Galapagos Day 5: Santa Cruz & Daphne Major

Wednesday, November 30, 2011  Sunrise @ 05:46, sunset @ 17:54

Cerro Dragon

The old me would have wanted every single day of this trip to be filled with activities so that I didn’t “miss out” on anything.  Maybe it’s my yoga practice, maybe it’s my age, or maybe it’s because I live my life on the road now.  But after so many active action-packed days here in the Galapagos, I was ready for a slow day.  As we suspected when we booked this trip, our group of four are on the younger end of the spectrum on the ship except for a few children but what I didn’t expect is for us to be going to bed by 9:30PM as if we are children.  With so much to do and see during the day I can’t understand how people who are almost double my age can stay up chatting and drinking cocktails in the lounge after dinner… when you have to get up at 5:30AM the next day?  They are built better than I am, I suppose.  I’m feeling like a boring old party pooper here (but a well rested one).

In any case, I was excited to see that our schedule was very light today and breakfast wasn’t until 7AM.  I briefly entertained the idea of going to pilates but decided to sleep in until 6:30.  At the breakfast table this morning were the Garlows from Nevada who are on their 11th trip with National Geographic (2nd trip to the Galapagos) and the ship’s wellness manager/masseuse.  We learned that the crew typically works for several weeks and takes off for a few weeks, and the longer you’ve been working for NG Linblad the longer breaks you get.  I’d been so absorbed by the wonders of the Galapagos that I hadn’t thought a lot about the people who make all of this possible.  When we leave on Saturday, within a few hours the ship will be full with a whole new set of passengers again.  The first day we were on board one of the naturalists or a crew member said that this wasn’t just a job, but rather a lifestyle.  Everything is new and exciting for me but to those who have been living and working here for decades?  It must be love.

We hiked to Cerro Dragon (Dragon Hill) after breakfast to look for the endemic Galapagos land iguanas who almost became extinct during the sixties because of feral dogs.  As we disembarked on zodiacs we spotted the Phillie Phanatic again and took a amusing few photos.  We’ve now identified the man behind the giant green bird suit but since his secret should remain a secret, there won’t be any photos of him and his family here.  The crew has been laughing and scratching their heads about this strange bird, and this morning was no exception.  They didn’t understand why this “thing” was in the Galapagos.  I’m from the Philadelphia area but until this trip I didn’t know the legend behind the Phanatic, so I could understand their confusion.  Who knew the Phanatic was “born” here?

Sally Lightfoot Crab

Once on dry land we hiked up the rocky hills with our naturalist, Fausto.  We happened to find a crab shell on the lava rocks so he taught us this morning about the life cycle of a crab.  We looked for land iguanas and spotted two in the bushes; unlike marine iguanas, they were yellow.  Fausto talked to us about the weather in the Galapagos (subtropical, not tropical), the El Niño and La Niña phenomena, and their effect on the Galapagos Islands.  When we saw a few finches on our way, he used them to illustrate how those species with wider or narrower bills were better suited to survive and evolve during certain weather conditions, and based on the availability of certain types of vegetation can produce subspecies of animals on each island.  We attempted to get back on the zodiacs from the beach but the rough waves kept crashing all around us and into the zodiacs- it gave us a chance to see that the life jackets really do inflate when they come in contact with water.  After a few futile attempts we gave up and were forced to walk back to the dock from where we came in the morning.  It was worth the small discomfort of wet and sandy feet, because going back to the dock afforded us an opportunity to see a heron which according to our naturalists, hadn’t been seen on this island in many decades.  I took it as a sign that all of the conservation efforts are working!

Galapagos Heron

We came back on the ship and it was immediately time to get back out to snorkel around Guy Fawkes.  Again, the old me would have suited up without a second thought but both Kevin and I decided to stay put and take the rest of the morning off.  I took a nap, against my “no daytime sleeping” rule and Kevin read.

Lunch today was a huge Ecuadorian buffet of ceviche (served with popcorn and fried corn kernels for crunchy texture), whole roasted suckling pig, white corn cooked in milk and cheese, pea and beet salad, and other Ecuadorian specialties.  Dessert included Ecuadorian cheese with fig compote, tres leches cake, and alfajores (dulce de leche/ caramel cookie sandwich).  All the waitstaff wore panama hats and dressed in white button down shirts (reminiscent of guayaberas) for the occasion.  I can’t say enough about the food on the ship or the level of professional service the staff provides.  I’m doing all I can to eat in moderation.

There was another photo workshop, this time by Rikki who talked about creative ways to use your digital images but before it started there was a whale sighting so half the ship was on the forward deck keeping a look out.  I went out there with binoculars but sadly I missed seeing a whale today.  Note to self: put Alaska on the list of places to visit so that I can get my fill of whales and bears…  Whales remain as elusive as ever for me but around 5:30 just as we were getting near Daphne Major, we heard that a pod of dolphins were headed our way.  Kevin and I rushed out just in time to see at least a dozen bottle-nosed dolphins doing acrobatics all around us.  A few swam along side the boat for a while, turning this way and that, jumping in and out of the water, giving us quite a show.  It made all of us giddy with squeals of delight.  I don’t know how they happened to appear just when the sky was turning burnt orange and everything was so crystal clear for us to see; it felt magical.

Dolphins!

Daphne Major is famous for being one of the most important research and study sites, where Peter and Rosemary Grant’s observations revolutionized our understanding of natural selection and the evolutionary process (a book entitled “The Beak of the Finch” tells their story).  As the sun slowly set the captain turned the boat around to circumnavigate Daphne Major, and we all celebrated this wonderful islet and our day with glasses of champagne.  Again I marveled at how perfectly planned and timed everything is on this ship; the crew had thought of everything and were waiting to serve us chilled bubbly outside.  I don’t know if this trip can get any better…

Champagne, sunset, Daphne Major

Highlights & animals seen: Land iguanas, marine iguanas, Sally crabs, inflated life jackets, DOLPHINS!  Sunset over Daphne Major with champagne.

Today’s schedule:

07:00: Breakfast

08:00: Disembarkation to visit Cerro Dragon

10:30: Deep-water snorkeler to Guy Fawkes, glass bottom boats, or go to beach

12:30: Special Ecuadorian Buffet

15:00: Rikki Swenson’s presentation entitled “Thinking out-of-the-shoebox: Creative ideas for your photos”

16:30: Presentation of the documentary “What Darwin Never Saw”

17:30: Sunset cocktails on the bow, as the ship circumnavigate Daphne Major, with narration on the outer decks

19:00: Recap and briefing

19:30: Dinner

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