Underwater Pictures – Galapagos Islands

Since I’ve returned to the States I have been able to develop the film from my underwater camera that I took to the Galapagos Islands. Here is what I discovered captured on my roll:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Video: Galapagos Islands – Darwin’s Land

To finish up the Galapagos Islands Series, I have made a video of the voyage.

I hope you have enjoyed the adventure just as much as I did.

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Santa Cruz & North Seymour – Galapagos Series – Chapter VI

After my friend dropped off two pieces of bread for my breakfast, I decided I could not miss out on the day’s activities and forced myself to eat it and get dressed. This was the day I was looking forward to the most – and again, I was in the G-A-L-A-P-A-G-O-S! No upset stomach was going to keep the Traveling Bard from an adventure.

charles darwin research station on santa cruz island

The zodiac pulled up to a pier on Santa Cruz island and we unloaded. After Isabella, Santa Cruz is the second-largest island in the Galapagos and has the largest population located in its capital, Puerto Ayora. Before landing here, we had been hopping around uninhabited islands where the animals reigned. On Santa Cruz, however, it was an urban development with a bustling city center.

Once we regrouped, Tour Guide George started leading us along the road to the Charles Darwin Research Station, which has been in operation since 1964. Scientists and researchers work on projects to help conserve the Galapagos Islands and it’s animals, while learning more about the archipelago. Along the way, we stopped to watch a man sort through a fresh batch of caught lobsters where we happened to spot a Lava Gull, which is apparently very rare because there are only 400 left. We continued on and passed a small, green road sign that had an arrow pointing in the direction we were heading that read, “Estacion Ch. Darwin”.

At the park entrance building we were able to get our passports stamped. Another amazing souvenir that will compliment the equator stamp nicely. Eventually we passed the sign that let us know we had made it and entered a room that was dedicated to educating people on The Restoration of the Tortoise Dynasty. Tour Guide George explained the different species that are found on each island and their current predicament. I learned that the Galapagos Tortoise is the largest tortoise species in the world, and that the National Park and Research Station are trying to eradicate the dogs, pigs, donkeys and rats that hinder their populations.

lonesome george - the last of his species of galapagos tortoise

We walked to an area where we could watch the baby tortoises wandering around and climbing all over each other. The baby tortoises weren’t always placed behind bars, according to Tour Guide George. Apparently, travelers would be caught at the airport on their way back to Ecuador trying to sneak out tortoises they picked up. I couldn’t believe anyone would even think of doing something like that – or think they had any chance of successfully getting away with it. Moving on, we went to visit the two celebrities of the Charles Darwin Research Station: Lonesome George and Diego.

Lonesome George is named because he is the last known Pinta Island tortoise in the entire Galapagos archipelago. Goats had destroyed the species and he was moved to the research station for protection. Restless searches have not turned up any others of his kind. He is kept in an environment with two females in the hopes that he would mate with them to produce offspring. George has produced batches of eggs with the females, but all have unfortunately become inviable. When he dies in a hundred, or so years, his conservation status will become: extinct.

the galapagos tortoise - stretching the long neck

On a brighter note, one tortoise has been able to help repopulate the entire Española island with his offspring. His name is Diego and he was returned to the Galapagos after spending a large part of his life in the San Diego Zoo, which is where he got his name. His species was in decline due to the goats that were harming the vegetation that the tortoises relied upon. There were only 12 females and 2 males left when he returned and produced more than 1,400 babies that are now back in their natural environment, helping maintain their population on Española. Even at more than 100 years of age, Diego continues to mate with the females at the Charles Darwin Research Station.

After visiting the tortoises and iguanas, we met up with our bus that would be taking us to the highlands. We had decided to spend the entire day on Santa Cruz instead of just the morning, and then sailing on over to an island to snorkel and see more of the animals we already had on the other islands. The highlands offered us a chance to get up-close-and-personal with the giant Galapagos tortoises in their natural environment at the Highlands National Park Tortoise Reserve. It was a quick ride and our chefs from the catamaran brought all the food for lunch in a nice buffet-style setting for us to enjoy in the park. As we gradually finished eating, one by one, people from the group began to disappear and explore the tortoise landscape.

