part 1 | part 2 | part 3
Day 4 - June 14: Chinese Hat/Isla Rábida
In the morning, the boat arrives at a small uniquely shaped island off the southern tip of Santiago called Chinese Hat. Here it is often possible to see Galápagos penguins, and the marine life is fantastic for snorkelling. There is also a large sea lion colony as well as many marine iguanas that can be seen while walking amongst the volcanic scenery. Trek to see good views of the island's volcano.
Arrive at a red sand beach at Rábida to explore its trails. A short trail leads to a saltwater lagoon; another trail goes past the lagoon to the interior, where the revered palo santo trees grow. (When burned, the branches of this tree give off a pleasing aroma and ward off mosquitoes.) Head back to the beach to see prehistoric-looking pelicans nesting among low-lying bushes - it's a rare treat to watch parent pelicans return with gullets full of fish for the squawking youngsters.
breakfast was scheduled for 7am & the first excursion at 8, but neither janet nor i needed an hour to eat, so we didn't roll out of bed until 7, which was great. we set off after eating to a little cove where birds were all over the place, diving for the huge swirling masses of sardines near the water's edge. i saw pelicans, great herons, several blue footed boobies, & tons of frigatebirds, plus sea lions eating big red fish (perhaps soldierfish), & blacktip sharks circling & driving the sardines inland. the zodiac then took us to chinese hat island. we made our way over the fine white sand to the lava rocks & tubes everywhere, & i made my favorite discovery - a tiny racer snake, also called the galápagos snake, who slipped out of view just after i finally got one clear photo of him. i only spotted him because i saw his tiny tail sliding under a rock, & recognized it as longer than a lava lizard's tail would be. so happy!
my sandal broke at that point, but former boy scout Prattles was able to loan me a cord to tie it with. back on the boat, we were met with guava juice & ate tempura carrots with honey. one of the staff took my shoe & said i could have it back the next day - i had no idea if they were going to glue it or tape it or what, but i hoped it'd get me through the rest of the trip, as it was necessary for wet landings on rocks.
the group snorkeled then while i read until lunch. i definitely enjoyed the breaks from the group provided by my snorkeling abstinence. lunch was a lovely vegetable soup; too much mediocre lasagne (the first thing i haven't really liked) with a tomato/honeydew/cheddar salad (what?!) with a mint balsamic chimichurri-type dressing (that i quite liked); & an eggy baked custard in syrup. i then watched a video of the galápagos while we traveled to rábida island.
rábida had gorgeous fine-grain red sand that glittered like diamond dust. we walked on a path & learned about the environment, & Molly Weasley spotted a rare vermilion flycatcher - a tiny red bird that the guides were visibly delighted to hear she saw. i photographed galápagos doves & mockingbirds, & we made jokes about how many animals in the galápagos are specifically named "galápagos". so much ego. the group had a snorkel off the beach while i hung around in calf-deep water, enjoying the red sand & watching the lava lizards & marine iguanas.
there were fried cornmeal things with a spot of mozzarella in them & strawberry juice on the sundeck, but i didn't stay long as it was too windy to enjoy being out. i watched a movie on my phone & relaxed before our daily briefing & dinner. the meal that night was squash soup; tuna steak in caper sauce (far overcooked for my taste, but not dry, so still pretty tasty), veggies, & oregano roasted potatoes; & a milk chocolate brownie.
i went back to my movie as soon as it was polite to leave the galley, & looked forward to sleeping in until 7 again.
galápagos birds fishing, a sea lion nursing, sally lightfoot crabs
music: stellastarr, "she's gone"
Day 5 - June 15: Puerto Egas/Isla Santiago
Morning excursion to Playa Espumilla, one of the most idyllic beaches in the Galápagos Islands, which has thick mangroves and flamingo and sea turtle nesting sites. Continue to Puerto Egas to see the salt crater as well as a dark sand beach and tidal pools. Santiago Island has seen its share of human activity from whalers and pirates over the years, and despite the introduction of goats to the island many years ago, the wildlife of Santiago has otherwise flourished and provides outstanding viewing opportunities. The island boasts marine iguanas, sea lions, fur seals, land and sea turtles, among others. Enjoy great wildlife viewing both on land and in the water.
