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.

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