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Plastic in the Pacific Crusade – Part 15 – Galapagos Santa Cruz – part 1

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Welcome to our blog for the Plastic in the Pacific Crusade.  If you missed the earlier editions please go to category file in the footer to go back and read them.  They are listed under Plastic in the Pacific.  Over the coming year we will be writing regularly of our adventures and what we are seeing.  In this article we write about our first week in the Galapagos.

I’ve spent the last few days trying to think how to write the blogs for the Galapagos. There is so much to tell you about so I’ve decided I will do it in parts. This first part will feature the arrival into Santa Cruz and our first week in the islands they call the Enchanted Isles. They first got called the enchanted isles when in 1534 the Dominican Bishop Fray Tomas de Berlanga strayed from his southbound trip from Panama to Peru and found the islands. After this trip, they were difficult to find again, hence the name.

Annika and Darwin660Since Charles Darwin arrived in 1835, the islands have grown rapidly to what they are today. These days tourism is the number one economic driver of the islands with fishing not far behind. It is due to the amazing variety of endemic (only found in Galapagos) creatures in these islands that the world has become so fascinated in this remote destination. The government, knowing they have something to protect, have introduced a number of regulations and cruising yachts will find it quite confusing to understand exactly what they need to do in order to get into the country, and more confusing is the costs. Hopefully this blog will be of assistance.

In all my research on access, I discovered very late about the need to apply for an autograph 2 months prior to our arrival. An autograph is a cruising permit that allows you to visit 3-5 ports over 60 days, rather than the standard 20 day single port permit that we would end up with. There is a difference of around US$300 between the two and now having been here for a while, I am still in two minds as to which one is better. They only allow you to anchor in major ports, so you can’t just go and anchor at a nice spot like the live-a-board cruisers do. The three major ports are on San Cristobal, Santa Cruz and Isla Isabela. Of these San Cristobal is the only port that isn’t on the windward side, hence most of these anchorages have a rolling swell coming into them. It is amazing to think that on Santa Cruz, they have a beautiful anchorage up north near Baltra Island (Airport Island for Santa Cruz) yet they built the main town down south.

If I had my time again, I think I would still go with a single port entry. The best way to see these islands is by live-a-board cruises. However there is a problem with these too. We are divers so want to dive and they limit dive operators to just that, diving. If you want to see the land then you have to go on a cruise to see the land. It is a strange way of operating that you can’t seem to do both on one trip, but that is because everybody wants to run diving and they had to split it up one way or another. The cheapest cruise you will find in the islands is over US$1,700 and that is a last minute deal you might get from a store front when you are here. Some trips go for over US$10,000. Either way, if you want to see the world famous dive sites of Wolf and Darwin Islands in the north, where you have 200 schooling hammerheads, you have to go on a live-a-board, there is no way to see it on a day trip or with your own boat.

Before arriving we had been informed that we could not have any oranges, chillies, any type of berry or coffee beans. We read this after having bought enough oranges to feed us for months. So on the trip from Panama to here we ate oranges often. Apart from the hull being spotless we had to have signs up inside and out saying ‘Do not throw garbage overboard’ we had to have signs on the heads saying ‘do not discharge blackwater overboard’ and our bins had to be labelled with organic, recycling and general waste. We made handwritten signs and taped them where needed. This would hopefully be enough to get us through.

Anchroge660So we had arrived into Puerto Ayora Santa Cruz. We chose this island as it has the best day diving operations. San Cristobal doesn’t have anything that Santa Cruz has and Isabela is small and without ATM’s and Fuel, it was not an option for our one stop. We’ve since been told that San Cristobal is a smaller version of Santa Cruz so it wasn’t worth our time going over there. As mentioned in the previous blog, Peurto Ayora is a rolly anchorage. As I write this, our stern anchor has gone slack due to the low tide and the boat is rolling in the swells once again. We are tucked right around the corner in 3m of water and hence the swell we get is rolling around the point and onto us. Without a stern anchor we would sit 45 degrees to the swells which would make it unbearable. Hence pack a stern anchor if you are cruising here, it is essential.