Explore the spectacular shoreline of Puerto Egas, also known as James Bay. Spot a great number of shore birds and reptiles - the beach area is home to a plethora of wildlife.
Head to Playa Espumilla, one of the most idyllic beaches in the Galápagos Islands, which has thick mangroves and sea turtle nesting sites.
i again didn't have to get up until 7 for an 8am departure. after a cranberry & watermelon juice with scrambled eggs at breakfast, we zodiac'd to egas port on santiago island. the black sand was amazing, & right off the bat we encountered a manzanillo tree, which i'd known about for ages because of their sheer awesomeness. (no really, follow that link & read about them.) we saw fur sea lions (the ones with the big eyes & fuzzy coats, super playful) & ground finches, as well as lava lizards everywhere, & some very dead & dried iguanas. we also spotted Marine Iguana #44. my sandals, recently glued by the crew, both gave up & fell apart, but i hotfooted it back to the landing site without much trouble. i didn't feel like wandering the beach this time while folks snorkeled, so i took a zodiac back early with Doogie. (this was her trip for graduating high school, but she couldn't've been more than twelve. she came with her aunt, Only Wears Marathon Shirts.)
lunch was buffet style: a big radish-heavy salad (a pro in my book), spaghetti bolognese, & garlic toast; & a square of a delightful strawberry cream gelatin thing that the group from wales called "milk jelly". there was more snorkeling after lunch, but i was told it wasn't great - so far, only this morning's snorkeling was particularly good.
at espumilla beach, a brown sand beach - i walked on white, red, black, *&* brown sand in the galápagos - we saw galápagos hawks circling & spotted lots of huge yellow wasps (the crew pronounced it "wops", which was always amusing), but no live sea turtles. we did find a shell to pass around, & one fresh dead baby to examine. the best part for me, aside from the beautiful soft sand, were the phantom crabs everywhere - they dig holes in the sand & are lightning quick, so it was a challenge to get a few pictures of them. i enjoyed the walk as it was finally overcast, & the water temperature was terrific. we returned to the boat, had a cup of excellent papaya juice & some plantain & cheese mini empanadas, & i read for a couple hours.
at six, we gathered for our first farewell - some folks had only been on a seven-day excursion, & about a quarter of us were staying on for the full ten days. so we did a toast (with really nice peach & coconut slushy drinks) & chatted & did photo-ops with the staff for an hour until dinner was ready. with the boat rocking more than it had all trip (but still not nearly as much as the ushuaia did), we ate roast turkey, lentils & rice, perfect green beans, green salad, & potato salad with peaches (better than you might think), down only a few people queasy from seasickness. dessert was my favorite so far: a pastry thing with strawberry-rhubarb purée inside & blueberry syrup drizzled about.
janet packed while i lamented a potential new roommate, & we went to bed for a 5:30am wakeup.
lava lizards eating; ground finches eating; sea lions, fish, & a lava heron; a neat little lava tide pool.
music: alice donut, "sky of bones"
Day 6 - June 16: North Seymour/Baltra Island
North Seymour Island Visit
Have an amazing wildlife experience visiting North Seymour Island - this island is teeming with life! Follow trails to see all the action (you may need to give way to a passing sea lion or marine iguana while walking). See blue-footed booby nests where mating pairs perform their courtship dance. Head to a rocky shore to see flocks of pelicans having lunch in a dive bomb feeding frenzy, then turn inland to a large nesting site of magnificent frigatebirds. These huge, dark acrobats have two-metre (6.5 ft) wingspans, and males, with their puffed-up scarlet throat sacks, sit precariously perched in low bushes to watch over their equally large chicks. Top off the excursion with a snorkel among sea lions and rays.
