090314 - Ecoventura Tour of the Galapagos Onboard Flamingo 1

140302 14 The plan for the week

The Weeks Route onboard Flamingo 1 

We boarded Flamingo 1 on Sunday 2nd March - first observation was that Flamingo was not a catamaran as I had for some reason expected but instead she was a solid 85 foot ship launched about 25 years ago we suspect and just returned literally from the Hard where she has had her bi annual check over. Though an older ship she was certainly well maintained. 

There were 19 passengers onboard Flamingo, predominantly US residents, the youngest being charming Eva Maria the only child amongst our group and we were  looked after by eight staff and two Naturalists. Each day was utilised to the fullest with breakfast on most mornings at 7.30am followed by disembarking for land by 8.15am. Lunch at 12.30 before a siesta break till 3pm - for Lee this proved to be a valuable time to edit photos as the number that were taken daily was huge - 2500 in total had to be culled to just on 400 by the end of trip. The afternoon activity generally had us returning between 5 and 6 pm before a briefing, dinner at 7 and for most lights out by 930pm Not due to restrictions just purely from the events of the day.

During the 7 night 8 day Tour we visited the following Islands 

Day 1 (2nd March) and Day 8 (9th March)

San Cristobal - The Political Capitol of Galapagos

Population: 7000

Activities: Walking 

The start and finish of the cruise. 

140302 20 Junior ortoise at Galapaguera Cerro Colorado140309 8 San Cristobal Interpretation Centre with Cathy and Alexander Lazaindes

Our first tour as a group was to the Tortoise Breeding Centre built in 2002 to increase the population of endemic giant Tortoises from San Cristobal. Though interesting we felt it was not to the same level as we had been privileged to see with feeding at Isabela. 

Our last tour on our return to San Cristobal the following Sunday was to the Centro de Interpretacion where over three buildings we reviewed a series of exhibitions that explained the natural and human history of the islands. Having just spent a week cruising and walking among the islands the centre had far more significance for us then had we been taken there on our arrival. 

Day 2 (3rd March): Genovesa

Population: Humans Nil - Birldlife too many too count!

Activities: Walking, Deep water snorkelling 

140303 16 Genovesa  Frigate Bird140303 15 Genovesa  Lee with  juvenile red footed booby

Genovesa is located around 74nm north west of San Cristobal and during the night Flamingo 1 made her way so that when we awoke we were inside what appeared on the charts almost like the centre of a large crater. A short climb up Prince Phillips steps saw us step out onto the cliff top to be almost assaulted by the shear volume of birdlife. If one had a fear of birds particularly after that old movie Birds than this is not the place to visit.The bird life was so prolific it was impossible to keep the 2m clearance advised at our initial briefing - some simply had to be stepped over. There were Frigate Birds with their inflated balloons as it just happened to be mating season, Red Footed Boobys, Nazka Boobys, a glimpse of the Short Eared Owl the only owl that has adapted to hunting during the day, Mocking BIrds and we even got a glimpse of a fluffy baby Red Footed Booby in its nest. On Genovesa we did our first deep water snorkel where the fish life was plentiful and Andrew had a good opportunity to test the new underwater housing for our camera.

Day 3 (4th March): Santa Cruz - North west corner

Population: No settlement in this area just wildlife

Activities: Walking, Off the beach snorkelling, Defense lesson against Horse Flys 

AM - Bachas Beach 

140304 1 Bachas Beach Santa Cruz Ghost Crab

Bachas Beach had the purest white sand but thats about where our enjoyment for this place stopped. We did a short beach walk before embarking on a snorkel off the beach. Unfortunately other than the delightful ghost crabs, Heron, Sally Light Foot crabs and Flamingos we got to see we also found that Bachas Beach has a very healthy population of Horse Flies. The snorkelling visibility was very poor so did not justify underwater photography and the horse flies in the end so atrocious we all evacuated the water and returned to Flamingo 1 with haste. 

PM - Cerro Dragon

140304 21 Cerro Dragon Santa Cruz Land Iguana

Over lunch and siesta time Flamingo 1 relocated further south to Cerro Dragon where we had a dry landing on volcanic rock before heading off on a 2 hour loop walk  in search of land iguanas. Well it must have been our lucky day as after a short shower of rain the land iguanas with their brightly coloured skins of yellow and brown and row of thorns / crowns down the ridge of their back were constantly sighted - a total of 13 in all and a new record for our guide Renny. 

