Lazy lounging and scrounging sea lions

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South America » Ecuador
August 20th 2015
Published: July 28th 2017
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The boat had continued to rock throughout the night, rolling us around in the bed and it was with great relief that we docked in the early hours of the morning, although the swell continued to push the boat from side to side as we gingerly ate breakfast, our stomachs lurching with each wave. To our great relief, today was going to be a predominantly land-based day, meeting the new group joining us on board and enjoying the sights of Santa Cruz.

We docked at the picturesque port and wandered along the seafront to the local fish market. Our heads were still convinced we were on the boat and we drunkenly staggered down the steps to the stall. Here we were met with a gang of noisy pelicans and two sea lions, all clamouring for the attention of the fishmongers, clambering over one another to get to the counter, waiting for a tasty morsel to be thrown their way. The sea lions hauled their front flippers up onto the slippery counter, looking for all the world like thirsty punters at a bar passing the time of day with the barman. Every now and again, the workers would turn the hose on the waiting animals, sending the pelicans scurrying away to the safety of the nearby trees, while the sea lions slid along the floor on their bellies, enjoying the free water slide. We stayed for around twenty minutes, laughing at the antics of the hungry throng creating a cacophony of squarks and honks every time a fish was produced.

From the market, it was a short walk to the Charles Darwin Research Centre, where we engaged with a tortoise feeding programme similar to the one we had seen in San Cristobal. Here, tiny tortoises - less than a year old - huddled in the corners of large pens, larger tortoises weaved in and out of one another in search of food in the semi-wild enclosures and huge lumbering giants heaved their massive bodies over to us, their wrinkled necks craning out from under the gargantuan saddle-shaped shells, their prehistoric faces seemingly taking in every detail of our presence. We also saw land iguanas that were part of the breeding programme, huge bright yellow creatures seemingly straight from the set of Jurassic Park, their sharp claws and jagged spines giving a menacing aura to their forms.

After reading some of the information boards around the site, we made our way to the souvenir shops and art galleries on the sea front, enjoying browsing in relative civilisation after a few days at sea and strolling around the sunshine. Soon though, it was time to get back on board and meet our new crew mates, a mixed bunch of nationalities and ages who all seemed very friendly. The plan in the afternoon was to visit the highlands of Santa Cruz, where we would have the opportunity to see the tortoises in the wild. However, by this time, we were a bit tortoised out and the weather was set to be rainy with muddy terrain. We asked if we could arrange a different itinerary, preferring to visit the local beach recommended in the lonely planet and spend some time relaxing in the sunshine. One of the CEOs happily agreed to take the difficult job of ferrying five of us to the beach to loll about in the sunshine, while the other trekked through the boggy highlands. We took the panga to the beach and walked along a short trail that took us past marine iguana nests and cute little boutique hotels. Soon, we arrived in the golden sands of the beach frequented only by locals, where we wasted no time in jumping into the water and snorkelling amongst the mangroves that hugged the edges of the bay. The visibility and clarity in the water wasn't brilliant, but we were able to enjoy dipping and weaving in and out of the roots of the overhanging trees, seeing a diverse range of wildlife in such a small area. We pushed on further out to see where there was a strong current pulling us in towards the rocks, and it took a lot of our energy to keep moving forwards. The rocks came very high up in the water, making it difficult to remain floating and at one point, we stranded ourselves on a particularly high part of the lava flow and had to scrape our bellies against the jagged edges of the stones in order to continue. Fortunately, after about fifteen minutes, we were rewarded with four huge turtles that came floating past us, munching the thick sea grasses that clung to the rocks, easily surfing the currents that threw us around. We stayed with them for around twenty minutes before they decided that the four large strange coloured sea lions they had encountered were too boring, and glided away in a blaze of bubbles.

We headed back to the shore, encountering tiny colourful fish, and huge parrot fish, pulling at the dead coral with their sharp mouths. Several minute puffer fish were floating around us, flapping their tiny fins, so out of proportion with their bulbous bodies, at great speed trying to maintain their equilibrium in the water as it flowed through the mangroves. We washed up on the shore and enjoyed some beach time, before heading to one of the bars and sampling some of the local cocktails - blue and red footed boobies all round - and watching the yachts bobbing on the calm sea in front of us, birds diving around the boats searching for fish. Back on board, we watched the petrels dancing and skipping on the waves, their feet skimming the surface, their black and white heads perched on top of elegant bodies.

After welcome cocktails for the new shipmates, it was time for bed, ready for an early start and a navigation to Santiago and Bartolome islands through the night.


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