The Galapagos Islands are an amazing anachronism of nature. Visiting these Islands is like going back in time. We will spare you the history lesson, suffice it to say that since the islands’ discovery by the Spanish in the 1500s, subsequent occupation by pirates and privateers, and ultimately Charles Darwin’s visit, which led to ground breaking theories on the evolution of species, all who have visited have known them to be extraordinarily unique. Home to countless endemic species, many of which have endured near extinction at the hands of man, the flora and fauna remain largely unchanged from the initial discoveries and amazingly, almost all wildlife shows little interest in or fear of man.
– Getting there
As we previously reported, getting here is no small feat. It requires either a demanding boat journey or an expensive air ticket, which has probably been one factor in helping keep the islands pristine. Another is the government of Ecuador. They realized early on how important and unique this ecosystem is, and as tourism and interest in the islands have grown, the government instituted measures to ensure the survival of these delicate lands. These measures come in the form of high entry costs and limited access (unless with a park guide). This chuffs many cruisers as they are used to being able to toss out the anchor at any secluded cove (usually for free) and being able to take it all in on their own. In the Galapagos cruisers are restricted to just one anchorage on each of three islands: Isla San Cristobal, Isla Santa Cruz and Isla Isabela. While we would loved to have anchored in secluded coves ourselves, we understand the restrictions and found that locating our boat in a primary harbor on each island afforded us a nice home base from which to explore.
Costs are another factor for cruisers. “How much?” you ask. For Gadabout, with three crew aboard, it cost us about $2000 USD. Those costs included: mandatory park fees ($100 pp), customs/immigration, fumigation, port fees, and agent costs. We have often heard the refrain that it would be cheaper to fly to the Galapagos and go on a tour, but when you put pencil to paper that doesn’t work out. Airfare from Quito, Ecuador alone is around $700 pp and most cruise tours run somewhere between $500-$1000 per day. Although many of those cruises do get to visit locations inaccessible to sailboats, it seems they view the same wildlife that we were able to see mostly for free (excluding previous costs, of course). We watched many of the cruise passengers come ashore and it was a little more of the organized tour group scene than we prefer. We enjoy seeing, visiting and discovering at our own pace. However, if you are an avid scuba diver then one of the cruises makes perfect sense as they visit tons of inaccessible and unique dive sites.
It is true that to visit many areas you must have a guide, and those guides are a part of any organized tour that you book, but we also found that every island has plenty of opportunities to explore and interact with the wildlife on our own—it is everywhere! Furthermore, each island has its own personality and varieties of wildlife.
– The Islands
Isla San Cristobal
The first island we visited, where we made landfall and checked in, was Isla San Cristobal (Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, AKA Wreck Bay). Tom’s wife, Ginny, joined us here, as well.
The word in the guidebooks was that the sea lions run the town and the humans are the visitors. This is pretty much true! Contrary to places like the west coast of the US, the relationship here between sea lions and people is quite amicable. The sea lions aren’t quite as large and definitely not as territorial. It is not unusual at all to have to step over them on a path or have them come up to you while swimming to see what’s up.
The town had a great eclectic vibe with plenty of restaurants and a good balance of locals and tourists.
Here we met our primary agent (Bolivar Pesantes) who was a wonderful man. We spent an entire day on an island tour with him and after it was all through he gifted us with fresh Galapagos coffee, eight lobsters, and a HUGE stalk of bananas. We tipped generously.
It was on this tour we visited a high volcano caldera lake where frigate birds visit to rinse the salt off their wings, a family coffee plantation and our first tortoise sanctuary (there would be many more).
Isla Santa Cruz
A blustery 50-mile day sail brought us to Isla Santa Cruz. This island is the main hub for the Galapagos, where all the tourists fly in and meet their cruise vessels, and the feel was much different. The town was nice enough with a lot of (tourist priced) restaurants and decent provisioning for us but the locals were more cursory and less open, no doubt a function of the endless stream of nameless, faceless tourists who spend a few hours wandering through town before being whisked away by their tour guides.
