Monday, October 20, 2014

San Cristobal and the Humboldt Explorer

We start the day with a breakfast in our hotel. The restaurant is on the upper level and we had a table overlooking the port. While we were eating, finches came in to see if they can get some crumbs. Ilan tried to lure some of them to come closer for a photograph by sacrificing a piece of toast. 

During the planning of the trip, Ilan Vered (Wilddive) suggested a tour in the El Juno volcanic crater. Four other members of the diving cruise were to join us. They were all staying in our hotel. They were Shmulik and Tamar, a couple that we knew from Israel, and Golan and Momi, whom we didn’t meet before.

Our guide, Carlos, met us at the hotel lobby, and took us on a van with a driver. I chatted with the Carlos, and he told me his family is one of the oldest on the island, and came in with one of the first attempts to settle on the island.

We drive on a road the leaves the town and climbs up toward the mountain. As we get higher the weather deteriorates. We drive on a wet road with lush growth on all sides. 

After about half and hour, the van pulls over in a dirt parking lot. With the light rain, the parking was muddy. Those of us who brought a rain coat get it out, and the others tough it out in the rain. We walk along a trail that climbs the gentle slope. The trail hacked through a brush that consists of a mix of native and invading plants. Carlos tells us that there is an ongoing competition between these, and that the invading  blackberry plants are a serious threat to the native ones.

The trail is sometimes on rock, which can be slippery, or on dirt, which is muddy. We reach a wooden stairs, which are easier to walk on, but are very slippery. Our progress is slow, and by now my glasses are fogged from the inside and wet on the outside. Wiping them on my shirt has little effect.

We finally reach the end of the trail. We are standing on a patch of grass surrounded by milky fog. Carlos tells us that we are on the rim of the crater and that inner part of the crater is a fresh water lake (the only one on the archipelago). We have to take his word, as we cannot see a thing. I ask whether this weather will change. He shrugs and say that during this season it is usually like this, but that sometimes the cloud will clear up, usually for a few minutes.

Carlos asks whether we want to walk around the crater. Ilan, Tamar and Shmulik decide to skip this, and walk down the trail back to the car. Golan, Momi and me follow Carlos on the trail. The visibility is still bad, but we sometimes we see the shape of the slopes on either side. 

The trails descends a bit, and we reach a small creek, apparently the outlet of water from the crater. Carlos takes us along the creek toward the crater. Here we are walking through a tropical jungle in a very muddy trail. We reach the shores of the lake, or rather the swamp like growth at the end of the lake. We can’t see much, and so turn back.

Continuing on the trail we circle around the crater. In few rare moments we get to see parts of it, and I even managed once to see the whole crater. 

When we complete the circle, we are again inside a white cloud. The way down along the trail is harder than the ascent, and I almost slip several times. We reach the car wet and very muddy. The van driver was ready for this eventuality and covered the van floor and seats with newspapers.

We drive back toward the town. Once we get closer, we exit the cloud cover, and it is once again a beautiful sunny day. 

Back in the sun

We have about an hour until our planned pickup by the boat crew. We decide to use it to eat ceviche in a local restaurant that Shmulik and Tamar found the previous day. We get there (just across from the Lavanderia we used yesterday) but it is closed. We continue along and get to another ceviche “restaurant” or more accurately a shack. The menu is all ceviche - fish, shrimp, octopus, or mixed. 

We each order a ceviche and a drink. The woman running the place starts assembling our plates, while her helper (her daughter?) brings from the next door house small baskets with popcorn. We are not sure whether this is a pre-meal snack. Ilan asks, and we learn that we are supposed to add the popcorn to the ceviche. The ceviche arrives, with a lot of sea food, tomatoes, onions, and generous amount of citrusy marinade. Adding the popcorn to the mix gives it a nice crunchy texture. Yam!

We return to the hotel and wait to be picked up. I use the time to go around and photograph wildlife around the pier. 

Taxis are not safe from the sea lions

A male gives one of his females a briefing

The rest of this group uses a staircase next to pier as a resting place

"I am the boss!"

Around noon, we are approached by a William, who introduces himself as our guide. He collects our luggage so that it can be ferried to the boat by the panga. After a while he returns and announces that now is our turn. When we go down to the platform we find a nice sea lion resting and use the opportunity to photograph it. 

The Humboldt Explorer, with a pelican in the foreground

Shmulik, Tamar, and Ilan

Sleepy sea lion

We climb onto the panga, and two young fellows, Marcus and Hans, show up, and join us. The panga is much larger than the one we had on the Eden. We all climb in and take the short trip to the Humboldt Explorer, our boat for the coming week.

The Humboldt Explorer

William tells us the cabin assignment, and we start organizing our belongings. In the mean time, the rest of the passengers, who landed on a flight from the mainland arrive. These include, Shay, Robert, Hezi, Shlomo, Robby, Ayelet and two French ladies who do not speak English.

William introduces himself and the boat a short introduction, and recommend we eat some lunch. I am not too hungry after the ceviche we had earlier.

The next two hours are somewhat chaotic as everyone gets settled down, get their dive equipment assembled. Some of us rent equipment here, and so have to try on the suits. Finally, after much activity, it seems that we are all more or less ready to dive. 

Waiting for dive briefing

By now it is getting late, and the sun is low. Thus, we only go for a short check dive that in the water close to the port. The plan is to go down, see that we are ok with our equipment. For me this is the first time with my thick 3mm gloves, and of course the camera is part of the check.

After getting comfortable below, I look around. A diver says hi and I photograph him. At this stage I am not good in recognizing people underwater, but later learn that this was Hezi.

Testing the camera

I see a small ray, and try to photograph it, with medicare success. 

It seems that our allotted 15min are over, and so we start going up. As I reach the surface, I see two young sea lions passing below me. I decide to join them. The water is heavy with particles, and I barely manage to get one shot of the two rascals.

Playful sea lion cubs

We climb back on the pangas, and return to the boat. After a shower, dinner is served. We climb up to the upper deck, and see the lights of the town in the distance. 

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