Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Galapagos the good

Aside from the disaster that was our lodging, we had a pretty good time here. On our first foray into town we ran into a couple of off-duty tour guides who gave us a few hints on what to do and where to go in town. We'd run into them numerous times over the 3 days.
Puerto Ayora is the biggest town in the Galapagos Islands and has everything you need. All along Avenida Charles Darwin (the main drag along the harbour) are loads of tour operators, restaurants, dive shops and souvenir stores. Avenida Charles Darwin, near the pier
At one end of town is the Charles Darwin research center. We wandered through and weren't all that impressed at the sight of a Julie and a giant tortoisefew pitiful examples of tortoises and lizards but we're sure that we missed the major attraction of the place in the tortoise breeding centre. 
At the opposite end of town is the pier where you can easily get a last minute spot on a boat tour of the harbour if you hang around either at 8-9am or 1-2pm. We booked our tour ahead of time, but while waiting for our allotted time slot I got asked a few times to "come on my boat - nice boat!".  The tour of the harbour was alright. We went out to an island off-shore to snorkel around a bit. The water's pretty cold - definitely refreshing!  It was a little scary jumping off the little boat into the ocean's waves near where they crashed onto the jagged lava rocks, but we went in anyway.  Saw some fish, maybe a ray down below somewhere but not the marine iguanas we hoped to see feeding on the algae below.
On our way back to harbour Andrew spotted a bigger boat with a man standing on the top level waving a white t-shirt. I pointed at it but our boatman said it's probably just the signal for divers to come Towing a stranded dive boat back. I said no...that's usually an orange flag or something. The guy waved his white t-shirt again and this time our boatman saw it and realized that something's up. We zipped over to learn that their boat had run out of gas. Our guy handed over a big jug (good to see we had lots to spare!)  but then they realized that they needed an oil-mix so we ended up towing the bigger boat back to harbour. Needless to say we were getting a bit wary of the dive operators here in Galapagos.
Anyhow, we let the boat go and continued our tour. At the next snorkel spot the captain sent us into this channel that narrowed up as it ended in a small lagoon. The water was fine when we got in, but it got murkier and murkier until it was a solid yellowish green. We couldn't see much until I suddenly saw a flash of a fin in front of me. Startled I put my head above the surface at which point Julie's done the same ahead of me.  "Was that a shark?!" she exclaims.  While we're above water, the captain and the other couple on our tour are yelling at us to come forward to them across the lagoon. We're obviously a bit hesitant since we just ran into a shark! But the captain says don't worry, just go slow and quiet and you can see 4 MORE!  We put our heads down underwater and can't see a thing. Back above water -"where?".  "Over there in the middle, there's three of 'em." Back underwater - nothing. "10 feet that way." Ah forget it I think to myself; they're getting a better view from up top than we are here in the water, so I make my way to the rocks on the shore to get out.
The tour finished off with some good sightings of marine iguanas (both resting on land and swimming), which was pretty cool.

Marine Iguana

We tempted fate and ignored the stranded dive boat that we saw and booked a dive tour after being recommended to a dive shop by our trusty tour guides that we ran into on the street.

The dives themselves were quite strenuous: rough seas near a rocky outcrop in the ocean, back flip off of the boat on the captain’s command and dive straight down and grab onto a rock near the guide in order to get out of the wave action currents. Julie had a tough time on the first one: the boat surged over top of her after she went in and she bumped up against it. No harm done though!  The point of diving out here at Gordon Rock is to see the schools of hammerhead sharks swimming above you.  Unfortunately we dove during a period of poor visibility and saw nothing. The sharks could’ve been only a few metres away but we would not have known. It was a bit of waste of effort to travel all the way out here in rough seas, perform a hard dive and then see nothing.  On our way back home we passed Albatros Divinganother dive boat who waved us over.  Guess what – they didn’t have enough air tanks on board!!  Yowza. Julie salsas with our dive guide

We were pretty happy with our boat and the dive masters. Later that day we ran into them at a bar downtown and tried some salsa dancing.

Photo album of Galapagos: http://kalicinski.smugmug.com/Around-The-World/Ecuador-South-America/Galapagos-July-2009/9086503_YeXDh/1/607055545_apPgQ

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