Category Archives: wildlife

Even sharks can’t spoil my bliss

Watching the sun set... just before...

Watching the sun set… just before…

On my last night on the island of Moorea I sat on the beach barely 30 metres from my shack, dug my toes into fine sand and watched the sun set the sky alight.

I sat for a while and thought about all sorts, and I felt calm and content. The power of nature.

The globe disappeared and I got up to leave, but something stopped me, maybe a greedy goblin who wanted more of that blissed out contentment. So I took another seat on a bench – a higher viewing platform – and gazed out at the horizon flooded with pink, yellow and red.

And then I spotted them: two fins close in the shallows, separated from the shore only by a little strip of water and a slither of rocks. I looked around me. Two English girls sat chatting at the picnic table a few metres away whilst a Swiss mum showered sand off her two-year old son. No one said a thing. Had I imagined it?

I kept watching and sure enough, they surfaced again. ‘Sharks? Are they sharks?’ I asked no-one and everyone. The girls ran down to the water edge, fancy cameras to the ready. The Swiss woman shouted for her husband.

Well spotted’, said one of the girls as they bounced back up to the campsite. I was glad I’d said something, but, if I dare admit, the selfish part of me was secretly smug for having had a few uninterrupted moments to just take it in.

A little sharky send-off.

Moorea, je t’aime. Sharks ‘n’ all.

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A little boat and a vast ocean: are we the only people in the world?

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Our world

In my South Pacific sailing adventure there was no getting away from it: hundreds of miles from anywhere and anyone, we were in the middle of a big blue ocean, and for three weeks that ocean was our world.

Crewing on a boat from Galapagos to Tahiti with three strangers, this was an adventure in learning to live at sea, a reminder of routine, and a privileged opportunity to totally remove myself from civilisation and see what long distance sailing was really about.

And, I realised, it was largely about being alone.

The first sense of aloneness was that of looking out at a vast ocean brimming with blue-grey choppy waves and not much else. After a tuna catch on the second day, the only sea life that seemed to still show itself to us were flying fish and little, squidgy squid. Initially both littered the deck, but even they started to desert us as we sailed on, passing the 1,000nm and then the 2,000nm mark. Dolphins made a brief appearance, playing and ducking and diving at the bow of the boat, and a still-day swim and snorkel allowed me to see salps and sunlight streaking the clear, 4,000m deep water. But human life? Nothing to be seen.

For most of the voyage, all we had were 360° views of water leading to a drop-off some 8nm away. Sometimes choppy, sometimes eerily still, there were no indications that anything else existed out there. Instead of being scary, it was strangely calming. The heavens reached horizon to horizon over the top of our world, day times presenting Simpson skyscapes and night times a brilliant blanket of dense starriness and Venus brightly guiding us on to the West.

For twenty days, I didn’t see another boat, another sign of human life. My world was me and these three new friends. Supposedly, whilst I slept, we passed by a Japanese sailing ship that the others made contact with, but who knows that they didn’t dream it up after weeks with no interaction. No, unfair, I did later hear some chatter on the radio, an unfamiliar language. I scanned the horizon. Where were they? But nothing.

There was also the mental and emotional test of being disconnected from the ones we love. My skipper had a satellite phone from which he sent regular updates, but beyond that, no one knew where we were or how we were all really doing. Surprisingly, this wasn’t too much of a problem. Despite only meeting my crew a day before I boarded the boat, we all got on fine; good chats, interesting views, plenty of learning points. Maybe I’ve just got so used now to not being surrounded by my usual friends and family that I easily adapt?

It was only after two weeks that I realised if something big went wrong, we were fully alone. Sure, the EPIRB would fire off and let the main guys around the world know that we were having problems, but the best that they could do would be to find a boat close to us, which could be hundreds of miles, and direct it to our rescue. ‘What if my appendix ruptured?’ asked Joel. ‘Surely they’d send a helicopter or a rescue plane?’ I asked. ‘The best they could probably do would be to get us to a bigger ship with better first aid provisions’, said the captain. Death at sea, then, was a possibility. ‘I give you guys permission to operate on me’, said Joel.