in the highlands with the large tortoises

The giant tortoises, which can weight more than 650 pounds and live up to 200 years, were scattered all throughout the green landscape. Most could be found in the shade of trees in order to stay out of the afternoon heat. We were able to get inches away from the endemic animals and pose for multiple pictures. In the park, the tortoises have the luxury to roam wherever they like, whether that be across the roads or into the deep forest of trees on the reserve. A few were lounging in the muddy waters of one of the ponds. At one point, we were lucky enough to see the beginnings of a possible mating – the male was trying to crawl onto the back of a female, but the female began to take off with the male following closely behind. Eventually, the female was able to seek refuge in a large bush, which made it difficult for the male to crawl on top again due to all the branches in the way.

Some of the group went back to the lunch area while the rest of us followed Tour Guide George on a trail through the trees. Ever so often I could spot the shell of a tortoise in the distance. The lush vegetation of Santa Cruz provides a suitable environment for the tortoises and the reserve protects them from invasive species – although I did spot two kittens hiding beneath branches and leaves at one point during our hike. We also spotted fruit growing in bushes and trees with the help of Tour Guide George. He wrangled a papaya down and fed it to one of the tortoises who devoured it and made quite a mess. I guess the others got worried about us being gone for so long because one of them somehow found us even though I had no idea where we even were in the forest.

inside looking out of the lava tunnel on santa cruz island

We hopped back on the bus for a five minute drive to our next stop. A dirt path led us to a small set of stairs where we walked down into the opening of a lava tunnel. It reminded me very much of Mammoth Caves, which I just visited in Kentucky in the summer before leaving for Ecuador. Lava from a volcanic eruption flowed and eventually hollowed out, creating the tunnel we were walking through. We could only go so far because  of boulders that blocked our path, so that was our turning point. The string of lights didn’t help much. It was still dark enough that my clumsy self would trip over some of the rocks in the path but I eventually made it safely back up the stairs and to the bus with no broken bones. The group went back to the city center where we were given a bit of time to look around. My Norwegian friend, the friend I came with and I went for some coffee and ice cream before venturing back to the meeting point. We boarded the zodiacs, but had to wait for the other zodiac to arrive with the life-jackets before we eventually got back on the catamaran.

It was our last night aboard the Nina. Throughout the duration of the entire voyage, the group had become very much like a family. At dinner that night, the two tables were pushed together and we ate like a family, complete with random side conversations. In the morning, we woke bright and early with the sight of giant waves crashing ashore on North Seymour – the final island we would explore. The waves made getting out of the zodiac incredibly hard but everyone made it safely on land where we were greeted my numerous bird sightings. We walked the rocky trail and saw blue-footed boobies – a mom and her babies. In the trees we noticed two male Magnificent Frigate birds with their red pouches puffed up to attract a female.

male magnificent frigate bird with red pouch

With only an hour of time to enjoy the island, the group quickly made it’s way to the coast where the waves crashed upon the rocky shore. Here we saw more sea lions and iguanas basking in the sun that was growing stronger in the waking morning. After slipping and sliding our way back into the zodiacs, we all looked back for one last glimpse of the Galapagos before we hopped back on the catamaran to say our final farewells to the crew as it took us to the drop-off point where buses were waiting.

At the airport, the group remained intact. On the flight, the group remained intact until we lost an Australian couple at the first stop in Guayaquil. The rest remained together until we said our goodbyes at the baggage claim in the Quito airport and went our separate ways,. However, we all still had the memories of Darwin’s Land intact.

soaring over the sea lion on north seymour island

zodiac heading to shore on north seymour island

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

tortoise chowing down at the charles darwin research station on santa cruz island

a sea lion and her pup on north seymour island

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Post Office Bay – Galapagos Series – Chapter V

Each of us had to wade in the water to climb back into the zodiac to depart Floreana Island. I could not hide the grimace on my face when my my feet were drowned in the icey water. The sensation implanted itself into my mind and stayed there during breakfast and afterward when Tour Guide George came around telling us to suit up for our snorkeling adventure. I noticed most of the group sucking themselves into their tight wetsuits and grabbing the bags of fins and masks with their room numbers. As I continued to contemplate, I looked everywhere for my friend, whom I found clothed and ready to hit the sun-deck on the third level of the catamaran. She had decided to skip out of snorkeling this time, not because of the cold water but simply because it was not her cup of tea. She asked me whether or not I was going and I explained my fear of the freezing temperatures. Her reply, “I think you’re going.”

