This morning we explored the central part of the west coast of Isabella with a wet landing at Urbina Bay. Urbina Bay was formed on the year of my birthday when the land suddenly uplifted and raised the sea bed by over 5 meters, exposing the heads of the coral reef to the air which is slowly weathering it away. There was a spectacular view of the large Alcedo volcano in the distance. We disembarked from the pangas, donned our hiking shoes and started our trek inland in search of the giant tortoises that frequent this area. Lulu pointed out the endemic manzanillo tree and warned us not to touch or brush up against it. It has a sap that can burn the skin. Apparently it does not bother the tortoises as they like to eat the fruit of the tree. So off we went, following the tortoise tracks in the trail and lo and behold, we came upon our first Galapagos giant tortoise, nestled under the brambles. It was quite a thrill to see a giant tortoise in the wild and never a guarantee when you are in the Galapagos as they have such a large range, tend to be solo, and their population is limited.
Walking further down the trail, LuLu spotted what looked like a grey rock across a field of dry vegetation. We walked through the open field, observing tortoise droppings on the ground, and giant Galapagos tortoise #2 was spotted going into the dense brush. How lucky we were to spot two! On the way back we rounded a bend and there was a third giant tortoise, crossing the trail in front of us and heading into the thick brush. Good luck comes in threes!
Walking along the trail there was a wide variety of plant life- manzanilla apples on the ground (favorite food of tortoises), the yellow cordia lutia flowering tree, we all got to smell the sap of the incense tree (with a chuckle when Lulu asked- who wants to smell my finger?!); birds such as cuckoos, Galapagos mockingbirds, smooth billed anis, the Galapagos hawk, and finches; bones and shell of a dead tortoise along the trail; and lots of Galapagos land iguanas, several in their burrows. We were warned not to wear bright colors on the trail today dues to the paper wasps that are attracted to colorful flowers.
Lulu pointed out the translucent berries on the yellow cordia tree called “glue berries”. The seeds are surrounded by a sticky substance which makes an excellent paper glue. It is also used as a hair styling gel. Lulu demonstrated her hair styling skills on Roxane!
We headed to a sandy beach to await the pangas, careful to stay away from the sea turtle nesting areas where you could see the depressions left in the sand. Dipping our feet into the cold water felt so good! Arriving back on the Bonita we were greeted with iced tea, “Galapagos twinkies”, and Steven’s lively music!
As the Bonita headed back up the coast to Tagus Cove, to the west of the Darwin Volcano, the frigate birds followed our boat with one perching atop the light beacon. Time to get ready for snorkeling and kayaking!
After a delicious buffet lunch of Ecuadorian specialties, we arrived at Tagus Cove, facing a high, steep rock cliff where you could see the graffiti and inscriptions carved by visitors, whalers, buccaneers, and even the U.S. Navy well before the Galapagos became a protected national park. Some of the inscriptions date back to 19th century pirates who frequented this hideaway cove. The name of the cove dates back to the 1800’s when a British ship, the Tagus, anchored here in search of giant tortoises to use as food on the ship. As we got ready for snorkeling, the crew readied the kayaks for some afternoon kayaking around the cove.
The snorkeling in the cove was spectacular! This was a deep water (cold!) snorkel off the pangas with a drop off shelf. Sightings included pufferfish, Mexican hog fish, rainbow wrasse, chocolate chip sea stars and several other types of sea stars, sea fans, orange cup coral, Galapagos red conch, green sea urchins, pencil sea urchins, sea cucumbers and lots and lots of Pacific green sea turtles that swam around us, unafraid! Lulu was so good at doing a deep dive down with the underwater camera to get some good shots for us that we couldn’t take as well with our cameras at the surface while snorkeling. It was a bit eerie to see the drop off at the shelf into the deep abyss.
After our snorkel the plan was to have some free time to kayak and a climb up the steep trail to see the Darwin Lake and view. But our plans changed when whales were spotted spouting in the distance. Since we had to head down the channel later that day, our captain made the decision to head earlier so we could search for the whales. So off we went positioned on the top and the main deck of the bow spotting whales by the exhalations rising from their blowholes creating a mist in the distance. The nutrient rich waters make the Bolivar channel between Fernandina and Isabella a prime feeding spot for many species of whales. After cruising down the channel at a good clip for about 45 minutes, we got pretty close to see them. They were most likely Bryde’s whales. A few of us standing on the port side of the boat were also fortunate enough to see a waved albatross flying overhead.
After a delicious dinner (the seafood appetizer was fabulous) we settled down in the lounge with cold beer and cocktails for Lulus presentation on the Galapagos ocean currents and their effect on weather and climate. As we headed off to our next destination, the sunset was glorious.