Galapagos, Day 4: Urbina Bay & Tagus Cove


Today we entered into the world of giant tortoises. And they were giant! Our entire day was spent either on or around Isabela Island, which is the largest island in the Galapagos. We went ashore this morning at Urbina Bay and after only a few hundred meters of walking, we ran across this:

They’re enormous! And they can live up to at least 180 years old, probably even older. The early pirates and mariners that came to the Galapagos in the 1800’s used to take the tortoises on board for food because they can go a year without eating. Amazing! Once almost extinct (due to over harvesting), now their numbers are well beyond several thousand. We saw at least a dozen on our walk this morning, some ranging from normal tortoise size (the babies) to others weighing 200 pounds. The walk took us into the scrubby, green interior of Isabela and then out along the shoreline where we had to pick our way over and around large, sharp lava rocks. It kind of reminded me of Hawaii. We also passed by huge dead pieces of brain coral from when the islands were still underwater.


After lunch we had yet another opportunity for snorkeling. After yesterdays cold water I wasn’t too keen on getting in the ocean, but one degree warmer actually made a difference! The visibility was pretty murky, but we did see several sea turtles, a sea lion, flightless cormorants (who were courting each other. How cute!), and my absolutely favorite – the Galapagos penguins. I couldn’t help but giggle when then zipped by us in the water. They’re like tuxedoed torpedos. I could watch them all day!

We only had a few minutes to rinse off and change before we headed back to land for a hike at Tagus Cove. Even before we stepped on shore we saw some names written on the sides of the steep cliff walls. Most people were disgusted with the graffiti, but when our guide explained that the writing was from pirates and even the crew on Darwin’s ship, The Beagle, dating back to 1846 they all whipped out their cameras and took pictures. Sometimes the pretentiousness of people really gets to me…

Anyway, the walk was nice. We climbed up to a viewpoint where we had a nice look at the Endeavour in the bay below. Farther up the trail we came to a lookout point that surveyed the sloping sides of several volcanos extending down to a flat basin. This view reminded me of Africa. Then it was back down the trail, onto the Zodiacs, and back to the ship for another evening of recap and delicious dinner. Not sure what’s happening tomorrow yet, but I’m sure it’ll be great!

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!