Santa Cruz Highlands Excursion
Visit the highlands of Santa Cruz and see the Galápagos giant tortoise in its natural surroundings. Explore the area and its incredible underground lava tunnels - some are more than 1km (.6 mi) long! Wander along the volcanic tubes and keep an eye out for the (mainly) nocturnal barn owls that sometimes roost here.
we hit north seymour island before breakfast & just as dawn approached. it was a dry landing, so i was able to wear jeans for once. we climbed up rocky cliffs & saw a ton of frigatebirds & blue-footed boobies, both nesting & doing crazy mating dances, making the best sounds to go along. the frigatebirds have huge red neck sacks that they inflate to impress the ladies - so gross. :D (yes, i body-shamed AND kink-shamed them.) i photographed a male booby with an egg, & a female with two fuzzy chicks. my favorite part, though, was finally spotting some galápagos land iguanas. they all hid under the gray spiky brush & just side-eyed us as we came near.
back on the boat, we had omelets with orange/mango juice, & then it was off to the airport. this was the weirdest part of the trip - we had 7-day folks & 10-day folks, so we dropped off the 7s & picked up another round of new people. Amazon Settler & Prattles, Paley, Unsexy Spaniard, & i all were staying, but the canadians & i went along to the airport anyhow to say goodbye & check out the little airport shops. i mostly wanted to buy some sandals, which i managed, but i also found a guanábana frozen fruit bar to try. (it was okay.)
we met the new folks, all of whom we immediately hated & further missed our old folks. there was a family with two teenagers, a freshly married couple from australia, some guys who didn't speak, & my new roommate: Bossy Smoker. the first thing she said upon entering my cabin was, "where's the smoking section? there is one, right? if i don't get a smoke, i'll kill someone." see, this is why janet got a name, but Bossy Smoker will go down in the annals as her vices.
we had grapefruit juice on the boat, & i fled to read in the room while they were debriefed & informed of the safety procedures. lunch after that was good as always - prawn ceviche; chicken wraps in a bright yellow dressing with a simple lettuce & tomato salad; & vanilla ice cream so eggy it tasted more like eggnog than vanilla. i sat with Amazon Settler & Prattles, of course, & of course Bossy Smoker made herself the fourth at our table. i didn't like her much more after lunch - she complained a lot - but at least found out she liked reptiles, so she wasn't all bad.
we departed that afternoon for santa cruz island where we saw the galápagos giant tortoises in the wild. i took a million photos of their muddy faces & ran into more awesome manzanillo trees - the tortoises can safely eat the fruit! we ate some spectacular fresh guava off the tree, then trekked through a couple huge lava tubes, like i'd done in hawaii.
on the boat again, the crew (also mostly new) met us with passionfruit juice & the most delicious little rolls of pan de yuca & honey, definitely my favorite snack so far. i sat in the lobby, blissfully free of the newcomers, & one of the crew who'd been with us the entire time brought me a bowl of mildly spicy plantain chips that i also could eat all day. omg.
dinner was less impressive that night - cauliflower soup; then tuna again, this time with a weird salty green sauce that they said was pesto but 100% wasn't (i scraped it off), parmesan baked potatoes, steamed broccoli, & very moreish maple carrots; & an undercooked rice pudding, sans cinnamon & sans raisins, which i barely touched. i sat with the canadians, & we were joined late by Realtor Douche from colorado. he kept asking me challenge questions, like "where do you work", said with emphasis & an assumption that i couldn't have a professional career looking the way i do. challenge questions always relate to "how could a freak like you possibly afford this trip", & it's simple to recognize the asshats from those actually interested in my chosen field. as anticipated by his douchy emphasis, he refused to make eye contact when the answers were well beyond what he expected. i blew his stupid tiny american mind with my brilliance & then left to my cabin.
blue footed booby dancing
music: tool, "intermission"
giant tortoises eating
music: face to face, "bottle rockets"