before diving into freezing waters to swim with sea lions

Sure enough, my friend was right. I had decided that since I was in THE Galapagos, I could not miss out on any opportunity. Within minutes, my wetsuit was squeezed on and I was sitting on the side of the catamaran bouncing off the water toward our destination. We reached a cove in Champion Islet and immediately noticed the two spunky sea lions darting around each other, popping in and out of the water. Tour Guide George said they were eager to play with us. One by one, people fell overboard and into the water. I was one of the last ones who reluctantly slipped into the arctic water, only to feel like I had just been stabbed in every inch of my body.

However, my body either adjusted or became numb because I put my head on the water’s surface and began flipping around watching the two sea lions frolicking underwater. I could never keep track of them because they were incredibly fast. We would pop up out of water to look around and realize one was right behind us. We would turn around and they would have disappeared underwater again. On a couple of occasions, the sea lion would come head-first straight at you, only to turn away or dive deep down. The group members were inches away from the sea lions, swimming and playing with them in their natural environment. Both the sea lions were twirling and spinning beneath us and it was amazing to watch. One of my friends I had made on the voyage could not stop giggling every time one of the sea lions would swim near her. Eventually, I was cold enough that I wanted to get out and warm up. I sat in the zodiac waiting for the others to slowly join me, hoping that my under-water camera was able to get some good shots of the magnificent animals.

zodiac cruising behind the catamaran heading to next stop

Sadly, Tour Guide George had the idea of heading to a different place known to have more sea lions. The group shivered as the zodiac made its way to the spot. Another tour group was in the area swimming in the freezing water without wetsuits and we couldn’t believe it. Looking at the water we could tell it was a bit rough and by then, most of us had dried a bit and didn’t want to jump back in. the water We decided to head back to the catamaran. We jumped aboard, took off our wetsuits and warmed up with tea that the crew had set out for us. After every snorkeling trip the crew would have some sort of snack and beverage waiting for us on deck and it was always thankfully devoured.

Once we regained feeling in our bodies, Tour Guide George told us that we would be heading to Post Office Bay and said it also offered an opportunity to snorkel with sea turtles. That brightened me up, but sadly, I had already made up my mind that I was done with snorkeling for the day. A few of us sat up on the sun-deck relaxing until departure time. With a view of the bay I was able to see a sea turtle floating around in the water. It was bittersweet to say the least and to make it worse, Post Office Bay was unfortunately another wet-landing.

I braced myself for the cold and raced out of the water as fast as I could. The weather had turned cloudy and the temperatures had dropped to the point that I was layered in clothes. Being from Arizona, we always like to say, anything below 70 is freezing to us. Tour Guide George took us on a little path through the brush to an area that resembled a bonfire setup. This was the Post Office, and the itinerary provided a brief explanation as to its history:

the post office is still in use after 18th century whalers first began the tradition

At Post Office Bay, eighteenth century whalers used a barrel as an unofficial mail drop. In those times ships were often away from home for two or more years at a time. Ships on their outward journeys would leave letters and ships returning home would pick them up and bring them to their homeland.

Some of the original wood was still present, whereas others had been added, their surfaces scribbled with the names and messages of previous visitors. The main attraction of the post office is the 200-year-old barrel that looks like a giant birdhouse with stickers plastered all over it. Inside are piles and piles of postcards left by travelers. The traditions has each visitor leave a postcard, which requires no postage stamp. When a new group arrives, such as ours, we open the little door to the barrel, pull out the postcards, divide them amongst ourselves and find ones that are addressed in areas as close to our homes. as possible If we find one, or two, or three – in the case of my friend from New York – we take them back with us and either personally deliver them if they are close enough, or mail them to their final destinations. It is truly an amazing experience to see who stepped on the island before you and read what the have to say.

the group carrying on the tradition, looking for postcards they could send once back home

The group members would shout out countries and states to each other, passing a postcards here and there. It could take weeks, months and even years for them to be delivered, depending on where the travelers are from and where the postcards are addressed. I came across a few that said “Do not take”, which meant that the post-sender wanted it to be picked up by someone else – such as the Navy. Once or twice a year – I forgot what Tour Guide George said – the Navy comes a long and picks up all the cards that have not been taken to mail once they reach port. Overall, it was a lovely tradition that I was happy to continue, even though I didn’t find any postcards to send once I returned home. Hopefully someone from Arizona visits and picks mine up!

