Thursday, December 1, 2011 Sunrise @ 05:42, Sunset @ 17:48
Tuesday evening Giancarlo used a microscope to show us how each beach gets its golden, white, black, or greenish color, and promised that today we’d get to spend some time on a beautiful golden sand beach. Bartolomé Island not only had a gorgeous beach but had some unbelievable geological formations as well as breathtaking views. To get our day started with stunning vistas and the best light, we took a hike up to Bartolomé before breakfast this morning.
As a young island (at 250,000 years old, Bartolomé is a baby if you consider Earth’s age of 4.5 billion) with arid conditions, there were very few plant species found on Bartolomé. Our naturalist, Ximena told us that the island is still in the beginning stages of life unlike some of the older islands we’d visited earlier in the week. There were no large animals, tall trees, or even tall bushes for that matter. We could easily make out lava tubes and large pale tuff cones, and the surface of the island resembled what I imagine the moon to look like. Occasionally we saw some lava lizards (there are seven species of Galapagos lava lizards, all endemic) and I think Ximena said the ones on Bartolomé are the smallest. To climb to the summit (~360 ft), we had to walk up a long wooden staircase that the Galapagos National Park Service had constructed to control erosion and prevent any damage. It took us a while to climb all 376 steps but the panoramic views from the top was beyond what my limited vocabulary can describe.
After returning to the Endeavour Kevin and I went glass-bottom boating, which was a fantastic way to observe underwater life without getting cold and wet. We opted to go to the beach and swim there instead of snorkeling in the morning, especially since there was another snorkeling opportunity in the afternoon. We got a very close look at Pinnacle Rock, which was my favorite volcanic formation at the edge of the islet jutting straight out of the deep blue ocean. I don’t think any man-made structure could ever look as majestic and mysterious as this rock. Can a person be so enamored by a rock formation? I could have stared at it all day.
Once back on board, we sailed along the southeast coast of Santiago during lunch and anchored close to Sombrero Chino and the Bainbridge Islets. We went to a fantastic presentation by Karen and Bill from National Geographic about how they use images to tell a story (how do you show disease spreading or illustrate that a CD can hold 300,000 pages of text, etc). The geek within me was so happy to learn about their thought process and all the planning and logistics that go into putting together a complete story. These short presentations and photo experts have given this trip an unexpected dimension and made this week a lot more interesting.
Then around 3PM, something extraordinary happened. Paula, our expedition leader, came on the PA system and asked if we would go out on the deck with our binoculars. She said we were approaching a small island where sometime you can spot flamingos (Galapagos Flamingo/Greater Flamingo). It turns out because we are at the equator, both northern hemisphere animals and southern hemisphere animals can co-exist and they can be found within a few miles from each other in the Galapagos Islands. At first I wasn’t really sure where I had to look but Paula gave us step by step instructions on where we should focus and concentrate as we approached this island. She said the captain couldn’t stop the ship altogether but will slow it down enough for us to get a glimpse of the flamingos, if in fact they were there. She couldn’t guarantee anything since they could be there or on a different island around this time of the year. Our hearts were all aflutter as we got closer and closer to the island. Would they really be there? Would they be pink? And then I heard someone exclaim, “I see them, I see them!” A few seconds later I heard Kevin next to me say “Yes, there they are!” I was obviously looking at the wrong place because all I saw were jagged rocks. We were moving past the island and I couldn’t see anything pink… I was going to miss them! And then! I said yesterday that when I saw those dolphins it was magical. I don’t know how else to say this- miraculous? They were in the caldera filled with water to look like a small lagoon in the middle of the island, where along the edges stood a flock of bright pink flamingos. All I could say was “unbelievable!” It feels like I dreamed it all since it lasted only about 2 or 3 minutes, and because it felt so bizarre. But I know I saw them. When I close my eyes I can still see them standing there. They were pink and beautiful!
After all that excitement I was this close to taking a nap but with a bit of prodding from Kevin, I chose to go snorkeling. I found the water around these parts a lot warmer and more pleasant to be in, and the conditions were perfect. The sun beamed down into the clear waters, illuminating every square inch of the world we so rarely get to see and experience. There were so many colorful fish that I completely lost count and couldn’t even begin to ask about all of their names. I wish Kevin had been there, but he rested while I was snorkeling and went on the afternoon zodiac ride when I returned. It was our last chance to see Galapagos penguins (I’d already seen four of them a few days ago) so he was eager to get out there to find them.
He came back triumphantly as the most gorgeous sunset was taking place. I’d been taking photos around 5:45 each afternoon to capture the day’s last lights, but today the sky was on fire and even all the photo experts were out clicking away. I will always remember Rikki, one of the photo instructors running past me with a huge smile on her face and shouting excitedly, “do you see what’s happening right now?” The setting sun outlined Sombrero Chino (this island looks like a Chinese hat) and the rolls of puffy clouds were lit from underneath, spreading a deep shade of orange glow to the ends of the horizon. It was indeed spectacular.
As if this day wasn’t special enough, the crew set up tables out on the deck and barbecued for dinner. Phil was in seventh heaven, having ribs and ice cream and grinning from ear to ear. Although it’s been our routine to hit the sack pretty early, when we heard that Celso, another one of the naturalists, was going to lead us in stargazing we were more than happy to participate. With a fantastic sense of humor and great knowledge of the stars and constellations, Celso kept us entertained and showed us the beauties that surrounded us in the night sky. What an unforgettable way to end the day.
Highlights & animals seen: View from Bartolomé, spotting flamingos in a caldera, Karen and Bill’s National Geographic presentation, snorkeling with colorful fish, and stargazing
06:30: Disembarkation for natural history group to Bartolomé
09:15: Disembarkation for the beach at Bartolomé for swimming and snorkeling
09:30: Glass-bottom boat outings begin
12:00: All aboard
14:15: National Geographic Experts, Karen Kasmauski and William Douthitt present “National Geographic Solving Photo Problems”
15:30: Deep-water snorkelers depart
17:00: Disembarkation for zodiac rides
19:00: Recap, briefing, preview of this week’s video chronicle
19:30: Barbeque dinner