jueves, 29 de marzo de 2007

Isla Santa Cruz

Isla San Cristobal and Isla Santa Cruz. Less than forty miles separate them, but they are a world apart. My first impressions of Santa Cruz were far from great, but it has grown on me with time. Upon arrival here (Academy Bay) I was overwhelmed by the size and the touristy nature of the town (Puerto Ayora). Yes, San Cristobal was touristy, but walking down the streets this was never the first thing I noticed. As soon as I ventured ashore in Santa Cruz I felt the touristy atmosphere of the island, and the bigger-city feel of the town and was chased back to Avventura. The next day was no better as the float switch to my automatic bilge pump failed and I had to find a replacement in town and install it, working in the midday heat in nasty bilge water. Since my day was already ruined I tacked on the tedium of oil and fuel filter changes and didn’t even bother to head ashore.

But the earth continued turning and the new day brought much better experiences. Once past the touristy Malecon a different island presented itself. Fleeing the city life, I struck off for Bahia Totuga. A 2.5 km path winds through the vegetation of the region bringing you close to the large cacti which dot the landscape with birds flitting about and lizards spastically darting along the path, ever waiting till the last minute to move out of your way. The midday sun was beating down on the lava-rock path and as we reached the peak of a small hill the ocean beyond came into view beyond a blinding white sand beach. The clarity of the water and the whiteness of the sand provided amazing color contrasts as the seafloor fell away into the deep blue beyond. Tortuga Bay is a gorgeous half moon bay with tucked between two lava points and guarded behind by thick desert vegetation. The sand is a fine powder, and (hard as it is for me to compare the two incomparable places) was reminiscent of that in Gulf Shores, Alabama. The surf offshore was not much better than Gulf Shores either. A fifteen knot breeze swept along the shoreline and the waist high waves gently fell over on themselves; but the beauty of surfing is that none of this matters. I ditched my things on the beach and was quick to paddle out, and as soon as I duckdove the first wave all was right with the world again. The traumas of the previous day were a distant memory as I paddled to the empty lineup, turned shorewards, and admired the beauty of the desolate landscape. A few people were scattered about the long beach, but there were no homes adorning the hillsides and the bustling port was far away.

I was able to sneak into a few fun little waves before abandoning the water and walking the length of the beach, snapping photos as I went. Unfortunately Tortuga Bay is one of those places that cannot be captured in pictures alone. For one thing the beach is too wide and long to be captured in one frame, not to mention the fact that the camera doesn’t pick up the sounds and smells of the wildlife and vegetation, or the feel of the brutal equatorial sun being dampened by a breeze off the Humboldt-chilled water. I passed the afternoon reading the Autobiography of Charles Darwin on a gorgeous beach in the Enchanted Isles he made so famous and felt somehow close to the great naturalist.

As the sideshore wind continued for a second day I made my way to the “Charles Darwin Research Station” and spent a morning walking around the place. The Research Station is used to breed and raise baby tortoises and land iguanas which are then taken back to their native islands after they have reached a certain size. There are pens enclosing hordes of tiny tortoises separated into the island they came from, then there’s a communal cage where the tortoises are transferred after a couple years to learn to exist in more natural surroundings, after which they are returned to their native islands usually. There are a few exceptions. The next stop on the trail, for instance, brought me to the pen of “Lonesome George.” George is the last remaining member of the subspecies of tortoises from Isla Pinta and he was brought to the research center in the late 1970s in the hopes of finding him a suitable mate and either continuing his same species, or at least creating a new bloodline in close relation to the species. The problem is they have yet to find a female from the Pinta subspecies and George refuses to adulterate his blood. He spends his days in a pen with two female tortoises from a species closely related to him, but he refuses to mate with any tortoise outside his specie, and thus the Pinta subspecie appears doomed as George grows old.

After paying my respects to “Lonesome George” I walked through separate pens enclosing first female tortoises and then their gigantic male counterparts. It still surprises me how archaic the animals look. Looking into the eyes of the tortoise is like looking back to an era long past when reptiles ruled the earth. After the tortoises came the few land iguanas on display—massive iguanas of a reddish hue who were highly inactive and completely unconcerned with me.

