After taking a 2 hour boat ride from Isabela to Santa Cruz, and another one from Santa Cruz to San Cristobal, I had finally arrived back at the island where my Leap group was volunteering.
View from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, capital of Galapagos
During my stopover in Santa Cruz, I had the best fruit bowl with granola for breakfast ever, and visited the Charles Darwin Research Center, as it is not so far walking from the peer and it is a must-see in the islands, I was told. However, it did not really impress me a lot. After the death of Lonesome George, I do not think that there is that much more to see in the station. Or at least not things you can’t see anywhere else on the islands, such as iguanas and tortoises.
Tortoises in Charles Darwin Research Center, Santa Cruz
So I walked back quite quickly, went to the internetcafe to do some work for school, had a salad for lunch (yes, a healthy day) and bought some last souvenirs on the avenue. Then it was time to board the next ferry, which would bring me in another two hours to San Cristobal.
I did not have a reservation or a fixed plan, but I was not planning to return to Hacienda Tranquila because I wanted my two last nights to be spent as a holiday. So when I arrived at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, I went to a hostel called Leon Dormido and asked if they had a room. They tried to sell it for $30 a night, but I got it down to $20, convincing them that I did not have more budget. I got a very nice room with airconditioning and hot water, and I had to walk 2 steps to be on the main street. And there was WiFi, even in the room. Perfect!
After putting my laundry in the shop, I met my group by coincidence in town. We had a drink together and decided to meet for dinner in a restaurant. It was really nice to spend that evening together with them again and I enjoyed a chicken burger. We watched the sea lions playing on the beach at night and then we headed back seperately to our accommodations.
Sea lion in San Cristobal
Thursday 8th of May it was my last full day on the islands, and I had a free day to do whatever I felt like doing. I slept later then my usual 6 o`clock, had a good breakfast and was planning to go searching for `Fundacion Nueva Era` as Yanapuma was interested in a collaboration with them. It felt like a great coincidence, because while I was eating breakfast on a terrace, some poster crossed my eye and that was it! Right there was the foundation. So I went inside, explained myself and 5 minutes later I had an appointment with the boss for the next morning. Great because that ment work for today was done…
I went for a walk in town, bought some souvenir, had a freshly squeezed juice and did some reflection on my time in the Galapagos. It had definetely been a great journey so far. And to give myself some last sun rays before heading back to Quito, I headed to the beach. I walked via the coast to Playa Mann, which was surprisingly relaxed. There was a beach bar, again some sea lions and some trees to look for shadow when the sun is too hot.
Beach bar at Playa Mann, San Cristobal
I also visited the opposite Interpretaton Center of San Cristobal, which was the most interesting museum of the Galapagos Islands, to my opinion. After traveling a lot, I felt like all the pieces fell together and I got answers to questions I did not think about. It was free entrance and I have learned a lot of things about the history of the island and the income generation of tourism for example.
The most interesting information of all… – Interpretation Center
After the cultural visit I went back to the beach and watched sunset. Enjoying to the fullest my very last moments here. I went to the hostel for a shower, and had something small for dinner. As the Galapagos came to an end, it means that another Phase with my Leap volunteers was coming soon. Tomorrow I would meet them at the airport to fly back to Quito and start the Adventure Week. I was definetely nervous for that, but come on up… Break a leg!
Last Sunset on San Cristobal
Well, that was it. The end of my Galapagos Dream Journey. I had spend 3 weeks on the islands, felt like the luckiest girl on earth for having this amazing opportunity to visit the islands on a budget and was absolutely sure about never ever ever forgetting this in my life. I had seen the most amazing animals on earth, met great people, found new volunteer projects and did some volunteer work myself as well, was more tanned then ever before, spend too much money but oh so well spend so I could not care, I felt great because life was good and with loads of energy I was heading back to Ecuador`s mainland, ready to give the best of myself for another 4 weeks with The Leap.
The 3rd of May it was time to head further to the biggest island of the Galapagos archipelago. In order to survive the 2 hour ‘lancha’ boat trip, I took an anti-seasickness pill, as many other travellers adviced me to do so. It wasn’t that bad, too be honest. I enjoyed the sunrise and was warmly welcomed by my tour operator on the peer. As it was the first time in my life that anyone was waiting for me with a personal nametag, I was super excited! Lol 😛
Just some advice for any Galapagos backpacker reading this post: Isabela has no ATM so you have to take enough cash with you from either San Cristobal or Santa Cruz. Upon arrival at the peer you will be obligated to pay an additional $5 entrance fee to Isabela, helping the island’s conservation.
I felt like ‘a real tourist’ with my super cheap all-inclusive package deal, checked in at Hotel Coral Blanco, got meal coupons and excursion vouchers. I paid $185 for 4 nights in a single room (airco, wifi, hot water), 2 diners, 2 lunched and 2 breakfasts, a city/flamingo tour, the full-day trekking to Sierra Negra & Volcano Chico and an excursion to Las Tintoreras.
However, the first day on the island I decided to take it easy and I headed to the beach for some tanning and sleep. Every once in a while a crab or marine iguana passed by next to my towel, but apart from that it was a very enjoyable morning at the beach.
After lunch I had a very short city and flamingo tour, which was not so impressive as Puerto Villamil is a tiny beach village with only unpaved roads and everything is in walking distance. But it was pretty cool to see the wild flamingos chilling in the lagoon.
After the tour I wandered around some more but got quite bored soon as Puerto Villlamil is an undevelopped and tiny village of which you can count the bars and shops on one hand…
I did another nap (siesta) and went to the restaurant with my food coupon for dinner. I felt quite lonely and bored, so headed to the Iguana Bar on the peer in search for some new friends and cocktails. I chatted with the bartender, told him about my job and found out some adresses and contact persons for new volunteer projects for Yanapuma. Lovely how working, enjoying cocktails and watching pinguins can go all together here! This is the life!
The next morning I felt like a new person and totally ready for my day excursion to Sierra Negra & Volcano Chico. With a lunchbox and loads of water packed, I left for what turned out to be a SICK day! Apparently, they ‘forgot’ to inform us that the hike was 16km in 2 difficult phases: a muddy and rainy hike uptil the Caldera of Sierra Negra, and a climb over lava rocks to Volcano Chico. And that everything, the same road as we went to go back. It took our group 8 hours of non-stop struggling through very changing weather and landscape types.
