Bobbing around between sets, I lazily recline on my 5’9” quad surfboard and don’t even have the power left in my muscles to hang on. My body slips off and the cool, crystal clear Pacific water washes over me, I slowly sink to the bottom, staring upward at the surface of the sea from beneath, watching surface ripples of water reflect and contort the bright sunlight in Nature’s own blue hued kaleidoscope. I’m semi-delirious, life seems like dream, but you never wake up when the all the good stuff happens, because its reality here in the Galapagos. Beautiful, majestic semi-tropical islands with perfect weather, ultra clean, clear water, with almost empty perfect pumping surf, friendly locals, cartoonishly friendly and bountiful animals, a perfect anchorage, ultra-cheap living and a beautiful girl is the dream I wake up to every day here.
And the best part about the Galapagos dream is it doesn’t have to end, we can decide when we want to wake up and move on to the next island chain’s dreamy reality. The authorities gave us twenty days to live it out here and we have been here for twenty-three days now, but because we paid a little extra and used an agent to clear into the country, who happens to be great friends with the Port Captain, it was no problem to extend our stay a for little extra time while we wait for some necessary engine parts to be “fabricated” and who knows just how long that will take. There is no rush, we’re not trying to make it to the other side of the Pacific by the start of cyclone season like most cruisers, as we plan to head into the cyclone free more northern pacific tropical islands come November and North swells and we still have plenty of time to soak up French Polynesia this cruising season. Everyone aboard “Natural Mystic” is exhausted to the bone, at this moment I look over my right shoulder and watch another empty wave peel unridden through El Canon and say to myself maybe in another hour or two I’m out there, but there is no rush. It started off kind of slow here, with plenty of head high waves to rip and shred and time to take in some of the island’s sights and wildlife, but for the last week its been relentless. The Southern Ocean has been alive and sending pumping swells our way and with no islands or any land at all in-between us and the storms. We have just been having a blast and working hard to capture as much of it as we can. But, the Galapagos hold, so much more than just promising surf.
Isla San Cristobal has it all, but beyond that the people of the Galapagos have a vision to preserver their island paradise, ensuring future generations will be able to enjoy the same full of nature Galapagos experience and their quality of life will never be degraded. We have been on the hook here for weeks now in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. We can’t explore the islands on the “Natural Mystic” as they have limited the number of anchorages you can visit to, two and even then you can’t go from one to the other, you are required to stay where you first clear in. This is both to cut down on yachts disturbing wildlife, polluting pristine anchorages and also serves their economy quite well, as you have to use local tourist boats to tour the islands, thus creating full employment for all the locals. Galapagos National Park boats patrol the coastlines of the islands for illegal activities, such as boating where not permitted and illegal fishing. One massive Colombian fishing boat, complete with spotting helicopter, was detained in our harbor by the Ecuadorian Coast Guard, this is apparently a common occurrence as the fishing grounds here are rich and worth the consequences.
The fines are supposedly steep and we will let you know just how steep, as we have been busted once so far, accused of anchoring where not permitted they allege, its not exactly like there are any no parking signs. The immigration policies are extremely strict here to keep the population down, 7,000 people make Isla San Cristobal their home and illegal Ecuadorian immigrants are rounded up and shipped back to the continent on a regular basis. You need to have roots in the islands to reside here and city elements make up a very small percentage of the land. It is really cool to have so much naturally wild, open space to explore and foster wildlife.
The arid lower islands rise into steep volcanic peaks covered with lush vegetation that is drenched with daily rain showers. The rich volcanic soil and cooler temperatures are perfect for growing coffee and the Galapagos coffee is unreal, all organic and has a deep smoky, rich flavor I had yet to experience. Well worth what ever it costs to wake you up in the morning and as a coffee consieur my entire life, it is the best I have ever tasted. We explored the highlands one day by taxi and were amazed at the sights of giant tortoises, high volcanic mountain lakes and incredible vistas.
The taxis here are perfect too, as a high percentage of the locals don’t have cars or personal transportation. The taxis are a kind of shared cooperative that are extremely affordable, being subsidized by GNP funds. Fifty cents for most rides anywhere and two dollars for a ride out to the distant surf breaks we are prohibited from venturing to by boat. And I almost forgot to mention the taxis are mostly 4×4 quad cab trucks, with ample room for our entire crew, an extra hitcher we picked up along the way, all our boards and camera gear. But, the best thing about the taxis is their honesty. They don’t ever quote you a rip off price because you look like a tourist (the case with every cab in Panama) and when they drop you off in some remote place and you ask them to return in four hours they are there on the dot.
