The Galapagos Day 7: San Cristobal & Leon Dormido


This is the second of two posts I put up today. Check out the first!

Our last full day in the Galapagos! This week went by extremely fast, but at the same time it feels like we’ve been on the boat for weeks. Maybe it’s because we spend most of our time on boats… Anyway, we spent the morning on San Cristobal Island where we went for a nice hike along a rocky and relatively steep trail and eventually found ourselves at a lookout point with a great view of the beach below and the Endeavour anchored just off shore. When we first landed on the beach we were greeted by several male sea lions who had no interest in us and were content playing in the waves or rolling in the sand to ward off buzzing flies.

From the lookout point, we continued on down to the trail to a flatter and more open part of the island. Behind us were tall jagged cliffs that made up the remains of a volcano and all around us we could see the blue ocean. In addition to its beauty, San Cristobal Island is also well known for its colony of nesting red footed boobies. I’ve seen blue-footed boobies, brown-footed boobies, and Nazca boobies, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen red-footed boobies. And guess what? Their feet are red! We saw several of them sitting on their nests made out of twigs and grass and one even had a baby chick it was sheltering beneath her wings. Others were perched on the cliff walls along with Nazca boobies and frigate birds.

Back at the beach we had some time for swimming and sunbathing before returning to the ship for lunch. Then around 3:00 we had our final snorkeling outing at a barren rock island called Leon Dormido. The island is the only remaining evidence of an ancient volcano that erupted thousands of years ago. As always, we snorkeled from the Zodiacs, staying close to the walls of the island and diving down to see what we could see, since there was no bottom in sight. The walls were incredible. They reminded me of miniature apartment complexes because there were small pockets carved out of the coral and in each pocket lived a different creature. Some had sea urchins, others were inhabited by fish, barnacles, and sea stars. But the highlight of the snorkel was a narrow channel between the larger rock island and another smaller piece that at some point had broken off. In this channel we were pretty much surrounded by sharks. It was eerie, a little bit frightening, and absolutely incredible all at the same time. Watching the sharks emerge from the blue waters in front of us and lazily swim beneath our floating bodies is something I’ll never forget. We mainly saw Galapagos sharks, but we also caught sight of several hammerheads as well. Once through the channel, we continued on around the island. There were so many green sea turtles that I wish I had kept count, but I would guess that we saw at least 30. At one point, while trying to swim around a corner, the current was so strong that I had to swim as hard as I could and it didn’t feel like I was gaining any ground. We made it though, and our Zodiac picked us up almost at the same place where we had started. All of us were so excited about the sharks that our Zodiac driver dropped us off at the channel again so we could swim though one last time. It was just as amazing as the first pass through! It was a great way to end the trip.

It was a pretty mellow last evening on board. The captain took the ship around Leon Dormido while the sun set and C and I relaxed out on deck, enjoying the cool air and nice breeze. After dinner it was time to pack and tomorrow we say goodbye to the Galapagos!

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 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 2: North Seymour & Rabida


Wow, what a full day! It’s only a few minutes past six and I’m already exhausted. Let’s see… a few things that we saw on our first full day in the Galapagos:

– A ton of frigate birds, many of the males with their bright red pouches inflated
– So many iguanas and lizards that we had to watch were we stepped
– Blue footed boobies with bright blue feet waddling in the middle of the path
– Green sea turtles swimming within ten feet of us
– White-tipped reef sharks
– Ginormous parrot fish
– A blue spiny-looking lobster
– Countless other fish that I couldn’t identify
– Playful sea lions turning circles in front of us in the water and blowing bubbles up to the surface
– A stingray slowly making it’s way along the bottom of the ocean floor

Welcome to the Galapagos! We started our day off early with a 7am breakfast. Then it was a Zodiac ride ashore to North Seymour island where we went for a three hour, mile and a half walk along a well-trod path (we stopped a lot). The island is flat with small, scrubby trees, and green because of all the recent rain. When we stepped off of the Zodiac and onto the wet rocks, there were two baby sea lions waiting for us. They could care less that we were only three feet away!

Another 15 feet brought us head to toe with a large land iguana basking in the sun. Of course everyone was ecstatic and snapped photo after photo, but after about 20 iguanas later, we all had enough lizard shots. The frigate birds, too, were sitting in just about every tree and flying high above our heads. Some of them had their red mating pouches inflated and were trying to attract the females by spreading their wings and making clacking noises with their beaks.

We also saw this little guy waddling down the path. He was quite happy to show off his blue feet for us.

We returned to the ship at around 10:30 and had an hour to rest before Paula (our Expedition Leader) gave a great talk about the geology of the Galapagos Islands while the ship repositioned to our afternoon destination. Basically, they were created by volcanic eruptions millions of years ago and there are still hotspots where the islands continue to be formed. After lunch it was time to get in the water. We took a Zodiac out to the edge of Rabida Island, then jumped into the water and let the current carry us along the rocky shoreline. As I mentioned above, we saw a ton of marine life. Unlike the Caribbean or Great Barrier Reef, though, the Galapagos isn’t known for its beautiful coral. Despite its lack of bright blue, green, pink, and red coral life, though, the Galapagos makes up for it with large schools of fish and a huge diversity of marine critters. C had his underwater camera, so he took some shots, but the battery died before we finished snorkeling. I had a magical moment when a green sea turtle swam straight toward me and when he was within four or five feet, the sun shone through the water, illuminating him with sunlight. Unfortunately that was after C’s camera battery died.

After snorkeling, we had 15 minutes to rinse off, change, and stash our snorkeling gear on the sun deck before we headed ashore to Rabida Island for a late afternoon walk. Rabida is unique because its soil is fiery red due to sand made from lava with a high iron oxide content. The walk was easy, but we had beautiful views of the green sloping hills of the low volcano and I stopped to take pictures every few feet of lizards, cacti, spiders, birds, etc…

As the sun set, it was time to head back to the ship for recap and dinner. Tomorrow will be more snorkeling, hiking, and a Zodiac cruise!