June 15, 2006

Galapagos Adventure — Day Three

Filed under: Ecuador 2006 — Lilli @ 9:04 pm

Española Island
Another remarkable, once-in-a-lifetime day.

Blowhole, Espanola Island

The downy feathers of the world’s whitest bird, spectacular spray of a blowhole on the oldest island in the Galapagos, young sea lions frolicking in aerial flips and underwater turns worthy of Sea World — only here it is as as they were meant to be, in cold clear water of their natural home.

Briefing board, day three

A bit of a hairy landing today due to rough seas. It was tough getting into the cement pier, so we climbed across slippery, wet rocks instead. Of course, the sea lions really own the place, so they park on the pier or wherever they want. To get them to move, we clap and they eventually move out of the way because they don’t like the noise. But this time it was only the sea to blame.

We arrived on the sand to hundreds or perhaps thousands of marine iguans. Here they are red and black, and seemed to clump together more than on the other islands.

Marine iguanas, Espanola Island

There are also countless birds here, especially the famous boobies. Yes, they are named booby because they look silly, especially the ones with the blue feet. At least, that’s what our guide said.

Blue-footed booby, adult and juvenile

This island is home to many Nazca boobies, sometimes called the masked booby. Camilo says some famous orinthologist decided this is the whitest bird in the world. I believe it because it’s feathers are so beautiful, they look so soft, that I kept thinking at first that they might be juveniles, still developing their stiff feathers. But this is really what they look like.

Nazca booby, the world's whitest bird

They make their home in the rocks out of twigs surrounded by guano. Although most of us wouldn’t think of putting our nest in the toilet, apparently it keeps insects and other pests out. Since these are volcanic islands, the Nazca was likely one of the first birds to live here since they do not require any trees for nesting.

Booby nests along the coast of Espanola Island

The waved albatross is the largest bird that breeds in the Galapagos. Although one book I read said it is endemic, Camilo says they also live on the mainland. A guidebook says Española has the only waved albatross colony. Whatever or wherever, they are gorgeous. I wrote more about this in my blog on the highlights of my trip.

Waved albatross colony, Espanola Island

This afternoon we moved from oneside of Española to the other by sail power. Just the quiet of wind and waves. No motor at all, just four huge, beautiful sails.

From the deck of The Beagle, under sail power

We landed at Gardner Bay where those of us who pushed aside concerns of overcast skies and chilly water were richly rewarded with great visibility and stunning sea life.

I could go on and on with lists of amazing fish I saw, but I have no underwater photos. Suffice it to say I have dived in some of the world’s greatest underwater locations, from the Great Barrier Reef to the Maldives, but this ranks right up there at the top of the list. My favorite surprise of the day were the brilliant purplish-blue Pyramid Sea Stars and the Chocolate-Chip Sea Stars — puffy, cream-colored, with dark chips all over them.

All I can say is, thank you to The Beagle for providing wet suits because you really need them. Water that runs about 70 degrees Farenheit (about 22 degrees Celsius) is really not warm at all. The shorties provided by the boat made it possible to stay in nearly an hour. Had I had not been on the edge of serious chilling effects, I would have stayed much longer.

American Oystercatchers, Gardner Bay, Espanola Island

But then I would have missed a late afternoon walk on the powdery white sand beach. This is one of the few times on the tour to just relax and look around — and realize the absence of roads, houses, trash or concrete. The boat anchored in the bay is the only sign of human life as far as the eye can see. There are few places on the planet where this is possible, especially along any coast. The aloneness of it all is an amazing experience. Of course, there are plenty of sea lions and other creatures to keep you company.

Sea lion encounter, Gardner Bay, Espanola Island


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