Galapagos Islands Day 2: Cerro Brujo, Kicker Rock, Ochoa Beach

Made of coral and volcanic ash, the sand of the beaches at Cerro Brujo (aka “Wizard Hill”) on the archipelago’s San Cristobal Island is as white as icing sugar and as soft on the bare feet. Crabs skittering along the shore leave hundreds of small pellets where their claws have scooped the sand in passing. Sea lions swim in turquoise water, roll in the sand, and bask on the black volcanic rocks. Darwin finches and yellow warblers hop unconcerned between them. Just behind the dunes, a freshwater lagoon waits.

On a sunny morning in October, it is a paradise.

[The first eight photos are of the beach at Cerro Brujo, the next is of Kicker Rock, and the rest were taken by my TC at Ochoa Beach.]

My TC and I were overwhelmed by the beauty of this beach. No camera could ever capture just how pure the sand was, how gem-like the water. Our own eyes weren’t enough. Our bare feet weren’t enough as we dug our toes into the soft powder sand. Sea lions, crabs, gleaming tide pools in volcanic rock–no description could really be enough. We were awestruck. What a place.

And what a place to go snorkelling for the first time! I swallowed a lot of sea water but I saw hundreds of colourful fish and even two small spotted eagle rays. The water was full of life, especially when three sea lions decided to play with me. They swam over and around and under me in a sort of game they just seemed to be loving. To share the water with these adorable wild animals was an incredible privilege and one I wouldn’t have jeopardized for the world by doing anything to startle them.

Our second snorkel that day was around the famous Kicker Rock. We had seen this rock from the plane on our way to the Galapagos and TC had said he was going to touch it. And I said, “You can’t touch that rock, it’s way out in the sea.” But touch it we did. This particular snorkel was too much for me. I have an absolute terror of the immensity of the sea, and swimming in water so deep I couldn’t see the bottom made me panic. The water was also quite choppy and for an inexperienced snorkeler who doesn’t know how to deal with seawater splashing down her snorkel and into her mouth, it was all a bit too much. I bailed about two thirds of the way around the rock and waited in the dinghy while TC and a few other brave souls continued the swim with our guide. TC saw sea turtles and I was very jealous. I’d only seen a few urchins and some fish (both very lovely) but had been too panicked to care.

Ochoa Beach made up for it. Worn out by the Kicker Rock snorkel, most of our group stayed on the boat while six of us (guide included) visited Ochoa Beach (still San Cristobal). I wanted to snorkel again and so I did, hand in hand with my TC. And we saw a sea turtle. A beautiful green elegant sea turtle swimming along underneath us. And then I saw more colourful fish. And another sea turtle. And a sting ray. And more sea lions.

As TC and I stood on the beach wrapped in our towels we watched pelicans and frigate birds dive-bomb for fish against the setting sun. It’s really beautiful to watch: the pelicans swoop over the water, then suddenly fold themselves up like origami and drop straight down into the water, only unfolding after they’ve submerged. A perturbed male sea lion barked to make sure we’d stay away from the female nursing two sea lion pups.

Behind us, an orange full moon rose over the trees. Besides the six of us, who weren’t saying much, there was not another human soul on this beach. When we boarded our dinghy to head back to the Monserrat, there was nothing left of us there but dents in the sand.

Each day in the Galapagos brought wonderful things. But this day was my favourite day.

Galapagos Islands Day 1: Isla San Cristobal (Galapaguera)

Blue heron, San Cristobal

The first creature to greet us as we disembarked from our AeroGal flight at the San Cristobal airport was a lizard (which we did not take a photo of because our hands were full of passports and coats). I am tempted to say it was a lava lizard, but as we did not yet have a National Park guide with us to tell us what was what, I can say with certainty only that it was a lizard, and that I was happy to see it.

As we got off the shuttle bus at the marina, we saw our second creature, a gorgeous blue heron (our guide was here now so I am confident in this). Walking towards the pier (to the dinghy that would bring TC and me to the Monserrat Yacht, our home for the next seven nights) I began to suspect that there was something unusual about this port town. The seaside promenade was a bit crowded–with sea lions. Sea lions who didn’t seem to be doing much besides loitering, and didn’t seem to care that they were surrounded by people (though one did bark at me when I got too close). It all seemed a bit too adorable to be real, especially when a sea lion was waiting for us on the stern of our yacht. But if I’ve learned anything about seeing sea lions in the Galapagos, it’s that there’s nothing unusual about it. They love to lounge around in the sun, they aren’t afraid of people, and they don’t seem to mind going to the bathroom wherever they happen to be lying (whether on a sandy beach, a rocky shore, or in a gazebo on the boardwalk).

In the afternoon we saw our first giant tortoises in semi-wild habitat at the Galapaguera Breeding Center, in San Cristobal’s highlands. I was a bit disappointed that we only saw three of them (and in partially captive conditions too) but a giant tortoise is a giant tortoise and words cannot describe how absolutely incredible it is to see these creatures in the flesh (or shell, as it were). Suddenly it feels as though you aren’t really where you are, that someone snuck a TV screen in front of you while you weren’t looking. Are you really looking at a giant tortoise in the Galapagos Islands? Yes. Yes you are. Your mind has just been blown.

Female tortoise, Galapaguera Breeding Center

Baby tortoises, San Cristobal

Fun fact about baby tortoises: their sex is determined by the temperature in which their eggs mature. If you want demure lady tortoises, keep those eggs warm. If you want big man tortoises, cooler eggs are the way to go.

As it turns out, this brief introduction to sea lions and semi-captive tortoises was just a preview. We sailed from the port that night and woke the next morning to the turquoise water, white sand, and black volcanic rock of Cerro Bruno (on a different part of San Cristobal). Our Galapagos adventure had truly begun…

Moonrise on San Cristobal