Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Galapagos Part 3 Isabela, Puerto Villamil

 One of the main reasons for deciding to apply for an Autographo, was to enable us to spend time at Puerto Villamil, which is not a port of entry into Galapagos. So it was surprising to learn from other cruisers ,en route, that they intended to only visit Villamil, for the 20 day single port stop, and then head on to the Marquesas. It seems that provided one makes this arrangement with an agent beforehand, that this is in fact possible. Bolivar’s representative in Villamil, JC de Soto, does all the liaison between the yacht and the Port Captain, and we saw many boats doing just this.

View from the anchorage
There is a lot to see on Isabela, so one can see why people choose this option. However, this is not an anchorage where I would be happy to leave my boat unattended, while we took ferries to San Cristobal, or Santa Cruz. One would have to book tours, and stay overnight in hotels before returning the following day on a ferry. Most people obviously feel the same, so they stick to a couple of day tours on Isabela.   

We, on the other hand have seen so much, that we have no burning desire to do all the Isabela tours! The anchorage is quite small, tucked in behind a reef, and the boats swirl around in circles with the tides, so it is important to stay on the boat at anchor, long enough to experience the different tides. But that’s no hardship, as all around you the wildlife is putting on a show!
The Port Captain in Villamil is a tough task master, and is very quick to expel any cruiser who chances his arm, by overstaying an Autographo, or trying to slip in a second stop, without the Autographo, or slipping ashore before the Port Captains inspection.  While we have been here, at least 5 yachts have been forced to leave for one or other reason.

That said, the town itself is very quaint, with many little restaurants and hostels lining the sand streets. It’s a much more relaxed and laid back place to rest and prepare for the next long haul. The wildlife is all around you, sealions cheekily taking over beach recliners, Marine Iguanas basking on the volley ball court, with Boobies, Pelicans, Frigates, and even the little Galapagos Penguins fishing and feeding around the anchorage. One has to catch a water taxi to the boat dock (Embarcadero), and walk a mile or so into town. 

We have seen Turtles, White tipped sharks, Turtles all happily feeding around the busy embarcadero. During one spring low, we watched in fascination, how the incredibly fast swimming penguins, scream around the shallow pools, nailing the fish caught in the shallows. The only thing faster in the water is a jet ski!

Daily we have been able to watch the Blue Footed Boobies mutate from funny clowns, into synchronized Exocet missiles! They appear to fly much higher than our Gannets, and when they spot their target fish, they bank, fold back their wings and dive with great speed, hitting the water like a bullet. When they hunt as a team, the leader lets out a squeak, and all the other participants peel off and dive, hitting the water like tracer bullets. This synchronized attack, apparently disorientates the fish shoals, which scatter in all directions, making subsequent target selection easier, for the rest of the flock.
At times, they will choose a target right next to the boat, and one gets a heck of a fright, as the Booby missile hits the water! Their success rate is pretty good too, and they swallow down surprisingly big fish in a few gulps.

Pineapple picking
Coffee in Galapagos? Yes!! 
Mr Farmer harvesting a pineapple
Farmboy does his bit, picking papaya
 We took a taxi ride out to a farm, on the fertile slopes of a nearby volcano. On the way out, we drove through terrain that looked more like Aunt Mabel’s totally burnt apple pie, with plates of blackened crust curling upwards! At the farm, we walked around with the farmer, picking and choosing all the fruit and veg we wanted, directly from the plants. For $21 we bought 5 Papayas, 2 big Pineapples, 12 oranges, 12 tomatoes, 6 Passion Fruit, a massive hand of Bananas, 6 red and green peppers, a bunch of basil, a bunch of coriander, some white onions and a watermelon! Not necessarily cheap, especially when the $10 taxi fee is added, but….. everything picked in a state to ripen during the next 3 weeks at sea! (Problem is that its all ripening already)

Back in town, we ate lunch at one of the many restaurants, for about $5, We walked around the town, and looked at the Local Apostolic Church. It has to be the nicest churches ever, with Francis of Assisi welcoming  worshippers at the entrance, and all of the stained glass windows depicting one or other of the species unique to Galapagos. The inside too, was light and airy, and inviting.  None of the dark and somber atmosphere with which we are familiar.

