After a chilled morning swimming in a creek and exploring a bit more of Santa Cruz, it was time to take our first boat ride of the Galapagos trip out to the island of Floreana. In all the info provided by G Adventures before the tour, the potential roughness of the sea crossing was played up and on the morning of the trip, our guide, Dario, was at pains to remind everyone to take their sea sickness tablets. We, of course, didn’t have any and had assumed that the trip would be a bit bumpy but nothing we hadn’t dealt with before. Big mistake!
The boat itself is a triple 200 horsepower speed boat with two decks (one mainly for the driver and a main deck below) and no more than 20m in length. It seems placid enough as we left the harbour in Puerto Ayora but as soon as we left the shelter of the harbour it became quite apparent that the trip was going to be far from calm as we rocketed off the top of one wave straight down in the next one. I consider myself quite a boaty person and was definitely feeling a little bit uncomfortable. Sue is the complete opposite and hates boats (and planes, and cars, and buses – come to think of it, pretty much any means of transport!) and so it’s fair to say she didn’t really enjoy the journey!
After about an hour and a half of being battered by the Pacific Ocean, we finally arrived at the stunning island of Floreana to be greeted by the obligatory sea lions, iguanas and crabs. The island is one of the smaller of the inhabited islands in Galapagos with a population of only about one hundred people, pretty much all based in one village called Puerto Velazco Ibarra. The island definitely has a very different feel to the tourist shops of Santa Cruz – here you feel like you really are on an island in the middle of the Pacific. Even water is hard to come by – the island has a single water source for the whole island which is brought down to the village just twice a week.
The island’s first inhabitant was an Irish privateer called Patrick Watkins who had been left there by his crew after cockily suggesting he’d be able to survive on his own. Turns out he was right and his crew returned to find him a number of years later. This story combined with the daunting prospect of two further speedboat rides certainly got Sue considering staying on the island!
Whilst on the island, everything was sorted for us by G Adventures so as a group we were split across the various accommodation options in the village. We were assigned to the Santa Maria Hostal and were expecting that it would be really basic but as it turns out it was one of the nicer rooms we had during our whole time on Galapagos with a beautiful view out over the ocean. It even had wifi!
Our first evening on Floreana was spent recovering by enjoying the sunset from a beach-side bar. Sue and I got extremely excited by the fact that we were able to spot sea turtles in the distance but little did we know that this would be completely trumped by the experiences to come over the next few days.
As there are relatively limited options on the island for eating, G Adventures had organised all our meals for us and throughout our time on the island we were rotated around the various options. Everywhere we went, the food was brilliant with some of the plantain based soups being our particular favourites. It was just nice to have what essentially was home cooked food.
Day two in Floreana began, after a quick (but slow!) 5km run, with a walk out to a great snorkelling point. Dario had us up bright and early which had a few of us grumbling but it later became clear why this was such a good shout. We walked along the coast for about 30 minutes and reached a quiet beach sheltered by some rocks. We set off from the beach and within about 5 metres we say our first turtle, then another, and another and another. It was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen when snorkelling and we were able to get very close to the turtles. Our minds were completely blown – they just seemed to be everywhere.
Reluctantly we eventually got out of the water and made our way back to the village for lunch. The snorkelling would have been enough to make an incredible day but being Galapagos we weren’t finished. The afternoon was all about a hike up into the high lands to see where some of the first settlers on Floreana lived. At this point, it’s worth introducing our staple mode of transport on the islands – the truck bus.
Pretty much every hike or journey we needed to do was in one of these trucks with seats built onto the back. Their pretty good for short trips and easy to hop on/off but are seriously uncomfortable if you have to do anymore than half an hour. They are definitely bone rattlers!
Having survived the bone-rattler, we hopped off and headed up on the trail through the highlands. The highlands are so beautiful and very different to the dry lowlands by the village. Everything is surrounded by lush vegetation providing a perfect habitat for the giant tortoises. The Floreana tortoises were almost driven to extinction by pirates and early settlers who found they were ideal to eat! The tortoises we saw here were in a sanctuary where they are protected and provided with food and water by the park rangers.
Heading further up the trail we came to the caves where the various early settlers lived initially. It is incredible to imagine how people would have lived inside these caves. Each of the caves has various bits carved out, for example a chimney and fire place in one and slots for inserting a wood front wall to the cave. There’s even a stone carving of a face supposedly done by one of the early German settlers to commemorate their dead dog!
Returning back to the lowlands, there was time to enjoy one last ritual which goes back to the 19th century. Floreana had become an important stop off for fresh water for ships moving around this area (particularly whalers) and so various things had been traded for the fresh water supplies. Due to the number of ships stopping off, a tradition grew up of people leaving mail in Floreana with the hope that a boat passing the opposite way would help it on its way. That tradition continues today, albeit that now its tourists leaving postcards for people to hand deliver when they return from holiday. We left a few so who knows maybe someone will get a surprise delivery!
One last bit of wildlife
The next morning it was time to brace ourselves for another speedboat but Floreana still had one further surprise for us before we were out of sight. Staring into the wake of the boat, initially it seemed our eyes were playing tricks on us but then suddenly a dolphin jumped up out of the water to confirm what we were seeing was actually a pod of dolphins. It was a wonderful finish to our time on Floreana, definitely my favourite island of Galapagos.