Galapagos Islands Stories and Tips

Day 8 - Rotting Flesh

Land Iguanas - Isla Plaza Norte Photo, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

One thing noticed during my time on the Galapagos is the ridiculously high living standards people have compared to the mainland, and especially the Ecuadorian sierra where I have been living for the past eight months. It's the norm for sierra inhabitants to have stained, chipped brown teeth and enough cavities and fillings to set off any airport metal detector. On the Galapagos, all teeth are pure diamond white and perfectly straight. If not then braces are fixing the problem. Also missing in the Galapagos are the trademark female pot bellies. Instead women walk around with perfectly toned stomachs and they aren't afraid to show them off either. In Ecuador, the lack of bad teeth and pot bellies is a sure sign of deprivation and poverty.

Today saw the last cross-island day trip, journeying to Isla Plaza Norte, located on the east coast of Santa Cruz and requiring a ninety minute boat journey. Up until now there had been no sightings of one of Galapagos's most famous animals, the sea turtle, but this changed in a short space of time. After spotting the first turtle poking his head above water minutes after leaving Santa Cruz, until we reached Plaza Norte, a good bakers dozen were spotted floating aimlessly in the water, disappearing under the water when the sound of our boats engine became too distracting. If this hadn't already made the trip worthwhile, seeing dolphins jump through the swelling tidal waters certainly did.

Isla Plaza Norte is famous for its thousand strong sea lion colony and large land iguana population. The sea lions made themselves obvious as we approached the island, flapping gracefully through the water, the majority in the water searching for fresh fish to feed their babies, who were playing around the island shores. Sea lion pups at this age are very inquisitive of anything new and as we landed on the island a number tagged along to see what a group of Gringo's would ever find interesting on their island. The bull sea lion on the other hand knew the dangers that us humans possessed, barking aggressively at the babies (most of which he probably fathered, the big stud!) to keep their distance.

Isla Plaza Norte is tiny and was easily hiked around in less than an hour, seeing all that is offered, including cactus forests, bird colonies and land iguanas that roamed everywhere. Wildlife viewing was of an extremely high standard but sadly the smell of rotting flesh floating thickly through the air from many a decaying sea lion and land iguana stopped it from being a perfect experience. The island recently experienced an extremely rough drought which led to a number of animals earning a promotion to glory. While their spirits may have dispersed away, the bodies due to the hot dry atmosphere here hadn't. Lizards can be seen in identical positions to which they took their dying breathes, the bodies taking a good three years to fully decompose into the arid surrounding conditions.

Like any day trip from Santa Cruz, it wouldn't be complete without a spot of snorkeling, but this experience put all the rest in the shade. We stopped on the island of Baltra, where the island rocks fell deeply into the water, at least a depth of eight metres, the water so clear you could see straight to the bottom. Our guide excitedly told us of the white-tip reef sharks that sleep in the rock caves at the bottom. I had no reason to believe this statement for the first fifteen minutes with not a shark or rock cave in sight, only the ridiculous array of fish life, some of the larger fish like the blue-eyed damselfish in schools numbering close to a thousand. I shouldn't really complain.

It was only after the help of a another tour guide who dived down to a hidden rock cave, where he had seen sharks earlier that ignited our hopes of close quarter shark viewing. Before we knew it, we had been joined in the waters by two huge white-tip reef sharks, at least two metres in length and both a little confused to why they were now awake and swimming around. It's not hard to see why sharks are seen as dangerous creatures. Anything of that size containing uncountable razor sharp teeth certainly packs a powerful punch, even if they are supposed to be vegetarian. My girlfriends also vegetarian but she has eaten meat accidentally before!

With two days left in the Galapagos, this was the last organised trip I would have the luxury of participating in, and another which I thoroughly enjoyed. It certainly seemed some mystic figure was smiling down today, as all of the animals that I hadn't viewed yet, such as the sea turtles and dolphins were there in full viewing pleasure, allowing virtually all of the most famous Galapagos animals to be ticked off the list. Not bad at all considering all trips were planned from just the one island, Santa Cruz. All the guide books say that doing it this way is the worse way to see the Galapagos, but I'm more than happy with the experience, seeing so much wildlife and at a fraction of the price than if living on a boat. Guide books aren't always correct! If you are on a tight budget then there is no harm doing it this way, especially with day trips to the Highlands, Isla Bartolome, Isla Seymour Norte and Isla Plaza Norte. As for the Bay Tour and visiting Isla Daphne Major (unless you are actually lucky enough to be able to set foot on the island), I would stay well clear of these. Another good day of wildlife viewing meant my last days here, which were to be spent visiting local sights within walking distance of the town Puerto Ayora would be a nice relaxing affair with no pressures or regrets.

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