Terrific turtles


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South America » Ecuador
August 19th 2015
Published: July 28th 2017
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Geo: -1.29078, -90.434

Another rocky night on board meant that we prised open our eyes feeling exhausted and grumpy. We were looking forward to snorkelling the Devil's crown, and our grumpiness was not helped by the news that this had been a mistake on our printed itinerary and thus we would be snorkelling an area called Campion Island, reputedly better than the Devil's Crown, we were assured. However, that was to be in the afternoon, before that we would visit the green and the white beaches of Floreana Island. We landed at the "Green beach" supposedly the sand here was coloured green by the Olivine crystals in the sand. It was more of a brown colour, but we were able to pick out the dazzling crystals as we picked up handfuls of the sand. Form here, we took a short walk to a brackish lagoon, where flamingoes elegantly picked through the mud, dipping their black and white beaks into the mud, sifting the microscopic shellfish that give the vibrant pink hue to their feathers.

As we walked along the sandy path to the opposite side of the island, we encountered brightly coloured locusts resting in the branches of the trees, their hard shells constantly changing colour depending on how the light caught them. A tiny lava heron crossed our path, picking its way through the sand on short stilts. After a short walk, we arrived at "Flour Beach" so called for the powdery nature of the sand. Here, we sat and enjoyed the sunshine that broke through the clouds, wandering up and down the shoreline, spotting two large rays surfing the shifting sands below the waves, by which time, our grumpiness had turned back into the awe and wonder that cannot help but afflict you in these incredible islands.

On the return panga ride, we sailed close to the cliffs, spotting a blue footed booby gliding by the rocks, while two Nazca boobies, a frigate bird and a blue heron perched nearby. The bird life was prolific with dozens of species represented on one short boat ride. Soon, we were back on board our yacht and gearing up for a great snorkelling session. The ride out there was incredibly rough and the waves were crashing over the front of the small inflatable dinghy, filling the boat with water. As we approached the snorkel site, we could see the waves pounding against the rocky outcrops of the island and were warned to keep a good five metres distance between us and the jagged edge or we would be easily sucked in by the current and dashed against the sharp rocks. It was a rough swim against the current, and initially I was disappointed by the experience. I could see huge numbers of fish, dark shadows far below, as the cliff dropped off sharply underneath me, and kept thinking what an amazing dive site it would have been rather than a snorkelling site.

However, as we rounded the tip of the island, we found ourselves in a sheltered bay, where we were easily able to get closer to the rocks, teeming with fish of every shape, size and colour - striped, red, purple, turquoise, their vibrant scales reflecting the sun as it danced on the surface. Diving down and peering under a rock, I saw a shocking blue lobster sheltering from the predators above. However, the star attraction was still to come - a playful young sea lion pup that could not have been more than a metre long suddenly swam towards me, arching his body into bizarre contortions and blowing bubbles towards the camera as I swam alongside him. I was able to play with him for around five minutes, soaring and swoop through the water above, below and next to me, popping up at regular intervals to glance around, before diving back down again.

It was with great reluctance and sadness that I clambered back into the panga and headed for the yacht exhausted from the exertion of swimming against the current, but completely enchanted by the second sea lion encounter in as many days, this one surpassing all of my expectations. Lunch on the boat was once again delicious, and as we chilled out in the lounge, one of our fellow travellers burst in through the door to tell us that a gang of frigate birds were riding in the slipstream of the boat and surfing on the air currents above us. Racing up the stairs, I came nose to belly with around fifteen of the stunning birds as they swooped and sailed above us, their broad wings outstretched, their white or red throats giving us clues as to their gender. We stood and watched for around twenty minutes, mesmerised by their dance.

Soon, we docked at Post Office Bay - the most famous historical landmark on the island. Floreana was the first of the islands to be settled, although it now has the smallest population of any of the inhabited islands, and was where pirates, castaways and Buccaneers often resided. It was the site of one of the first industrial ventures in the archipelago, a tuna cannery, remnants of which stood rusting and decrepit next to the foundations of one of the houses of the early settlers. From here, we backtracked towards the shore and found the Post Office barrel - placed here during the 18th century and used as an informal postal service ever since. You leave a postcard, without a stamp but addressed, in the barrel and check each card as you arrive. If a postcard is headed for somewhere within your home vicinity, you take the postcard and then hand deliver it to the intended recipient. There were hundreds of postcards in the barrel, some dated from two or three years ago, others marked Do Not Deliver - the lucky addressees en route sometime in the near future to collect their postcard in person. We left postcards for ourselves to see how long it would take someone to find our card and return it to us at home.

After checking to see if we could deliver any cards (unfortunately, we drew a blank), we battled the hundreds of Galápagos wasps on the beach, grabbed our gear and hit the water. At first, it was a disappointing venture. The fish, although colourful and plentiful, were very similar to the fish we had seen on our two previous snorkelling trips. Suddenly, after swimming off alone for a while, I was rewarded for my intrepid sprit, by two huge turtles, floating on the strong current as it neared the rocks on the far side of the bay. One was well over 1.5m in diameter, his shell scarred by many years of battles, corals and rocks, while his companion was around one metre. Neither turtle was remotely perturbed by my presence, and both continued to grab huge beakfulls of sea grasses, pulling them away from the rocks with great force, chewing and swallowing without a care. I was able to swim around them, under and next to them while they grazed unconcerned. Every now and again, I followed one of them up to the surface as they took a deep breath and then we both ducked back beneath the waves and the serenity of the underwater world. As I finally left them behind, I was treated to similar encounters with another four or five turtles, each one gliding throughout the clear water, sometimes inquisitively eyeing the camera, at others completely ignoring me. To say the experience was magical would be an understatement and the experiences in the seas around the islands were increasing in brilliance as each day passed.

If that wasn't enough, as I approached the shore, I was greeted by a penguin floating on the surface of the water, chewing its catch as it soaked up the fading rays of the sun. I was able to swim towards him for a couple of moments before he ducked under the waves and dashed away into the deep blue, leaving a trail of bubbles in his wake. Elated, we enjoyed cocktails on board, saying goodbye to half of our group who would be leaving the islands in the morning and then took an early night ready to meet our new companions in the morning and enjoy more close encounters with the diverse life on the islands.

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