Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, Part 3

Day 5 – Española

During the night the Estrella del Mar motored from San Cristobal to Española.  I woke before dawn and followed my usual routine of climbing to the top of the boat to watch the sun rise.  Anchored alongside us were several other boats, including the Guantanamera, my boat when I visited in 2008.  After breakfast we headed straight to Española’s Gardner Bay, where over a hundred sea lions lay sleeping on a beautiful stretch of white sand.  Just north of the beach, marine iguanas – some with red and green coloring – clung to black volcanic rocks.

 

Sea Lions on Española

 

Sea Lions Sleeping on Española

 

Galapagos Hawk

 

Red Marine Iguana on Española

 

Sea Lions in the Sun on Española

 

Red and Green Marine Iguana on Española

 

Two Sea Lions on Española

 

Sea Lions in the Surf

 

Marine Iguana on Española

 

Blue-footed Booby Courtship Dance

 
Blue-footed Booby Courtship Dance on Española (Video)

 

At mid-day we snorkeled twice, first from the Gardner Bay beach and then from a site further off shore.  During the second outing we found a pair of playful sea lions and I spent almost a half hour trying to keep up as the two of them raced acrobatically through the water, twirling and spinning around me before vanishing behind a glittering sheet of tiny air bubbles.

 

 

Swimming with a Playful Sea Lion at Española (Video)

 

Swimming with Two Sea Lions at Española (Video)

 

That afternoon we visited Suaraz Point, a breeding ground for Waved Albatross, the largest birds in the Galapagos.  Suaraz Point is also the site of Darwin’s Blowhole, a rock formation that channels the force of incoming waves through a narrow opening and sends a stream of water erupting skyward like a geyser.   Near Darwin’s Blowhole we found a young sea lion with an ugly-looking wound.  “It was just attacked by a shark,” Enrique told us.  “But I think it will survive.”

 


Tropicbird in Flight

 

Sea Lion after a Shark Attack

 

Waved Albatross Couple

 

Albatross Love

 

Waved Albatross with an Egg

 

Darwin’s Blowhole

 

Three Marine Iguanas by Darwin’s Blowhole

 

Waved Albatross in Flight

 

Waved Albatross Mating Dance on Española (Video)

 

I ate dinner with Larry that night, and, as usual, our conversation eventually turned to books.  “Did you ever read about Ernest Shackleton’s expedition to Antarctica?” I’d asked him the day before.  Not only was Larry familiar with Shackleton’s miraculous story, he knew even more about it than I did.  We discovered that we’d read many of the same ordeal-at-sea books – Endurance, In the Heart of the Sea, Mayflower, The Bounty, Moby Dick – and we enjoyed rehashing whatever details we could remember from each story.

 


Española Sunset

 

After dinner we had a birthday celebration for Nina, one of the three Venezuelan passengers.  The crew hung balloons and played Latin dance music.  Gringo participation in the festivities, unfortunately, was lukewarm at best, and few of us lasted very long before turning in for the night.  As we slept the Estrella del Mar motored from Española to Floreana (also known as Santa Maria).

 

Birthday Party on Estrella del Mar (Video)

 

Day 6 – Floreana (Santa Maria)

The next morning I wasn’t the only one awake early.  We left at 6:15am for an early snorkeling outing to Devil’s Crown, a ring of volcanic rocks just off the coast of Floreana.  There weren’t any sea lions this time, but we did spot several white-tipped reef sharks and a couple of sea turtles.

 

Swimming with a White-Tipped Reef Shark at Devil’s Crown (Video)

 

Sea Turtle Swimming at Devil’s Crown (Video)

 

I’d been gradually getting to know Orville and his wife Helen.  They’d lived all their lives in Missouri, where Orville had been a school principal and Helen had been a teacher.  Orville, who resembled Warren Buffet, was 79 (although he looked 10 years younger) and belonged to a generation that still pronounced his state’s name “Missour-ah.”  He was a birder and always wore a pair of binoculars around his neck.  “Did you hear that James Arness died?” Orville asked me that morning.  I told him I hadn’t.  “Well when I first heard, we were…  Where were we honey?”

“Colorado,” said Helen, who continued to make additions and corrections in the symbiotic storytelling style of long-married couples.

“That’s right, Colorado.  Well when we first heard the news I mentioned it to a young fellow, probably I’d say about 30, and you know what?  He said he’d never even heard of James Arness!  Can you imagine that?”  I shook my head in sympathetic disbelief and decided not to disappoint Orville by admitting that I didn’t have a clue who James Arness was, either.

After breakfast that morning we took the panga to Cormorant Point and watched bright pink flamingoes feeding in a lagoon just behind the beach.  Then in the afternoon we visited Post Office Bay, where – in a tradition inspired by 19th century American whalers, who, as they departed for the deep Pacific, would drop off their mail to be delivered by the whalers returning home – tourists are encouraged to leave their own (unstamped) postcard and also take responsibility for personally delivering any postcards addressed to places near their homes.

 

Flamingo at Floreana

 

Flamingo in Flight at Floreana

 

Flamingo Reflection at Floreana

 

Sally Lightfoot Crab on Floreana

 

Sally Lightfoot Crab Straight On

 

Post Office Box on Floreana

 

A few small sand volleyball courts made Post Office Bay a popular stop for the Estrella del Marcrew, who managed to fit in a little of their own recreation while we passengers either snorkeled or walked along the beach.  In the shallow water I found a fully-exposed moray eel and two spotted eagle rays, neither of which I’d seen yet on the trip.

 

Exposed Moray Eel at Floreana (Video)

 

Spotted Eagle Ray Swimming at Floreana (Video)

 

Most visits to Post Office Bay also include a short hike from the beach to a hollow lava tube that plunges into the bowels of the island.  Enrique, busy playing volleyball, didn’t seem inclined to lead our group there, so several of us – Larry, Kathy, Patty, Orville, Helen and I – went on our own.  The wooden stairs descending into the tube looked a little rickety, and only Larry and I chose to climb down and explore.  We didn’t get very far before the fading battery in my mini-flashlight forced us back to the surface.

That night I asked Enrique why he didn’t take us to the lava tube.  “It is broken,” he said.

“Broken?”

“Yes, this morning one of the stairs broke and two tourists fell, so now the lava tube is closed.”  I saw no point in informing Enrique about our rogue excursion, making me guilty of a second deceptive omission that day.

I ate dinner with the two Venezuelan sisters and their 76-year-old mother.  None of them spoke English and my weak Spanish dramatically limited our conversation.  Struggling for topics, I decided to risk venturing into what might be a sensitive territory (especially coming from an American).  “¿Le gusta Hugo Chávez?

Nina’s face tightened.  She and her sister smiled uncomfortably and answered in a way that kept their own feelings hidden.  “There are many people who like him and many who don’t,” Nina said carefully.  She let a moment pass and then changed the subject.