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!

The Pearl Islands


It’s Carnival time in Panama, which – for us on a boat – doesn’t mean much except for the fact that the places we usually visit will be over-run by Panamanian families hitting the beach for a good time over next several days. So instead of trying to muscle our way through the crowds to stake out a landing on shore, we’ve made a few adjustments to our itinerary. To me, this is a blessing, because if you read my last entry, you might have gathered that any deviation from our unvarying course from Costa Rica to Panama and back again is more than welcome. This morning we would normally be doing Zodiac cruises at a group of islands called Otoque and Bona (known for their abundant bird life), but instead we visited another group of islands in the Bay of Panama called the Pearl Islands. Also rich in bird life, we did two rounds of Zodiac cruises here and I managed to secure a spot on the last Zodiac on the second round. I’m not a birder, but I enjoyed spending an hour off the boat in the sunshine, bobbing around in a Zodiac. Here are a few pics that I took. We also saw a young frigate bird that had fallen into the water. Despite being a marine bird, frigate birds are pretty much doomed if they get their feathers wet. Their bodies are so light (less than two pounds!), they can’t lift themselves out of the water if they happen to fall in. We came across him struggling to lift off out of the water while exploring one of the islands by Zodiac. Later one of our naturalists went back over to pull him out of the water, dry him off, and send him on his way, tired, but apparently fine.

After the Zodiac cruises, we repositioned the Sea Lion a short ways to a beautiful tiny island called Bartolome. One side of the islands consists of a large sandy beach peppered with broken bits of shell and coral and the other side of the island is formed of fascinating rock formations. I didn’t walk around the island today, but I have in the past and it’s quite beautiful. We spent about an hour and a half at Bartomole before we had to pick up anchor and commence our 205 mile run to Coiba National Park, where we’ll visit some more new places and islands. On the way we spotted a few humpback whales, an army of feeding pelicans, a few dolphins, floating turtles, and eerie underwater waves of red algae.