So here we were, four strangers sailing in the middle of a big blue ocean, and for three weeks that ocean was our world.

And, at least in terms of humankind, we were very much alone in that world.

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Dolphin delight

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South Pacific companions

It was Day 9 of my sail across the South Pacific and finally, – finally! – I saw some dolphins.

I ran from a conversation, grabbed my camera and raced to the bow of the boat, sitting myself down and hugging the guard rails as I watched a private wildlife show close-up.

The rest of the crew soon tired of the dolphin dance but other than a single, bigger dolphin that I’d seen briefly on a boat ride over from Santa Cruz to Isabella in the Galapagos Islands, these were the first dolphins I’d seen out here.

I don’t know what it is, but there is something about these beautiful, majestic and intelligent creatures… Something gentle yet strong, graceful yet powerful. And social all the way.

For ten minutes or so I observed these slippery grey beauties lead the boat; dancing in and out of the water as a group, dashing ahead, falling a bit behind, but dancing, dancing all the way.

And as suddenly as they arrived, dolphins started to leave the party. For a few precious moments a pair stayed and danced close to my dangling feet and I felt my gaze get lost in the royal blue playground of the sea.

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And… just about had enough

And finally they too turned around. Off they swam, leaving us to sail unaccompanied once again.

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So, flying fish and suicidal squid actually exist?

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Not a happy fishy as the boat gets in the way of his flight path

Before I left Puerto Ayora in Galapagos, I’d had a goodbye chat with my parents. At least three weeks without contact was going to be a real challenge for them but they knew that once I set my mind on something, there was little point in trying to persuade otherwise.

I’d been gone nearly a year during which time I’d backpacked solo through parts of New Zealand, Australia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil and Bolivia, coming in contact with some challenging situations but always having some sensibility and a lot of luck on my side. As a result, my family were somewhat assured that I wouldn’t do something totally stupid, even if they struggled to understand why I had to sail across a vast ocean with a some strangers instead of choosing a more regular, safe option and route.

My mother, however, refused to let her worries burden me.

‘Wow. It’s so exciting!’, she said, ‘Such an adventure! You’ll see flying fish, won’t you?’

‘Erm… I guess so.’

I hadn’t really considered what sea life might make an appearance during the 3,ooo mile voyage, although I hoped we’d sail with some dolphins and maybe some sharks. And flying fish? Did they really exist? I racked my brains trying to recall any of the ocean nature programmes I might have watched over the years. Nah. Nothing.

As it turns out, flying fish do exist. On my second day at sea I stood out on deck and watched a shoal fly through the air, a flash of unified silver splintering off as each little fishy particle dived into oncoming waves. Another school jumped out of the water and soared across the sea surface before pelting back into the depths. I ran inside.

‘I’ve just seen a load of flying fish!’ I told Alan, my skipper, ‘Loads of them’.

He looked up from his book. ‘Yeah? There have been a lot about’.  My novice excitement contrasted with his nonchalant response. This world was his world – his  familiarity – where flying fish were part of a more routine picture.

For me, though,  this new world of ocean and rocking, of starry nights and short sleeps, of flying fish and squelchy squid visitors, it was enough to flick a childhood switch inside my brain and set alight some intrigue.

Over the next few days I didn’t just marvel at the sychronised schools of flying fish, but I got up close and personal with all sorts of slippery, salty and strange creatures. I was fascinated by their alien forms, their determination to get on board our catamaran and their night-time pranks (not all so wonderful, I must add).

So during some downtime I got creative and wrote a few articles, one of which is soon to be published and another that I will share here. Enjoy.

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You can also access the article Sea life suicide and the squid who would be captain through the Articles tab on the main menu.

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Diving the Galapagos

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Dive spots in the Galapagos islands (map from http://www.galapagosdestiny.com)

I needed a gentle re-introduction to the undersea world, not an adventure that would see me hanging on to tough, solidified lava for fear of getting swept away into the mouth of a hammerhead shark.

I decided pretty much last minute that I really should dive whilst in the Galapagos. When would I be back?

But I did wonder: was it really worth paying over $150 for two dives in waters that I’d been warned had low visibility and strong currents? It definitely sounded beyond my diving ability.

