Galapagos - Plazas, Santa Fe & San Cristobal

Trip Start Oct 29, 2011
Trip End Jun 01, 2012

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Flag of Ecuador  , Galápagos,
Friday, December 2, 2011

So onto Thursday and another early start, not intentionally, but muppet features here was using her phone for an alarm. Just forgot that the Galapagos is an hour behind Quito. Was ready sat in position for breakfast at 7. All seemed a bit quiet, that's because it was 6am !

So the first stop today was a trip to the South Plaza Islet. We had finally arrived !!– volcanic rock, cactus, and lots of sea lions and iguanas (looked just like the DVD and finally what I was expecting). We jumped into the panga’s (dinghy’s) and headed to shore. We couldn’t get off though for a minutes because a huge male sea lion had taken over the jetty and he wasn’t too happy about all of us entering his territory. We then saw loads of sea lions, including new cubs born a few hours previously (the placenta was still there to prove it). They are known as the 'unofficial welcoming committee' of the Galapagos Islands. I fell in love instantly with the sea lions. From the big guys playing about in the sea, to the mothers and their new born offspring. They also really do love the camera. When you take photos of them they start posing for you and getting into different positions – it’s like Blake Lively in front of the Papparazzi. 

Sea lions live in large colonies. Adult males known as bulls are the head of the colony. Bulls grow to be up to 7 ft (2 m) in length and 800 lbs (363 kg). As males grow larger they fight to win dominance and for a territory including a harem of between 5 and 25 cows (females). Dominant bulls will fight off any intruders entering the territory.Each cow in the harem has a single pup born a year after conception. The pups have a strong bond with their mother. The cow will nurture a pup for up to three years. In that time the cow and the pup will recognize each other's bark from the rest of the colony. The mother's will take the young pups with them into the water while nursing. When the pup is 2 - 3 weeks old the cow will mate again.

Within the colony sea lion pups live together in a rookery. Pups can be seen together napping, playing, and feeding. It is common to see one cow 'baby-sitting' a group of pups while the other cows go off to feed. Galapagos sea lions are especially vulnerable to human activity. Their inquisitive and social nature makes them more likely to approach areas inhabited by humans, to come in contact with human waste and with fishing nets and hooks.

Also in the area were land (yellow ones) and marine iguanas (grey ones). Iguana is the common name for a large new world lizard. Marine iguanas grow to approximately 3 ft (1 m) in length these sea-going Iguanas exist only in the Galapagos Islands. Living on the black lava shore rocks they have developed into efficient swimmers feeding off shore mostly on marine algae and seaweed. The cold waters of the Galapagos provide both the necessary food for the marine iguanas and its most deadly threats. The cold temperatures can immobilize an iguana if it remains in the water too long (see that’s why you need the wetsuit). Until the arrival of man, marine iguanas only threats were that of larger fish and sharks encountered while swimming.

When marine iguanas are not feeding they seek safety and warmth of the land. In the 19th century when Charles Darwin visited the islands he found thousands of marine iguanas living along the rocky shore. He picked one up and threw it into the ocean it instantly swam back to the shore. This was repeated several times and the iguana continued to seek the safety of the shore when it could have easily swum off to escape Darwin.

The black rocks under the equatorial sun provide needed warmth for the iguanas. On a warm day these rocks can heat up to deadly temperatures. Yet, territorial male marine iguanas, remain in the sun during the day. Cooled by a circulatory heat shunt carrying heat from the back to their bellies where the sea breezes coming off the cool ocean waters can cool them by convection. At night the iguanas pile by the hundred in order to provide heat for one another. This explains why they all cuddle up with each other in the late afternoon.

The cousin of the marine iguana is the land iguana. Land iguanas grow to a bulky girth and 3 ft (1 m) in length. Their yellowish-orange belly and brownish red back make them more colorful then their cousins the marine iguana. The land iguana lives in the arid portion of the islands.

The mainstay of its diet is the prickly pear cactus (didn’t Baloo eat them as well?) They eat the pads and fruit including the spines. The cactus provides both food and water for the land iguana, who can go without fresh water for a year. Part of the adaptation to the drier environment includes a conservation of energy by slow movement. This makes the animals seem lazy or stupid. Land iguanas burrow into the ground creating tunnels which provides a place for nesting, shade during the day and protection at night.

Then after we got back we headed off to Santa Fe Island and an hour sun bathing as the boat skimmed through the clear blue water. After lunch we were all then kitted out in snorkelling gear. There was much debate about whether we needed a wetsuit. Caroline was trying to be tough saying it wasn't that cold but there was no debate from me – the wetsuit was needed as the water was freezing (whilst they are located on the equator the cold Humbolt current brings colder water from the south and hence it’s a tad nippy). The French and Italians decided they could do without (and they were in speedo’s!). The highlight of the snorkelling had to be the sea lions. It was a completely amazing experience to swim with them. When you swam past they would get off their rock and into the water and start to play. It was my first time out with the underwater casing for my little digital camera and I was chuffed to capture the sea lion under the water. We also saw some tropical fish (no idea on names – no Nemo’s though) and then three stingrays. At 4pm we did another landing on the shore and visited Giant Cactus Oputunia Forest. We also saw endemic species of land iguana and then back on board for showers and snackage.

So onto Day 3 and San Cristobel Island. We arrived at Cerro Brujo at 8am. It was a little bit cloudy but there was the most stunning sandy beach, home to hundreds of seal lions (by this point all sea lions are called Sammy).We wondered up the beach and saw the sea lions, marine iguanas, some amazing coloured crabs on black volcanic rock and our first blue-footed booby. Some went swimming but without the sun out it all looked a bit too cold for me and Sam, plus it was extremely entertaining watching the French in full snorkelling gear attempting to get in. We then sailed past the stunning volcanic Kicker rock and onto Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, which is the political capital of the Galapagos and actually for a town is quite nice. We got onto a bus and went to see a Laguna El Junco which is in crater of a volcano and then onto another tortoise breeding sanctuary. We had a few issues with the bus because the brakes were failing. It took the driver a good 30 minutes to get the bus going.  So finally, after much air releasing, the driver managed to get the bus moving. It  was a bit hairy for the next 20 minutes due to the smell from the left rear tyre and everytime we got to a downhill bit and the driver would get out and check the brakes to decide if we should progress any further.  I just put on the ipod and bounced along happily at the back of the bus - denial is a great thing.

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Mum on

Love the sea lions, but not keen on the iguanas. That was the reason Baloo died, because he ate the prickly pear.

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