The first morning saw Stewart take one last dip to scrub the bottom before we were inspected, on advice from friends. Having heard so many tales about checking into Galapagos, we were relieved to find that the process was relatively straightforward. Eleanor had baked brownies and yoghurt cake ready for the event and the kettle had been boiled. Our bottom was inspected and passed with flying colours. The environmental inspector came and had a look on board but seemed quite happy after a very quick look around.
In all we had nine immigration, customs and divers on board and the cakes disappeared very quickly. We then had to leave the boat as they were going to fumigate the boat with something that would not have looked out of place on the set of Ghostbusters. But we had passed! We paid our fees and we were checked in to Galapagos.
We spent about a week at San Cristobal. It is a lovely island but this being Galapagos, unlike every other set of islands we have visited, we were not allowed to explore it by using Skylark. We had paid for the most anchorages we could use, which was three. They are Wreck Bay on San Christobal, Academy Bay on Santa Cruz and the Puerto Vilamil on Isabela.
The restrictions are understandable – maintaining the environment is key in everything the locals do here.
On the first afternoon ashore, we finally met the crew of Jade. I had put a plea on Facebook for kid boats doing the Pacific this season and got in touch with Michelle and Alex, who have an eight year old daughter and a ten year old son – perfect! We had been in contact since Jamaica in January so it was like meeting a pen pal. With no option of returning to our respective boats, we had no other choice than to find a local establishment and have a good chat over a few drinks. Nick, their American crew member, decided to that we would be drinking US style and so ordered shots of rum with every beer. Needless to say it was a good if messy afternoon.
There are plenty of free hikes and things to do on the Galapagos without the need to sign up for expensive tours. The first hike we did was through the excellent Interpretation Centre (which we decided to redo in detail for a school field trip another day), up to Cerro Tijeretas. From the summit we were able to look across to Wreck Bay and out to the ocean. The track down then leads to a bay with a swimming platform where we went snorkelling with sea lions, turtles and plenty of fish. We then completed the trail past the Charles Darwin statue and an artillery piece. We were joined on the hike by the crew of the French boat Quatra, Audrey, Adrien, Axel and Arsene. Eleanor, Noah and Arsene hit it off straight away.
Day three saw us in search of a local beach which was meant to be good for surfing, offer snorkelling opportunities and home to the famous marine iguanas. The route round the coast took us through a military camp and when we tried to gain access we were told that only surfers (carrying a surfboard) were allowed – a strange rule but who were we to argue. A long, hot detour finally saw us get to the beach and so the search for iguanas began. We found one – a lazier beast we have never come across!
The following day we had organised a taxi tour of the island. For the reasonable price of $60 ($10 an hour), we were taken to El Junco, Jacinta Gordillo Tortoise Breeding Centre, Puerto Chino and had a bonus visit to an amazing tree house tacked on to the end. El Junco is a volcanic crater that is home to a freshwater lake which the frigate birds use to wash the sea water from their wings. It was an easy walk up to the top and it was nice to stretch our legs after seven days at sea. There was plenty of birds and a great view across the island. The three wind turbines, parked up on one of the high points of the island provide an impressive 50% of the island’s power requirements.
Jacinta Gordillo Tortoise Breeding Centre is a very organised facility with a small information centre. They keep the tortoises there until they are seven years old, at which age they are able to fend for themselves in the wild. The tiny one month old tortoises were very sweet and I reckon they would make a good boat pet as they seem to grow very slowly – just don’t tell Hannah I said that! The tortoises were brilliant and moved surprisingly quickly; I could almost hear the Johnny Morris voiceover.
Onwards to Puerto Chino, where we all had a much-needed dip and the hunt was on for the infamous blue-footed booby.
The final stop was a tree house, La Casa del Ceibo, built in an impressively large Ceiba or Kapok tree. It is actually possible to stay in the treehouse itself overnight; it has a flushing toilet, kitchen area, mezzanine sleeping area and the longest fireman’s pole I have ever seen. The kids had a great time exploring. Nick was the first to brave coming down the pole, although he admitted that once he was on there was no going back, even if he had wanted to, as his rucksack meant that he could not manoeuvre back into the treehouse easily. Fearne then bravely went next and after that all the kids wanted a go. There is also a route for them to climb the tree with someone belaying from the foot of the tree. Hannah was first up and as the youngest there, meant she had to be followed up by all the rest of them.
Stewart did some diving here but wasn’t tremendously impressed. The water is very cold here, around 16 -17C, so you need to borrow at least a 5mm suit from the school you go with. Kicker Rock is supposed to be one of the best dives in the Galapagos. Try and get a day with decent visibility as the reviews talking to people having done it were mixed indeed. His one night dive was interesting but the single large ray he jumped in on top off entering the water was the most exciting thing he saw.
Shopping here is basic but there is an excellently priced fruit and veg market. There are a couple of supermarkets but the prices reflect the fact that everything has to be shipped in. An add in note now we have visited all three islands. Buy your memorabilia t-shirts here. The shops on the front beside the ferry dock have the best quality and collection of anywhere in the Galapagos. The embroidered t-shirts here are the same price as the printed ones elsewhere.
Although San Cristobal is pleasant, I have to admit I got very bored of the continual stink of sea-lion poo and the fight to keep said beasts off the boat. It is a losing battle but the straw that broke the camels back was the one that got into the cockpit. Lou surprised it as she opened the door and then yelled at it. It pooed itself and then, in bouncing around in its panic, slapped the liquid faeces pretty much everywhere. At 0200hrs, we spent half and hour trying to rid the boat of the stink. Truly, truly foul.
Santa Cruz is the next port we are allowed to visit. We hear there are few Sea-lions there……….