Another hint for any cruiser is that before you leave your last port, not only should you clean the underside of your boat, you need to ensure you have given your boat a very good polish all the way to the waterline. The waters of the region in Dec/Jan are full of fresh water from the rains, however all year around the water contain lots of algae’s. This is the reason all the marine life is here but it creates an issue for your boat. Being anchored for 20 days in one spot means you have to scrub the water line every 3-4 days otherwise it looks like your boat has been abandoned as the slime starts climbing up your hull. We use a hard anti-foul to prevent toxins coming off the hull as we sail along. We go and scrub it once a month at best in most places however here, we are needing to scrub it weekly to keep any growth off it. And if you are going to make water, then you need extra filters, including a filter on your inlet to stop the puffer fish from blocking it. Yes, that’s right, we had a puffer fish get sucked onto the inlet of our water maker, he puffed up and the result is a destroyed impeller. Make sure you have spares as the island won’t have them and importing parts over here is a pain, and expensive. I could’ve sworn I had spares but we didn’t.

So first thing on the morning after our arrival, I go in to check the bottom for growth. I was really nervous that we had growth and would be sent 40nm back out to sea to clear it off. We would have done it out at sea but it was too rough to risk getting in the water for any length of time. We had a few on the stern bumper strip but the hull was clean. We waited for our agent to bring out all the officials before we could do anything. Not long after 0900 a boat turns up and the port captain, immigration officer, quarantine officer and customs/drugs inspector with his puppy jump onboard with the agent. Don’t be too precious of your clean hull as they will all wear shoes and most of them black marking soles. And the puppy won’t wipe his feet before boarding either. Needless to say the boat became a mess quickly.

The process was really simply as Javier (our agents representative) handled everything for us. You need 5 copies of everything including passports, registration, fumigation certificate, last port clearance and crew list. You also need money, in cash. This is not a credit card friendly place. You will get a surcharge of anything between 8 & 22%. So pulling cash out is the best option. Here is a list of the fees we had to pay. Don’t take this for granted, it may change for each port or a different agent, or if the government changes its mind.

  • Port Captain Fee is $12.50 per gross tonnage so for us it was US$162 as we are 13T
  • Clearance in and out is US$25 each way
  • Galapagos Migratory Cards are US$20 per person
  • Galapagos National Park Fees are US$100 per person
  • Immigration in and out is US$15 each way
  • A diver for hull inspection is US$100
  • And a Quarantine/Sanitation check is also US$100

Add on top of this the agency fee of US$150 and it is not cheap to arrive in the Galapagos but you don’t need to pay berthing either as there are no wharves here to tie up at. You will be on anchor. Whilst we were going through the official requirements, I look over into the water and there is a marina iguana swimming along casually. I pointed it out to Annika and the locals simply said ‘They’re everywhere. Visitors take photos of them the first time they see them and by the end of their stay they are kicking them out of the way!!!’ Come on, really, there was a marine iguana swimming past our boat. That doesn’t happen every day. Well I was excited by it anyway.

Once everything was sorted with the officials we had to wait for our diver to inspect the hull. Until it was passed by him, we were not in the country. He arrived shortly afterwards and gave us the thumbs up which was so relieving. We were in the country and had 20 days to explore as much as we could. That did mean our departure date was January 1st!!!!! We went ashore with Javier to get some money out and the machines by the big supermarket would only give us $300 each and the third one wasn’t working. Later in our trip one machine gave us $600 one day so it seems they are temperamental too. We then checked out the supermarket which had a good range, although prices were up there.

Acadame bay 660Before our arrival we had sent emails to all the dive centers to tell them about our campaign and to see what diving was available and prices. The guys at Academy Bay Dive Center had replied and thanked us for our great work and offered us a great deal on diving. At full retail the diving is US$180 per person for a day of diving which is 2 dives. This includes all gear and the boat etc. No it’s not cheap, but you are diving one of the greatest places in the world. We went and checked in and found Alice, an Australian who came here years ago and ended up marrying her dive guide, behind the desk. She was extra helpful with organizing our dive days and also advised us of what to see and do whilst here in Galapagos. She would also later organize our trip to Isla Isabela. It was a Saturday and our first day of diving would be Monday with Tuesday and Thursday as follow ups and then the following Wednesday as our final dive. We believed that in 4 days of diving we would be able to capture what the islands are about. We were pretty excited about it.