Day 4 (5th March)

AM-  Fernandez Island - Punta Espinoza 

Population: Humans Nil - Marine Iguanas Everywhere.

Activities: Walking, Deep Water Snorkelling 

140305 2 Fernandina Island Punta Espinoza Marina Iguana and Lava Lizard

Probably outside of Genovesa for the birdlife Fernandez for us was the highlight for wildlife of the trip. The island was literally bursting with wildlife from the moment you disembarked amongst the mangroves to be greeted by a flotilla of marine iguanas. The two hour walk presented sealions, pelicans, turtles, penguins  and more sally light foot crabs. It was on Fernandina that I managed to capture one of my favourite shots - a lava lizard perched atop a Marine Iguana. 

140305 33 Fernandina Island Punta Espinoza Snorkel Time MArine Iguana

Deep water snorkeling at Fernandina presented a few challenges with the swell and incoming tide that saw one of our fellow passengers lifted up onto the rock ledge - looking somewhat like a startled sealion he thankfully was uplifted and deposited in the lagoon behind unscathed. Think he truly was lucky. We were relocated to the nearby lagoon much to Andrews disappointment as he finally had managed to capture an iguana eating beneath the sea but to soften the blow of relocation he did manage to capture footage of a beautiful sea turtle up close and a sting ray.

PM - North west coast of Isabela Island - Urvina Bay 

Population: Humans Nil - Giant Tortoise and Land Iguanas just a few. Inland Coral 

Activities:  Walking 

140305 43 Isle Isabela Urvina Bay Giant Tortoise

Another two hour walk through the bush following a beach landing in the dingy saw us off looking for more land iguanas and Giant Tortoise in the wild. We were again fortunate with both particularly as one Giant Tortoise decided just after we had past to relocate himself and followed us down the pathway with surprising speed for such a large animal. 

140305 55 Isle Isabela Urvina Bay Sea Coral remains

One of the significant land features of the walk was the evidence of coral inland. Apparently in 1964 just a few weeks prior to a volcanic eruption there was a huge land shift in Urvina Bay seeing the land literally rise some 45 feet. Subsequently there was a significant loss of life to both marine and land wildlife. Today huge boulders of coral stand inshore like large boulders.

Day 5 (6th March) - Isla Isabela 

Activities: Panga Ride and Deep Water Snorkelling 

Population: Villamil 2000

AM - Elizabeth Bay Panga Ride through Mangroves and along shoreline.

140306 8 Isla Isabela Elizabeth Bay

This activity Lee unfortunately forewent in an effort to get some business work done. Andrew took on the challenge of the camera and caught some great footage of the eagle rays on mass, more sea turtles and Blue Footed Boobys. They also found the most determined Heron who had very high expectations of trying to swallow one very large angel fish who was refusing to go down without a fight. Very much like the cartoon strip with the pelican and the frog. 

PM - Targus Cove - Deep water Snorkelling

140306 42 Isla Isabela Targus Cove Snorkelling Penguins

The water temperature in Targus Bay definitely warranted a full wet suit for Lee. Andrew must have a little more insulation but even he after 40 minutes started to succumb to cramps in his feet. Fish life along the cliff ledge that we followed was great and we had plenty of lively penguins bobbing in and around us but trying to capture a photo of these fast moving critters was challenging. 

140306 52 Isla Isabela Targus Cove Darwin Lake walk

Later that afternoon we took a hike up to the side of a caldera to the viewing point for Darwin Lake - the salt concentration is we believe 10% so no sea life exits but it certainly provided a great back drop. Further on we had another photographic opportunity on top of a lava outcrop that looked towards Wolf Volcano and the desolate lava landscape that could have easily been out of a Mad Max movie. 

Day 6 (7th March) - Isla Santiago (San Salvador) and Isla RaBida

AM - Isla Santiago (San Salvador) - James Bay 

Activities: Walking. Beach Snorkelling, Fur Seals 

140307 1 Santiago Island James Bay  Landing

The mornings activity was a walk onshore on an island that had had a short history as a salt mining island - for a very short period of just five years the island had prospered but the cost of returning the salt to the mainland saw the business fold. Today the fence posts that are over 100 years old lay testament to what had once been someones vision for enterprise. 

