Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Bartolome and Santiago

I wake up early and climb to the deck. We are moored on a channel between two Island. One is small with a peaked hill and jutting rock close to us — Bartolome — and the other flatter and larger — Santiago. 

There are barely any seabirds in the sky — a start contrast to yesterday’s frenzy activity. According to the briefing the island here has little vegetation and there is a population of Galapagos hawks, which limits the bird population.

After breakfast we take the panga for a dry landing on Bartolome. The island surface is very fragile and so our whole trail is a fenced wooden path leading to the lighthouse on top of the mountain.

Upon landing we encounter again a sea lion sleeping on the stairs to the sea. This one we managed to circumvent, but some of us step into bombs it left on the stairs (very smelly ones at that).

As we walk along the path up the hill we encounter different lava formation. The scenery looks alien and could have easily been backdrop for a star trek episode. 

Although barren, there is life here. We encounter lava lizards, small slim lizards. The male is drab colored and the female is somewhat fancier with red throat. Their main pray is the Galapagos grasshopper.  We also see some ground finches eating away at seeds.

Ground Finch

Male Lava Lizard

Grass hopper

When we get to the top we get to see the whole island below us. It has a dumbbell shape connecting two rocky hills. The connector is lower and has two sandy beaches with mangroves growing between them.  

View from the top of Bartolome

Ilan in a tourist pose

Ilan mediating on the view at the top, while Devon and Ben take a selfie

From the top we can also see the remains of the ancient volcano that created the island. Now it makes a tropical looking lagoon next to our landing point.

A female Lava Lizard, keeping her feet off the warm rocks

Light-footed Sally crab

Harry/Henry with the panga

Heron getting into attentive pose

We return to the boat and get ready for snorkeling. After yesterday’s experience, few people are reluctant to go. Unlike yesterday, today we snorkel along the beach going around the pinnacle. As we jump in David points to a penguin standing on a rocky ledge above the water. We all come closer to gawk at it, but it seems oblivious to us. 

The shore here is rocky and there are nice rock formations at the shallow water. We see a variety of sea life.

Someone shouts “sea lion” and we all rush toward that point. There is young sea lion going around and demonstrating its agility. Every time I think we lost it, it comes back from a surprising angle. Clearly it is eager to play and we provide a great audience.

At some point a larger sea lion approaches, probably his mother, and after brief interaction with him, she swims away. 

I am watching the sea lion with few people, and the rest are ahead of us. They encounters a large sting ray. When I get there the sea lion follows us and goes to investigate the ray. After few minutes the ray had enough and swims away.

Christy and a friend

Reaching the base of the pinnacle, we see few sea lions sleeping on the rocks. They are totally oblivious of the snorkelers below them.

Surgeon fish school
I am trying to photograph the crabs at the rocks, and suddenly I hear the cry “shark” behind me. I swim over to see a white tip reef shark swimming by. The sea lion also sees the shark and starts annoying it. At this point the shark disappear from us with few tail strokes.

Birch spots a spiny lobster on one of the rocks and I stop to photograph it.

 Again I hear the cry “shark”. This time the shark is much closer and in shallow water and I get a chance to capture more reasonable picture of this beautiful creature.

While we were in the water, the ship moved toward the shore of the larger Santiago island. We return to it with the pangas and have lunch and a short rest.

The pangas drop us off at the short of large lava field — the remains of a wide lava river that flowed to the sea. The lava is formed into various shapes determined by how hot it was, what cooled it, and how fast. The alien landscape is dotted with broken lava crusts, “ovens” formed by trapped water, rope-like textures and many other shapes.

Grasshoper on a lava field

At the end of the lava field there is a small shore. There is an option to snorkel. Initially only Andrew, Annie and me go for it. Its fun to explore as a smaller group. We explore the shallow area of the shore, getting a chance to see the diversity of sea creatures. We follow the shore line along the rocks that create small bays and coves.

I hear Andrew shout “turtle” and I swim over to see a large turtle cruising in the water.

With some frantic fin kicks I manage to get parallel to it and take some pictures. 

Annie and a friend

After we relax from this experience we start heading back toward the sandy beach. By now our group are spread along beach, and another group is also there snorkeling. A sea lion pass by ignoring us. When we get near to the shore there is a commotion — a marine iguana took to the water just next to where all the snorkelers were. However, the sea lion came investigate it, and the iguana decided to get out of the water. 

The sea lion displays a peculiar behavior, it scans the sandy bottom with its snout and whiskers. I am not sure whether it is searching for crabs, or is there a different purpose in this behavior.

I get out of the water, and get a chance to photograph some Lightfooted Sally crabs, and one iguana that posed nicely for several photographers.

Once we are back on board, the ship takes off toward Santa Cruz island. It is crossing a stretch of sea rich with large marine life. This part is labeled “marine life observation” in our daily schedule.


A group of us sits on the front of the boat searching for signs. Once in a while we see in the distance something jumping out of the water, but it is hard to figure out what it is. 

Closer jumps show that these are rays of some sort. Everyone shouts manta ray, but Ilan suspects these are more likely to be mobila. We do see the silhouettes of manta rays passing just next to the ship. 

Along this ride few frigates follow us, hovering just above us. They barely move their wings and manage to stay with us although we are going at a fast clip. They seem to enjoy riding the turbulence caused by the ship’s passage against the wind. I manage to catch few shots of them as they compete for the position.

We get closer to Daphne Major, a small island, which is essentially the tip of a volcano cone raising from the water. A large dolphin pod crosses our path, they join the ship for a bit, displaying jumps and racing us for a while. After few minutes of excitement, they return to their original trajectory, and we separated from them. 

Approaching Daphne Major
The island has steep vertical walls going down to the sea. It is populated by sea birds, and we get a chance to watch them flying about and fishing. We come across another dolphin pod.

As the sun reaches the horizon we get to our destination, close to the north shore of Santa Cruz isle. The sunset paints an impressive impressionistic painting.

Hans and the sunset

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