Ecuador and the Galapagos Part 3: Genovesa Island

Monday, March 16, 2015

It took most of the night for us to make our way from San Cristobal Island to Genovesa Island. It was easy to tell when we arrived, for the sound of the boat motor was quite loud from my cabin. It’s a white noise that is easy to sleep through, but the moment it stopped, I woke up for a few minutes and listened to the sounds of the crew securing the anchor. I was soon back asleep. Our wake-up call was at 7:00 AM, which I thought was very civilized. We were at anchor within sight of Genovesa.

Our tour operator, Ecoventura, has three yachts in their fleet. They travel together, although it appears that we stagger our arrival and departure times a bit to avoid running into each other.

Meet Flamingo’s “sisters”, Eric and Letty:

 

At 7:30, breakfast was served. Breakfast was a delicious buffet of all kinds of treats: fruit, cereals, prosciutto, salami, hot coffee, yogurt drinks, fresh squeezed fruit juices.

At 8:30, we loaded onto the pangas and motored over to Genovesa Island, a trip of less than 10 minutes. The panga pilots brought us along side the cliff wall, and birds, sea lions and fur seals were abundant.

Birds at the top of the cliff:
Birds in the cliff wall:
James and the fur seal:
The fur seal thinks it’s a runway model and poses for us, this way and that:
 

The fur seal is not actually a seal at all. It’s more like a “fur sea lion.” It is smaller than a sea lion with a shorter snout. You will not find it on sandy beaches, only rocky ones.

We were THIS close:
We had a dry landing, which means we could wear our hiking shoes. Wet landings call for Tevas sandals. We walked up Prince Philip steps, so named after the British prince paid Genovesa a visit on the royal yacht Brittania in the 1960s. I would love to see the inside of that boat! The steps are set into a cliff wall, and at the top was an unbelievable scene: birds were everywhere. They were flying through the air, walking across the ground, and sitting in the trees. Each and every one was completely oblivious to us. If it were not against the rules, you could easily reach out and pet them or wring their necks. (Sorry, I’m an old Arkansas girl, and I’ve seen that done. I’m sure hungry sailors thought the same thing.)

 

Galapagos dove:

If you look closely at this photo, you will begin to see birds everywhere:

The great frigate bird is a spectacular creature. The male has a huge red gular pouch (I call it a throat balloon) that he inflates to attract a mate. The inflation and deflation of the pouch takes over half an hour. As our guide explained, he inflates the pouch to show the lady birds how virile he is. “Look at me. I have a Mercedes Benz.” Even after he has attracted a mate, he will keep the pouch inflated for 5 days, just to make sure the lady doesn’t better-deal him. The guides described the birds as “pirates,” because while they can fish directly from the sea by skimming, they cannot plunge into the water or their wings will weight them down and drown them. Instead they usually chase other birds, particularly the booby. The frigate uses its hooked beak to catch the booby by the tail-feathers, shaking and forcing it to disgorge the fish it has caught. The frigate then catches the dropped fish in midair.

Love is in the air:

Don’t look at him! Look at me!
He either got his girl or gave up trying.

When Spaniards first came to the Galapagos, they were unimpressed with some of the birds, which simply stared at them and did not run away. They called them “bobos” (stupid), and that became booby. The name is not accurate, for these birds are skilled fishermen.

The red-footed booby is adept at fishing. With its long bill, it can pierce the water in a 25-meter dive and with its webbed feet, it can swim below the surface to catch fish.

The booby spends hours spreading oil on its feathers so that they can repel water:
 
The Nazca booby (below) is white with a black masked face. I guess I can almost see the Spaniards’ point. This fellow looks a bit dopey:
 
 
 

The Nazca booby lays two eggs, but they are laid a few weeks apart. The Nazca booby can only raise one of the chicks. The stronger baby bird (usually but not always the firstborn) pushes the weak one out of the nest, and the one on the ground dies. I guess they are the Cain and Abel of the bird world. Our guide James says that he has seen this happen many times. He’s seen the bird on the ground crying to be fed, and the parents just ignore it and feed the one in the nest. Nature can seem awfully cruel sometimes.

A juvenile Nazca booby in the nest. I guess he killed his sibling a while back.

Spread your wings, Cain!
 
Morning glory:
 
Spanish moss:
 

As we continued our walk around the island, Genene became quite tired. She had eaten something that disagreed with her, and she was a bit dehydrated. She completed the walk, but it was an effort and she was not her normal cheerful self.

We got to an observation area with the coast in full view, and the birds were swarming like something out of a Hitchcock movie. There was literally a cloud of them.

