Sunday, October 9, 2011

Galapagos Part 3 of 5 - Ecuador

Day 3: North Seymour, Isla Baltra & Plaza Sur
Our early start was chiefly in order to get ahead of any other boats that were in the vicinity as we would be refuelling and didn’t want our little pirate ship to be 8th in the queue behind these large engine luxury liners.  We boarded the Zodiac and dodged the bright orange crabs to set foot on North Seymour Island where we were immediately greeted by yet more marine iguanas.  Whilst the sea lions in New Zealand hadn’t exactly been timid, we were practically tripping over the things here as they lazed across the path that we weren’t supposed to stray from in true Catch 22 fashion.  Whilst they were gorgeous to look at they didn’t smell so good but we still managed to hold our noses and get close for a photo.  They were all around the place; everywhere you looked sea lions lay on sand, rocks and on each other.  Challenging the sea lions for superiority of numbers on North Seymour were the marine iguanas piled on top of each other or staring at you solitarily from a bush.  

Sea lion decides to wave with me for the photo

Making sure he is on the side of the path where his sleep won't be disturbed

Marine Iguana Pile

We had to stroll round her carefully on the path
Following the trail route further inland provided us with our first up close glimpse of the beautiful blue footed boobies and their fearless young.  I felt guilty stepping so close to the fluffy young chick and its father or mother (they share parental responsibilities) but their nest was built right next to the path.  They were awesome to look at.  The name booby derives from ‘bobo’ meaning clown and the oversized blue feet and funny face made it easy to understand why.  They appeared more curious than intimidated by us and we immediately fell in love with them and took some great photographs.

Adult Blue footed Boobie with young

Further along the path were the male frigate birds doing their best to attract a mate and assert their dominance by inflating their red neck sacks in a spectacular display.  Whilst we were quite far away it was still a great show and unusual to say the least.  Plenty of birds (including pelicans), iguanas and lava lizards later, we reach the nesting area of a baby booby that had been left on its own.  But instead of being terrified by the five of us walking up to it, it started chirping at John the guide and was mesmerized by him swinging his radio.  John explained that they are very curious birds and we all thought that this was totally awesome.  Before we embarked onto the Zodiac we were lucky enough to catch a Land Iguana not doing particularly much.  These iguanas aren’t nearly as common as their marine brothers so this was definitely a bonus.

You can just see the frigate birds red sack

Frigate bird close up

Lava Lizard

Baby Boobie left in its nest

It was intrigued not intimidated by our guide's radio

About as friendly as birds get

Rare land iguana
Back on board for a hearty breakfast we made our way to Isla Baltra where the boat was due to fuel up and because of our early start we were first in the queue.  During this time we were able to meander around on one of the beaches which had its own abundance of sea lions, Kate at one point having a little swim with one.  There were also a few marine iguanas thrown in for good measure.  After lunch we had a new couple join us, Romina and Raphael from Spain and Switzerland respectively.

Lazing around with a sea lion whilst Sulidae refuelled

We arrived at the amazing Plaza Sur Island and two sea lions already occupied the pier we were supposed to hop onto but they scarpered as the Zodiac pulled up.  The island had an abundance of red vegetation called Sesuvium and the bizarre ‘Cactus tree’s (Opuntia Cactus) and that are exactly that, a cross between cacti and trees. Whilst we were sitting down for one of John’s lessons I was stalked by an iguana that would creep closer to me whenever I wasn’t looking.  There were Galapagos Swallow-Tailed gulls shading underneath the cacti protecting their eggs.  

The stalking iguana

The awesome landscape of Plaza Sur

A gull beneath the cactus tree
We walked to the far side of the small island to some dramatic steep cliffs with pelicans, gulls and boobies swooping overhead, sea lions lounging around and the orange sun setting over the sea.  We were lucky or unfortunate enough to be able to witness some gulls mating before it began to get too dark so we carefully tiptoed around sea lions making our way back to the Zodiac.  Whilst sailing that evening we had the treat of seeing dolphins following the boat, at one point one leapt into the air doing one hell of a flip before landing in the water.  Unfortunately it was too dark to take a photograph but it was an unforgettable experience.

Lava Gull and Sea Lion by the cliff edge

Day 4: Isla San Cristobal
Maiko and Sherwin were leaving us today but not before paying a visit to the interpretation center.  This is a kind of museum with locals in mind, the general idea being that it was important for the inhabitants of the Galapagos Islands (there are 30,000 of them and growing) to understand their impact on the fragile environment.  Unfortunately something came up for our guide John and he too abandoned us on San Cristobal for another temporary guide to take his place, I’m sure there was good reason.  The center was okay but not enthralling, it was more fun walking along the trail to have a snorkel in one of the bays although the sun wasn’t shining too brightly and it was pretty cold.  There were plenty more sea lions and colourful crabs to be seen.  As we were due to rendezvous with the Sulidae crew later we had an opportunity to laze around on the beach before heading back to the pier.  Yet more sea lions owned this beach and we had the pleasure of meeting a curious baby sea lion that was flapping around and falling into the sand.  A girl attempted to snorkel but changed her mind when the bull sea lion, the alpha male who fights for the right to all the females in his patch chased her out of the water. 

