Friday, May 1, 2009

Isla Cristobal in Galapagos Islands, April 2008

Our passage from Panama took 9 days, far longer than we had anticipated. We arrived at Wreck Bay on Isla Cristobal of the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador at 0730 on April 25, 2008, and anchored at 0.53.723S; 089.36.821W.

We anchored in Bahia de Naufragio, a/k/a Wreck Bay. Isla Cristobal was previously named Chatham. The Galapagos islands have been known by several names during their various ownerships. Each bay and anchorage also has had many names. This makes navigation interesting when using different nautical charts.

Soon after we anchored Friday morning in Wreck Bay on Isla Cristobal the Port Captain and a military guy visited our boat. The Port Captain told us what we already knew – that if we officially cleared into the Galapagos on Isla Cristobal then we would not be allowed to move our boat until we cleared out for the Marquesas. We could take some boat tours to other islands, but our boat must remain at port of original anchorage. Had we obtained an “autografo” prior to arrival in Galapagos then we could have visited the other 4 allowed ports on a few other islands. The autografo is a cruising permit but it must be obtained through an agent prior to arrival. We knew this because we have been in contact with an agent for a couple of months, as well as having email from 2 other boats that were here last month. Ecuador has a new government as of last year and a number of things have changed for visiting yachts, both in Galapagos and on mainland. The rules are evolving and will certainly change again from the current restrictions. Since we were delayed a month at the Panama Canal that meant we would not have time to spend 3 weeks in the Galapagos islands, so we had opted not to obtain the autografo prior to our arrival here. If it meant that we only got to see Cristobal for a day or 2 and then depart for the Marquesas, that would be okay. But we really wanted to visit Santa Cruz for a few days if possible. The Port Captain is a very nice man and understood perfectly what we wanted to do, and he was kind enough to do what was within the scope of his authority while still following the current Ecuadorian laws.

The Port Captain had authority to allow us to remain in Wreck Bay for 24 hours before proceeding to Santa Cruz, a privilege which he very kindly granted to us and also to our friends on FREE SPIRIT. He would take possession of our Zarpe from Panama for this 24-hour period and return it to us just prior to our heaving the anchor and departing Saturday morning. That suited us perfectly. One day was enough to see the highlights of Cristobal. Most of the tourist things to see and most of the tour boats operate out of Santa Cruz. This way we get to see both islands.

We took a water taxi to the newly built malecon (waterfront street). The new malecon is very nice and construction was completed just a few months ago. They started the water taxi service because the sea lions were getting into cruisers’ dinghies and making a huge mess. The sea lions were everywhere – reminded us a lot of Fisherman’s Wharf area of San Francisco, except that this is a very quaint little town. A guy named Fernando quickly attached himself to us. Fernando is quite a hustler. He speaks English moderately well and works for Carmela Romero, sister of Jhonny Romero. Carmela operates the Cristobal branch office of Jhonny’s company called Yachtgala Agencia Naviera. We told Fernando that we wanted to rent a car and drive around the island by ourselves. I know someone who did this last year. But Fernando made us understand that this just wasn’t going to be possible but that he could arrange a “looking” tour for us for $40 per person for a 4-hour tour around the island. We agreed since we couldn’t find anywhere to rent any form of transportation except bikes, and you all know I’m not riding a bike around a 25 mile long island with lots of hills.

At our request Fernando directed us to a restaurant where they would serve us lunch at only 10:30 in the morning. Local time is UTZ minus 6 hours, so we have moved back another time zone. After sailing all night we were ready for lunch at this very early hour. Bill enjoyed a Brahma beer and hamburgueza. The hamburgueza turned out to be chicken on a hamburger bun; but, hey, that’s okay too. The Brahma beer was huge by USA standards. They measure the bottles by cubic centimeters rather than by milliliters so we have no idea how much beer was actually in that bottle. The label said 580 cubic centimeters. Anyway, it was a large beer to have at 10:30 in the morning.

The driver met us outside the restaurant at 11:30 and we started our “looking” tour. First thing the driver did was stop and pick up his wife to join us for the afternoon. That was actually a nice thing all around. Gave her an afternoon outing and it was fun having her along. Neither of them spoke a single word of English but we managed communication just fine. Learned that she was originally from Quito and has lived here in Galapagos only a few years. BTW, Ecuadorian laws prohibit foreigners from residing in Galapagos Islands now. She had a good sense of humor and we enjoyed having her join us.

First stop was the Cerro Colorado Tortoise Conservation Center. All of the Galapagos Islands are a national park and technically we should have paid the $100 per person park fee, but since we were with a guide we were not asked about this. We will pay the park fee when we officially clear in at Santa Cruz. You are only required the pay the park fee once and it covers the entire Galapagos. The Cerro Colorado Tortoise Conservation Center is fairly new; I believe it opened in 2005. It is amazing that each island of the Galapagos has a different species of giant tortoise. This conservation center concentrates on the species that is indigenous to Isla Cristobal. It is a very nice facility. We walked the trail and saw several tortoises ranging from medium to large size. The incubation and breeding center has raised cages that contain tortoises ranging from 3 months to 3 years. The 3-month-old tortoises were about the size of my entire hand including fingers. The shell of the 3-year-old tortoise was about 1 ½ feet in diameter and 2 feet long. These smaller tortoises are kept in the raised cages to protect them from their natural predators – mainly wild pigs, feral cats and rats—all of which were introduced from sailing ships of yesteryears.

