At 6:45 this morning a sweet voice came over the loud speaker in our room.....ladies and gentlemen, buenos dias, this is your wake up call. Breakfast will start at 7 o'clock. After a very nice breakfast buffet, we headed up to the moon deck to collect our wet suits and snorkel equipment. At 8:15 we started out in the pangas (dingy or zodiac) and took a short trip to Santiago Island. This one had volcanic activity about 200 years ago and we walked on the volcanic rock. Wow, everywhere you can see how the lava flowed, the crust cooled and the most wonderful designs were created that hardened into rock. There are lots of places, big and small, where the gases were trapped beneath the crust, then erupted to the surface. There are also fissures of all sizes. We did a dry landing, they drove the panga up to the shore and we climbed out on the rocks and walked around. We saw lava herons and sally lightfoot crabs. The crabs were named for a famous Cuban fan dancer. We saw a couple marine iguanas and 2 penguins swimming. We walked all over , saw a small ground cover type plant that was one of the first to appear on the volcanic rock and a lava cactus. The cactus lives on the minerals in the rock, produces a flower and a small fruit but only lives 2 or 3 years before it exhausts the nutrients in the rock face and dies. We went back to the ship, got our snorkeling gear and went back to Santiago. We hopped off the panga and swam along the shore. I saw a small shark, some star fish, sea urchins and lots of smaller fish. We saw a pretty good size sea lion settling down for a nap in the sun. After snorkeling, back to the boat for lunch. The naturalists work so hard to minimize the impact of people on the islands. They only take people to about 5% of the total area of the Galapagos. The pangas hold 16 people and each group has a naturalist. We were told not to touch or get too close to any of the animals, not to take anything away and not to leave anything behind. Even if you NEED TO PEE, they will take you back to the ship. They work very hard to keep things pristine, on the ship we each get one water bottle that we use and refill for the whole trip. No paper goes in the toilets, they have a water treatment facility on board. No paper towels or napkins. The food has been pretty good, this morning our waiter Javier found me some peanut butter. We've had lots of fruits and veggies and good breads.
A Magical afternoon. Friday afternoon we took a dingy ride to Rabida island, lots of silica and iron ore in the volcanic soil so the rocks and beaches are very red. Indira, our naturalist, explained about the tectonic plates in the Galapagos. The islands were all created by volcanic hot spots that are still active. Last eruption was 3-4 years ago. The first islands were created millions of years ago and the early ones have drifted east on the tectonic plate and newer islands were created in the west. The older ones have developed vegetation and support more wild life. The newer ones support less plant and animal life. But unlike tectonic plates that rise up when they collide (like the Rockies) ,here the plate that the Galapagos ride on is sliding under the plate to the east. So in more millions of years the eastern islands will begin to disappear. Riding in the dingy along the coast of Rabida we saw several Blue Footed Boobies, some were fishing and a few were in nests in the trees. There were prickly pear cactus , yellow warblers , marine iguanas, nazca Boobies, pelicans, and a great blue heron. We landed on the beach to do some more snorkeling and the most marvelous thing happened. There was a large group of sea lions on the beach. Because no one disturbs them, they just hung out and pretty much ignored us.
We walked among them, mostly they were snoozing, some with their heads laying on another one BUT several females had young with them that were nursing. We were able to get so close, it was amazing, I got a little verklempt. Some people had brought their snorkel gear (I was too pooped) and there were sea lions in the water that swam and played around them. There were some marine iguanas and sally light foot crabs on the shore, I got to observe a couple very close up.
While we were on shore with the sea lions I noticed holes in the sand surrounded by little balls of sand. I asked Indira and she explained that the ghost crabs dig the holes and hide in them, then when the tide comes in they scoop up the sand in their claws and turn it around to eat all the little organisms and it creates these perfect little round balls of sand.
At one point a fairly large male sea lion came up out of the water squawking at us. We learned that he is probably the dominant male in that group and the sea lions we had seen on their own in different places are the adolescent males, who got chased off and will hope to create their own little harem next year. I got so close to the nursing mamas I could see their navels. They had 4 nipples and the pups went from one to the next until they seemed satisfied. Their fins are incredible, they have bones or cartilage that resembles fingers that support the webbing. They have short tails that look almost prehensile. To be that close to such a large group is beyond explanation. I am thankful that everyone works so hard to maintain this treasure and that I have gotten a chance to see it. 2 more days to go.