Galapagos Day 2: Española

Sunday, November 27, 2011.  Sunrise @ 05:42, Sunset @ 17:50

It sure was a full day today.  As Paula, our Expedition Leader says, most people will need a vacation after this trip…  We were a bit shocked to hear last night that our wake-up call this morning was going to be at 6AM and breakfast was starting at 6:30AM.  What now?  It does feel more like an adventurous expedition rather than a lounge-about vacation.  We had an early start so that we could get our snorkeling and kayaking briefing, and to pick up our snorkeling gear right after breakfast.  We then headed out on zodiacs to Gardner Bay on Española Island to spend the entire morning by the beach.  We had a taste of what it was like in the Galapagos yesterday with all the sea lions just hanging out next to us, but this morning on Gardner Bay, it was more than I could have imagined.  There were hundreds of sea lions both big and small, just inches away from us.  They were playful and certainly weren’t shy…  We played with a half dozen baby sea lions right on the beach and snorkeled a bit.  While I was in the water I saw out of the corner of my eye something unusually green and right away I knew it was that giant green bird, the Phillie Phanatic.  It was really quite surreal and comical to see this bright green thing on the beach.  I looked over at Kevin and asked him to get his camera ready- I was going in for a photo op!

The Phillie Phanatic in the Galapagos!

The Phanatic had his whole entourage with him, but he was his jovial self and posed for photos with me and gave me a Phillies’ hat to take back to my 90 year old Grandmother who is a huge Phillies’ fan.  I’m sure we’ll get to see him around a few more times during the week- what an odd thing to have on our trip?  Back to those sea lions…

Trio of baby sea lions

After lunch we had a short presentation from Jack Swenson, a photo expert with Linblad Expeditions, on Galapagos photo essentials.  Armed with some tips on how to take better photos, we went on an amazing hike on Española Island.  Our little group disembarked on Punta Suarez to find a couple of large sea lions blocking our path.  We all hung back while Jason, our naturalist, first went around the creature and then waved us over to the other side one by one.  You could really tell that this volcanic island has been home to these gentle giants and other animals for so long, and that we were just simply passing by for a quick visit.  Jason explained that because the humans are rare here and we don’t pose a threat to their survival (they all do have natural predators but humans are not one of them), they don’t expend any energy trying to get away or pay any attention to us.  I’m not sure if I’ll get used to having these 400 lb animals just inches away from me but they definitely couldn’t care less if I was right next to them.  A few steps away from the shore, we saw dozens of more sea lions and a colony of marine iguanas.  There were so many of them that I constantly had to look down to make sure I wasn’t stepping on one of their tails.  These iguanas all clumped together for warmth and while they didn’t show any hostile behavior towards any of us, they still looked menacing enough to me.  They kind of give me the hibee jibees…

Brothers in arms? Marine Iguanas on Española Island

Our hike around the designated path (there were marked trails we had to follow and could not deviate from) was only 1.5 miles but it took us 3 hours to do the loop because we stopped to look for birds and plants along the way.  As the terrain was a bit rough some people opted to do a shorter hike, but Kevin and I went with the long-hike group so that we could see the Galapagos Albatrosses (Waved Albatross).  We came across our first albatross, which happened to be an unfledged chick sitting quietly and blending right into the surroundings.  He was very large (10X+ the size of a baby chick), dark brown, and fuzzy; I could hardly believe he was just a baby.  We happily snapped photos of him, not knowing that just a few minutes later we’d come to an albatross nesting ground.  There we saw not only baby albatrosses and large eggs, but adults as well.  It was absolutely mesmerizing to watch the albatrosses doing their mating dance.  They would bow, stretch their necks, and crack their beaks as if their bills were swords.  We all just stood there in awe of this spectacular sight.  Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, we started to see these albatrosses flying overhead along with a few Galapagos Hawks.

Galapagos Albatrosses

We continued on towards the cliff overlooking the ocean, on the other side of where we had disembarked.  Jason called this area an “airport” because you’d see so many birds taking off and landing.  And true to his words, there were enough birds in flight to have us craning our necks out just like those Galapagos Albatrosses.

Galapagos Albatross in flight

As we made our way around the beautiful cliff side (the landscape here reminded me of something you’d see in Ireland), we began to see a lot of Nazca Boobies.  They were small, had soft white torsos with orange-yellow beaks and matching yellow eyes.  We got to see both adults and chicks, and on the way back to the zodiac we spotted a Short-eared Owl, which Jason said it was his first time seeing on this island in his 16 years of being a naturalist.  Jason was a great guide on this outing (he did the entire trail barefoot), and he seemed so happy and giddy to see this owl.  His enthusiasm made all of us smile.

Nazca Booby

To round out this fantastic day in the Galapagos, we were joined by photo experts Jack and Rikki Swenson at our dinner table this evening.  They told us about their work with Lindblad Expeditions and how it takes them to Africa several times a year as well as other remote places.  Jack first came to the Galapagos 30 years ago and this time, he and Rikki will be on board the Endeavour for two weeks.  They were genuinely lovely people who, after decades of traveling all around the world still find the Galapagos fascinating.  I really enjoyed our dinner conversation and learning about their interesting life as photographers.  It struck me today with Jason, Paula, Jack, Rikki, and even our zodiac drivers, that they truly love being here and want us to see how marvelous this place is.

This trip so far has already exceeded my expectations…  What wonderful things will I see and learn tomorrow?

They can sleep anywhere... Can't get enough of these guys

Highlights & animals seen: photo op with the Phillie Phanatic, baby sea lions, Española Mocking Birds, one Short-eared Owl, Galapagos Albatrosses, Nazca Boobies, Lava Lizards, Marine Iguanas, two Blue-footed Boobies, Galapagos Hawks, dinner conversation with Jack and Rikki

Today’s schedule:

06:30: Breakfast

07:30: Snorkeling and kayak briefing, distribution of snorkeling gear

09:00: Disembarkation for Gardner Bay beach

12:30: Lunch

13:45: Photo expert Jack Swenson’s presentation “Galapagos Photo Essentials”

15:00: Long hikers disembark for Punta Suarez where Galapagos Albatrosses nest

18:00: Cocktails

18:45: Presentation of “Linblad Expeditions and National Geographic, Partners in Exploration,” followed by recap session and briefing about tomorrow’s activities

19:30: Dinner

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