We then walked up to the local Movistar shop and got a sim card for our phone so we had internet. It was US$6 for the sim card and we put an extra $30 on it to turn into data. As we spend a lot of time on the internet updating stories and photos etc. We would spend a bit on this sim card to get extra data and at US$20 per GB, it’s not too cheap. We then walked around a little before making our way back out to the boat using the water taxi’s. You are not allowed to use your tender here which is a good and a bad thing. At 80 cents per person each way, it adds up over time but it also means you don’t come back to find a sea lion in your tender. Considering how many were on boats and all over the docks, this surely would happen on numerous occasions so leaving the tender up on the davits is the best option. And you also need to block off the back of your boat somehow or you’ll wake up with them in the cockpit lying on your nice seats or cushions. In fact the first night, Annika had complained that the Sea Lions kept her awake. The things we have to put up with in life.

Back on the boat and we caught up a little on life and then cleaned the boat up, made some water and relaxed. We were early to bed. The islands rise early and go to bed early. Everything starts at 0600 so you have people moving about before this. On the boat, located on the inside between the docks and the cruise boats, we were in the path of all the water taxis, which are long boats. At night they run irregularly but during the day they run frequently and they will not slow down near your boat so the wake will slap the boat around. It’s something you have to get used to if you want to anchor in protected waters. The alternative is to anchor outside and roll around in the ocean swells. At least at night, the boats would stop.

Groop of tortetes660Day two on the island and we decided to go and take a walk to the Charles Darwin research center. This is the giant land tortoise sanctuary. It is a couple of kilometers from town to the actual sanctuary and no cars can get in. You can hire a bike if you desire but we wanted to walk after the week on the boat. We needed to get a few miles in our legs as they were going soft after so long on the boat. The giant tortoises are unbelievable. How this ungainly creature survived on this desolate volcanic rock island is anyone’s guess. Unfortunately now, due to introduced species, they need to breed them in captivity and then release them into the wild once big enough as no young are surviving as wild pigs, goats and other critters are eating eggs etc. So a creature that can move at the pace of a glacier was fine before humans intervened, and now we have to intervene to keep them alive. It’s kind of like cleaning up plastic after we have used and discarded it in the environment.

Flat out660Other residents of the sanctuary are some stunning yellow iguanas which put a new meaning to ‘flat out.’ I mean, the way these guys sun themselves is downright hilarious. And flying around in the trees are the finches and mockingbirds. There’s 13 finch varieties on the islands and they are very curious little birds, scrounging for any crumb available. The colors of some varieties are quite amazing, especially the little yellow guys with red heads.

After our visit to the sanctuary we came back via the fish markets and this is a sight to behold. Huge Tunas, and red cod are lying around with pelicans walking over them as the fisherman gut and fillet there catch. The fisherman use a hose to keep them at bay whilst feeding the scraps to the numerous sea lions gathered for their daily feed. But the highlight of the fish market is easily the lobsters. As we would find out in our diving adventures, there is no shortage of good sized lobsters in the region and the price is pretty good too. 2 large lobsters, probably a couple of kilo in total was just US$27. I can tell you that fresh lobster for Christmas was on the cards.

Back on the yacht and we got our dive gear ready for the following day. We would still use our own gear as we trust it and are comfortable in it. We also need pictures for Cressi our sponsor so wearing another brand is not an option. We had an early night as we had to be in the dive shop at 0640 for an 0700 departure. Tomorrow morning, the main reason we came to the Galapagos was going to occur. We were going diving to see sharks, sea lions, turtles and more. Annika was very excited and I was a little too.

Around here, tourist boats are either under 12m or well over. There is nothing in between. This is due to the laws requiring all transfer and dive boats to be under 12m. And it seems every boat under 12m has outboards, be it 2 or 3 Yamaha 200 or 250hp. Most are fly bridge cruisers and they even use these boats for inter-island transport. We boarded Sea Robins, our dive vessel and were met by a friendly crew with King Carlos at the helm and our two dive guides Freddy and Byron. We also had our willing and able assistant Steven on board who helped us with everything. He would set up our gear, change the tanks, help the lovely ladies into their fins, hand us cameras and feed us in between and after dives. King Carlos didn’t come down from the helm but was an eagle eye overseeing everything and it was simply awesome.

