Monday, Nov. 22
We arrived in Floreana, the mystical island. Before breakfast, we had a small excursion to Post Office Bay. This was the post office of the Galapagos Islands. One would deposit mail in the mail box and anyone who could deliver it would pick it up.
After breakfast, we went deep-water snorkeling around Champion Islet, off the coast of Floreana. The waters were pretty cold that day at around 68 degrees F. We did manage to see and photograph fish, however. After snorkeling, we went in the glass bottom boat to see hundreds of different fish we didn’t see while snorkeling.
We went on a mission, by zodiac, to shoot the elusive Floreana mockingbird, now only found on Champion Islet (on Camera). We saw two of them, which was nearly 5% of their total population!
After lunch, we went kayaking in the waters off Punta Cormorant. It was really fun. We saw many turtles. We nearly bumped into a sea lion taking his afternoon nap. He was startled at our arrival. He groaned and then we left him to his nap.
Next was the hike on Floreana Island. This island was pretty green. There was a big lagoon right in the middle where we spotted some flamingos. We learned that these came from the Caribbean and were lost here! At the end of the hike, we came to the other side of the island. There we spotted countless turtle nests. Right off the beach, there were sharks and sting rays swimming. There was also an abundance of crabs on the rocks. Alas, it was getting dark and we had to leave the pristine landscape.
Tuesday, Nov. 23
We sailed to the west to the newest islands, Isabella and Fernandina. After breakfast around 8:45 a.m., the naturalist announced that the captain had spotted a pod of dolphins and was steering the ship towards them. All of us rushed to the open decks, and there they were, the Pacific striped and common dolphins gracefully swimming and leaping!
What a sight! Around 9:00 a.m., I was standing in the bridge along with the captain, and many others when we saw the GPS device slowly ticking towards 0 degree latitude. 0.00.03N, 0.00.02N, 0.00.01N… and finally 0.00.00S Hurray!!! We crossed the equator officially into the Southern Hemisphere. The captain blew the ship’s horn and we celebrate at the bridge.
At this same time, there was a celebration at the pool. King Neptune had arrived and we had to ask his permission to cross into the Southern Hemisphere. He was also pushing the kids into the pool! It was fun all over! We were also given certificates for crossing the equator!
We went on a zodiac ride around northern Isabella Island. We saw many Mola Mola, the sea monsters. It is also called the ocean sunfish and it is the heaviest bony fish! It is an odd looking fish with a big body! At a small inlet where we would later snorkel, there were countless boobies and flightless cormorants. There were also lots of crabs and other invertebrates. There was a small cave which was home to many bats. Behind a rock, we found a couple of penguins swimming. We saw the outlines of quite a few turtles underwater. While returning to the ship we saw a crèche of penguins swimming around.
We quickly got our snorkeling gear on and plunged into the inlet. A sea lion immediately came and greeted us. We got really close to the turtles down there. They came so close, we had swim away to restrain from touching them.
A penguin just swam by me before I could even look at it and I had to avoid bumping into it.
There was another commotion. A pod of whale had been spotted. Now the captain was chasing the whales. From the deck we could see whales blowing in the distance. One came right next to us. How big it was! It was probably 50 feet long.
While we were having lunch, the captain steered the ship to Fernandina, the newest of the islands. The volcano there last erupted in 2009. In the evening, we went on a trek on some 200-year-old lava flows. There were mangroves all round the island. There were hundreds of iguanas on the rocks. Even though the island was relatively new, there was a great abundance of life. The sun was setting fast, as it always does on the equator and another interesting day came to a close.
Wednesday, Nov. 24
After four days in the middle of nowhere, today we returned back to civilization. After breakfast, we went to the largest city on the island of Santa Cruz, Puerto Ayora. We went to the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS). This is where the Galapagos giant tortoises, which almost went to extinction, are being bred in captivity. Most of these tortoises were killed by sailors because they were good sources of food.
There were hundreds of baby tortoises there. We saw the famous ‘Lonesome George’, the last survivor of the tortoise subspecies from Pinta Island. We also saw many land iguanas who were being bred in captivity.
