The Galapagos Islands 29 September 2012 Isla Espanola: Gardner/Isole Gardner/Isole Osborn AM – Punta Suarez PM

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If today can be beaten then I will be blown away! Quite simply today has been a total sensory overload. Words and photos will simply be insufficient to describe how absolutely magnificent the sights and experiences we have seen. Everyone here has felt the same way. Every time I look up from typing someone is shaking their head side to side and exclaiming something along the lines of “Wow. What a day. It was extraordinary!” We are all grinning from ear to ear. Though I should mention that a few very unlucky souls have been off colour today and missed out on some of the sights. I will try and moderate my exuberance around them so they don’t feel too bad!

To kick off we spent the morning on the pristine and uber-soft sand of Gardner Beach. We spent a luxurious hour and a half photographing sea lions and swimming and frolicking with them in the shore breakers. They were such a hoot to watch as they lolled around the edge of the surf, literally rollng up the each with the waves, not a care in the world. I have actually decided the old well-used saying of, “It’s a dog’s life” will have to be henceforth modified by me to ”It’s a sea lion’s life!”

We have seen today however, as with all things to do with nature, not all sea lions lives have a happy ending. There was one poor little fellow alone on the beach, but just days old and obviously abandoned by its mum. It was from time to time feebly trying to move down the beach but it was clearly very weak and would most likely die.

On to happy things however… next stop was Isole Gardner. Ciaran summed it up when he said, “This has been the most amazing experience of my life”. We were taken out in the dingy and dropped off near the cliffs of the island where they met the sea. The sea sponges and grasses that were growing all over the rocks under water were the most lovely of aquatic gardens. The plants came in a beautiful collage of dusty pastels such as moss green and pretty mauves and pinks. Here and there were scatterings of vibrant yellow and orange. And of course there was a pleasing array of fish floating about. But the real show stopper was the juvenile sea lions we got to snorkel with. What a privilege to swim with these graceful and playful mammals. I feel truly blessed to have had such a unique experience.

These young-uns simply loved our company and would twist and turn around us or gently float right beside you like they were your friend. I especially loved when they would turn upside down and glide right up to your face (only a few centimetres away) and just stare into your eyes… for what seemed like forever. They were obviously as curious about us as we were them. I deliberately did not try to touch them, though the temptation was great, but inadvertently they would sometimes brush my face with their whiskers as they stared into my face, or touch me with their flippers as they swam by.

There was one particular teenager who seemed to delight in floating up to you and staring into your face with his big brown eyes only to scare the bejesus out of you by barking at you underwater, bearing menacing teeth and blowing a mass of bubbles in your face before swiftly spinning around and darting off into the depths. I suspect it was this naughty character who also bit me whilst I unsuspectingly had my head above water. Fortunately it was merely a play bite and I only received a few grazes.

I could have stayed with them for hours. I was getting rather cold towards the end but this was one occasion where getting out due to being a bit on the nippy side was out of the question. Eventually our guide came and retrieved us from the water and made the call for us!

Now for the afternoon. Here I think I shall quote Daniel, our guide, from his previous night’s briefing: “If you do not see at least five different species all in the one place within the first 30 seconds of landing on the island, I will be surprised”. The sheer variety of creatures on this island and the volume of each that we witnessed was staggering. I am confident that I have already forgotten something. We saw sea lions and their week old pups, snakes, iguanas, blue footed boobies, lizards, finches, albatrosses, turtles and ……..

At the end as we walked through a postcard-worthy landscape complete with a beautiful rainbow (of course), I remarked to Damien that it was like we just walked through a two and a half hour documentary. If you watch a doco you usually assume that the footage has been gathered meticulously over many months, and painstakingly captured by waiting for those “one off” moments. Well, the Galapagos just isn’t that kind of documentary quite frankly. The sights are so consistently regular that I reckon even the most amateur of photographers would come away with an album the envy of many a professional.

The animals, reptiles and birds simply are not afraid of you, and it’s almost as if you are not there most of the time or conversely on occasion, the source of curiosity, not fear. They are so prolific on this island that you have to really mind your step lest you land on a spitting iguana!

One of the highlights of this particular stellar day for me was the albatross. To watch these graceful avian giants stumble somewhat clumsily as they waddle along is indeed a curiously entertaining spectacle. But nothing prepared me for my own little David Attenborough moments as we watched young albatross practice the art of courtship. It was endlessly fascinating to me. They were like two duelling fencers. They would often raise their long slender beaks into the air and make a small trumpet sound before briefly bowing to each other prior to commencing in earnest their yellow beaked duel. Gold. I loved it! We all loved it and I am going to stop now so I can actually sit here with the rest of my fellow peeps and sit back and fully digest how magnificent a day it was.

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