“Dear Guests – prepare for a Wet landing” – what the heck?
I thought this was a luxury cruise! Of course a wet landing merely means to get ones feet wet, after all we are in the remote and enchanted Galapagos Isles. We waste no time in wet landing on a small island, Rabida Island is known for its unusual red colored beaches, landing there at sunset to a welcome from the pelicans gives one an appreciation of the loneliness and wonder of this magical island.
Isabella Island the largest island in the Galapagos Archipelago and is over 100 kms long and extremely narrow. Six volcanoes are found on Isabella, of which two are over 1,700 metres. At the mouth of the “sea horse’s head” that forms northern Isabella, the small promontory known as Punta Vicente Roca presides over a pair of jewel-like coves. Punta Vicente Roca itself rests on the southwestern edge of Volcano Ecuador. Rising some 2,600 feet, Isabella’s sixth volcano is really half a volcano the other half having slid into the ocean.
The coves lie on either side of the eroded remains of a tuft, or volcanic ash cone, which make up the point. Facing the ocean is a bay, shielded from the open swells, a nice place to be sleeping overnight in Athala. An early morning ride in the zodiac affords us the first taste of the marine life around the surrounding cliffs. Large numbers of blue-footed and masked boobies inhabit the point and the sheer cliffs, and flightless cormorants grace the shoreline.
We felt a bit like kids in a lolly shop, knowing that we have so many treats on offer, we are always wondering which kind of lolly is next.
A visit to Tagus Cove’s ‘cliff-side gallery’ provides a clear view of pirate graffiti dating back to 1836. The contrast between vandalism and the pristine environment is thought provoking. Up the 2 km (1.25 mi.) the hike through lava formations, reveals stunning views of the surrounding slopes and volcanoes, as we make our way to Darwin Lake. This salt-water crater-lake may have been filled with a tidal wave brought on by a volcanic eruption.
A secluded space lacking any landing sites is Elizabeth Bay and an exceptional early morning wakeup call to take a ‘panga’ ride. At sunrise we pass the red mangroves and amongst the wildlife of the lively bay we enter the totally mirror like lagoon. Elizabeth Bay is known for its marine life; and in the quiet mangroves the elegant formations of golden rays skimmed the surface of the water, a special way to start the day. We see the head of a sea turtle pop up and then dive as it sees us. Brown Pelicans are diving after fish right along side the panga.
Not a day goes by but we are in the water and the snorkeling here is pretty good here too. We are immediately struck by the great abundance of small fish and realize exactly what the pelicans were after. The water is quite clear and we make out the shape of a turtle swimming our way, and this startles me for a start but then I just relax motionless and the turtle swims along right beside us!
Moreno Point is located near Elizabeth Bay on the west coast off Isabella Island. The plethora of birds seen during a dinghy ride along the striking rocky shores or a hike along path through lava rock leading to tide pools and mangroves create a birdwatcher’s delight.
We dry land at Moreno Point to what was once flowing lava. The lava has left craters in its wake, which formed crystal tide pools. Looking into the pools, we peer into another world, as the marine life drifts by. In the brackish pools of this area, we see pink flamingos going about their business of feeding. Here we just sit and flamingo watch! Carefully looking into the large pools we see white tip reef sharks who are almost dancing around the edge especially for our entertainment.
Each day brings something new and exciting and at 6am we landed on North Seymour Island and there are birds everywhere, flying overhead by about a foot, the fabulous Frigate Bird with the red Pouch, dozens of them light up the trees like Christmas, then the Galapagos Gull with the distinct eyes, very tame and unafraid of us, in fact the Boobies pose beautifully when doing their mating dance and song.
The frigate birds are a family of seabirds and are also called frigate pelicans. They have long wings, tails and bills and the males have a red pouch that is inflated during the breeding season to attract a mate. Females are black, but have a white breast and lower neck sides, a brown band on the wings and a blue eye ring. The Frigate bird is 1m long with a 2.15m wingspan.
They lack the ability to take off from water so they snatch prey from the ocean surface or beach using their long, hooked bills. Frigate birds are seasonally monogamous which means they only mate with one female per season. They also nest as a colony. They lay one or two white eggs. Both parents take turns feeding for the first three months but then only the mother feeds the young for another eight months.
A couple of island visits to Santa Cruz and Porto Villimila, the 2 human inhabited places in Galapagos are almost an intrusion on the serenity of the trip, I would have preferred to skip both of these places, although the opportunity to have seen the gigantic Lonesome George could not be missed, but seeing the tortoises caged just felt wrong. A special visit to the tortoise breeding centre was made possible by our guide who knew someone who knew someone!
The panga ride to shore is one of our most exciting as our panga seems to surf the waves pounding toward shore. We angle off our wave and turn in towards a slightly protected cove.
We disembark into a sea lion nursery where the young sea lions come out to greet us. You feel their whiskers tickle you as they sniff your knee to see who you are. They look happy and seem to be very playful. Sea lions do like to play. I have no other word for it and I will argue it with other biologists.
On shore the Marine Iguanas are still basking in the sun. The iguanas on Espanola turn a brilliant turquoise and red during the breeding season and we are here at the right time. These colours really are amazing.
The Galapagos Dove is unique to Galapagos in a couple of ways: It is endemic to Galapagos and is thought to have its closest ancestors in Malaysia. It has an outstanding blue eye ring and a reddish-magenta iridescence on it’s breast. These birds are often seen meandering through the underbrush searching for seeds. The cruise to Gardner Bay from Punta Suarez only takes about half an hour. We are delightfully surprised by the turquoise water and the white coralline sand beach that reaches around the point a kilometer away, a herd of sea lions all lined up basking in the sun along the beach greets us.
The sand is wonderfully soft and the water is perfect for swimming and snorkeling. Some of us just want to sit and relax with the sea lions, while others start to amble down the beach towards the point exploring.
The Green Sea Turtles may nest as many as four times in a season, and each time may lay up to 80 eggs. You would think that would be enough to keep the population going. Unfortunately, they are faced with many predators that take a great many of the eggs and young. Feral pigs can smell a freshly laid nest and dig up the eggs. Once hatched, the young turtles are faced with having to make it to the sea from the beach.
Frigate birds and other scavengers consume large numbers before they make it to the water. Once in the ocean they face sharks and other oceanic predators. Being a sea turtle is a tough life!
Lazing around with the sea lions (keeping an eye out for the bull), wandering along the beach, exploring, swimming, and snorkeling is great life. There was no species on Galapagos that wasn’t our friend, we have experienced up close and personal space with all the endemics of the Galapagos.
Fellow human species were a great bunch also and the world too was represented… 4UK, 2USA, 3Israel, 2Holland, 2Australia, so the world was here on the Athala for 8 glorious days.
The wildlife and beauty here is literally everywhere you go and the minute we boarded this boat we were greeted by a flock of Frigate Birds. We snorkeled with the penguins fishing, seen sharks in the lava pools, golden rays in the mangrove swamp, pelicans and flamingos to name just a few… oh and don’t forget the killer whale and the seahorse. And on land there are Giant tortoise, snakes, and lava lizards…
I cannot begin to explain the thrill of the Galapagos, it is a true natural paradise, each morning we are awoken by soft music piped into our room, sunshine and a new view of the world.
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