by:Oscar Sogandares G.
February 3, 1997~MONDAY
Guayaquil and Pto. Baquerizo Moreno (Galapagos).
We hit the airport last night by 11:30 PM. Then after passing customs we promptly departed to the Grand Hotel Guayaquil. Where, after a few free and not so free drinks, we spent the night. At dawn the next day, we got up and had breakfast. But on the way down, we had the chance to appreciate the facade and beauty of the Cathedral's rear gothic windows, which overlooked the hotel's restaurant and swimming pool.
After breakfast we toured the Simon Bolivar Park, at the very next block from the hotel. We had been told this park was full of iguanas. The splendid Gothic Cathedral was this time facing us. At first we distinguished the first signs of iguanas. That is their excreta on the sidewalk. Then suddenly the first showed up at an old trunk then, a huge male specimen. Then its companion on a higher branch. Then the entire park appeared to be full of iguanas (these are the iguana iguana of the mainland).
Beside the iguanas, we observed squirrels and at the park pond there were tarp (tilapias in spanish). There was also a turtle nursery. We noticed that the iguanas were not fed directly by man, such as the turtles and the fish, but were totally dependent upon park vegetation.
We finally saw a "kosumbo", a raccoon type mammal (carnivora family), feed on vegetation. But it also appeared that this animal was omnivorous and may also feed on flesh and insects. We noticed certain personnel manning the wildlife (perhaps NGOs?). Also park security personnel were also evident and the entire park was fenced in.
Although we observed the park wildlife it did not arouse much curiosity of the local populace. But at the same time it would not be surprising that without the proper safeguards some of these specimens might easily wind up in someoneís frying pan.
We returned to the Grand Hotel Guayaquil where we changed our dollars into sucres (at 3600 x 1) and we were in business. At 11:30 AM we prepared to board the bus for the airport. Once at the airport we went shopping. As we waited for the plane we noticed a poster by the INEFAN for all Galapagos bound travellers. Among other things it pictured a dog eating a marine iguana (no place here for "manís best friend"). It also stated the rules for all visitors arriving to the islands, no-dogs, no-cats, no imported plants, fruits or insects. Newly introduced species such as the most recent black fly, were introduced as larvae in fruits.
We finally boarded our SAETA flight at 2:00 EST and departed 1000 kms. westward over the vast Pacific. At 4:00 CST and one time zone earlier we were flying past Kickers Rock (which we were to tour at the end of our trip), before we touched ground at San Cristobal Airport. Long lines after long lines, we were greeted by Miguel Pazmino, who would be our guide for the next following week, who rushed us to Port Baquerizo Moreno (capital of Galapagos province and named after an Ecuadorian president), where our yacht Dorado awaited us.
There we saw for the very first time sea lions and local youngsters swimming and frolicking together in the bay. Once we became acquainted with our yacht and having already unpacked. We were back in the port for some brief shopping. Then it was on the bus, where our guide took us beyond the airport and a gravel pit for our first tour at a nearby beach in the national Park. Galapagos National Park comprises 97% of the Archipelago. The remaining 3% are where the towns, farms and villages are located.
At the beach far inland (this was a large beach). Its first inhabitant we caught a glimpse of was a solitary male sea lion, badly cut and bruised, perhaps a most frequent territorial dispute, or it could of been puncture wounds due to nails (I was to learn of this practice on the last day I was there), placed by some fishermen on their boats, to avoid sea lions from boarding them. Any way someone "urfed", and this 600 lb. bull immediately took after us. But he wasn't as agile out of the water. But we learned lesson number one: never bother the sea lions. There have been reported cases where male bulls have felt challenged or threatened and have bit tourists. Our guide also told us, never touch the pups even if they approach us. Their mothers may not recognize them and these could easily perish.
Along our walk we saw a marine iguana, Darwin finches feeding on beach brush (the entire beach was covered with succulent plants of the Aizoaceae family), and more sea lions. This time we noticed a complete extended family of several females with their pups, and the respective male bull almost always in the water, continously "urfing", while patrolling his part of the beach.
On the way back , we observed in full bloom on the sand beach morning glory (Hypomea pecuprea), same genus as sweet potatoes, and Sally Lightfoot crabs along the beach. We also caught a glimpse of what appeared to be a yellow hibiscus flower. In fact we were about to officially proclaim it hibiscus, if it weren't for the fact that its stem sprouted from a known gossipium (cotton) plant. Therefore this flower could never be hibiscus, but the flower of gossipium galapagensis (Galapagos cotton). We returned to the boat that evening. At dinner we saw hordes of frigate birds and other species swooping over our boat, in search of scraps of food in the water. Never had I seen these birds fly so close and in such large numbers. But I was to see them flying next to us , almost continuously everyday. That evening we levied anchor and proceeded to Espaniola or Hood Island at 700 AM. Morning broke over Espaniola Island with intermittent rains. I didn't have a poncho but I wasn't going to miss this opportunity. It was difficult to miss our reception commitee here, composed of a male marine iguana (males are always larger and Espaniola's variety somehow more colorful), a not that colorful lava lizard, a daring set of mockingbirds who would dart to us to see who we were.
February 4, 1997~TUESDAY
Espaniola (Hood) Island.
Today promised to be one of the most colorful days. We were the first to arrive at Punta Suarez, Espaniola (seved as our hosts, and our first couple of our famous blue footed boobies. This was the boobie mating (and nesting) season , and the presence of this particular kind of boobie far outnumbered any other species. Except for the waved winged albatross, this great flyer of the seas (wingspan 2.5 meters), which is virtually "endemic" to this island, as far as its breeding is concerned. Although its distribution is widespread along the South American coasts and the Pacific isles. Its breeding season had already passed in late September and early October.
We landed at the point, where the beacon was located, and proceeded on the trail. By far the most abundant species, at this moment , besides sea lions, and marine iguanas , were these blue footed boobies. The marine iguanas were noticeable for their colorful appearance. Males were identified by their slightly larger size, and the presence of green fringes, along with red splashes. The females by only their reddish and black appearance. The males were more apprehensive. Females on the other hand allowed us to approach them rather closely, up to less than 1 meter away.
In fact the island's entire collection of animals were quite tame. The boobies for instance were more preoccupied with their courtship rituals , than with us obviously. Except for one zealous mother boobie nursing her young, which pecked on my pant , when I inadvertently stepped too near her nest. But the most daring and entreprenurial bird of all were the mockingbirds. Which would fly directly to us once they knew who we were, and would even stand near our feet to gain our attention, then dart off again. Some would perform this trick repeatedly for us. Our guide had previously observed that some tourists would hold water containers visible to the birds and these would continously trail the tourists and the scarce and vital liquid about on this island. An especially cruel practice, they would do this to obtain picture taking opportunitites, as if the birds werenít accesible as they were without this ploy.
