Ecuador and the Galapagos Part 4: Santa Cruz Island

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

I slept very well on the boat, which is surprising. I normally have a lot of trouble staying asleep but I think they just wore me out. Genene and I hit the rack before 10PM last night, and I did not wake up until 3:30 AM when the boat stopped. You can definitely tell when we are motoring on the high seas. The boat rocks, and the sound of the engine is quite loud. All of it lulls me to sleep.

The white board:

 

This morning’s wake-up was at 7:00 AM. The “call” each morning came in the form of some music being piped in over the PA system. The first morning we were all slightly amused because it was an instrumental version of “Hotel California.” Was it a threat or a promise? (You can check out any time you like but…you can never leave!)

Anyway, after a minute-long musical interlude of some sort, the guide announced, “Buenos Dias, Good morning! This is your wakeup call. Breakfast will be served in 30 minutes. Please get ready for the day. Wake up! Wake up!”

I stepped out the door and took in the sunrise.

Genene was harder to wake up:
 

We splashed water on our faces and took the few short steps from our cabin to the main dining room. Another great breakfast awaited. We had cereals (including the ever-popular chocolate puffs, which were attacked by the kids), fresh fruit, fruit juices, meats and cheeses, hot coffee, and some kind of omelette. We must be fortified for our adventures lest we become famished.

At 8:30, we climbed into the pangas and headed for a wet beach landing on Bachas Beach. Our guide explained that the beach was named because during World War II, US troops had a presence in the Galapagos. On Santa Cruz, barges were loaded and unloaded. The local Spanish-speakers could not say “barges,” and so the beach became Bachas.

The kids took a close-up look at the Sally Lightfoot crabs:

Peekaboo!
The crabs were all over the rocks.
The cactus trees grow tall on Santa Cruz.

We walked a short distance to the beach area to see the sea turtle nests and their tracks. We saw one swimming in the water.

The babies make these small tracks as they try to reach the sea after they hatch:

The female sea turtle cuts a larger track, first up the dune to lay her eggs and then back down to the water. Our guides can tell from the way the sand is pushed up whether the turtle was inbound or outbound. The tracks look as large as an ATV track, don’t they?

Our ship strikes a pose in the turquoise water.
The Flamingo frequently attracted a following of birds:
I think this is a striated heron but it could be a lava heron.
The black lava rocks and the white sea foam contrast beautifully.
The kids enjoyed looking for crabs.
The Sally Lightfoot crab can be seen everywhere. Our guides told us that they used to be commonly eaten and were “delicious.” Even though they are common and not in any way endangered, it is forbidden to eat them now. They serve a valuable purpose in the Galapagos ecosystem. They are the “cleaners” and have symbiotic relationships with other creatures on the island. They pick the scales and parasites off the marine iguanas and sea lions. Nevertheless, James says his mouth still waters when he thinks of how they taste.
A marine iguana sits on the lava rocks:

A flamingo searches for food in a brackish pool. Our guides explained that the flamingos send scouts. The rest of the flock remains behind on another island while a few brave souls go looking for food. If they find good eats, they go back and get the rest of their troop.

The white cheeked pintail is quite clearly a duck, not so different from the green head mallards of Stuttgart, Arkansas.
The marine iguanas look like Godzilla to me.
Eons ago, when the iguana arrived in the Galapagos, probably floating on a log or debris, it was a land creature. They evolved to eat the algae and can dive up to 10 meters. They can hold their breath underwater for up to 10 minutes. The iguanas propel themselves with a side-to-side motion of the tail. They are very other-worldly looking to me.
The brackish pond. Can you see the two scout flamingos?

After walking on the beach for about an hour, our guides released us to snorkel off the beach for another hour. I saw a ray, puffer fish and lots of fish whose names I do not know. The kids all elected to stay on the beach and swim without their snorkels.

One of the panga drivers let them get on board the panga, and he took them out into the deeper water so that they could jump over the side. It was fun to snorkel off the shore and listen to their squeals of delight close by. The kids got along famously and so did the adults. I was amazed by the group we were traveling with. Every single person was smart, fascinating and fun. It even seemed as if we parented our kids in the same style. It was a joy to share the adventure with them.

A few shots from our snorkel interlude.

Colorful fish:

A ray!
Greg enjoyed the snorkeling most of all. He is very comfortable in the water and just loves looking at everything. I’m an Arkansas land-lubber and so I regard the sea with much more suspicion and trepidation. I was glad when Genene did not join us for snorkeling because I did not have to worry about her. Greg worried about nothing and frequently ditched us all to do his own exploring.
The water in the Galapagos is teeming with life.