After walking for 3 hours in the rain, mud and mist we finally reached the top of Sierra Negra. Here we could see the caldera partially, but it was still pretty impressive to see this black sea of lava floods.
Then as we walked further the green and lush landscape changed into a dry desert of volcanic rocks…
We reached volcano Chico and already left half of our group behind somewhere because they could not handle it. The hike was a real stuggle and adventure. I thought it was a good excercise if I would ever go climbing the Mount Everest, lol :-p
Me, the guide and two other tourists climed all the way up to Volcano Chico, where we had the most spectacular views at +/- 1000 meter above sea level.
We took half an hour to eat our lunch box and then we headed back. On our way we put our hand in some lava rock and it was very hot, so that means – yes yes – that this volcano is active! I was told that the last eruption was in 2005.
On our way back I thought about ice cream and home, that way the time went faster and I tried to forget about the rainy part of the hike that was still coming. I ended up making jokes and good chats with the other tourists and by the time we all arrived, we were friends and could only smile about this insane day. We headed back completely soaked, full of mud and exhausted, ran in the sea with clothes and walking boots to get the mud off and had a good time.
Later in the night, after a good shower, I went to see the sunset at the peer, felt a little bit lonely and had dinner. The next day I woke up early again for the next excursion, I really wanted to make the best out of my stay here and see as much as possible. So I went to visit Las Tintoreras.
First we went to take our snorkel gear and drove to the boat dock where we started our tour. Las Tintoreras is a small archipelago of volcanic islands near Puerto Villamil.
On your way to the islands, you can see sea lions chilling on boats, pinguins chilling on rocks and so on…
Once we got onto land, we walked around a little bit. We saw a colony of baby iguanas, which was very cute to see. They all sit on top of each other and it looks like some of them are hugging each other. Big love, babies!
Then we were on a beautiful beach were sea lions lived and played, which was absolutely paradise!
And after that we walked on some more volcanic rock material and enjoyed the views and the sun.
We encountered another colony of marine iguanas, this time it were the mommies and the daddies I suppose… And last but not least, we found granddaddie, but I think he did not survive it …. 😉 RIP
We headed back to the boat and jumped in the water to cool off and enjoy some snorkeling. To my biggest surprise this was one of the best snorkel trips so far, as I saw gigantic sea turtles of over hundred years in the water. At least 7 of them!
There were also sea stars and other fish types that had not seen before so far on the Galapagos trip. Recommendable!
In the afternoon I went to visit the tortoise project on Isabela, in order to find out whether they can receive volunteers for Yanapuma. I decided to walk via the 20 minutes trail, which turned out to be a beautiful walk. I had to pass some crossing iguanas every now and then, but it was peaceful and quiet.
Upon my arrival at the project I registered and introduced myself to one of the guards. I got a private guided tour through the whole area and got to feed the turtles, which is normally strictly forbidden for tourists. The advantages of working in the industry, I guess!
It was a rehabilitation center for tortoises that were rescued from an eruption of a volcano on Isabela, and over 2 years they had already made over 200 baby tortoises. I can only say it was a very nice experience to feed the tortoises, but in order to get more information for Yanapuma I had to go back to the village to talk to the people of the Ministerio de Galapagos, which I managed to do, but with all these restrictions it was quite hard to get a deal out of it.
So I made another appointment in the evening to visit another project the next day, and finished my day at a bar with some cocktails and met some French volunteers from Hacienda Tranquila, with whome I turned out to have dinner with. We ended our night near a campfire and a bar, drank Tequila Sunrise and Piña Colada, felt like hippies and went to bed tipsy. Love life!
The last day in Isabela was fully booked with ambitious plans: snorkeling in Los Tuneles and project visit to Campo Duro… I noticed that waking up at 6 o’clock became the weirdest holiday habit ever, but I enjoyed it as I could make the most out of my days. Although I have to say I was also happy that it was the last day of doing excursions and snorkeling, because after 3 weeks of die-hard travelling, you really have enough of it. No matter how much paradise factor this place has.
Oh yeah, last night I dreamed that there was a volcano eruption which caused a tsunami wherefor I escaped on a zodiac and I had saved my photo camera in a mysterious way. I was one of the only persons that survived on earth and when I woke up, I did not realize it was not happening for real. Was it the alcohol? Or had I just been to much fascinated by the stories of the guides on this island? Lol 😛
The tour started, I met a Dutch woman on the boat, who became my buddy for the day and we sailed away… On our way we passed by Union Rock, which is full of Nazca Boobies! Sailed around it up to very close, and then went further.
It was difficult to sail between the tunnels of Los Tuneles, as they are all volcanic erosions in the water. But it was a beautiful walk with nice views.
We could also see some tortoises swimming and later we had the chance to snorkel with them and literally chased some sharks out of their tunnels. It was pretty pretty adventurous, and I was exhausted from doing this excercise snorkel around under and through the tunnels.
After two snorkel trips, a lunch on board and seeing some gigantic manta rays jumping out of the ocean, it was time to head back.
I called a taxi to go to Campo Duro, which was a fantastic project I found on the island. This ecolodge does not only offer camping sites, but has its own tortoise refuge and organic farm where they harvest food for the animals and the community. Their grounds are massive and I have never before seen the tortoises living so happily in natural surroundings.
I was warmly welcomed by the owner, Don Michui, in his restaurant. Again I was offered a guided tour, got the chance to ask a lot of questions and felt very professional, lol. No, I’m serious… I really enjoyed doing this visits and negotiations and I really hoped that Yanapuma would be able to work with them because I could see volunteers coming here…
I took a taxi back to the hostal and met my French friends again for one last goodbye dinner and cocktail on the beach. The next day I would leave very early to take 2 ferries and having a long travel day…
Next stop: SAN CRISTOBAL (7) –> Keep following for the last destination of my Galapagos Dream Journey
Although North Seymour Island covers an area of only 2 sq km, it is the perfect place to spot wildlife. The visitor site is just a trail on the southwestern part of the island, where I had to give a way to a passing sea lion and some marine iguanas. The whole island has a low, flat profile with a tiny forest of silver-grey Palo Santo trees where a limited amount of tourists can watch Blue-footed boobies nesting on either side of the trail. Mating pairs perfomed their courtship dance and further along the rocky shore lies a white sand beach where large flocks of sea birds mass together.