Ah well. So long as I stayed within my 18 metre limit, I was insured. Galapagos had thus far been good to me and I decided to place my trust in the hands of people who dive these spots on a daily basis.

It was on a Friday evening in May that I excused myself from a social meet-up with a delivery skipper who I’d be crewing for across the Pacific Ocean, and headed off into a dusky Puerto Ayora in search of an open dive shop.

A woman turned the key to her shop door as I approached. ‘‘Everywhere is shut now. But maybe René has space for you’, she said, “I show you.’ Within twenty minutes I was signing paperwork and trying on dive gear behind re-opened shutters.

It was going to happen.

Saturday morning. A sleepy-eyed start for us all, bouncing over dawn waves to the north-east coast of Santa Cruz island.

Dive one at Plazas started off hesitantly. An old boy, a man with sailing skin, natural highlights and a grey tuft of a beard helped me step into my buoyancy aid and tighten up my weight belt. I was a bit nervous. Would I instinctively remember everything? Maybe I should have done a refresher course first. Hmmm.

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Some of the dive team ready for action (*)

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Before the dive at Plazas

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King angelfish tempting us into the water at Plazas

Hands on regulator and back of the head, backward rolls, splash, splash, hitting the water one after the other. Apart from I stayed put. I couldn’t do it.

Second countdown, just for me this time, and pride pushed me overboard.

But I wasn’t the first to panic. A girl with a face full of makeup about to be melted by the lick of the sea started to hyperventilate once she hit the water. She lasted a few minutes. ‘No’, she said, ‘No’, and got back on the boat.

I struggled to submerge. Again and again I hit the surface to reach for air and calm my beating heart to a steady pace.

Eventually I descended, found my buoyancy and balance, and I eased into it, finning gently along a sandy bottom past curious king angel fish and a shoal of yellow tailed surgeon fish, floating along with golden Mexican goatfish, shimmery blackspot porgy – unique to the Galapagos – and grey mickey with delicate trailing tails and fins. And some stingrays. I kept my distance.

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Finally checking out the ocean floor *

It was all fairly relaxed. After twenty minutes two of the boys surfaced, out of air, whilst the rest of us continued cruising around. We were deeper than I should have gone – 23m – and whilst visibility wasn’t great, the grey waters still had enough clarity to keep this underworld from becoming too freaky.

Dive two at Gordon Rocks was a different ball game. The boat rocked heavily. ‘This section is calmer’, René assured us. But the entry was a little hectic and once in the water, my breathing was instantly panicked.

‘Behind you!’ shouted the driver, ‘Look, look! A hammerhead!’ I couldn’t look. A little apart from the rest of the group, the shark was close to me. If I didn’t look, it didn’t exist, and if I pretended that all the fins we’d seen from the boat were imaginary, all was good.

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Approaching the calm side of Gordon Rocks

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Overboard at Gordon Rocks

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My group… left to the sharks

We started the dive, submerging to 18m, down the crater wall. For forty minutes we drifted around the rock, currents spurring us on.

This dive gave me my shark sighting, finally. I’d done my best to avoid them until now, but a couple of whitetip reef sharks were insistent on being seen from a comfortable distance. More Mexican goat fish and blackspot porgy, some blue striped snapper, some surgeon fish. And two turtles. Ah, my beautiful friends.

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A shoal of yellow-tailed mullet, unique to the Galapagos islands *

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Galapagos fish

The safety stop showed me why Gordon Rocks is considered an intermediate to advanced dive site, with currents in the shallows threatening to rip us away from our handholds. My legs splayed out to the side as water surged past and I gripped on tightly, thrilled and scared and a little sad that it was nearly all over.

And the hammerhead story from the start of this blog post? Yeah, my imagination got the better of me. It could have happened, I guess, but I held on tightly, did my five-minute safety stop and finned up to the choppy surface fully unchomped.

