Santa Cruz to Isabela

Wednesday morning we headed into town in preparation for our full-day snorkelling trip to Pinzon Island.  We got the water taxi and turned up in the guy’s office at 7.45 am as arranged.   And…he then tells us…that the operator got it wrong and had booked us on the boat for Thursday instead.   Not impressed!   We said OK we’ll go tomorrow but, if that trip doesn’t happen, we want a full refund.    

Disappointed we are now in town very early in the morning in swimsuits carrying snorkelling gear and nowhere to go.    We decided to follow the signs to Tortuga Beach.   Well….we found the entrance to the national park….and walked along this path through the brush. 

It went up and down and up and down and over a hill and, after about 50 minutes, we finally arrived at this beautiful beach.   The surf was raging and the flags were red as there are strong currents here.  We admired the view and paddled in the water.   There is another beach further around the headland which apparently is good for swimming, but I certainly didn’t fancy the additional 30 minutes’ walk on the softest sand you could image with my dodgy legs.  

So after a recuperative bottle of water we made the very hot, long and sweaty walk back towards town.    We stopped for a cold soda on the way and debated returning to Morphie.   But although pretty tired we wanted to carry on… so took a water taxi across the bay… and did another hike towards the grottos.    This was up and down an earth and rock path so was pretty hard going at times particularly on top of the exertions of the morning.   

But we were delighted when we arrived that, although we had to share it with quite a few tourists, the grottos were really pretty and we enjoyed swimming and snorkelling around.   Thankfully we had the proper footwear this time to get into and between the pools.   We were surprised to see quite big parrot fish in the 10m depths which meant that it was salt water.  

We trekked back to town revived by our cooling dip and got a water taxi back to Morphie.  And that is where we stayed for the rest of the day and evening.

Thursday morning and, again, up very early for our snorkelling tour.   The guide was late and we had an international group made up of two Ecuadorians, two Chinese (but living in the US), four South Koreans and us.   Finally – around 8.45 am – we boarded our small boat and took off at very high speed along the rocky shoreline of Santa Cruz.   We enjoyed the trip out and the first stop was Sugarloaf Rock.  

We enjoyed watching the seals sleeping along the fissures of the rock obviously waiting for the tide to come back in.  Sadly with all the movement of the boat it was not possible to capture them snoozing on the ledges.  Leaving the rock behind us at speed we arrived at Pinzon Island.    

We dropped anchor and jumped into the water.   Immediately we were met by huge angel fish looking to feed on the growth on the bottom of the boat…and then we saw a shark….and then a turtle….and then we played with a baby seal….and another turtle….and schools of huge fish….and puffers…..and another shark….and the list goes on.    We did two snorkels in this area and loved it – despite it being rock with no colourful coral – the fish life was just amazing.    Woo hoo….fantastic!

After our second snorkel – we spent almost two hours in the water in total – we motored hard back towards Santa Cruz.  And we were joined by a pod of dolphins.   They just make us smile every time. 

As we neared Santa Cruz and motored down the coastline we worked our way behind a reef to a place called Se Fe which is wild, rugged with cactus and shallow water.  Here we were treated to a chicken curry lunch and sodas…. then they all went back in for another snorkel.   Both Richard and I felt pretty tired so we didn’t go back into the water and just enjoyed spending time bobbing around on the boat.

The gang all returned and the captain started counting up his fins….and one of the Korean girls had to own up to losing one of them.   Seriously…..this was frustrating.    If she had told someone at the time there was a chance of recovery but now with the tide going out that was unlikely – although our guide Lenny did jump back in have a look around.   But by now the depth is becoming critical and there are standing waves as the tide meets the surf….and the captain was getting anxious.   So they had to give up and we were very impressed by the captain’s skill in getting us out of there.    Stupid girl – oh yes and she couldn’t even swim!   Seriously who books a snorkelling trip when you can’t swim?!?   Her mother, her sister and her were kitted out in life jackets and kicked themselves around by holding onto a life ring.   We headed back towards town and Lenny forced the girl to pay up for the gear she had lost – didn’t blame them at all!  