Besides the mockingbirds, the other terrestrial bird we saw were the Darwinís finches: more preoccupied with their own more vital feeding tasks and at a slightly greater distance from us. As we inched through this giant nursery, Dr. Petersen pointed out a feature characteristic of all "pelagic" or sea birds, which may live out at sea most of their lives, including the boobies and the albatrosses. Which consist of small grooves on the beak. These grooves or tubular nostrils will allow them to excrete excess salt, which may reach up to 5%. Maintaining their proper salinity (normal salinity in all land creatures at 2%). Curiously marine iguanas excrete excess salt through their pores after a feeding session in the water. Our guide also explained to us that abundance of fish determines the sea birds breeding season which may be in some species up to twice a year. He also explained that the waved albatross breeding season had already past last November.
By far the areas with the greatest concentration of animals were the rocky basaltic projections and steep cliff overhangs on the coastline. Although blue footed boobies shared the area with marine iguanas; we also saw them side by side with the masked boobies and the peculiar Galapagos sea gull, noticeable for its peculiar red rimmed eye lids. I always managed to obtain a rather close picture of one nesting couple aprox. 1.5 mts. away.
The reminder of death on the islands was everpresent all around us. With the fresh carcasses of sea lions along the beach and boobie remains noticeable for their particular beaks. It was curious to observe a masked boobie next to the remains of another deceased boobie. Could it have been its mate? Are they bonded for life and beyond? Will they always occupy this same nesting place? This will certainly arise much interest.
We finally arrived to a bend on this sea cliff trail, in the midst of this teeming, breeding colony. And in the same way as this island were to have its entrapped resident whale, we caught a glimpse of its world famous blowhole. Tourists were not allowed in its proximity since the death of one a few years ago.
We rounded the bend inland where more boobies lay nesting and in a vacant open area we saw a solitary albatross egg, left there by its parents, unhatched, one that never flew. As we reached the other side of the island near the Pta. Suarez beacon, we went near the island sign where we saw another boobie which proudly posed for its picture.
The rest of the day we passed at Playa Gardiner, or Gardinerís Beach. But before I would of arrived, I momentarily caught a glimpse of a dorsal fin, a shark, a dolphin? Our guide had previously told us that there were sharks along these beaches. The one he jokingly referred to as eating only "palms and plants". But actually there had been no recorded incident of shark attacks in the recent past. Perhaps due to the superabundance of fish in the isles. One could say that even the sharks here were "friendly". Truly incredible.
It was going to be a "wet landing". We dropped off the boat, next to a rocky isle in our snorkel gear. As soon as we jumped into these cool green waters, we were greeted by a friendly sea lion. Which almost pulled a flipper off one of our group. But as we snokeled we did catch a glimpse of a reef shark 30 feet or so below our feet. We proceeded around the rocks where we saw a familiar blue footed boobie. As we submerged again we viewed blue damsel fishes feeding on algae and sea urchin pencils. We also caught a glimpse of an angel fish and a ray on the sandy bottom, while our sea lion friend constantly accompanied us, escorting us toward the beach.
Once we arrived to shore, we were greeted by droves of the most universal of all insects, the fly. Where thereís sea lions there are flies. The "beachmaster" as the male is customarily known, cruised up and down the beach, while barking his orders to his crew. He nearly missed us while darting through the waters. Probably took us for part of his pack. Soon we were back on the boat which picked us up and back on the yacht. This time we were going for the long haul to Santa Cruz.
We levied anchor that Tuesday afternoon where we caught the sight of Gardiner beach and Hood Island aglow in the afternoon sun, slowly dissipating into the distance, while our humble craft slowly chugged ahead toward Sta. Cruz. Just before dusk we saw one of those rare occurrences (too bad I was in the process of changing rolls) at sea. A huge school of dolphins was playfully escorting our craft on our port side, while on route to Santa Cruz. The captain told us to rest assured, that whenever another school should be sighted, the boatís bells would ring for a "dolphin call".
That evening on the way back, while some of us were looking for the Hale-Bopp comet, our crewmember Nacho Avila showed us at the same time the Southern Cross on our port side and the Big Dipper on our starboard. We were virtually on the Equator. Later that evening (1:00 AM) we arrived to Pto. Ayora and waited for the morning tour.
February 5, 1997~WEDNESDAY
Pto. Ayora, CDRS, Lava Tunnel, Tortoise Farm and The Pit Craters.
Our day began with a "dry landing" at the Charles Darwin Research Station dock. The dock was located amidst a huge mangrove marsh on the far end of Pto. Ayora. Our host was a familiar black marine iguana and a curious yellow warbler. But before we went any further Dr. Petersen ponted out the different types of mangrove present. By mangrove, we could be referring to anywhere in the Tropical World besides the Galapagos. For all mangrove species are universal in distribution, whose seabourne seeds are spread throughout the oceans, and are all salt tolerant.
These consisted of red mangrove (with visible root systems), white mangrove, and black mangrove (with pnematophores or projections of the roots portruding above the soil). All pertain to different families, but are all found in every tropical area and subtropical area in the world. Mangrove ecosytems are the most complex and vital as in the case of the Galapagos, and in these particular ecosystems mangroves are easily the dominant or keystone species which will determine the survival of its resident species.
Dr. Petersen pointed out to us the pressures on this habitat by development and construction. Red mangrove poles are highly prized in scaffolding. Presently this construction method is being superseded by modern construction technology. But in the meantime for the low budget builder in the Third World, mangrove poles are still much in demand.
We advanced along the path toward the Van Straalen Center, in honor of the centerís first administrator. Here we witnessed the complete, documented Natural History of the Galapagos Islands. Which spanned its entire creation, from its premieval lava flows, to its Natural History and its unique species which inhabit them. As we glanced each succesive mural and devoured all the information it could offer us. We glanced on display in the corner at unique clay wine urns, left by pirates, found on these rich Galapagos sea bed floors.
We continued on the trail, where we viewed the numerous finches feeding on diverse flowers, including opuntia cactus along the way. At another building we observed the variety of land iguanas, as well as the land tortoise display. Where 12 - 16 different species (some extinct, some living to the present day), were explained and the four types of tortoise shells shown.
Along the way, the different plants were labeled respectively. Which included Lantana peduncularis, Cordia leucophylate. We also glanced at a resourceful finch on an importe acacia plant, as well as hordes of wasps and grasshoppers. Manzanilla, Candelabra and Opuntia (prickly pear) cactus were everywhere.
We finally arrived at the tortoise corral. This is the spot where the eggs are hatched and the tortoises are raised. Here the young are continously fed tender vegetable shoots. We continued on the boarded walk, where we saw Lonely George taking his morning sun, continously accompanied by two Darwin female tortoises in an effort to mate him, his hormonal level constantly monitored. We certainly hope they will succeed and this could truly prove to be a success story.
We made our way to the T- Shirt Photo Shop stand, where we made a few purchases, mostly film, T-Shirts and Post Cards, and we proceeded on the way out of the Center. We were finally on the colorful main road of Pto. Ayora. Where every shop, every hotel , every restaurant, boutique and souvenir shop catered to the weary traveller - tourist. Post Cards were everywhere, plus necessary stamps and the corresponding mail drop boxes. So the post cards could be post marked with the much solicited Pto. Ayora, Galapagos seal and conveniently mailed. Although the Postal Service was on strike (political reasons), the shopowners gladly volunteered to send our post cards once service was resumed.
