When you have been surrounded by the bizarre experiments of nature for 3 days straight (Read about the first half of my Galapagos trip), you start to expect the unexpected. Halfway through our Galapagos cruise we landed on the tiny volcanic island of Floreana Island, curious what otherworldly adventures awaited. We weren’t disappointed.
Day 4. Floreana – Zen in the Galapagos
“If you don’t move, they won’t sting you” said our guide as I stand along the shore, stingrays floating around my toes. I watch the sea turtle heads bob in the waves and take a deep breath (or ten). The stingrays floated in and out, their bodies flapping slightly, half submerged in sand. After several minutes of this encounter (and zero stings), I manage to achieve a little Galapagos zen standing still. The meditative experience wouldn’t last long, however, as we head out to Champion Island for a whirlwind snorkeling trip. We swim fast, invigorated by the cold water, and the bright schools of fish. Baby sea lions come for a visit, and initiate a high-speed game of chase, zooming around within inches of the snorkelers and demonstrating laudable gymnastic abilities. Later in the afternoon, we rediscover peace in the calm waters of Gardner Bay. Giant sea turtles munch on algae, and there is nothing to do but float on the surface and watch the gentle creatures.
Day 5. Santa Cruz and giant tortoise counting
“That one is old, maybe 100 years though we don’t really know” said our guide, pointing at a giant tortoise calming munching on the grass. The ridges on its back are worn smooth with age, and it weighs several times what I do. The highlands of Santa Cruz Island are exploding with greenery and the tortoises are there to eat everything that grows. The business of eating is a slow but undignified affair, with the constant pulling at grasses, and their mouths covered in scraps. After a good meal, the giants settle into an afternoon siesta in the mud pools. There are 15 tortoises there, and the heavy guttural breathing of the animals is only punctuated by the sound of cameras clicking continuously. In the afternoon we spot baby giant tortoises at the Charles Darwin Research Center, being raised in captivity for their protection against invasive species. They are no larger than my palm, and it takes all my self control not to reach out and pet one.
Day 6. Bartolome
Bartolome is best described as a jagged rock where penguins and sharks swim, in the middle of mars. Snorkeling around the rocks is fascinating, where underwater cliffs create landscapes that rival the famous views above water. Penguins dart to and fro, seemingly undecided where to go, but determined to get there fast. On dry land above we are surrounded by otherworldly textures, from weird spatter formations, hardened eroded ash, and areas where gas exploded from lava. The sun sets behind the jagged and famous Pinnacle rock.
Day 7. A bird paradise
Saturday I wake up with the ominous feeling that something terrible is about to happen. We arrive on Plaza Island and the huge colonies of sun-bathing land iguanas and nesting swallow-tailed gulls cheer me up. The iguanas walk like little dinosaurs – their scales are yellow-gray mottled and they eat the prickly pear cactus fruit with a surprisingly vicious looking bite. The gulls are everywhere, their red-rimmed eyes pepper the gray landscape and they are so close to the path we almost step on them. After lunch we disembark on the barren landscape of North Seymour. The incense-scented palo santo trees are gray and appear dead, forming a contrasting backdrop for huge groups of black frigate birds with inflated red chests calling to attract a mate.
What is so terrible about that? It’s actually the realization it’s almost time to go home.