This morning we woke up in the calm waters of Elizabeth Bay ready to take off in the pangas after breakfast to see the large colonies of blue-footed boobies and other nesting birds.
The rock croppings rising from the bay were covered with blue-footed boobies. All around us the boobies were diving for fish, like torpedos dropping out of the sky! You could see the different shades of blue feet. The males take great pride in the blueness of their feet- males with bluer feet are more apt to impress a female to mate with. Why are they called boobies? Their name comes from the Spanish “bobo” meaning foolish or clown- they are indeed quite comical, especially when waddling around on their bright blue feet!
We “panga’d” over to the mangroves where we saw Galapagos penguins (more penguin love for Lynn!), pelicans roosting atop the mangroves and flying around catching fish, and striated herons; while frolicking sea lions and green sea turtles were swimming around us in the crystal clear cool water. It felt like we were in the Garden of Eden!
We panga’d over to a side of the mangrove inlet and suddenly before our eyes the most amazing and spectacular phenomenon occurred before our very eyes. Hundreds, probably over a thousand, boobies filled the horizon flying in from all directions and diving down into a feeding frenzy. It looked like the water was exploding. When they surfaced from their dive hundreds of them would fly up and make a large circle over our heads and dive down again. This kept happening repeatedly with more and more boobies joining the frenzy as the pelicans watched from their front row roosts on top of the mangroves! And of course the inevitable getting pooped on from above happened to a few of us! Protecting myself on the next fly around!
Watching these impressive dives was amazing. It prompted me to do a bit more research on this remarkable physical feat and behavior. This is what I found out: Blue footed boobies hunter fish individually, in pairs, or as a large flock as we witnessed. In large flocks there are lead birds that serve as “spotters”and signal to the flock when they have spotted a school of fish. They dive down together toward that specific spot, wings folded, necks stretched, plunging like arrows falling out of the sky at speeds up to 60 mph! They can plunge from heights as high as 320 feet and dive as deep as 65 feet. They tuck their wings and feet to become aerodynamic and have special air sacs in their skulls to protect their brains from the impact. When they catch a fish, they devour it underwater before surfacing which explains why we didn’t see any fish in their beaks. Watch the video in real time and slo-mo of boobies diving.
We returned to the Bonita exhilarated by the amazing phenomenon we witnessed. It was time to get ready for another snorkel off the pangas before lunch. The water was especially cold this time, even with our wet suits. Watch the video of Frank taking the plunge into the cold water . There were lots of sea turtles and fish and a colorful spotted shark on the bottom.
Penguins were swimming around us (more penguin love for Lynn and Ab-ee-guy-eel). They looked like they could fly through the water! Their feet are really interesting! Lulu made a video for us as we watched the penguins zip around through the water and under our pangas.
Back to the boat, before lunch we were treated to a demonstration by our excellent chef on how to make Ecuadorian ceviche, which differs from Peruvian ceviche. They use a type of sour orange instead of lime to acid cook the seafood. They add diced red and green peppers, fish stock, diced tomato, cilantro, and red onion. They serve the ceviche with a bowl of popcorn which you add to your ceviche to give it crunch!
After lunch we headed out in the pangas to Moreno Point. The first thing to catch our eye at our steep rocky panga landing was an eerie vast landscape of lava fields with sparse vegetation. A 360 view revealed we were surrounded by volcanoes- three on Isabella and one on Fernandina. The lava was both the pahoehoe ropey lava and a’a lava- with vast broken up sheets. The ropey texture of the lava is formed when the slow moving lava at the top crust partially solidifies and the faster moving lava underneath pulls it along faster causing the wrinkles in the slow, partially solidified top lava.
The main vegetation was cacti and a flowering succulent. The lava cactus is endemic and is an early colonizer of the lava flow. Occasionally we would come upon beautiful oasis-like grottos filled with brackish water and lush grasses where it served as a magnet in this desolate landscape for a variety of birds, including flamingos.
It surprised me how relatively easy it was to hike on the lava field. The ground was very uneven but the lava rock was solid and didn’t slip and slide under our feet. However, this was the first hike where we all definitely needed our walking sticks. Several endemic candelabra cacti rose from the rocks and we had a bit of fun with them for a photo op!
We laid down on the rocks and did another silent five minute meditation. The rocks were warm, the wind was whistling, the stillness was comforting. Hiking back to meet the pangas we could see the Bonita in the distance with flocks of blue footed boobies still circling overhead.
After returning to the Bonita we assembled on the top sun deck for a special demonstration by Steven, our server and bartender, on how to make Ecuador’s national drink, the canelazo. Prepared with cinnamon, cloves, and a boiled sugar syrup, it is topped off with aguardiente, “firewater”! This is an alcohol distilled from sugarcane that is made in Ecuador. The drink is served warm (although the alcohol itself is quite warming!).
And suddenly we were invaded by pirates! The crew of the Bonita came up and joined us in costume, including King Neptune! It was party time- dancing, laughing, conga line, and limbo! It was hilarious and so much fun. This crew had become like a family to us and after a year of no work, due to the closure of Galapagos when Covid was raging, they were so happy to set sail again with visitors. Even though they were all vaccinated as well as us, they still wore masks around us most of the time. Words can’t possibly describe how friendly, helpful, and fun they were the entire trip.
And then Lulu, with that twinkle in her eye- had some fun with us. Jesus, dressed as King Neptune, came forward. Lulu explained that King Neptune needs to be pleased with us before the Bonita is allowed to move to the next destination. To make him happy, he wants to know what we learned about the animals in the Galapagos. First up were Sean and Susan. Lulu explained that Sean will be a male penguin and Susan will be the mate he is courting. They had to act out the penguin courtship ritual for King Neptune. Sean did his penguin waddle over to Susan and they squawked and flapped their flippers. Lulu asked King Neptune if he was pleased and he nodded but he needed to see more before the boat could move.
Next up were Frank and Kathy. They were sea lions doing their courtship ritual. Frank was on all fours barking at Kathy! Next Abby, Lynn, Joyce, and Bonnie were blue footed boobies courting each other pointing their beaks and showing off their feet. And last, Page and Roxanne were marine iguanas competing for a mate- head bobbing and climbing over each other. King Neptune was very pleased with all of us and permitted the Bonita to proceed.
A good time was had by all, including the crew! Before heading back down for dinner, the captain explained how we crossed the equator twice. The line-crossing ritual is an ages old tradition to recognize sailors who crossed the equator for the first time. It was traditionally a hazing ritual where first timers had to prove to King Neptune that they were worthy of crossing the Equator. Perhaps our evening amusement was part of this ritual! As our names were announced, a crew member presented us with a certificate, signed by our captain, to recognize our crossing.
a spectacular day ended with another glorious Galapagos sunset.