Walking trail in North Seymour
The trail in North Seymour Island turns inland and reveals the largest nesting site in the Galapagos of the magnificent frigate bird. Therefor, this island was – together with Isla Bartolome – my favourite island and very recommendable to visit on your Galapagos trip, if you ever have the chance to go.
Animals that are regularly seen:
the Magnificent and Great Frigatebirds nesting
California Sea Lions
Swallow Tail Gulls
My trip to North Seymour started the 2nd of May 2014 around 8AM. I happened to go on the tour together with the girl from New Zealand, as we booked our excursions in the same travel agency. We were transferred to the Canal near Isla Baltra, from where we would board our boat to head further to North Seymour which is more northern in the archipelago. We were lucky to have a great group for the day so the ‘travel conditions’ were excellent! However, I got a terrible cold from all that snorkeling last days. I guess I should be more carefully with cleaning my snorkel gear so I don’t get infected by the bacterias on it…
Map of the Galapagos Islands
Around 10AM we arrived. After a dry landing with the zodiac and being greeted by some sea lions near the cliffs, struggling to get on land on some slippery rocks… Our discovery could start! Aparrently, only 2 groups of 16 persons a day were allowed to step feet on this island each day, so I felt really lucky one of the happy few!
The walking trail was only about 2,5 km but it was super super super hot as there was not shadow at all. Even the birds sat with their mouths wide open and feathers up to get as much air as possible to cool off.
Magnificent Frigatebirds / Juveniles with their mouths open to cool off
Words cannot describe how amazing and unbelievable it was how many birds and iguanas I have seen there that day!
Land iguana having lunch
The Frigate Birds and Blue-footed boobies were all nesting and flying around. It was understandable that our Naturalist guide was very strict with us walking not further than 4 meters away from here presence. We all had to stay together and we had to keep always at least 2 meters distance from the nests and animals.
Luckily, I had brought my 200 mm lence so I could take wonderful pictures from far away (zoom in).
Because of the constant heat, I guess the whole group was happy to go back on board after an hour of walking around and listening to the interesting stories of the guide.
A short boat ride away we went snorkeling in the deep sea. To admit, I did not see anything very special today comparing to the other days I went snorkeling, except from some more tropical fish. Via the zodiac I struggled myself back on the boat. I also had some troubles with my mask today as it constantly fogged.
Back on the boat, I enjoyed another delicious and well deserved lunch with fish, beans, rice and some watermelon. Afterwards, we headed back to Santa Cruz, where we had a wetlanding at Playa de las Bachas to end our day with some daily portion of PARADISE.
Wetlanding at Playa Las Bachas
The site visit Las Bachas is located in the north of the island of Santa Cruz, and the beach has a total length of about 1 km long.
The name Bachas originates from the Second World War, when the U.S. Army left two barges (or “barches” in English) thrown away on this beach, the first settlers could not pronounce the name correctly in English so made it Playa de las Bachas.
It was truly a paradise on earth being on this beach, but there were a lot of horseflies too and it was really hot, so after an hour we were happy to get back on the zodiac to head back by boat to Puerto Ayora.
Me at Playa Las Bachas, feeling like a *godess*
It had been one of the most amazing days during my time on the Galapagos Islands so far, and I have made a lot of pictures.
In the evening I went to a travel agency to book a trip to the island of Isabela, as I got an inside tip from one of my fellow travellers who got a very good deal there. It was a very unexpected but good decision to book that trip and so I had suddenly a plan for the next days!
Later that night, I met my volunteer group in Santa Cruz, as they had taken the ferry now from San Cristobal too to enjoy their free weekend off. We had dinner together in a local restaurant and chatted about last week, them volunteering and me exploring the islands…
Very late in the evening I packed my bag to leave the next morning early to another island…
Next stop: ISABELA (6) –> Keep following for the next destination
What a day… What a day… Wildly enthousiast I woke up at 5AM to be ready to leave on time to the Big Day. Isla Bartolomé was without a doubt the highlight of all my Galapagos excursions and this trip is the one I wanted to do since years. But when I woke up, it was raining as it has never had before during my time on the islands, and even worse… The busdriver forgot to pick me up for the tour. After an hour of waiting and trying to call the travel agency to see what was going on (trying to figure out wether there was a delay because of the weather or there was something wrong), they sent me a private taxi to bring me to Isla Baltra, from where I could start sailing on a zodiac to reach my boat, that by that time already left for about 30 minutes on the ocean… I was kind of mad, but mostly terrified of being on an inflatable boat in the middle of the ocean. But when I finally reached the boat, there was a very nice breakfast waiting for me and I was warmly welcomed by the boat crew!
Apparently, I was accompanied by a group of American biology students from Maine, who were on a school trip investigating lava and stuff. They were all around 18 years old I guessed, and it was funny to watch their teacher being the group leader as she was doing the same job as I did. With the only difference that today was a day off for me, oufff… Not having to lead a group! 😉
Around 10AM we reached Isla Bartolomé. The closer we came to land, the more surreal this landscape looked. Isla Bartolomé is a volcanic islet just off the east coast of Santiago Island. It is one of the “younger” islands in the Galápagos archipelago.
With a total land area of just 1.2 km², this island offers some of the most beautiful landscapes in the archipelago. The island consists of an extinct volcano and a variety of red, orange, green, and glistening black volcanic formations.
Bartolomé has a volcanic cone that is easy to climb and provides great views of the other islands. Bartolomé is famous for its Pinnacle Rock, which is the distinctive characteristic of this island, and the most representative landmark of the Galápagos.
The landscape was very different from what I had seen so far in the Galapagos archipelago, and the lava formations were incredibely impressive! However, there was not a lot of time to enjoy the island as it was super hot (so hot that even the lizzards did not come out) and so we hiked up to the viewpoint, made pictures, drank loads of water, took breaks while listening to the stories by our Naturalist guide and hiked back, arroused to go snorkeling and cool off!
