Thursday, October 31, 2013

Galapagos Islands Day 5 - October 24

Puerto Ayora – Santa Cruz Island

Letty anchored in Academy Bay after midnight and although in a bay, the swell rolled in and we rolled right along with the swell.  Arising the next morning at our 0700 wakeup call we found ourselves in a crowded harbor and the first town since arriving at San Cristobal.  Puerto Ayora is the commercial center for the Galapagos, with about 15,000 inhabitants.  The Charles Darwin Research Station is also here.

After a dry landing we boarded a bus for a trip into the highlands of Santa Cruz Island, moving into a very different vegetation zone due to the moisture from the clouds at elevations above 500 meters.  A 30 minute ride brought us to the “Twins”, two nearly identical sinkholes hundreds of feet deep created when magma chambers collapsed eons ago.
American Yacht anchored in Academy Bay, Santa Cruz

One of the twin sinkholes with rainbow

The other twin sinkhole

Another 30 minute ride brought us to a farm on the western coast of Santa Cruz, at an elevation that had lush trees and grass, good for both cattle and for giant land tortoises to thrive.  The tortoises have been brought back from the brink of extinction through bringing back male tortoises from around the world, like “Solitary George”, who passed away in 2012.  We donned rubber boots and headed out into the forest and muddy trails, finding a number of tortoises for photo opportunities.

All booted up to find tortoises

Tortoises don't seem to mind if you are close

Typical vegetation in tortoise territory
Check out the tonsils

These Tortoises love spending time in water

Tortoises feed on vegetation

Nothing happens quickly

After exhausting the photo ops since nothing happens quickly with the tortoises, we took a short ride to a large lava tunnel, now a tourist attraction before returning to the Letty for lunch.
After our normal siesta following lunch, we headed back into town to the Charles Darwin Research Station and viewed tortoises in captivity, as well as land iguanas and newly hatched tortoises in various stages of development.  The tortoises are kept about 5 years until they are no longer target for predators due to their shell hardness and size.

Cactus Tree

Lava Tunnel

After our visit we walked the few blocks to the center of town where we had a chance to shop, stopped for a local beer and then watched a sea lion pup and mom begging for scraps at the local open air fish market before returning to the ship for the normal afternoon briefing and dinner.

Land Iguana at Charles Darwin Research Station

Sea Lion begging for fish

Taking the fish anyway

Typical street in Puerto Ayora

Academy Bay in late afternoon

Galapagos Islands Day 4 - October 23

Floreana, Flamingoes, Boobies Galore and Sally Lightfoot Crabs

Departing Espanola about 0100, the roll motion was pretty severe coming across to Floreana Island, Punta Cormorant.  After breakfast we had a wet landing on a Olivine sand beach and walked to a brine lagoon with a few Flamingos and then to a sugar sand beach where we waded in the surf with Sting Rays.  Returning to Letty, we then went deep water snorkeling at Devils Crown.  Snorkeling at Devils Crown was a deep water snorkel with a fair chop, but the new snorkel helped a lot.  We circled the entire Devils Crown and saw an amazing variety of fish, including Heiroglyphic Hawkfish and White Tipped Sharks, as well as several varieties of Parrot Fish.

Greater Flamingoes at Punta Cormorant

Walking the sugar sand beach
The brine lagoon

Olivine Sand at Punta Cormorant

Returning to “Letty” we headed to Post Office Bay while we had lunch.  Post Office Bay has an informal Post Office Box where people leave notes and cards to be delivered by future guests.  The “post office” has been in operation for more than 150 years.  We left our postcards and then took several from Seattle and Bellevue to deliver when we return.  I was the only person who snorkeled from the beach, looking for sea turtles, but instead was in the center of a blue footed Booby attack from the air.  While swimming, I had a Galapagos Penguin swim by.  
"New" Post Office at Post Office Bay

Sorting through the mail for cards close to home

Old post office remains
Galapagos Penguin

Pelican at Punta Cormorant

After departing Post Office Bay in late afternoon, we headed for Santa Cruz Island and looked for marine life along the way, but no luck.  The skies cleared and I could see the green flash (finally) as the tropical sun set over the horizon during our briefing for the next day’s activities.

Departing Floreana Island

Following are the Blue Footed Booby fishing pictures when Patrick was in the water.

Galapagos Islands Day 3 - Oct 22

Espanola, Punta Suarez and Gardner Bay

After the generator was repaired and all the passengers were back on board we left Wreck Bay at 0100 for Punta Suarez on Espanola Island.  The wind and seas made for a moderately rough crossing until we got into the lee of Espanola.  Espanola is one of the oldest and most southern islands in the Galapagos and as such does not have the obvious volcanic features of islands such as Isabela and Santa Cruz.  Letty tied to a mooring buoy at 0615, just as the sun was rising.  We had our first dry landing and set off in search of the Waved Albatross.  However, our first sightings were of more sea lions and then a large mass of marine iguanas huddled together for warmth before the sun climbed higher in the sky.  Our naturalist guide called them a "congress", since they just sit around and do nothing.  Heading off over a rough trail, Blue footed Boobies, Nazca Boobies, more Marine Iguanas, as well as Swallow Tailed Gulls dominated the walking tour.  
Sea Lion and pup

Sea Lion Pups playing in shallows
Marine Iguana "Congress"

Male Marine Iguana

We were even treated to a sighting of the Galapagos Hawk and some Doves. 
Galapagos Dove

Typical Espanola View with Hawk

Passing by a blowhole along the steep southern shore, soon we were at the nesting place of the Waved Albatross, where several were performing the mating dance for us.  Along the trail were several more young Albatross chicks, as well as Boobie chicks.  The chicks were right in the middle of the trail and we had to step off to avoid them, since they have no fear of humans.


Swallowtail Gull

Lava Heron
Nazca Booby

Blue Footed Booby

Another Blue Footed Booby

Nazca Booby

Nazca Booby Pair

Waved Albatross

Mating Dance

Two females vying for attention

Lava Lizard

After returning to “Letty” for lunch we left Punta Suarez and motored a short distance to Gardner Bay for our first deep water snorkel, which only means that we jump off the pangas rather than enter the water from the beach.  The visibility was better than the first day, but still a little murky.  Returning to the “Letty” we had the opportunity to either walk on the beach or kayak.  Patrick chose to kayak, the only one, while Miriam stayed on board and rested.

After the Kayaking and beach expeditions we returned to the ship for the evening briefing and then dinner, which was the delayed dinner from the night before with the generator failure.

Again, with the exercise and long days, after dinner we retired to our cabins for sleep before the 0700 wakeup tomorrow morning on the island of Floreana.