In keeping with sustainability the island built three giant wind turbines, which have successfully reduced the islands diesel consumption for power generation by 50%. They tower on a hilltop where the trade winds blow steadily all day long and have a massive blade diameter of 210 feet. You would think they wouldn’t care too much about using diesel here as the price per gallon is $1.44 and gas is $1.06 a gallon. What an absolute bargain, I think we will be stocking up before we leave for French Polynesia, and its just too bad I can’t fed-ex some of it back to you all in the States. The lack of predators in the Galapagos has caused the islands’ wildlife to become some of the tamest in the world. The Galapagos Sea Lions, basically the same ones we have in Santa Barbara are unbelievably friendly. They sleep all over town and our boat; here the park benches are not occupied by lazy homeless, but lazy Sea Lions instead. They often come right up to you when swimming, bark a couple of times, inviting you to play with them and then just frolic with you underwater, enjoying their new friend’s inferior aquatic abilities. There are not too many local surfers here and most of the time the line up is shared with just the Sea Lions who surf the waves too, jumping out of the face, darting under your board and snaking you whenever they can. Often when the wave ends the Sea Lion you shared it with will come right up to you, sharing the stoke and swim along side, as you paddle back out. It is also good thing there are plenty of them, as they keep the sharks well fed with their natural food. A couple of the breaks we surfed have half eaten seals washed up right on the high tide line (I guess the sharks were too full to finish their meals) and the popular swimming beach right off our boat was the location for an evening shark feeding session on a small seal pup. Nature is full-on in the Galapagos and you’re a part of it when it the water, most locals do not surf in the evenings, as this is the prime time to get snacked upon and a Kiwi surfer found that out just this winter.
The iguanas, giant tortoises, various other lizards and most birds could care less about people. They let you get just feet away to shoot pictures and I now know how National Geographic gets all those incredible, close-up photos. However, all the reptilian species seem to have adopted one disgusting defensive trait. When you get too close, they start spitting, snorting and snot-rocketing. It is kind of funny, especially when you get 30 giant iguanas all lying on top of each other, shooting snot rockets all over the place. I know my mom would be absolutely appalled with their manners.
P Kiddy also enjoys the Galapagos wildlife. He’s a bit timid of the Sea Lions that climb aboard the “Natty M”, with their rude sounding, intimidating barks, but loves the insect life that finds its way aboard. Swatting and batting at the endless parade of wasps and munching on every unlucky cricket and grasshopper he can find, providing both a source of entertainment and nourishment for the boat bound P.
Our eating here has been quite enjoyable too. We made good friends with Carmella and her family that run what we call “The Chicken Cart”. An open air eatery, that is set up almost every afternoon next to the local park and BBQ’s some of the tastiest, pollo, carne, and cheuleta (pork) that we have sampled anywhere. For four bucks this is complemented with rice, beans, a fried plantain and a tiny, little pickled salad. It fills you right up, but its up to you to find some veggies to eat, ensuring you get a proper dose of daily vitamins and minerals. That isn’t very hard as the locally grown produce is excellent, it just seems none of the non-tourist restaurants serve any of it and could be why most of the Ecuadorians are of such small stature. Other fine eateries we have sampled like Restaurante Rosalie are typical of Ecuadorian fare, a tasty bowl of soup to start, then meat with rice and beans for a whopping $2.50 or like tonight, a little shrimp omelet with small salad and they didn’t even us charge for more tasty seconds. It proves to be much more economical to eat dinners out, as it saves our basically unrefillable here cooking gas, self desalinated drinking water for dishes, our tired bodies and is just impossible to concoct for what it costs to eat out. Plus as a great bonus all of our Spanish is improving dramatically, as most locals do not speak much English, are super friendly and you find yourself constantly conversing with them over the tasty dinners.