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The reputation of the Galapagos means that they can demand fairly high prices and people will pay. There’s little room for bargaining and you can expect to pay upwards of US$170 for two dives. I paid $135 for two dives as a last minute special deal through Galapagos People Shalom Dive Centre. Carol – my fun, expressive yet calm dive buddy – and René kept a close eye on me throughout the two dives. Thanks guys! Thanks also for permitting use of some of the GoPro images (*) and  stingray footage.

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A little slice of paradise

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Some of the iguanas having a lazy social

I’m sitting on a little stretch of beach in  Puerto Villamil near to a hotel whose outdoor areas are covered in a blanket of sunbathing iguanas. I think back over what has been an interesting year full of big decisions, of solo traveling, of various dramas that have been emotionally consuming but far from unique in the bigger human picture. It has, undoubtedly, been full-on.

But now, I realise, I’m peaceful and content and grateful. I feel so, so lucky. The people I’ve met, the struggles I’ve overcome, the guidance, the goodness, the inspiration I’ve found at home and along my way. My eyes have been opened, my heart healed.

And then bang! – in a moment of stillness this great wave of love for life hits me. (Reading this may make some of you squirm and look away, but most of you will get it. At least I hope you will.)

And I’m feeling this all in paradise. Alone. On a beach.

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Empty beach at Puerto Vilamil,

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Before anyone turned up

A warm salty breeze dries my hair as I sit shading from a strong sun. I look around.

In the distance, boats and liveaboards bob about on a turquoise sea with a bit of chop. White seahorses ride messy waves that splash over black lava rocks and break onto a stretch of damp, golden sand. I can hear the light sound of laughter as a girl and boy scramble around on sharp stones and dip into a nearby rock pool.

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Isla Isaebla, Galapagos by boat

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Children playing in the rock pools

Spiky, foot-long iguanas amble away from the water’s edge, back to their basking point on the wall of the deserted beach front hotel. A man wanders down and climbs into a hammock, rocking to the sound of small crashing waves and music that is spilling out of an empty, rundown bar.

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Sunbathing iguanas

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Daytime bar desertion

For a moment, before the shrill whistle of a father calling his kids pierces the air and before an approaching tour group encroaches my space, I have my little slice of paradise.

La Isla Isabela, tu es bella.

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Sharks? Nah, I’m off to find me some turtles

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Settling for a snorkeling spot

I didn’t want to go searching for the sharks let alone swim with them, so when the rest of my group jumped in to the water and quickly disappeared off leaving little old me way behind, I didn’t mind too much.

What I did mind, a bit, was being alone in unknown waters full of strange sea creatures.

I adjusted my mask, took a big breath and put my snorkel in my mouth. My heart beat faster as I submerged my head and I took little gasps of air as I tried to flipper with some gentle rhythm and grace. I don’t take like a fish to water. I panic, a little, every time I look beneath the surface and see the ocean world spread out beneath me.

I tried to see the flipper trails of my team, but they were long gone. What to do? Head off in a similar direction and possibly get lost, or stay closer to the boat? Sometimes I throw caution to the wind, sometimes I’m just silly, but this time I played it safe.

I surfaced for a moment and returned to the boat, head above water. ‘What happened?’ asked Fabricio, my tour guide. I shrugged. ‘I lost them. They went’. ‘You might see some turtles over there’, he said, pointing to the edge of the reef breakwater that was giving us some relief from the ocean chop. ‘Will you keep an eye on me?’ I asked before submerging again, still fighting some anxiety.

Cornetfish (© Matthew Meier 2006)

And then I relaxed into it and I swam along with rainbow wrasse, bluechin parrotfish and various jacks and snappers, and loads of cornetfish –  these thin and crazy looking things that you almost can’t see. A stingray (Raya Sartén) gently flapped by and I gave it a wide berth. Something about stingrays scares the shit out of me. Maybe it’s the Steve Irwin thing? I don’t know.

A stingray slides and glides through Galapagos waters (members.ziggo.nl/mauricef/index.htm)

But my real search was for turtles so I swam away from the colourful charm of these tropical schools, onwards and over towards the far corner of the little lagoon. I spotted the first about four metres down, chomping away on plantlife. Fish darted around her mouth as the ripped off chunks of seaweed in a manner not too dissimilar to the tortoise I’d seen a few days earlier, only here the water gave the feeding process some slow-mo, drifty chic.

