After spending two days around San Cristobal Island, we headed to Espanola Island where we hiked and snorkeled and saw iguanas, Nazca Boobies (and eggs and babies), Blue-footed Boobies, swallow-tailed gulls, lava lizards, an albatross family, Galapagos mockingbirds, a lava Heron – I am beginning to understand why people become birdwatchers! That night we had dinner with the captain. Each night a different group of six is chosen to dine with him. We had a wonderful time chatting and learning more about Ecuadorian politics and how he became a commercial sea captain and his schedule (six weeks on, four weeks off). Oh, and what really happened when Jeff Bezos was on the Letty and had kidney stones!
That night the boat (and us, of course!) traveled to Floreana Island where we spent the next day. Floreana was the first island to be settled because it has fresh water – and so it was also the first island to be exploited by man. There used to be tortoises here, but they were hunted to extinction years ago. And there are feral pigs and goats on the island that were brought generations ago by whalers or pirates and quickly took over. They are trying to eradicate them now by hunting. It’s worked on some smaller islands but is still in progress on Floreana. There is a human population here – a small village of about 140. We didn’t go there. Instead we went on a hike at Cormorant’s Point (an ironic name as there have never been cormorants on Floreana) and saw pink flamingos and turtle nests. We also got to see our naturalist Pepe imitate a flamingo doing its mating dance – which is the genesis of the famous flamenco dance. While he won’t win any awards for dancing, he does a mean flamingo imitation! When we went snorkeling we experimented with the GoPro. I wore it strapped to my chest for the panga ride and the dive. The resulting video was not too bad but awfully boring – just lots of water and fishes. For good GoPro video, I think you need to be engaged in more life threatening activities. We also went to Post Office Bay, where we dropped off postcards at the barrel/post office box. This is apparently a very old tradition. You write a postcard and address it to yourself, a friend, or family then you put it in the barrel. Then you look through the postcards in the barrel for one from somebody who lives in your hometown or nearby and you take it with you – and then had deliver it when you get home! And maybe someday somebody will come knocking on your or your family’s door with a postcard from the Galapagos!
Thursday was spent on Santa Cruz Island, where we had our first and only non-water day. We took a bus ride to the highlands where the giant tortoises live in their natural habitat cruising around eating and doing typical tortoise things. We also stopped along the way to walk through a lava tunnel that a past eruption had carved through the island. We also got a tour of the Charles Darwin Research Station where they have a giant tortoise breeding program underway as some islands’ tortoise populations were either nearly or entirely eradicated and they are undertaking the repopulation of those islands.
Friday morning we snorkeled off China Mass Hat (Sombrero Chino), a small, uninhabited island where we saw Galapagos penguins (and got to swim with them!) and one of the biggest varieties of fish we’ve encountered so far. The penguins were a total hoot – they are fast as the dickens in the water so you really have to keep an eye out to see them zipping along. On the rocks, they just stand there – you can get quite close – so make easy photographic subjects. In the afternoon we headed to Bartolome Island (another uninhabited island) for a snorkeling excursion and then hiked to the summit of Bartolome Island where we had a great view of the surrounding islands ands saw evidence of the recent (in geologic terms) volcanic activity.
Saturday morning we started the day with a hike on South Plaza Island (also uninhabited), where we saw marine and land iguanas, sea lions, swallow-tailed gulls, a few blue-footed boobies, ground finches, red-billed tropicbirds and Galapagos shearwaters. Toward the end of the hike we were treated to an unusual sighting: a hybrid iguana (only 14 are known to exist) that is the result of mating between a marine and a land iguana. Even more unusually, the hybrid iguana was feeding on the placenta of a sea lion. Chuck was able to get some pictures before the iguana took off, which may end up at the Darwin Research Station!
After we got back on the boat, we motored to North Seymour Island (also uninhabited), a two-three hour cruise. Once there, we had our last snorkel experience. It was a great one – we saw a spotted eagle ray, a couple of sharks, and loads of fish. The water was a bit choppier than it has been on earlier days – apparently the Galapagos is headed into the rainy season, so we timed our visit really well. We have had by and large great weather. After snorkeling it was back to the boat to shower and get ready for our last hike, which was around North Seymour Island where it was like all the critters of the Galapagos gathered to say goodbye to us. We saw frigate birds, female and male (and a few of the males were ballooned up and looking for love), blue-footed boobies doing little mating dances, sea lions and fur seals, land and marine iguanas, pelicans, swallow-tailed gulls – it was too crazy! Gustavo and Pepe took the opportunity to take group photos with all of our cameras, with a fantastic background of breaking waves and sea lions. It was a great way to wrap up the big adventure.