domenica 17 maggio 2015

Galàpagos Island Highlights – Between Surf and Evolution

Our first day was fast gone waiting for the authorities and making all the necessary papers for clearance. As every tourist machine, here they learnt really well how to pump money from the tourist, especially if you are coming with your own boat. The funniest thing was that every time we talked with other boat’s Captain the next days, we figured out every one of us had a different way to entry the islands. Someone paid 1000 dollar plus a couple of bottles of whisky to be allowed to morgue in San Cristobal as well, someone else just came in making the paper directly at the port authorities. Anyway, from my experience, after listening to all the stories, the best way to arrive here is to contact by mail an agent a week or so before your arrival. A lot of web sites and blog will tell you that you cannot go around the islands with your own boat, but if you previously ask your agent he will arrange it for you. The price you will have to pay for a standard boat (from 39 to 60ft) with 2/4 people on board is around 1000/1400US$. You’ll have to expect a crew of 8 people coming on board to check your boat. They will ask you thousands of questions and take pictures of black water system and garbage. They will appreciate if you previously make two A4 paper attached somewhere on the boat that says: “Don’t throw garbage out of the boat” and “Do not discharge black waters into the sea”. They probably want pick some of your fruit or food up and obviously ask for something to drink. After that, the super troopers will arrive, armed with dive gears and Go-Pro Hero 3 to supervise the hull of your boat. If you know that is not really clean, make sure to have the time to refresh it before they come. In case they will deny your permit to stay because of shells and seaweed, you will have two options: exit the island, clean your hull with the help of someone from the port (700$) or the less expensive one, tell them you have a problem with your engine and you cannot start it anymore. They will write that and let you stay with no problems.
After our big day of documents and boat cleaning, we finally have the time to go around the island, starting to be absorbed by the fascinating nature and the plentiful animals environment.
The super comfortable dinghy dock and taxy service very well organized (50cent each way, call them on 14vhf), were making our life easy and simple. This is a place far from Ecuador mainland, were everybody quietly runs his life mainly around the tourism. The first time we had a bit of time to spend on land, everybody used it to explore the internet café, I felt a bit sad about not writing immediately to my family and friends, but I couldn’t resist to take a little detour and walk alone for few km down to the Darwin Center. If there was one thing I knew about Galàpagos was that here I could meet the giant turtle. In that particular moment I felt like if I was waiting to meet them since ever. Strange animals, they are so slow and look not particularly smart however they are surviving the ages like no other. They really are amazing survivors!!! The Darwin center protects hundreds of turtles and others animals, but what I didn’t know is that behind a little gate, along a small walk surrounded by nature and Iguanas, there is a beach. I don’t know why in my life this things happen but I swear that was not my intention to arrive into one of the best surf spot on the island. I was shifting my mood from a quiet guy with a gringo hat and explorers shoes, to the usual sick surf finder. That was incredible, a couple a minutes ago I was taking picture of turtles and birds and now I was memorizing all the information some local surfer were giving to me about surfing the island and find a board.
Tip for surfesr: bring your own board unless you don’t wanna adapt yourself to some old boards sold for lots more that his real value. And one more, try every hostel or beach with surf before to allow you to buy a board from the only shop with second hand board on the main road . He will ripe you off!!!!
You can also buy a new board from the only Reef Shop in town he sells some Klimax (Peruvian shaper, good quality) and Al Merrik. (550 to 1000$) But that was not my intention, sailing the Pacific means that we are going through every kind of reef solo surf we can imagine, and it would be nice to have two babies with us, but our budget is very low at the moment, so we start to ask everywhere to find something interesting. After few days Alice literally found her board on the beach, a French guy named Ken broke his leash while surfing Tortuga bay and Alice took the board from the sand to give it back, she gently asked if he may wanna sell it and he just said yes. I was nearly ready to buy a new klimax when I met a surfer on the street that has a friend that knows someone else that maybe has a surfboard for sale….right in that moment he passed buy with his car and the board “et voila!!!”
For 350$ we have two decent boards, lucky Alice always has the best one, a nearly brand new 5.6ft fat and wide enough to make her crazy on the waves and me, I got a 6.1 gun super thin and painted by Yenth Ccora, the same guy we met in Huanchaco, Peru, a few months ago. I took it like a sign and accept the fact that with a board like this I’ll be obliged to surf Teahupoo in Tahiti ;-)
After Captain e Mdme Nicole left for a cruise with a bigger boat going to some amazing places around the other islands, we had the chance to take care of the boat and relax, surfing every day. Swell was frequently hitting the west coast and the long walk to Playa Tortuga was a good motivation to enjoy as much as we could the moments in a turquoise warm water with white sand, millions of fish and bird around us. Right about the fish I’d love to spend a few words. I’m usually that kind of guy that think of dangerous thing are also the coolest. I love animals and for as much as I know some how I feel related to the surf like nothing else before in my life. But there was a moment when I jumped into the water and saw a few shark swimming on my side or jumping 5mt out the water here and there that for a couple of day didn’t make me so comfortable. Local surfers are super easy about sharks  here and actually without them Alice and I  had hard times to prove ourselves we could surf solo. Nearly everyone here was coming on the beach after twelve and so we always had the whole morning on a desert beach. This is what every surfer dream but we hardly could see the real advantage of it. Finally someone told us that sharks here are “vegetarian”, so we use it as excuse to shut our mind up and concentrate on the waves. When during the next weeks the swell started to seriously build up, there were no other worries on our mind, everything was clear and awesome as usual.
