The penultimate breakfast, and then a dry landing at St James’ Bay in Puerto Egas. We were greeted by a harsh and rocky landscape, over which loomed a huge volcano, underneath which some crew from another boat were having a game of footy. A Galapagos hawk was watching us as we came ashore, it’s piercing eyes making us feel a bit unwelcome, and it was there some 2 hours later when we returned, in exactly the same place, still on sentry duty as his friends roamed the skies.
Here, fur seals are in abundance, a large colony bickering, playing and fighting with each other, watched by hundreds of mean-looking sea iguanas, some of them with lava lizards mounted cheekily on their backs. The waves were crashing in with force here, and some of the rock formations caused whirlpool and flushing effects with the sea filling up and emptying out with a certain viciousness that made sure you knew if you slipped in that would be the end of that. One such circular pit is known as Darwin’s toilet, and it would indeed have been an effective one in flushing whatever the great evolutionary decided to put in there when he anchored off the island here 150 years ago or so. A few lava herons, endemic to the Galapagos, watched us standing on one leg, as is their want. We saw Sanderlings on the rocky shore, American Oystercatchers, Whimbrels and Ruddy Turntones too. Like most of the other islands we visited, this one felt incredibly barren – the human presence in no way noticeable, a place where nature was still very much the boss. Another group were here too, a National Geographic tour group – all Americans, most in their 50s and 60s. Though fit and healthy looking, even the youngest had to carry a compulsory walking stick and wear a panama hat. Galapagos chic. They’d been following roughly the same itinerary as we had, but apart from this group, we saw no other people on any of the islands. Overcrowded it certainly wasn’t.
After a treacherous walk around, trying to avoid angering the seals and stepping on the iguanas (they don’t move for you you have to move for them on the Galapagos), we returned to the bay where we put on our mask and snorkel and headed out into the murky sea. Despite the murkiness, I encountered a huge manta ray resting under a rock, as well as a few turtles, and the obligatory shock to the system when two seals streamed past like silver bullets out of nowhere, leaving a trail of bubbles in their wake.
After lunch the boat headed towards our final island – Rabida island. It had been a perfect tour so far – but the Galapagos decided to give us the icing on the cake for good measure. The crew and the rest of us were witness to perhaps the most incredible natural display any of us had ever seen. It was Gitte, the Norwegian girl, who first shouted that she’d seen a dolphin. A few people glanced up from their books, but it wasn’t cause for total distraction. But then, that one dolphin was joined by another. And another. We raced to the front of the boat, and 4 dolphins were speeding along at the side of the boat, playing around, swimming upside down and on their sides. Suddenly, one of them jumped up in front of the boat, and it must have jumped 10 metres in the air, much higher than the level we were watching from. Everyone was cheering and whooping. The captain blasted the horn with a huge smile on his face. Ahead, the sea was alive with dolphins swimming towards the boat to join in the fun. The biggest pod anyone had ever seen was around the boat – there were at least 100 dolphins – nobody had ever witnessed anything like it, and they were jumping, flipping and having as much fun showing off as we were watching them show off. Phil had given up trying to snap a good picture, and decided to video the events. We were all glad he did – he caught the atmosphere of the moment, the people cheering and whooping with delight, the dolphins jumping – a magical moment. Everyone had even bigger smiles on their faces than usual. A special moment that will live forever in the memory.
We reached the red clay cliffs and beach of Rabida, where a few seals were lounging around to greet us. It was dry here, and boiling hot. Cactuses thrived on this island, and little else. The views from the top were magnificent, however, and it seemed like a good place to get another group photo – the final one – all of us looking much more tanned, healthy and happy than in the first one some 5 days ago. Perhaps the departure of the maddening Maltese couple had contributed to bonding the group even more. A huge catamaran group had come ashore too, at least 60 of them, and as they traipsed past us miserably I thought how lucky we were on the Floreana to be with a small group of great people. We got lucky for sure. We put on our flippers, snorkel and mask back down on the red beach, and waded into the warm sea and began a gentle snorkel. The visibility was good, and the variety of colourful fish incredible. There were loads of jellyfish in the water today, and they were stinging everyone with great joy. A few sea lions bolted past, some were basking in cliff crevices above. Wild, free, nature as it should be.
Back on the boat, we had our final dinner, followed by certificates of achievement -for apparently we had crossed the equatorial lines 4 times since we began our voyage. Martha Chica our excellent guide presented us the certificates, asking us to name our favourite animal, and then act it out. Not wanting to really act anything out, I said my favourite animal was a starfish, and my act of spreading myself out on the floor drew few laughs, and I immediately regretted my reluctance to participate in the fun. Since when, I wondered, did I became so serious, withdrawn even? I didn’t even join the final party that night on the deck. Perhaps, with such a hectic work and social life in Singapore which demands constant interaction with all kinds of people, I was taking advantage of the opportunity to be alone for a little while. I fell asleep in the cabin, exhausted. The last night in the Galapagos finished. No superlatives could describe the last 8 days, in what had been one of the greatest adventures of my life