Cross the oceans to the blue-feet-boobies’ country – World Meanderings (n°71)
By Frederic de Poligny & Annick Dournes
Can you answer this tickling quizz?
What is this strange country where these “blue-feet-boobies” freely frolic?
If we add the words “sea iguanas” and “islands“?
You are thinking of Komodo Island and its dragons… You are wrong! You are really so far.
And with “giant turtles“?
Too bad you lose one more time! This is not Praslin Island in Seychelles.
Last help, “Darwin and his finches“.
Cat got your tongue?
Easy, Galapagos Islands!
But if some of you could succeed in locating this islands in the Pacific Ocean, far away from South America coasts, how many of you know to which country they belong?
All those who are thinking of Argentina, Chile or Peru are once again loosers!
But really, the Galapagos Islands belong to Ecuador.
Congratulations to all those who win!
Exploring Galapagos Islands:
The archipelago counts numerous islands, lot of them being only tiny spots on the map. Only the four main islands are inhabited. Isolated in the middle of the ocean, separated from mainland by 600 miles (1.000 km) of seawater, natural species, plants as animals, grown there following their own adaptation to their specific environment.
The Galapagos are volcanic islands and the soil is mainly made of ancient lava. The landscape is not the one of paradisiac islands with palm trees softly swinging in the wind. It’s quite far away from that. It’s a stunning vision of a beautiful wild nature that awaits the first-time visitor.
In discovering the fauna of the Galapagos, and especially in studying the various finch species, Darwin began to elaborate his amazing ‘Theory of Evolution’ that soon changed the history of natural science. So, to protect these islands that are considered as a unique ecological lab, very strict rules have been laid down. These rules apply to tourists and local inhabitants as well. Don’t even try to break them penalties are heavy! On every protected areas open to public, you will be escorted by your guide or by some helpful park ranger who will give you all explanations about the species you can observe, and who will inform you of the local rules. All paths are very well marked and you have to stay on the meandering path that has been perfectly designed to get you so close to beautiful animals without disturbing them, giving you the feeling to be in the Garden of Even.
Want to get there?
The only way to get there is to fly to the archipelago. The shorter flight is from Guyaquil, the biggest city of Ecuador, in the extreme south of the country, but there are also flights from the capital Quito in the north. Beware that you have to be at the airport at least two hours before your flight: first you have to go to a special Galapagos counter where after paying 20 US $ (in cash only) your luggage pass a strict and sanitary control (no fresh food, no plant, no grain, no animal, no soil). Only after obtaining this precious certificate called TCT “Tarjeta de Control de Transito“, you are allowed to get to the check-in counter to queue for registering your luggage.
Then on arrival in Galapagos, to leave the airport, you have to pay a special tax of 100 US$, in cash only (there is no available cash machine there!). This tax is the official fee to enter the Galapagos Natural Park, and this money is used to protect the nature and maybe also to minimize the number of visitors.
On the way back when you will leave the island, all your luggage will be X-rayed to control that you are not taking with you any plant, any grain, any stone or any little piece of lava… Custom officers are not joking about! This is a very serious offense.
Arrival in Santa Cruz Island:
The main Galapagos airport is located on Baltra Island, a tiny uninhabited island separated from Santa Cruz Island, the main island of the archipelago, by a small narrow strait where free shuttle buses drop all passengers in front of nice little shuttle boats that are the only way to cross the strait (1$). There is no bridge. On the other bank, buses and taxis wait to transfer passengers to Puerto Ayora, where are gathered hotels, bars, restaurants and shops in a friendly and relax atmosphere. This is the centre of nightlife and shopping. There you will find all agencies for local excursions, diving- centres and cruises offices.
Not too far from Puerto Ayora, the Finch Bay beach, also called “Beach of the Germans” is a beautiful natural setting to swim and a nice place for basking in the sun.
On this island on your way to “Primicias Ranch”, where you can meet the Giant Tortoises walking very slowly in their natural environment, don’t forget to stop by the volcanic calderas to get down and walk into the impressive lava tunnels.
If you want to learn more about the Giant Tortoises, the Charles Darwin Research Centre in Puerto Ayora is the perfect place to discover how each group of tortoises during thousands of years had to differently evolve in each island of the Galapagos, creating new species.
Amazing North Seymour Island:
If there is only one excursion that should not be missed, it’s the day journey to North Seymour Island. This excursion has to be booked long time in advance because only a very few number of boats are allowed to sail to the island through a very strict program of visits. The number of visitors, the time of visit, everything is scheduled by the authorities of the Natural Park from year to year. So during high season, a booking, two or three months in advance, is highly recommended.
After a two-hour cruise, you will land on North Seymour island coast to discover this amazing sanctuary of animal wildlife where thousands of birds, mainly frigate birds and blue-feet-boobies, are nesting. Land iguanas, sea iguanas and sea lions will join the party. Soon your camera will work like a machine gun.
If you are lucky enough to visit North Seymour Island in November, you will attend the desperate efforts of male frigate birds to endear them to females. Proudly posing on the large nest that he has built by himself in the branches of some small tree, the male frigate bird inflating his magnificent red crop, begin to crow and yell at the females that are just slowly gliding over. These ones pretending to be unconcerned are in fact extremely attentive to the quality of their future love nest, first selection factor for the choice of their future partner. Looking at the amateurism of some particular nests, it is to be feared that some of these young males will stay single this year…
Just a few meters away on the path, you can look at blue-feet boobies feeding their single chick, a nice ball of white down with a huge nozzle asking for food. The next minute you will cross the way of land iguanas that look like some prehistoric animals. When the path reach the opposite coast, you will find seals playing in the water or just backing in the sun, and also numerous sea iguanas.
They are not domestic animals, they are not feed and they don’t view humans as predators. So even if you have to stay on the path, you will be at less than ten yards from a good number of them. Where else than in the Galapagos Islands such thing could happen?
The North Seymour Island is not too big, but the two hours allowed to walk the circular path, seem always too short. What a pity, but the park rangers, as kind as they are, won’t tolerate any extra time on the island. After boarding the boat, a nice lunch is served by the crew. Then on the way back the boat stop by a nice sandy beach to allow anyone to swim or to rest half an hour on the sand, giving the last touch to a perfect and unforgettable day.
Cruising Galapagos archipelago:
Another option to discover the Galapagos Islands is to book a cruise. All cruise ships have an official program made one year in advance. Depending on the islands you want to visit, you have to choose the boat and the exact dates of your cruise.
There is also a great offer of diving cruises, the Galapagos waters are known to shelters some of the most attractive diving spots to meet an extraordinary sea life. Visitors can swim with whales, manta rays, swordfish, sea lions, hammerhead sharks (!) and other impressive species.
It’s not easy to visit the Galapagos Islands on a budget -nothing is impossible- but for those who could afford it this is one of the amazing journeys that have to be done in a perfect traveller’s life.
info at: www.ecuador.travel
Text and photos: ©Frederic de Poligny