Ecuador and the Galapagos Part 6: Isabela Island

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The white board:

 

Our wake-up call was at 7:00 AM.

I said, “Wake up!”

 

The morning was to be easy, with only one activity before lunch. We sat out on the pangas to explore Elizabeth Bay, where we hoped to see blue-footed boobies and penguins. Our guides had told us we did not even have to wear shoes, because we were not getting out of the pangas. This was my kind of excursion.

First we traveled to the rocky cliff side, and a blue-footed booby stood right there and smiled at us. He must have been the Welcome Wagon. I had been teasing Genene by telling her that all the animals were tame or animatronic. We would ask the guides, “How long did it take you last night to set all those out?” It almost seemed true because we drove the pangas right up to those boobies, and they just stood there gazing back at us fearlessly.

Cue the booby!

 

Can you see why the pirates called them Enchanted Islands? It was like something out of our science books. Now class, open your books to the chapter titled “prehistoric” and take a look.

 

 

Before long, our guides spotted something really spectacular. At an outcropping of rock in the bay, there was a feeding frenzy going on.

It was incredible. There were penguins by the dozens swimming. James told us that they were hunting and churning up the fish and that the birds were hunting cooperatively. There was a school of black-tail mullet below. The penguins were slicing under the water, disrupting the school. The other birds were joining in the fray. There were blue-footed boobies, flightless cormorants, and pelicans by the dozen in the scrum. Even the occasional sea lion swam in the pack. The boobies and pelicans dive-bombed fiercely and without ceasing. The cormorants paddled on the surface, from time to time sticking their faces down and swimming straight down. It was a wonderous sight, and James confided that he had only seen it himself about 5 or 6 times in all his years of guiding tours on the Galapagos.

A booby dives on the right, while the peguin comes up on the left.

Dive! Dive! Dive!
Flightless cormorant interlude. Come back and see me in a millenium, and I will show you my penguin flipper.
Dive!
Again, I was reminded of Alfred Hitchcock. If Norman Bates shows up, I’m outta here!
A pelican and a booby in flight.
Blue footed booby in flight.
At one point, James was narrating, and I thought of the Ringling Brothers ringmaster. James stretched out his hand, pointed and said, “Blue footed booby. Flightless cormorant. Penguin. Sea lion. Pelican.” I thought he was going to say, “Behold, the greatest show on earth.” But he didn’t.
Greg got some incredible underwater footage with his GoPro, and I edited it into one long action-packed segment. If you don’t have time to watch it all, go to 2:14 for my favorite sequence and watch until the penguin buzzes by at 2:35.
 
We noticed one pelican on the edge of the scrum. His pouch was torn. James told us that he will starve. In the midst of all the life, there is death.
James and Genene strike a pose on the panga.

Nestled in the cliffside, we saw a penguin on its nest.

The blue-footed boobies gather on the rocks.

After watching the feeding frenzy for more than 30 minutes, we motored inland to go into the mangroves. Greg and I were both reminded of “The African Queen.” I kept expecting to see Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn at every bend. Never mind that they are both long dead. There were tributaries and inlets running everywhere like little fingers. James explained that baby sea turtles and baby golden rays make there home there. The mangroves offer some protection from the predators on the high seas. We saw a few sea turtles but we saw at least 50 golden rays traveling in a pack, school, or whatever it is that rays travel in.

“Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.”
I thought the golden rays were incredible. It was just magical to see them floating just under the surface. This is what they looked like from the boat:
And from our underwater camera:
This is a very short but incredible video. They just float along, as if on air.

 

What an incredible morning of wildlife viewing. We were back aboard at about 10:45, and Abel was waiting with a mid-morning snack. Today, the chef had prepared pizza, which thrilled the kids in particular. Every single bite was gone in a few short minutes.

Our guides told us that we had been seeing a lot of very unusual things, and the feeding frenzy in particular was our good fortune to see. James told us that he believed we are getting “good karma” because we are such a good group. His theory was that our energy was bringing good things to us, and I really think he was not kidding or blowing the proverbial smoke up our butts. It was an amazing group of people. Each time we all gathered, there was hearty laughter all around. The kids giggled and played games. They didn’t even argue.

Our lunch looked like Tex-Mex to me: beans, tortillas, carne asada, salad, fruit and apple pie. At the end of each lunch, Abel comes by with the menu choices for the evening meal. There is always an appetizer, a soup, and main course and dessert. Two main courses are offered, so that is the only choice that has to be made. Greg’s family has always made me laugh because they often start planning their next meal while still at the lunch table. They would have been in heaven here.

Some people chose to go kayaking in the early afternoon, but we elected to stay on the boat and relax.

Whalers and pirates began visiting Isabela in the 18th century, and evidence of their travels exists in the form of graffiti on the cliff walls. As James would say, “It is part of the human history of the Galapagos.” The oldest readable evidence of whalers is from 1836.
 

 

At 3:15, we all went deep water snorkeling. We saw several varieties of starfish and a few sea horses.

