Galapagos Islands

Trip Start Jul 05, 2006
Trip End Sep 18, 2007

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Saturday, November 4, 2006

We have just finished our eight day cruise of the Galapagos Islands and i feel I need a thesaurus beside me to find enough adjectives to describe the abject beauty we have seen this week! The islands are beautiful in themselves but the animals were definitely the stars of the show! It is incredible how close you can get to them as they are not bothered in the least with humans, which was fantastic.

The ship we were on was a first class one and we really were spoiled! Our little splurge totally paid off, in terms of food, itinerary and comfort. It was really nice to return from an outing and be greeted by a guy in a tucs with a steaming plate of pizza, chicken wings or banana bread!

We saw lots of giant tortoises on Santa Cruz the first day, including the world famous Lonesome George, the sole survivor of his particular species. Unfortunately, he is likely to remain the sole member of the species as he seems to be uninterested in the ladies! He has two or three with him at the moment, much younger and more sprightly than he, which means they are probably only eighty, but they dont do it for George! They grow to incredible sizes, the males are bigger than the females and have concave bottoms to their shells so they dont fall off when mating (looks hilarious when they do, the little female seems petrified!), they have five nails on each foot, really bandy legs and they give a deep sigh every now and then, which sounds really cool! ī

On North Seymour island the Great Frigate birds mate year round, which is an amazing process and we saw it unfold from beginning to end before our very eyes! The male has a red pouch under his throat that he inflates to attract the ladies and in this species, size is everything! They choose a tree with green leaves for contrast and perches on it with the pouch as big as he can make it. The ladies are all flying about overhead and the male stretches out his wings (impressive in themselves, these birds are huge, 5m wing span) and his neck to show off his pouch to its full potential and if he is not getting as much attention as he would like, he makes a guttural call while shaking his wings. The female makes her choice and flies on down beside him and with his wings still outstretched it looks like he is cuddling her! They mate and he gives her a present of a stick or a feather, probably from another birdīs nest as they are total pirates, they dont even get their own food, they steal it from others. She chooses a nest site and he brings her the materials to build one and sticks around until junior is able to fend for itself, what a guy!

That same day we saw fur seals, sea lions, bright red crabs that eat the younger crabs of their own species (duh!), land iguanas and one of the most beautiful views of all the islands. On Bartolome island the gravel is really black and the lava flows from 200 years ago can be really clearly seen. From the top of it, you are looking across at another black, volcanic island, all the islands are volcanic but some just look the part a little more than others! In between the islands there are two bays with a belt of green trees separating them. One of the bays has a lava tuff pinnacle soaring up to the sky, composed of compressed ash beside it and this coupled with the greens, blues and blacks makes a spectacular sight.

The waters on the coast of South Plazas island next morning was thick with sea lions and they were sprawled all over the place as we walked about. We really had to keep our eyes peeled so as not to step on them! I could watch them all day as they interact with one another, particularly the mothers and babies, the latter are adorable with their little bleeting noise as they flop about! The cacti on this island were deadly. The land iguana feeds on the fruit of the cactus and they have been on this island so long that the cacti now grow taller to protect their fruit and the older ones have bark on the bottom just like trees, one of the many examples of species adapting to their environment in the Galapagos. The island is quite flat and had vivid red border-like plants growing all over it, which contrasted spectacularly with the grey of the rocks.

The second island that day, Santa Fe, had more sea lions and a species of land iguana found nowhere alse in the world! They are real pre-historic looking reptiles and they just sit there but every now and then sphwt, they shoot saliva from their mouths! It turns out they are actually eliminating excess salt from their bodies but it cracks me up every time! The trees here, as in many other islands were silver and spindly, looking like they could break any minute but in the rainy season they bloom each year. From the dinghy on our way back to the boat we saw eight white tip sharks that evening, right there under us.

The next day a really playful sea-lion joined us as we snorkelled near the boat, swimming along the length of our bodies and coming right up to our masks, taking the piss out of us basically! Damian started blowing bubbles at her and she loved it, jumping over him from one side to the other! They are fantastically agile in the water, capable of turning their bodies and changing direction in the blink of an eye.

Tuesday, we were on Espanola island and this was my personal favourite of the entire week, for sheer beauty and the abundance of wildlife there. It was also three years to the day since Damian and I had met and i was greeted with an exquisite gold Andean cross to mark the occassion that morning. A perfect momento for a perfect day! We saw lots of blue footed boobies, like gannets but with bright blue feet. They look like a diver trying to walk in flippers on land but they enter the water like a scud missile, a spectacular sight! Lots of masked boobies too, albatross (kissing, co cute!) and a Galapagos hawk, menacing as any of their relations! The waves were a beautiful backdrop to all this, crashing off the cliffs all around us, glacier blue as they broke and at one point there was a blow hole in the rock so the waves shot up into the air in a spectacular fashion every now and then. A truly memorable day!

Sea turtle nesting site on a beach the next day in Floreana and two of them came in in the surf before us, played around and headed off again. We had to be really careful walking in the surf, as there were any number of sting rays in the sand! Class to see them when the sand settled before the next wave, all shapes and sizes. Funniest of post offices on this island, a little barrel on a stick and any number of post cards in a zip-lock bag and that was it! The idea is that if you come across a postcard to your country, you take it and post it when you get home, likewise if you leave cards there, a random stranger will pick it up and post it for you! Remains to be seen if it works! Class game of soccer with the crew that evening as well on a pitch in the middle of nowhere!

Visited one of the youngest islands, Isabela, on our last day on board. A volcano erupted here in October of last year but we didnt get to see it! Saw close to twenty white tip sharks though in a channel, some of them being chased by playful sea lions! Really craggy black rocks, covered in white and green lichen and loads of sea lions and very big land and marine iguanas spitting away! That was our last visit from the boat, back on dry land this morning at 7am and taking it easy before our four days of diving, really looking forward to that!!
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