Sea Lion Pup 2 FBOur first day we were scheduled to go to Floreana in the South which is supposed to be a very impressive dive. However weather was not kind and a back up plan was put in place to head to Santa Fe, an island between San Cristobal and Santa Cruz. It was famous for its sea lions. So arriving after 45 minutes of bouncing around in the chop was a great relief and pulling into an azure bay with a white sandy beaches was truly amazing. And then on the rocks were hundreds of sea lion pups, we were a little excited. I’d never dived with sea lions or seals. It would be awesome if they came and play. Diving is a sport that no matter what you do, you can’t guarantee anything and on this day, the sea lions just didn’t want to come and play in the water whilst we were diving. ‘Dad’ patrolled the waters edge and we saw him but he didn’t want to play with us, so we were left to go and find other cool creatures and that we did. We found lots of Giant Moray eels amongst the rocks and it was good to hit the water. We were diving the Galapagos……amazing.   After a 70 minute dive we all were sitting back on the boat. About 5 minutes later, wouldn’t you know it, the sea lions all start entering the water. I looked at fellow diver Mike and said, let’s go snorkeling. We swam over and as each of us dived down, the sea lions would dive down and twist in ways that we can’t. They would try and eat our fins like they eat each others hind fins and they were right into us. The rest of the group eventually joined us. It was an experience I will never forget. There were about 10 sea lions playing in our group, blowing bubbles and swimming straight at our cameras. Their underwater acrobatics were simply special. If you don’t dive, never fear, you can do a snorkeling day tour to Santa Fe to play with these guys.

Sea Lion FBOur second dive was on a cliff face where we would try to find sting rays and sharks. Again, diving is not a guarantee and on this day there wasn’t a great deal to see, but we didn’t really care, we snorkeled with sea lions!!! We were back at the boat by 1530 and spent the afternoon playing with videos and photos. We had to do it all again the next day. In the morning we were up early again and this time we headed off to Pinzon Island out to the west of Santa Cruz. It was 1hr45min to get there and knowing it was downwind getting there, I wasn’t looking forward to the trip home. Around the back of Pinzon in the sheltered waters is a small bay with a rocky outcrop on the outside, joined by shallow water in the middle. We would dive the inside of the bay and out to the rocky outcrop on our first dive. We were hoping for a better day diving and new dive guide Simon turned it on. Jumping in the water I look over and see a giant school of barracuda. We spend plenty of time filming and photographing them and then as I’m shooting, they all start splitting all over the place. I then sea a sea lion swimming through them. I got it on film which I am stoked at. Straight after we leave the barracudas we come across a giant school of saleema fish, small black and silver striped fish. As I’m filming them a white tip reef sharks swims through them and I get that shot too. Videos will follow once I get unlimited internet and a powerful computer to process the HD video footage. So probably when we get home we will put it all together.

We then swim around the point of the rocky outcrop and the topography is absolutely stunning. Turtles are swimming along, fish are pecking at the algae’s on the rocks and then the current shoots you up and over the top of this rock.   Over the other side you grab onto the rocks and sit there staring into the distance at hundreds of fish just swimming in the current. I could have sat there all day, it was beautiful. However there were turtles to chase everywhere and another white tip reef shark swam by. It was an amazing dive and coming to the surface everyone was buzzing. The afternoon dive turned into a Manta Ray hunt and we successfully spotted two, however they were very quick and the visibility in the current was pretty poor. The trip back was rough but we were all so happy after our dives for the day. Sharks, turtles, sea lions, manta rays and lots of fish with a great landscape, this is what Galapagos is famous for.

