We Snorkel with Penguins

Sunday, March 13

A very early start to the day today with breakfast at 6 am and then into the pangas at 7 am. Today we saw our first Flightless Cormorants and Galapagos Penguins as we motored in to the shore of Isabela near Punta Moreno. We made our way through lava flows and mangroves before making a dry landing on the island. Luckily it was slightly overcast, because our two-hour walk was over black pahoehoe lava. It was interesting to see the different plant life trying to eke out an existence on the lava.

Sunrise

Flightless Cormorant

Galapagos Penguin

Our first indication of the recent tsunami was the presence of two sea turtles in a lagoon which does not normally receive water from the sea. These turtles would now be trapped unless they could find a way out. We continued to some more lagoons, finding a total of seven flamingos, not to mention several Common Gallinules and a group of Blue-winged Teal. Not much wildlife was present on the lava itself, but there was an interesting variety of shapes in the lava formations. Isabela Island is one of the younger ones, so this lava was only about 60,000 years old.

Blue-footed Booby

Pahoehoe lava

Flamingo

Lava cactus

Back at the shore we waited for our panga to arrive and it took us quickly back to the ship. We grabbed our snorkelling gear in preparation for our next excursion, to Elizabeth Bay. The water here was slightly cooler than at the Devil’s Crown, and the visibility wasn’t nearly as good, but it was none the less very refreshing. Among the first creatures we met were the sea turtles. Out of the corner of your mask you would see this shape coming and before you knew it the turtle was right below you. It seemed like we could reach out and touch them but of course they were a lot farther away than that. We also saw some penguins on the surface, but not under the water. The bay also had three types of sea urchins and a chocolate chip sea star which looks just like what the name suggests. We also saw a sea cucumber, which is endangered due to over-harvesting.

Today our lunch was a traditional Ecuadorian Sunday meal. It started with fish ceviche, then we had seco de pollo, pork, llapingacho (a sort of potato pancake), plantain chips, rice coloured with achiote, and salad, with a fruit salad for dessert.

Ceviche

Our next excursion was scheduled for 4 pm, so we had the afternoon free. At 2:30 pm the anchor was lowered near Isla Mariela, a rocky island just off the coast of Isabela. The afternoon excursion was a panga ride to observe the mangrove forests and to watch for sea turtles, flightless cormorants, and other birds. After loading into the panga we headed towards the shore, observing boobies, penguins, and cormorants. We had to backtrack a bit due to the low water level and the exposed lava rocks, but eventually we got into a channel in the mangroves, where there were a number of broken branches, evidence of the recent tsunami.

Great Blue Heron

This channel was a narrow waterway bordered with white and red mangrove trees. It opened into a wider area where we could see turtles and penguins swimming. We motored for a while, then turned off the engine and Alex and our panga driver paddled quietly so that we could observe the wildlife. The penguins were fun to watch as they bobbed up and down. We also saw a Great Blue Heron, a Galapagos Hawk, and a Striated Heron. We were out on the excursion for about an hour and a half, which went by very quickly.

As we approached the ship we could see rain storms in the distance which luckily didn’t reach us. Back on board we had an afternoon snack of mango juice and dried fruit. After we were done we headed off to download photos to the computer and write journals. Dinner tonight was a vegetable soup, followed by snapper, potatoes, and veggies. Dessert was cake and chocolate ice-cream.

The captain decided to move the ship to Urbina Bay, so while Alex was giving his talk on Galapagos geology we got under way, and at 8:45 pm we dropped anchor for the night. The ship rocked and rolled quite a bit while anchored there, so we all hoped it would calm down before bedtime.

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