Sunday, July 24, 2016

South American Adventure - Part Seven - The Galapagos Islands

Day 18 - Another flight and another ship.

We didn't know it at the time but we were on our way to the most physically demanding part of our South American adventure.  I'm glad we did it while we were younger (ish).

We flew from Quito to Guayaquil and then on to Baltra Island.  Baltra island consists of mainly the airport and not much else.  We were greeted by our nature guides and we boarded our bus and headed out.  First stop was a ferry ride to Santa Cruz Island.

Santa Cruz island is the only island not fully in the national park and most of the Galapagos' inhabitants live on this island.  Our first stop was a restaurant out in the countryside which offered up a nice buffet spread.  After lunch we wandered the garden grounds surrounding the restaurant.
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Our first Giant Tortoise of the Galapagos Islands.
Our next (and last destination on Santa Cruz) was a farm that borders the national park land.  The farmer no longer farms and instead gets income from offering his farm for the observation of tortoises.   The tortoises wander in and out of the park/farm.  We walked the grounds with our guides and observed our first giant tortoises.  Along with the tortoises were birds and plants.
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A curious bird.
The life on the islands is very dependant on what animals and plants can make the ocean voyage to the islands.  For example, there is only one pollinator on the island, a type of carpenter bee.  The bee lays eggs in old wood so a larva probably floated across the ocean and populated the island.  Since the carpenter bee prefers yellow or white flowers, all the native island plants have yellow or white flowers.  The relative isolation of the islands resulted in a unique ecosystem.

After ogling the tortoises we took our bus to the largest town on Santa Cruz, Puerto Ayora.  There we got in inflatable dinghies and went out to our waiting ship, La Pinta.  La Pinta would be our home for the next four nights.
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Heading out to La Pinta.
The rest of the evening was taken up with a safety drill, dinner, and a naturalist talk about the islands and our itinerary for the next day.

Day 19 - Bobbing around Santa Cruz island.

Before I boarded La Pinta I was worried about getting motion sick.  This ship was fairly large but it was less than half the size of the ships I used to ride for work and we were in open ocean.  My worries turned out to be unwarranted as I soon got my sea legs and the motion of the ship did not bother me at all.
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A rather annoyed looking sea lion - we interrupted his nap.
After breakfast we got in the dinghies and went out for a dinghy tour around a small island off of Santa Cruz island.  As we approached an outcropping of rocks covered in red crabs and a sleeping sea lion the waves picked up and, before we knew it, our boat was stuck.  We all got off the boat in a rapid and orderly way onto another small outcropping of volcanic rock.  Once the people were out of the boat they were able to free it from the rocks and move to the protected side of the outcrop to pick us all back up.  Our first unplanned wet landing.

We had a choice for the next activity.  We could either snorkel off a dinghy or we could take a glass bottom boat ride.  Not having ever snorkeled in the ocean (or even a large lake) I decided to take it slow and do the glass bottom boat with the Wife.  It turned out that the views under the boat were pretty murky which affected both the boat ride and the off-dinghy snorkelers.
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A mess of iguanas (yes, that is what a group of iguanas is called ... a mess).
The glass bottom boat riders did get an awesome experience though.  We saw iguanas sunning themselves, herons, and pelicans.  As we were trying to find some clear water we passed some blue footed boobies.   As we watched, the boobies started fishing.  They fish by flying up in the air then diving full speed into the water.  Underwater they turn around and open their mouths as they come back up to the surface ... hopefully with a fish in its mouth.  Before you knew it we were surrounded by diving boobies.  They would jump out of the water just to dive back in over and over.  It was exhilarating.  Here is a video of the fishing boobies.
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My first time snorkeling in the ocean ... off of one of the Galapagos Islands!
After lunch we went out again, this time to snorkel off the beach.  We squeezed into our shorty wetsuits and snorkeled off the sand beach along the rocky coast.  The sun came out and the water wasn't as murky as the morning and I saw a lot of fish including pencil urchins and puffer fish.  The strong current - at one point I was kicking full speed and not making any progress - gave the Wife and I pause so we stayed close to the beach.  A heron and an oyster hunter bird showed up on the beach and showed no fear.  It was amazing.