Another two turtles coasted around the area, one so huge that it was well on its way to being the size of a Smart car. Closer to me, I swam a few feet above it, tempted like no other time to hold on and go for a ride. But out of respect, and fear, I didn’t’. I like to think that I’m unlikely to cause any nuisance or harm, but who knows what impact a clumsy human might have? And who knows when a turtle might turn on you? Or three against one, in this case.

Not my photo… no underwater camera for me… pity (www.lifesorigin.com)

How long I spent observing the turtles, I’m unsure, but for a good while I bobbed face down and forgot all about short breaths and fast heartbeats, lost in the magic of a private moment with these creatures. A few others from my group started to arrive so I made my way back over to the boat.

‘Did you see the turtles?’ asked a French tourist as we both sat out on deck warming ourselves in the afternoon sun. ‘And the sharks! You missed the sharks. There were many.’

‘Yes’, I told her, ‘I saw the turtles’. But, I realised, I didn’t just see the turtles, I actually had some precious time with them. And I’d sure as anything trade some shark spotting for that, any day.

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Journey into the strangest landscapes

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Approaching Los Tuneles

Despite first impressions of an inhospitable, aggressive and alien landscape, these dry, spiky islands were also strangely fragile and elegant, composed of narrow passageways, slim archways and slender pillars dipping into lightly rippled lagoons of clear, turquoise waters.

I was on a trip out to Los Tuneles and typically I had failed to do any research other than listening in on a couple of travellers debrief the outing. I knew, then, that it involved tunnels and snorkelling in waters with a selection of our sea life friends And I heard sharks were involved. I was both strangely drawn in and totally terrified.

So I set off with expectations of big, fat tunnels where we’d sail into the depth of darkness and take to the water, and splash and snorkel around in a flash-lit womb. I guess I was thinking about caves, or maybe I still had the tunnel experience at El Chato at the forefront of my mind.

Instead, we motored along south from Puerto Vilamil on the island of Isabela, Galapagos for forty minutes until we reached a splattering of mini lava islands. Nazca and blue footed-boobies sat king-of-the-castle on top of black, chunky rocks as we wound our way further into a thickening maze.

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Getting closer

The skipper manoeuvred through narrow passes and shallow spots, finally dropping anchor in a more sheltered lagoon. Here was a network of lava archways and strips that joined islands into a bigger formation. Cacti and a few piles of rockiness gave some height to this floating land.

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In amongst it

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Moored up in an alien landscape

‘Give me your camera’, said a French tourist. On our way out to Los Tuneles we’d picked him and his family up from a yacht moored a little off Isabela. ‘Come, I take a photo of you here’. I posed awkwardly and then went off on a little solo wander. It was crunchy underfoot and I nearly lost my grip. But no! If you’re going to fall, don’t grab out! There is nothing to hold on to apart from cacti.

I sat on the edge of an archway and looked into one of the lagoons. Here, the water was less rippled and the sun pierced right through to the bottom. A sea-lion swam along, hitting the surface and then diving down again. A turtle glided past, a little beneath the surface. Another woman joined me and shouted over to the others, but the show continued only for a little while longer.

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Sea lion taking a dip

Within fifteen minutes we clambered back on board our little boat. As we headed away from the main bulk of lava mass we passed by some penguins and pulled over for a closer look. It wasn’t long before they leapt into the sea. You humans are all the same! Such voyeurs! Can’t a penguin socialise without you guys hanging around like a bad smell?

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Pose? Nah, let’s get out of here

And what about the snorkelling? Ah, yeah. It turns out that the snorkelling was to come later and was totally separate to the tunnels or archways or whatever you want to call them. Someone mentioned something about swimming and snorkelling not being allowed in Los Tuneles anymore. What was I thinking? Silly me.

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I paid $60 for the tour through Tropical Adventures in Puerto Vilamil.  The tour included a trip out to Los Tuneles, a basic pack lunch and snorkeling in another spot in the afternoon.