Back in the harbour we transferred to a water taxi which, kindly, took us straight back to Morphie.   Had been another long and tiring day but it had been pretty special.   We had a quiet night on board.

Friday morning we picked up anchor as the sun came up and bid farewell to Santa Cruz.  We headed out into another no wind day and flat calm seas.    

The navigation towards Isabela was pretty straight forward once we had cleared the rocky headland but then things got a bit tougher as some of the rocks and islands were completely missing from some of the charts!!!   Between our Garmin chartplotter, the Navionics on the iPad and the OpenCPN on the computer we worked it out but it wasn’t the easiest passage.   The rock below rose from the sea bed which was 143 feet deep.

Finally we had a little bit of wind and we motor sailed the last few miles before the wind died again as the skies darkened and threatened bad weather.  

We picked our way into the anchorage and dropped the hook.   We got a good set straight away and called the agent on the VHF.   He gave us permission to anchor (oops we were supposed to do this first!?!) and then the heavens opened.    It rained cats and dogs…

At around 3.30 pm a small dinghy came alongside with three officials on board who did our inspection.  They were only young lads and completely soaked through to the skin – so the offer of a towel to dry off went down well – and despite their no English and my limited Spanish we made ourselves understood and were cleared to go ashore.   We radioed the agent again and told him we had passed inspection – he asked if we were coming ashore – and we said no we thought we’d sit it out (in the rain) and we were also feeling pretty tired after our 50 mile passage.   Was that OK?   He said fine bring me all the paperwork in the morning.    So we settled down to watch a lovely sunset before we turned in having celebrated our arrival with a couple of cold beers.

This morning, Saturday, and we got a water taxi into town (double the price of Santa Cruz) and were charged a tourist tax of $10 per head to set foot ashore.   Luckily it is only a one off so I’m keeping those receipts handy to avoid paying it again.   First locals we met were a sea lion hanging out and the largest marine iguana we have ever seen….  

We walked down the road towards Puerto Villamil – the main town – and were delighted by the look and feel of the place.   Laid back…less busy…unpaved roads in places…and this feels much more like the Galapagos we were expecting to see.

We walked through town to the agent’s café – the Booby Trap – and he wants copies of loads of documents that were issued to us in San Cristobal.   Bolivar said that they shouldn’t need anything other than what he had given us – seems Isabela are doing things differently these days.    And, of course, the agent doesn’t have a copier…..   He could have warned us of his requirements before we left the boat as we would have got them ready.   So we headed into town and found a shop that did photocopies – got them made – and returned them to him.   Oh yes – because he is processing the papers today on a Saturday – he doubled the $15 fee for overtime.   So that’s why he didn’t care if we came ashore yesterday.   Not impressed!!!    Not sure he should be an agent really when he told us, quite candidly, that he was very happy with the huge fees being levied against private boats as it kept people away.   He really shot himself in the foot though as we won’t be spending our hard-earned savings in his establishment now.

We wandered back via the beautiful beach and found a beach bar….very happy campers.   We fancy a bob at some point that’s for sure!     

On the way through town we talked to a few tour agents and managed to get a snorkelling trip to the ‘tunnels’ booked for tomorrow, Sunday, at a reduced ‘last minute’ price.   So we are looking forward to that, especially as the area is famous for manta rays, boobies and beautiful scenery.   And we hope to see penguins too.   Richard is thinking of doing a volcano rim hike but, at five hours on foot, I know that is beyond my ankle on rough terrain so think I’ll sit that one out!   So lots to do here and we look forward to doing more exploring.  On the way back to the dock we had to avoid the families of huge marine iguanas….

Oh yes… we’ve just had a baby seal come by looking lovingly at our transom and a heron actually sat on Morphie to shelter from the rain.   It will be interesting to find out if we have a friend in the morning LOL.

We are actively now debating our departure.   We have to return to Santa Cruz to check out of the Galapagos Islands for our passage to the Marquesas.   And we hadn’t factored Easter into this at all.   We think much will be shut on Santa Cruz and, if we stayed here, at least we have a beach to play on and chill.   Then back to Santa Cruz for a very short time – shopping for fresh produce and drinks supplies – before heading off out.   Decisions, decisions, decisions…

Bye for now