Iguana on beach2660The next day we had a break from diving. We decided to head to Tortuga Bay where you can snorkel with sharks and turtles whilst marine iguanas and possibly even penguins could be seen. We used to joke about tropical penguins when we returned into the marina in the Whitsundays and cormorants were sitting on the channel markers and rocks looking like giant ‘Tropical’ penguins. Well we were pretty keen to see real tropical penguins. The walk is quite long along a well made path and the beach was a stunning white, the likes of Whitehaven beach. The swell was rolling in and you walk along the beach to the other end, then over a small sand dune and you are in the inlet where you snorkel. We hadn’t been told to go there at a particular tide so when we got there and the tide was very low, the visibility was very poor. We did see a couple of turtles and a shark but that’s only because they nearly ran into us. But the beach was stunning and the marina iguanas on the beach were Jurassic park like. They really are prehistoric. On the Eastern end of the beach is a volcanic rock wall with cactus everywhere. Every day the island would show us something new and spectacular, we started getting used to this.

On the walk home I started to overheat. If I get to hot, I get grumpy and then start getting confused and as Annika says, ‘I say stupid stuff’. Even pouring water into me as best I could, I just couldn’t keep up with it. By the time we were walking around the shops, Annika was pretty happy to get me back to the boat, however we needed to replace our gas hose. Mechanica Gallardo is the place, it took half an hour and they have everything you could need. A great source for cruising yachts. We eventually got back to the boat, much to my relief as I spent the rest of the afternoon collapsed on our bed under the hatch with fresh air pouring in trying to rehydrate.

Hammer head660Our 3rd day of diving was to be the local regions most famous dive, Gordon Rocks. It is all about hammerheads. These rocks are on the Eastern side of Santa Cruz and are quite small but between them the currents flow and the hammerheads swim around. We were both pretty excited. I’d never swum with hammerheads before. Diving in, the water visibility was 30m and the colors were that blue you see in the best pictures of diving in the world. The first thing we see were a couple of small rays and then came a school of 4 hammerheads. They were babies compared to what Annika has seen in Australia but seeing 4 of them together was something new even for Annika. On the floor was a small group of 3 white tip reef sharks just resting for the day before an evening of hunting. Up and over the pinnacle on the northern end of the rocks and we run into a few turtles and just as the group is surfacing, I’m taking video footage of one turtle feeding on the rocks. I am just drifting next to him and he comes closer and closer, to the point I am filming with the camera almost behind me. They really are the most chilled out animal in the world and I love them so much.

The second dive would be a repeat of the first with lots more hammerheads, seeing about 15 in the two dives. It was everything we thought it would be. This is what we came to the Galapagos for. The best part was that we had no issues with our dive crew. We had different people diving with us every day and many had dived with other companies and were saying they got a cheaper price but the service was horrible or the gear was bad, or the dive was short. They all agreed that Academy Bay was the best on the island and we can’t fault them. More details and photos of our diving adventures will soon be available in our Diving Blog on our website so make sure you check it out.

With a break between this dive and our next dive almost a week later, we were going to visit Isla Isabela for a few days. This was a trip organized by Alice at Academy Bay. But before we went to Isabela we would run into a unique person, someone who I clicked with immediately, someone with a similar passion to ours. We would even help him out. Stay tuned as in part 2 of our Santa Cruz blogs, we will tell you all about him and his campaign, we will visit Las Grietas, a place we didn’t even know existed till we ran into it, and a visit to a local school to talk about plastic pollution, yes the students here in Galapagos were required to attend school for 3 days between Christmas and New Years.

In our next blog we visit Isla Isabela, an amazing and unique destination that is a must see in the Galapagos.

Ocean Crusaders are out to change the way people treat our oceans.  Our online education program is free to download at www.OceanCrusaders.org/education where children can learn of the issues our oceans are facing and how they can make a difference.  The Plastic in the Pacific Crusade is about educating the South Pacific Islands, finding out what is happening in these islands and updating our programs.  You can join us in the Pacific and see for yourself what we do.

Ocean Crusaders Plastic in the Pacific Crusade is proudly supported by: Cressi Dive Gear, Gill Marine, Keen Footwear Australia, Barz Optics Sunglasses, Maxsea Navigation Software, Digital Diver Cairns, LED Dive Lights Australia, Boat Names Australia, Predictwind Weather & Sail-world.com

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