Under Galapagos

Thursday I rose before the crowds to made good use of the coffee machine, gym and quiet time to explore the decks.  This is the proverbial tight ship – not a drape out of shape.  Soon after the 6:45 wakeup call we were matched with quality snorkel gear, then a big buffet breakfast.   Ben served as our advance scout and secured a 6-top table, all the better to break bread with new found friends.   Gene and Lindsley form Reston VA joined us, and we picked their brains about Peruvian travels.

Fog spoiled our plans for morning zodiac tour, so Russ and Jody joined us for more IMG_0793discussion of Peruvian travels, kids, colleges and careers.  I was glad to have a little time to linger over breakfast and then advance this blog.  Ultimately the fog cleared and we launched for a naturalist-guided Zodiac tour of Punta Roca on Isabela island, a nesting place for flightless cormorants and a favorite haunt of sea lions, fur seals, penguins, boobies, pelicans, noddy terns and green sea turtles.  We were fortunate enough to see them all and preview the upcoming snorkel; one highlight was ducking into a fish-filled lava tube grotto.

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Back at the ship we hydrated and donned our wetsuits, then zipped off for our first deep-water snorkel.  Passengers were grouped by zodiac and named for native critters like frigates, iguanas, albatross; our group had all the kids so i doubt it was a coincidence that we were the “Boobies”.  We were all eager to get wet, so after a short transfer we donned our snorkels, fins and masks and flopped into the 72 degree water among among green sea turtles, huge colorful fish, and even a sea lions.  We were glad for the wetsuits and could have snorkeled all afternoon in the clean calm cool coast – what a treat to be away from the cities, warm and well equipped.  Dang – no pictures… we don’t have waterproof phones!

IMG_0841After a big lunch and a desert-creation session we sailed across the strait and landed on younger Fernandina island for a walk over dark lava.  The high tide turned our dry landing wet, and I was glad to have my water shoes to wade through the mangroves to the drier lava.  Our next obstacles were marine iguana – they litter the shore and look like rocks… mind the lizards.  Here the colorful sally light-foot crabs outnumber even the iguanas and share the shore with sea lion and nesting turtles.  In the distance we spied the top predator the Galapagos Hawk.  

Back on deck we got our evening briefing and after dinner took in an equatorial stargazing session – here and now near the equinox we can see both the Southern Cross and the Big Dipper, though the North Star is below the horizon.

IMG_1194This last day of March – after another too-big breakfast – we Boobies motored out to a dry landing on Northwest Isabela Island’s Tagus Cove, a former favorite of pirates and whalers.  Their grafitti still scars the cove’s rocks, including one carved scrawl from 1836, the year of Darwin’s landing. The hike took us up over a ridge to Darwin Crater, where ocean water seeps in and evaporates, making it more saline and less hospitable than the sea or even some alkali lakes.  We’re here in the wet season so the island was more verdant than its usual scrubby self.  Our ride back to the Santa Cruz II took us past feeding pelican, penguins and flightless cormorant… and I was lucky enough to spy a huge manta ray doing a full breach backflip in the distance.

Back on the ship we slipped into wetsuits then returned to deep-water snorkel along Isabela’s shore.  The swim started turbid but as we worked our way along the coast it cleared and we shared our swim with a few green sea turtles, diving cormorants, large rays, a sea lion, thousands of sally lightfoot crabs, and a few sunning Galapagos Penguins.  Returning to board the Santa Cruz II I grabbed some hot tub time with the boys then dried and we lunched with unassuming and amiable Jody and Russ.

IMG_1254After lunch we boated back out to Urbina Bay below Alcedo and Darwin volcanos on western Isabela island.  After some murky snorkelling in the surf we walked inland to see the famous Galapagos Tortoises.  Since Darwin’s days, fishermen, pirates, exotic game collectors and goat grazing decimated the population – tortoises are not hard to capture, and they’re good eating.  In modern days the Ecuadorian government had a hard time re-generating the population as the few remaining male tortoises seemed to lack libido.  Facing extinction, the San Diego Zoo offered to return virile Santiago to these islands.  Upon arrival the ladies flocked to the guapo Galapagoan, and within days Santiago had impregnated a harem.  This apparently motivated jealous local guys, who followed his lead… and now there the tortoise population is healthy and on the rise.  

IMG_1269Back on board it’s party night, with a BBQ, half price cocktails and salsa on the panorama deck behind the restaurant.  This set us up for our nightly briefing, tomorrow we’ll be shore-side with some touristy diversions while the ship resupplies and crew takes a brief leave.

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