As we walked, I noticed an inviting outdoor restaurant. I was to see it was the Hotel Angermeyer, one of the better hotels in town. Soon I was to see a book that evening on this familyís ventures in the islands. We observed along the main road shipbuilders busily at work, crafting what will be soon a brand new yacht, to haul in more tourists and needed resources for this exotic setting, while a brown pelican was preoccupied with its own concerns at the very edge of the marsh.
We were to be at the Municipal Dock by 12:00 AM and it was already noon. So I took a pickup taxi, next to an interestingly built jewelry shop, curiously shaped like a seashell, which promptly took me to the Park near the Municipal Dock. The park was totally enveloped with political posters in protest of the present Bucaram Govt. These posters did not even allow anyone to appreciate the golden land iguana it portrayed. Its curious, when I travel strange things always happen around me. Such as huge thunderstorms in Arizona. This time it was "political" thunderstorms in Ecuador. But here in the Galapagos it was just calm seas.
We saw Duane and Rachel who said they were waiting just for me and we promptly boarded our boat for lunch. On the ride back we could see numerous tourist crafts moored here, such as The Galapagos Adventure. We also saw the Beluga and a French flagged catamaran. Maybe on a cruise from Tahiti? Who knows.
That afternoon (at 2:30 PM) we went ashore again. This time to visit the Sta Cruz Lava Tunnel and the Sta. Cruz Highlands, its famous Tortoise farm and further upland the "scalesia" cloud forest and the twin "pit" craters or Los Gemelos. We boarded the bus and travelled on the well kept double laned road, until we arrived at the Lava Tunnel. We walked for a short distance from the road, until we saw the entrance amidst scattered rocks and boulders.
The Lava Tunnel was created as we were explained by soft basaltic lava gushing through an already solidified hard basaltic lava core. The lava core is all that remains today. Not everyone was fond of caves. My friend Leonard for instance stayed behind at the very entrance and pointed to the stones on the floor. While the rest of the group crammed at the other end, where the sunlight filtered through an opening on the surface. For some it reminded them of Utah, Arizona or New Mexico. But it was a highly rewarding experience. The grooves on the wall were still visible, where all the mass of this rapid flowing lava gushed through. Leaving this empty chamber for all to see.
We slowly and carefully walked out in groups and got back on the bus, which promptly took us to the highlands. Somehow this terrain seemed very familiar, reminiscent of the Chiriqui highlands and farmland (province in Panama, near the Costa Rican border). Red crotons fenced in the plots. An interesting Maranon Curacaou - imported tree with its dazzling pink petals flowered the dark volcanic soil in pink carpets. The road was being paved and heavy equipment was busy at work. The bus stopped momentarily to allow the tractor operator to prepare the terrain for us to continue.
We arrived at the tortoise farm and as we got there a flashy vermillion flycatcher darted past us and poised on a limb for all of us to see. We carefully proceeded near the tree to catch his picture before he busily darted away. We entered the plots, where the land tortoises graze. They graze alongside horses and cattle there, and imported grass is evidently much of their staple. They have adapted well to this source of nutrients. Some persons have even said that the land tortoises at this farm appear to be in much better shape than those at the CDRS. At least they have a much greater area to roam and temperatures here are much cooler than at the coast. So perhaps it could be true. Besides they have a very nice pool to wade through. Sometimes spending entire days submerged in its cool ooze. Its important to state that this tortoise farm farm is privately owned and is outside the 97% perimeter of GNP. But the reason why the giant tortoises are allowed on this farm by the Park Service is because this has always been part of their range, and they have always lived on this farm in coexistence with its other grazing animals. The farm itself represents quite a tourist attraction with hundreds of tourists a day, each representing $2. At the end of the trail, at the house on top of the hill overlooking the valley of Sta. Cruz itself, everyone was treated to delicious beverages and coffee. Tourism could very well be this farmís #1 source of income.
As we left, Dr. Petersen pointed out a tall imported ponciana africanus tree, originating in Africa, widely known everywhere. While we boarded the bus for our final stop, to see the Pit Craters, Los Gemelos and the Scalesia Forest. Scalesia have undergone much specialization in each respective island and there exists up to 20 different species. But the Scalesia Forest in the Transition Zone in Sta. Cruz, that interests us, consists mainly of scalesia pedenculata, which measures up to 20 mts. in height. These are covered with moss and lichen overgrowth.
These were everywhere when we set out to view the Pit Craters. Actually these craters were not created by direct volcanic activity. But actually by caving in of the top layers, leaving these impressive giant "Pit" Craters in sight. It was almost dusk when we crossed the road over to see the second crater. Once again a vermillion flycatcher was busy at work at a nearby brush, while we caught the last glimpse of the huge Pit Crater and the last rays of daylight.
That evening after dinner we went ashore once more, to purchase a few more post cards, T - shirts and books (where I bought the book Floreana by Margaret Wittmer, which unfortunately was not on our trip, but nevertheless good reading). Others went for (including our guide) some beers, dancing and a good time.
February 6, 1997~THURSDAY
Rabida Beach and Bartolome Island
That evening our yacht levied anchor once again at Pto Ayora and Academy Bay, and we were once again off to sea. We were to proceed to Rabida (Jervis) Island, just off the coast of Santiago (James) Island. At a distance the distinct blue outline of the 60 mile volcanically active island of Isabela was visible, which at this point covered most of our western horizon. In fact this was the only time we would ever saw Isabela. Another tour, another time. The first rays of sunlight were shining through when we took our boat, this time for a "wet landing" at Rabida Island. This island was formed from a reddish type of volcanic "tuft". Actually the entire beach consisted of this type of reddish sand which at times resembled a martian landscape
This particular island was populated with opuntia cactus, button mangrove and a dry greyish tree, which is known as busera graveolens or palo santo (or holy tree), which were just beginning to bloom. The origin of this name derives from the practice of making incense from this bark and sap of this tree and its coming to bloom at Christmas time. When burnt it gives of an aromatic and fragrant smell. In fact this particular tree belongs to the family burseraceae, from which myrrh and franckincense are extracted from several species. Such as the well known bursera simaroubae of the tropical rain forest.
Once on the beach, we were greeted by the much familiar entourage of resident sea lions. These were all over the beach. We did notice one though, with a hind flipper missing (perhaps a near encounter with a shark?). Our main objective was to go past the beach, a few meters inland, "over the berm" (limit of tidal waters), into an inner lagoon. Our great expectation, to observe a colony of flamingoes which have been sighted there in the past.
To our dissapointment, there were none at this time. Sea lions were the only creatures making the best use of these warm, soothing waters. Some were teaching their young pups the basics of swimming. While others were rolling about in the soft mush, while still others would peer upwards into the sky, staying inmobile as if to catch the full rays of the sun and givings thanks perhaps to their creator for this great gift of life.
