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Galapagos Islands Cruise

The Galapagos Islands are an amazing set of volcanic islands just under 1000km from mainland Ecuador. There are several ways to see the islands each with benefits and drawbacks:

  • Pre-booked cruises are the most popular means to see the Islands and are commonly booked from the mainland. They are perfect for those with only a short vacation time but can also be the most expensive.
  • Booking a Last Minute cruise when you arrive on the islands is more suitable for long term travellers or those with plenty of available time. The cruises are up to half the price of a pre-booked cruise but there may be some wait before departure day.
  • Island hopping is possibly the cheapest means of seeing the islands and can be tailored to however long you have available. They take more work to organise and you can’t get to some of the more distant islands the cruises can take you to.

For my trip to the Galapagos, I simply flew to the Islands and booked a Last Minute 4-day cruise. The cruise started several days after I booked it, giving me time to explore parts of Isla Santa Cruz and Puerto Ayora.

Day 1
The day began early with myself and my Uraguayan friend leaving the hostel at 7a.m., having a quick breakfast in town before catching a taxi to the bus terminal. After a 90-minute mixed bus and ferry ride we arrived at the airport where we met our tour guide and some of the other passengers. We were taken to the boat, the Estrella del Mar – Star of the Sea. The boat’s passenger capacity was 16 and my friend and I were the oldest of the group.

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Onboard the Estrella del Mar we were given a delicious lunch and as we sailed to our first destination, Isla Bartolomé, had a chance to get to know the other passengers. As we travelled the choppy seas and the rocking of the small boat caused me to feel a little sick, so I took some sea sickness pills I had left over from my Antarctic cruise.

We arrived into the calm waters of Bartolome Island in the early afternoon and donned our wetsuits. We were dropped off on the shore and snorkelled for an hour around the pinnacle – a large piece of weathered rock sticking up at the edge of the beach.

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While there wasn’t any coral, there were plenty of fish. As we swam we located several Galapagos Penguins hanging out on the rocks and the occasional Galapagos sea lion doing the same.

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There were also plenty of small colourful crabs climbing the rocks so I swum in for a closer look. As I got nearer to the shore, I went underwater and came face to face with a White Tip Reef shark sleeping in a small cave under the rocks. While they aren’t usually aggressive, I was still cautious for the few minutes I watched it. I did eventually get a shot of the colourful rock crab.

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After returning to the beach, we were taxied to the boat where we changed before being delivered to another part of the island, to hike to the top of a volcanic hill. There were great views and our guide was very knowledgable about the formation of the islands.

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After the hike, we returned to the boat for dinner while it headed north. At about 11p.m. we cross the equator.

Day 2
Our cabin was on the lower level at the front of the boat. So, while we were in motioned overnight, the cabin was very hot even with the air conditioning on.

In the early hours of the morning we arrived at Isla Genovesa, an extinct volcano where a massive sinkhole had filled with water to form a natural harbour. After a large breakfast, we were taken in the zodiacs to the beach, where we went for a short walk around the beach and a small patch of mangroves. This allowed us to see several nesting species of birds, black Marine Iguanas and fur seals, including this cub.

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We then changed into our wetsuits on the beach before heading into the water. We snorkelled for about an hour in the fairly murky water. We saw plenty of fish similar to yesterday, but little else. We were taken back to the boat briefly before being taken across the bay for more snorkelling. This is the only spot on our cruise where Hammerhead sharks are commonly seen but after an hour in the water we had no luck. I had fun swimming a little way down the shelf that drops off to a depth deeper than the ships sonar can see, making it more than 350m deep.

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Back on the boat, we had lunch and relaxed for a couple of hours. Many of us napped after a long morning of swimming. When we were ready, a small group of us were taken to third spot in the bay for yet more snorkelling. It was calmer and warmer in the water as the sun had broken through the clouds during lunch. We swam along the wall of the bay, the rocks climbing up about 20 metres. We were joined by a couple of sea lions, but they only played for a few minutes before heading back to their rocks. We snorkelled on, but saw little more.

Lastly, after heading back to the boat for a shower, we climbed to the top of the rocky wall and walked through the hardy trees to see more wildlife. We spied the Blue Footed Boobie, a Petrel, a rare sighting of a Galapagos Owl – which actually hunts during the day – and a lovely pair of boobies, Nazca Boobies that is…

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After the hike, we were taken back to the boat for dinner and an early night following a very busy day. During the night we headed back across the equator and it was again very rocky aboard.

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Day 3
Overnight the rocking of the boat caused me to feel very sick, but only in my cabin, so I forwent my usual evening movie and just went to sleep. And this was after having taken seasickness pills. I awoke in the morning to calm seas and felt much better.

After a hearty breakfast, we set about getting ready for our first activity, a short hike across South Plaza Island to see some wildlife.

We started on the beach where many fur seals were sleeping.

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We then walked along the rocky trail stopping for photo opportunities and discussions about the flora and fauna. Among the various species of birds we spied a land Iguana. This one is a metre long.

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Then it was back to the boat and off across the strait to Isla Santa Fé where we had lunch and prepared for another walk. We landed on the beach amidst plentiful napping sea lions…

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We walked along a rocky path seeing two species of lizard, the metre long yellow land Iguana…

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…and the 10cm long gecko.