We returned back to the beach where we were allowed to rest. Most of us went to go watch the soccer game that was taking place for a few minutes. There was an entire field of men dressed in jerseys and some were recognizable as part of our ship’s crew. Even this far out on a tiny island, the game of soccer – or football – still carried on just like the Post Office tradition. Quite a few of us were getting really cold so Tour Guide George used his walkie-talkie to request that the zodiacs come and take us to the warmth of the catamaran. I could already feel the effects of the the weather and freezing water from snorkeling with sea lions taking its toll on me.

soccer match being played at post office bay

That night was gruesome for me. As soon as I got back on the ship I took a hot shower and crawled into bed. I missed the briefing for that evening, as well as dinner. To spare the gritty details, the toilet became my friend throughout the dark hours about three times. When I finally let my head hit the pillow, the question of whether or not I would be taking part in the next day’s adventure was still up in the air.

hundreds die a year after attempting to eat a blowfish

the post office sign

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the barrel where all the postcards can be found

 

one of the many messages left at post office bay

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Floreana Island – Galapagos Series – Chapter IV

in punta cormorant on floreana island - galapagos islands

The next morning was begun with another early wake-up call. The cruise ship had followed us once more, but this time to Floreana Island. We barely had time to wash a bit of crackers down our throat with coffee or tea, and stuff a banana down as well before jumping into the zodiacs to head ashore on Punta Cormorant. It was another wet-landing, so I decided it would be a flip-flop day. No sun had broken through the overhead clouds and reached the beach yet, so the trio of sea lions had taken an early morning swim in the bay and huddled together keeping warm on the sandy shore.

On the horizon you could see a group of mountains that reminded me of Arizona. Most would call them hills compared to other more dominant ranges like the North American Rockies or the South American Andes. They seemed light and fluffy, as if they were covered in dandelions that could be blown away by wind to leave the mountainous hills bare.

the lagoon on floreana island - flamingos pose here from december to may

We gathered and headed up a slight hill, surrounded by the bare-limbed, white colored dandelion trees on both sides. Just so you know, they’re really black and white mangrove trees. An occasional bird – each a different species – could be seen perched or fluttering about on the the branches. Eventually, we reached the first stop on our exploration of Floreana Island, which was named after the first president of Ecuador, Juan Jose Flores, who took control of the Galapagos Islands. It was a lookout point constructed of wood and resembled a patio at the back of a house.

The group crammed together on the patio lookout and glanced at the landscape. A lagoon was slowly rippling with the slight breeze. It’s surface was able to keep the glassy reflection of the trees that lined its edges and the clouds. Tour Guide George explained how the Galapagos Islands never receive rain. When the clouds pile up overhead, they release a mist, but that is all, according to Tour Guide George. Hence, there being no fresh-water streams, rivers or lakes. Simply, lagoons that connect to the ocean. However, my own research had told me otherwise.

Apparently the Galapagos archipelago experiences some frequent rain showers. The islands also take part in the El Niño phenomenon, which brings heavy rains along with it. From June to November, known as the Garua, there are drizzles that last all day and from December to May there are some strong rains every once in a while. Maybe I just misheard the endemic Tour Guide George while I was taking pictures of the breath-taking nature around me at that moment.

sea turtle nests on floreana island

This lagoon is known to have pink flamingos visit from December to May. Sadly, we missed out on seeing the sophisticated creatures. After the quick educational lesson, we  continued on the path toward another bay – this one being very special. A little ways up the shore, a pattern could be seen in the white-sand beach. A number of rounded dugouts had been made, separated by mere inches from one another. Tour Guide George explained that these were sea-turtle nests and had just been emptied, pointing out the baby’s tracks that led to the ocean water.