Since we were to tour the inland (and I only had my UW submersible), I asked to get my regular camera in the boat. I patiently waited for the next trip for my camera. When it arrived the group had already started up the trail to a greener portion uphill, of the island. Until we got to a scenic cliff and overhang, which dropped dramatically to the ocean. Next to me was a huge Opuntia cactus and neatly in line for my camera lens, a Darwin finch busily feeding on it, impervious to my presence. I noticed several boobie nesting spots, marine iguanas and sea lions resting on the rocks below, just above the surf.
I returned to the beach where I saw a full array of Galapagos wildlife. Nesting, perched on the rocks next to the beach. So I was going to take a chance with my dry land camera. I knew that as long as I maintained it above my shoulders, above the waterline and away from the splash and surf, it was OK. So I started shooting away at the Galapagos sea gulls, frigate birds on top of some branches, blue footed boobies nesting, perched on top of some rocks. I ventured a little further to find some marine iguanas and finally a Galapagos hawk - what a day!
Since the water was a little over my waistline, I decided to turn back. Maintaining my camera always over my head. When, all of a sudden, I heard a call, an all too familiar "urf" from that very first day getting close to me. This time he was in the water. It was the "beachmaster" closing in on us, and he was quickly approaching our area. But I wasnít going to let him ruin my pictures or my camera by trying to swim away. So I steadfastly held my ground.
Fortunately there were more swimmers in my area, such as Carol and Mary. In this case there was definetely "security in numbers". We patiently waited for the beachmaster to retreat, after making his routine patrol and cautiously forded the rocks until I was finally out of the water and back on the beach, on my own turf. Having stored my prized camera away with its most valuable impressions. Once again I went back in the water, but this time in a more carefree and relaxed mode. There could be 100 beachmasters in the water now. I didnít care. I was going in for the swim!
I waited till our boat arrived and we bid this hospitable beach farewell. Although there were no flamingoes, we could consider it a profitable visit. After levying anchor we were back on board and bound for the most spectacular and colorful part of all our cruise (while the frigate birds were once again escorting us, frantically seeking food off the water). The part we had awaited so much. A visit to Bartolome and its pointed and slightly inclined Pinnacle Rock. Just as a natural tower of Pisa we had previously appreciated it, this volcanic tuft promontory in pictures.
Our guide Miguel had tightly programmed our day to be the most active, strenous and physical day of our entire cruise. After Rabida we were to arrive at Bartolome by noon, have lunch and by 1:00 PM climb up this 600 ft island. By 3:00 PM we were to swim with the penguins under the cool frigid waters off Pinnacle Rock. The only place we could see penguins in our entire cruise. There were other numerous penguin colonies off Isabela and Fernandina Islands. Where they benefit from the full upwelling of the cold and plankton rich Cromwell counter current.
So it was up to the top of the boat, where I could catch all this spectacular scenery. We swiftly cruised by the rocky promontories of Santiago (James) Island. This time I would quickly change rolls and I was ready for action (I had learned my lesson since the dolphins got away off Espaniola Island). Dr. Petersen was also on top. While we observed this jagged shoreline go by, smashed by the emerald green surf. We could picture this immense lava field with its distinct spatter cones, sparsely tinted green and yellow by moss algae and lichens. It was pictures after pictures. Dr. Petersen jokingly referred to me as the "war correspondent" perhaps alluding to this bleak panorama, this bleak moonscape. But as far as moments like this are concerned, just do it!
As soon as the view of this rugged shoreline subsided, Dr Petersen was asking crewmember Nacho if we were going to pass "Sombrero Chino" Island. Affirmative. Just as soon as he had asked, the sight of this peculiarly bell shaped isle appeared on our starboard. All we could hear were the cameras clicking as we slowly cruised by. Then it was back to the dining for lunch. While dining we caught a glimpse of the most rarest of sea gulls, a lava gull perched on our panga. Just as someone exclaimed " one of the most rarest birds in the world and its landed right on our boat". Dr. Petersen and myself took pictures of this most rarest of birds in the world.
To our horizon appeared a string of barren dome shaped isles. If you saw them they could be anywhere in the world, off the coast of Brittain, off the North Sea. You would probably picture them anywhere else for their aspect and barreness. But they were right here in the Galapagos. As we were watching these rocky isles two Galapagos sea gulls alighted on our hand rails off the stern. A sign of good luck and the excellent day it would be for all of us. Everyone was taking pictures now.
Slowly our craft negotiated a rocky bend when Bartolome Island and Pinnacle Rock swept into full view. I caught Pinnacle Rock from every possible angle, at every moment of approximation, this slightly inclined, jutting tower of Pisa of the Natural World. I even caught it framed by the masts of the catamaran we had just seen at Academy Bay the previous day. We finally dropped anchor and prepared disembarkment. Our boat took us directly to the "dock" where our friendly sea lions were always there to greet us and once we landed, we were off for the big climb.
The way up to Bartolomeís peak is sparsely vegetated, considering this terrain to be of recent volcanic origin. The only plants capable of withstanding this rigorous environment are the tiquilia nesciotica, the chamanensis, which is similar to the poinsettia and the lava cactus. With plants insects are always present and we spotted a hardy grasshopper, making his way around this desertlike environment.
The climb to the top was gradual and was facilitated by the construction of wooden stairways. Built in an effort to preserve this mountainous terrain and reduce erosion by foot trails. On the way up several lava flows were visible including one where a huge boulder had carved a furrow on its way down to where it finally rests. Our climb proved to be a valuable lesson in geology. As we climbed higher, several spatter cones sprang into full view with their irregular features. As the last wooden planks were passed, it was one single stride to the top.
On the top, cool breezes would constantly blow in from the sea and we could see the entire bay, Bartolome Island with its two semicircular beaches, ancient vestiges of volcanic cones, and Pinnacle Rock at our feet. I had to make sure my recently acquired Panama hat would not suddenly blow off the summit into this vast azure ocean below us. It is curious to note that both beaches were actually larger eroded craters of spatter cones in the sea. The exact spot where we docked was a circular crater traced by the emerald green waters of the bay.
On the top was a marker and beacon which read the exact longitude, latitude and elevation. This was exactly the northernmost point of our entire cruise. We would not cross the Equator and would always remain within the Southern hemisphere while in the islands. The group posed for group photographs and soon it was time to start our way back down. As we descended I was able to catch the pictures I had not been able to take on the way up. Until finally we were back at sea level, at the dock for our boat ride, a change in apparel in preparation for a "wet landing" off Pinnacle Rock beach.
It was an "off and on" and we were back on the island with all our snorkel gear and "submersible" cameras. We accompanied Miguel through a sandy, well vegetated strip through the island (in fact the only well vegetated strip in the island), watching for sand depressions, indicative of turtle nests. In this sandy tract of land we observed the greatest concentration of vegetation in the entire island. Opuntia cactus made its appearance along with "ice" plants and a particular type of brush, which populated the green tract.
