martes, 24 de abril de 2007

Floreana and Isabella, Galapagos

I have never posted a blog via e-mail, so I hope this comes out right…

The short day sail from Academy Bay down to Isla Santa Maria (Floreana) was split evenly between motoring (fine by me for it allowed me to make water and top off our tanks) and sailing with a gentle breeze on a fast beam reach. The few hours of sailing saw me reach what is perhaps my top speed in Avventura (7.8 knots over the ground), and was some of the most pleasant sailing of my life, gliding along with a 10 knot breeze aided by a knot current from astern and with very little swell activity. But as soon as we entered the lee of Floreana the wind disappeared completely and the heat of the day set in as the motor resumed its drone.
Isla Floreana proved to be the only island that matched the image in my head of what I expected all the Galapagos Islands to be like. On approach the island looked bleak and the vegetation was brown, unlike the green-clad hills of San Cristobal and Santa Cruz. As we neared the anchorage of Puerto Velasco Ibarra I was stunned to find we were the only boat around. We dropped the hook in an open roadstead off the tiny town and were quick to venture ashore to check in with the Port Captain.
We left our dinghy at the pier (a concrete seawall more than a viable dock) and walked up the dirt road leading to town. First buildings we arrived at was the Navy Base/Port Captain’s office. The base consisted of the Port Captain’s living quarters and a separate building with his office as well as a third detached unit that I never saw put to use. When I approached the Office I was welcomed inside by the Port Captain and he asked what he could help me with. I told him we had just arrived from Santa Cruz and he asked if we needed anything. I declined and was told to simply return before we wished to depart. No hassles, no paperwork, just come back and see me later, and a queer look as if to say “stupid gringos, interrupt my day just to let me know you have arrived.”
Upon leaving the Port Captain’s office Mike and I were rather stunned to find a little wave breaking in a small cove north of the pier. Anxious to at least find refuge from the heat of the day we returned to Avventura, grabbed our boards, and paddled out. Though far from a world-class wave we had stumbled across our own private No Surf in the Galapagos Islands. Little lefts were peeling over a shallow lava reef, never a wave exceeding head high, but consistent and fun, and not another soul in sight or the threat of anyone ruining our session. Here we had come to an island with no hope of finding surf and had stumbled across a fun, easily accessible wave.
That evening (Friday, 3/30) we took the dinghy in with the hopes of finding a beer in the tiny town. We walked up and down the dirt roads with the rare house widely spaced along the way, and were about to give up when Mike had me ask a local lady walking with her son if there was a store on the island. She said there was, and pointed us to a white house with construction going on in the rear. The front of the house had a separate room that housed the island’s lone store, stocked with enough provisions to serve the local population (100) for the month between visits from the supply ship. Here we bought a couple beers, and Mike sat on the porch while I ventured down to the pier for some sunset pictures (see Once at the pier I climbed out onto some rocks extending to the south for a better picture and nearly stepped on a massive marine iguana who was soaking up the day’s last rays. The iguana spit at me (and I mean this literally), and I jumped back four feet. As I looked closer I saw dozens scattered along the coast, the biggest I have ever come across.
As the sun settled into a cloudbank I returned to the tienda where Mike was struggling to carry on a conversation with the store’s cashier, Santos (age 17). Santos was glad to learn I spoke some Spanish and proceeded to begin a game of 20 questions, asking me all about my travels and where we were headed next. As night fell more locals stopped by to check out the new gringos and join in the conversation.
Since this will be posted via my radio e-mail I need to condense the remainder as best I can…
We spent another two days at Floreana, surfing the little wave off the town, taking an illegal dinghy trip over to spectacular Post Office Bay, hiking up into the Floreana highlands, and hanging out with the locals. At Post Office Bay we walked on two beaches where the only tracks were those of sea turtles who had ventured ashore to lay their eggs, came across the ancient barrel once used to pass mail back and forth (especially by the whalers who oft-called in the bay), and stumbled upon a cave (lava tube) which led us down into pitch-black darkness and beyond. We were guided only be the random flash of our cameras and felt our way down till the cave began to curve and it was time to return to daylight. (That afternoon the locals told us the cave is actually a lava tube that comes out underwater and can be passed through with Scuba gear.) The highlands hike brought us into the land of Darwin’s Finches (there are some 16 distinct species found in the Galapagos, and these small birds played a large role in the development of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution) with the pleasant smells of the dry vegetation filling our nostrils and dirt wafting up off the road as the sun baked our backs. When our self-proclaimed “king of the island” offered us a ride back to town in his big truck we accepted and hopped in the back. The king had one of the only big trucks on the island (used to transport every and anything up to and down from the fincas, or farms, in the highlands), and he was the only one who spoke English that we came across in town.
