Sunday, October 9, 2011

Galapagos Part 4 of 5 - Ecuador

Day 6: Isla Floreana
We set foot on the beach of Floreana Island early on the morning of the 18th of September with the aim of visiting a lagoon which if you were lucky enough was occupied by flamingoes, we weren’t lucky enough but we still got to see the lagoon plastered in the poop that the flamingoes has left.  There was still some nice flora and fauna to be seen (the next best thing to actual animals I suppose) until we crossed the thin neck of the island where we interrupted a herring gull going about his daily routine.  As usual, there were also an abundance of the beautiful orange crabs.  I asked the guide half-jokingly if they tasted good, to which I got a serious answer of yes (apparently the locals snatch one or two off the rocks and put them in the pot when nobody’s looking).  I guess they aren’t exactly endangered and they aren’t being fished in droves so no harm done.   

The Sulidae gang on the beach
The lagoon minus the flamingos

The wild flowers

The Heron

A common sight on the rocks

The main excitement from the morning on land came from the lava heron who unperturbed by our presence seemed to be focusing intently on a bush.  We crept up to it wondering what the hell it was doing when suddenly it sprang and snatched a mouse from the undergrowth in expert fashion.  It must be a rare occurrence for tourists to see a successful hunt and absolute kudos to the heron for maintaining focus, most English penalty takers would have faltered under our communal gaze.  He flew onto the lake with his prize where he swiftly finished it off an gobbled it down in one or two gulps.  We had time for a walk along the beach, looking at the amazing emerald-like stones that sit amongst the pebbled in the bay.  Following this we had an opportunity to snorkel and although the water was relatively shallow we saw a large rockfish, yet another stingray and some none too playful sea lions.  By the end I was so cold that my nipples could cut glass so we bailed out.  For some reason our snorkeling fins attracted a mass of wasps and they were all over them by the time we had got changed and it was dangerous work getting them off, Raul managed to get stung a couple of times.  

Lava Heron stalking its prey

Success! Looks delicious...

After lunch we made a visit to post office bay where there stands…. a postbox.  In reality there is a bit more to it than that.  The principles is that you write a message (normally on a postcard) and leave it in the box whereupon another traveller will rifle through the letters and if they are bound to where your mail is addressed then they will pick it up and deliver it by hand.  A really nice romantic idea, unfortunately we couldn’t make out Victor’s explanations beforehand or perhaps it wasn’t explained at all (unfortunately most sentences were borderline coherent, lovely guy though lovely guy) otherwise we would have brought along postcards of our very own.  There were also a couple of cards from a while ago written to specific people for when they in turn make it to the Galapagos.  Perhaps even sweeter there were messages to future people such as a pregnant mother to her future child explaining all the fun things that they did together on the islands.  This is no new gimmick either, when H. M. S. Beagle (Darwin’s vessel) visited Gal├ípagos, Captain Robert FitzRoy described his visit to Post Office Bay on the 24th of April, 1835 in his narrative…
 
“Post-Office Bay is sheltered, easy of access, has excellent anchorage, and only wants fresh-water to make it a most desirable harbour for shipping.  Its name is the result of a custom established by the whalers: a box was placed on a post, to receive letters, and homeward-bound ships examined the directions, taking with them all which they might have means of forwarding; but since the island has been peopled the box has been empty, for letters are now left at the settlement.”

There you have it, what a beautiful tradition upheld.

The Post Box as it stands today

Some of us joined the crew and their mates for a bit of footy which was great fun whilst we waited for the second Zodiac full of people to arrive and then a little bit longer!  Lauren and Erin joined in too and showed some of the guys how it’s done.  As we were in Ecuador I was singing the praises of Antonio Valencia although I was Wayne Rooney when I scored.  It was great but we were soon back on course towards the cultural side of things.   

Some football on the beach, South American style

Me showing the locals who is boss
  
It was then time to descend into one of the accessible lava caves, essentially like the lava tubes but the roof hasn’t yet collapsed!  On the way it was possible to see the rusted remnants of the fish canning factory that existed here once upon a time in one of many of the Galapagos’ failed colonisation attempts of the past.  Having climbed down the wooden stairs to the cave there wasn’t any light so we turned on our trusty torches that we had brought along with us.  It was a bit spooky but we soon found ourselves being a bit silly to make up for the lack of input.  There was a small pool in the cave but nothing lived down there apparently.  At one point we all agreed to turn off our torches and enjoy the pitch black silence for as long as we could all muster.  A couple of friendly birds followed us down the path on the way back to the bay where we were to be collected by the boat.  Understandably, it seemed as a rule of thumb that the uninhabited islands had friendlier wildlife.  On the way back to Sulidae it was possible to see turtles poking their heads out of the water for a breath before submerging. 