Once we were on the other side our guide pointed to us all the turtles which were nesting or preparing to nest on the island. Some were just "resting" from their long sea journeys. The males, our guide pointed out, would never go on the beach, but would patiently wait for the female, once she was in the water to mate with her. Sometimes two, three or more males would attach themselves to the female, in this frantic struggle to procreate. Our guide also mentioned that some males while copulating would be attacked by the others in an attempt to dislodge them and made easy prey for them. Some would lose flippers in the process. In certain occasions in order to escape her suitors, the female will go back to the beach. Could we also call this "natural" sexual harassment?
Our guide also pointed out that this beach would accumulate much debris from the tides and it wasnít unusual to find plastic and other man made debris in its sands. Once we saw enough we were back to Pinnacle Rock beach and our chance to finnally see our penguins in their natural surroundings. Dr. Petersen was already in the water busily watching these "polar birds" at their chores of fishing squid. Penguins were known to feed on squid and squid were highly swift swimmers. Therefore penguins must be extremely fast swimmers.
As for me I was back in these frigid waters, while we waded through colonies of sardines and parrot fish busily feeding on marine algae. Somehow we werenít able to see any marine iguanas at their feeding activities. As I waded through deeper waters I briefly caught a glimpse, much below me (maybe 40 feet plus) of a reef shark. So I instinctively moved toward my group. Just as fishes, I have learned "security in numbers" (later I would learn that huge schools of hammerheads would cruise through the deep waters of this channel).
While I rounded the rocky bend I caught a rear view of this basaltic "tuft" cone which was Pinnacle Rock. Invisible to my eye at the moment when I took the picture, was a penguin perched high on the rocks. I later observed in the picture, what appeared to be "snow" on the ledges were actually "guano" of the birds, perhaps of the penguins themselves. Actually Pinnacle Rock was full of penguins.
Gradually as I approached the rocky shore my eyes (and my camera too), caught a glimpse of the most extraordinary bird just posing for us. Too bad I reached there late. Dr. Petersen had just informed me that a couple had just been swimming before I got there. But all that I can say was that the remaining 10 pictures in my "submersible" were penguin pictures. I took this incredible creature from all angles and all poses. Once I had finished my picture taking session, Amanda pointed out to us a pair of submerged turtles at their mating activities.
Soon before we knew it, we were back on the beach where we finally boarded our craft. Although before departing, a few of us who didnít get the chance of watching these most photogenic of birds, were given the picture taking cruise by outboard motor. While our "panga" operator skillfully skirted the rocky outcroppings. We got the chance to see more penguins than we thought existed in the area. Perhaps its this element of stealth, which allows them to pass undetected from the human eye. Well anyway the two cycle outboard motor fumes here were very much suffocating us and our feathered hosts alike, and we gladly departed to our mother craft, in what was the most fantastic day of our most fantastic tour.
February 7, 1997~FRIDAY
N. Seymour Island, Baltra, Black Turtle Cove & Ithabaca Straits.
We levied anchor and slowly departed these cool blue waters of Bartolome, on the way to Baltra Island for refueling and North Seymour with its huge frigate bird colony and Black Turtle Cove the next morning. We were so exhausted after this action packed day, that right after dinner and brief evening lecture by our guide and Dr. Petersen, we retired early, to renew our energy while our boat slowly and inexorably plowed the waters South toward North Seymour Island and Black Turtle Cove.
It dawned not far ashore from North Seymour Beach. It was our opportunity to observe firsthand this familiar and opportunistic bird, the frigate bird which had for so long kept us company in long stretches at sea. This time on his own turf, with his characteristic red pouch, typical of the breeding season. Our boat soon disembarked us at the isleís dock, for a dry landing. As usual our accustomed reception committee was present to welcome us. A young sea lion pup, along with a few marine iguanas and of course more blue footed boobies. They now seemed to be everywhere and shared most of the nesting grounds with the frigate birds.
As we were going up the steps, we saw for the first time a male frigate bird with his fully inflated red pouch, fly past us. I readied my camera to zero in while he majestically swept by us. We proceeded along the path while all around us were countless frigate birds all with their colorful red poach display. Unfortunately they were a little too far from our 35 - 75mm conventional lens. So we had to conform to group colony shots. But I still wanted that exceptional shot as I had seen in books and post cards. I didnít have a telephoto lens, but I was going to make the best use of the one I had.
Boobies shared most of the nesting grounds with the frigate birds. Of course the latter occupied the bushes and shrubs. While the boobies had to contend with the bare ground. As we advanced we were able to see a complete frigate family unit. The male along with the nursing female and the youth characterized by whitish down. We had completely crossed the island when we saw an excellent photo-op near the trail. We cautiously approached this colorful male bird to snap his picture. As soon as we were through, we arrived to the beach. While our guide pointed to a blue heron (which sometimes feeds on other species eggs, including marine iguanaís) and cautioned us for the turtle nests along the way.
A little further ahead we encountered another tourist group, composed mostly of Germans, which were busily clicking away at another "prized specimen" (frigate bird). It was so near the trail that the previous guides had drawn a line in the sand, to prevent the spectators from advancing too near the colony and the "prized specimen". I would say it was only a yard away. Our guide had warned us that if the male takes to flight it may not always get the opportunity to mate again, or be able to find another mate.
We could hear all the cameras clicking now. In unison, to take advantage of the fantastic photo opportunity. Telephotos, zooms and macro lenses all zeroeing in on the ocassion. As we were finally departing, our "prized specimen" decided it was enough, and took to the air for a pause after such marathonic photosession.
A little further, we spotted a marine iguana nest. One of the few we were able to see in the Galapagos. Lava lizards were always at the order of the day and we slowly rounded a bend on the trail, next to the familiar Park marker sign. As we approached the docks, Sally Lightfoot crabs were much in display. They are considered to be the reliable cleaners of beaches and feed on much detritus.
We levied anchor once more. This time we were to proceed to Baltra, a small island and US Army outpost in WWII. Presently an Ecuadorian naval facility. Where a few yachts were already refueling. We were to stay on board during the entire procedure. We noticed the yacht "Beluga" (what an interesting name, of an interesting animal, for a yacht), which we had previously seen the day we were at Pto. Ayora. We were next in line and after refueling we were off to Black Turtle Cove.
After lunch our pangas were to make two trips out to this mangrove estuary. A much preferred breeding area for the Carey Turtle. Our panga departed with us on board and as soon as we had skirted a rocky projection of this rugged coastline, we were already in calm peaceful turquoise green waters, bordered by lush exhuberant marshland. We spotted several pelicans along the nested tree tops. Which have made their home there.
As we were slowly moving, we saw a number of carapaces swimming along this lush green paradise. Our guide pointed to a number of turtles almost at the very edge of the marsh. So we turned off our motor and slowly rowed to the vicinity. There we found an aggregation of 7 - 8 males frantically surrounding an overtasked female. Our guide explained that when things get too much for the females, they would attach themselves to the trunks, bark and roots of mangrove trees. In an attempt to escape their suitors.
