I love boobies

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South America » Ecuador
August 22nd 2015
Published: July 28th 2017
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Thankfully, it was an incredibly calm night and we were able to grab a sizeable chunk of sleep, despite the excitement of yesterday. We awoke to a panga ride straight over to yet another powder-soft beach - something I had not expected to be a highlight of a Galápagos trip but we truly have been spoiled by the wonderful beaches we have had private access to on this trip and it will be incredibly difficult to ever book a beach destination without having a tinge of disappointment that it's not as deserted or as stunning as the ones we have visited on this trip.

We took a long walk across the full length of the beach in both directions, each path ending at a a small lagoon, the trees surrounding each one reflecting on the water. As we reached the first one, we were treated to the sight of a solitary flamingo on his stilt-like legs near to the shore. He lifted one long leg after another, tiptoeing through the mud, dipping his long break into the brackish water, then pulling out again, droplets of water shimmering in the sunlight as they fell from the curve of his bill. We left him to his solitude and then walked back over the soft sand to the second lagoon, passing Sally Lightfoot crabs scuttling over the rocks.

As we passed the surf, a beautiful great grey heron was standing on one leg in the foamy waves, turning his head this way and that, seemingly to pose for photographs. He was not perturbed, despite the two metre distance between us and him and merely stood back and allowed us to take shots of him with the dramatic grey sky behind him and the rolling surf coming into shore. We continued along the beach to the lagoon, where two large marine iguanas waddled into the water and began to swim across the lake, their long tails swinging behind them, propelling them through the shallows. It was the closest we had been to the creatures while swimming and we stood enthralled at their ungainly figures bobbing across to the other side.

Back on the beach, we were treated the the sight of a baby black-tipped reef shark swimming in the shallow water less than a metre from the shore, his tiny dorsal fin cutting through the surface of the water as his lithe body swung from side to side, before dashing away into the depths. We suited up and jumped into the water with the hope of seeing him again, but sadly the visibility in the water wasn't brilliant in the shallows and so we swam further out to where the rocks were lining the sides of the bay. Here, fish of every shape and size swam around the stones, starfish and urchins dotting the sea bed below. Looking for larger sea life to play with, we swam back towards the rocks on the far side of the bay. In the middle of our swim, we could see shapes shooting into the water a short distance away from us, but due to the visibility, found it difficult to see what they were. We stopped and looked above us, amazed by what we saw. A feeding frenzy was happening right in front of our eyes - boobies, pelicans and gulls were dive bombing the water, emerging, triumphantly with fish clutched in their beaks. We watched in wonder as over thirty birds hit the surface of the sea, like missiles, their wings tucked in and feet flying behind them in an ultimate display of aerodynamics. Suddenly, as quickly as it had begun, the birds took flight and carried their catch away to the rocks to enjoy the fruits of their labour. We heard the whistle urging us back to shore, and, feeling more than a little chilly, did so. As we swam over, we were treated to the sight of an elegant spotted eagle ray gliding through the water in front of us, his long tail trailing behind him. Suddenly, he darted away into the murky water and we lost sight of him. However, as we approached the shore, we found another ray, dug into the ground, his huge eyes peering at us from the sea bed. We stopped and watched him for a while, diving down and enjoying the spectacle for a while.

About to leave the sea, our eyes were caught by a long moray eel that was poking its fierce head it from a small group of rocks near the shore. Diving down with the GoPro, I was able to get close up footage of his sharp teeth and menacing eyes as he snapped at the lens, his mottled head moving in and out of the rocks. Eventually, I left him to it, and headed back to the beach before a short break on the boat, ready for more aquatic action in the afternoon.