Erin and I decending into the lava tube cave

Photograph taken with a slow shutter speed within the cave

A scary cave dwelling mammal

There were monsters in there too

The birds here were especially tame

Some would be curious enough to fly to you when walking down the path

Miller of the Sulidae crew drives us back

Raul, Kate and Fatima on the Zodiac

That evening we relaxed on deck before decided that a pirate party was in order.  We had some alcohol between us and thought it was be fun to have a pirate party as we were after all on a pirate ship after all.  The crew were more than happy to oblige and quickly got out their party CD of spicy South American tunes and we were off.  Danny was teaching all the girls how to salsa like an Ecuadorian and even Wilman the ship’s shy cook came through after he received a round of applause following yet another immense and tasty dinner.  It was a fun night but hard to party properly as there wasn’t room for more than two people to have a dance at once!  The sun and wind does certain things to you and we were all pooped by around eleven in the evening none the less having had a great night and lots of fun with the crew and each other.        

Kate relaxing in the hammock that Andy (brother) bought before leaving

Round the dinner table, not so much space on a full ship but lots of fun!

Kate looking happy with Danny's Salsa lesson!
  
Day 7: Isla Isabella
The day started with a beach walk until we reached a large pond that was home to a couple of flamingos which was nice but not terrible exciting.  The beach walk provided opportunity for a couple of group photos before we headed to another breeding center for the Isabella subspecies of giant tortoise.  We were fortunate enough for it to be feeding time at the refuge and a surreal symphony of crunching could be heard all around as they chomped their way through their lunch, clambering on top of one another to get to the freshest tucker.  The tortoises ranged from the very young to the very old, none were forgotten as their takeaways were delivered to their separate pens.  We can never get enough of the giant tortoises and it was funny watching them ‘rush’ towards their food when it was put out, we’d never seen them go so fast!  From the giant tortoises we did a turnaround to the newly hatched cages where we could also hold an egg which hadn’t hatched.   All good fun!

Flamingo in the lagoon

Washed up dead pufferfish

Sulidae gang on the beach

Feeding time at the breeding centre

Feeding time for the big guys too

Couldn't help but laugh at the tortoise staring directly at us

Where it all begins

The youngest tortoises in the hatchery

Not pretty but special, pretty special

At the pen for the young adult tortoises

From the hatchery we walked to another lagoon where there were more flamingos and the sun decided to come out at this point.  The lagoon was picturesque and all in all it was a nice walk, or at least it would have been if Kate’s flipflops hadn’t broken on her.  We took our time on the gritty road and when we got back to the beach we had some free time to relax and hang out.  Before heading into town we were lucky enough to catch a bunch of iguanas crossing at an ‘Iguanas Crossing’ sign which was excellent, we had seen a lot of these in New Zealand but never with their appropriate animals.  We went to buy a couple of postcards with Erin in town before heading back to the beach and Kate had a swim whilst I relaxed in the shade.

Flamingo foraging in the mud

There certainly is
 
Back to the ship for lunch before boarding the Zodiac and heading out for some more snorkeling action.  On the way to the jetty we saw a couple of Galapagos penguins and a group of pelicans hanging out.  There was also a sea lion tormenting the birds on the rocks and generally having fun swimming around where we got off the Zodiac, I couldn’t wait to get in and join her (we decided it was a girl) as we wanted to interact with a sea lion and thought this might be our chance.  She disappeared at first but lo and behold she soon came back to have some fun.  She scared me at first, she would dart towards me and then back away at the last minute just when you thought she was going to bump into you head first or attack.  

Very soon it became apparent that this was her game and it no longer became scary but instead I began diving under water and playing with her.  Everyone else was in the water by this point and ‘Lobo’ (meaning wolf as the Spanish call them ‘Wolves of the sea’) as we named her was having immense fun with all of us.  Fatima and Erin were able to film some of the interaction on their underwater cameras which shows how easily Lobo could glide through the water and made us look as clumsy in the sea as they do on land.  After we got picked up in the Zodiac she followed us all the way back to the jetty.  It was definitely my highlight of the Galapagos and even up there for travelling as a whole.  As well as Lobo we also had more than our fair share of sea turtles, stingray and other aquatic life.  You can find the amazing video of our Lobo experience at the bottom of the page.

Getting ready for a good snorkel

Lobo the friendly Sea Lion

video
Swimming with Sea Turtles

 By the time we finished snorkeling the weather had turned grey and drizzly but we were due to walk amongst the rocky lava field and path of broken coral past marine iguanas to see a natural haven for whitetip reef sharks.  They are very gentle but still look intimidating and shark-like!  Iguanas were perched perilously close to the rocks above where the sharks were based.  Suddenly who else but Lobo finds her way into the inlet and begins having a ridiculous amount of fun chasing and tormenting the sharks.  We were concerned for her at first, but it soon became apparent that she wasn’t in any danger as the sharks flinched out of her way, although on one occasion one got its own back and gave Lobo a little shock by going for her.  It’s fair to say that Lobo won the day and the sharks scarpered before she made her way back to the big wide ocean.  We walked a different route back to the Zodiac past huge piles of iguanas now huddled together to keep warm now the temperature had dropped.  There was also a blue footed booby mysteriously laying in the middle of the footpath and refusing to move.  The journey to Sulidae also proved fruitful with more penguins, pelicans and boobies to be viewed.      


Whitetip Reef Shark lurking below the iguanas (not sure if they eat them)

Lobo terrorising the sharks

Biggest Iguana pile yet?

Booby on the path (not Raul)

Galapagos penguin taking a dip
video
  The Amazing Lobo the Sea Lion Movie!

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