While the town was nice…the anchorage was HORRIBLE. The harbor is open to the sea and the predominant swell. All boats (even the catamarans) rocked violently at anchor and it was all you could do to get a decent night’s rest. We spent three days here and visited the Darwin Research Station, a wonderful free-range tortoise area in the rainy volcano highlands, and an interesting beach/lagoon where we swam with white tipped reef sharks and began to see many of the dark marine iguanas.
We spent two weeks at Isla Isabela, the least populated/visited of the three main islands, and really enjoyed the opportunity to slow down, decompress and get into the rhythm of the Galapagos. The town is simple and quaint with dirt streets and many restaurants serving local cuisine.
The island itself is best known for its Galapagos Penguins (the only Penguin species that lives near the equator), many marine iguanas, giant land tortoises (of course), and pink flamingos!
There was a beautiful walking path just outside of town that meandered through an estuary and we took any chance we could to visit and ogle at the beautiful pink flamingos residing there. Seeing them in flight was amazing! They aren’t the most graceful during takeoff or landing, but when their wings are spread they are huge with a distinctive black stripe contrasting the vibrant pink on the backs of their wings.
We also took a snorkel tour where we swam with giant sea turtles, small sharks, sea snakes, rays, and even sea horses. The tour also visited an amazing area called “Los Tuneles” where old lava tunnels were filled with seawater and you could snorkel through them and between an amazing maze of volcanic spires and arches. An added bonus was the exhilarating boat ride through large breaking waves to get to the area. Fortunately, our boat captain, Leonardo (AKA “Galapagos John Travolta” because of his resemblance to the actor), was an extremely skilled and knowledgeable pilot.
We bid adieu to Tom and Ginny and spent the rest of our time on the island exploring, relaxing and doing boat projects in preparation for our passage to the Marquesas. One day we rented bikes and took a ride up some punchy hills to visit the remains of an old prison camp that operated from 1946-1959, where prisoners were forced to stack rocks into a giant wall in the middle of nowhere (“The Wall of Tears”) for no other reason than punishment. On the way we passed a tortoise the size of a boulder leisurely crossing the road…no big deal.
Each day when we would dinghy ashore we would motor past the penguin colony and slow to watch their hilarious waddle/walk/hop way of getting around. At the dock cheeky young sea lions were everywhere. They interacted with each other like dogs, playing keep away with a stick, or just wrestling in the water. At night when we returned to the boat the sea lions would jump just ahead of us, chasing our spot light and the needlefish it stirred up. Some nights we would drop the underwater light over the side and watch as small sharks and sea lions circled around the beam feasting on small fish. From the day of our arrival to our last day in the Galapagos we never ceased to be amazed and entertained by the abundant wildlife around us, unconcerned with our presence. We are so glad we took the time and effort to sail to these unique islands, and Isla Isabela was a perfect last stop to recharge before we made the giant leap across the Pacific.