My little snorkler:
James is pointing out a tiny seahorse hanging out in the seaweed. As fat as I am and wearing a wetsuit to boot, there was no way I was going to get down there for the shot. You will just have to take my word for it.

 

We returned to the boat, and the kids (and some of the adults) jumped from the boat and into the water.

They started from the first deck. Every single kid took a turn. I was amazed that they were all so fearless.

Go Genene go!

My bigger kid goes off from the second level.
He looks a bit like a flightless cormorant, doesn’t he?
And he sticks the landing!
Monkey see, monkey do. Every single kid went off the second deck as well. Again, what a brave group of kids. They were game for every challenge!
Go Genene!
And finally, El Capitan had to show them all who was the big boss. He went off the sun deck.
Perfect landing. I thought about jumping in after him, but in the end, I decided that would be too obvious.
 
After the snorkel, there was one other choice of activities for the late afternoon. The passengers could go on another panga ride or take a hike from the cove to a hill top overlooking Darwin Lake. We were lazy and chose the panga ride, along with most of the kids. They squealed and made up games and generally had a good time.
A penguin in the cliff wall.
Two penguins and a marine iguana hang out.
We motored along the cliff edge and peered into the grottos.
We were in luck! Our guide pointed out that we were going to witness a courtship ritual of the flightless cormorant. The male brings pieces of seaweed to the female, which she uses to “feather” the nest where they will incumbate their eggs. James explained that the female examines each piece. He compared it to the human male bringing his fiancee a diamond ring. Is it big enough? Is it good enough?
He approaches. A marine iguana hangs out nearby. Nothing better to do, I guess.
She examines it. “Good clarity. Good cut.”
She accepts the gift.
Waterfall interlude:
And then we saw ANOTHER ONE! A second male was swimming out of the water with his seaweed.
He takes a moment to make himself presentable.
He approaches his lady. I don’t know who those other characters are. There are always bystanders!
Nicely done.
Now go get me another one!
Landscape interlude:
The scenery here was just gorgeous:
Sea lions basked in the rock wall:
Cue the booby!
Oh look! Two boobies! (You knew I would have to get that joke in.)
The face of a fisherman:
I can fish too!
We enjoyed the panga ride very much. The kids looked at the wildlife, between singing songs, playing pattycake games, and making up nicknames for each other. It was just the kind of lowkey afternoon I wanted.
 

We all got aboard in the late afternoon, and the crew pulled up anchor as soon as the last person set foot on the Flamingo. The other group enjoyed a lovely walk up the hill and said the views were marvelous. The kids played on the top deck, but we noticed pretty quickly that we had some pretty rough seas. We told the kids to stop playing on the top deck, and we all went down to the muster room.

The captain announced on the PA system that we were to “stay inside the boat.” Always a good idea in my book. We understood his point. Walking on the decks was difficult.

Had we brought it on ourselves with all the talk of “good karma”? The Greeks called it hubris. To shorten the scripture from Proverbs, “Pride goeth before a fall.”

We met in the muster area, and the guides told us that they were going to make it quick. Hernan and James said, “We are not even going to use the computers tonight. We do not want you to have to look at the screen. We are going to Santiago Island tomorrow, and wake-up will be at 7:00 AM. There will be a wet landing at 8:30. We will put it all on the white board. The rough seas came suddenly, and we do not know how long they will last. We do know that it is going to get worse in two hours. We suggest that you eat, if you can, and go straight to bed. Dinner is served.”

Hernan confessed that he did not plan to eat and left the room. Of the 20 passengers, only about 8 of us sat down at the dinner table. It was a shame because it was a beautiful seared tuna. Genene was so miserable that we gave her an anti-nausea pill and sent her to bed after the appetizer. Abel did not serve any wine, probably the best idea that anyone had. After the main course, I checked on Genene and she was out like a light.

To my utter amazement, I was able to eat. As I mentioned, I have never been good with motion sickness, but the ear patch was a godsend. I felt a little bit queasy, but I ate supper as normal (without any wine). Greg, Mr. Coast Guard, was completely unaffected. He did not take any kind of medicine and did not seem to need any. He must have been a Viking in a past life. Right after supper, we all headed to bed. There were no songs to be sung on this night. Walking the short journey on deck from the dining room to my cabin was a challenge. The boat rocked and swayed, and I held on to the rail for dear life. When I got to the room, Genene was dead to the world. The guides had warned us that the worst was yet to come, and they had prescribed sleep as the cure for motion sickness. I have been having some trouble with my back and had brought a stash of muscle-relaxers. My back had been doing great, but I turned to the drugs in my time of need. I popped a pill and racked out beside Genene. The bed rocked and rolled for a while, and then I was gone.

 

4 thoughts on “Ecuador and the Galapagos Part 6: Isabela Island

  1. That rocking boat was scary I’m sure! “A three hour tour, a three hour tour” maybe the Flamingo should have called the SS Minnow.

    >

  2. What a pleasure it is to re-live our wonderful adventure in the Galapagos through your blog. Lori, you’re a talented photographer and entertaining narrator; I can’t wait to see your next installment as you ended on a cliffhanger. The weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was tossed…

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