Ecuador Day 5 – Galapagos Islands

Today was my first full day in Galapagos. I woke up hot and sweaty in the cabin, for my face had been battered by cold wind all night up on deck, and, freezing, I’d retreated to my cabin. Not a good sleep then, but I was energised by a good breakfast of sausage, omelette and vegetables.

We had a new guide today, Martha Chica, an official Galapagos guide (thank God) who would be joining us for the remainder of the trip. She was a lovely, older woman, with a lot of patience, and who spoke English reasonably well. She told us the first landing would be a wet landing – so we had to carry our shoes and socks, as well as our camera and towel and water onto the little dinghy and to the island called Genovesa. We had travelled through the night, and so woke up close to the island, which was a good ploy which saved us valuable time in the day in which to do our activities.

It seemed a rocky, barren place. No place for human settlement. For the birds, this was their territory. We arrived as guests, and were neither welcomed nor made to feel unwelcome. We arrived onto a beach, full of stones, where swallow-tailed gulls were nesting. Huge frigate birds were riding high on the thermals above, diving down occasionally to try and bully small birds into giving up their catches. They are fearsome looking birds. We wandered around the island, following the guide around the trail. All kinds of birds were here, including the blue-footed booby, nesting in the trees or walking around clownishly. The amazing thing was, no bird flew away when approached; in fact, they barely batted an eyelid. You could walk right up to them, and they still wouldn’t move. Amazing. They had never had the need to be afraid of humans, perhaps. We saw the boobys nesting, just sitting there over their eggs, looking right at us and showing absolutely no fear. We saw herons standing up peculiarly on one leg, and came across a group of sealions frolicking in a nursery protected from the waves by rocks. They were the first I’d ever seen in the wild. Incredible. Our group of 16 was spread out, excited and taking pictures of everything – from birds to nests, flowers to grass. Martha was having trouble explaining the interesting history of the place, and about the life of the birds, as we were all so spread out along the trail. We learnt very little, then, but really enjoyed our first taste of an island where birds well and truly ruled. Some were angry looking, really pissed of, others proud, showing off their colourful beaks and feet. Still others looked plain gormless. Each bird reminded me of someone I know. Birds have remarkably human-like features.

After our little walk around, we had some time to go snorkelling. The snorkelling in the Galapagos is supposed to be first class, and it was indeed good, plenty of big fish, though not mind-blowing. The most interesting part of the snorkel was when I saw a baby sealion swimming towards me, its huge curious, gentle eyes looking right at me. How amazing that you can actually snorkel with sealions here. We got back on the dinghy and on the boat for lunch – a 3 course one of soup, vegetables and fish, and ice-cream for dessert. We had time to have a siesta at the top, then we had an emergency drill where the captain sounded the alarm – a piercing, whirring wail that panicked those who were snoozing – and we had to run to the cabin to grab our lifejackets and put them on. The captain was pleased, and we were able to head out again for another snorkel. This time the snorkelling was great – a huge variety of fish big and small, and a whole group of sealions gracefully frolicking back and forth in the water. I had one swim right past me like a fat silver bullet, silent, looking at me with those big eyes, white whiskers twitching and glistening as the sun shone down under the water. Unbelievable. It made my day. We returned to the boat for half an hour, where the Colombian chap in charge of food handed us crisps and I had a cup of tea. Then we headed out again, to the same island we’d been snorkelling around earlier. This island was another one governed by birds, there were even more of them here though it seemed, and many of the blue-footed boobys were painstakingly building nests on the floor around their eggs by picking up little pieces of twig from the floor and assembling them around the egg. Here, we also saw an owl – a rarer sight here. We walked to the coastline, which was beautiful, photographing little lizards along the way. When we got back on the boat we were all starving again, and very ready for the delicious fish that we were served together with rice and vegetables. Eating healthily and regularly is something I should definitely do more often – I felt great!

Tonight, after dinner, I typed up some of my diary, deleted the 500 pictures of birds and lizards and landscape and trees I thought were not worthy of appearing on the internet or in my diary – then I finally succumbed to exhaustion and fell soundly asleep in the cabin. What a great day.

Author: Neil

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