After sleeping with the hum of the engine through the night as the Bonita cruised past the eastern side of Isabella Island, largest island in the Galapagos, we awoke at Vincente Roca Point. Vincente Roca Point is located on the chin of the “sea horse” which makes up the shape of Isabella Island. After breakfast, the morning started off with a panga ride to see the Galapagos penguins and the cliffside geology, dotted with several species of birds. Landings are not allowed at Vincente Roca Point, but the view of the animals on the cliffs, caves, clear water with sea turtles and fish swimming by the panga, was extraordinary. As we approached the brown vertical cliffs, they became “alive” with birds (blue footed boobies, nazca boobies, brown noddies) and densely packed groups of marine iguanas.
We meandered in and out of the caves along the cliffs and marveled at the cliffside geology. Lulu explained how the constant weathering and erosion of the cliffs from the wind and the crashing of the Pacific waves exposes the volcanic plumbing system where you can see the black dikes running upward through the golden tuff rock. Within the caves, we could see green sea turtles swimming in the crystal clear water.
Next we came to what we were all waiting for- our first sighting of the Galapagos penguins! It is one of the smallest penguins in the world, endemic to the Galapagos Islands. It is also the only penguin found in the equatorial region. Although we saw many penguins, their numbers as a species are actually quite low. It was love at first sight as we slowly motored around the penguins sunning themselves on the rocks and slipping into the cool waters. It felt like they were truly happy to see us after a year of no visitors to the Galapagos!
Along the rock strewn shoreline we saw so many different animals co-existing peacefully in close proximity among each other- flightless cormorants, penguins, sea lions, marine iguanas, boobies- it was like a Galapagos version of Edward Hicks painting, “The Peaceable Kingdom”!
And then a remarkable sight unfolded before our very eyes. A tiny black head popped up beside the mother sea lion in the photo above. She had just given birth probably a few hours ago and this was her tiny pup. We watched her gently nudge her newborn pup down the rocks to the water for its first dip in the sea. You could see the bones in its flippers through its newborn wet translucent skin! The photo below is sequenced from left to right, like reading a book, so you can follow this heartwarmingl event as we watched from the pangas. Notice the marine iguana photo bomber!
After a return to the Bonita for a snack and cold drinks, it was back in the pangas to the same location for some superb snorkeling off the pangas. This area is a renowned snorkeling site- the cool nutrient rich water upwells from the deep supporting a rich variety of sea life, including numerous Pacific green turtles and Galapagos penguins and sea lions circling and zipping through the water as if to play with us. The visibility was not as good in this site but it was a thrill to see so many sea turtles and sea lions in the water.
Back to the Bonita for a delicious lunch of seafood ceviche with plantain chips, fresh fish with a red pepper sauce (and vegetarian and vegan options), salads, and a lemon curd with apple. We headed across the channel to Fernandina Island and watched from the top deck as the magnificent frigate birds circled overhead, following our boat.
After lunch we arrived at Espinoza Point on Fernandina Island. Fernandina is the westernmost island in the Galapagos and considered to be one of the younger islands. It is volcanically active and sits right over the hot spot that created the Galapagos Islands. The most recent eruption was in 2009. It has some of the richest waters in the Galapagos and is also a prime habitat for the Galapagos penguins, marine iguanas, and flightless cormorants. Before going a shore, we slid off the pangas into the cold water for some amazing snorkeling in the clear water. There was so much to see- feeding marine iguanas, playful sea lions, zippy penguins, lots of sea turtles, a diamond stingray, harlequin wrasses, sea cucumbers, blue sea stars, chocolate chip sea stars, tuna, pencil sea urchins, green sea urchins, hieroglyphic hawkfish, Peruvian grunts, Mexican hogfish, and so many colorful small fish. Several of us and Lulu had underwater cameras and took the photos of what we saw as we snorkeled.
In the afternoon we hiked on Fernandina. We walked through broken up slabs of a’a lava, ropey pahoehoe lava, and lava sand. The white bones of a whale skeleton against the black rock provided a striking contrast. There were tidal pools and grottos. Here we saw the largest colonies of marine iguanas- easily a thousand marine iguanas! The sandy area was marked with iguana tail trails leading up to the nesting areas in the sand.
As marine iguanas feed underwater, they take in seawater and have special glands to remove the salt so they don’t dehydrate. We could see them “snorting” out the salt as they sunned themselves on the rocks (click here to see the video Page took). This was also a good area to see the flightless cormorants, endemic to the Galapagos Islands. They have stunted wings and are confined to the shorelines. Natural selection led them to evolve with useless wings as they had no land predators and no need to fly since they are excellent swimmers and their food is right there in the water. The smaller their wings, the easiest it was to swim and thus survive so the better swimmers gradually passed on their genes for smaller and smaller wings.
Sea lions live in groups with a harem of females usually protected by a dominant bull which is much larger than the other males. The dominant male (bull) constantly patrols his territory keeping the bachelor males that are banished from the group away from the females. We watched as a bachelor tried to sneak up to a female and the large bull aggressively charged like a torpedo, barking and threatening the bachelor male. The look on this female’s face tells you what she was thinking about this macho behavior!
At one point we took another meditative moment to quietly sit, observe, listen and reflect on what an amazing place this is as we looked out at the sea and rocks crawling with Sally lightfoot crabs. We walked on a beach composed of tiny rock, shells, and sea urchin spines. At one point Lulu picked up some some pieces from the beach and put one in each of our hands and closed it so we couldn’t see what it was. Then she asked us all to open our hands and share what the first thing that came to our minds was when we looked at the object in our hand. This time it wasn’t the “blue footed kind” of booby! She showed us how this is part of the sea urchin’s body that held the spines. Looking down at the composition of the sand you could see it was full of sea urchin spines. We hiked back as the sun was beginning to set and our pangas arrived to take us back to the Bonita.
After dinner some of us went up to the top deck to observe the evening sky. Without any light pollution, the sky was spectacular- you could see the Milky Way and we spotted three meteor streaks. There was a reflection on the water toward our boat but no light on the opposite land to cause the reflection. We figured out it had to be the reflected light from our nearest planet, Venus, which shone brightly in the night sky! What a magnificent ending to a perfect day!