We crossed the equator twice overnight, which according to the captain accounts for the extremely choppy seas. We were fine but some people were not enjoying the amount of movement. Seasickness pills were on the bar for people to help themselves, and many did so.
An early morning walk on Fernandina, the newest and most obviously volcanic island in the archipelago, brought a discussion about the formation of the islands from volcanic activity that is still ongoing, as well as plenty of opportunities for silly photos with the lava.
There were numerous marina iguanas, in fact it’s the biggest colony in the islands, with hundreds of the creatures sprawled on the black rocks, amazingly well camouflaged, lying on top of each other and spitting the salt water out of their nostrils.
There were also of course the usual playful sea lions and birdlife, including the flightless cormorants who have evolved to not be able to fly, with stubby little wings that no longer do much in the air, although still help in the water. While they have evolved not to need to fly, as they can get all the food they need by swimming, this is a downside when catastrophic events happen like volcanic eruptions or an el Niño year – half the population was wiped out in 1983 due to el Niño, leaving just 400 birds – as they can’t fly away, only swim. It was certainly interesting to see evolution in progress, in the place where the theory was first developed.
We also saw some lava cactus, which grows on the lava… stubby little thing but resilient.
Once we had finished our hike, it was snorkelling time again, and this time it was spectacular. We saw a number of big marine turtles, huge, placid and totally at home in the water. I think Lauren counted 18 in the hour we were in the water. Often just swimming by (they know you will get out of their way and just keep going) or munching on seaweed. It was also very cool to see the marine iguanas – so slow and motionless on land – swimming and grazing on the seabed. We also saw a range of different fish, from immense shoals of tiny blue and red ones that made it seem like we were swimming through clouds of shiny confetti, to big ponderous parrot fish and those weird ones with a bump on their foreheads…. (anyone?). It was fun anyway and I struggled to keep up with Lauren and her new-found confidence.
After Fernandina, we sailed through the channel between Fernandina and Isabela, keeping a lookout for whales and dolphins. Around 30 minutes after departing, the captain announced a whale sighting, and everyone trooped up to the sundeck on the roof, where we saw the whale a good few times, rising up to the surface. While I have had the opportunity to see whales breeching and far closer up, Lauren hasn’t (well, she was too small and doesn’t remember which amounts to the same thing).
Once arrived on Isabela, it was time for yet another highlight of the trip – seeing the giant tortoises in the wild. This is one of the only places to see them truly in the wild, and is only accessible by boat. During the rainy season they migrate from the highlands to the lowlands, so we didn’t have far to go (we were right in between the two seasons).
As we piled into the pangas to make the short journey to shore, the rain clouds were gathering, and we got absolutely soaked to the skin before we even landed. But who cared? Within 5 minutes of landing, as we walked through the lush green lowlands, we spotted our first giant tortoise. He/She was big and it was completely different from seeing them in the ‘semi-wild’ environment of a breeding centre. It was absolutely pouring down, which turned out to be a boon, as the tortoises come out to drink the precious rainwater, not caring one bit if they were on the narrow path, as they almost all were as that is where the puddles gathered.
It got to be ludicrous as we tried to walk around the tortoises that littered the path, pushing ourselves into trees and the deep undergrowth to try to give them as much space as possible. It was clear they didn’t like it when 9 or 10 of us (we had to stay in groups, National park rules) pressed past, they hissed and stuck their heads back into their shells, but they didn’t move out of the way, just carried on drinking or lumbering at their slow speed down the path.
The rain also had the positive effect of making everyone put away their cameras once they had a few decent shots, and actually enjoy just being among these amazing creatures. At one point, there was a bit of territorial face-off between two males, with the bigger winning hands down after a bit of shoving. Basic way of sorting things out, but it works.
Four of the original 15 species of Galapagos tortoise are already extinct – caused by hunting and then by rats, goats and cats introduced by humans over the years.
What a day, topped off by dinner with the Captain (we rotated) during which we had a lively and entertaining evening with him regaling us with stories of when he was almost captured by Colombian smugglers when he was in the navy. He insisted that the next day we should join him in the bridge so that Lauren could drive the boat.
Tired, extremely happy and glad to be far from Colombian waters, we tumbled into bed for another nights’ sailing.