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Tuesday 31 Dec 2013
Isla Floreana, Ecuador

Post Office Bay

We sailed overnight again, thankfully a little more smoothly than last night, and awoke this morning in Post Office Bay on Isla Floreana.  Floreana has a chequered history of romance and intrigue between its German inhabitants, the truth of which is still unknown and the bodies remain hidden.  It is better known now for its Barrel Post Office.  The Galápagos was once home to a whaling fleet.  The whalers set up a covered barrel in which they would leave letters for home.  Anyone passing would check the barrel and collect anything going their way.  This tradition continues and tourists use it for sending their postcards home.  They leave them unstamped, hoping someone will collect the cards and post them on or even hand deliver them when they get home.  I left a few and my parents picked up a couple for the UK.  I wonder how long it will take my nephews to receive their card?

Ailsa’s foot continued to swell last night and was too painful to walk on this morning, so she borrowed a walking stick from the boat.  The boys stepped in and carried her off the panga to the beach at Punta Cormorant.  They got her partway from the beach (made of fine olivine crystals which give it a green sheen) to the lava tunnel, but the uneven wooden ladders down into the tunnel were too much, so she and Francesca enjoyed the sunshine while the rest of us descended into the darkness.  I was nervous it would get too narrow, but after ducking under an initial low point, the tunnel opened out into a tall wide cavern.  The tunnel was formed by molten lava flowing away from the eruption.  As the outside cooled and hardened, the molten lava in the centre was effectively insulated and continued to flow, leaving a hollow crust behind.  The ground was uneven and strewn with small rocks, but we had enough torches between us to negotiate a path down to the water’s edge.  It was very cold but we waded out ankle deep and stood in complete silence in the dark for a few minutes.  After that, a few of us headed past a boulder in the centre, the result of a partial collapse of the tunnel roof.  Water beyond that point was almost up to my waist, so Juliette, Leigh and I decided to go for it and swim as far as we could – very cold! The tunnel continued another 50m or so before descending below the water level.  None of us was prepared to duck under, so we swam back again.  All that was missing was the glowworms on the ceiling and I might have been back in Waitomo, New Zealand.  We climbed back into the sunshine again and Fabian and Shane carried Ailsa back to the panga.  Strong men can be useful things to have around!

Back on the boat, half of us were already wet, so we stripped off and started jumping off the upper deck into the water.  I screamed like a girl every time, but I still did it – it wasn’t as high as the one in Halong Bay, but I still hate that moment of standing on the edge.  I held my nose each time, but not tightly enough on the last go and managed to stab myself just below the eyebrow with my thumbnail as the water pushed my hand upwards. Ouch! Muppet…

I enjoyed snorkelling around behind the boat without a wetsuit for a change, which meant I could dive down properly.  I had to remind myself that I wasn’t wearing a regulator and needed to come back up to breathe.  There were a lot of fish around under the boat and I caught sight of a Galápagos barracuda grab a fish by the tail and try to swim away with it.  The fish escaped, but only just.

We changed into snorkelling gear again and snorkelled along the edge of Post Office Bay.  There were lots of sea turtles here, chomping happily away despite the waves getting under their shells - doing the vertical turtle dance – and ignoring the snorkellers crowding around them.  It was amazing to watch them so uninhibited, just going about their business and allowing us to gawp at them from the surface.  There was a group of snorkellers from a different boat in the water at the same time as us, but they had no consideration for anyone else, diving down and kicking people with their fins repeatedly. 

After lunch, we snorkelled again (have you spotted the theme yet?) at a partially submerged caldera called Devil’s Crown.  From the surface it appeared as a partial ring of jagged rocks, jutting maybe 20m out of the water, but underneath the water was completely different.  In the centre of the circle, the bottom was flat and sandy, no more than 5m deep.  Outside, the circle it was a lot deeper, large boulders strewn about with deep channels between them.  The current was strong where we were dropped off and Fabian had told us all to swim straight for the gap in the rocks.  Unfortunately, quite a few of us (me included) got distracted watching a shark and didn’t realise how far we’d drifted, so it was all a bit chaotic as we tried to swim back through the gap.  Inside the caldera, the waters were a lot calmer and we could watch the marine life peacefully.  On the far side, we piled back in the boats to go around again, this time taking the outside route.  We spotted several sharks, a group of three large stingrays tucked under a deep boulder and even a flounder sitting happily on the tip of a submerged rock.  After a while, we had the choice of continuing around or going back in the boats for another run at the middle.  There were so many fish around the entrance to the caldera that I chose that option again.  The comedy moment of the swim came from Jack, an Aussie with bright red hair (who reminded us of Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols - sorry Jack!), who was so intent on what he was looking at under the water, that he swam head first into the side of the panga like a torpedo!  (I did check he was ok before I laughed too much.)

We had time for one more landing before dinner.  The cold water seemed to have done Ailsa’s foot some good and she was able to hobble around with a stick to keep up with us.  We passed another lagoon, this time with just 2 flamingoes, on our way across the island to another beach.  This beach was a beautiful place - pure white sand, turquoise water and volcanic cliffs along one side.  This tranquil place was surprisingly full of life - it was home to a stingray nursery, the likes of which I have never seen before.  There were hundreds of small stingrays just floating in the shallow water, drifting in and out with each wave, while we counted at least 20 turtles surfing in the deeper waves.  The male turtles were trying their luck with the females, who were waiting for dark to come ashore and lay their eggs.  It takes 8 hours for turtles to mate, during which time the females get dunked repeatedly while they try to shake the male off their backs.  Sea turtles here are less endangered than elsewhere in the world, but we still avoided walking on the sand above the water level, especially where we could see turtle tracks in the sand.  Dad and I must have spent 20 minutes standing ankle deep in the water watching the stingrays skim back and forth under the breaking waves.  A truly special experience. 





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Zoe's Big World Adventure Part II - #3 Ecuador and Galapagos Islands

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This is the big highlight of the year. Joined by my parents and reunited with Ailsa, we'll spend Christmas in Quito, then travel to Galápagos for New Year, celebrating in style with a week on the Queen Beatriz catamaran visiting the southern islands.

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