June 23 to July 5, 2010
WARNING: THE FOLLOWING BLOG CONTAINS EXPLICIT AND EXTENSIVE PHOTOS OF SEA LIONS. SOME VIEWERS MAY BE BORED OR OFFENDED BY ALL THE CUTENESS.
Sea lions had taken over the town. Like hippies at a freak fest, these furry guys were laying on sidewalks and park benches, and getting shooed out of convenience stores by broom-wielding shop owners. What a gas! That was our introduction to Puerto Moreno, the sea lion-infested capital of San Cristobal Island in the Galapagos. The sea lions were a welcomed comic relief following our two-hour boat ride from Santa Cruz Island, which left Roz various shades of green. But she recovered quickly once she saw the silly shenanigans of the slithery sea lions. The next day we found a self-contained apartment at Casa de Nelly which had a huge balcony, a hammock and a sweet view of the harbour. Best of all, it was only a five-minute walk to Playa Mann – a gorgeous little beach full of – that’s right – sea lions.
Using our pad as a base, we explored the area. Besides Playa Mann, there was another beach called Playa Punta Carola that had a lighthouse, more sea lions and less people – win/win! A newly constructed concrete path took us on a twenty minute walk to Cerro Tijeretas, which had both a look-out on the cliffs above and a calm cove below to snorkel in. And that’s exactly what we did. First we snorkeled alone. Then with a German traveller named Heike. Then with a young sea lion. It was an awesome experience!
Stay tuned for footage at eleven.
One day we invited Heike and her friend, Sonja from Italy, over to our place for coffee on our patio. They had both been working at a monkey sanctuary in the Amazon for a few months and Sonja was jonesing for some good, strong java. (ROZ: It’s a sad, but true fact, that even though some of the best coffee is grown in Ecuador it’s almost impossible to find any of it around because it’s mostly grown for export. The same held true for Mexico, Central America and Colombia. Luckily, being the caffeine addicts that we are, we had stocked up on our coffee supplies while we were at Rose Cottage in Otavalo.) A few hours later, after massive intakes of caffeine and a lot of getting-to-know-one-another conversation, we had formulated a plan to see the other side of the island by taxi. Two days later, we were charging through the countryside in a pick-up truck taxi. Our first stop involed a 650 metre climb up El Junco to see its volcanic crater lake. Enshrouded in mist, we saw frigate birds drift in and out of view as they periodically dove into the lake. Very surreal.
Our next stop was at a tortoise sanctuary, the Galapaguera Semi-Natural Cerro Colorado, where we walked around with giant tortoises and no other humans. Those old creatures were simply stunning and oddly graceful with their slow, lumbering walk (and I’m not talking about the wives gentlemen – nyuk, nyuk.) We ended our taxi-tour at a beach, Puerto Chino, on the north side of the island. There we had a picnic and watched a bunch of gringos try to surf the waves. The cutest surfer was Rebecca from Nova Scotia. She and the others were on a 14-month tour of the world aboard an old sailing schooner, the Picton Castle, (http://www.picton-castle.com), a beautiful boat we had seen docked in the harbour. This was her third tour. Wow, there are so many cool ways to travel this planet (and cute people doing it!).
As our time in the Galapagos drew to a close, Roz and I both knew we wanted to swim with the sea lions one more time. It really was that much fun. So Heike and Sonja joined us for our final visit to the cove at Cerro Tijeretas. Luckily, we weren’t disappointed. Within minutes of hopping into the water, a little pup was playing with us. Was it the same guy as before? I’m not sure, but it didn’t matter. Time stood still as we watched him having as much fun swimming and playing with us as we were with him. And then, in the depths below, I spotted a large adult sea lion passing underneath us. Its size made me shudder. Feeling a little vulnerable, I was relieved when the big dude(ess?) left the area. Small equals cute. Big equals “I’m gonna die!” The swim with our furry pal continued for at least an hour until the humans finally got cold. When we got out of the water, our little sea lion did too. Then he flopped on to the rocks next to us and shut his eyes. There we were, a sea lion and some humans all enjoying the warmth of the sun after some fun play in the water. What a moment – and an excellent topper to an amazing trip to the Galapagos. Before we knew it, we were saying good-bye to our landlady, Nelly, and boarding a plane back to Quito.
The Galapagos Islands (at least the 2 islands we visited) were an amazing place. In hindsight, if I had to do it again, and Roz’s sea legs could handle it, I’d take one of the 7-day bout tours. For around $1,000, you sail during the night and wake up the next morning at a new island – an island without human habitation, only a huge variety of birds, fish and mammals in their natural environment. And that’s really what the Galapagos are all about. The wildlife. Sure, Roz and I saved a few bucks and got to spend more time here than most people by renting an apartment, but the downside was that we were in a town full of cars, tourists and restaurants. It felt no different than living in any other beach town.
Having said all that, it was an incredible experience and we’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Getting back to Quito was a bit of a shock to the system. It was chilly and windy. (ROZ: And there weren’t any sea lions!!!) Before pushing off for our next adventure in the Amazon, we visited a military base to buy maps, joined the South American Explorers Club (pith-helmet not included) and took a cable car to the top of a local mountain for fantastic views of the monstrous city. Caught some good updrafts too!
And now, as promised, footage of us swimming with sea lions. This was taken during two encounters with what we believe to be the same young sea lion. Enjoy! We sure did.