140307 8 Santiago Island James Bay Fur SeaLion

Our trusty guide Renny on this morning again excelled as he encouraged our walking pace to ensure we reached the outcrops where the Fur Sealions congregate with plenty of time to sit and enjoy both the activities of these creatures in the grotto swimming and the amazing seascape. Unlike Sealions the Fur Sealions still have fear of humans and tended to move away once we arrived. Given time and a little space they returned to within a distance that was close enough for us to appreciate the features that make them different from the ever present Californian Sealions. 

140307 17 Santiago Island James Bay Marine Iguanas

The marine iguanas on San Salvador had a different colour combination to those previously seen tending to be more red and brownish in colour. It was also on San Salvador that we got our first and only viewing of a Galapagos Hawk. 

The walk was followed by what we thought was a great snorkel off the beach with plenty of fish and sea urchins along with sting rays to be seen. A few even had the seals swimming by.

PM - Rabida Island 

Activities - Walk (ditched that for dolphins) Off the beach Snorkelling

140307 57 Isla Rabida Heading into shore Dolphins140307 59 Isla Rabida Snorkelling Green Sea Urchin140307 53 Santiago Island James Bay Heading back to Flamingo with our Bandido

One of the best afternoons in the water started with the planned departure in the Panga only to find ourselves amongst a pod of dolphins chasing fish. It was somewhat chaotic for a bit as several pangas zipped over the area in an attempt to give their passengers a better glimpse and photo opportunity. But Renny and our trusted driver Bandido held back, eventually shut the engine off and allowed us to drift along with the dolphins enjoying the spectacle. That laid the idea of a walk to rest and we all opted instead to hit the water and snorkel the red cliffs of the bay. The water was calm with just a gentle swell, clear water with great depth visibility and an aquarium of fish. Even Eva Maria had her very first snorkel and was so excited to see her very first white tipped reef shark. The small stingers that left most of us with souvenir stings could not dampen the high that everyone was on after such a great day in this natural wonder land. 

Day 7 (8th March)

Santa Cruz - Tourism Capitol

Population: 20000

Activities: Walking with Giant Tortoise, Lava Tunnel, Town walk

A rude shock to the system as we were definitely back in civilisation, well Galapagos civilisation. Santa Cruz is the tourism capitol of the Galapagos and has the largest concentration of population and as such their harbour is very busy. 

140308 22 Santa Cruz Tour Day Stop 2 Primicias Ranch of Giant Tortoise Boot cleaning time

Todays tour took us up into the highlands to a private ranch called Primicas where we donned gum boots and walked a short trail to spot Giant Tortoise. We also stopped in at a Lava Tunnel and at Los Gemelos to view a massive sink hole. All too quickly the tourist activities were over and we were back in town for "shopping", for Andrew and I it was the opportunity to book our flight back to Isabela with Emetebe airlines with the assistance of Renny to interpret. 

140308 49 On board Flamingo 1 Captains Farewell

And so came to an end an amazing week onboard Flamingo 1. For most of the week we had motored in the company of both Letty and Eric but the company managed the movement of people so well that we never really felt like we were in a group bigger than that of our own ship - in actual fact most times we were moving in our smaller group of nine. We have come to realise that Ecoventura's itinerary covers far more area than some other tour groups and for that we are thankful as we have been able to see some truly special places particularly Genovesa and Fernandina. 

140308 49a Back on board Flamingo 1 for final dinner Team A and Team B United

Just like sailing this trip has given us the opportunity to meet some great people whom we hope to meet up with again some time some where in the world. We have extended our photographing skills for Lee with macro and for Andrew under the water. The wildlife and the wealth of information that we have been exposed to will take a little while to sink in but we would definitely recommend that if you have even a hint of interest in wildlife than Galapagos is a place you need to come to and spend some time. 

(Click here for more photos of our Galapagos experience onboard Flamingo 1) 

© SV Katherine 2018      Cover Photo: Katherine on Anchor Isle Tabarca Spain