Back on La Pinta we started heading to our next day's destination.  Along the way was passed by a collapsed volcano caldera.  Along the water inside the flooded caldera you could see flamingos.
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Flamingos at a distance.
Day 20 - Bartolomé and Santiago Islands.

The next morning we headed to Bartolomé island.  We had a dry landing and followed a board walk up to the top of the caldera.  Along the way we say native cacti and pioneer species trying their best to establish themselves on the barren volcanic soil.  The views along the way were amazing, naturally.  The number of amazing views this trip were uncountable.
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A bit overexposed but I love this picture.  We snorkeled around pinnacle rock
(the sharp spike-like rock middle-right).
The trip up was around three hundred steps which isn't that much but we were pretty sweaty and tired when we got back to La Pinta.  But we had no time to rest as we put our wetsuits on and headed back to a beach on Bartolomé island near pinnacle rock.


The sun came out and the waters were clear and there were a lot more fish here than the day before.  A large fish caught my eye.  I turned around to get a better look and saw that it was a white tipped shark.  I followed it for a while.  I turned back to head back for the beach and, on the way back, a sea lion buzzed me underwater.  I tried to follow it but it was too fast.  It finally came up on the beach and sunned itself not far from the sunning humans.
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One of many schools of fish near Bartolomé island.
We returned to the ship and had some time to recuperate as we ate lunch and rested during the early afternoon.  The afternoon excursion (The Wife stayed on La Pinta) was a walk on Santiago island's 'fresh' lava flows.  The flows were about three hundred years old.  The patterns in the lava were mesmerizing and varied in many ways.
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Folds in the lava flow on Santiago island.
At this point the screen of my small camera failed.  The camera would still take pictures and movies but I couldn't see what I was taking.  Fortunately I had my large camera too.

Day 21 - Genovesa Island and Darwin Bay.
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A baby nazca boobie.
Our last island was Genovesa island.  Part of the caldera wall had collapsed and the inside of the large caldera was filled with water deep enough for La Pinta and other large ships. Our morning excursion started on a beach where we did a short nature walk looking at the Frigate birds, the seagulls, and the Nazca and red footed boobies.  After the nature walk we snorkeled off the beach.  There was a lot of current here and the water was a bit murky but I did see a couple stingrays and another white tipped shark.  (I managed to take video of a stingray without the screen working.)
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A red footed boobie.
In the afternoon we boated over to a small landing, passing penguins and fur seals along the way, hiked up to the rim of the volcano and walked among the nesting birds.  It was amazing that there was so little fear from the birds.  As long as you stayed five or six feet away they really didn't care.  Even birds with eggs or very small chicks didn't seem to care about us.
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A Galapagos short-eared owl.
Our goal for this hike was the short-eared owl.  Near the end of our hike we found one.  It posed for us and looked at all the people while everyone, including myself, snapped pictures.  It jumped at a dove a few times seemingly annoyed by its presence.
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A male frigate bird, with red pouch inflated and wings spread,
doing his best to attract the ladies.
We walked back to the pick up site.  The sun was beginning to go down as we boated back to La Pinta for our last night aboard.

Day 22 - Goodbye Galapagos Islands and the return to the main land.

We got off La Pinta on Baltra Island and bussed to the airport.  We said our goodbyes as the people we'd met on board were scattering to the four corners of the planet ... or so it seemed.

Our flight took us to Guayaquil, Ecuador where we spent the night.  During the afternoon we took a car to the artisanal market and bought our last magnets, souvenirs, and last minute gifts.

Our South American adventure was almost over.  Tomorrow we would go to sleep in our own bed.

Pictures of the Galapagos islands' wildlife can be found in my South America 2016-06 Flickr album.

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