Darwin's statue on San Cristobal Island

Sea lion spending most of the afternoon floating on its back

Gorgeous baby sea lion on the beach
‘Protect what is ours’ was written in Spanish on the bench at the harbour being used by a sea lion as we waited by the pier whilst the sun set.  As I got close he slid off towards me but got bored and had a snooze where he lay.  Once back on the boat we had lunch with seven new people joining us (Erin, Flo, Alon, Christina, Raul, Fatima, Lauren, Yael) along with an eccentric new guide called Victor who was loveable but hard to understand at the best of times.  We visited a very foggy Junco Lake where most people slipped on their rears and into the wet mud and there wasn’t anything to see other than vegetation.  There are apparently amazing vistas from here when the weather is good but it is extremely temperamental and we saw bugger all. 

Life... is.... hard...

The viewpoint with no view
Having already witnessed the giant tortoises of Isla Santa Cruz it was now time to pay a visit to a breeding centre on San Cristobal where another subspecies of giant turtle was being given a helping hand.  The tiny turtles were cute but it wasn’t easy to decipher Victor’s lessons in often garbled English.  Any questions needed to be asked twice and the answers weren’t exactly coherent.  Even so, it was an interesting visit and good to see so many little turtles who with any luck will outlive all of us.  We hopped back onto the boat for dinner and fun on deck with the new additions to the boat into the night. 
No they aren't about to race, the baby tortoises are identified by their number

Weird to think he may grow as large as us and weigh up to 250 KG
Day 5: Isla EspaƱola
Gunner bay was the first stop where we saw yet more sea lions including new born who still had the umbilical cord attached to it.  There were also very cheeky Galapagos mocking birds who would hop around very close to us trying to snap up any food we might have.  A pleasant walk along the bay brought us to a rockier outcrop which was home to some marine iguanas and a couple of oyster catcher birds.  After our beach stroll it was time to snorkel.  The sea was nice and clear if not a little bit on the cold side, but our paddling around the small islet out in the bay provided us with the sightings of two different types of ray, one of them larger than any I had ever seen.  Amongst the usual colourful fish was an angelfish, more sea turtles and even a shy white tip shark with its head buried under a rock.  Kate got a jellyfish sting but luckily it wasn’t too bad just a little painful.  There was a funny moment when Fatima was confronted by the bull sea lion after snorkeling back to the beach, all of this caught on her underwater camera.

Very cheeky Galapagos Mockingbirds

A newly born baby sea lion

Oyster catcher bird

Crabs on the rocks

Marine Iguana dining out on the algae attached to rocks

A Pelican swoops by
Fatima is confronted by a sea lion and asks superman (I mean Raul) to come to the rescue

After lunch on the boat as usual we headed to Punta Suarez and were instantly confronted with copious amounts of wildlife, notably a ridiculously large colony of marine iguanas.  Having shuffled around and over them we reached another bay where we saw another oyster catcher along with the usual suspects.  Walking along the trail provided us with our first encounter with Nazca boobies, similar to those with the blue feet in appearance and temperament.  It was also a first opportunity for us to spot the tropical bird, a beautiful white bird with a long tail that drifts in its wake.  Our new favourites, the blue footed boobies were also nesting there in their masses everywhere you looked, often near the path.  The abundance of the boobies here was astounding and we were in awe walking around them and marveling at their lack of fear towards us.


Greeted by Marine Iguanas at Punta Suarez

The bay at punta Suaraz was better than any zoo

Tropic Bird with its amazing tail

The gentle Nazca Boobie

Blue Footed Boobies and their young

Suddenly we came across something that didn’t really fit in with the rest of the birds that we were seeing.  It was a big baby, that was for sure... it was fluffy yet it was a pretty ugly specimen.  It turned out to be a baby albatross which accounted for the size I suppose.  It wasn’t cute but it was certainly fun to see it mingled in amongst all the boobies but sticking out like the big gawky kid at school.  Later on the trail we bumped into mummy and daddy albatross, the bird that has a wingspan of up to seven feet.  It was marvelous to see them cruising through the sky effortlessly although their landing was a little bit on the bumpy side.  We were lucky enough to see the ritual that they undergo when mating or reunited with a close friend after a stint over the sea.  We watched the intimate and slightly comical display between three birds (usually just between two) doing a strange dance of bobbing up and down to the left and right towards each other and snapping their beaks open and shut before fencing each other with them.

The ugly but somehow cute Albatross baby

A selection of photographs to try to show the Albatross' greeting each other

Introducing myself to a baby albatross

Albatross in flight
At the head of the cliffs we could also witness the spectacular gushes of water shooting up into the air from the blowholes below.  It really was quite a spectacle and we almost felt as though we had to dodge the swooping pelicans and gulls as they navigated the edge of the island looking for their next fishing spot.  The walk along the rest of the trail produced lava lizards, more opportunities to meet albatross and their young and a hell of a lot more sea lions and iguanas.  We boarded the Sulidae and as we had the opportunity to switch rooms we now went to the one at the back of the ship which had surrounding windows!  It really was the best of the bunch and it was nice to have a little bit of space in the cabin for the remaining days and what a time we were having.

Gorgeous Blue Footed Booby

Albatross baby and Boobies everywhere

Can you see the new born baby below the booby?

A fat Lava Lizard

Beautiful Albatross

Hanging with the Marine Iguanas

The blowhole

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