Even though I took my hiking boots for today and the Galapagos National Park has built a walking trail 4 years ago, the hike was quite tough with these hot temperatures. There was no shadow at all but the views are A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!!! This the one and only place that I really really wanted to see on my Galapagos journey, and here I finally was then. The trip had been expensive, but was worth every cent of it. Words cannot describe how amazing it felt to be here!
In every direction you look at, you have another beautiful panoramic view. This is like another world, something I had never seen on this earth before… ❤
A very special moment was when the Naturalist guide asked us to close our eyes for a minute. She asked us to think about home, think about the waste, the safety, the stress, the traffic, the commercialisation, the infrastructure, the architecture and the many people crossing around.
After a minute she asked us to open our eyes again and to see the big difference here with this incredible place on earth. She asked us to spread a message to our friends and family and take this moments in our hearts: PLEASE SHARE THIS BEAUTIFUL EARTH WITH YOUR FAMILY, FRIENDS AND MAKE SURE YOUR CHILDREN WILL BE ABLE TO SEE A BEAUTIFUL PLACE LIKE THIS IN THE FUTURE.
I got tears in my eyes after this intense and very unexpected moment. God, what was this true. I realized for a 500% how special, unique and beautiful this place was compared to other places on earth that I had seen before. Visiting Isla Bartolomé was a unique experience!
We headed back for a snorkel session near the Pinnacle Rock and were happy to cool off. Even the boat ride was pretty impressive, because this way I had the chance to see the island from a different perspective.
It was, by the way, also very cool knowing that there were only +/- 50 persons allowed on this island every day, to protect the nature from ‘mass tourism’. There were also no facilities at all: no shops, no toilets, no houses. This island was uninhabited.
From the zodiac I dived into the sea, ready to discover the life beneath the sea level. I started to adore snorkeling! ❤
What marine life did I see today?
Fish eating marine iguanas, as well above as under the sea level
Some manta rays
Blue-chin parrotfish and Bicolor parrotfish : beautiful!
King Angelfish (like in Floreana island)
and…. a shark of +/- 2 meters long that scared the hell out of me because he was so big that he actually might have been able to eat me! 😉
Marine Iguana underwater
After a long and exhausting snorkel session, it was finally time to swim back as fast as we could (game) to the boat and get our lunch. I was so ready for that! Nice and again with fish!
On our way back to Santa Cruz we saw again a colony of Penguins and some typical Galapagos hawks flying over. It was a long way back so I did a nap again in the afternoon on the boat.
Galapagos Penguin colony
I can say it was a successful and busy day! I was so ready for some rest in the Island of Isabela, but there was one more day tour waiting for me, which I will write you about soon in the next blog post. I’m starting to think that boredom is something that does not exist anymore in this world. What a f*cking great life here! ❤ 😉
Next stop: NORTH SEYMOUR (5) –> Keep following for the next destination
Day 3 of my Galapagos trip, and again time for a daytour. Today the island of Floreana was on the schedule. At 8AM I left for a 2 hour boatride southwards from Santa Cruz. The sea was rough and a lot of people were sick on the boat. Me, I wasn’t because I am just feeling great at sea!
Welcome to Floreana
The island of Floreana is inhabited, but it has a long history of strange people and there is only one main road in which they all live. The Galapagos Islands captured the world’s attention in 1934 when they were the site of an international scandal of sex and murder.
Unsolved Murder Mystery: The Galapagos Affair – “Who Killed “The Baroness?”
Friedrich Ritter and Dore Strauch
In 1929, German doctor Friedrich Ritter abandoned his practice and moved to the Islands, feeling he needed a new start in a faraway place. He brought with him one of his patients, Dore Strauch: both of them left spouses behind. They set up a homestead on Floreana Island and worked very hard there, moving heavy lava rocks, planting fruits and vegetables and raising chickens. They became international celebrities: the rugged doctor and his lover, living on a far off island. Many people came to visit them, and some intended to stay, but the hard life on the islands eventually drove most of them off.
Heinz Wittmer arrived in 1931 with his teenage son and pregnant wife Margret. Unlike the others, they remained, setting up their own homestead with some help from Dr. Ritter. Once they were established, the two German families apparently had little contact with one another, which seems to be how they liked it. Like Dr. Ritter and Ms. Strauch, the Wittmers were rugged, independent and enjoyed occasional visitors but mostly kept to themselves.
The next arrival would change everything. Not long after the Wittmers came, a party of four arrived on Floreana, led by “Baroness” Eloise Wehrborn de Wagner-Bosquet, an attractive young Austrian. She was accompanied by her two German lovers, Robert Philippson and Rudolf Lorenz, as well as an Ecuadorian, Manuel Valdivieso, presumably hired to do all the work. The flamboyant Baroness set up a small homestead, named it “Hacienda Paradise” and announced her plans to build a grand hotel.
An Unhealthy Mix
The Baroness was a true character. She made up elaborate, grand stories to tell the visiting yacht captains, went about wearing a pistol and a whip, seduced the Governor of Galapagos and anointed herself “Queen” of Floreana. After her arrival, yachts went out of their way to visit Floreana: everyone sailing the Pacific wanted to be able to boast of an encounter with the Baroness. But she did not get along well with the others: the Wittmers managed to ignore her but Dr. Ritter despised her.
We were welcomed by a happy group of sealions and the Galapagos National Park security guards, who as always and everywhere checked our bags for fruits, nuts etc. You cannot import anything in these islands to protect the nature!
Sea iguana near the peer
Right after arrival we were brought by ‘ranchera’ (kind of pick up truck) to the higher part of Floreana, it was a beautiful road with a lot of sightseeing.
Yellow Warbler (Canaria Maria)
We visited a protected area with giant turtles and finally I got to make a picture with these massive animals. This was definetely one of the MUS TSEES on the Galapagos trip. By the way, I am posing behind a 90 years old one…
Me with the Giant Tortoise
After that, we hiked around and got a lot of information about the history of Floreana. Apparently there were pirats, but also some Inca-wise art is found which made the people believe that there were people since long time ago.
