Woke at 6 bright and early in the little cabin and looked out of the tiny window to see a new, lunar-like landscape and a big volcano looming in front. We’d been travelling again through the night, and we were now at Isla Santiago, the fourth largest island in the Galapagos. I headed up to the deck and performed my morning stretches in the morning sunshine, as frigate birds flew overhead. At 7, the bell for breakfast rang.
After a breakfast of cereal, yoghurt, fruit and omelette, we headed over to Sullivan Bay in the east of the island. The first activity today was a walk around the lava fields, an incredible sight of multi-layered rock created from a huge eruption millenia ago. The landscape was similar to what I imagined on the moon, and the solidified lava we were walking on resembling folded curtains, or big walnut whips. Lava pools and inlets had been formed over time, and marine iguanas favoured the place to bask in the glory of the sun. It was the kind of place, Phil and I discussed, where you can imagine they’d shoot a music video – dramatic panned out vista of the area, then moody band member shots of them walking around, then video of the band full on thrashing out the song, before finishing with them all running down the side of one of the parasite volcanos, throwing their instruments in the air. We saw a few cactuses, one of which became a particular favourite, and it was subjected to a torturous display of silly posing by at least 10 of the group, one of whom did a backwards ‘crab’ right over the cactus. A fall, I thought, would be cactus karma indeed.
We walked all around, marvelling at the raw power of mother nature, taking photos, and then we jumped back on the dinghy to go back to the boat. Here, we had a little snack of cookies and a cup of tea, then it was time for snorkeling.
The snorkelling here was spot on – possibly the best I’ve ever done. We were dropped off and as soon as we put our masks on and put our heads under the water, we saw a fearsome sight. 7 white tip sharks, each at least 2m long, pure cartilage and muscle, all swimming around next to a rock at the bottom. It was a great start to a great snorkel, on which I saw countless sea stars, all kinds of incredible exotic creatures, such as angelfish, butterflyfish, Grouper, Moorish idol, Panamic Sergeant Major, Azure Parrotfish, and schools of Galapagos mullet and Striped mullet, and came across a few more sharks cruising menacingly on their own, which terrified me as I was alone too. There is nothing more terrifying under water than suddenly seeing a shark out of the corner of your eye, and then turning to see it come towards you. They are unpredictable, and you just have to hope they don’t want to bite you, because there is no way you could stop them if they wanted to. Perhaps I didn’t look tasty enough today, and so it drifted past me with a ‘watch it, mate’ look. To top the dive off, an adult sealion whisked right up to me to inspect me near the end of the dive, looking at me with those amazing eyes, then sped off again as though I was boring him. Absolutely superb.
Back on the boat it was time for lunch, and we started with an Equadorian speciality – ceviche, which is raw fish (Grouper fish today) soaked in lime juice. Delicious. Beef and pasta and vegetables followed, then it was time to head out again to a point where there are two beaches separated by a sliver of land. We were late getting there, however, as the Maltese couple on the boat, who so far had refused to listen at all to the guide and lagged behind the group constantly, or if they didn’t charged in front of your photos like bulls in chinashops, had fallen asleep on the top deck and, despite two bells ringing to announce our departure, didn’t hear them. They came on the boat with silly grins on silly faces (he was a Maltese version of Carl Pilkington of ‘An Idiot Abroad’ fame, she was like a character from League of Gentlemen), and we were finally ready for off. We walked along one of the beaches, and here we could photograph the comical red Sally Lightfoot crabs, sea turtles, which poked their heads up out of the water like the turds of a man who doesn’t have enough fibre in his diet, countless lava lizards and iguana, and a few seals chilling out on the beach. We then snorkelled from the other beach, which was again amazing, and I saw schools of Reef Cornetfish, Blue Striped Snapper, White-Tailed Damselfish, mean-looking Mexican Hogfish. and many types of Parrotfish. They’re funny, fish. I’ve got mates that resemble fish. In fact, most people probably have a fish stunt double– the resemblance can be quite startling.
Around a huge rock we came upon a group of Galapagos penguins standing proudly on a rock. I couldn’t believe I was actually getting this close to penguins. On the swim back, I decided to go through a shallow area. To my surprise, emerging in a sinisterly graceful fashion from the depths was a 2 metre white tip shark, cruising up and down the shallows. Maybe it was the one from before, and had been tracking me all along. I could hardly get out of the way in time. I swam away as quickly as I could, losing my composure and swallowing a load of seawater. It was terrifying to come across such a predator at such close quarters.
We had a quick turnaround back on the boat, before we were off again to climb to the top a lunar-like hill, to get to a viewpoint which provided some incredible views of the two beaches and the volcanos in the distance. The sun was setting, though wasn’t visible due to the cloud cover, but still made lighting quite special. It was amazing, and for some reason reminded me of a similar view in Koh Phi Phi in Thailand, as that is also an island joined by a thin strip of land in the middle, creating 2 lagoon-like bodies of water either side . Minus the volcanos of course. Here seemed a fitting place for a group photo, as now we all knew each other, were more comfortable with each other, and real personalities were beginning to surface – and we all got on well, although the daft Maltese couple seemed a bit introverted, preferring to speak only with each other. The Swiss bloke Jorge set a timer and put his camera on a mini-tripod before sprinting down to join the group. The Maltese couple made sure they were in the middle of the picture, squeezing in front of me and blocking me. Cheese.
Back on the boat we had a dinner of chicken, rice with beans and vegetables, with a fruit pie for dessert. Friendships had now been forged and blossomed in the group, and drinking was very much on everybody’s mind. The Kiwi guys were nice to talk to, both lived in London. The Nowegian girl was sound, the young Dutch crew were really friendly, the American couple both biology lecturers, were lovely and the voices of experience, the Swiss bloke was full of fun, and engaged the crew and the Spaniards constantly, eager to keep practising his (excellent) Spanish, the older Spanish couple from Bilboa were very amiable, Phil from England was funny and interesting….the only oddballs were the Maltese couple – but they were nice but dim and harmless enough, so we were lucky really. We trusted each other more now, knew who we wanted to talk to and who we didn’t. We now talked about more than just travel stories, we began to share more intimate details as those together in each others company for a while trust each other enough to do. Most people are genuinely sound. You have to believe in the good of humanity. I was enjoying this trip, and the whole experience immensely. I finished typing up my day and headed up to the deck, where Phil, Tom and Andrew (the Kiwi guys) the Norwegian girl Gitte and one of the Dutch lasses were sitting drinking beer. The Swiss bloke Jorge was perched on the edge of the deck, looking down at a sealion pup below, who had somehow managed to get onto the edge of the dinghy and was sleeping. A huge shark we saw circling underneath gave us a clue why. The pup was far from home – a swim for safety at this time would be a gamble with its life. It stayed a few hours, then slipped off quietly when it was sure the shark had gone. Sharks had been circling the boat everyday, looming ominously under the dinghies. Phil and I spoke deep into the night, as he brought out a bottle of sambuca, and got stuck in. We spoke for hours, complete strangers pouring out our feelings under the stars on this little boat in the Galapogas islands.