After 6 days of sailing from Panama, we could finally see some mountain peaks of on the horizon. We had reached the isolated group of volcano islands we know from BBC documentary by David Attenborough; The Galàpagos Islands. The 5 of us onboard were really excited and couldn`t wait to set our feet on land on amazing Galapagos.
Before we left Panama we had contacted an agent and applied for an autografo. We wanted to sail to 3 different islands in the Galàpagos. It is not allowed to sail around in the archipelago, private yachts are only allowed to anchor in the 3 main ports and do tours from there. We had heard rumours/stories about the strict rules to get into the islands, so before we left Panama we washed the boat, every cupboard and minute place in the bilge and we also scraped the hull for barnacles. We made sure we didn`t bring any illegal fruit and vegetables, like strawberries, because that could end our trip to Galàpagos.
When we dropped anchor in Wreck Bay at San Cristobal, 8 officials stepped onboard to do all the paperwork and inspections. We showed them our blackwater certificate, our hull cleaning certificate and our fumigation certificate and we where lucky enough to pass the onboard inspection. However, the diver was not satisfied with the hull. He found a handful of barnacles in some of the through-holes and behind the propeller on our bow-thruster. There was no mercy, we had to turn around and go 40 nautical miles out and scrape the hull again!! What a bummer! It took us 24 more hours, but when we arrived the second time they were happy and we could celebrate our arrival as Thor Heyerdal did in 1953 on his journey through the South Pacific.
The Galàpagos were discovered by accident in 1535 when Tomàs de Berlanga drifted off course while sailing from Panama to Peru. However, the most famous visitor of Galàpagos is Charles Darwin. He sailed past the islands on the british vessel ”The Beagle” in 1835 and he made notes and collected specimens that provided important evidence for his theory of evolution. Origin of the species – natural selection. It`s amazing how the various species arrived at the Galapagos back in the days, and only the strongest and most adaptable species have survived the harsh life here without much fresh water, the hot climate and the landscape of lava and cactus. Every plant and animal species arrived from hundreds to thousands of kilometers on fortuitous wind, air and sea currents mostly from South America. Imagine a marine iguana floating on tree-logs for 6 weeks, or a penguin swimming with the current all the way from the Antarctica.
There were actually a bunch of Norwegians that moved to Galàpagos in the 1920-ies. Some guy advertised something like this in the newspaper: ”Want to explore and live a nice and quiet life on a beautiful island in the South Pacific? Join us on Galàpagos”. Around 2000 sold their homes and left Norway. They arrived but soon realized that life here was tough and not livable. Little fresh water and only lava rocks and dense bushes, so most of them left.
The archipelago is home to a vide array of marine life. The islands are located where 3 different ocean currents meet. Warm surface water from the Panama current, cold water from the Humboldt current and some deep-current coming from the west. These currents give rich plankton-filled water and therefore attract a large amount of life in the ocean. Small fish eat plankton and algae, bigger fish eat small fish and larger mammals like whales and sharks eat the bigger fish.
We have been lucky to see a lot of the wildlife on our stay here in Galàpagos. We nearly stumble upon sea lions and marine iguanas when we walk around on the islands. In the water we have seen a large amount of sea-turtles almost as big as ourselves and we have been swimming with playful sea lions that comes very close. If we do a twist they will do exactly the same. There is a number of smaller (1 m) whitetip- and blacktip shark and the somewhat bigger Galapagos shark. They are all pretty harmless. On a freedivning/snorkle trip to Kicker Rock we even saw hammerhead sharks which freaked me out a little bit. There are numerous amounts of big manta rays, sting rays, and spotted eagle rays. They are amazing to look at underneath the surface when they gracefully ”fly” with their wings. We sometimes see them jumping quite high out of the water, flipping around trying to get rid of annoying fish.
However, the most famous animal in Galàpagos is the giant tortoise. The big land turtle that looks like a prehistoric creature. Galàpagos means ”saddle” in spanish, and the islands are named after the big ”saddle” or shell that the tortoise carry. There are a number of breeding centers around the islands to try building up the population, as the great animal nearly was exterminated. The population had decreased to 20.000, only 10 % of the original population. The reason for the decrease is that a lot of sailors came by and picked up tortoises to give them food on passages in the South Pacific. Tortoises can stay alive several months without food, so sailors kept them onboard and killed them when they ran out of fresh meat. Just to make it clear, we have no intention of bringing a tortoise when we leave The tortoises move slowly and look at bit clumsy, but they manage to get around 10 km in 1 month. I think that is pretty amazing thinking about the thick bushes they have to navigate through.
There are also a number of special birds around the islands. The frigate bird with its red bag underneath its peak, the Galàpagos penguin which is the only penguin that lives in the tropics half the size of an Arctic penguin, the funny blue footed boobie which perform a rather clownish ”dance” during courtship, albatross and flightless cormorant.
We have been in and out of the water, we have hiked to the top of volcanoes and we have repelled down into lava tunnels. We have enjoyed nice meals and drinks on land and we have had quiet nights onboard Stella Polaris. I have never seen such an amount of life in the ocean ever, and even though one is not allowed to go whereever wanted I kind of think that is great. Galàpagos is such a wonderful place, and I`m glad tourists are not allowed to enter every corner of this wonder of the world.