San Cristobal Interpretation Centre
After the hassle of checking in, it was good to kick back and act like tourists. Actually, after eight days on the boat, it was good to walk again. So, we decided to take a stroll to the San Cristobal Interpretation Centre which is located a short distance out of town.
The Interpretation Centre is free to get in, and visitors are free to roam around and enjoy a self-guided explanation of the history, geology and culture of the Galapagos islands. And adjoining the centre is a series of trails. So, in a concerted effort to get our legs working again, we walked all of them. This wasn’t altogether on purpose; we couldn’t understand the signs.
And here’s a tip for anyone wanting to visit the Interpretation Centre: unless you are a cactus obsessive – go alone. As we strolled along the trails, we met a group of tourists baking in the midday heat of the tropics being bored half to death on the history and biological makeup of the cactus plant. They did not seem to be having a raving time with this ranting tour guide. So, save your cash and your sanity and go it alone.
After taking our empty diesel cans to our agent to be refilled and delivered back to Lady Jane (a very convenient service), we handed over $60 for a taxi to take is to Lagoon El Junco; La Galapaguera Tortoise Habitat, and Puerto Chino.
Lagoon El Junco
Also known as crater lake, it is precisely that: a crater filled with water. And to get to see the crater, it’s necessary to hike from the car park up a series of steps to get to the top. It takes a bit of an effort, but it’s worth it – the views are spectacular. And the frigate birds use the lake to clean their feathers so that they can re-oil their undercarriage so that they can hunt at sea.
La Galapaguera Tortoise Habitat
Our next stop was the Galapaguera Tortoise Habitat – a breeding programme for giant tortoises, for which the Galapagos are famous. The walk through the sanctuary starts with the small tortoises up to five years old – about the same size as those lettuce munchers often in people’s gardens back in the UK in the 1970s with FRED painted on their back – and moves on to the more mature tortoises.
Our timing was right as it was feeding time for the over-fives. The keeper threw a bucket of greens on the ground and the tortoises slowly (of course), but with a lot of determination, make their way over to it.
On the way back down the hill, we saw many of the larger tortoises that are allowed to roam free. The largest of these is probably around 80 years old.
After an hour, we rejoined our driver for the short ride to Puerto Chino. The beach here consists of some of the most beautiful sand we have seen, and the water was bath-like in temperature. The ubiquitous sea lions shared the beach and the sea with the tourists, and no more than 50 metres from shore, I saw a swordfish leap out of the water, but there was no way to catch that on camera.
Other creatures were here too: horseflies. Attracted by seawater on the skin, a plague of these ferocious little buggers attacked us as we were drying off. Fortunately, a man on holiday from the Ecuador mainland who knew about these things came over and offered us some of his OFF! lotion. We didn’t hesitate – those horseflies pack a nasty bite. And as soon as we applied this miracle ointment, they disappeared. We bought some of that stuff as soon as we got back to San Cristobal.
The Tree House
Not on the original agenda, but the taxi driver offered to take us, was the Tree House. This is no ordinary tree house: it’s a solidly made cabin capable of sleeping a couple of people in relative comfort with its toilet, shower and mini kitchen. And it’s built high up on a banyan tree situated in a funky-looking garden.
Around San Cristobal
I doubt there is anywhere in the world in which man and animal coexist in such proximity and relative harmony. A gentle stroll along the seafront is punctuated by the sight of sea lions lazing on the pavement or the rocks below, while marine iguanas peer over the boulevard with an eye towards their next catch. These animals are everywhere and they are not put off or in any way impressed by the sight of humans.
The guidelines are to give all of the animals space of at least 2 metres, but we have found ourselves often having to squeeze past them or step over them to get to where we are going. Not as though the sea lions mind. All we have got is a curious look and a slight raise of the head.
Although it wasn’t what we expected (a calm sparsely-habited backwater was more what we had in mind), we came to grow fond of San Cristobal after a while. It is a busy place, and a bit expensive (except for locally-grown produce), but the benefits of being there are apparent from the photographs below.
But first – dolphins
Our pioneering sailing friends, Julian and Patricia (A Capella of Belfast) and Bill and Moira (Krabat), were a week or so ahead of us – and had tested out the good and not so good tours. Their recommendation was a trip to Punta Pitt, which is a nesting place for red-footed and blue-footed boobies – lots of them. So, after handing over far-too-much money to a tour company, two days later we were on a motorboat, speeding to the other end of the island.
On the way to Punta Pitt, the captain spotted a pod of dolphins, so he slowed the boat and turned towards them so that we could take a closer look. We have seen several dolphins swimming alongside Lady Jane, but we hardly give them a workout. So it was fascinating to watch them keep pace with the speedboat as we raced along at speeds up to 14 knots.
Punta Pitt – and Boobies
After landing on the beach at Punta Pitt, we hiked up a hill to where the boobies were nesting. The boobies create the white star shapes around their nesting sites with their poop. I doubt that particular art medium will catch on elsewhere, but it is quite impressive artwork.
Although the blue-footed boobies make their nests on the ground. The red-footed ones make nests in a more conventional place – in a tree – although we didn’t see any nests as we walked around.
We rounded off the tour of Punta Pitt with snorkelling off a rock a couple of hundred metres from the beach and saw these fellas. It was fabulous to see them play in the water after having watched them for a week doing not much else but sleeping.
And that was it for San Cristobal and us. We applied for a Zarpe to allow us to leave on Thursday 11th April and headed off that evening for an overnight sail to Isabella – the second of the three islands we are visiting in the Galapagos.