Day 4 and we were up with the larks, (well we would have been if there were any in the Galapagos) ready for our first glimpse of the largest of the Galapagos Islands….. Isabella. As the sun’s rays crested the humped mass off our stern, we got our first glimpse of Punta Moreno and how Isabella had been formed. A vast alien landscape of black lava rock, appeared to be still bubbling forth and flowing in slowly swirling eddies to the sea.
Our first excursion of the day, involved sturdy walking shoes as those soft toffee looking flows, were as hard as rock and scattered with razor sharp broken edges and shards. At first glimpse it would appear that nothing could live in this black, sun baked wilderness yet nature always finds a way. Our destinations were a series of ponds. The first close to the shore and linked to the sea by underwater tunnels, contained white tip reef sharks snoozing under the ledges. The last one was worth the hot, sweaty slog as it had its own population of flamingos. With heads down and bums up, they flamed pink in the morning sun as they swept the brackish waters for tiny shrimp.
Back on the panga we headed home for a much needed cool drink. Yet we had one more surprise to come…….. Penguins! Yes penguins! A group of 4 were floating just off shore as went by. Where else in the world can you see flamingos and penguins living wild within just a few metres of each other?
Next up was a snorkel, the anticipation was high; we all wanted to see those penguins again. We dropped into water as green as pea soup, nowhere near as warm though. Visibility was low, giving us fleeting glimpses of hunting sea lions, but excellent views of grazing turtles, huge schools of fish, and monster lobsters. As we progressed along the cliff face the visibility cleared giving us glimpses of giant stingrays and porcupine fish as well. There were also lots to see out of the water as well, as this is the home of the flightless cormorant. After each fishing session these strange birds extend their pared down wings to the sun to dry off.
After such a busy morning, we devoured both the hot chocolate waiting for us back on the Mary Anne and the substantial lunch that followed. Our afternoon was a little less strenuous but just as thrilling. This was our chance to explore the unique habitat of the red mangrove swamps that fringe Elizabeth Bay. Upon arrival the outboards were turned off and we slowly paddled our way through the swamp. Smaller and often sleeping turtles abounded here, as did hordes of birds. Each clump of mangrove was festooned with roosting groups of frigates, pelicans and the more solitary herons and ibis’s.
As the sun dipped towards the horizon we headed home, with a slight detour along the way. A couple of fishing boats each with a string of smaller manned boats had had a successful day. The fishermen were gutting and salting their catch, the result was a scene right out of the movie “The Birds”. Clouds of frigates and a few pelicans, swooped and dove around them, catching guts and bones mid-air as the fishermen tossed them aside. What a day!
We had a 6.30 am start at Tagus Cove, Isabella on day 5. With just coffee & buns to sustain us, we were in search of bright orange land iguanas and giant tortoises, before the heat of the day drove them and us under cover. It is a land of dry dense vegetation, bisected by well-trodden tortoise pathways and pocked with iguana burrows. There are slim pickings here and both species have to forage far and wide for food, even resorting to eating the prickly cactus pads and the poison apples from trees similar to the poisonous machineel tree that inhabits many tropical beaches. After watching one large tortoise slowly work his way through a pile of these apples, one can only marvel at how adaptable these creatures have had to be to survive.
In need of some survival sustenance ourselves; we headed back home for breakfast and a short siesta while we headed over to Fernandina and Punta Espinosa. Luckily the siesta wasn’t too long as in transit we saw whales breaching, blowing and tail slapping. Rumour has it a sunfish was spotted too.
Next up was a snorkel to see marine iguanas feeding. These are the only iguanas that feed on seaweed covered rocks and to see them feeding underwater is one of the world’s most unique sights. Sadly there weren’t many around but we did manage to catch some footage.
The highlight though, was from something else feeding. As we were hovering above a shimmering mass of fish, they suddenly darted off as if frightened. And frightened they should have been, in hot pursuit was a sea lion, cleaving the water like a hot knife through butter and boy was she fast! So fast she had gone before it had even registered. Not too worry though, the school of fish had circled back to us and as they flashed by we knew what was coming next. Cute and cumbersome on land, sea lions undergo a transformation once they are in their element and become sleek fast hunting machines. All we could say was “Oh My God”!
Our final event of the day was an afternoon walk on Fernandina, in search of more marine iguanas. This again was an otherworldly land of congealed lava flows. Think of a truckload of tarmacadam or blacktop, slowly pooling out, crusting and swirling as it cools, then expand that so it stretches in every direction around you.
The highlight here was at the end of the walk. As we were in the islands in January there were young sea lion pups everywhere. Mum sea lion leaves them on shore, sometimes in sea lion nurseries or playing in shallow pools while she goes off to hunt. These babies are so curious about these tall upright creatures. We had been teasing Tony (a fellow passenger) about being a sea lion whisperer as they all loved to come up and gently nudge him. Our own up close and personal experience was with two little babies who came wondering over to check me out as I sat nearby (check out the grin on the video).
After a full day and another excellent dinner it was early to bed as we were going back to Isabella to explore stunning Tagus Cove.