I could see pieces of hatched eggs still sitting in one of the nests. We walked along the shore, the first feet to touch the sand that day – a perk of waking up at 5 a.m. – to try and look for any sea turtles that didn’t make it to the ocean. Overhead a black bird, most likely a Frigate, was soaring with its peering eyes to hopefully beat us to a baby to make it breakfast. Unfortunately for us and the bird, but lucky for the sea turtles, we did not find one. During the search party, I did get to see a sea lion basking in the sun, a Yellow Warbler prancing around on the sand and a Least Sandpiper running around on the beach.

looking out for sting rays on floreana island

We spent some time here exploring. I got to inspect my first set of tide-pools, which were sadly mostly empty but there were plenty of Sally Lightfoot crabs picking at the rocks for food. Tour Guide George had us gather around again to tell us that this bay area was known for having plenty of sting rays in the shallow areas. He had us go up to our knees in the ocean water to look at them. At one point, he grabbed my arm and pulled me around pointing at each one of them. I stood still enough that I felt them nibbling at my feet – either that or it was seaweed but I didn’t see any floating seaweed.

When I felt them, I pulled my leg up in fear, making myself look like a flamingo standing in the water. The waves were carrying the stingrays right up to us and some of the group actually said they stepped on one or two. Eventually, I walked back a bit to some of the more nervous bystanders, and was even lucky enough to see a stingray flap its “wings” on the surface of the water before disappearing beneath it once more.

After we all decided that we risked our lives enough, we headed back to the other side of the island to wait for the zodiacs to arrive. The sun had finally made its appearance and Tour Guide George was able to show us the crystals that give the beach its green olivine color.

green olivine crystals on floreana island - photo credit: rachel tavel

The crystals glistened underneath the sun and with a close eye, I could really seen the hint of green against the dark sand on the beach. Some sort of chemical reaction with lava creates the green crystals, which add to the majestic beauty of one more Galapagos island. Not too much later, the zodiacs rushed ashore to pick us up and take us for a nice breakfast on the catamaran before we would  put on our wetsuits again. Next stop: Champion Islet for another snorkeling opportunity – this time with some special friends.

a bird pirched on a tree branch in the floreana island lagoon

sea turtle tracks leading to the ocean on floreana island

least sandpiper on floreana island beach

yellow warbler on floreana island

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Gardner Bay – Galapagos Scrolls – Chapter III

The Nina in front of Gardner Bay - Galapagos Islands

The Nina sailed onto Gardner Bay after completion of our early morning exploration of Española Island.  We were eating lunch and I believe it was during this quick intermission between adventures that a smile was permanently sewn into my face for the remainder of the voyage (minus one unfortunate evening//night that you’ll read about in an upcoming chapter) because my expectations of the Galapagos Islands had already been surpassed. In just one morning – not even a full day – I had seen the rest of the animals that I wanted to see while island hopping. The landscapes reminded me of home, as well as my favorite t.v. show Xena: Warrior Princess. In other words, I could have left after this day and been a happy camper. I didn’t know how much better it could get – or even if it was possible – but it was.

Lounging with the sea lions in Gardner Bay

Tour Guide George came to the dining room and told us to get prepared for a wet landing on the beach of Gardner Bay. We could bring our snorkeling gear if we wanted or our towels to sun-bathe for a bit. It was early enough in the afternoon that we would have time to relax on the soft, white-sand beach. After putting on our swimming suits and layering our bodies with sunscreen, we boarded the zodiacs once more, but this time with no shoes. One by one we properly swung our legs over the side of the zodiac, letting our feet touch the cool water for the first time on our voyage, and walked ashore. Instantly, we were greeted with the sight of crowds and crowds of sea lions.

After the group had gathered ashore, tour guide George told us we had free time to sun-bathe with the sea lions, swim with the sea lions in the bay, snorkel with the sea turtles and explore the bay area as far as the group of rocks down the shoreline. My friend and I placed our bags near some logs and took off walking to get some shots with the sea lions that were just cuddled up in the sand, letting the sum warm them. A few were swimming along the beach, playing with each other – mainly mums and their babies. It amused me that they let the waves just roll them around as they crashed upon the sand. It was as if they preferred that area, letting their bodies swirl with the current.

a sea lion letting the ocean waves crash upon him in gardner bay

Once our stroll along the bay’s beach ended at the rocky point, we turned around and met up with our Norwegian friend who decided to smooth out her towel on the soft, white sand and take out her book. I went over to my backpack leaning against the log and pulled out my towel to join her. My friend shared half the towel with me after stripping down to her bathing suit to sun-tan. It wasn’t long before I got distracted by the sea lions and decided to go play with them.

