Monday, March 14
Breakfast was at 7 am, and at 8 am we were off on our first excursion of the day, snorkelling in Urbina Bay on Isabela Island. We had a wet landing on a beach made of tiny rocks instead of sand. The first thing we noticed were the turtle tracks heading up the sand above the high-tide mark, where the female turtles laid their eggs. Before snorkelling we walked along a trail to observe Darwin’s finches, giant tortoises, and land iguanas. Besides these we also saw a young Galapagos Hawk, hermit crabs, and lava lizards.
At the beach we got organized to go snorkelling. Entering the water was tricky; if you put your flippers on first, then you would trip and fall on your face in the surf. If you put your flippers on in the surf, then they would get full of the little rocks which the beach was made of, and that would be very uncomfortable. Eventually we managed to get the flippers on without too much gravel and headed out to sea. Once out there the snorkelling was fun, although the visibility was variable. We saw sea turtles, a marbled ray, Mexican hogfish, spinster wrasse, lots of Panama sergeant majors, and several more kinds. When we got out of the water there were two other groups at the beach, so it was a bit noisy.
Nesting sea turtle track
Back on board we had a snack of empanadas, chocolate chip cookies, and juice waiting for us. The captain now fired up the ship’s engines so we could head to our next destination, Punta Espinosa on Fernandina Island. Lunch today was spaghetti and sauce followed by crème brulée for dessert. Our afternoon excursion was scheduled for 2 pm, so we had free time to lounge around. But promptly at 2 pm we loaded into the pangas for a dry landing at Punta Espinosa. Fernandina is the youngest of the Galapagos Islands so much of the lava is not yet covered by plants.
This trip was to observe marine iguanas and sea lions and whatever else happened to be around. And did we observe marine iguanas? Hundreds, thousands of them! It was quite amazing to see all the iguanas either swimming in the water or lounging on the lava trying to warm up. There were all sizes, from babies to beasts over a metre long. Most appeared to be sleeping, but some were climbing over the others and some were sleeping on top of the others. When the iguanas swim in the ocean their body temperature drops, so since they are reptiles, they have to come ashore and bask in the sun to warm up again. They also get rid of excess salt by snorting in out of special salt glands through their nostrils, so everybody was trying to get a photo of that.
Another marine iguana
Yet another marine iguana
Several hundred more marine iguanas
Besides the iguanas we also saw a Striated Heron, some sea lions, lots of lava lizards, and lava cactuses. There was also a skeleton of a Bryde’s whale, a stillborn infant, which somebody had brought to shore and reassembled.
After our two-hour excursion we went back to the ship just as a large group of people from another ship were arriving. Luckily for us we had had the best lighting for photos, as now rain was rapidly approaching. We had a bit of time before dinner so, as usual, just sat around and relaxed.
Table set for dinner
Tonight we were to cross the equator. Bertrand and Paul both had handheld GPS units running, which when compared showed considerably different latitudes. After changing them to use the same datum they started to agree, but when the captain called us all to the bridge in the middle of dinner they were turned off. In the bridge we were all served a glass of champagne and watched the ship’s GPS count down to zero latitude, after which we toasted the northern hemisphere. For us this was actually the twelfth time we had crossed the equator on this trip, but it was the first time on water. And later that night, when we were hopefully sound asleep, we would cross back into the southern hemisphere again.
At the equator