Saturday, March 17, 2007

Galapagos day 7 – Cruise day 2 – Espanola Island

Today was our first full day, and quite a busy one. We started out with a wet landing at Gardner Bay, a beautiful white sand beach lining a bay of teal water. After a stroll along the beach, during which we saw sea lions, lava lizards, marine iguanas, cactus and warbler finches and an oyster catcher, we took a swim, coming very near to the frolicking sea lions. My favorite sighting was of tunikens or annelids. They are similar to an earthworm and live inside of tunnels built on black lava rock, made from sand and mucus excreted from their mouths. They live inside the tunnels and come out to feed. Looking closely at the tunnels, I could see the grains of sand and small rocks that formed them. It was quite impressive.

After a short break, during which the crew prepared us peach juice with ice and an assortment of crackers and cookies, we went snorkeling. Nothing bit me this time, and I had the pleasure of swimming through a school of black, orange and white angelfish. Our guide brought up a starfish from the sea floor for us to examine. It looked black on the sand, but in his hand, it was a bright red. I saw little green sea urchins and a stingray hiding in a cove. While interesting, it still didn’t match the variety and quantity of some other places I’ve snorkeled, such as Belize and the Red Sea.

I left the snorkeling to try out one of the two kayaks we have on boat. I was able to paddle along the coastline of harsh black rock and enjoy the wildlife from a different angle. It was nice to be alone for once, yet have sea lions swimming around and under me, crabs scampering on the rocks, birds going about their activities, and iguanas crawling around. I then paddled myself back to the ship, arriving before the snorkelers.

The food on board is wonderful, healthy, but plentiful, filling and delicious. For lunch the chef served us lasagna with steamed beets in a nice sauce, shredded cabbage in a lemon sauce, canned peach slices and brown tamarind juice. I don’t know whether I’ve ever seen a tamarind. But Juan told us that it has several seeds in a pod and the pulp surrounding the seeds is what is used to make the juice.

After a two-hour siesta, we jetted over in our dinghy to Punta Suarez, a wonderful bird colony. The most populated areas smelled distinctively of guano, a scent of garbage and decomposition. While walking slowly along a 2-mile path, we were able to observe bird life close up. Some of the highlights including watching a juvenile hawk eat a small female iguana she’d recently caught (she had already ingested the brain and was pulling off skin to get the meat further down), watching Nazca boobies feed their young, and watching the marine iguanas squirt water with high concentrations of sat through their nostrils, like a little sneeze.

While Espanola is beautiful and rich with wildlife, it’s unfortunately the most visited island. Throughout the day, there were always a number of cruise ships nearby as well as tour groups ahead of and behind us.

One of the nearby ships was a large cruiser that holds 48 passengers. Apparently, the largest holds almost 100. I’m glad that we have a small boat. Ours holds 16, but we currently have only 13. Our guide, a really educated and high quality guide, said he only wants to work on small boats. Not only do they allow for quicker landings, Juan likes the independence he has a guide with a smaller group, and the ability for everyone to get to know each other better.

In the evening, while waiting for dinner, we watched the sun fall down into the horizon, so quickly we could see it move. Then we watched the sky turn yellow, a beautiful view over the lapis lazuli blue water.

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