Step one - Check the horizon.
Step two – let that feeling be part of you.
Step Three – don’t let your commitment sit on that board for so long.
There is nothing better than feeling every cell of your body cooperate to make that impossible looking wave.
We are very happy to our stay in Galàpagos, people are friendly and doesn’t matter if you are a backpacker or a rich Japanese with your big camera, at the end of the day you’ll all end up to the main street where all local restaurants are. Sitting there with people you don’t know, eating food made with love from the family of the island. This is a Jaws for tourism and tradition, that melts together creating a unique atmosphere. You will probably walk in the morning to “las grietas” for a swim, meeting the same people that will ask you what’s in your plate at night. People here have different way to live and to approach the tourism. If you’ll be smart enough to come here independently, you will discover the pleasure of meeting the real essence of Galàpagos. Animals are everywhere, sea lions seem to absorbs human habits, birds are just ubiquitous and pelicans are always ready for a good picture. The nature here seems to be untouched by humans and not even a little scare of it. If you will have the chance to stand on a boat or sit on a board after 5 o’clock, you’ll see dozen of sharks patrolling bay and beaches, let yourself get used to it and explore yourself .
Unfortunately, due to our limited budget we decided to visit only Isabella and missed Santa Cristobal,  Floreana and Fernandina. Everybody told us that Isabella is one of the highlights of Galàpagos (everything is amazing here, even snorkeling in the port). We took the ferry (which is a small motor boat 60$ roundtrip from Santa Cruz) with Philippe, a friend of the Captain that is going to stay with us for the Pacific crossing while Mdme Nicole is going back home for a month. The 2 hours from Puerto Ayora do Puerto Villamil were fully filled of information of Vulcans, islands, rocks and animals, Doc Philippe is a hurricane of knowledge and loves so much to explain things. We stayed for a couple of days in a small hotel Los Delfines close to the very popular surf camp Caleta Iguana. Our intentions where to visit the volcano and go to snorkel at Los Tunelles. Well If you may pass round here, make as much snorkel you can. Don’t let you be scare of animals, they are totally friendly and have absolutely no fear. The feeling you’ll explore here is going to be on a different environment. Landscapes and animals are glued together, turtle will swim with you for as long as you feel like to, sea lion will run close to you and showing their best move on the water. Penguins are spinning everywhere like little tornado and Iguanas are simply everywhere looking at you like a parent look his kid on a playground. The relation between human and nature here in Galapagos is something you’ll never forget. During our swim between the mangroves I was thinking that never and for any reasons in my live I could even think to swim in a place like that, but suddenly realized that we were welcomed. Tide and fishes where like one only things, between rock and mangroves we spotted sea horses, turtle, sea lions, and sharks. The best moment for me was when the guide drove us into the house of sharks. Under a big submerged rock there was a cove with 5/6 sharks going around. When ten days before I could probably have an heart attack if I saw this, now I was feeling addict to that. Even Alice couldn’t stop to dive with me into the cove and stare this magnificent animals swim close to us. Every time we were coming up to breathe again we were both saying to each other: “you saw, they are not so bad, they don’t eat us, maybe they are vegetarian!!!!” and laughing like kids after that.
My day ended swimming attached on a gigantic and friendly turtle, she was curious and looking totally happy to have us around. At one time she came under me like if I could sit on her and we swam together for a couple of minutes like if that was the most normal thing ever.  Thought there are pictures in our memories that we should not miss, that moment and that day was one of that. But Isabella is not only animals and snorkeling or hiking….it can be legendary surfable!!!! The beach is a long white bay with blue warm water. Right in the middle there is El Faro and a little more ahead The Point. The swell was big enough to be a little tricky but we really couldn’t ask anything better. Here in Isabella surf is unlimited, for two reasons: rangers don’t call you out of the water at 5.30 like in Santa Cruz and if you have the chance to rent a little boat with a local Capitan, you can accede to hundreds of desert brakes close by the bay. With good South West swell you’ll have a fat 9 to 12ft waves coming to you and just be minded for rocks like every other reef brake. (Exp. Surfers better, committed intermediate welcome)
As everywhere we go, as soon as we have the chance to taste flavors of the country’s kitchen, we are always first line for it. Even here there are several nice restaurant and exception for the very touristic one with flag of all country and “available WI_FI” sign you can really experience some nice dishes with less than seven dollars. It’s enough to check out the menu of the day written on a board in front of the entry and you’ll pick up the best one for you.
Waiting for our ferry back to Santa Cruz, I was sitting on a bench surrounded by sea lions that apparently like the benches too. Staring and the sea like if we never saw it before, we are still surprised when we can spot a ray, a penguin or a shark. The Capitan of the ferry took a little detour close by the waves of the outer reefs to make the pics we couldn’t take while surfing. What else?
I don’t know what to ask more from these islands, atmosphere and nature are top, tourism machine is well managed and very careful on the environment. Food can be great and people extremely friendly. If you are a surfer you’ll have no time without others local asking to go surfing together, and if you are a surfer girl…you know? In a sport 95% male speaking, you’ll have no problems to make lots of friends.

Looking at these islands far behind Lazy Jack, I can only say what Darwin wrote a few years ago after his visit with the “Beagle”: Evolution is the key o Galapagos, these are islands like no others!