At first, it was merely a picture-taking opportunity. I wanted to see how close I could get to posing with them and ended up being snorted at by a playful sea lion. It scared me a bit, because we had been almost nose-to-nose but then it started to wander away. I followed along, pretending to be a sea lion to amuse my friends before going back to the yellow towel to relax a bit. I still can’t get over the fact that we were sun-bathing with sea lions in the Galapaos Islands. These were animals that I’ve only seen as cartoons in movies or performance shows at Sea World, and yet, here they were in their natural environment lounging right beside us.

sun-bathing with sea lions in gardner bay

Within a few short minutes, tour guide George came and said that we should go back to the ship so we could get ready to snorkel. Once on board, we started squeezing into our wetsuits and putting on our fins that had been tried on and put aside in our snorkel bags with our room numbers on them. They would be ours for the duration of the voyage, keeping it organized and allowing us not to waste time trying every wetsuit on before each snorkeling opportunity. While we were getting prepared, the boat sailed to one of the 107 rocks and islets that are also apart of the Galapagos. Once stopped, we loaded the zodiacs again with our fins and goggles in hands and headed to the launch point.

We spit and squirted shampoo into the goggles to ensure clear vision, put on our fins and slowly, one by one, fell into the cold water. Tour guide George led us along the wall of the islet, where we could see underwater plants that grew on the rock. The water was incredibly deep and murky, making me a bit hesitant because I knew sharks also roamed this ocean.  I could barely see any fishes or plants deep down and so I stayed as close to the islet’s wall as possible. However, the bare visibility made my Norwegian-expat friend extremely nervous, and she asked to hold hands with me as we snorkeled.

my friend and i doing the blue-footed mating dance before heading out to snorkel

The group was slowly making its way around the islet, and my friend and I were in the middle hoping no shark would mistake us for a tasty sea lion. Not too long afterward, we were flapping our flippers and moving along with our eyes dashing back-and-forth when a GiANT sea lion popped right out of a murky underwater cloud. It was looking right at us as he swam past underneath of us. My Norwegian-expat friend and I let out a surprised scream. We popped our heads out of the water and looked at each other with large eyes. We eventually began laughing and smiling, looking around to see if anyone else in the group had noticed before we put our mouth pieces back in and placed our heads back on the water’s surface.

I regretfully did not have an under-water digital camera to shoot videos or pictures with during the voyage. I simply had a Kodak under-water film camera, which has not been developed yet. I apologize for the lack of under-water pictures.

We reached a small cove in the islet where we were allowed to snorkel around a bit. The zodiacs were always close by in case we raised our hands, which was the signal that we were done and ready to get out of the water. The cove had much better visibility and was not as deep. I could actually see white sand on the bottom and a variety of ocean plants. I was shocked once more, but this time it was because my Norwegian-expat friend had tugged at my arm. I looked at her and she pointed not too far ahead to a sea turtle gracefully swimming through the water. Immediately, I detached from her and swam closer to the sea turtle, watching it right below me. I followed it for as long as I could, not getting too far away from the group, until it disappeared into a murky cloud. After that, I felt like it had been a successful snorkel adventure and swam back to the zodiac where I climbed the mini-ladder and collapsed onto the side, shivering but still with that smile sewn into my face.

posing with sea lions in gardner bay

sea lion embracing sun's warmth in gardner bay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

a sea lion swimming in gardner bay - the catamaran in the back

a pair of cuddly sea lions sun-bathing in gardner bay

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Española Island – Galapagos Scrolls – Chapter II

sunrise in española - galapagos islands

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.

the dry-landing dock at suarez point on española island

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.

the christmas iguanas sun-bathing on española island

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.

the blue-footed booby doing the mating dance on española island

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.

a nazca booby and its egg on española island

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.

a sea lion standing proper in the española bay

baby sea lion climbs onto rock in española bay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

a sally lightfoot crab on española island

sun-bathing christmas iguana on española island

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