Monday, February 28, 2011

Galapagos Day 3: Cerro Dragon Hill, Santa Cruz Island, and Rabida Island

I hope it's not totally obnoxious and a picture overload to be posting by day, but it makes it so much easier for me to write it all down and organize it so I don't forget. I'm already starting to struggle to recall the islands, or what we did on what day, and having them broken out like this satisfies the "I'd like to use my blog as a way to document my life so I can remember things" aspect of why I blog. I have to say that this was hands down my favorite day of the cruise. From the perfect weather to the great variety of activities to the random interactions with the animals I could have gone home at the end of day three perfectly satisfied.

Our morning excursion was a hike up Cerro Dragon Hill, the only place where we could see the huge land iguanas. This is an example of our dry landings. Just rev the motor, throw a towel on the slippery rocks, and scramble out quick. No one fell the entire time, which was really surprising to me. I was expecting to totally eat it one day, but the Galapagos Tourist Gods were watching out for me.
This part of Santa Cruz island had run of the mill beige-y sand and lots of lava formations around the perimeter...
but the interior was really lush, with some of the most dense plant and tree cover we'd seen so far.
We started what would be about a two hour hike at this lake. The on ship doctor came with our group of 9, and our guide later told us that usually at least one person has heat stroke. I was, once again, grateful for, instead of disappointed by, the mild cloud cover. Because it was still hot and steamy.
It had rained the entire night before, and the iron rich deposits in the dirt made all the puddles along the trail orange.
And, of course, the rain also made it a bit muddy.
We hiked a circuit, taking the right half of the trail around the island and up to the top of the hill. Then, we hiked down the other side of the hill, took the left half of the trail around the island, and eventually we would end up at a beach. Our guide that day was Gilda, and we were seeing land iguanas everywhere.
She said sometimes you only see one, maybe two, but we saw 11 if I recall correctly. They looked much more attractive than the marine iguanas, if only because  they were bigger and plumper and had more colors.
It wasn't all land iguanas, all the time- the cotton flowers were blooming all along the trail.
This guy is known around the islands amongst the guides- they call him Grandpa. Apparently they need to trap him to test that creepsauce mcnasty pants finger tumor he's rockin'. Literally as soon as she finished telling us about Grandpa, this guy strolls nonchalantly on the scene. Sometimes I thought they had the islands rigged with such creepy timing.
This is the view from the top of the hill- it looks kind of underwhelming, but we were pretty high and could see for miles.

This is the view of the island from the top of the hill- all of that green expanse behind Bobby's parents is a really dense forest of trees. They smelled so good to me. I think it's because we hadn't been around many trees on the islands and I missed that dense foresty smell.
Once we finished the hike we went for a swim. Marine iguanas decided to join us. They were jealous the land iguanas were getting all the attention I'm sure.
Beautiful day. There were only 9 people in our group and we had the whole place to ourselves, it felt a bit like "The Beach", haha.
On the way out more marine iguanas bid us farewell.
GRRR! He totally hates me I'm sure. I'm a 10 year old boy around the iguanas...
Here is my absolute favorite part of my favorite day. Rabida Island. After we left Santa Cruz, we sailed over to Rabida during lunch and our after lunch break. I had read about Rabida Island being one of the most beautiful, one of the best spots to snorkel, and specifically, home to the highest concentrations of sea lions. We had a wet landing, dried off our feet, put on our shoes, and headed off for a hike.
I loved the deep red sand contrasting with all the green of the cacti.
There were about 10 sea lions hanging out on shore, with about 5 little sea lion puppies. The puppies would follow you.. it was so hard not to pet one!
The trail we hiked around the island on with Gilda.
I think this is a fabulous picture of Bobby and his parents. One of our friends called it "Bob 1.0 and Bob 2.0" haha.