Inca looking sculptures during the hike
A lot more then that I don’t remember, because I was more busy with enjoying the surroundings then listening to this boring stories. (hihi, honest)
Hiking in the highlands of Floreana Island
After 2 hours of walking, we returned to the car and just when we wanted to head back, the tire was broken. ‘No pasa nada’ (no problem), we just waited until it was fixed and continued with some delay. I asked the guide why he did not call somebody to send another car, but there was no phone signal… Of course! There is no service, no WiFi etc. on this island!
During lunch in a local restaurant I found out that there were 3 Belgians in the group, but I absolutely did not feel like socializing with ‘my’ people as I do not really like to see Belgians in other countries. I know, I am a WEIRDO! And so I did as if I did not know, and I did not talk to them in ‘our’ language. Lol, afterwards I felt quite creepy as I could understood their conversations but they did not know that I could. But oh my god, I really hate this typical travellers questions: ‘Where are you from? How long have you been here? Where did you go before and where are you planning to go next? …’ Bla bla bla
After that moment which turned out completely AWKWARD, we headed to Playa Negra, a black beach where we could enjoy some snorkeling. I felt like having a nap on the beach and enjoyed some music. It was just chilling and relaxing with the sun burning me again as usually…
Playa Negra, Floreana
Around 3PM it was time to head back to Santa Cruz by boat, and we were lucky to see some Galapagos Penguins right on the cliffs where we left the island.
When I arrived, I bought myself an icecream on the peer, headed back to the hostal for a shower and bought some post cards to send home. Hope you received them, Mommy, Abdenbi, Kim, Karine, Linde and Grandparents!
I went to bed early as next day I had to leave to Isla Bartolomé at 6AM! But more about that later… Sorry for keeping the blog posts so short, but I’m trying to keep you up to date faster to keep up with my busy travelling schedule!
Next stop: ISLA BARTOLOMÉ (4) –> Keep following for the next destination
Day 2 of my independent travels in the Galapagos Islands, and I was ready for the second day trip to Santa Fé. I woke up early, slept like a baby and enjoyed finally having some privacy: walking naked in my room (anyone recognise this feeling, lol). Even the cold water shower could not bother me… I had the best breakfast in ages in a local bar called ‘Galapagos Deli’ where you can absorbe the wonderful smell of fresh baked bread from miles away in the street. Loved it!
At 8AM I tried my snorkel equipment on in Mocking Bird Travel Agency and met my fellow travellers for today there: a boy from Ireland on his world trip and a girl from New Zealand on her South American discovery voyage. Hehe… Great to hang around with some other young backpackers with a free state of mind.
We had a nice boat for the day and a somewhat less nice guide, who took us to the first snorkel place. As he did not make me feel comfortable in a rough open sea to do some deepwater snorkeling, I decided to put my lifevest on during the snorkeling. It would make me burn less anyway. We were driven by the current to the other side of the cove, where the boat waited for us.
The water was pretty cold and I felt quite released to get back on the boat after an hour snorkeling, but I saw a lot of great special animals: King Angelfish, Blue-Chin Parrotfish, a school of Razor Surgeonfish, a Stingray and top of all: a shark from about 1 meter swimming right in front and around me.
A school of Razor Surgeonfish
It was the best snorkel trip so far, and probably one of the best of the whole Galapagos trip! Therefor, I would like to recommend this day trip to everyone who wants to enjoy the underwater world of the Islands here…
The next stop with the boat was along the peninsula and island that juts out into the bay. I have had great times playing with the sea lions here, as they come very close and you can swim right up to the rocks. We just had to make sure that we stayed together as a group because the National Park regulations are very strict when it comes to the animal life and touris. After that, we head back to the boat for some cold drinks and then into the water directly from the boat.
Great time having fun, and this time without the lifevest in the turquoise blue water!
The best moment was when I put my head up and sea the sealions face above the water, and when I went back down in the water, I saw his whole body moving. Eye in eye with nature, a very unique experience with wild life!
Sea lions playing around
After this amazing time, it was time for lunch on the boat, which is always very cosy and special. Usually they serve rice, fish, vegetables and lots of lime with a fresh juice of the day. It was good to eat as you get very hungry after all the morning snorkeling around…
I also took some pictures of the life above the water afterwards as I spotted blue footed boobies and Swallow-tailed Gulls.
Last but not least, we had a wetlanding at Playa Escondida on our way back to Santa Cruz. This beach is also called ‘the hidden beach’. The water was cristal clear, the temperature as well outside as in the water perfect and the waves swept me away so much that I felt like as I was in paradise for real. This was heaven… Until I got so sunburned that I had to look for shadow under my towel 😉
On the last boat ride back to Puerto Ayora I did a siesta, and once back I took a fresh shower in the hostel and put AFTER SUN x 10000000.
Then it was time for another well deserved dinner with the people I met on the boat and with the motto of the day: no shoes, no shirts, no stress… And no make-up 😉
At night I went to the internet cafe to write my internship diary report and did some research with local people about volunteer possiblities for Yanapuma. Well, this was life and without a doubt the best internship ever!
Next stop: FLOREANA (3) –> Keep following for the next destination
Here follows the highly anticipated story of my exceptional journey to San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Santa Fé, Isla Bartolomé, North Seymour and Isla Isabela… Or the one and only Galápagos Islands.
My last blog post was about volunteering in Hacienda Tranquila. I left my group of volunteers there and travelled further during 2 weeks on my own. My employer approved me to discover the islands if I would come back with some new projects for the foundation. So, that deal being made I took a ferry to the first island…
1: SANTA CRUZ
Early in the morning I left San Cristobal for Santa Cruz (a $25/2hr boatride away), the most important and busy island of the Galapagos archipelago, from where most of the cruise ships and tours start of. Puerto Ayora is the largest town in on the island and the only one with tourist accommodation.
Puerto Ayora – Capital of Santa Cruz
After my check-in at Hostal Lirio de Mar ($15 a night for a single room with private bathroom, no AC) I headed to a local travel agency to start bargaining on my tours for the next days. I was planning to visit the Galapagos Islands on a budget, and so I had to OR book a cheap last minute cruise (which always stays more expensive than seperate tours with accommodation in backpacker hostals) OR buy the excursions for every day. I had honestly no idea about the different options and prices, so I informed myself in a few places, went for lunch to overthink everything and returned to the agency with the best deals, MOCKING BIRD TOURS (same street as the hostal) to bargain another few dollars out of the deal. I ended up getting a 10% discount and paid $475 for a daytours to Santa Fé, Floreana, Isla Bartolomé and North Seymour. And above that, I started immediately doing the Tour de Bahia in Santa Cruz itself… A lot of money, but definetely a good deal knowing that cruises start from 800$ last-minute.
