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March 31
We rise with the sun, cab to the airport and, after having our luggage minutely inspected for foreign life-forms that might contaminate the pristine environment, fly to Baltra Island, Galapagos .  On arrival, we are met by Christian, who will be our naturalist/guide.  He rounds up our group of sixteen, herds us on the bus for the short ride to the small bay where pangas are waiting to ferry us out to M/V San Jose -- our nautical home for the next eight days.  We are a veritable floating United Nations:  one Australian, three Americans, A German family of three from Stuttgart, a French family of five who currently live in Bogota, Columbia, a retired couple from England and two Canadians.  Christian is a Galapagueño, who has worked for many years as a guide and professional dive master.  Before we go ashore the first time, we get a very serious lecture about the rules and etiquette of visiting the Galapagos.  We are instructed to never leave anything behind, but also to take NOTHING, not a pebble, not a stick, not a seashell from any of the places where we go ashore.  We are not to molest or disturb the animals or interact with them in any way.  The wildlife are almost completely unafraid of humans and it would be possible to approach them closely and even touch them, but some, such as male sea lions can be aggressive and others could have their natural behaviour changed by excessive contact with humans.  Obviously, Ecuador is trying very hard to strike a balance between encouraging tourism and preserving the pristine nature of this wonderful place.

 

M/V San Jose On the bridge

Our first stop is Mosquera Islet, a short distance away and our first opportunity to go ashore.  We walk about on the small sandy island, seeing sea lions lounging in the sun, bright red Sally Lightfoot crabs, lava gulls and hundreds of iguanas. 

Mosquera Islet
 
Sea Lion and pup
Sally Lightfoot Crab
 
Iguana
Lava Lizard Lava Gull

Back on board, Christian gives us a briefing on what to expect the next day and we gather for dinner and begin to get to know our shipmates.  Around midnight, the ship weighs anchor and starts the six-hour crossing to Genovesa Island.  We find the gentle rolling motion of the boat very soothing and we both sleep soundly.

Dinner on board with delightful new friends Briefing on next day's activities

April 1
By the time the anchor drops in Darwin Bay at 6:00 am, we are already up, preparing for the day to come.  Right after breakfast, we board the pangas and head for the beach.  the birds on this island are amazing -- some species have adapted specifically to living only on Genovesa Island.   Blue-footed boobies are everywhere, as are the black and white Nasca boobies.  Red-footed boobies are found only this island, so it is a real treat to see them here.  The Magnificent Frigate Birds are in mating season and the huge scarlet throat pouches of the males are on full display.  Christian explains that once the male has successfully attracted a female and completed the mating act, his throat pouch softens and shrivels and gets smaller.  Hmmm.

Red-footed booby

Blue-footed booby                                               Photo by Per Gare

 

Magnificent frigate bird -- still looking for a mate Magnificent frigate bird with a smile on his face...

We walk among red mangrove trees and see fluffy booby chicks resting in the shade.  Swallow-tail gulls, mocking birds, Galapagos gulls and a vampire finch.  Christian, who is an extremely knowledgeable naturalist, explains that the vampire finch has evolved in a curious way.  Its beak is long and pointed, in contrast to typical finches which have heavier, seed-eating beaks.  It creeps up behind an unsuspecting booby and pecks at its skin, eventually drawing blood, which it consumes as a source of moisture.  Curiously, the booby doesn't seem to object.  At the beach, we watch mother sea lions basking in the sun while their pups cavort in the tidal pools.

Booby chick resting in the shade Nasca booby
Red-footed booby close up Fluffy booby chick

Back to the boat for our skin diving gear and our first underwater experience.  It has been quite a while since either of has snorkelled and it takes a while to get comfortable again, but soon we are entranced with swimming among the hundreds of colourful fish and other underwater creatures.   After lunch and a short rest we are off to Darwin Bay for more snorkelling.  Christian is enthusiastic about the likelihood of seeing hammerhead sharks.  Some of us are less so, but he assures us that, here on the Galapagos, these are   friendly VEGETARIAN sharks!  The water is a bit murky, but I manage to see a shark although I don't see the Golden Ray that others report. 

Back on board to rinse and change and then into the pangas to Prince Phillip's Steps.  We climb the narrow rock stair up onto the cliffs about 20 m above the water and then we hike across a lava flow, a barren rocky landscape almost devoid of vegetation.  Our objective is to find the Short-eared Owl.  This is a diurnal (active in daylight) owl and is exactly the same colour as the rocks.  At first they prove elusive, but Pierre spots one sitting in the shade under a rock overhang, eating his kill from the early morning.  On the way back, Christian points out some fur seals, lounging on the rocks and seeking shade in little caves.  Technically, they are fur sea lions and are very similar to the sea lions, but have shorter noses and bigger eyes.

Prince Phillip's steps Short-eared owl
Sea lion pup Galapagos dove

On board for a cold beer, our evening briefing and dinner.  It was a busy day and we are all in bed early.

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