Our ever present friends...
After the hike, we headed back to the beach to be assaulted with more adorable creatures while we suited up to snorkel.
The water was so clear, and it was teeming with fish and animals in it, above it, and diving into it.
Another ray.
That. Is. A. Bird. And this is one of the best shots we got on the trip, props to Bobby. The blue footed boobies were diving for fish all around us- about 10 to 15 of them were fishing. They would dive into the water, snatch up a fish, and the shoot back up out of the water. It was amazing to be within a few feet of them as they did it.
Another boobie, like a little silver bullet.
While the boobies were diving all around us, the sea lions showed up to play.
My flippers and a sea lion coming up to inspect me.
We played for a while, but once he started taking me to close to the shore I backed off. They are gentle and fun in the water, because they have no fear of you since you are clearly a big, bumbling oaf. But a man on a previous Eclipse tour made the mistake of stepping over one on land. It became frightened by the power difference in size, and the it reached out and chomped his entire calf muscle off. So, yeah, I played with them in the water but there was a healthy respect there. I like my calf muscle :)
This shot is a bit blurry due to water on the lens, but the boobies were resting on the cliffs all around us between dives. Those goofy birds made me laugh every time with their feet, regardless of how impressive they were in the water.

Once we wrapped up snorkeling, we headed back to the ship on the panga. On the way there, our ever watchful guides spotted dolphins, so we tracked a wide circle to follow them. You can only see one in this picture, but shortly thereafter we saw about 5-7. Eventually they started racing the panga, and as I was up front I could lean over and see 3 of them cutting through the water. They were so close that I could have reached out and stroked their backs. I'm not a dolphin fanatic, but I respect them and think they're incredibly clever. After watching The Cove I don't know that I could ever, with a clear conscience, patronize any swim with the dolphins type businesses, so this may have been the closest I'll ever get to a "dolphin experience", which made me even more grateful that they showed up that day. As cheesy as it sounds, it was all of the interactions with such amazing creatures that made me love Rabida so much.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Galapagos Day 2: Puerto Egas, Santiago Island and Pinnacle Rock, Bartolome Island

Day 2 was our first full day on board, and most days followed the same general schedule, with various revolving activities. We received a wake-up announcement over the loudspeaker, then ate breakfast, and then we were heading to our first excursion of the day by 8 a.m. Most days we would do at least one, usually two hikes, in addition to one of the following- kayaking, snorkeling, or a panga ride for inaccessible areas. The activities ranged from one hour to three hours, and I swear the Eclipse staff had the spacing down to a science. We would do our first excursion around 8 a.m., and if it was a three hour trip we'd come back and have a bit of a rest before lunch, if it was shorter we'd do two excursions before lunch. After lunch we always had about two hours of leisure time- we usually spent this taking showers and naps, or lounging on the deck- and then in the afternoon there would be one or two excursions. We'd be back at the boat around 4, and they would have an afternoon snack waiting for us in reception (the fried plaintains and hot chocolate were my favorite!). Then, we'd usually shower again, maybe take another nap- we were very active, and got up at 6:45 each morning- before heading to the conference room for a de-briefing at 7:30 p.m. We'd go over the next day's activities- each time slot had two options, which meant that sometimes there would only be 6 people in your hiking group, which was awesome- one of the two guides would give a short informative talk, we'd all (minus me) have a drink, and then we'd have dinner at 8. After that we'd roam around the deck visiting, but most nights we were sound asleep by 10:30. I loved the perfect balance of super active, intense physical activity, and delicious, lazy, leisure time and fabulous food.

The morning of day 2 we headed to Puerto Egas, on Santiago Island, for a long hike.
It was actually kind of drizzling when we first landed, but I found that the weather really amplified the "mood" of Santiago. Every island was so completely different. The first day was stereotypical white sand/blue water, but Santiago had fine black sand and was covered in smooth swirly lava formations. This guy was a welcome party of one when we landed.
This picture perfectly captures Santiago island to me. I really liked the look of it.
There were lots of sea lions hanging around (my favorite part of the trip was all the sea lions in such close proximity).
Babies left behind while their mothers are fishing. They were so cute. No matter how many I saw, it never got old. Our guide for the day was Gilda, and she has been a Naturalist Guide for 15 years, yet even she would coo at them when she saw them. The cuteness never wears off.
All of the islands had vastly different plant life as well- Santiago had lots of these scruffy red plants, which looked really beautiful against the swirly black lava.
There was also a ton of very bright green vines. I thought this island looked like The Land Before Time.
Marine iguanas- they are much more colorful than normal here because it was the tail end of mating season.
Oh to be a sea lion.
The patterns in the lava swirls were so interesting to me.