The Tour de Bahia (Bay Tour) was worth a $30 and started from the main dock in Puerto Ayora. Together with 15 other passengers and a naturalist guide I visited the main attractions in the area. By boat we headed to La Loberia, where we could observe sea lions on the beach and rocks.
La Loberia, Santa Cruz
After that we went for a snorkel session near Punta Estrada, where I saw a Tiger Snake Eel and other impressive marine life.
Tiger Snake Eel
Then we had a dry landing near Canal de Amor, where a lot of animals were chilling on the rocks and there was a bright blue lagoon.
A marine iguana
Near Playa de los Perros I could see a lot of marine iguanas who were happy to pose for a picture with me.
After a small walk and lots of pictures, it was back on the boat for Las Grietas, the last stop of the trip. Directly translated, “grieta” means crevasse or crack. It is is a great place to swim in cool ocean water between two tall cliffs, where the earth has opened like a crack.
We had to follow a 15 minute trail that started off sandy and rocky, and winded up crossing over a jagged lava field, through a cactus forest, and up a sandy path once again to the top of Las Grietas. A nice experience!
Walking to Las Grietas
After the walk back I enjoyed a fresh Coke in a local bar, chatting with other travellers. Life was good! And another boat ride away, we arrived back in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island where I headed back to the Hostel for a fresh shower…
It wasn’t a bad last-minute day tour decision at all and I ended my day having a nice dinner in one of the many cosy restaurants near the main strip in Puerto Ayora. It was holiday time and so I enjoyed every single minute of it!
Next stop: SANTE FÉ (2) –> Keep following for the next destination
In 1835 Charles Darwin arrived on the Galapagos Islands. 179 years later it was my turn to step foot on land. Unfortunately I did not came up with a new evolutionary theory, but I did do my contribution to “The Enchanted Islands” by a nice 10 days of volunteering at Hacienda Tranquila on the island of San Cristobal. I have coordinated my group of volunteers, helped in the farm and looked for new volunteer projects for the Yanapuma Foundation.
The remaining 12 days of my 3 weeks in Galapagos, I did some island hopping on the archipelago. Again, unfortunately, not aboard of the legendary Beagle (Darwin’s ship) but with typical lanchas (boats), good for $25 per ride: a cheap and sustainable way to visit these unique and expensive places… Here follows a story of my first 10 days at Hacienda Tranquila…
My last blog post ended up with leaving the community of Tsachila, somewhere deep in the jungle of Ecuador… We (me and my group) travelled back to Quito for two hectic nights before heading to the airport to catch our flight from Quito to San Cristobal via Guayaquil. After a crazy bus ride that took us from 750 meters of altitude back to 2850 meters of altitude in Quito, we had an orientation about Galapagos in the Yanapuma office, did our laundry, went to the hairdresser, bought groceries and I made my reports for work and school. Next day was time to do the online pre-registrations and check-ins for Galapagos, put my pictures of Tsachila online, meet my host family, celebrate Semana Santa, pick the laundry up, write my blog and switch my luggage. As if that was not hectic and busy enough, we all had to wake up at 5AM on Saturday to catch our flight…
Saturday the 19th of April we arrived on the island of San Cristobal, the aerial views from the plane were very impressive and promising. We couldn’t wait to get out of the airport (after paying our $100 National Park entrance fee) to get to explore the surrounding area. We were picked up in a pick-up truck, bought food and left to Hacienda Tranquila, in the higher area of the island. There we would start volunteering Monday.
As it was weekend, we could start our experience with some exploring and relaxing…. Therefor, we decided to leave for a good welcome party night in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (capital city) at night, after installing ourselves and our stuff in the Hacienda. We enjoyed some Piña Colada and Caña (local strong liquor) and enjoyed clubbing in ‘Discoteca La Isla’, where the islanders welcomed us warmly (and hot) for some sweet bachata, salsa and merengue dancing. At a surprisingly decent hour we left for the Hacienda, tired as we were from the long day traveling and adapting to this new environment and climate.
Sunday we had our first breakfast together on the pick-nick table outstide after a long night of sleep. In the afternoon we left for La Loberia, a popular beach in San Cristobal were you can swim and tan with and near the sealions. The road to the beach itself is like one public zoo (entrance is free) where you can encounter sea iguanas, lizzards, crabs, birds and sea lions, lots of ‘happy’ sea lions…
We went for our first swim in the Pacific Ocean, regret that we didn’t take snorkel gear and enjoyed tanning on the beach.
Of course, tourists as we were, we all took some pictures with the sealions in front of us. Nice to have such a sweet memory, though…
After enjoying some tanning (and first sunburning, yep, the UV is strong near the Equator), we enjoyed the sunset and head back to the Hacienda.
As we didn’t feel like cooking – after all it was a little bit of holiday today – we took a taxi to town, had dinner in a restaurant, walked on the Malecon (strip/peer) and spotted some more sea lions chilling there. Late at night we finally went to bed. It had been a beautiful Sun-day and life was beautiful! The only thing I didn’t really like was sleeping in a dorm (room of 5 beds) and having to share a bathroom with 20 other volunteers… Lack of privacy 😉
Monday at 8.15AM we had our first meeting with Giovanny, the dueño (big boss) of the Hacienda (farm). A little bit later we started our first day of work, full of fresh energy and motivation! We worked in the hot sun until lunch time, clearing an area nearby where they would construct a nursery to cultivate more vegetables for the local communities. Just before lunch time, I had to go to the hospital with one of my group members… Food infection… Bahhhh 😦
In the afternoon, we had another thing to do… Cleaning a house and its ‘lush’ garden nearby. We splitted up the group in 2: one for the garden, one for the house. Around 4PM we finally finished our day of work, longing for a refreshing shower. We went to the supermarket and I decided to cook some Cocos Curry with Rice for the girls (the boys cooked seperately). Jummie! But, one of the girls cut her finger very badly in the kitchen and so I had another visit to the hospital late at night. What a day, what a day… Fortunately, it was not that bad and she is still alive! 😉
Around 10PM I went to bed exhausted from the work, cooking and hospital visits. Apparently, I was already snoring when the others entered the room later at night. Good sleep I had there! At 6.30AM I was alive and kicking again, so I decided to help the locals with milking the cow. Oh my god, I’m really getting a peasant woman here!!
