Darwinian Travels through the Galapagos Islands, July 5-7
Strike a pose! A sea lion basks in the sun on North Seymour Island, The Galapagos
Mon, July 5:
We woke up near Genevesa Island in the north-east of the Galapagos chain. Our "wet landing" on the beach was onto hard coral, but we were rewarded with a guided walk from Andres, where he explained about the frigates, boobies and pelicans we were seeing up close. It's a great time of year for nesting. Eggs and baby birds everywhere - and still no fear from the birds. Only Darwin's finches fly away the way you would expect.
Oh, Frigate Baby
I chose to go snorkeling when the opportunity came, and found myself swimming with schools of parrotfish and surgeonfish. Anica and the other kids simply played in the waves, wetsuits and all.
After a lunch back onboard highlighted by shrimp skewers, we "docked" elsewhere on the island and walked up "Prince Philip's Steps" to the top of the island. Pepe and Andres, naturalists not historians, asked me who the steps were named after. I said I wouldn't be surprised if it was Queen Elizabeth II's husband, an avid bird-watcher. Later, I found out that yes, he visited in 1964, and the wooden staircase was meant to aid his access to the birds.
The cook made sure we had an early dinner tonight so we could all go up top to watch the sunset.
Tues, July 6:
The otherworldly landscape of Fernandina Island, The Galapagos
Fernandina Island this morning, another uninhabited island. In fact, we've only been seeing a few other people each day. There's two other boats like ours, that we sometimes catch sight of, but they time the visits to the islands so that you hardly ever bump into the other groups. It's like all of the Galapagos are being explored in privacy by the sixteen passenger on our ship.
Fernandina is the "youngest" of the Galapagos Islands, being farthest to the west, meaning it's closest to the volcanic hotspot that gives birth to all the islands, then sends them drifting to the east at the rate of a few inches each year. Its "ground" is mostly black volcanic rock - lava now hardened into tracks. It looks freeze-framed into place, like it could start flowing again at the push of a button. The whole island is otherworldly. If a dinosaur had stomped out of the brush this morning, I wouldn't have been overly surprised.
Great spot for marine igaunas
Here we saw - and almost stepped on - marine iguanas. They rested on black rocks, blending in, except for when they sneezed saltwater. We also saw flightless cormorants, a tiny Galapagos snake, a Galapagos hawk with a small iguana in its talons, lava lizards, lava heron and the skeleton of a beached whale. One of the running jokes we have goes like this: "Oh, there's a snake. What kind of snake is it?" "Galapagos snake." "Oh, there's a mouse what kind of mouse is it?" "Galapagos mouse." You get the idea.
Looking into a mangrove-fringed inlet of water, we saw turtles and eagles rays.
The afternoon began with a deep water snorkel in Elizabeth Bay (off Isabela Island). Anica's been having problems fitting a mask for snorkeling; that and the extremely cold water in this particular bay meant that she and Jenn were soon out of the water. I stayed in long enough to see a few more of the fish, starfish, urchins, and turtles. A penguin swam past me so fast I didn't even see it until it was out of the water and waddling across the rocks.
When we got back to the ship, Anica joined the brave kids who were (and this was the guides' idea) jumping off the top of the boat. This is like jumping off a four-story building! Anica showed no fear, but slipped just as she was about to jump and hit the water sideways. Ouch! Her legs and shoulder were stung and bruised, and she received ice, Advil and the admiration of all the other passengers.
Despite being somewhat banged up, Anica was with us for a panga tour of the bay. We saw more from the panga than we did snorkeling, really: many more penguins, flightless cormorants, pelicans, black noddys, sea lions, turtles, etc. You could even see the red, blue or "chocolate chip" starfish just below the surface of the water.
Night-time, however, was far from idyllic. Travelling all night through rough waters, I had diarrhea that evolved into seasick vomiting. So did about a quarter of the people aboard. Jenn and Anica seemed better-protected by the anti-seasickness patch (I had one on, but it had been knocked in the water), though Anica didn't like the feeling of being almost lifted off her bunk as the ship plunged through each wave. Luckily, this would turn out to be the only rough night we would have.
Wed, July 7:
Santiago Island: a black ash beach. On shaky legs and with an empty stomach, I joined the hike past an abandoned salt mine to the tidal pools on the far side of the island. Fur seals, marine iguanas, and a natural stone arch were our photogenic rewards. Andres like to mimic our touristy exclamations: "Oh my goodness. It's so cute! Take a picture!" The kids say it in a chorus along with him, as soon as he starts in with "Oh my goodness" in his Spanish accent.
Sleepy Head: a sea lion on the black sand beach, Santiago Island, The Galapagos
I didn't think I'd snorkel from the beach afterward, but I did. No wetsuit - that helped revive me! Anica played with Megan on the beach, sculpting with the "natural clay" they found. Until an adult pointed out that it was dried sea lion poo. Hand-sanitizer, anyone? The crew, and Megan's Dad, played soccer (sorry, football) on a somewhat level plateau above the beach. The beautiful game has been everywhere on this trip. That explains why more ships than usual converged here this morning.
The afternoon snorkel was even more rewarding, as I swam with a white-tipped shark for the first time. This was opposite "Chinese Hat Island."
After dinner, a surprise: one of the crew members had his birthday. Pepe played the guitar and a few others sang. We ate the birthday cake and danced. Then I asked for a turn and sang Brown-Eyed Girl and Twist & Shout and everyone sang along.