Other than the Darwin Research Station all I wanted to see on Santa Cruz were the tourist sites up in the highlands. The opportunity arose on March 27th and Mike and I jumped at it. It all started the night before when Mike met a girl in a bar and the next morning we were headed ashore to do some kind of painting up in the highlands. All I knew was that it was my way up the hill. It turns out we were helping Galapagos ICE (www.galapagosice.org), a non-profit outfit, who was painting the inside of a school in the highland town of Santa Rosa. So we spent a couple hours throwing some fresh paint on a rundown school that needed a lot more than a superficial facelift, working alongside a dozen locals. I had a good time chatting with the locals and experienced the Ecuadorian work ethic firsthand. At one point I was painting a room with five locals when a man came in and said there were sandwiches for lunch. Immediately, almost in mid-stroke the locals cleared out of the room and went to lunch. Afterwards they lingered, did a bit more painting, and abandoned the endeavor in favor of a pick-up game of soccer on the basketball court of the school. Since the teams were uneven I somehow got dragged into the game and quickly realized my lack of any soccer skills; but in the end I didn’t hurt my team and we took the game 3-0.

In the early afternoon the painting was done and Mike and I along with Jill (the girl who roped Mike into the gig) and Ian from Afriki, were driven down to the Lava Tunnel. Our driver (a fellow painter) had called ahead and we were let in the tunnel for free, and descended into the center of the earth as it felt from the wrong direction, fighting against the flow of the pasty white tourists as we crawled through the low section of the tunnel and emerged into a massive lava tube. The tube was formed when the outer skin of the lava cooled first and the molten inside continued downhill, in the end forming a near-perfect tube that extended for a couple hundred yards before emerging into daylight once more.

After our stroll through the earth we were taken down to a local ranch where there are trails cut through the landscape and you can see tortoises in their natural habitat. Our luck was fairly good and we came across three gigantic tortoises, both hunkered in the bushes and strolling out in the open. It was a neat hike through the highland semi-forest, and after an hour of searching and nearly getting ourselves lost we returned to the entrance and were driven back down to sea level and left in Puerto Ayora. A little bit of work got us a lunch and visits to the tourist sites of the highlands as well as allowing us to meet the locals of the town and observe the Ecuadorians at work. It was a nice day.

All things considered Santa Cruz is nothing like San Cristobal, but has proven to be a wonderful stop on the continuing voyage. From here we will head south to Isla Santa Maria (Floreana) for a few days followed by a handful of days at Isla Isabella from whence we will take our leave for the Marquesas. The voyage is starting to move along and the sea is calling me back. I’m excited for the long passage which waits in the wings, and even more so to be heading for the south sea islands of many a man’s childhood dreams.

Pura Vida,
Scott Atkins

PS For the moment the “real world” has struck and I’m stuck in Santa Cruz at least another day trying to deal with the incompetence of modern man, but with a little luck the voyage will be moving on again soon.

jueves, 8 de marzo de 2007

Wreck Bay Heaven

I´ve now been anchored in Wreck Bay for going on 17 days and am in no hurry to move on. The anchorage is among the most beautiful I have come across with sapphire water and unobstructed views to the sea floor 30 feet beneath "Avventura´s" hull. The water is so clear that on one moonlit night while returning from dinner ashore you could see the entire hull six feet underwater in the dim moonlight shining through a thin layer of clouds. The cruisers I´ve met here are as nice as any I´ve come across and as varied a lot as you´ll find (boats from South Africa, New Zealand, Canada, France, Germany, to name a few)--most in transit to the Marquesas and points further west.