We did get just a little out of control one evening here. As most meals are served with squeeze bottles of mayonnaise and the Ecuadorian version of ketchup, which is more like fake colored sugar water for condiments. Dizzy was sitting there across the table from me and looking, so pathetically unappetizing without flavorful condiments. I took it upon myself to kick it up a notch, by liberally applying nasty Ecuadorian mayonnaise to his face. Ben not wanting to miss out on a chance to possibly ruin Dizzy’s chick competing game, promptly started applying ketchup to his clothing. I had to help Diz out and handed him the mayo and Ben and Diz started running around like children outside the restaurant, covering each other with tasty sauce, while the staff looked on in frozen bewilderment. This eventually backfired, as when both tired of dousing each other, doubly turned on me, showering me with the awful smelling, shirt staining concoction, but in the end this brought funk back to my limp hair and made my shirt stand out in black light on the dance floor later, helping me still score the only girl of the evening. Kahlil thought he escaped the melee unsauced, running away like a scared dog, but was eventually covered with sticky ice cream sandwich for desert, as retribution for his cowardice.
The “Natty M” is truly living up to what she was created for. Our old secondary anchor, now primary is holding just fine in the sandy bottom and we were able to get a replacement secondary anchor, with not too much problem at all. Skeptical of the shop owner who wanted half of the $650 for a new anchor up front, in cash, that was going to be shipped out from the mainland and with no idea of what the anchor would be like (most anything South American made is of poor quality), I accepted the deal (didn’t exactly have a choice). However, the only ATM here would not dispense me any money, but the understanding shop owner ordered the anchor anyway. It turned out to be an American made 65 lb. Danfourth, a great anchor, quite suitable for any future anchoring situations and once again we were properly equipped.
It has been well over a month since we have been at any dock, had any facilities to fill our water tanks or charge our batteries and we are living just fine. Our Spectra water maker, jerry rigged to bypass the always malfunctioning salinity probe, now works better then ever, keeping us supplied with great tasting fresh water. Our solar panels kick ass all day long. The bright equatorial sun pumping out the amps and those are complemented by our KISS wind generator’s amps, taking full advantage of the super consistent trade winds day and night, both working together to keep our batteries quite charged. Together and with just a little bit of diesel power, these supply all the energy we need for refrigeration, water making, film making, and daily living, allowing us to live probably more “green” than almost anyone I can think of that doesn’t smell like a dirty hippy.
It was easy to fall into the rhythm of the islands. Getting fun head high waves during the day, combined with a little exploring to see the sights, then heading out for dinner and maybe a drink or two with the locals and volunteers at Iguana Rock or Polos Bar. There are lots of volunteers that come here from all over Canada, England, Ireland, Denmark, USA and my personal favorite Norway. They work for nothing, teaching English in the schools or doing work like removing non-native invasive species from the native vegetation. They spend their own money on accommodation and food and get just good karma in return and the ability to have a much longer visa here. It is refreshing to meet people so into helping out the world. The people of the Galapagos benefit tremendously from having such a high profile place to call home, as every country we’ve visited has its share of poverty and could use the help of volunteers to teach English in the schools, but just doesn’t have the cachet to pull the helpful people of the world like the Galapagos. We too did our own form of volunteering and gave surf lessons to a few volunteers on the smaller days, rewarded with fun times and big smiles all around.
Just when we thought we were in rhythm it all changed. We woke up last Thursday morning and the surf was going ballistic. Our peaceful anchorage was a rocking with real ground swell, the anchored monohulls rolling violently. The two outer reefs were breaking huge, giant spumes of spray being blown way out off the faces in the strong offshore breeze. On one side of our anchorage a slabbing right appeared. Barreling right off the drop and exploding into a boulder pile, giving the daring rider an extremely narrow window for the ride of a lifetime, before just escaping with their life. On the other side of the anchorage a storybook left materialized, breaking in multiple sections as it peeled down the long boulder strewn point.
