Published: June 11th 2012May 16th 2012
We arrived at our anchor point some time over night. The ride seemed fine and when I woke up the seas were so calm I couldn't tell we were even on a boat. Sarah had been up for about an hour, watching the sunrise. Her report on wildlife: a sea lion burped. I went up to the top deck to watch for a little too before breakfast and only saw two penguins in the water. Otherwise things were calm.
Today is our last full day. I can't believe it is already here. I wish we has more time, but at the same time I am completely satisfied with our trip regardless of what the day brings. It just doesn't get much better than this.
This morning we are visiting Puerto Egas on the west side of Santiago in James Bay. It is a black sand beach, quite unique. The Galaxy, the same boat that was with us before, had already landed and unloaded their crew for a land visit. So, we drove the dinghys around briefly. Apparently the penguins I saw that morning were rare because when Victor saw them he was surprised. Apparently they are never at this
Once on land we spent some time getting pictures of the arch and of a baby sea lion then we wandered down the trail. The cove was used by pirates and buccaneers when they were hiding as Albany Island hides the cove from visibility from the sea. It is assumed about this time is when the massive number of feral goats, pigs and rats were introduced to the island. Later a salt mine was developed and 200ish people lived on the island. The mine was very successful early on before other mines were built on the mainland. Then it could no longer compete and everybody left the island. The park service undertook a massive mission in the late 90s until 2006 to rid the island of the goats and pigs. Because there were hundreds of thousands of them, the park service took an interesting strategy. The would capture females and make them sterile. Then they would inject them with hormones that would make the males attracted to them. And they painted their horns blue. Then they used helicopters to shoot the animals. It was a massive undertaking, but when completed it became the largest island in the world
to erradicate such an invasive species. The giant tortoises did survive on the highlands because the island is so big, but now with the goats and pigs gone the park service is helping a little with breeding.
The trail wound on. We watched two male lava lizards fighting over a female/territory for a while. Then Victor started flipping over rocks. At first I thought he was trying to find a snake, which would have been odd, but then he found what he was looking for, a scorpion. It was the tiniest little thing. Another endemic species.
The day was getting really hot and I was ready for the snorkel, but we still had a walk along the beach left. At the shoreline there were some cool deep pools where the fur sea lions were resting. Some where sleeping on rocks, but others were laying in the water floating. There was a lot of snoring going on in the group. Victor even let us get in the water with them, a likely no-no, but with them being nocturnal they probably do not play with people like the Galapagos Sea Lions so they were rather boring (there are two types
of sea lions, the Galapagos and the Fur - the Galapagos sea lions are a subspecies of the California Sea Lion and are what we see everywhere). Next we watched a lava heron unfairly hunt fish in a shallow pool left by the high tide. Despite the unfair advantage the heron was not particularly good at it.
Finally we were back at the beach and it was time to snorkel. The Galaxy group was making their swim back to the beach, finishing up their snorkel. That was pretty disappointing because it likely meant anything big was scared off.
Despite it looking like there was no visibility from the surface, once we were in the water the visibility was really good. It was because of the black sand that from the surface it didn't look clear.
Sarah and I worked our way away from the beach, following the rocks towards deeper water. We got pretty far off shore, further than I am guessing the older group from the Galaxy went. There we saw millions of smaller fish. Intermixed with them were long, skinny barracuda. It was almost unfair as the barracuda just floated there in the middle of
the schools of fish and when they were hungry they would just reach over and snatch one. I got a pretty good view of a small fish getting chomped by a barracuda.
And while I did not get a great look, a Blue Footed Boobie dove in to the water mere feet from me to snag a fish. He dove pretty far down too, maybe 10 feet or more. They really are impressive divers. The other big highlight was another shark sighting. This time though it was a black tip reef shark, maybe 5 feet long. It was a lot more of an intimidating look than the white tip with a much thicker head and body. It didn't stick around long though so we only got to see it for a minute or two.
This was probably my favorite spot to snorkel. It had shallow rocks where we could see all the tropical types of reef fish. But, it also had deep channels running between the rock reefs (30 or so feet deep) where some of the deeper fish species were. It was a great mix and seemed to be a place where you could see everything.
After lunch I took to my perch for our 2ish hour motor to Rabida. I got distracted by a crew member trying to show me his Orca video, the same one he showed me yesterday. Just then there was yelling and the captain slowed the boat and sounded the alarm. Apparently a big whale had breached rather close on my side of the boat...and I missed it. The boat stopped and we spent a good 20 minutes waiting for it to surface again but it never did. Victor did not get a great view of it, but if he had to guess he thought it was a humpback whale.
Just as the motor started up again there was a decent sized manta ray at the waters surface. A good number of people got to see it, including us. A few minutes later Sarah and I saw a huge manta ray, must have been 10 feet or more wide. The boat went right over it. As we were approaching Rabida there was a half dozen or so rays that would fly out of the water a couple feet before crashing back down. Victor said they do that to get parasites
off of them.
Lowering anchor in a small cove at Rabida as our final destination was nice. We were the only boat here and the scenery was beautiful. We were off for a wet landing at a beach on the other side of the cove. The sand was a fantastic dark red.
We hopped in the water for our snorkel since the sun was out. Visibility was weird. With the sun so bright there were patches where it was almost blinding. Other spots we could see really well. Most of the usual stuff, nothing particularly different. Two medium size white tip reef sharks, maybe 3.5 feet, and two babies, maybe 2 feet long. There were a couple rays and lots of starfish. The highlight was probably some Wahoos. At the end a white tip reef shark just cruised under us and we got to watch it for a while. We did not chase it so it seemed to swim really slowely and was not bothered by us.
The snorkel was cut a bit short because once we rounded the corner of the island the waves got bigger and the current strong. It made it difficult to snorkel.
At one point everybody had given up but Sarah and I.
Next on the land visit we walked down the beautiful red beach. On the way back we took a small side trail to a salt water lagoon where there were four flamingos feeding on shrimp. We then climbed up in to the island for a short hike. At the end of the hike there was a beautiful overlook where we watched the sun set. Just as we were about to leave the spot we saw an Orca breach. We did not see it again, but it was still an amazing site.
Back on the boat, it is unfortunately the last night. Very sad. At dinner we had a little graduation ceremony where everybody acted out an animal they saw. The certificate talks about crossing the equator, something we have done 4 times on this boat.
Sarah and I got an interesting compliment that evening. Claire and Carly were saying they thought we were from Canada initially because of our personalities. They said we give Americans a good name. Unfortunately it sounds like Americans are not well liked as travelers.
Later in the evening, we saw
something pretty cool, but also disturbing. It is 11:24 and the crew is fishing off the back off the boat, a big no no here. It is cool because the activity attracts the sharks and seeing the black ocean light up as a shark moves through it is something else. Unfortunately it is disturbing as well. The day we saw the big black tip reef sharks circling the boat must have been for the same reason. It is sad because it is breaking the law.
As much as I have loved this trip, the only downside has been the rule breaking. The Galapagos should be a place of beauty for generations to come and it is a shame to see it abused.
Reef fish update:
Leather Bass Juvenile - zebra looking fish
Blue and gold snapper
Galapagos Ringtail Damselfish
Panamic Graysby Cabrilla
Cortez Rainbow Wrasse
Panamic Fanged Blenny
There are more photos below