The Galapagos are on almost everyone’s list of places to visit before they croak, and that was certainly true of us as well. Bonnie, in fact, has had it very close to the top of her list for years. We all know the story of Charles Darwin visiting the islands in 1835 while aboard the Beagle as botanist during its trip around the world, and how the animal life he saw on the Galapagos was the inspirational flash for his theory of evolution. What is so special and particular about the Galapagos today is that there are so many animals unique to them, and those you see and approach are so absolutely unafraid of humans. They look at you, from perhaps three feet away, and seem to be thinking “OK, another of these stupid and rather clumsy humans!”
Visitors can either fly out to the islands or take a boat from Guayaquil on the mainland of Ecuador, and given our plans for a twenty-two day cruise to follow in mid December, we didn’t feel as though we really needed more shipboard time than necessary. And the islands are six hundred miles from the mainland. So we flew out to the islands and soon found ourselves aboard the Santa Cruz II for five days and nights on and about the islands.
The Santa Cruz II is by ocean standards modest in size and carries at its maximum about ninety passengers. We had fifty-seven aboard and felt as though it was rather ideal for what we intended.
Also visible in the photo above is one of the rubber dinghies used to shuttle us back and forth from the ship to shore. Here’s a better view. Maybe you can spot Bonnie perched on the starboard side?
We left and returned to the ‘mother ship’ at the stern where a system was in place to ensure that no one ended up unexpectedly in the water. Visible as well is the stern of the top deck, covered with a canvas, and our favorite spot for sunsets.
Access to the islands is highly restricted and very limited, and we never went ashore without a National Park Service guide and always in small groups following clearly marked hiking trails. We were told not to approach any animal closer than a meter or three feet, and that we should stay pretty much together as a group. There were also chances almost every day to swim as well, always in a spot that offered a variety of fish species and almost always accompanied by a Sea Lion or two, certainly the most common of the mammals.
We also saw an occasional Fur Seal
and any rocky stretch of the coast always included a plentitude of Sally Lightfoot Crabs, capable of much more speed afoot than you would anticipate but their name implies.
As you might guess, Dave’s favorite among all the animals were the Marine Iguanas, one of which adorns the top of this posting. They were everywhere close to the water, often just lying around sunning themselves, and just about as ugly to human sensibilities as any animal could possibly be.
Dave first fell for them after watching a documentary years ago which showed them diving as deep as 100 feet to eat seaweed off the ocean floor for as long as twenty-five minutes a dive. Now that is one strange lizard, and unique to the Galapagos Islands! But then Dave’s favorite African animal is the Warthog, almost the equal of the Marine Iguana for ugly.
We also made a special trip to Baltra Island to visit the Giant Land Turtle Sanctuary where dozens of these guys just wander around free and happy. They are the largest living tortoises, are only found in the Galapagos and on one island in the Indian Ocean, weigh as much as 900 pounds, and they too can move a whole lot faster than one would think.
Here’s one heading for Bonnie. She just managed this photo before she turned and ran!
They often live for over a hundred years–one in captivity lived to be 170–making them among the longest living of any animal species.
But it is the birds of the Galapagos which finally captivate the visitor. They are so varied, so profuse, so exotic and unique, that you spend most of your time with them, up close because they are so unafraid of us humans. Some, like the Frigate, are usually seen swooping across the sky, their long wings extended in a glide,
and while Pelicans don’t have their elegance and grace, they are still the ultimate dive bombers of the sea and look the part even when braking for a landing.
We also saw one lonesome Galapagos Penguin sitting seaside as if on the lookout for companions,
and there were a few strutting American Flamingos around as well in the quiet shallows.
But of all the birds who populate the Galapagos, it is without question the Boobies that take center stage. Least spectacular are the Nazca Boobies, darling while fluffy chicks fighting over a stick,
but colorful with wonderful yellow beaks when full grown.
More spectacular and much sought after, however, is the Blue Footed Booby. That’s right. They have blue legs and feet–giving them a bit of an otherworldly air and with beaks to match.
Even when catching a bit of a nap, they startle with their color and manage to keep one eye on the photographer as well.
They nest in the crags of the rocky sea cliffs and are often clustered in flocks together raising their chicks.
Their land hugging cousins who nest in pits they dig on the bare ground, are the Red Footed Boobies, our personal favorites.
They were everywhere perched in the sun. What we found particularly interesting is not just that their legs and feet were bright red, but that while their feet are webbed and thus clearly intended for water sports, if you look closely you can see that they also have small white claws protruding from their webbed feet so that they can effectively hang on to branches when on land. Very adaptive, very multipurpose, these birds!
Speaking of adaptive and multipurpose, one of the most frequent complaints we receive is that there are never photos of Bonnie and Dave included in our postings. So here goes–our one chance at fame!
See you next across the Andes in the Amazon!