Helluva birthday!

Trip Start Jan 19, 2012
Trip End Feb 03, 2012

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Flag of Ecuador  , Galápagos,
Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Our first full day of tours.

During the night we migrated to Santiago Island. Per the official scoop:
"Puerto Egas, south of James Bay and west side of Santiago, has a long, lava shoreline where eroded rock formations house an excellent variety of wildlife. Marine iguanas bask
in the sun while land iguanas scatter around feeding on exposed algae.
The tide pools contain many Sally Lightfoot crabs, which attract other
types of hunters."

This morning we will be making a wet landing (goodie- our first!) at Puerta Egas, a black lava beach. One tour option is a 45 min. walk around the island to view marine iguanas and seal lions and then back to the beach for swimming and snorkeling. Another is a 3 hour hike to the abandoned salt mines and back to the beach. HMMMM- how long do I have to decide?

First of all though is the much anticipated process of fitting out with mask, snorkel and fins. For those who wish, there's also an opportunity to rent wet suits. This is a somewhat chaotic process as the entire crowd (the boat has capacity for 100, but let's say, without official confirmation, 75) scrambles through mysteriously labeled cabinets (what's a size 45 in fins? are there sizes in masks?), grabbing, trying on, rejecting, grabbing others. Until mostly satisfied, our gathered loot is deposited in our very own color coded mesh bags. I'm red 4 in case you were wondering.

NOTE: this is a wet-landing so slight alteration to the Zodiac Disembarking Rules: Sit (don't climb on) the side, swing your legs over, grip the handler and slide into the water. Get your footing before the wave takes you away and VOILA! you're there.

I wear my newly purchased especially for this trip, heavy duty water sandals with protected toe- perfect I understand for just this type of wet hike. I wasn't prepared for the amount of lovely black sand now deposited inside the sandals from the wet landing by the waves. I knew this would not bode well for a hike- the sandpaper effect not being recommended. So, here's the challenge. Rinsing your bare feet and shoes in the ocean will, temporarily, get rid of the sand. Unfortunately, there's no where to sit my old body down to pull the sandals back on AND keep the newly washed out sand from returning. This is a dilemma! I deal with it as well as possible, settling for a minimal as opposed to absolute absence of sand (this is a nature walk, after all).

Our zodiac group gathers with our naturalist guide for a looping walk across the point, to a rocky shore and then back along the shoreline to our original location. Along the way, we mostly spot birds. The real "big game" is on the black lava rocks: sea lions, marine iguanas, and colorful crabs. I immediately notice the footwear of our guide: simple thongs. HMMM again...

The black lava is a challenge: it's not only very sharp rock, bizarrely shaped (frequently with holes) at diverse levels, but wet and slippery and occasionally the basking spot for a marine iguana who's black hide blends in perfectly. One of our group does slip, falling on his face, scratching up his nose and leg in the process- we all magnify our care trying to photograph EVERYTHING and still not fall down.

As we begin to head back up the coast to our black beach and the snorkeling opportunity, the guide stops for an impromptu lecture about a crab exoskeleton found on the sand. As I look back to the lava mounds we've just left, I notice birds seemingly skydiving at a sea lion. Being the greatly uninformed lump in the wilds that I am, I naively ask the guide, "Why are those birds attacking that sea lion?". This sets off a rather amazing 10-15 minutes as we walk back to the rocks to be a part of a truly Discovery Channel event. I can't stop taking photos- walking and shooting. Getting as close as possible. The sea lion catches a fairly large fish. He grabs it, then rears back and slams it down on the nearby rock, tearing out large chunks to eat. He then quickly grabs it up again to repeat the process. The Frigate birds swarm around him, circling down to grab up whatever they can, then up, around and down again. This entire process repeated again and again. A brown pelican stands by, witnessing it all and probably hoping for a food op too. WOW!

So after all of this, the snorkeling on the black lava beach is rather anticlimactic. It's rather cool too, so I just paddle a little in the water, then sit on the towel in the shade of a lava rock, along with an iguana.

Boarding the ship is fun: to the usual adventure is added the thrill of being hosed down on the ships entry platform to remove sand before being allowed to trek back to our cabins.

The all clear sounds (everybody's back on board!), we re-clothe ourselves for lunch and the ship heads out for our next island adventure.

This Afternoon's Adventure: Bartolo Island. This is a dry landing on a very young (compared to?) island with little in the way of life- mostly red-ish volcanic rock, few cactus, some little lizards. We walk 444 nicely made wooden steps to the top for a lookout over the area. In the distance we can see our ship and the nearby beach. Its' a very hot walk and I'm thrilled when our zodiac drops us off (wet landing) on the golden beach below the peak for swimming and snorkeling. As we head in, we pass by a couple penguins checking us out- the only ones we'll see on the trip.

Again I opt for just a little dip and sitting in the shade of volcanic rock. Just beyond is a birthing area for sea lions. We apparently disturb one which walks through our little islands of towels, gear, and sunbathers to the volcanic rock overlooking the ocean surf and plunges in. Sorry!

Back on board, I dry off and clean up, then find some shade on the upper deck to work on my photos. It's very pleasant in the shade. I pass some of the staff walking around with their phones held up in the air- they're frantically looking for signals. No internet on the ship either.

Dinner is a BBQ up on the pool deck. I find Edie and Juanita already seated and join them and a couple- he's the gentleman who took a nose dive on the rocks. After dinner, I hear the telltale music starting up behind me and then they're standing next to me- with the birthday cake and a gaily decorated dunce cap. Kira, the cruise director, insists that it's tradition to take a bit from the cake after blowing out the solo candle (very noncommittal) - so I comply and get frosting on my face. Compliments to the cap- tres elegante!

After dinner, we all hang out on the deck- it's a very pleasant evening with no mosquitoes out on the water. We're still anchored near "our" beach. Juanita spots some activity in the water and soon the Flying Fish show co-starring sea lions and sharks begins. Supporting cast of blow fish and large schools of fish with diving frigate birds. HAH! Las Vegas can't compare.

helluva birthday!

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