We’ve been in the Marquesas for a little over a month now. The islands are beautiful, the people friendly, and the pace slow. After spending the first three months of our cruising season repairing the boat and the next four months traveling from Mexico to Panama with only the occasional stop greater than a few nights, followed by two long passages from Panama to the Galapagos to here, we’re happy to take advantage of the slower pace for awhile. One thing that the remoteness of these islands makes tough, however, is staying connected. While we don’t mind the disconnect from the constant news cycle, it’s quite evident how much we depend on a solid cell signal and internet connection for keeping in touch with family and friends, taking care of business at home and, of course, updating our blog. It’s not that we haven’t been writing new posts. We have, complete with lots of pictures. We simply cannot upload them to the website due to the lack of internet connectivity. Since we arrived, we’ve had access three times, none of which yielded anything close to the speed needed to accomplish all the tasks on our list. We’re using our satellite phone to load this post, mainly to let everyone know we’re still alive and to share a small taste of the beauty the Marquesas have to offer. We’re planning to leave the boat here for the cyclone season and return home in October, which may, in fact, be the earliest opportunity we have to post our typical picture-heavy updates. In the meantime, we’ll continue to document all the amazing experiences we’re having and we’ll be ready as soon as we find the elusive internet again. Stay tuned…
We dropped anchor at 1500 local time today in Baie Tahauka on the island of Hiva Oa, Marquesas. We are so happy to be here. Not only are we barely moving at anchor, this place is beautiful. There are about 15 boats sharing the anchorage with us, including our friends on Cinderella (we last saw them in Costa Rica back in April). We did a quick reconnaissance of the immediate area ashore and bought a fresh baguette and some New Zealand butter at the gas station. We’ll check in with the local Gendarme tomorrow to make things official, then it’s time to explore. For this evening, we’re quite content to have a sundowner, our baguette and brie, and get a much needed FULL night’s sleep! Thanks for following along on our passage. Be on the lookout for our insights on 20 days at sea and our Galapagos post (as soon as we find some decent internet).
Current location: Lat 09 48.215S Long 139 01.925W – AT ANCHOR! Distance traveled: 189 NM
We’re about 125 miles from the island of Hiva Oa. We should arrive sometime tomorrow, depending on the wind. Right now, it is light and from a less than ideal direction so we’re having to head more north than we’d like, which mean more miles. But the seas are calm and we’re having a nice downwind sail on a beautiful afternoon. We’re in a wing-on-wing configuration with the mainsail out on the port side of the boat and the jib poled out on the starboard side. This allows us to sail with the wind right on our tail and make up several degrees of angle toward our destination. Hopefully tomorrow’s update will be the last before we make landfall. Stay tuned!
Breakfast: Steel cut rolled oats w/honey drizzle, cinnamon and dried fruit, cafe au lait
Lunch: Grilled meat on a bun with dijon and hand-prepared relish, chips (it was calm enough to grill!)
Dinner: Meat, beans and cheese wrapped in a crispy tortilla blanket with house-made sour cream, pico de gallo and salsa picante
Evening entertainment: “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”
Current location: Lat 10 17.495S Long 136 58.603W
Distance traveled: 182 NM
It’s Bastille Day in French Polynesia. There are parties, traditional dances, lots of food and fun. Unfortunately we aren’t there to help celebrate. We’re still a couple of days out. The wind and seas are not cooperating; in fact, they seem to have something against us (and each other). The wind is light and the seas are big and lumpy, making for a very uncomfortable motion. We’re hanging in there, though, with visions of calmer surroundings in our heads. Reports from the boats ahead of us are good and we’re looking forward to finishing this passage and meeting up with the crowd.
Breakfast: Toast and coffee
Lunch: Ham and cheese sandwiches
Dinner: Breast of chicken in a lemon pepper, white wine reduction, served with roasted rosemary potatoes and steamed peas
Evening entertainment: “The Office” and “Modern Family”
Current location: Lat 09 57.937S Long 134 42.486W
Distance traveled: 190 NM
Trying to stand, and walk, on a sailboat constantly rolling from side to side in a big swell… the struggle is real. We’re getting better at it but today has been testing us mightily. Simply standing still is even a challenge. We’ve both developed a touch of tendinitis in our dominant legs (Wags’ left and my right) from constantly bracing ourselves in order to perform such simple tasks as, say, making a meal or brushing our teeth. This is probably the most frustrating part of the passage, in fact. We’re really hoping for smoother seas over the next couple of days so we can finish on a high (and stable) note.
Breakfast: Griddle cakes with LOTS of syrup
Lunch: Nothing… still running on griddle cakes
Dinner: Penne pasta with basil, garlic and parmesan, served with garlic bread
Evening entertainment: “Blade Runner 2049”
Current location: Lat 09 54.722S Long 132 04.104W
Distance traveled: 184 NM
Strong winds (20+ kts) and confused, lumpy seas have returned over the past twelve hours. With a reefed headsail and a triple-reefed mainsail we’re still managing a speed of 7 kts. Unfortunately the winds are insidiously pushing us more south than we need to be so we’re anticipating a necessary jibe sometime over the next couple of days to regain our northerly ground. Other than that, all is well.