Slowly our boat started to drift along this calm, tranquil estuary. We caught a glimpse of an eagle ray, while the boat, inexorably drifted along the many confines of this emerald green waterway. We could even call it swamp heaven! So far we donít know of any crocodiles here! After much talk, picturetaking or just plain nature watching and relaxation, we powered our boat out of Black Turtle Cove. So that the next group could get their glimpse of these idyllic surroundings. Definitely for turtles, "turtle heaven" if you could call it that.
On the way out I prepared my camera for 2 to 3 shots of the sharp rugged entrance with boobies perched over the rocks, just for us. Before we were back to the boat, we saw another vessel, much smaller than ours, the "Oberlus", named in honor of that fabled character from the pages of Melville, which inhabited the Galapagos last century.
As soon as the 2nd trip was back, we departed a short distance away to Turtle Cove Beach. This time for a "wet landing". That meant taking our flippers and snorkeling gear with us. But our guide also told us there was a chance for flamingoes. So I also took along my my faithful "Pentax Land Camera". As soon as we hit shore we saw a great abundance of Sally Lightfoot and also "Ghost" crabs. But curiously enough, no sea lions! This was one of the few beaches where we hadnít seen any sea lions. Its curious to know why. I hadnít really cared much for crabs, which I had taken for granted in this entire trip. But this time, I looked again and got the very few good crab shots of the trip. But this when I got back from our walk to the "lagoon".
As we toured the beach, our guide inquired with another fellow guide on the whereabouts of flamingoes. Fortunately he was told there was one solitary one at the marsh not faraway from here. For those who remained behind, the instructions were not to walk inside the beach, over the "berm", to protect the turtle nests, and not to go beyond the beach into the marshland.
So we parted around the bend. As we proceeded we spotted the characteristic turtle tracks leading to their respective nests. Along the way I spotted an iron outcropping portruding from the beach which I thought was an anchor or so. Finally as we approached the end of the trail, carefully over the berm, into this lagoon, similar to the one at Rabida. We got to see for the first time ever in our trip, our first and only flamingoe, busily at dining crustaceans in this subacuatic cuisine.
I donít know if there is a flamingoe season. But apparently this wasnít it. So when there arenít many flamingoes at their accustomed sites. Where do they go? Do they go to the off beaten tracks and places of the island? Where hardly anyone gets to see them? Or do they even travel to the mainland to other settings? Are they besides the almost endemic birds to the Galapagos? Are they really powerful intercontinental flyers such as the albatross or the frigate birds? Besides all of the above, they are truly gracious and elegant aviary specimens, highly photogenic subjects especially in their acuatic settings. So far I had finished my roll and our most honored host was still busy at his dining facility, mirrored in his own reflection.
We parted back toward the beach, to finally get a good dayís swim. On the way back of course I inquired on this metal outcropping projection and was told by our guide that actually this is the tip of a much larger vessel, fully buried by the sands which had marooned it in the past - would it be worth checking it out? We finally went for the big splash, beyond where our friendly crabs play. Water visibility was slightly murky, but still good for fish observation and photography. I pointed out some huge parrot fish among other specimens and puffer fish to Dr. Petersen.
Soon it was time to go and our "panga" promptly picked us up and it was back to the boat once again. Where we quickly showered and changed over. While our vessel levied anchor toward the Ithabaca Straits. This was the channel waterway between Baltra Island and Sta Cruz. Our frigate bird friends promptly escorted us. While our boat slowly distanced itself from the Black Turtle Cove marshland. Slowly we were entering the Ithabaca Straits. From here we could see the docks on Baltra and Sta. Cruz Islands. Which were served by this interinsular ferry. On this precise moment we could watch a plane taking off toward the mainland.
From the mast I found Dr. Petersen along with my frigate bird friends wildly flapping their wings. While toward the West the sun hidden behind a cloud, let through spectacular sunset rays into this cystal clear afternoon. Soon it was dusk, after my late picture taking session of the day. I stepped to the deck below, where our crew had fished their daily morsels for all of us to savor. I noticed they had caught a puffer fish. Which wasnít a very good catch with all its spines. I told Leonard who was also watching. But we thought it wasnít wise to tell our crew about it. Leonard told me they prized this fish even with its spines.
Evening had arrived and so dinner time, as soon as we anchored in this mooring for the night. Which I was told was harboured from the strong waves or heavy currents out at sea. That evening while I listened to a far off Mexican AM station (somehow radio reception is excellent off these ocean waters), I noticed much insect activity near the shipís light mast, including numerous winged ants and one huge red and green Galapagos locust (schistocerca melenocera). Whose ancestor perhaps was another "stray" traveller from afar, maybe caught up in a sand storm from Africa. The next morning we were to head out to the tiny Plazas Islands and Santa Fe or Barrington.
February 8, 1997~SATURDAY
Plaza Island and Santa Fe or Barringtonís Island
During the early morning hours our craft slowly levied anchor while we were still asleep and headed out of Ithabaca Straits and into the open ocean, setting course to the twin Plaza isles. Breakfast was at the standard 7:00 oíclock schedule. Our boat was anchored, "wedged" between the two islands. We were to see North Plaza Island. This was a strictly "dry landing" and it would give us the chance to appreciate the most abundant cactus and sesuvium vegetation. But above all we were to view the unique land iguana for the first time in our entire trip.
As usual our "greeting committee" included our most familiar sea lions. But this time accompanied by our golden land iguanas conelopus subcristatum. Strictly vegetarian they feed exclusively on fallen cactus pads (they are unable to climb) and the plentiful sesuvium. Of which the island is abundant in both.
The island itself is an inclined plane, product of intense uplifting , in contrast to the other islands, volcanic in origin. Gradually sloping out of the water, ending in an abrupt 100 mts. drop into the ocean. Prolific breeding spots for innumerable sea bird species. Including the rare red billed tropic bird with its graceful two prong tail, so exquisite it is considered the "quetzal of the seas", a veritable "bird of paradise".
The cliff itself was densely inhabited mostly by swallow tail sea gulls, marine iguanas, frigate birds, our blue footed boobies again and of course our rare red billed tropic bird. Incidentally we did notice a group of frigate birds giving chase to 2 of these tropic birds. One out to the channel and back and the other out to sea and onto the mainland (Sta.Cruz Island), shrieking as they swept by. These birds are very rare and must compete with other species for breeding space.
The land iguanas were very tame and would even allow you to take their picture "close up", literally inches away. So tame that photographers would literally "poke" their macro lenses right up their puzzled gaze. You could really put the macro to optimal use here. Among all the tamest creatures of the Galapagos, I consider it to be the tamest of all. It may have cost him his survival in some islands. Since it would not budge even in the sight of danger and would even go out and challenge the newly imported predators such as the dog and cat.