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Tunnels, tortoises and being a teeny bit terrible

I don’t know what compelled me to do it, but it had the desired effect: even the coolest amongst them couldn’t resist a hint of a smile. And the restaurateur and taxi driver laughed along, despite undoubtedly having seen many stupid tourists smile and giggle at the same silly – and possibly inappropriate – antics.

I had managed to persuade three fellow travellers to join me on a little trip out to El Chato, a reserve a half hour taxi ride away from Puerto Ayora on Isla Santa Cruz, one of the main Galapagos island stop-offs.

Not being the right season for this sort of mission, our driver had suggested we would be better off visiting the Charles Darwin Research Station, but determined to track tortoises in the wild we set off undeterred, and with the enthusiasm of explorers arriving to a new land, we clambered over tufty grasses and splintered off in search of our discovery.

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The adventurers set off

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Tramping through the undergrowth

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A little more familiar

One of the guys shouted over. ‘Here, here is one!’ Her four foot body hid in amongst tall grasses and she chomped away on stems, ripping off little clumps of organic feed. We gathered around and she got shy. For a moment she studied us through a crust of wrinkly skin and then retracted her head back into the safety of her hard-backed home. Enough.

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Oh rare creature! We found you!

To find evidence of this ancient creature in the wild? Incredible. It gave me a sense of how Charles Darwin may have felt, beneath his scientific façade, when he had a somewhat similar experience back in 1835:

As I was walking along I met two large tortoises, each of which must have weighed at least two hundred pounds: one was eating a piece of cactus, and as I approached, it stared at me and slowly walked away; the other gave a deep hiss, and drew in its head. (from The Voyage of the Beagle p543)

After an hour of wandering in the wilderness we had found only two of our tortoise friends, their rarity and the need for their preservation firmly evident. The second tortoise was a whole lot less social and, much like in Darwin’s experience, a whole lot more vocal.

So we left them to do whatever it is that tortoises do whilst they saunter on for years and decades on end.

Somehow, in amongst the grasses and scrubland, we stumbled across the entrance to a cave. Dust covered steps and a wooden handrail lead us down into the darkness where two of the group assumed the role of torch bearers and flickered their lights around. Our eyes adjusted to take in a curious cave over a kilometre in length full of pillars and archways and curvy, spiky edged formations.

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The tree that marked the cave entrance

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Into the darkness

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It starts

Strung-up bulbs hinted at the potential to brighten up narrow pathways and tight spaces that opened up into high-ceiling hallways, but we couldn’t find a switch. Anywhere. So on we went with considered, ill-lit steps, until we saw a chasm of light and a way back up and out.

The exit, we realised, was directly behind the empty restaurant that we’d started out from. When we told of our dark, daring tunnel adventure, the woman started to laugh. ‘I forgot to put on the lights!’ she said. Ah well. It added to the atmosphere, I guess.

So, back to the start and my clowning antics. As the only customers that the restaurateur would probably see all day, it was only courteous to stay for a drink. The driver chatted and laughed with her whilst we refreshed with a cold drink and lounged in the hammocks for a few moments of island laziness, during which time I spotted a ginormous tortoise shell.

In all fairness, it was hard to ignore, sitting there in the middle of a tiled floor. Without its inhabitant, it lost some of its loveliness. On closer inspection I found the shell to be exceedingly tough. Unlike Darwin who gave the actual creature a bit of a rough rapping and tapping, I hadn’t bothered to disturb the living tortoises that I’d come across earlier in the day. But this deserted shell?  Oh, what the hell! Get inside the skin of the locals, live as they do? Oh, yeah. It was a tight fit.

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At least they’re smiling in the background

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This post is dedicated to Lonesome George, ‘a giant tortoise believed to be the last of its subspecies’, a rare creature from the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador who died aged 100 in June 2012. R.I.P. Good effort, mate.

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Spending the day at Tortuga Bay

Ah, Galapagos! That place of mystery through which Charles Darwin journeyed back in the autumn of 1835; those islands chock full of natural wonders, of  unusual birdlife and iguana-like creatures, of volcanic formations and varied landscapes. The Galapagos archipelago, Darwin said, is quite simply ‘a little world within itself’. Time to get in amongst it and find out for myself.