The afternoon's snorkel was straight from the dinghy and we entered the cold water with a sharp intake of breath. There were huge rocky areas for marine life to hide behind and ledges for them to shelter under, and we spent a good half hour just enjoying the fish life around the island. The current was mild and it was incredibly serene and peaceful on the surface of the water, enjoying watching the fish hurry by in a beautiful array of patterns and colours. Suddenly the cry came out that a turtle was present, and after swimming over at speed, we enjoyed a few moments watching him glide effortlessly around the water, before dipping away from us. A sea lion was the next friend to come and join us, zipping playfully around the group. almost coming nose to nose with us on several occasions, sinking and rising in the water over and over again, turning gymnastic rolls and changing direction with ease.

After a while, he grew tired of the game and slunk away from us. A sudden flash of white in the water to my right caught my eye and the chase was on. A white-tipped reef shark, the first one we had seen on the trip was speeding along about a metre below me, the top of his dorsal fin and the end of his tail looking like they had been tipped in Tippex. Using every ounce of my strength and energy, I followed behind him as quickly as I could, my legs kicking like crazy and my lungs screaming (quite the opposite of what was the natural reaction, I'm sure!). I was able to stay on his tail for around three minutes, watching him swim without any effort at all, until he whirled into an underground cave in a flurry of bubbles, away from my prying eyes.

Disappointed in losing the shark, I continued on my way, my eyes peeled for more incredible encounters. Another stunning moray eel snapped its jaws at me as I paused to watch it, and a tiny stunning bright blue fish caught my eye amongst the shoals that passed and kept me enthralled for a couple of minutes, watching it dart in and out of the rocks. I have no idea what type of fish it was and have not been able to find it in the identification books, but it was the brightest blue I have ever seen - a shocking sapphire which put the rest of the fish to shame - no mean feat in these incredible waters.

We got back on the boat, sad to have finished our final snorkel, but elated at the underwater encounters we had experienced, and after a very quick change, we took a panga out to the island. As we landed, a colony of blue footed boobies greeted us, their feet bright against the black rocks they were standing on. Here, we took a walk on the craggy landscape, keeping our eyes peeled for the focus of our hike - land iguanas. We tracked through the undergrowth, our eyes sweeping the landscape for the large, yellow reptiles amongst the pale yellow grasses that surrounded the pathways - a difficult feat due to the incredible camouflage. However, soon our guide was able to point out a large male iguana laid out on a patch of land around four metres away from us. Surrounded by burrows, he was one of several that would have dug homes hoping to impress a female. A twitch to his right made us take notice and we saw the female in question basking on a rock. We watched them for a while, their sharp claws digging into the spilt ground, leathery chins hanging down and scaly faces, topped with sharp spikes staring obliviously into the distance.

The rest of the hike took us past more burrows - deep tunnels in the sandy ground, past even larger males lounging around in the fading sunshine. More flamingoes were waiting for us at a small lagoon we passed on the way back to the boat, and we waved goodbye to the last up-close wildlife we would see on the trip as we got back in the panga, pootled past the boobies and headed back to the yacht, where I promptly banged my head on the staircase in my hurry to get onto the sun deck for sunset. Cue everyone else gasping at the sunset, me gasping at the freezing ice as it was applied to my skull, a huge lump rapidly growing out of the crown of my head. A little woozy, we took some photographs in the final throes of the sunlight as the huge orange sphere dipped below the horizon and, with sadness, it was time to pack our things ready to leave the islands tomorrow.

As we were packing, Stacey realised she had left something on the top deck. I headed up there to grab it and on seeing the sky, raced back down to drag her to the top level of the boat. Here, the clouds had stayed away, leaving the sky completely clear. The stars covered the black sheet of night, millions of tiny twinkling lights blanketing the sky. The dusty smudge of the Milky Way arced over our heads, while a three-quarter moon glowed brightly, illuminating the ripples on the tranquil surface of the sea below us. It was absolutely magical and a fitting ending to our wonderful time in the Galápagos, which had been more than we had dreamed of. We stood on deck, admiring nature's incredible spectacle for a while, before reluctantly heading below decks to our cabin, where we readied ourselves for an early start for our final activity in the morning.


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