After the conservation center we walked up lots of wooden steps to a hilltop overlooking Puerto Chino beach. A very pretty view. Puerto Chino beach is the prettiest beach on Isla Cristobal and can only be reached by hiking. Not our deal. We were surprised at how cool the weather is on Cristobal on the eastern side vs. the western side. This temperature variance is due to the Humboldt Current coming up from Antarctica alongside South America and then turning towards Galapagos. The ocean can be 60F degrees on one side of an island and 80F degrees on the other side.

Cristobal also has a wind farm. They have 3 enormous wind gens on top of a mountain. They were barely turning as we drove past on this particular day.

We drove past a house that had watermelons stacked by the front door. Our tour driver stopped and talked to the owner. The owner pulled out a machete and soon we were all standing on the roadside eating chunks of “sandia” from our hands. The watermelon was so good that Bill bought one to bring back to the boat. We will enjoy that in a couple of weeks during our passage to Marquesas. Another time during our “looking” tour the driver stopped and his wife picked some fruit from a tree. We sampled it and the taste was good but it had lots of large hard seeds. The driver and his wife ate the entire fruit but Bill and I didn’t eat the peeling or the seeds. They seemed to enjoy this fruit a lot but it is not something that either Bill or I would want to eat again.

Rain is supposed to be rare on this island. So, of course, it rained on our only afternoon to visit Cristobal. One of the main tourist attractions on Cristobal is El Junco Lagoon and we were looking forward to visiting this volcanic lagoon. Unfortunately, the rain caused the road up the volcano to be closed for the day so we were forced to skip it. Since we missed El Junco, the tour driver took us to another attraction. This was one that I had never read about. His wife said something about a casa de arbol and muy bonita. Now, I know that arbol means tree in Spanish. So she was saying something about a house and a tree and very pretty. But neither Bill nor I could quite understand what she was trying to convey.

It was a tree house! A very unusual and big tree house. In the oldest tree in all of the Galapagos. There was a suspension walkway made with hand-hewn pieces of wood and tension cables from the roadway level to the tree house level. The tree was enormous. It is 315 years old. The tree house had a small living room with sofa, a kitchen, a bathroom, 2 beds, and a patio. And the real surprise was a cave in the trunk at ground level. Bill entered the cave and went down a ladder into an underground room constructed within the root system of this huge old tree. The batteries on our camera chose this moment to die so I didn’t get any photos of the underground room (and I refused to go down there anyway), but Bill said it had a ceiling and walls and lights and was just like a regular room except that the headroom was low. This tree house was the highlight of our tour of Cristobal.

The rain came down harder so we opted not to visit the marine iguanas. Lazy us. We did not want to walk in the mud to get out to the point where the marine iguanas live. Maybe we will see marine iguanas on Santa Cruz. We declared an end to the tour; sat around a bar/restaurant for an hour or so; and then returned to the boat. Ahhhh, we were looking forward to actually sleeping through the night after our 9 day passage.

Shortly before sunset Fernando delivered the diesel fuel that we had requested. We had asked for 109 gallons but he delivered what he claimed was 90 gallons. Our boat has a very accurate dipstick to measure diesel in the fuel tank and we knew that Fernando had not added 90 gallons. Our dipstick indicated that only 80 gallons had been added to the tank. Fernando argued and Bill would not relent. Eventually Bill agreed to pay for 85 gallons. So we got taken a bit but at least the fuel was delivered and put into our fuel tank and Bill didn’t have to deal with lugging those heavy jugs in a dinghy. Consider the extra 5 gallons that we paid for and did not receive to be their labor charge. Bill had planned to tip them, but considered the tip paid because of the discrepancy.

We were worried about the sea lions possibly climbing onto our boat during the night so Bill rigged fenders on the stern of the boat and coated them with dishwashing liquid. We could hear the sea lions all around the stern of the boat for most of the night. One of them did make it onboard and the noise immediately awakened us. We both saw this sea lion stick his head inside our bedroom hatch. I screamed and Bill started making loud, deep bass sounds as he punched the sea lion square on the jaw! That was enough to make the sea lion turn and slide back into the sea. I don’t know what we would have done if that silly animal had slid down inside our bedroom. We would never have been able to get him back up out of the interior of this boat.

The Port Captain arrived back at our boat shortly after 8 on Saturday morning and returned our Zarpe. He doesn’t speak a word of English but managed to convey that we are to proceed direct to Santa Cruz and that when we clear in with our agent Jhonny Romero that we are not to mention that we stopped in Isla Cristobal. We weighed anchor and sailed/motor-sailed/motored the 42 miles to Santa Cruz.

Note to all cruisers: verify latest requirements for visiting the Galapagos before you set sail because the requirements and limitations for visiting boats changes almost daily.

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