Bitten by a Sea Lion and other Adventures

Trip Start Nov 15, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Pacific Islands conjure up images of green, lush places surrounded by warm bluey-green seas. We flew into Galapagos and saw the sea as expected (we were later to find out it was far from warm!) but the landscape we saw was desert-like and sprouting cactus in parts.

Just waiting at the airport, we saw plenty of birds and a bright green iguana running around the nearby construction site. It seemed that nature was plentiful and had no fear of us. Getting off the bus to board the Seaman (our home for the next 8 days), we had to walk over fearless sealions sunning themselves on the small jetty.

Out guide and crew welcomed us onto the Seaman and fed us a delicious lunch straight-away (the best way to get on our good side). Our lunch tables were like a United Nations meeting consisting of us, a Dutch couple, English mother and son, Japanese pair, Israeli pair, German woman, Spanish couple, Austrian guy and a Belgian couple. We were frankly relieved and surprised that we didnīt seem to have any loud, annoying people in our group - something which can normally be expected in any group situation!

Ship-board life for the next few days consisted of sleeping, eating, chatting, visting various islands, snorkelling and hearing Raul (our guide) say "boobies" countless times and pronouncing sea-lion (see-laaaaahon) in a very idiosyncratic manner.

Edīs paranoia about being sea-sick continued and every night he swallowed the Marea pills like there was no tomorrow. As soon as he got into the cabin, he lay on his bed and was reduced to an invalid state - even imploring me to turn off the light switch for him - it was above his head! Despite the rolling seas, I was fine - and Edīs paranoia turned out to be just that - he wasnīt sick at all. 

The Galapagos Islands are one of those places which are a nature guideīs delight. You are literally tripping over birds and animals on each island, so sightings are guaranteed. Because most of the islands have remained uninhabited, the animals donīt instinctively fear humans. You walk a couple of metres from sea-lions, lizards just about run over the top of your feet and squawking baby blue-footed birds will follow around a blue-trousered person thinking it is their Mummy! We saw the pinkest flamencos we have ever seen and admired their maze-like patterns in the murky water as they siphoned up their little micro-organisms which both feed them and keep them pretty pink.

For the twitchers out there, we spotted albatrosses, pelicans, blue-footed boobies, red-footed boobies, masked or Nasca boobies, frigate birds, an owl, Galapagos doves, sea-urchin catchers, swallow-tailed night gulls, yellow warblers, finches, lava herons and ONE penguin (odd that they can live at all on the Equator). Apart from the sheer amount and variety of birds, it was the fact that we could get so close to them without bothering them and observe some amazing rituals like the blue-footed booby mating ritual - a complex choreographed dance.

There were countless chicks on the islands when we visited. Some were quite ugly little things, others adorable bundles of fluff. All were in easy reach of Edīs camera as you can see in the photos.

We snorkelled at every opportunity in short wet suits and cold, cold water. I think the temperature was around nineteen degrees, very chilly when you are snorkelling up to fifty minutes. The visibility of the water at the different sites varied from good to outstanding. We spotted rays, white-tipped reef sharks, angel fish, starfish, sea-urchins, sting-rays, parrot-fish, moon-fish, sea-turtles, marine iguanas, sally-anne red and black crabs and beautiful coral.

From our priviledged spot on the sun-deck of the boat we were fortunate enough to see a whale and a couple of pods of leaping dolphins.

The islands are inundated with sea-lions and many beautiful pups. One one island we did a circular twenty minute walk around the islands and on our return spotted a sea-lion and a new-born pup on the beach, complete with the placenta lying beside the exhausted pair. We had a young sea-lion playing around our zodiac dinghy during one of the swims, he was having a great time biting the ropes attached to the boat and the aluminium ladder too. I was so cold and desperate to get out of the water. When he moved away from the boat I took my chance to climb on board. He twisted round in the flash and bit me on the elbow so I would leave his new ladder-toy alone. I got quite a shock, his playful bite drew some blood but wasnīt life-threatening. After that encounter, I leapt into the boat in a flash - didnīt need a ladder!

We also swam around some adult sea-lions which can weigh close to two hundred kilograms, they are truly intimidating when they swim past you like an enormous torpedo.

On the island of Santa Cruz, we visited the Darwin interpretation centre where the scientists work on giant tortoise breeding programmes. They have had huge success with the exception of an ancient creature named Lonesome George. This poor old thing is the last of his species, he was rescued from an island devastated by introduced species many years ago. It was a little sad to see these enormous creatures in cages, but in the afternoon our guide Raul promised a visit to see "White" Tortoises - well, thatīs what we thought he said. Our expectations of Albino Tortoises were unrequited because we were actually to see "Wild" Tortoises. Semi-wild really - they basically wander slowly around a farmerīs farm - with higher fences than normal so they can walk twenty kilometres to the sea for egg-laying. Again, we had imaged trekking through a wilderness looking to encounter these White Tortoises - maybe our over-active imaginations were the problem?

In conclusion, we thoroughly enjoyed ship-board life and the company of our fellow passengers. The islands themselves offer scenic variety from lush green landscapes, to cactus-filled desert to newer islands with wavy-pattered lava flows.

But, the animals are the real stars here - and I canīt think of anywhere else in the world where someone could get so close to the animals without threatening them. Many times, we wondered who was watching who.

Maybe we were just providing entertainment for the local inhabitants?

Shameless Plug:
Happy Gringo in Quito are a very trustworthy agency through which to book your Galapagos trip. The "Seaman" was an excellent boat, not to be confused with the Seaman II which is a much more expensive boat.

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