Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Galapagos day 11 – Cruise day 6 – Isabela and Fernandina Islands

We spent today in some of the most remote and least visited parts of the Galapagos. Again, we saw the world at its early stages. And because it hadn’t had much time to develop, the wildlife concentration was less than elsewhere. But the sense of seeing millions of years of history in the making was there. Not a lot of boats make it to this part of the Galapagos, because the gas expense to motor around the Western side of Isabela is high. It’s nice to be in places with few other tourists in order to truly feel the remoteness.

In the morning we landed on Urbina Bay, a black sand beach on Isabela Island, made from basalt. Walking around, we saw a baby giant tortoise walking through the forest, orange tipped hermit crabs fighting for a shell, and large yellow-gray land iguanas.

Darwin described the land iguanas movements as “lazy and half torpid. When not frightened, they slowly crawl along with their tails and bellies dragging on the ground. They often stop, and doze for a minute with closed eyes, and hind legs spread out on the parched soil.”

My favorite plant was the Galapagos cotton. It had tiny little buds of cotton on the bush, as well as a beautiful, tropical yellow flower with a magenta interior and long, yellow, thick stamen.

During lunch, we sailed north to Punta Espinosa on Fernandina Island. That pristine island, almost entirely lava, has only one little trail where tourists can visit. We got off the dinghy on a little, hidden staircase in the midst of a mangrove. The trail went along the coastline, where black marine iguanas perched on the black rocks, spitting salt through their nostrils, the many little sneezes alternating with the crashing sounds of the waves.

Darwin described these animals as “hideous-looking creature, of a dirty black colour, stupid and sluggish in its movements.” He said that he repeatedly threw one into the water and it repeatedly returned to the same spot on land. “Perhaps this singular piece of apparent stupidity may be accounted for by the circumstance,” he wrote, “that this reptile has no enemy whatever on shore, whereas at sea it must often fall a prey to the numerous sharks.”

Our feet crunched against the sand full of something like looked like dark purple pretzel sticks. They were the legs of pencil slate sea urchins, which had fallen off when that area was underwater.

We watched flightless cormorants do their mating dance, sea lions, and Sally light foot crabs, whose red color burned against the black lava.

Due to the movements of tides, part of the trail was already underwater by the time we returned and I was glad to have my dual water/land Tevas on.

The evening was one of the most beautiful of our sails. Our guide spotted common dolphins (actually less common than bottle-nosed) and we watched them jump and swim speedily away, an entire little community in the blue, solitary world.

We cruised nearby northern Isabela Island, an area of jutting rock faces reaching up to the stratus and waves crashing so strongly onto shore that white spray flew up along the edges like geysers.

We gathered in the bow around six when we crossed the Equator. Just afterwards, the yellow-red sun dipped quickly and visibly into the horizon, disappearing behind smooth dark-blue waters.

As darkness fell, a thin sliver of a moon glimmered in the sky. The rest of the moon was illuminated around the edges, and a ribbon of yellow reflection extended from the horizon to our boat deck, glimmering in the darkness.

We crossed the equator once again around 10:30, heading back into the southern hemisphere and towards James Island, the final destinations of our visit. While a few days ago, I would have chosen a shorter cruise, now that the trip is nearing its end (and I know that real life awaits), I wish we could extend it a while.

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