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Then, it was back to the boat to change into our wetsuits in preparation for our final snorkelling session of the cruise. Swimming in the bay at Isla Santa Fé makes me want to buy an underwater camera. Firstly, there were playful sea lions and I finally found my first coral in the waters. It wasn’t very colourful, but some coral is better than no coral. Then, as we snorkelled across the small bay, we were joined by sea turtles and stingrays sucking at the sand on the bottom. All in all, an excellent snorkelling session for our final day.

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Back on the boat, we set sail for Puerto Ayora harbour where we dropped anchor for the evening.

Day 4
The final day on the cruise was a little disappointing. When booking the cruise, we enquired if they would be going to either the Giant Tortoise colony or to Charles Darwin Research Station, where they look after the young animals. We were told the cruise would finish at the Research station, so prior to the cruise, my Uraguayan friend and I headed up to see the Giant Tortoises. As it turned out, the group was taken to see the Giant Tortoises. But instead of seeing them again, we called an end to our trip and headed back to the hostel.

Summary
Overall, the cruise around the Galapagos Islands was great. While the islands don’t feel as tropical as other Pacific Islands, the diverse species of animals, especially the ones that are native to these islands were amazing. A most enjoyable cruise.

After a couple more days in the Galapagos Islands, I fly back to Quito.

The Trail Wanderer

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Mancora, Northern Peru – Impressions

Máncora is the second most popular tourist destination in Peru, with Cusco / Machu Picchu the first and Arequipa / Colca Canyon the third. While most of Peru’s tourist destinations have plentiful tours – hiking, boating, climbing, rafting and the like; Máncora is different. There are tours, but the main attraction is the sand and the amazing beaches.

My original plan was to skip Máncora on the way to Ecuador. But the bus from Lima to Quito is nearly 2 days long, so to break it up, I decided to wait for the bus to pass through by hanging out at the beach for a few days. Sounds horrible, I know, all that waiting.

Máncora has a local population of just over 9,000 people and has an average altitude of 11m above sea level. This is of interest because I’ve spent most of my time in Peru at 3,000m and above.

On arriving in the town, the first thing I noticed was the number of Tuk Tuks on the main street.

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As I stepped off the bus I was accosted by the usual taxi drivers but made sure I booked my ticket to Quito first. Then it was a mad dash on a slow Tuk Tuk to my hostel, which was right on the beach front.

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My cabaña was a two level dorm with 5 beds and a balcony which looked out of the Pacific Ocean, only 20 metres away. The golden sand is hot and the sun blaring, but what do you expect from the beach?

While I went into town a couple of times; once for dinner at one of Máncora’s many amazing restaurants, and once for a look around. But I didn’t find much there as it’s a beachside town and people don’t visit for its shopping. So, for most of the four days I was in town, I just lay around on the beach, wrote, or swapped movies. It seemed that everyone staying at the hostel had a hard drive. So, while we were sitting on the beach, our computers were copying our selections. Honestly, what else is there to do on the beach? Such a hard life!

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Then at the end of the 4 days, my bus arrived and I was off again to Quito.

The Trail Wanderer

D’Aguilar National Park – Mt Coot-tha section

Mt Coot-tha is the tallest ‘mountain’ in Brisbane and is popular with tourists as its top lookout gives great views of the city and surrounding land.

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Map is owned by and used with courtesy of Brisbane City Council.  Please visit that site for more detailed information on walking in this region.

I’ve been to the lookout numerous times and have walked the lookout trail a couple of times also. On the northern slopes of Mt Coot-tha there are several less popular and less scenic walks I decided to explore.

Powerful Owl Track – 2.8km

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Powerful Owl Trail is a short track that climbs the north side of Mt Coot-tha.  Initially I was expecting a fairly straightforward walk in the woods, but shortly after beginning I got quite a surprise.  Not far after the beginning the trail turns quickly upwards  and climbs fairly steeply.  It certainly gets your muscles working and my calves felt it when I arrived at the top of the ridge.

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At the top of the ridge I followed the trail around to the left, through the forest until it began to descend down mud and roots steps.  After the steady downhill it didn’t take me long to emerge at a grassy reserve just around from the car park.

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Overall a good short walk although beyond the trees, not much to look at.

Simpson Falls and Eugenia Circuit – 4.1km

Beyond the Lookout Walk, the Simpson Falls circuit is one of the more popular on Mt Coot-tha.  It’s for this reason the trail leading to the falls is well presented and designed for casual walkers.  The trail climbs in switchbacks up the north-east side of the Mt Coot-tha with plentiful steps.

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Simpson Falls is a quaint little rocky area that during a wetter season would likely be more than just a trickle with small rock pools at the top and bottom of the rocky outcrop.  This was to be expected as it had been plentifully dry around the time I walked here.

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The Eugenia Circuit continues another 2.8km up the mountain from the Simpson Falls.  The path turns rockier and is less walked, crossing the stream twice on stepping-stones.  At a couple of points on the track I could make out suburbia over the trees, but no grand views.

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There was one other track I did not make it to – the Kokoda Trail, named after one of the men who walked the actual Kokoda trail.

The Lone Trail Wanderer.