I woke with the rising sun. Its orange and yellow shades sifted through the window blinds of the room my friend and I shared on Nina, the luxury catamaran that sat anchored at our second stop of the voyage. After breakfast, the passengers and crew congregated at the back of the boat on the second-floor where we would put on our life-jackets and board the zodiacs. In the previous night’s briefing, tour guide George went over the day’s itinerary and gave all of us one very important decision to make. Apparently, there was another boat that would be visiting Española that same morning and George wanted to ensure that we had the opportunity to be the first to step foot on the island and explore it without having to worry about others sneaking into our photos or obscuring our wildlife-watching.
At 5 a.m. the wake-up call – or soft music I should say – began drifting out of the overhead speaker in all of our rooms. We had agreed to sacrifice a few extra hours of sleep to be the first to experience Española, which is known to be one of the most beautiful of the 15 main islands and 3 smaller islands that make up the Galapagos. We boarded the zodiacs with full stomachs and sleepy eyes to make our way through the turquoise, clear blue ocean water to the dry-landing dock at Suarez Point where the sea lions made their first appearance swimming around the small bay.
As soon as my sneaker hit the granite steps, I had entered a world of wildlife. Adult and baby sea lions were zipping through the water playfully, while others were sun-bathing in the crevices of the volcanic boulders. Brightly-colored Sally Lightfoot crabs were crawling from rock to rock. Their vibrant red, orange and yellow colors bursting boldly underneath the morning sun. I noticed the iguanas perched on the rocks as well – only distinguishable from their surroundings by the red-green coloration on the sides of their scaly body. I learned that these marine reptiles were known as the Christmas iguanas.
The sea lions were calling out to each other in noises equivalent to honking. On the sandy shore were pairs and groups of three or more that would be cuddling side-by-side, occasionally flapping their flippers and shaking their heads to get rid of bothersome flies. Right near the edge of a hedge of bushes was a collection of Christmas Iguanas all sprawled out. Their arms firmly on the ground but their heads raised high with closed eyes, embracing the warmth of the rays.
We walked on the marked path, spotting birds along the way. The Galapagos National Park is doing an incredibly marvelous job of ensuring that all visitors know the rules. Tour guide George made sure we followed them. If a sign said “stop” we stopped and went no further, despite our strong urges to do so. The Galapagos Islands have only recently been taken off UNESCO’s endangered list after environmental threats and so much tourism had withered away the islands’ conditions, resulting in a halt to any visitation. Today, the main goal is to keep it off the list and protect the animals, and their environment.
Iguanas were sun-bathing on almost every surface. I had to carefully check each spot before I put my foot down so that I wouldn’t happen to step on a tail. Overhead, birds were catching the wind currents and soaring gracefully above the crashing ocean waves. Others could be seen on the ground pecking around for their breakfast. When I caught up to the group, I heard their fingers feverishly clicking the buttons on their cameras. I looked down and noticed the blue feet. The infamous blue-footed boobies were less than a yard from our own feet.
We quietly watched as they performed their mating dance, which goes a bit like: left foot up, left foot down, right foot up, right foot down, ruffle the feathers and wings, and look at the female you are trying to impress with hopeful eyes. Every now and then they would puff up their chest and let out a whistle sound. Even though I’m not a scientist, I could not help but be fascinated by the blue-footed boobies and their mannerisms. The group stayed for nearly 15 minutes watching nature’s act play out live right before our eyes.
Eventually, we had to reluctantly move on to the ushering of tour guide George who wanted to show us a lookout spot known for its blowhole. Some boulders became our resting spot as we impatiently waited for the rumored 65-foot high spurt of water that was known to shoot up iguanas that had accidentally stayed too long in the area. However, we were not lucky to see such an event but the view of the cliffside and deep blue ocean were just as good.
Just down the path and down a rocky hillside was the iguana-filled land. I learned that the soft-sand area to the left was the only place on Española island where the iguanas crawl up the terrain to nest. This was a forbidden area to step so as not to disturb their breeding grounds. Instead, we walked around it to the other side and back up the hill, noticing two Nazca Boobies that were keeping their baby eggs warm. An area of birds had turned a bit hostile while we were there. They were fighting others that kept meandering into their territory. It was just one more great moment of nature to witness before we made our way on the rocky path back to the bay area to watch the sea lions play and Sally Light-Foot Crabs crawl. The Christmas iguanas had disappeared from their sun-bathing area since it was now covered in shade. When the group became a group again we took our zodiacs back to the catamaran, which turned on the engine and sailed on over to Gardner Bay, which is known for its sun-bathing sea lion colonies.