After the morning snorkel, we returned to the boat and had lunch at noon. Between noon and 3:00 PM, the boat moved to another landing on Santa Cruz, Cerro Dragon (Dragon Hill). Most people took a siesta or sat on the top deck reading a book.

At 3:00 PM, we went swimming and snorkeling off the beach, where we saw schools and schools of fish. Genene snorkeled without a wetsuit or life vest. She is so confident with her swimming. I am proud of her. In this regard, she takes after her dad.

As I said before, the water is teeming with life. Food is easy to come by in the Galapagos.
I wish the photo did justice to the one fish with the spots on it. In real life, it looked like the fish had glowing polka dots on it. Bizarre looking!
Can I say “teeming” one more time?
At the end of each beach outing, we got hosed down before boarding the ship. “No sand in the pangas! No sand on the boat.” In this photo, Genene has boarded the boat from the panga, and she’s getting the wash down before coming upstairs to take off her life jacket. After each outing, Abel, our waiter for all meals and snacks, waited at the muster area with snacks.

 

As soon as we got back on board after snorkeling, we changed into hiking shoes and went back to Cerro Dragon, Dragon Hill. The landing was dry but very slippery. We made our way gingerly across the algae-covered black lava rocks and went for a hike.

Our landing point:

A marine iguana soaks up the sun:
Most of the plants appear to be succulents of some sort.
The marine iguana’s face sometimes appears white because it is encrusted with sea salt.
A lava lizard perches on a marine iguana:
A yellow warbler:
In the late afternoon, the light of the setting sun shone through the cactus trees, making them appear to glow.
As we strolled along, we looked for the land iguanas, which are much less common than the marine iguanas. Their habitat has declined because of competition from introduced goats and donkeys, and they also have suffered from introduced predators: rats, feral dogs, cats and pigs. Our safari eyes helped us on this part of the trip. It was fun to scan the brush and the hillsides for these huge lizards.
I think this is a Galapagos flycatcher.
A land iguana eating something:
The view of the Ecoventura fleet from Dragon Hill:
A cactus tree:
A mockingbird (Harper Lee says, “Don’t shoot.” Lori says, “Get the bb gun.”)
Is it any wonder that the early sailors called these creatures dragons? I am sure those sailors must have thought that they stepped into a land that time forgot. I frequently thought of that old TV series that we watched as kids, “Land of the Lost.” The premise was that a man and his two kids went on a rafting trip, somehow fell through a crack in the earth, and ended up in some kind of bizarro dinosaur world. The special effects were hopelessly cheesy, and the bad guys were upright man-lizards called “Sleestaks” that moved at glacial speed and hissed ominously. I’m sure Genene would not be impressed with what passed for high entertainment in my youth. Anyway, these lizards must have been a bit unnerving to the first sailors who visited these islands.
It’s a little hard to get perspective with the six foot rule, but these creatures are about a yard long and can weigh about 28 pounds.
As we walked the trail, we saw a lot of donkey poop. The donkeys were, of course, introduced to the islands and were originally domesticated. They have become feral and are a problem on the island, as they compete for habitat with the land iguanas. The guides never used the word “invasive” as we might have done to describe the introduced species. Instead they would say that the donkeys “are part of the human history of the Galapagos.” That’s a nice way of putting it.
One last look at Cerro Dragon.

 

We returned to the boat at 7 pm and had a beer while the guides presented their powerpoint presentation and prepped us for the next day’s activities. They had to “shush” us several times because all of us–parents, grandparents and children–have become quite friendly and consequently are boisterous and talkative. There were laughs all around as we tried to sing the various national anthems–Star Spangled Banner, God Save the Queen, and O Canada. The kids all love to play with one another, and they taught each other pattycake games, card games, dumb jokes and riddles, and so on. Our guides finally had to say, “We are so glad you are such a good group and are getting along so well, but we do need you to listen for a few moments.” And so we quieted down and got our orders. And then came the favorite line of the Gordons: “And now, dinner is served.”

We tried to sit with someone different every night, and it was fun to get to know all of them. It was as if we had ordered these people from central casting. Each person brought a different set of fascinating stories to the table. Everyone has been on great adventures, and it is fun to hear about them all. The kids all rushed to their own table. Abel poured wine generously during all the meals. We shared the day’s adventures and our excitement about what tomorrow might bring. What will we see next?

The ship got underway just as soon as the last person set foot on board, and we were traveling at a good clip throughout the briefing, the dinner and onward into the night. Our guides told us that we would have a good 13 hours of speedy travel to get to the next island by morning light.

One thought on “Ecuador and the Galapagos Part 4: Santa Cruz Island

  1. Thank you Lori. Seems the Caribbean and Santa Cruz Island have some of the same fish. I recognized the Angel and Parrot fishes. Glad you are “having” such a splendid Spring Break.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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