Breakfast: Farewell to Eggs – eggs (the last ones), bacon, toast, coffee
Lunch: EMFH (basically, brownies)
Dinner: Ploughman’s plate of meat, cheese and olives
Evening entertainment: “Saving Silverman”
Current location: Lat 09 16.748S Long 129 35.147W
Distance traveled: 182 NM
The days tick by with a predictable routine… eat, nap, read, eat, evening entertainment, sleep, stand watch, repeat. We aren’t bored, as the weather and seas continually throw challenges at us – a sudden squall, a rolly motion preventing all manner of rest, a line in the prop (okay, that last one was us). During the day, there’s not a lot to see. The sky is blue, the ocean is a deeper shade of blue, the sun is hot. Occasionally a bird, perhaps a shearwater or petrel, does a fly-by as he searches for food. Today a brown boobie attempted to land on our solar panels but promptly slid off and settled for a water landing instead. The swell rolls underneath the boat and as the bow breaks the surface, schools of flying fish take to the air to seek refuge in the next wave. Inevitably, a few end up as casualties on our deck. We haven’t seen much other marine life but we hope to as we get closer to land. After dark the lights come out. Often there is bioluminescence putting on a sparkling show as Gadabout slices through the water. Last night, there was no moon and no cloud cover, and the stars were incredible. Being here, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, we can’t help but think how much light pollution prevents us from viewing this full spectacle elsewhere. As we count the shooting stars, we remind ourselves how fortunate we are to have the opportunity to experience it.
Breakfast: Encore of toasted Galapagos panaderia bread w/nut butter, honey and blueberry jam
Lunch: Salad of albacore tuna served between toast points
Dinner: Pan-seared mahi-mahi and black bean tacos w/ranch aioli and fresh cilantro
Evening entertainment: “Brooklyn Nine Nine” and “Modern Family”
Current location: Lat 08 45.266S Long 126 57.533W
Distance traveled: 185 NM
Last night was a frustratingly mixed bag of weather. We started our watch schedule in 12-15 knots of wind with smooth seas (perfect). At midnight it was raining and gusting to 27 knots (not ideal but we were moving). By 2:00a the wind had shifted 180 degrees and was pushing us in the wrong direction. An hour later, it died and left us becalmed and rolling wildly abeam to the swell. We took it as long as we could (which wasn’t long) then fired up the iron ginny and motored the rest of the night. With the wind back to its “normal” direction this morning we were able to turn off the engine and resume sailing. Ah… much better. It’s a beautiful sunny day and we’re nearing our “1000 miles to go” mark. A special treat may be in order.
Breakfast: Unleavened triple berry muffins with creamy Galapagos margarine, coffee
Lunch: Next day curried chicken salad and pepper jack cheese w/rosemary crisps
Dinner: Artisanal Farm to Table Lasagna Redux
Evening entertainment: “Super 8”
Current location: Lat 07 20.414S Long 121 49.568W
Distance traveled: 172 NM
Posting two updates today as yesterday’s failed to make it from the composed to the sent file.
For the first time in three days we’ve managed to sail generally in the right direction for an entire day without having to jibe. And, we have less than 1000 miles to landfall. So we’re making brownies to celebrate! That is all.
Breakfast: Toasted Galapagos panaderia bread w/nut butter, honey and blueberry jam
Lunch: Organic cous-cous salad with artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes and feta
Dinner: Shrimp sautéed in a butter and white wine reduction, served on a bed of linguine
Evening entertainment: “Northern Exposure”
Current location: Lat 08 20.894S Long 124 22.166W
Distance traveled: 184 NM