The bulk of my time has been spent surfing, reading, writing, and relaxing with some boat work thrown in for good measure. The surf here has been a pleasant surprise with its consistency, size and shape all exceeding what I had been expecting. Just yesterday I surfed 4 different spots for a total of 7 hours. The surf was 6 foot, a mix of southwest and north swell that turned on every spot on the island. After a morning session with the Kiwi Nick off "Pina Colada" at Canons Mike and I took the dinghy up the coast with the South African trio of surfers off "Robyn´s Nest" to the Manglacito where we surfed six foot perfect, fast lefts without another soul in sight. The wave broke off a desolate stretch of coast covered in green vegetation climbing the barren hillsides towards the blue skies above. The wind was slightly offshore and there was a hook in the reef where you were guaranteed a chance at a tube. One of the South Africans, Dave, a sixteen year old, is a good surfer and was pulling into impossible tubes and somehow coming out, though he did take a couple hard wipeouts. When the "Wavehunters" boat arrived with a dozen surfers we started making our way back to Wreck Bay, stopping at Isla Lobos where I had previously snorkeled with Sea Lions. This time we surfed a little hollow lefthander breaking directly off an islet of jagged rocks. If you fell on the takeoff you´d become ground-up seal bait, but we all made the drops and got a dozen fun and fast waves before calling it an afternoon and returning to Wreck Bay. Once back at the Bay I said good-bye to Nick and Patti on "Pina Colada" (we had become pretty good friends and they were sailed for the Marquesas yesterday afternoon) and I capped off a day of surfing with a stop at the hollow, shallow left of Tongo Reef where I surfed for an hour by myself and another 30 minutes with one local on consitent and fun overhead surf.

The Galapagos has lived up to an exceeded all my expectations thus far and I´ve yet to sail past the first island (San Cristobal). I am taking my time here because I have been warned that this both will probably be my favorite anchorage and that it is very difficult to fight the wind and current to return here. Thus the plan is for another couple weeks here before moving on to the other 3 or 4 anchorages I am allowed to visit in the islands. Tentative date for departure for the Marquesas is April 15, wind, weather and fun permitting. I am uploading pictures to my site (www.flickr.com/photos/avventura) as I type, but it is a slow connection so I don´t know how many of the 75 will make it on there, but it should be enough to give you a flavor of my last month of travels. Sorry for the lack of updates but internet here is slow and unreliable...More when I can.

Pura Vida!

jueves, 1 de marzo de 2007

Isla San Cristobal, Galapagos

Heaven on earth. That’s the only short way to explain my experiences in the Galapagos thus far. It’s been non-stop action and activity since arriving here, so much so that this is my first time using the internet since arriving on Tuesday, February 20. So now let me go back…

After far too long on-the-hard in Puerto Lucia Avventura was dropped into the water around 1300 on February 15. After spending a couple hours at the fuel dock re-attaching the jibstay and taking care of other minor tasks Mike and I departed La Libertad at 1500 and motored westward. Unfortunately the wind began on the nose and soon died, not to return for 3 days. On Sunday a light breeze picked up from the east-northeast and I set the main and poled the jib out to windward, sailing Avventura wing-on-wing for the first time since I’ve had her, making 4.5 knots with just 8 knots of wind, but a 1.5 knot current which helped us the entire way to the Galapagos. It was a great feeling to be sailing once more, sailing away from the worries of land and the hectic rush to get the boat ready for the crossing with all the problems that entailed; but alas, it was not to last. By sunset the wind had died and the sails were spilling their air with great regularity so it was back to motoring for the night. In all we sailed just 12 hours on the crossing and used 55 gallons of diesel (thankfully it’s only $1.02/gal here) from La Libertad to Wreck Bay where we arrived in the morning hours of February 20.

On approach I could already tell I would fall in love with Isla San Cristobal. The water was as clear as I have seen it, and when I dropped the anchor you could see it hit the sand and a school of fish swarmed around the boat as I backed down. Shortly after the hook was set and Eagle Ray swam above the anchor chain some thirty feet down, and seals circled the boat looking for a perch to rest on (luckily we don’t have one, unlike the handful of catamerans here where the sea lions are able to climb up onto their swim steps and rest). By the afternoon I had attempted to check us in only to be told to return manana, and after a brief rest it was time to surf. Now up for launching the dinghy, and doubtful that there would be any surf, I retrieved my 7’ 2” and paddled across Wreck Bay to the south point off the Navy Base where a left point break forms off the rocky coast (el Canyon, or Canons—I’m not sure which). I was surprised to find the surf head high and extremely fun. I hadn’t brought a leash, but luckily I was able to hang on to my board.

Water clarity amazing. Wildlife stunning. Seals everywhere, but in a comical way, not annoying. And even some fun surf. While surfing I met a fellow-cruiser, Nick, a Kiwi on Pina Colada who we’ve been surfing with ever since.

