Galapagos Day 5: Santiago Island


It was a packed full day today (or not, if you decided not to do some of the activities). We started the day off early with a sunrise hike on Santiago (or James) Island, which is special because it’s Lindblad’s adopted island! We didn’t see much in the form of wildlife, but we did see a few birds including two Galapagos hawks, and this little guy who was very kind to stay still while I stuck a camera in his face.

Then it was back to the ship for breakfast and a change of attire. After we ate (and digested a bit), we hit the warm water around James Island. Most of our snorkeling excursions have been what Lindblad calls “deep water snorkeling”, meaning that we snorkel right from the Zodiac without stepping foot on land. Today was our deepest deep water snorkeling experience yet and it was awesome! We swam along the perimeter of the rocky shoreline, mostly following the steep coral walls that make up the edges of the island. At times we couldn’t even see the ocean floor because the wall dropped down so steeply. Among a plethora of tropical marine life, we saw some parrot fish, surgeon fish with razor sharp barbs on their sides, starfish stuck to the rocky wall, several sea lions, white-tipped reef sharks, slow, graceful, speckled manta rays, and my favorite a view of a fishing pelican underwater. If you’ve ever laughed with a snorkel and mask on, you know it’s rather difficult, but I couldn’t help myself when watching this pelican stick his beak under water to catch passing fish and seeing his throat pouch blow up like a balloon. It was amazing and ridiculous at the same time. I wish I had had an underwater camera. After about an hour I was starting to feel a little queasy from being in the rough, surging water for so long, so we got back in a Zodiac and promptly had a nice view of some mating sea turtles in the water. It looked awkward and uncomfortable.

Back on the boat, we had some time before lunch to relax and then after lunch we could either go snorkeling again (as C did), or stay on board to do as we so pleased (me). We all went ashore around 4pm to do another walk – at a different location – on James Island. I almost didn’t go, but I’m sure glad that I did! The first half of the walk was on a dirt path through some low green vegetation and a volcano off to our left. We saw several birds, a few lizards, and lots of spiders. Then we emerged onto the ‘beach‘, which was actually a fusion of coarse white sand and solid black, ropey lava. We walked over the lava portions and stood gazing in awe at the giant ocean-carved grottos filled with swirling sea water. The water inside was crystal clear and laying on the warm lava rocks surrounding the grottos were sea lions, fur seals, and limp marine iguanas. We even saw a sea turtle slowing paddling its way through a grotto and underneath a natural bridge leading out to the ocean.

I could have stayed there all day, but we had to move on. Making a loop, we headed back to our landing beach via the shoreline and had more opportunities to photograph iguanas, sea lions, and birds. We even saw two mom and pups pairs, the pups frantically nursing milk from their moms. One lone pup came right up to a woman in our group and started sniffing her to see if it was his mother. He was disappointed, I think, because he made a plaintive bleating noise and dove into the ocean. The sun was setting and I got some great shots with the beautiful light.

For dinner, the galley and hotel staff set up a BBQ dinner on the aft sun deck. Of course it was mostly meat, but they’ve been treating me very well here. I almost always get my own plate of food delivered to me for lunch and dinner (vegan-style). And tonight was no exception. I don’t know how they managed to get seitan and tofu dogs out here, but they did!

Tomorrow we enter back into civilization. We’re headed to Santa Cruz Island to visit the Charles Darwin Research Center and see some more giant tortoises!

Galapagos, Day 3: Fernandina & Isabela


Holy iguanas, sea lions, turtles, and penguins. I’ve never seen so many together in one spot in my life. It was like being in a zoo, but without the cages.

This morning, when we went ashore at Fernandina Island, one of the newest islands in the Galapagos archipelago and also home to one of the world’s most active volcanos, I felt like I was transported back in time. The entire island is basically made up of cooled lava. We could see the path of the lava flow as it oozed down the flanks of the volcano thousands of years ago immortalized in ropes and ribbons of black, porous, rock. As soon as we stepped off the Zodiac and onto Fernandina, we were greeted by hundreds of spiny, leathery marine iguanas just chilling out in the middle of the trail. Since they’re cold-blooded reptiles, they need the sun’s warmth to get them moving in the morning, so they were taking full advantage of the early rays. We gingerly picked our way over and through them only to find another colony basking on the lava flow a few hundred feet away. Throughout the island, there must have been thousands. Marine iguanas are unique because, well, they’re marine (meaning they swim), but also for another adaptation that we soon came to find out. In order for them to clear the salt out of their systems, they blow it (forcefully) out of their nostrils. Projectilely. It was disgusting, but hilarious. Moving on from the iguanas, we came across several lazy sea lions nestled into the sand and others rolling around in the shallow tidal ares. Some of them didn’t pay us much attention as we snapped photos a few feet from their heads, but others were playful and curious – turning circles in the water and popping their noses out of the water for a quick look at us before diving back down.

Among the iguanas and sea lions, which were the stars of the morning, we also saw flightless cormorants (who, obviously, have lost the ability or know-how to fly), a hawk, and some sea turtles.

Our second outing of the morning (this is all before lunch), was a snorkel excursion around the lava flows of Fernandina. The water was much colder than yesterday, but I jumped in regardless, and I was glad I did! I had another awesome moment with a sea turtle – I swam along just above him for a few hundred yards – and we got some play time with a young sea lion. I’ve swam with sea lions before at Los Islotes in Baja, but I never get tired of it! They’re so funny and mischievous. When I was thoroughly freezing, I climbed back into the Zodiac and went to warm up with a hot shower.

After lunch, we had a few hours of rest time. I took a nap (I think I’m either finally decompressing from boat time or catching up on sleep from interrupted nights on the road). But by the late afternoon, I was refreshed and ready to go on a Zodiac cruise around Isabela Island, the largest island in the Galapagos. The wind had picked up and the swells were huge, making our Zodiac bob around like a rubber ducky and the occasional wave to crash over the sides, soaking us all. It was a lot of fun though, and the tall red and green cliffs climbing straight out of the ocean were stunning. One thing that has struck me is that all of the islands are so different in terms of looks as well as inhabitants. We also saw hoards of playful young sea lions surfing the waves as well as more flightless cormorants, blue footed-boobies, Nazca boobies, brown noddy’s, and too many sea turtles to count. I think we even ran over a few (don’t worry, they dive way below the surface before they hit the engine). But my favorite were the penguins! My goodness, they’re cute. We saw a few sharing the top of a tiny rocky island with a sea lion and several others were being swirled around in the foamy, white water below. I was amazed that they didn’t crash into the rocks. It looked like they were in need of rescuing, but then we saw one swim and he was like a bullet in the water. They’re so fast and graceful! Tomorrow we might have a chance to swim with them. I hope so!

So iguanas, sea lions, penguins, sea turtles, boobies… I’d say it was a successful day in the Galapagos. Stay tuned for tomorrow!