Well we are allocated our horses and thank heavens the horse guide has got the short straw he gets the REO!

We all manage to climb aboard with a lot of clutching and grunting we look at each other and it's high fives all round we have made it so far. Up to the volcano we go, rising to 1100m and takes about 45 minutes, pretty views lovely sunny day and that irresistible horsey smell that I know now I have missed. This is a very special day and we are all grinning from ear to ear!

After a brief breather and some readjustment of the tights, leggings and the one-footed pantyhose (don't ask) we headed back down, all secretly hoping we got more than we asked for and that our ponies would by some miracle lift themselves into a trot. Nope, wasn't going to happen, they walked all the way back down, they weren't even inspired by the sight of the home run the last 100m, but we had a safe, fun, lovely (green) ride.

The bus trip back, we saw flamingos in the mangroves, blue-footed boobies dive bombing fish near the beach, more penguins popping up here and there and sea lions lolling about everywhere including under vehicles. What a day!

Another long wait on the jetty for the taxi out to the "ferry" and finally we are on board a different sports boat! Looks in better condition and we are hopeful of a better 2 hours as we had fiercely elbowed our way into the back row of seats, knocking down a couple of Dutchies who had the same idea, and we are looking forwards so it should be more comfortable. No charades this time but we note that the bags are higher and right up the front so good luck getting them in time if needed.

Well the only way to describe the ride was that it was 10 times worse than our crossing to Galapagos, and on mega-steroids, the swell was big but we had a cowboy at the wheel who had no idea there was anyone else on the boat with him, The three huge motors were flat out all the way and he was either chasing or following his mates in the other boats, skipping the wakes and at one stage was playing chicken with another boat only 10m away at 25 knots, simply dangerous and very scary. Of all the things we have done this holiday, THAT was the most frightening, a white knuckle ride to be forgotten.

As soon as we were ashore, and despite being quite smelly from our day in the sun in riding gear, we headed straight for the bar and had two huge pina colada's each! Wandered to the street food market and enjoyed some BBQ octopus and a lovely paella marinara. By this time we are all pretty pooped and Michael and I still have to pack so back to Taipan which is hopefully not rolling. Very sad as it is coming to an end, one more post after this (it has been such fun writing these) this space.

Friday, May 31st

Well, this morning was a 6.30 start to be at the pier by 8.00 The atmosphere over breakfast was a little glum as I think we will all feel a sense of impending loss after being in such a small space with four people for so long. Kris and David will be able to spread themselves out again and the coffees and meals will be halved, but they will have to work twice as hard to have as much fun as we did during our time on Taipan.

Anyway, on the pier at 8.00 for the 45-minute drive to Baltra Island airport, Kris and David are coming with us, not sure if it's cos they can't bear to let us go or to make sure we get on that plane!

So basically from south to the north of Santa Cruz then walk 100m to another jetty for a ferry (small boat) ride across the channel to catch a bus (very old and scruffy) for the 2km drive through the long-abandoned US Naval base to the terminal.

Check-in chaos, while Kris and David find a coffee shop and yes there is one, finally get to sit and enjoy our last Galapagos coffee and I must say they grow mighty delicious coffee here.

Bathroom stop, I haven't shared this before, but one thing I won't miss is the need to take your paper with you from either outside, or somewhere near the sinks, and then remembering that all paper goes in the bins, NOT in the toilet, as their drainage systems cannot cope.

It's time to go to the gate. Hugs, kisses, tears and a final wave and we head home and so do Kris and David, by bus, ferry, car and water Taipan which must be feeling very neglected as we have been away from her so much lately.

This was Corinne's final post. Sadly they flew away home this morning. We all made the trek to the airport on Baltra island another ferry, guide drive, ferry, bus adventure taking about an hour. Last farewells and they are gone. We miss them already. It's been fantastic. Further reading on the Galapagos islands.

This article has been provided by the courtesy of

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