Now before this gets long I will shorten the rest so I can get back to exploring the island. Have taken two tours on the island. The first was a land tour where we first stopped at the volcano atop the island. Inside its crater there’s a freshwater lake, and from the rim there are 360 degree stunning views of the surprisingly green island. From the crater we drove down to a breeding site for Galapagos tortoises and saw a dozen scattered around a neat little trail which brought you up close with the landscape of the island--lava and hard soil with hardy light-green vegetation, many of which have small flowers and are home to numerous birds. Tortoises are the most archaic looking creature I've ever seen. Even more so than iguanas. Relics from an era long past. Then went up to another beautiful lookout over the island, La Soledad, overlooking the west side of the island. The clarity of the water makes the coastline look amazing with its offshore reefs and color variations. Once back at the boat I went surfing at Canons once again with Nick. Caught 4 fun waves before it shut down with the high tide. It was a nice way to end a great day. Mike and I then capped off the day with a dinner ashore with Nick and his wife and the folks on Dream Weaver (who we met in Costa Rica and Panama). It was an amazing day.

The next morning Mike and I joined Nick and his wife and took a taxi with our boards to the southwest coast of the island--a beach called la Loberia. The entire south shore of the island is covered in light green vegetation clinging to the volcanic hillsides. The trail down to the beach wound along the rocky shoreline with a beautiful contrast in the round black lava rocks and the deep blue of the sea. After a short walk we arrived at a perfect half moon bay--perhaps the ideal beach. The white sand was fringed by vegetation on one side and a light green sea on the other. The inner waters of the bay are shallow and calm, being protected by an outcropping of rocks which chop the bay in half. Beyond the rocks lies the surfspot, a steep, hollow A-Frame wave that is fast, but provides short rides before you have to pull out in front of the exposed rocks. The surf was 6 foot and consistent and I got plenty of amazing waves; but the location was even better. Sitting in the lineup and looking ashore to a gorgeous beach--the only white break in an expanse of sharp blacks and greens beneath the blue sky, and no signs of human habitation (excepting the 15 people in the water and 15 on the beach). After surfing a couple hours (the water was noticeably cooler, at least 5 degrees, on the south side of the island) we walked back to town, using the airstrip as a shortcut (imagine doing that in the States these days). In the afternoon we took our dinghies (Mike and I, and Nick) around the south point of Wreck Bay and down the coast to Tonga Reef, a shallow left point break with fast, hollow waves that lead into a lava rock shoreline. I had some amazing rides including a couple nice tubes, though the surf was half the size of the morning, and had a blast.

In the Galapagos you are only able to anchor in 5 designated ports, and can't travel freely about, so tours are the only way to see the islands. So yesterday, February 24, Mike and I took a snorkeling trip to Kicker Rock. We took a panga with Dream Weaver, and the crew of Asylum out to Kicker Rock, a little islet a half mile offshore or so and a handful of miles from Wreck Bay. It was the perfect day for it with little wind and plenty of sunshine. At Kicker Rock there is a big islet and a smaller islet detached by about 30 feet with depths over 50 feet between them. We snorkeled in the gap and around the small islet. In the gap four to six foot white-tipped reef sharks and "Galapagos Sharks" were swimming around along with Eagle Rays and a couple Sea Turtles along with plenty of fish. It was the first time I've snorkeled with sharks and I was able to get a few pictures with my digital camera which I will post when I can. On the sunny side of the small islet the life forms growing on its steep walls and the fish circling made for great snorkeling. Sealife was plentiful and the water was crystal clear. After Kicker Rock we returned to the mainland and Isla Lobos, an island detached by a short channel with sea lions everywhere. Here I swam with the baby sea lions and snorkeled a bit more. The sea lions were quite playful and surprisingly not scared of humans or aggressive in the least. I also saw my first marine iguanas here, though I never saw one actually in the water. In the afternoon we surfed some small waves before falling asleep early.

This morning we surfed La Loberia and had some fun, though small waves. The weather here is amazing. 85 degrees, sunny and warm. Water 81 and crystal clear. No rain yet, though this is the rainy season. Will be in the Galapagos for up to two months in the 5 ports we are allowed to visit. I won’t be checking e-mail very often here, but will reply to everyone when I can.