 
In the midst of the swarm was a short eared owl, which hunts in daylight. He’s flying just left of center below:
 
In this photo, you can see him perched at the cliff edge:
And here he is in flight:
 
As we continued our walk, we found another owl hiding out in a small grotto. Look at his strong talons!
While trying to capture the owl, I really wanted my 500 mm lens. I used my 18-300mm exclusively on this trip, and most of the time it was up to the task.
Circling back, we continued to encounter more birds on the ground and in trees all around us.
Ladies (yeah!) Ladies (yeah!)
 
You wanna ride in my Mercedes (Yeah!)
 
Why don’t you shut up?
 
The mockingbird was one of the easier birds for me to identify. They look much like ours at home in Texas and Arkansas. Don’t tell Harper Lee, but we used to shoot them all the time because they are noisy.
 
Hernan, our guide and sometimes Nat Geo photographer, goes all out for the Nazca booby shot:
 
Back down Prince Philip’s Steps:
 
 
 

Our walk around the island lasted about 90 minutes, and we came back to the boat and prepared to snorkel. Some people wore wetsuits, but I elected not to make the effort to squeeze into the thing. (Five pounds of lard into a three pound sack.) I should have done that or worn a life jacket, because it was the first time I had been snorkeling in many years, and I was a little uncomfortable at first. Eventually I relaxed enough to understand that I was pretty buoyant (fat) and was not going to sink like a stone. There is another world down there! Genene saw a ray and I saw a hammerhead shark! My breath quickened a bit, and of course, the theme to “Jaws” came instantly into my head. I only saw him for a few seconds, and I did not get a photo.

There were all kinds of other colorful fish, whose names I do not know. No wonder all the animals have an easy living on the Galapagos. Food is plentiful just under the surface of the water.

The kids were tired!
 
 

We snorkeled for less than an hour and came back to the boat for snacks, followed by a delightful lunch.

Some people chose to sea kayak in the afternoon. There are not enough kayaks for everyone to go, and so we elected to stay on the boat and take a nap and relax. We will be entitled to priority the next time that kayaking is offered, so that everyone will eventually get a turn. Genene seemed to be feeling better and played hide-and-seek with all her new-found friends for hours on the top deck. I guess that was too much for her. She began feeling low again and chose to skip the late afternoon excursion. She felt bad about it because she was afraid that she might miss her chance to swim with the sea lions, but she was just too exhausted. She wanted to stay in bed, and we knew that meant that she should rest. The guides assured us that she would be very safe on the boat as the crew was still aboard. Greg and I left her to sleep and went back to a different landing point on Genovesa, Darwin Beach.

The sea lions sunbathed on the beach:

Close enough for the kids to touch, but they honored the six foot rule:
The beach:
This fellow patrolled the beach:
Dead sea lions are picked clean in a matter of days:
 

We got to see a sea lion fight. The alpha male ran off a young pest.

Get out!
And stay out!
The swallow tailed gull lays a single egg, which is incubated by both parents. We got a good look at the spotted egg:
The nest sits on the ground among the cactus plants:
 

 

Another frigate bird looking for a lady:

Another red footed booby:

As we strolled around, it came a torrential downpour, and I was glad that Genene had elected to stay in the boat. The beach was beautiful, but we really were not seeing any new animals or birds. With hindsight, I might have stayed in the cabin and avoided the drenching too.

Monsoon!

Greg and I were thoroughly soaked, but I don’t know that I have seen him look happier.
Let’s panga home!

 

Genene was asleep in her room when we came back. She seemed no worse for the wear, and we assured her that she had not missed getting to swim with the sea lions.

At 7:00 PM, the guides gave us the briefing about the following day’s events, and dinner followed directly thereafter. Genene had perked up sufficiently to ditch us for friends of her own age. Greg and I had dinner with two other fathers. This was OUR kind of trip with our kind of people. Everyone we have met wants their kids to experience new places, customs and people. Most of our boatmates are world travelers, and we were getting many ideas for future trips. The red and white wine was flowing, as was the laughter and bonhomie. We enjoyed pumpkin soup, sea bass in peanut sauce, creme brûlée, and friendship. We felt lucky to be among such nice people, and it was good to hear the squeals of laughter coming from the kids’ table. I was pleased that my seasickness patch was doing its job perfectly, and frankly it was a surprise. I have always been prone to motion sickness, and every childhood summertime car trip involved my mom packing a wastebasket that she called the “puke basket”, and more often than not, it got used. I felt like a sailor and for the first time was able to enjoy riding on a boat. Our bellies were full and our faces were sore from laughter, and so we teetered off to bed. Genene came in and racked out before 10:00 PM, and Greg and I were right behind her. Being on vacation is hard work!

 

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