Friday, December 2, 2011 sunrise @ 05:43, sunset @ 17:51
Our last full day in the Galapagos was spent on an island that was off limits to bigger ships until very recently. The Island of Genovesa, also known by the English name Tower, was a place I think Alfred Hitchcock would have loved. The entire island was about birds, birds, and more birds. We split up into two groups, and went to Darwin Bay (photo group) and to Prince Philip’s Steps (natural history group) in the morning, and in the afternoon we switched so that we could all visit both sites. The photo group went out at 6:30 to take advantage of the early lights but the real reason our expedition was divided in two was to comply with capacity limits set by the Galapagos National Park Service.
Our natural history group reached the steep stairs of Prince Phillip’s Steps just around 7:30 and started hiking through a sparse and barren forest, keeping a watchful eye on short-eared owls. These precious brown beauties blend so well into the background that they were not easy to spot. We had seen one earlier in the week so I was already smiling inside but we were all eager to see a few more of them. We were headed towards the dark brown lava crusted shores on the other side and along the way encountered numerous frigate birds, red-footed boobies, Nazca boobies, and red-billed tropicbirds. The red-billed tropicbirds had long skinny white tails that stretched out far beyond, making them appear twice as long. When in flight, they looked like graceful white kites gliding across the sky. Our group found one hiding in a hole-
There were so many red-footed boobies in the trees looking so odd (cartoon-like pink and blue face, red feet) that I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. That is, until we came face to face with this guy-
He was standing in the middle of the path with all the curiosity in the world, looking up at us as if to ask “who are you and what are you doing here?” He lifted one foot and then the other foot. There was no fear or anxiety in his eyes. I could have been imagining but I thought he was smiling at us. He was apparently in no hurry to get anywhere because he just stood there as we walked carefully around him and take as many photos as we wanted (I have at least a dozen photos of him).
Early on, we a saw short-eared owl fly by but thinking that they really didn’t want to be seen today, we turned around to get back to Prince Philip’s Steps. A few minutes into our return hike, hushed voices started to travel towards us from the back of the group. An owl has been sighted! With subdued excitement (as to not scare off the owl) we speed-walked back. I think it must have been one of the naturalists who spotted him because for me, it was difficult to find him even with binoculars. He was sitting on lava rocks, the color of his own feathers smudging the line between where he started and where the rocks ended. He stared straight ahead and seemed to pose for us, maybe daring us to make him blink. I took a few photos but with my limited photography skills and zooming capabilities, I could not do him justice. But he was gorgeous.
As soon we returned to the ship we quickly got ready to disembark for our last snorkeling outing. We were dropped off not far from Prince Philip’s Steps, near the cliffs where we could see some fur seals hanging out by the rocky nooks. But the most remarkable thing for our group was a cute baby sea lion that swam with us for a good 20 minutes. At times he came so close to me that the photos I have of him are just brown blurs. He came around and would disappear down into the depths, only to return and twist past us again. Of all the fantastic things I saw and did this week, snorkeling with this baby sea lion tops the list as the most fun and memorable.
We spent the afternoon leisurely hiking on Darwin’s Bay where we got to see more birds. We saw a group of frigate birds stealing food from unsuspecting victims and red-footed boobies awkwardly trying to land and grab onto tree branches (they’re the only ones who can grip with their webbed feet). Orange bordered eyes of swallow-tailed gulls were shockingly bright (I don’t think even the most rebellious teenage punk rocker would use this dark neon orange colored eyeliner), and the loud gawking of herons put a bit of fright in me. It was a bird-lover’s paradise.
Oh, to be at the end of this amazing trip. Some were disappointed that we didn’t go to Isabela to see the flightless cormorants or that we didn’t get to see enough land lizards, but I have absolutely no complaints. There is no other place like this on Earth and no other trips I’ve taken can compare to what we experienced here. I didn’t set any expectations or do a lot of research before coming on this trip, but I think even if I had, all my expectations would have been exceeded. I don’t really know what more to say about the Galapagos. I think awesome as in “inspiring awe” and “extraordinary” might be a good description.
It was, simply, awesome.
Highlights & animals seen: Swimming with a sea lion, two short-eared owls, several red-billed tropicbirds, red-footed boobies, lots of Nazca boobies, yellow-crowned night herons, striated herons, and the most adorable baby Nazca booby ever.
0730: Disembarkation for Prince Philip’s Steps (Natural History group)
10:45: Deep-water snorkeling
12:30: Departure briefing
14:00: Disembarkation for second round of kayaking
15:00: Kayak competition, half guests and half crew
15:30: Disembarkation for Darwin Bay beach walk
19:00: Captain’s Farewell Cocktail Party