The main predominant species, if not the keystone on this island were definetely the local opuntia cactus (a tree like variety which only grows here), and just as red carpets spread throughout the island, the colorful red sesuvium of the Aizoaceae (ice plant) familyas well. On the island finches were visible feeding on the flowers of opuntia cactus. This plant was also shared with the land iguanas. Of course they would have to wait for the pads to fall to the ground, before feeding on them. The cactus flowers were also home to the thrips and ants which also feed on its nectar. It is curious to notice that the rocks and stones on the way down were polished smooth, probably by the sea lions continously using them, and most of the interspaces filled with the unmistakable sea lion refuse.
As soon as I was back on the boat, however, I discovered that my camera would not advance. Therefore Miguel our guide and I realized I probably hadnít taken any pictures of the island. So Miguel in an incredible gesture offered me to briefly tour the island again. To take on film, once again, one of its main attractions, its land iguanas. So I briefly toured the island with Miguel. Where I got our conelophus subcristatus once again. This time in a dining pose with a juicy piece of opuntia cactus. Along the way back I also caught a couple of sea lions including an incredible close up of the beachmaster himself. For this I am once again grateful to our guide.
On the boat I continued my picture taking where I left off. A group of pelicans feeding in these emerald green waters. So I once again zeroed in on my focus and color enhancing polarizing effect and clicked away, until our boat levied anchor and we slowly cruised out of this shallow, tranquil channel between these two "enchanted" islands. We were on the way out to sea, setting course South to Barringtonís (or Sta. Fe) Island.
We were due in Sta. Fe in less than 2 hours. But along the way we sighted a large red fishing net bouy, merrily floating in the open seas, remmant of illegal fishing activities carried out by oulaw trawlers in these protected waters. As soon as our dilligent crew members caught hold of it, and extracted it from the waters, we were on our way to Barringtonís at last.
Sta Fe Island was similar in formation as the Plazas and are considered to be the product of uplifting of the Earthís crust. It was found that when some layers of numerous volcanic chambers that exist in these islands cave in or collapse (for instance the recent sinking of a volcanic crater in Isabela). This would give place to intense uplifting and rising elsewhere. In Sta Fe as well as on Plaza we saw numerous brain coral skeletons, hardly eroded, much above the tide level. Which would lend credence to this fact. Perhaps not very long ago, perhaps only even decades ago.
Our vessel slowly entered this protected natural harbour, where we anchored. The very same cove where pirates centuries ago found "that tranquility which they fiercely denied to every civilized harbour". (Melville p.). There was another boat ( a sailing vessel) already in the cove. It was lunch time again. After lunch we gathered our fins and snorkeling gear. I got a submersible camera from Dr. Petersen. This natural harbour offered us a chance to snorkel in its cool, turpentine waters, with sea lions, sea turtles, and manta rays.
We dipped into the water where we cruised the neighboring shoreline. We observed a great abundance of fish including our much common parrot fish. Which we found feeding in groups, on red algae, which formed on the rocks. Apparently algae was the the predominant form of vegetation in this ecosystem. We could safely consider it the "keystone" species in this harbour. Since almost everything else depended on it in this channel.
Our familiar sea lions were out to greet us this time in great numbers in the water. We could hear from afar the "urfing" of the beachmaster. While the juveniles would dart all about us. Some would even "body surf" like torpedoes in the waves. We went back to the boat, where we proceeded to another portion of the reef and out to the open ocean. From this point we were to make it back to the inland sound or cove.
Along the way we caught a glimpse of the rare moorish idol (seen only occasionally off the Indian Ocean), flanked by the elegant blue dotted damselfish, huge schools of parrot fish and graceful angelfish. But most incredible of all were the eagle rays, as if monarchs, followed about by their royal entourages of symbiotic fishes, while flapping along the sandy bottom.
We were finally back on the boat and back on our yacht. Where we would now prepare for a hike into Sta Fe Island itself. This time for a "semi-wet" landing. That meant keep boots on hand, but prepare to put them on, once youíve splashed through the water. Sea lions were the owners of this island. But not too far away on the trail, we saw our first land iguana. This species differed from that on Plazas Islands. It even received a different genus name conelophus pallidus.
Everyone was taking its picture although it wasnít facing us directly. It was actually ignoring us, giving its back to all of us. Dr. Petersen and myself tried for a better vantage point. We werenít about to give up to this specimenís disdainful attitude. Finally it turned to look at us and that was all we needed. Then it went right back to its juicy cactus pad it was feeding on.
As we walked along the trail, we saw a mockingbird busy at work, manufacturing a makeshift nest from a fallen cactus pad, a truly resourceful bird. It was oblivious to our presence, maybe less than a yard away. We were back on the trail, where we saw the islandís typical finches feeding on cactus flowers and we saw the presence of spiders by their elaborate spiderwebs, next to "palo santo" trees and the tall candelabra cactus plants.
Along the way nearing the end of our trail we saw brain coral skeletons. Indication that this area was not too long ago underwater. As we waited for our boat we posed with the young sea lion pups, before we left shore. That evening I could hear the beachmaster "urfing" and I could tell this was truly Godís gift to the world. I could still hear those familiar "urfs". We promptly levied anchor that evening on the way to Point Pitts, our last day of our tour of these fabled islands.
February 9, 1997~SUNDAY
Punta Pitt, Kickers Rock, Ochoaís Beach and SanCristobal Island
Punta Pitt was the easternmost point of San Cristobal, also named Chatham. This point was named in honor of William Pitt the first Earl of Chatham, and the last leg of our tour. That dawn we could see the towering ramparts of this ancient crater which was Pta. Pitt. After breakfast we were quickly aboard our panga for a "wet landing" at Pta. Pitt beach. The beach itself was occupied by our familiar groups of sea lions, everywhere in the Galapagos. While our marine iguanas were basking in the first rays of dawn on the rocks.
After waiting for the second group to arrive on the boat. We trekked up along the trail, into the island. We observed espino, palo santo, tiquilia nesciotica, opuntia cactus and lava lizards. As I went up the trail I found a skull pertaining to a sea lion. Probably brought up from the beach by someone in the group. Finally we found several red footed boobies nesting along the trees. These are the only boobies capable of nesting in branches. For this they are equipped with a special claw. Although blue footed boobies of course were also visible (they seemed to be everywhere), nesting on the ground, next to trees and were noticeable for their characteristic "whistling" sound. Finches were also seen nesting on the trees along with yellow warblers.
Dramatic island geology was also visible like an open book, with countless layers of succesive eruptions, visible in the the exposed strata. On the way up I "dragged" behind to catch a pair of Red footed boobies from a better vantage point (somehow it was hard to catch their "red feet" once they were on a branch). Further along I was able to view finches feeding on the berries of the "nolana" tree. They were also feeding on a "sesuvium" type bush (Aizoaceae family). Red sesuvium such as the kind we saw at Plazas Island, was in much prominence at the end of the trail near the cliff.