Following our tour of CDRS, we did some shopping in the city. Then we took the three mile hike to Altair restaurant which was in the highlands of Santa Cruz, where we had our lunch. On the way we spotted many rare birds including the smooth-billed Ani, finches and warblers.
After lunch we went to see the huge pit craters, Los Gemelos. Then we proceeded to look for some real tortoises in the wild. We went to a small pasture and saw many giant tortoises roaming freely. We got to see two of them fight. It was hilarious! They would clutch each other’s mouths and stare, groan a couple of time and then walk away, feeling bored. Nice duel! Another day in the Galapagos came to an end. I wish we could stay back here…
Thursday, Nov. 25
Yesterday we had gone to the southern side of Santa Cruz Island, today we went to the northern side. This was totally different compared to the south. The south was tropical, while this was more like a desert.
We had a hike to Dragon hill after breakfast. We went dragon (land iguana) hunting but only saw one. But we saw a beautiful woodpecker finch pecking a tree. It is really not related to woodpeckers but it is a finch! We managed to take some close-up pictures.
The weather was warm and it the perfect day to go snorkeling. We went to Guy Fawkes Islets. These are small rocky islands full of life. Snorkeling, we saw schools of king angel fish, surgeon fish, Mexican hog fish, bicolor parrot fish and even the Galapagos shark.
In the afternoon we went for another snorkeling excursion. This time off the coast of Santiago, near the Chinese Hat island also known as Sombrero Chino. This was some snorkel. We got caught in the current and my father and I were kicked real hard but we were not going anywhere. The naturalist and the Zodiac driver threw a rope and pulled us out of the current. I think that is an easy way to snorkel–pulled from a boat!
This snorkeling was probably the best. We saw a shark, sting rays, and manta rays apart from the regular schools of surgeon fish, parrot fish, damsel fish and king angel fish. We even swam with penguins and sea lions. Later we took a Zodiac ride to see island above water. This was the home of quite a few Galapagos penguins! It is a wonder that penguins are living near the equator!
Today we also had the traditional Thanksgiving dinner on board!
That night was clear and hence we had a star gazing session. One of the naturalists was also an amateur astronomer. At 8:30 PM after thanksgiving dinner, the captain switched off all the lights on the deck and we could see the celestial world! I have never seen this many stars with the naked eye in the night sky. The sky was very clear; we could see the rim of the Milky Way and many of the famous constellations. The naturalist started to point out… Cassiopeia, Ursa Minor, Orion with the Betelgeuse prominently visible, and the various constellations of the zodiac, the Taurus, Aries, Gemini, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Aquarius and Pisces.
Friday, Nov. 26
Today was my birthday!
The ship was anchored off the coast of Bartolomé. Here the pinnacle on the coast looked just like an iguana staring at the sun. Was I seeing things?
Before breakfast, we went for a hike on this island to learn about the geology of Galapagos and their volcanic past. We saw a dozen craters, dikes, and the volcanic pioneer plants like the tequilia. We spotted a beautiful Galapagos constrictor. The view from the top was spectacular. It was the most famous picture spot of the Galapagos.
After breakfast we went on a glass bottom boat around the pinnacle rock and saw the porcupine fish and several types of sea stars.
Later we went snorkeling from the beach to the same area around the pinnacle rock. We saw pretty much the same, but also a huge white tipped reef shark. It was a beauty. I spotted first and called to the glass bottom boat which was nearby for them to see. When we came back to the beach, we were swimming with sea lions!
In the evening we went on a hike on Santiago Island. Here we saw two varieties of sea lions. One was the Galapagos Sea lion and the other Galapagos fur seal. We saw many birds including Whimbrel, Ruddy Turnstone, Petrel, and ven a pair of nesting American Oyster catchers. The sun set spectacularly and we came back to ship.
During the dinner was a surprise waiting for me. They had a cake made for me and everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to me. It was splendid to celebrate my birthday in the Galapagos!
Saturday, Nov 27
Today should not have been called Saturday. It should really be Sad Day. Our journey had come to an end. After breakfast we took the zodiac to the buses which drove us to the Baltra airport. Be careful, don’t get lost in Baltra international airport! Just kidding, it is a teeny-weeny airport! We had to say good bye to Galapagos. But I had three more days in Ecuador left…
To be continued.