After a quick breakfast on Sunday, I was off to the airport to catch the short 1.5 hour flight to the Galapagos Islands. We flew into the airport on the tiny island of Baltra. I met up with my tour group, collected my stuff and we took a 45 minute shuttle to a dock where our boat transfer was waiting. It was about 23/24 degrees C and the sun was shining brightly.
On the airport side of the island, the terrain was virtually a desert with little vegetation to speak of. The coast was rocky and the water was aqua green. As we headed towards the port, the vegetation thickened with mesquite-type trees and small green bushes. Closer in, the vegetation became slightly more tropical. But, it was clear that rain was scarce all over the island.
We got off our boat onto Santa Cruz island and boarded another shuttle which took us to a small town called, Puerto Ayora, where we caught our powered raft to board our boat, the Monserrat II. The boat carries 16 passengers and we had a good mix of people. Eight were from Columbia, South Carolina – a school group of 7th and 8th graders with the Director and Assistant Director of the school. Three recent college graduates from Washington, DC, a couple from Switzerland, an Ozzie traveling around South America by herself, a consultant from Germany and me. The Swiss couple really impressed me because they were a newlywed couple traveling around South America on bicycles. These people are real adventurers.
After putting our stuff in our quarters and receiving a quick briefing, we went back to the island to tour the Charles Darwin Center. Here we learned a little about the role the center played in repopulating the big sea turtles and the marine iguanas after both species almost became extinct.
We walked around to see several of the turtles and iguanas. We were able to get up close to the animals who were clearly not bothered by us at all. Some of the turtles we saw were over 100 years old. Others were biologically significant, like George, the 78 year old turtle who is believed to be sterile. He has never chosen a mate. And, despite the efforts of the Darwin Center to pair him up with several female candidates, George has remained aloof toward the female sex. With absolutely no biology training, I have concluded that George is simply gay.
Before reboarding the boat, I had a quick beer at a local bar with the American click. We got cleaned up on the boat and had a nice dinner of chicken stir fry, pork chops, mashed potatoes, veggies and salad.
At 10:30PM, the crew pulled up the anchor, fired up the engines and we headed out into the night ocean. A few of us climbed up the two flights of stairs to the top of the boat to take in the clear night sky. There were a few clouds obscuring our view. But, the brilliant sky could not be hidden and we were in awe of the thousands of stars just above our reach. The sea was a little rough and we felt each swell and wave high above the boat. Feeling a little nauseous, I went down to go to bed.
We awoke at 6:30AM to get ready for the day. We had a quick hot breakfast, boarded the boat at 8AM and headed for the island of Española. As we neared the rocky coast in our powered raft, the sea lions greeted us by playing in the raft’s wake and with the wailing of those onshore. We saw several baby sea lions nursing and a few mothers trying to brush off their young attempting to wean them. The highlight was seeing an older female lion curl up to a young stud and begin to caress his belly. I blurted out, “Hello Mrs. Robinson!”
We walked around the island admiring the blue-footed boobies, the hooded mockingbirds, the white albatross and the marine iguana. We ended up on a rocky cliff at the end of what is known as “the runway” where the albatross go to take off and land. As we made our way back around, we saw the blue footed booby dance. It is mating season for these boobies and we got a front-row seat to watch the elaborate manner in which the boobies select each other.
After a quick lunch and break on the boat, we circled the island for a quick afternoon snorkel and swim, just off the coast of Española. From the boat, you can see the bottom through the crystal-clear dark-blue water. And, looking towards the shore, you can see the white sand beaches beckoning us to come lay on them.
At 2:30 we boarded our rafts and headed off towards the shore for an hour snorkel with the sea lions. We were taken to a secluded cove with crystal-clear, aqua-green waters. There were about 5 sea lions around us and we snorkeled as they played around us. One continued to dive to the bottom to pick up a large reef flower, take it to the top, release it and then play with it as it fell back to the bottom. Others came right towards us and then darted off to the side of us as it came within inches of our face. We found ourselves laughing at these marvelous creatures who were happy to be playing around us with no fear at all.
We boarded our rafts and made our way to the white sandy beaches where dozens, maybe hundreds of sea lions lay. They were clustered along the beaches. One poor young soul was lost and wandered the beach looking for his mother. He cried out but unfortunately never found her while we there. He tried several times to join different clusters but was rejected by the male and, at times, by the female he tried to suckle.
There was one posing for us on the beach and I tried several times to get close enough for a picture. He wasn’t having it and kept turning and advancing towards me to let me know I was too close. The only picture I got of us together is the one that leads this blog entry. My shipmates got quite a show as I was continually chased away.
A little after 5PM, we boarded our rafts to head back to our boat. We decided that to end the day, we would climb to the top of our boat to take a final jump into the ocean. The height of the boat is about 10 meters or 30 feet. The first was a little scary but I was cheered on by my shipmates who were approaching the boat in their raft. So, egged on by peer pressure, I made the jump off the boat. I went a second time only to slip on the way off and land on my side smacking my chest. As I fell, I let out a loud, ‘Oh shit!” My skin was a little red, but nothing serious.
We finished off the evening watching the sun set off to the west. Afterwards, we had a wonderful dinner of vegetable soup, curried chicken breasts, garlic shrimp, avocado, rice and roasted potatoes. We were stuffed but made room for the chocolate cheesecake dessert. After watching the stars awhile on top of the boat, we headed off to bed to rest after an amazing day in our secluded paradise.
Originally published June 11, 2007