On the way back a galapagos snake was seen hiding under a rock. Non poisonous, they are known to prey on lava lizards. We saw another pair of red footed boobies. But on the way down I heard alarming shrieks from the boobies and thought something was wrong. But actually it was the red footed boobie mating ritual, initiated with a loud shrill by the male. Finches were seen feeding on more palo santo and dragonflies were seen predating on other insects, particularly smaller flies. I tried to take their picture but to no avail, they simply wouldnít stay still. Cowebs were indication of spiders. This seemingly arid island was teeming with life.
After levying anchor we resumed cruising and passed by some spatter cones on the isle, as on James. We passed under the shadow of the enormous Cerro El Brujo. Where we caught a glimpse of a small outboard motor boat, darting in and out of its rugged shoreline. Finally we came upon "El Leon Dormido" or "sleeping lion". Which was the Kickers Rock we had viewed from the airplane. But now it was upon us. But as we were rapidly approaching it we witnessed an event fresh from the pages of Melville. An incredible show where all kinds of seashore bird were taking part: boobies, pelicans, frigate birds, petrels, all plunging into the water, by the hundreds, into this vast, slowly moving school of fish, in a frantic feeding frenzy. We had arrived to a place called Creation.
We circled the steep, narrow chasm between the rock. At each pass the boat would sound its horn. We circled the rock twice, passing through this narrow channel surrounded by the lofty, towering walls of volcanic "tuff"and finally out into the open ocean. In the process we observed "bright red points" on the cliff. Which turned out to be the frigate birds nesting there. Slowly Kickerís Rock dissipated in the distance.
We continued for about a half an hour and arrived to Ochoa beach. At once we dropped into this cool water, snorkeling all the way to the shore. Along the way we saw more manta rays, schools of fish. Also there were plentiful red algae on which all these would feed on. But like every where else there were the unmistakable Parrot fish, accompanied by the humped Carpenter fish.
As soon as we got on the beach, a solitary sea lion greeted us. Then she retired to her own private lagoon behind the berm. Soon we got involved in a friendly beach soccer match. Then before you knew it, it was time to go. So I quickly donned my snorkeling gear and was off to the boat. While the panga was busy ferrying out a few of us back.
On the way back, I got to see a few more rays and sea cucumbers. But curiously enough a giant ball of fish. This "school" was so packed together it took me quite a while to swim through it, before I could get back on the boat. It was like literally swimming through a "cloud of fish".
Like if all good things have to end, from here it was finally back to where we started this journey, almost seven days ago, to our craftís mother port, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. On the way into the port, I quickly spotted, in one of those rare moments a sea lion on board a yellow panga, basking in this emerald green bay. I quickly zeroed in on the action scene. However Laura was quick to point out the "spikes" on several boats to deter sea lions from boarding them and I remembered the deep gash wounds on that beachmaster the first day.
That evening we went on shore to shop and explore the town. We visited several shops and grocery stores. Where we bought the most delicious dairy delicatessen, white cheese just like in Chiriqui (province in Panama near the Costa Rican border). Then we visited the park. Where we cruised by a crowd of young girls, practicing the latest dance steps in the parkís musical dome.
We saw several goats in vacant lots. Perhaps an efficient and inexpensive way of trimming the lawns. Of course, these were well tied up. But we also saw plentiful loose dogs and cats. Among manís other domestic animals and "best friends". Which could prove to be the most damaging feral animals in the Galapagos ecosystem.
February 10, 1997~MONDAY
Pt. Baquerizo Moreno, El Progreso, Departure.
This last day on the Galapagos was spent packing our gear, on board (and shopping in town). But it was also spent travelling on a bus, in a short brief trip to a small village in the highlands named "El Progreso" (originally a prison colony in the 1800ís). But before we cruised through the town. We accompanied Omar to the local bank, which unfortunately was closed for Carnivals. But we were much surprised to find a sea lion guarding its entrance. Taking advantage of course of the shade.
We had another walk to the park and back to board our bus to the highlands. The area definitely was not included in the 97% National Park Area. We saw human presence everywhere. We saw houses, cultivated plots, we even saw coffee and banana plants interspersed with native plant varieties. We finally after several kilometers, reached a vantage point, along the dirt road, next to an abandoned radio tower. There our bus had to manuever beneath the last house, to circle back into town. Perhaps this wasnít the highest point in the island. But at least it was a place, where we could view the surrounding highlands, the port and the sea below.
The first animal we saw was a mule grazing on the side of the fence. Meanwhile I observed a castor bean plant, from which castor oil is extracted. Otherwise the plant is highly poisonous. I had previously seen it the day before, at the edge of the park. The dilligent finches were every where at their polinization tasks. On the way down the road, we saw familiar imported plants, such as "El Maje". I donít know how it is called here. But it is useful in securing and rooting loose slopes in road building. We also saw of course the familiar Papaya plant, which has become a staple fruit here.
Suddenly, a pig made its noisy appearance beneath some shrubs, and we caught a glimse of a small goat, which had entangled itself with its own rope. While he mischievously looked at us, then went on its usual business of grazing. Both of these animals in feral conditions are highly destructive. Pigs are known to uproot and destroy eggs and nests. Goats in the islands have been a problem. Since they totally deplete the area of vegetation. Coupled with their high reproductive rate they outcompete the islandís most important endemic species, its land tortoises. But instead of having them in feral conditions and loose all over the park. Persons are urged to adopt them and keep them under control.
Dogs of course were abundant in every household and street corner. We observed an office for agricultural assistance. Since farmers on the isle are urged to be self-sufficient and support the rest of the local population in the area, in a sustainable development scheme. We also viewed the local church. After a stop at a local store for refreshments, we boarded the bus. But when we were about to leave, two local inhabitants "volunteered" to help the driver "remove a stone", which had lodged itself between the two rear tires. They also "helped" themselves aboard the bus on the way back to Pto. Baquerizo Moreno. Maybe they had this free trip in mind all along.
As we were on the way down, we viewed purple burgundy crotons used as natural fencesand other familiar varieties. But along the palo santo arid area, along the road however, I caught a glimpse of a frigate bird and a red footed boobie sharing the same bush, much to the incredulity of our guide. But I definitely know what I saw and based that these are the Galapagos. I t would not be strange to find these birds within populated areas or at their fringes.
Since these creatures cannot distinguish man made boundaries. It is a gradual overlapping which takes place here. Just as there are sea lions in the middle of Pto. Baquerizo Moreno or Darwin finches in agricultural areas, or yellow warblers even in the midst of plastic litter and refuse of the port, or vermillion flycatchers in the farming sector. I would not be surprised to find a greater number of sea birds nesting in this vicinity. Since I could not stop the bus to verify this. I would only urge Miguel and others to confirm whether they get to see any more of these birds nesting in this area.
We finally arrived to Port and soon we were back on board for lunch, in what had been our home for seven days, the final farewell and the "tipping" of our crew. As I walked along the roofed "leviathan" dock. A sea lion bid its familiar "urf" farewell to me and once again dipped into these cool waters of these enchanted isles.~The End
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