A Chinese Hat ... Really?
Trip Start Jun 29, 2010
650Trip End Apr 07, 2012
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We had set the alarm for 6.45am expecting that we would get a wakeup call at 6.30am which did not happen. Instead we only had 10 minutes to get to breakfast, amazing when you consider how long it usually takes us to get up and ready.
As we walked outside the landscape was totally different and very interesting with rugged black land on either side of the boat. The real bonus was the water which was so clear we could see to the bottom, it would be great for snorkelling.
There was no time for relaxing as we had our first activity of the day – a hike around the islet of Chinese Hat which would afford awesome views of Santiago Island.
As we’ve already mentioned, as the Galapagos is one of the most volcanic areas in the world and that the islands started life in the west (the most active area) of the Archipelago and then gradually moved to the east.
Making sense as the last eruption which created Isla Fernandina was in the West and Isla Espanola being the oldest island site is in the South East. It is thought the presence of the plates will actually see Isla Espanola disappear totally in a million or so years.
The weather was beautiful as we stepped onto Chinese Hat, named so because of its flat, hat like volcanic cone, though we understood the idea, we could not see the Chinese hat, maybe we had missed something? It is a very small islet less than 1km sq and most of the rock was rugged and a deep volcanic black colour.
We were hoping to see some good sea life and were not disappointed as we immediately saw a sea lion who came up to the beach to look at us, very cute.
There were lots of sally lightfoot crabs on the rocks again and then we started to see something else running around, Larva Lizards.
The females of the species having a red neck tie to attract the males and were running around all over the place not fazed by us at all.
Walking further we watched more and more sea lions and from a distance could see a pup and its mother, barking at each other, a similar site to something we witnessed in Peninsular Valdes.
As we rounded the islands edge (as we are only allowed to keep to the track) we could see Marine Iguanas all taking a rest on the side of the rocks.
They were brown and were very hard to spot as they fit in so well with their surroundings. We learnt that the endemic marine iguana is the only sea faring lizard in the world. Whilst they live on land, the actually feed on red and green algae in the ocean and are very good swimmers.
We then spotted a bird on a ledge that which turned out to be a Blue Footed Booby. Well you should have seen our faces. What a sight. We were literally silent cheering. We had been told we’d probably see some boobies over the next few days, but here one was just chilling out on a rock and quick happy to pose and generally work the camera.
Annabelle was the first in papping, getting within a foot of him and he just sat there looking about and scratching his head with his super duper blue foot. It was also not what we expected and was in fact a very good looking bird with ruffled hair and a bright blue beak, beautiful. We established that this one didn’t find Annabelle attractive as he didn’t do the famous booby dance for her.
The booby dance is an elaborate and apparently very entertaining dance where each foot is lifted and then a pose struck all this whilst whistling. The women bobbies join in with the dance but instead of whistling they let out a ladylike honk. If we were going to see more of these birds we would bevery happy ... we might even turn into twitchers!
After an hour walking we turned around Chinese Hat we headed back to the boat for our first snorkelling trip.
We manned our pangas and dusted off the waterproof camera before heading around the cove where we slipped into the warm water to start an hour of snorkelling.
Though the temperature in the Galapagos is generally too cold, year round, to support coral, it was teeming with tropical fish who were feeding by the rocks.
There were also some other very unexpected inhabitants which included two Reef Sharks (one of which was only 2 metres away from us) and a tanned sea star, along with lots of others sat on the seabed.
Prior to arriving on the Islands we had read a lot about the endemic Galapagos Penguin after our newly developed love for Penguins after Argentina we were keen to see some.
We knew there were only 800 pairs and that this species are the only ones found north of the equatorial line that breed in the tropics, so we knew spotting them would be tricky and luck would have to be on our side. Well today it must have been.
During our snorkelling, Annabelle’s mask fogged up so she surfaced to sort it out. Just as she did she saw a Galapagos penguin dive off of a rock and into the water in front of her.
Well this was do or die, she stuck her head back under the water, minus her mask with her eyes open (not caring if expensive contact lenses were lost) and managed to take a great photo of our first Galapagos penguin swimming past her. She nearly choked (literally) with pride. Excellent.
It turned out that we were the last ones in the water and so had to return to the boat where we sat and watched the islands pass by as the captain navigated the boat towards the island of Bartolome for our afternoon of action.
