By Michael Carignan
On our first full day in the Galapagos Islands all those in our tour group gathered in the lobby area of the hotel, which is really an open covered area with a feel of being in the midst of nature. Once all 28 members of our group were assembled we began the trek to the dock and the water taxi to take us back into town where a bus awaited us. We boarded the bus and traveled to the north end of the island where our boats were waiting for us.
Our destination for the day was North Seymour Island and our guide, Mario, explained it was much quicker, by about two hours one-way, to drive to the boats there rather than board the boats at our hotel and cruise to our destination.
Along the route we passed an occasional tortoise along the road. Thankfully they weren’t in the road because I sure wouldn’t want to hit one, for various reasons.
Two boats awaited us and our group was split into two groups of 14. We took the pangas or zodiacs (small rubber boats that hold up to 20 people) from the dock to the boats and off we went. Our cruise lasted about an hour. Upon arrival we joined back up with the others and were given the option of either a longer, two-kilometer hike over rough, rocky terrain or a shorter, one kilometer hike with only a few rocks at the beginning and then solid ground or sand the remainder of the way. We were promised to see the same creatures on either route and would not be short-changed. Eight of us, including me and Dawn, chose the short route.
For the short trip were had a different naturalist guide, Valerio Repetto. I cannot say enough good things about this man. He was a wealth of knowledge and took me under his wing and went the extra mile in looking out for me. It was much appreciated.
By the time we started our trek, temperatures were in the low to mid 90s with fairly high humidity. Valerio said the high humidity was not characteristic of this time of year but said they were having more rain than usual as well.
From the very start of our walk we encountered wildlife. There was a pair of Galapagos doves doing a mating dance not 10 feet away from us. Next we discovered a lava lizard that was missing part of its tail. And then there was a male and female swallow-tailed gull with a baby, also only a few feet away. The swallow-tailed gull is the only gull in the world that feeds at night. They do so to avoid competition for food.
As we walk we learned about the flora as well.
Valerio pointed out numerous birds soaring in circles over the island. He said they were female frigate birds and it was mating season. The male frigate birds remained on the ground and build three to four nests each. When they are ready, the males inflate a very colorful, orange wind sack on the front of their necks and chest in an attempt to attract a mate. When the female spots a male she thinks she may want to mate with she goes down to him. But as Valerio pointed out she is more interested in the nests than the male bird. If he has built a suitable nest then she sits on it and eventually they mate. If she doesn’t like any of the nests she resumes her flight.
We reached an area where numerous males had built nests. I would guess there were 50 or more and they would take turns inflating their orange chests. Occasionally a female would come down. We were able to get within a few feet of some of them.
With all the rain the island had had there was a shallow pond in one spot and both males and females would fly over the pond and dip down into the water as they flew for a drink.
In another spot some sea lion pups were playing in the surf.
We eventually met up with the other group, many of whom had wished they had taken the shorter route because of the heat and the rough terrain.
We got back in our zodiacs and cruised along the rocky coast for a ways. We encountered a mother seas lion with a pup hauled out on some rocks and got within six feet of her. We also came within 10 feet of some blue-footed boobies perched on the rocks. Boobies are one of the birds the Galapagos are most noted for.
Back on our boats, some of the group suited up to go snorkeling. Dawn and I decided not to, mainly because they were going off the zodiacs, which did not have a good ladder for getting back into them. We hung out on the deck and took in the scenery.
When they returned, the boats took off for a beach not far away. Behind the main dune of the beach a small freshwater lake was dotted with flamingoes. Not native to the Galapagos they are believed to have been abandoned when young by their parents as they traveled through en route back to the Caribbean. The young survived and maintain a small flock.
The walking path on the beach was very restricted to protect sea turtle eggs that were buried in the sand. We didn’t see any sea turtles but were given time to go snorkeling off the beach and saw a variety of fish.
Then we headed back home.
The next day started much the same as the first and soon we were again aboard our boats this time headed for Plaza Island.
Before arriving there we were given another opportunity to go snorkeling. Some again went in the zodiac but Dawn and I went off the back of our boat, which was anchored near a rocky shoreline. The water temperature was very comfortable and we saw many different species of fish and rays, more even than what the others saw that went in the zodiacs. Dawn had purchased an underwater camera and this was a first experience for both of us on taking pictures under water. It wasn’t a real successful venture but it was also far from being a total loss.
Plaza Island is very small at just a kilometer long and half a kilometer wide.
At the docking area there were upwards of 30 sea lion pups. Some were swimming, some were hauled out and some were hiding under the rocks to stay cool. They could care less if we were there or not and seemed at times to actively pose for the camera. Getting within three feet of them was no problem.
After numerous photos again we split into two groups with one group taking a longer more strenuous hike and the others a shorter one but seeing all the same things. This time we had a few more people in our shorter tour. As we were beginning our hike, a grown male sea lion came by and let out a bellow to tell us to stay away from his pups. The males can grow to 600 pounds.
The island was abundantly covered with prickly pear cactus, which grow into tree size plants. Valerio pointed out that the cactus on this island hand long spines on them. He explained that in some parts of the islands they do not. It was a matter of whether land iguanas lived on the island. The land iguanas like to munch on the prickly pear leaves so the cactus tries to deter them with the spines.
There were many land iguanas on Plaza Island. They were considerably larger than the marine iguanas and were yellowish-brown in color. Again they found humans to be of no concern and you could walk right up to them without fear on either species’ part. It was also common to see a land iguana up in some of the small trees growing on the island.
After our hike we boarded the boats again and this time cruised back to Puerto Ayora, which was about two hours away.
When we arrived back in the bay a large ocean liner was anchored in the deeper waters. The ship was the National Geographic Explorer. Back in our hotel room, the view from our deck looked directly at the ship. When we got up in the morning it had already weighed anchor and sailed off.
The following day we were to go to the Charles Darwin Research Center for a short visit and then have the day free. We chose not to go to the center as we were having some gastrointestinal issues. Instead we stayed at the hotel and went snorkeling a couple of more times out in Finch Bay. Dawn has decided snorkeling is wonderful and is now planning more trips that include snorkeling.
After a very relaxing day it was time to leave. The next morning we flew back to Quito and enjoyed an afternoon and evening there. The following morning we reluctantly began our trip home.
I for one would highly recommend a trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands but unless you speak fluent Spanish be sure to consider a tour group. It was wonderful.