Marine Iguanas warming up in the late afternoon sun at the beach bar
Further down the beach, on the far side of town, we found a special little Beach Bar, Casa Rosada, where they have a daily 2 beers for $5 Happy 2 Hours, with live music, sometimes a talented local Ecuadorian, other times a Cruisers jam session. As the sun sets lower in the sky, so the Marine Iguanas emerge from the surf, to sun themselves on the walls of the Beach bar. While feeding under water, their body absorbs salt, which they excrete by sneezing streams of salt water.

Note the "sneeze trails" in the sand
Closer to the Embarcadero, is another little beach bar, where a Pilsener Grande(600ml) costs $3.50 and the wildlife provides free entertainment.

We also took a taxi ride out to “the wall of tears”. In 1947, a group of 330  Ecudorian prisoners, and 33 policemen guarding them, took over the infrastructure left by the Americans after the war. To keep the prisoners busy, the Police guards made the prisoners erect this huge dry stone wall,. The police motto was along the lines of “the strong will survive and the weak will die”

Pointless exercise
Looking for flamingoes

The wall is a fitting tribute to completely meaningless hard labour. Around the wall, we saw a number of Giant Tortoises “in the wild”. One fellow was determined to walk slowly down the middle of the road. Our taxi driver asked me to pick him up and put him down on the side of the road. Knowing what tortoises are prone to do when picked up............

 I approached this task with great care as he was a very big fellow! I stood with legs wide apart, astride him, and picked up my first and only Galapagos Tortoise… all 45-50kg of him. He was very well behaved, and decided not to pee on me, which was a great relief!

Flamingoes found...................4 to be exact!!
Now its time to say goodbye, to Galapagos, and get ready to leave. Diesel and gas are a bit of an issue here. Foreigners are supposed to get a permit from the port captain for the amount they require, and then pay $5./US gallon. Locals buy it for $1.0/US Gallon, and are very keen to break the port captain’s monopoly, and offer it at lower prices!  To try and stop this practice, the Port Captain issued a decree that foreigner were not allowed to buy diesel. He then got hoist on his own petard, as when he tried to kick out a few yachts whose time had expired, they just refused, and simply said, “we will not leave until you supply us with the diesel we were promised a week ago. You cannot send a boat away on a 3000 mile voyage ill prepared. If you insist, we will report you to the International maritime search and rescue people!” He changed his mind and drove the skippers concerned to the garage himself, let them fill up their jerry cans, and said” Now you leave!” We were lucky to have our names slipped in amongst those needing diesel, and were allowed to fill up with the 6 gallons I requested!     

DIY LPG refill
In Panama, I had tried to top up a 9kg gas bottle, which still had 5kg left. “No can do”, they said. Gas is also subsidized in Ecuador, and a 15kg bottle costs only $10. (R85).  In comparison, our 9kg bottles in RSA are approaching R300! But, you have to fill the bottle yourself! Yesterday on the net, a fellow cruiser offered anyone in the anchorage, who had US fittings on their tanks, the chance to refill from the Ecuadorian bottle he had bought for $10 + $80 refundable bottle deposit, as it still had lots of gas in it! Well, the RSA 9kg exchange bottles, which we have been using and refilling for 5 years, just happen to have US fittings! So , I hoisted the 15KG bottle (upside down!) up the mast with a halyard, strapped it to the mast to keep it still, and using his connection system from Ecuadorian fittings to US, gravity filled my bottle to the brim. There was still enough left over to fill “Scott Free’s” bottle, and one other cruisers to boot.
Embarcadero.............ferries, fishing boats, Taxis Aquatico and dingies
With a last check on the weather, we have collected our Zarpe, 5 dozen eggs, 2 cases of beer, and are just waiting for the bread and cabbages to be unloaded from the supply ship tonight or early tomorrow. then it’s “ goodbye Galapagos”! We have really loved it, and can cross off one item that must be high on everyone’s bucket list! Next stop Fatu Hiva. 

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