We crossed the equator again overnight and reached the north side of Santa Cruz island at dawn. Santa Cruz being inhabited, we even picked up a tenuous mobile signal and I could send a few whatsapps to people who had last heard from me when in hospital in Quito and were worried. That all seemed very remote and I reassured everyone I was fine.
We went for a long walk along the beautiful beach, including a detour to a pond where flamingos had made their home.
Marine iguanas were everywhere, with their ridiculous spitting and scales, and the island itself was your typical image of a tropical island – powder white sand, lush green interior, the odd cactus, black volcanic rocks and a blue-green sea.
Pelicans stood about on rocks, or occasionally plunged into the sea to catch a fish, and sea lions frolicked in the waves, seeming to put on a show just for us. Lava lizards were everywhere – great big lizards that were remarkably difficult to see against the black lava rocks, apart from the females who had bright red chests indicating they were open for (mating) business so to speak.
I decided to ditch the wetsuit (it took more energy getting into than an hour of swimming in cold water did) and had a surprisingly refreshing snorkel after the walk. The water ranges from pleasant to bloody cold depending on where you are in the islands, as they are at the confluence of currents coming up from Antarctica, across from New Zealand, and down from the North. I should remember the names of the currents (Humboldt… something and something…) as it was part of one of the briefings one night, but we were all fairly exhausted by the time evening came round…
One highlight of the snorkelling was coming face to face with an enormous sea lion. I was quite close to the cliff edge, inspecting the rocks and patches of seaweed for fish, when it dived in off a rock at huge speed, comically turned on its side and thrust its whiskered face right up to my mask, blew some bubbles, then continued on its way. It gave me quite a fright, not that there was anything remotely threatening about it, but the speed of this enormous creature rushing towards me and coming so close was unusual – I’m used to animals on land or in the sea avoiding me, not coming right up to me and inspecting me! I also got a very brief glimpse of a Galapagos penguin, streaking through the water like a bullet.
In the afternoon we went for a hike around ‘Cerro Dragon’ – we didn’t climb this mountain, so named by Darwin because it was full of land iguanas that he felt looked like dragons – but we got lovely views from our walk, which was all about these weird land reptiles.
Lauren kept count and between us we saw over 20 in the couple of hours we had to wander around this part of the island. Ponderous and not at all bothered by us, I stayed behind at one point to film one and it literally bumped into my boot with its leg, forcing me to move backwards out of its way.
They can hardly be described as beautiful, but they are certainly impressive, and we learned a lot from David, one of the naturalists who travelled with us, about their behaviour and lives. They have also suffered extensive losses since Darwin’s time, and since the introduction of non-native species of animals, and the Galapagos trust also has a breeding and re-introduction scheme.
We ended the day as always with a wonderful dinner and an early night, ready for the next day, which we had been told by others who had done this itinerary would be a highlight – the islands of Isabela and Fernandina.