Published: June 9th 2012May 13th 2012
At last a solid nights sleep! Sarah and I both got a good, much needed 9 hours. The boat had already moved to Sombrero Chino (Chinese Hat) before dinner yesterday so we were anchored and seas were quiet.
At 8 we hopped in the dinghys and got a little boat tour of the south side of the channel on the north side of Santiago where the new lava flow enters the water. From the boat we saw a number of marine iguanas, blue footed boobies, penguins and the Lava Herron (an endemic species). The water was really blue and clear. Then the dinghy took us across the channel to our wet landing on Chinese Hat. There were 4 or 5 young sea lions resting on the beach. We learned that they are fed by their mothers for the first two years. It was surprising that some of the larger juveniles, at a year or so old, did not hunt yet. They looked pretty big, practically full grown. The young sea lions will not even venture much in to the water for fear of being eaten by sharks. Not the white tip reef shark, they only eat smaller fish, but the
black tip reef sharks that we saw circling the boat would eat a small sea lion.
Chinese Hat is a rather small island and we only walked a small bit of it. It is about 1.5 million years old, same as Bartolome. It did have a bit more vegetation than Bartolome though. We saw some hawks flying around the crater, some more sea lions, lava lizards and some more marine iguanas. The only new animal was an American Oyster Catcher, a bird with a red beak, but I think those are pretty common in the rest of the world. Oh yeah, and an endemic locust...looked like a normal grasshopper to me.
The views from the island were magnificent. We could look across the beautiful blue water that filled the channel to the new lava flow on Santiago and the volcano that caused it.
Further on the trail we stopped and watched the waves violently crash in to the island. In the distance, next to Santiago we could see the tall mountain that is Rabida Island (day 7 stop), Beagal Islands, Pinzon Island and Santa Cruz. This walk was more about enjoying the views than anything else.
After the walk we boarded the dinghys as the captain moved the boat further in to the channel. At maybe 100 meters wide it looked like a pretty tight fit and the water did not look all that deep. We hopped back on the boat and got ready for our snorkel, which was on the Santiago side where the dingys had given us a little tour that morning. A few people jumped off the boat in to the crystal clear water to cool off and relax.
The dinghys took us close to the east entrance of the channel and we were to snorkel back towards the boat and a little past it. And as hard as it is to believe, the snorkeling just gets better and better. A few minutes in to the snorkel we saw some more of the diamond rays. Then the excitement really began as the penguins went shooting through the group. I happened to be in the middle of a huge school of little fish so I watched the penguins swim back and forth under me, chasing the little fish. Wow! Next was a Stone Scorpionfish, which was awesome because that morning I said I
wanted to see one of the fish that looks like a rock, check! Shortly after that I spotted a white tip reef shark, a little smaller than the ones yesterday, maybe 4 feet or so. The shark cooperated nicely as I was able to get the attention of lots of people who had not seen a shark yet. I was able to follow the shark for a good 15 minutes before breaking off. Then Sarah pointed out another white tip reef shark just as I saw a huge cornetfish. I dove down to get a better view of the cornetfish before following the second shark. And then there were two sharks. And then Sarah called me over for an Eagle Ray. It was crazy trying to decide what animal to follow, but with the Eagle Ray being new we followed that. By now we were in the middle of the channel and the current was really moving, plus the water was a good 30 feet deep so keeping up with the eagle ray was tough. We did though and I was able to dive down a few times and get a closer look. The snorkel was the best yet!
And of course with this being the Galapagos the fun did not stop once we got back on the boat. I got to the upper deck and saw Josh and Carly back in the water. Somebody had spotted a sea turtle and they were back in the water trying to swim with it. I grabbed my snorkel and mask and dove on off the upper deck to join them. With the visibility being so great we got really good views of the turtle. It was not as big as others I had seen, but the water does not get much clearer than it was so the view was excellent. Swimming back to the boat was a little challenging with the strong current, but not too difficult and I enjoyed swimming hard like the old days.
Geez, what another magnificant day in the Galapagos...and it is only halfway over.
After lunch we motored for 2.5 hours across the ocean to Whalers Bay on Santa Cruz Island for our afternoon stop. On the boat ride I tried looking for Manta Rays, but the wind was blowing pretty hard and the sea was rough. Fortunately though the seas did not seem
to bother anybody today. Maybe we had all grown our sea legs?
At about 3:00 we had a wet landing on a beach in Whalers Bay. The bay was a popular resting place for Whalers years ago. There are many shards of pottery scattered on the ground just inland. When the whalers would rest there they would take the tourtoises, ultimately removing all of them from the area. The park service decided to reintroduce tourtoises over the last 35ish years. Victor, our guide, was really excited about this stop because of the process of reintroducing the tortoises. There are only 35 tortoises that have been put on that part of the island so he warned us that we were unlikely to see them, but if we did it was special. And wouldn't you know, with the luck of the lucky calzone, we saw four! And they were all decent size. One, that Victor estimated was 35 years old, is the oldest he had ever seen in guiding at that spot. Very cool. We also spotted two herds of feral goats, one climbing the small mountain and one further north on the flat lands. Victor made a mental note as
he would need to report it to the park service. The feral goats are a major problem as they eat the same food as the tortoise thus making it harder for the tortoises to survive. And for an area where they are being reintroduced I would think it is a major problem. We also got some pictures of the Galapagos Mockingbird It is an endemic species but rather common on the islands, but since it was close in a tree and didn't seem bothered by us we snapped a few shots.
After the hike we hung out on the beach for half an hour before catching the dingy back to the boat.
What a great day!
Reef fish update (not all seen for the first time today, but made note of today):
Three banded butterflyfish
Cortez Rainbow Wrasse
Big reef cornetfish - maybe 3 feet long
There are more photos below