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Saturday 4 Jan 2014
Punta Pitt, Ecuador

Snorkelling with my mum!

Where has this week gone?  It is already our last full day on the islands.  We’d moved on to Isla San Cristóbal, the most south easterly of the islands and therefore one of the oldest.

We started with a pre-breakfast land visit at Punta Pitt.  We had a steep climb up a narrow gorge that acts as a stream for the water running off the cliffs in the wet season.  I’m quite glad it wasn’t raining as we climbed it.  Towering rock faces, which revealed the waved lines of the rock strata resulting from the island’s volcanic birth, dwarfed us as we climbed, before we found ourselves on a sloping plateau.  We’d come here looking for red-footed boobies, but the few we found were sitting on their nests and hiding their feet.  Jacky, Kim and I spotted one perched in the back of a tree by the path.  We could just about see him holding on to the branch with his red feet wrapped around the wood.  They’re the only type of boobie with webbed feet that have joints to enable them to hold on like this. 

Although we didn’t spot any iguanas here, there were a couple of smaller lizards about – the female lava lizards had bright red chests and stomachs, while the Chatham lizard had white stripes down its back.

After breakfast – possibly the first one I’ve been awake enough to enjoy on the boat – we motored around to the north edge of the island and another rocky islet called Leon Dormida, because it looks like a sleeping lion from a certain angle.  This was our last snorkelling trip, but what a way to finish off an amazing week in the water.  The sheer cliffs climb 150m above the water and drop a further 40-60m below, so all we had to do was bob around the edges and admire the amazing life on the walls. 

We started with a narrow chasm between two cliffs, known as the Cathedral.  The surge was strong as we tried to swim in, dragging us back before shooting us forwards again.  It took a few moments to understand not to fight against the tow back too hard as we moved further in than out with each wave, but it was both exhilarating and a bit frightening to feel the power of the water surging around us.  There wasn’t much to see below the water initially, due to all the bubbles churned up by the surge, but once we got into the channel properly, the water calmed down and we could look up at the high ceiling over 100m above us, or down under the water at the barnacles, plants and starfish clinging to the submerged rock walls.  The shock of the cold water and powerful surge was a bit much for Ailsa and she tired quickly, so I helped her through the rest of the channel to the calmer water on the far side. 

As we left the tunnel, we saw a big Galápagos shark and two hawksbill turtles cruising around below us.  I was able to dive down to the turtle for a few moments, but it was still too hard to fight the buoyancy from the wetsuit.  I never get tired of watching turtles drift gracefully through the water.  We carried on around the outside of the island and met a couple of sea lions on the way, but none that wanted to play.  Another wider channel between the cliffs brought us back onto the sunny side of the island.  The sunbeams cut dazzling shimmering lines down through the water, bringing out the bright oranges, reds and greens of the marine life growing on the rock walls.  I saw another shark far below me as I caught up with Ailsa again.  Drifting further around the outside, we suddenly found ourselves right next to an enormous bull sea lion.  He must have been almost 2m long.  We tried rolling in the water in case he wanted to play, but after checking us over, he swam off, disinterested.  We caught him up a few times – at one point Ailsa was nose to nose with him, barely a foot apart, but he decided we weren’t a threat and couldn’t be bothered with us after that. 

Mum and I asked if it was possible to go back through the first channel again because it had been so much fun, so Fabian ran us back around in the panga.  This time, I turned the GoPro on and recorded the whole thing.  The initial surge was easier to handle the second time and we took our time drifting through the rest of the channel.  We met a couple of sea lions floating in the middle and had fun swimming around with them for a few minutes.  I saw at least four different sharks below us, including a baby, before I caught up with Mum again.  As I swam towards her, I saw she’d discovered the welcoming party again.  The same hawksbill turtle that had met us the first time was swimming about by her legs and she couldn’t have grinned more widely if she’d tried.  It was such a fantastic experience – sharks, sea lions, a turtle and my Mum and I swimming together through a 100m high chasm in the cliffs.  Just brilliant! 

We were still laughing and hugging each other when the panga picked us up again, and continued to do so all the way back to the Queen B.  Once we got there, however, we discovered the others had seen something like 80 sharks in the wider channel on their second swim through!  The same channel that had been almost empty the first time, now held sharks several layers deep, all gathered in a crowd near the entrance.  They’d even seen a few big stingrays. 

As much as I wish I’d seen that too, I wouldn’t have swapped my last swim with Mum for anything.  I know we’ll both remember it for a very long time!

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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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