Hot tub, bachelor style. Their smug expressions are perfect.
See what I mean about the Land Before Time?

This little sea lion pup nestled here at high tide, and then when the tide went out it was stranded. No better way to kill time than to nap, right?
Another shot of the natural bridge- this is where we saw our first sea turtle.
There are lots of cacti on the islands- it was surprising to me to see water and sand, and then a clump of cacti.
What a sleazeball! Check out that epic lecherous wink.
Indifference between the animals abounds. Sea lions and marine iguanas basically act like they are unaware of the existence of one another. Same with the crabs.

After our hike, it was time to snorkel. I'd never snorkeled before, or worn a wet suit, and it was awkward.
Gilda told me to leave my socks on so my flippers didn't fall off. I was wearing kids' size flippers but they were still too wide. So I'm not being a goober newbie, I was just following orders.
Awww, who's handsome in his wet suit??
I tried out a dive, and it wasn't as scary as I thought it would be. The only downside is that the mask didn't allow me to pinch my nose and blow out the pressure in my ears, so I ended up with an earache afterward. Thank goodness for the free on ship doctor. He fixed me right up.
Eagle ray- there was another ray, but we didn't get a picture of it.
First sea turtle spotting during snorkeling.
These fish were all around me, but it was hard to capture them all on film. This guy will have to be a representative for his comrades.
A little reef shark. A bit blurry since he was so far below me- about 20 feet.
Our first sea lion play time. This guy played with us for a while so we weren't taking pictures during, but we got a shot of him as he sped off. I loved snorkeling, and I was so grateful to finally get the chance to try it out.
After the hike and snorkeling on Santiago island, we headed back to the ship for lunch. The afternoon's excursion was a hike to Pinnacle Rock on Bartolome Island. This was the most "dock like" of all our dry landings, and as usual there was a sea lion on the steps. We would come to find out that for some reason they really love steps.
And speaking of steps, in addition to the long stretches of walkway (installed to protect the vegetation) there were also 272 steps to the top. Don't worry, I didn't count, they told us that so that we could gauge our fitness level before committing to it.
Bartolome is covered in choppy lava rocks, in all shades of red, purple, cream, and yellow. It also has a lot of lava cacti, the tube shaped plant in the foreground.
Our path goes on...
This picture looks kind of ugly. But in person all the colors were a lot more vibrant.
Even the huge lava rocks were really light- it was strange to pick up a big, gnarly lava rock and have it feel no heavier than Bobby's camera.
Almost to the top!
Made it. The view from the top of the hill overlooking Pinnacle Rock was amazing.
This is a zoomed in picture of that dividing line between the two little bodies of water on either side- it was so green on blue, which was a huge contrast to the lava rock covered island.
Bobby and his dad.
All of us, minus Chad. I think he was taking the picture.

We hiked down and headed back to the ship to clean up before dinner. Afterward we were advised by the waitstaff to head out to the deck to see the sharks- sharks, we asked? We walked out and were shocked to see tens of Galapagos sharks following the ship, feeding off fish. Apparently, the small fish are attracted to the underwater lights off the back of the ship, and then those fish attract the sharks since it's easy pickins' for food. We stood out there for half an hour watching them. I tried to get pictures, and a video, but the light wasn't bright enough for either, so I just gave up and enjoyed watching them. With two separate hikes and the snorkeling, plus a bit of seasickness remedied by sleep inducing Dramamine, bedtime followed soon after.