Sunday morning was a day I won’t son forget. I picked up Santos and his young friend, Wilson, at the pier and brought them out to Avventura where they asked a dozen questions and I showed them how everything worked on board (they were stoked at the radar and electronic charts where I showed them the Marquesas and our voyage ahead). But the highlight of their day was the dinghy ride back when I let each drive. Wilson (about 12) took control first and the look of sheer joy in his eyes and smile on his face made my day. Santos was afraid to get planning, and everytime we began to get enough speed he’d ease off the throttle. Thus on the way in I let the motor run full throttle and they were thrilled. Sunday also brought the best surf, and three locals borrowed my extra boards and tried surfing with us. They got pounded mostly, but still came up smiling. I had more fun than a mortal should be allowed; that is right up until my last wave when my calves both cramped up in the midst of a cutback and I lost my board into the lava shoreline. It came back with a couple nice dings and my surfing days in the Galapagos came to an end. That evening we watched a local volleyball game (became intense when every player put down $3 on the game), said our good-byes to the most welcoming locals I’ve come across in South America, and returned to Avventura.
April 2 saw us make our way over to Isla Isabella and anchor in Puerto Villamil after a long day of motoring, catching only 2 boobies while trolling (which, needless to say, we threw back and watched fly away). Our stay in Villamil was short and busy for me, mostly because I was anxious to get back to sea and begin the Pacific crossing. I spent my time split between boat work (lubing and repairing winches, scrubbing the hull and waterline, stowing everything, and generally preparing for the crossing), uploading pictures, and exploring the town, anchorage and its environs. The highlight and perfect way to cap off my Galapagos stay came Wednesday, April 4, our last full day on Isabella. After a morning of work I went for a brief snorkel (seeing parrot fish and other tropical species swimming alongside sea lions and over bright yellow sea urchins) before taking the dinghy out to an islet which protects the anchorage. Here I came upon a trail which wound over the lava rock islet where hordes of young marine iguanas traveled in packs. But the truly unique sight here was in a small crevice between the islet and an offlying rocky patch. The crevice was filled with some six feet of water and was about five feet wide, and in this small gap (about 50 feet long) over a dozen Galapagos and white-tipped sharks swam in circles as if they were entrapped. I still have no clue what causes the sharks to congregate here, but they had no desire to leave their little playpen. Once I departed the islet I resumed my day’s stated mission: find a penguin. I asked a local kid driving a panga with a couple friends and he led me to a nearby rocky point where, sure enough, five penguins waddled about amongst a few blue-footed boobies. At one point a sea lion nudged his way onto the same rock and it was one last perfect Galapagos scene. Nowhere else in the world do penguins come face-to-face with sea lions and blue-footed boobies at the same time.
My six week stay in the Galapagos was time well-spent, and full of many adventures. It was a time I’ll never forget. From the people I met, both cruisers and locals alike, the amazing wildlife (both marine, land, and bird), and the beautiful vistas and landscape of the islands themselves all helped add to my tremendous enjoyment of the Enchanted Land of Darwin. But I find, despite the great time I had in the Galapagos, that I am ready and eager to be moving on. I am ready for the crossing underway (2899 NM to go), and anxious to explore the islands of French Polynesia which I have come to know so well in my dreams. I am reminded of an answer one fellow cruiser gave a land tourist when asked, “What has been your favorite port?” Judith (off Dream Weaver III) replied: “The next one.” So here’s to the next port, 2899 NM away! Here’s to the voyage ahead. As the great Sterling Hayden wrote:

To the hunted, not to the hunter;
To the Passage, not to the path.

Scott Atkins
S/V Avventura
At Sea—07/4/6
2 South by 92 West