Another day of work was planned, using the machete until I got blisters from cutting invasive species to restore natural habitats for the local species of flora and fauna. Small detail: we were controling the Guayaba plant today.
After lunch I went to the airport to pick up another group member / volunteer, and immediately I put him to work in the farm. Luckily for him (and me) the work was some more relaxing this afternoon as we were just peeling coffee beans to prepare them for roasting.
Around 4PM we finished work and took a taxi into town to go to the internet cafe, because of course, there was no WiFi at our volunteer spot. Small detail: with town I mean Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, which is not only the capital of San Cristobal but of the whole Galapagos Islands, but it doesn’t feel like a capital at all. A taxi to town took us around 20 minutes and costs $5, which we could divide by the number of passengers in the car (or in the back of the car).
We had dinner in the Mockingbird Cafe and went back to the Hacienda for a movie night. We watched a documentary about Ecuadorian social problems, and went to bed on time because at 7AM we had to be ready again to make pizza dough and milk the cows. It is actually a nice thing to cultivate your own food here: we use milk from the cows, fruits/herbs/vegetables from the garden, eggs from the chickens and so on. We make our own coffee and sometimes they even make cheese here!
Apart from that is our work, that started as always at 8.30AM. Wednesday we had to walk about 20 minutes to a jungle place where we collected leafs and earth to use as compost for the nursery we were constructing. We had use rakes to collect the material and carry all the bags of compost to the farm. It was a pretty hard work to do, as it was hot and humid in this part of the island.
You cannot imagine how happy we were to be back in the farm, because it was Wednesday and that means pizza day! The farm has a stone oven and so we prepared our dough and put all the toppings we wanted on our pizzas and baked our own freshly created designs…
It tasting amazing, probably because we had putted so much effort in it. You get to appreciate things way more when you realize how much effort they demand. And it is so much rewarding when you do things yourself. So, to all of you out there: move your lazy buts and start to make your own healthy pizzas at home to! 😉
After that delicious lunch, there was a good atmosphere between the volunteers. In the Hacienda it was not only my group but also other individual volunteers from France, Germany, Australia, United States, … We started to do the cleaning of the farm, which included kitchen, bathroom, dorms and so on, while others painted the house we cleaned the other day and some others roasted the coffee.
As every day, we stopped working around 4PM and chilled a little bit. I did a nap in the hammock, even though I felt quite a bit restless being with so many people in the same place all the time, sharing all the facilities and having not one place of privacy. At such moments I missed the jungle, where I had my own cabaña (wooden house) and even though there were no doors or windows in it, at least I had that private room to chill for a while. Maybe I was just a bit homesick, cold turkey from the jungle life?!
At the same time, I was excited to leave the Hacienda and start travelling, but I also would miss my group as they would stay for another 12 days to volunteer. Mixed feelings? Or just a difficult day? In the end, my whole group said that they did like the Hacienda a lot more than the jungle, so it was probably just my having issues… And it was obviously a completely different place, and I realized I had to stop comparing it to the jungle. I had to accept that I was here and make the best out of this place and time, but it was also a hard time for me accepting that Giovanny was leading the group here more than I did because he spoke English and there was less need for me as a coordinator / group leader here. Sometimes I felt like I was just there to call taxis and tell my group to clean the kitchen, but I realized at the same time I had to stop feeling bad and thinking negative. I just hoped this feeling would go over soon… (And yes, it did. But everybody has his difficult moments somewhere somehow, right?)
Smoking area where I relaxed and over thought life…
On the other hand, oh my god, I was living my dream, being happy in the middle of the ocean… Feeling blessed for being on the one and only Galapagos Islands. But I was so far away, missing my boyfriend and realizing that happiness ment nothing when it couldn’t be shared with the ones you truly love. And yes, I did find my dream job here by doing this internship, this is my passion, I am born to do this. But how can I ever get a stable life if I stay traveling and working abroad, far away from family and friends?
The things that make me happy, seems to be opposites of each other and that made me think a lot. I was having a hard time dealing with this paradoxes. Something in me wanted to keep working and traveling like this for another year at least, but another part in me was missing home and wanted to be as fast as possible back home to be with my love.
Maybe I should find a way to get ‘The best of both worlds’: travel with my boyfriend one day, and for now: focus on the island life and enjoy it to the fullest!
Thursday morning… Early in the morning we left by car to drive 40 minutes to an area of another community. There we would help them to reverse the negative effects of invasive or introduced species, restoring the native and endemic forests of San Cristobal. We worked in a controlled plot of land to eliminate introduced/ invasive plant species. Today it was time to eliminate a whole field of blackberry plants.
After work we took the pick-up truck another 40 minutes back to the Hacienda, where we had some salad for lunch. In the afternoon we went to the house nearby, where we continued renovation work. The idea was to make a workshop place here for local children.
After work, as usually we called a taxi to go into town, where I finally got to Skype with my boyfriend. This helped me a lot to get over my issues… What a release, and a good night of sleep with a peaceful mind as a result.
Friday, my ultimate day of work before the weekend and my travels…. But oh what a day, what a day… I had to wake up at 5AM to get early to the hospital with one of my group members, had a difficult time to get the right diagnosis and finally got back around 9.30AM at the Hacienda, where everybody started to work already. I was so tired and lacking the energy to work, that I decided to do a nap instead until lunch time. I felt a little bit guilty, but in the same time I think it is important to listen to the needs of your body. Enough is enough!
After sleep and lunch I felt like a new person and joined the volunteer work. It was a funny afternoon, catching wild chickens and driving cattle to another field. We also cleaned the local soccer field from trash and played football on it afterwards. Farm life is more funny then most people think!