That morning we dawned it via taxi to the more exposed reef on the other side of the island, hoping for some sizable waves. What we found was huge surf, I didn’t have a 9’0” and the wind was already on it, ruining what would have been easily our biggest surf yet. We packed it up and tried to have the taxi drop us off at the other wave we normally boat too. But, this time we were rebuffed again, by military personnel who would not let us through the gates of base with our camera gear (the wave lies on the other side of the base). Back to the boat we went and the surf was still increasing. The deep channel between the outer reef and the island we normally pass through in the “Red Rocket” to surf the left point was breaking all the way through and on closer inspection we discovered triple overhead, left waves breaking 300 yards outside the normal break, rendering the wave unsurfable and where we normally anchor the dinghy, untenable. But, in the process we discovered the outer reef was perfect, triple overhead plus, offshore winds and groomed all the way through to the inside and complete with a giant deep-water channel you could easily escape to. We hooked up the towrope to the Red Rocked and soon with a little coaching on how to tow, Kahlil was whipping me into some bombs on my 5’9” quad. Fading deep into the bowl, laying down a gouging bottom turn and then racing to the shoulder on the towering wave. Kahlil with Ben in the bow filming tried to race along beside me, but soon lost me, as the wave was faster then the “Red Rocket”. When it was over they were scouring the reef looking for me thinking I got annihilated, but I was literally 300 yards further in than them, as you could ride the wave until your legs started burning. With some arm waving they found me, picked me up, towed me back out top and we repeated the process, with some great rides going down. The one scary moment came when, Kahlil whipped me in super deep and got the “Red Rocket” too sideways on the face of a monster, it’s deep “V” bottom skipped sideways on some face chop and flung Kahlil out. Ben was right there to take control and Kahlil hung on with one hand for dear life, quickly pulling himself back in and narrowly averting total disaster. I grabbed about ten monsters, until completely exhausted and then traded places with Kahlil.
Kahlil borrowed my board, as you needed the hold of a quad if you wanted to try to ride such a small board on those waves and I proceeded to whip him into the biggest waves of his life. He was all smiles and stoke and was amping out of his mind with the rides he was getting. There were no more close calls with the “Red Rocket” and after getting his fill we headed back to the “Natty M” to see how Dizzy was doing on anchor watch. He was frothing out of his mind watching all the waves breaking everywhere, most unrideable and maxed out at all the spots. But, the tide was coming up and El Canon the big left point started working, we dropped him off in the lineup by himself and he proceeded to get some great rides as Kahlil and myself recuperated. His great rides quickly drew out the local crew and some tourists, most not up to par at handling the fast, sizable waves. We digested our lunch and then all got out there, with Ben shooting from the dink in the channel. The inside waves were super fun, but big sets breaking three times further out were coming through every 15 minutes or so and were well worth the wait. I grabbed some solid ones, blasting through the pack on the bombs, as most ditched their boards, swimming for the bottom inevitably getting washed through the rocky point to the inside. It was another epic session at another new spot and we surfed until it was almost too dark to see anymore and we were delirious from the all the fun we were having.
The surf stayed way up for three more days. We again towed the outer reef the next morning, scoring tons more bombs and then decided, as Dizzy was a bit left out, because he doesn’t yet have the dingy driving skills to be part of the tow team opted for an outer reef paddle session. We all broke out our big guns, had Ben drop up off on the peak, so he could shoot from the channel and proceeded to have the best session of our journey. We all took turns hooting each other over the ledge into bowl, watching the waves stack up way over our heads, racing for the shoulder as fast as we could and then laying down about ten gouging turns until the wave eventually backed off into the deep water of the inside channel. Everyone scored some great, big waves and had some solid wipeouts, all without another surfer in sight.
The next days were just a bit smaller and spent surfing our brains out on the high performance left point that is just too much for 90% of the locals to handle (a mellower left point is just below it and most surfers just stay there). It peaks up behind a rock shelf/ledge and if you have the balls can pull in, getting shacked across or over the ledge depending on the tide. Don’t make it and jagged volcanic boulders greet you as the next wave pumbles you deeper into the board destroying rock pile. This is a frigging great wave, the take off weeds out all of the novices, the wind always offshore to side-off and once you make it past the shelf, it peels top to bottom for another 100 yards and you just crack it off the top, under the lip and do all kinds of progressive tricks or airs before it closes out into a bolder pile just shy of the next wave. Every blue moon you get one that goes all the way through both waves, but that’s quite rare and only happens on high tide, but makes for an extremely long ride when the stars do align. And still the surf just will not stop, new swells filling in soon as the old one died. Whatever lack of waves we had by hanging in the blissful Caribbean for winter has been completely erased and our surfing games are top notch again. We are ready and tuned up for the coral reefs of the pacific and probably will venture that way towards the end of the month, but just like in Panama there is no rush. We have found another paradise here on earth and are soaking it up like an unquenchable sponge. Our floating home feeling just like that, our teamwork honed to minimize work maximize fun, our bodies turned into surf machines and life just like a dream that you never have to wake up from, so I don’t think we will just yet. Cheers – Kyber