So here I am, in Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz having spent my first night crashed out in a simple yet immaculate room. I’m wondering where to go, how to start on my independent Galapagos adventure. Most visitors to the Galapagos jump on board a week-long cruise around the islands. It sounds nice, I guess, providing you get on with everyone and get lucky with a good guide. But avoiding luxury and high costs is my thing, my necessary thing, so it’s a matter of keeping it local. And keeping it real. Surely this way I can get a better idea of the place? I’m going to chat to people in the town, talk to the woman who runs the residence where I’m staying. She’ll point me in the right direction.

And she does. In fact many people do. Today, I decide, will be the day to check out Tortuga Bay. It’s close, it looks beautiful, and it’s an ideal way to taste what the Galapagos islands are about.

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The pathway to Tortuga Bay

Clutching a map of the island I walk out west and it’s not long before I’m  ambling along a fine, white sand beach a few of kilometres from the town.

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Arriving at Tortuga Bay

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Tortuga Bay minus the tortugas (turtles)

I had anticipated crossing paths with a few more folk, but maybe I’ve hit the low season? It certainly doesn’t feel like I’m going to experience anything close to the three hundred visitors per day that this reserve typically expects. A lone surfer tries to carve up rippy waves to the left of Tortuga Bay and I see two people to the right in the far distance, the only other signs of human life.

As I get closer to the couple I see the girl crouch down, posing whilst her partner takes photos of her next to some… hang on… something moves. I squint and see that she is edging in as close as she dare to some chunky, four foot lizards oozing island laziness but whose spiky mohawks and slow, flickering tongues hint at a potential to turn nasty. In Th e Voyage of the Beagle (1836) Darwin describes this type of lizard (A. cristatus) as a ‘hideous looking creature of a dirty black colour, stupid, and sluggish in its movements’. A little harsh, maybe, but I hear him.

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Lazy lizard

Around the corner I find the crowds. All fifty of them, if that. A young couple play in the sea, mouths teasing and eventually giving in to the kiss. The first kiss? A holiday romance? Families shade beneath mangrove trees and kids paddle in the calm shallows.  Here in this little lagoon it is sheltered and perfect for a relaxing afternoon dip, a significant contrast to the rougher waters around the corner.

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Shallow water play in the bay

I sit down on a slither of sand and watch birds swooping and boobing, sorry, bobbing about in the water. (The boobing comes later. No blue-footed boobies for me today. Let the anticipation build.) My picnic lunch creates some curiosity and a Straited Heron moves in on my personal space. Feeding the animals and birds on the islands is, however, banned so sorry, matey, today I’m going to be selfish and enjoy my avocado, tomato and bread feast alone.

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My picnic companion

As I start to make my way back through a scattering of trees and shrubs and a speckling of deserted beach towels, a guy shouts over from a small boat in amongst the mangroves. ’Puerto Ayora?’ he asks. Nah, I think I’ll walk.

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Lagoon calm at home time

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Perching pelicans

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Looking back up Tortuga Bay towards Puerto Ayora

And I retrace my steps, back along Bahía Tortuga and past perching pelicans, back along the pristine, cacti edged pathway, back to the wardens’ hut. I sign out and sit down to pause and look down over a dusky Puerto Ayora and the visiting yachts rising and falling in the gentle swell of Academy Bay. Soon, I hope, I will make my home on one of those yachts and embark on the most daring adventure of my travels thus far: a South Pacific crossing, back towards Australia via the tropical magic of French Polynesia. Am I really going to do this?

One of the wardens comes out and perches on the wall a few metres away. I’m crucially aware of his presence, a quiet, strong guardian of this beauty spot, and I wonder whether to continue sitting in silence or to strike up a conversation.

Of course I go for the latter, studying his face as I nosy in on island life. He has kind eyes. ‘Do you ever think about working somewhere else? Going somewhere a bit busier?’ I ask him, trying to not show that I’ve noticed his visibly beating heart. A stress condition? Surely not, not in this lovely, serene environment. He fixes his gaze on the village below. No, he tells me, he can’t imagine leaving this place, not for more than a few days.

And why would he want to? Fair enough.

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