Nothing could compare to the magnificence of my favourite day on Espanola, but I did feel that North Seymour Island was a fitting end to what had been a mind-blowingly brilliant week of my life. That morning we were yet again treated to a new and wonderful spectacle: that of the male frigate birds doing their magnificent red breasted display for the ladies. I had of course seen these birds (sans puffed up neck) the very first day, and also from afar as they sat on another boat in the bay at Santa Cruz Island. But being able to watch up close and hear these birds as they blew up their necks into massive bright red balloons was really cool. The rest of the island was just a very pleasant stroll through some of the creatures we had all grown to love over the last few days – blue footed boobies, land iguanas and of course the ever gorgeous sea lions and their pups. A perfect finish to a perfect week.
This was to be our last full day in the Galapagos Islands but it was to be a great day in that we got to experience a number of new sights that we had not enjoyed the rest of the week.
Before we had even got off the boat some of the people on our tour had the fortune to see a pod of killer whales. Damien and I were otherwise ensconced and missed out. This was a bummer but I hoped that they may appear again at some point.
We all boarded the dinghy for the ride across to Bartolome Island. The purpose of this island visit was primarily to see the geology of the island itself. The Galapagos still has a number of active volcanoes in the area and this island offered us the opportunity to check out the terrain that the lava has created. It was an extremely barren landscape but the island was quite beautiful despite its stark appearance. We climbed all the way to the top of one of the highest peaks where we were afforded excellent 360 degree views. While we were at the summit I happened to see something in the water below and instantly got excited as it looked like whales. I asked Damien for his binoculars and sure enough, it was the killer whale pod! Soon everyone was leaning over the bannisters to watch as the pod made its way around the island. In not too long a time, there was a small group of dinghies from the other tour boats in hot pursuit of the pod, which was a bit of a shame as the whales opted to go under water and disappeared out of sight.
That was one thing that was a feature of our last couple of days – other tourists. Prior to the changeover day (when we got some new passengers on our boat), we had been spoilt as except for one time, we had not seen another boat or group of humans. The solitary existence of the Yate Darwin and its passengers had the lovely effect of really making it feel as if it was just us and the creatures of the Galapagos. I guess that is one of the bonuses of travelling in the low season. I should add here that the low season has cooler weather and a bit more cloudy days, and apparently the rough seas we experienced on a few nights is also a feature of the low season. However, I for one felt that it was still a great time of year to be there as we got to see so many baby sea lions (and albatross, boobies etc) which we would not have done if we had come at another time of year.
I am certain that any time of year is a splendid time to go and affords unique sights to see. With that in mind I have to say that I am very much hoping we will return in the years to come to witness what other seasons have to offer. Damien and I have talked about this a lot so I am sure it will be so!
We were able to participate in two snorkelling sessions this particular day, but as the water was especially cold this day I only went out the once. In comparison to some of my other snorkelling days I thought this was not quite as impressive. What I enjoyed the most was the abundance of large and brightly coloured star fish on the ocean floor. I bailed early this snorkelling trip and so did a few others due to the cold.
The other creature feature of the day was seeing penguins. I saw one little fella jump off a rock and shoot through the water and then another group taking a break on the rocks.
In the afternoon we were treated to another interesting geological spectacle. We walked across hundreds of metres of desolate black lava flow that apparently is only about 100 years old. It was quite fascinating to see and Daniel went into great detail explaining the different formations we could see.
As this was our last full day, that evening the crew donned their white uniforms and we all shared a cocktail and I am sure a mutual reflection on what an amazing adventure the last week had been.
The Galapagos Islands Tuesday 2 October 2012 Isla Santiago: Puerto Egas AM – Playa Espumilla/ Caleta Bucanero PM
Today we commenced our time on Santiago Island by walking along the coast to a point where it is possible to see seals. There were the usual supply of iguanas, Sally Lightfoot crabs along the way as well as sea lions and turtles in the water. But for whatever reason it did not seem to wow me quite as much as previous days, and I do recall thinking that I was glad that we had been here for the first half of the trip as the new people had missed out on some rather spectacular days. Nonetheless, despite my blasé attitude that morning we were treated to a seal sighting. One lone seal but it was good just the same.
In the afternoon there was more snorkelling to be had and I was lucky to see lots of interesting creatures – turtles, sea lions, sharks and sting rays. I had bought a disposable underwater camera on Santa Cruz the day before so I was happy to be able to take some shots of my own. It was a little frustrating for me to have seen so many amazing aquatic sights at close quarters the past few days and not be able to capture the memories for posterity. I have yet to get the photos developed so I have no idea if they are crap or not! However, we were with a great group of people on this tour and we have all exchanged details so we can share photos, so I can at least keep some snaps from the others for myself.
In the afternoon our captain, Augustin, let our boat slowly cruise past some impressive island coastline. We were advised that two of the rock formations were “The Bishop” and “The Elephant” with a little bit of imagination you could see how they came to acquire these names.
The Galapagos Islands Monday 1 October 2012 Isla Santa Cruz: Tortoise Reserve AM Crater Gemelos Highlands PM
It turns out this day was entirely on Santa Cruz. It was a 6am start for breakfast, then early to the tortoise breeding centre. We saw dozens of tortoises ranging from weeks old to over 100 years old. We saw Lonesome George’s enclosure, who died earlier this year. He was the last surviving tortoise from Pinta Island.
After we said our goodbyes to those who were leaving for the airport, we walked into the town. There we spied a very tempting group of lobsters at the open fish market and it wasn’t long before we were scheming to buy ourselves some for lunch. Mel, Jo, Damien and I each bought a whole lobster. They were $20 each but the very generous fisherman sold them to us for $15 as we purchased four. There were big smiles all round!
We spent the next couple of hours souvenir shopping, buying some Chilean chardonnay to go with our lunch. Damien and I enjoyed a couple of Coronas as we tuned back into the world again at the internet café. It did feel slightly weird being back in “civilisation” after days at sea with just us and the creatures of the Galapagos. I really did feel like my little Galapagos bubble had been burst when we awoke to the sights and sounds of human beings that morning. Anyway, it was fortuitous that we spent some time interneting, as Damien read a story about and Aussie and an Pommie who had been kidnapped by paramilitaries in the nature reserve in a part of the Eucadorian Amazon (Cuyabeno) that we were planning on going to. This coupled with the fact that the girl at the South American Explorers Club told us of a similar kidnapping in the area 5 years earlier made us decide that it may be safer to go to the Amazon in Peru instead.
Back on board we enjoyed a couple more beers in the glorious sunshine out on the front deck of the boat. Mel and Jo joined us and it is fair to say we were all feeling quite merry at the prospect of our lobster lunch! We were all stoked to spy the magnificent frigate birds on a nearby boat, their red necks puffed out and on display. I now know that these are the same species of bird that I saw flying above the boat on our first day in the Galapagos.
We enjoyed our sumptuous feed of garlic lobster and I dare say there were a few envious eyes (and stomachs) on the boat! After lunch we went back on land to get more supplies but didn’t make it back in time before the next activity. Thus we were whisked away to walk amongst giant wild tortoises about 45 minutes inland.