We then jumped back onto the zodiac, gathered our snorkeling gear and went out on our last deep-sea snorkeling trip. On this trip we saw and swam with more sea lions that we had previously seen on our other snorkeling trips. They were only playful if you dove down and played with them. They love the attention of people swimming with them. We must have seen over 15 sea lions during this session. We also saw one sea turtle which appeared to be sound asleep on the bottom. There were fish and coral around but not as much as some of the other trips we had taken.
While we ate lunch, the ship moved off to Punta Suarez, Espanola. We took a 3 hour walk here which turned out to be our favorite of the week. This was a somewhat difficult walk because it was all on rocks and you had to be careful about your footing. After getting on to shore from the zodiac we had to be careful due to all the sea lions in the area who were interfering with our ability to walk along the path. We quickly learned it wasn’t just the sea lions we had to be careful in avoiding but you also had to be mindful of the 100’s of iguanas all along the paths. These big lizards would not move, and you could physically step on them if you weren’t careful. After walking only a couple of minutes the guides told us a baby hawk had been spotted in a nearby nest. We walked over to the nest and watched the mother guarding the young one. It was hard to see the baby hawk because it was deep in the nest, but it did pop up a few times for us to get a look at him. Through out our walk we saw three more Galapagos hawks flying around the area. Shortly after saying good bye to the baby hawk we came across our first juvenile albatross. Seeing albatrosses was the main reason for coming to this island. Juvenile albatrosses would patiently wait alone for their parents to come back with food. Due to the appetite of this larger juvenile bird both parents had to go get food and one could not stay back and watch the juvenile. As we continued to walk, we saw several juvenile albatrosses waiting in the high shrubs for their parents. We walked on to a cliff and watched several full-grown albatrosses flying around along with four that were just walking about 50 feet from us. Two of these birds were doing a mating ritual where they would peck each other’s bill and prance around each other. Albatrosses mate for life. We also learned they do not land well on the ground. They are great flyers and can walk around but getting from the air to the ground is a real adventure for them. We enjoyed our introduction to this new bird species. As we walked back to the zodiac for our return, we saw hundreds of iguanas sunning themselves on rocks. On one rock there must have been 30 iguanas piled on top of each other. One of the other things we saw on this island were a lot of baby sea lions nursing with their mothers. Many times the mothers didn’t seem too interested in nursing and kept rolling over forcing the baby sea lion to walk around her or climb over her to start feeding again. This really was a great island walk and we really enjoyed our time here.
On Day 7 we took a zodiac into Puerto Ayora Town where we were catching a bus to a tortoise reserve called Reserva El Chato. Ecuador has convinced many of the farmers to allow the tortoises to live on their land which is their natural habitat. All they really must do is fence in their cattle and they get money from the government. Many of these farmers have turned this opportunity into a bigger tourist opportunity where they now make more money allowing tourists (for a small fee) to come on their land to see the tortoises. We visited one of these reserves and it was very interesting watching these tortoises in the wild. Even though there are no fences or pens to keep them anywhere specific, you can see the tortoises everywhere you go. These are adult tortoises although they range in age from 10 to 150. There are several mud pits around where the tortoises like to go and cool off. The tortoises mate and then lay their eggs in the lowlands. They bury their eggs under a muddy area that dries hard to protect the eggs. When the babies hatch, they must also break through this hard dirt crust. The mothers do not take care of the babies when they hatch, and they are on their own. They will live 10-15 years down in the low land before making their way up to the highlands (many miles away) where they live out their lives. After visiting with the tortoises we were shown one of the lava tubes on the reserve which we were able to walk though. We were told of stories were farmers fell into lave tubes and were never seen again. These lave tube openings are all over the island and many times are completely covered in vegetation preventing you from seeing the opening. When we were dropped back into town, we walked around a little doing some sightseeing and shopping. When we went by the market place where the fresh fish are sold, we were amused to see a sea lion next to the lady cutting the fish for her customers along with a pelican sitting up on one of the nearby tables. Every time the sea lion raised his nose to the table top where the fish was, the lady would bang him on the head with her elbow. The pelican would jump down occasionally and walk around the market.
In the afternoon we went to South Plaza which is a small island just off Santa Cruz. We did a short two hour walk around the outside of the island. Once again we were amazed at all the sea lions around the area and how many baby sea lions there were. We were told a sea lion mother must smell the baby sea lions to make sure they are hers. If not, the baby is shooed away and must find his real mother. No free meals! If a mother sea lion dies and has a baby, the baby sea lion will eventually die also due to starvation as no other mother will help it survive! This island also had its share of iguanas that you had to avoid stepping on. The main attraction here was the Red-Billed Tropic Birds flying along the cliff side. These birds had nests in the cliffs, but they were hard to find and hard to land in. We watched three of these birds try to find and land in their nests. They must have taken 12 or 15 fly byes in trying to land before we gave up watching them. I think I would have found a better place to put my nest! We saw one Frigatebird attack and steal a fish away from one of the Red-Billed Tropic Birds. Along with these other birds were several Swallow-Tailed Gulls and hundreds of Galapagos Shearwater Birds. These Shearwater birds flew in huge flocks at very fast speeds. They would change direction on a dime and were fun to watch. We also saw several pelicans flying around and even one heron. We never considered ourselves birdwatchers but watching these different types of birds in their unique environments was very interesting and entertaining. There was an effort going on in this island to repopulate the cactus which was significantly reduced in numbers. The cactuses were dwindling because the iguanas ate them, and the iguana population was thriving. The iguanas were thriving because there weren’t enough hawks around to eat them. The hawks had decreased in number because the farmers would shoot them to protect their livestock before it was outlawed. Since this chain of events was caused by human influence, the Darwin Foundation was trying to resolve the cactus situation to bring balance back to nature. Unfortunately, they were already trying their second project in doing this without any luck. It is strange how a small change created by mankind can have such an impact on so many different elements of nature.
On Day 8 we boarded our last zodiac for a ride to San Cristobal where we were bused to the airport for our flight off the islands and over to mainland Ecuador. Goodbye Galapagos but I’m sure we will probably see you again some time!
What a great trip!
Sharon & Greg