In the afternoon the group went for a beer in a local bar nearby, which they opened on demand of my group. I guess they did good business that night! While the rest of the group went further out in town, I went back to bed. In my bed, I realized today I was exactly in the half of my time in Ecuador. 56 days passed, 56 days to go. Let’s start the countdown!
Saturday, time for the weekend!! As we booked an excursion with the whole group, we left at 8AM to town. We were going to do a boattrip all together to finally discover some more of the island after a week of hard work. We had booked a $70 trip from 9AM to 4PM, including 2 snorkel sites and 1 beach. Lunchbox included.
First we went to Cerro Brujo, here we did our first snorkel. I was kind of nervous as it had been a long time ago and it was my first time at the rough see again, but I managed to do it well and after 10 minutes I felt comfortable as a fish in the water. I was proud of myself!
Overall, it was a wonderful experience snorkeling through a natural stone bridge where the sun rays shined in and put a beautiful light illumination, where I have no words for. The many fish in that cristal blue water with top visibility made me feel like in a different world.
We saw lots of fish and were getting more and more exciting. How fast can a human being change from state of mind? From a scared swimmer I went to an enthousiast snorkeler in less than half an hour. We hopped on board of our boat again and headed to the next stop: the famous Kicker Rock (Leon Dormido in Spanish). It is the most popular dive and snorkeling site off of San Cristobal Island, and is the remains of a lava cone, now split in two.
The two vertical rocks rise 500 ft above the ocean and form a small channel that is navigable by small boats, whilst the cliffs are home to many boobies, frigates and tropic birds. Under the water, the channel with a sandy/ rocky bottom is one of the best places in Galápagos to spot the elusive Galápagos sharks. Yep, yep, we did see sharks here! A little bit frightening but I survived it! It was definetely special to see a 2m long shark passing at 5 meters in front of me…
Spotted eagle rays, green sea turtles and white tip reef sharks also like to glide against the current through the channel, as well as a large variety of colourful reef fish. It was all an awesome sight to see. This trip was definetely worth its $70, as it included also a nice lunch on board after the 2 snorkel stops.
Last but not least, we stopped by Manglecito Beach. After a wet landing we visited the mangrove area and spend some time enjoying the beach. We saw some sea iguanas and got bitten by horseflies, so kind of a nice experience, let’s say. I mainly enjoyed walking near the sea, enjoying the nature to the fullest.
After that, it was time to head back to the port of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, where we started the tour. On our way back I talked to the naturalist guide and the boat men and I for the first time I felt like a real tourism professional, making connections and talking about the tourism industry as if I was part of it for years already. I felt appreciated, not only by my ‘colleagues’ but also by my group members.
We ended the day eating dinner in the Hacienda, discovering we were amazingly sunburned. ALL OF US. And it lasted for about a week, no matter how much aftersun and aloe vera extract gel I have put on it. After a good shower and dressing up, we left for party in town again. After all it was Saturday night and my last party opportunity in the Galapagos with my group. We did some drinking games near the peer, went to a hippie bar and 2 clubs (La Isla & Neptunus). After all that partying, we headed back to the farm exhausted.
Sunday we slept long, took a shower and prepared ourselves for another tour. I had rented a pick-up truck with private driver for a day to take the group to some visitor’s site on the island, so that they could explore some more areas. Unfortunately, we couldn’t complete our program the way we planned it, due to rainy weather. We ended up visiting La Galapaguera, which is a breeding center for giant tortoises of the Galapagos Islands.
After lunch in a local town, we went to Laguna El Junco, located about 700m above sea level. It is one of the few permanent freshwater bodies in Galapagos. There was not a lot to see there as it was very misty, but at least the group was able to visit this place.
Laguna El Junco – or how it looks like with better weather conditions
It was a nice way to end my last day on the island of San Cristobal with my Leapers (volunteers). I was completely ready to travel further on my own for some days to the other islands, including Santa Cruz and Isabela. I will write another blog post about that experience, as the volunteering part was completelly different from my further ‘discovery’ of the Galapagos archipelago. And of course, because this blog post is going to become too long other wise.
The time has finally come… The Leapers (group of volunteers from the company The Leap) have arrived… This means that from now on I am officially Group Leader for 11 youngsters, including 7 boys and 4 girls from the United Kingdom. After one month of hard work, explorations, reservations and organisation, I am happy to present my program for the next 10 weeks with this group.
However, this also means that I will not be able to write so much as before anymore, because there will be not always access to the internet in the volunteer projects. Therefore, I apologize and promise to do my best to write and post something every once in a while…
What is THE LEAP?
Volunteering with The Leap is unique because every Volunteer Leap combines a unique mix of projects – so they will help with conservation, community and eco-tourism development over the course of 10 weeks overseas. Even better these projects are located in different places around the country of choice, with the Leap team moving around every few weeks. The result is a massively diverse, enjoyable mix of challenges, cultures and environments.
What is THE LEAP program in Ecuador?
ECUADOR: Jungle + Galapagos + Adventure Week + Andes
Jungle (Tsachila): 3 April – 18 April
Galapagos (San Cristobal): 20 April – 9 May
Adventure Week (Quilotoa, Baños, Riobamba): 10 May – 16 May
Andes (Chilcapamba, Mindo): 18 May – 2 June
Ruta del Sol (Guayaquil, Montañita): 4 June – 7 June
Between these dates, my home base will stay Quito, where I will return with the group to wash clothes, buy stuff and give orientations about the different destinations and volunteer projects. As you could see, I’ve already visited and posted about 2 of the voluntuur projects that we are going to (Tsachila and Chilcapamba). I will also go with the group to a volunteer project in the Galapagos Islands, where I will have some time off of being Group Leader to discover the islands on my own. This is without a doubt one of my biggest dreams coming true. Thank God for all this wonderful opportunities and let’s pray that everything is going well with my Leapers throughout the 10 weeks! We are going to work hard and travel harder! 😛
As you can see, this group leading will take almost all of my time in Ecuador. And when this program is done and the group members travel further or back to the UK, I will be finishing lots of administration in the office of Yanapuma (the operating agent for The Leap in Ecuador). Then I only have a few days left until I fly back to Belgium on the 19th of June. Time will fly, as you might be able to imagine, and before you know, I’m reunited with my love, my friends, my family and my cats. ❤