En route we passed by many rocks who all had their own unique look about them. Then, suddenly, as we waited for lunch we were joined by a 2 metre Galapagos Shark circling the boat. Whilst apparently these are common the fact it continuously circling was quite intimidating, as it is actually an active carnivore. Thankfully Bellethorpe wasn’t today’s special.
To cap off a great mornings animal action we then spotted a Pacific Green Turtle who had popped its head up to say hello. He was just beautiful and we hoped that we would see some more on the afternoon’s snorkelling trip. Around 2.30pm the horn sounded to let us know we were off to the beach. We had a wet landing on the golden sand beach before heading out straight away for some snorkelling. The sand had a strony clay-like texture to it,originating from Bartholome ochre-coloured tuff cones.
There were 2 bays separated by a large rock formation where sea lions were sunbathing. The water visibility was quite poor and we were extremely frustrated when we could not see 2 sea lions who had jumped into the water right in front of us. We were both dying to swim with them but today was obviously not going to be the day. However we did see another Galapagos penguin hanging about on some rocks - so thats 2 out of 1600, which in our book is a not bad record!
As we were on the way back around to the beach we started to see black tip reef sharks who were swimming around in the shallow waters. There were two in total who kept passing by us and Annabelle managed to pap one of them even though she was scared that chasing them would mean the loss of a limb or two. After an hour pottering around we had seen enough and headed back onto boat, changed and then back to a dry landing on Bartolome for climb to the summit of the island.
Bartolome stretches out 4kms underneath the water line. Part of what we had found to be so interesting about the islands is not just what you can see but what you cannot. The national park service has been forced into making a stairway up the side of the slopes as too many tourists had been trampling up one side of the basalt and it had started to erode the rock.
It is worth mentioning that it is not possible to see huge chunks of most of the islands, as they are totally protected and so climbing up to this peak gave us our first real sense of what the Galapagos looks like from above.
As we ascended up the 347 stair (114m) walkway, Diego was on hand to give us a break every now and again and provide useful information on the rock formations and how they have became to be.
He pointed out various Lava Tubes that stick out from the side of the peak, explaining that when an eruption occurs it is a little like boiling milk. The material that reaches the surface first is rapidly cooled by the air and starts to form a skin over the rest of the up and coming lava.
This cooled skin then protects the much hotter magma and facilitates its movement down the side of the peak. We could see some clear examples of this on all side of the peak as we looked across its width. He also explained that it would be possible to see much larger lava corridors later on in the trip and that some of them are so big they are measured in km’s.
As we ascended we started to see Lava cactus which defies all odds and lives in this baron environment by using small moisture catching glands, living from the sea air In addition we also saw the candelabra cactus which really did look like a candelabra.
The Bartolome island has recently been the subject of a rat cleanup operation. They have had a problems with rats on the island that were introduced by man, going as far back as when pirates visited the islands. In order to reduce their growing numbers the national park service have planted a vile of poison in every square metre on the island which must have taken forever to achieve. The rats were eating the endangered species such as the tortoise eggs so action needed to be taken.
We stumbled upon some samples of the rocks which we were allowed to pick up, they were incredibly light despite their size as they are filled with oxygen holes, so we had a quick 'Iron Man’ pose before continuing up to the summit.
And what a worth while effort – the views across the Islands were just beautiful.
The first thing we saw in the distance made us both say "oh that is why they call it Chinese Hat".
As we looked over the full view of Chinese Hat island was on show and with the peak and the land underneath it did indeed look like a Chinese mans hat with a big wide brim.
The views were also beautiful over the beach where we had been snorkelling just a couple of hours earlier. Soon we were back down and on the boat, moving onward to the next stop, but this time the water was a little choppy nearly causing Annabelle to have an accident in the shower.
In the end she had to literally sway to the left and right whilst trying to wash her hair to prevent falling out of the cubicle and into the toilet.
We had our evening chat about activities for the following day and discovered that we had to be up for breakfast at 6.15am. The boat rocking carried on for ages as we were navigating to the next stop.
It was so rocky that Chris could not eat all of his dinner and had to go to the top deck to get some fresh air - so much for his sea legs. We were told that we would be mooring around 9pm and that this would be in a nice calm place.
After dinner we looked out from the roof at the amazing stars, both hemispheres stars could be seen as we were very near to the Equator, it was one of the clearest sky we have ever seen, only rivalled by our night in Yosemite.
We tottered off to bed around 8pm, hoping by the time we moored we would be sound asleep.