San Cristobal Island
We began our Galapagos adventure when we arrived to San Cristobal in the afternoon and took a bus to the pier, where we were greeted by a baby and mother seal, two iguanas, and several pelicans. We took a panga (Zodiac boat) to get to the M/Y Origin, which was amazing...20 guests, 13 staff, a top deck with two hammocks (I was so happy to see hammocks), and our cabin had two windows to the water! We ate lunch, received a safety briefing, and off we went on our first excursion…El Junco, the only fresh water lake in all of the Galapagos. The hike was a little steep but then we saw a lovely little lake with bathing frigate birds. They dive into the fresh water and then ascend, flapping their enormous 2.4-meter wings!
In the years since Charles Darwin's arrival to the Galapagos in 1835, San Cristobal has retained 97% of its flora and fauna, much more than most places. There are 17 species of the famous Darwin finches but about to be 18 (currently called big bird). The finches are endemic species, ie only found here because they evolved to survive on the islands after likely being blown off course. As our guide explained, the greatest support to adaptation is isolation. We saw many yellow, white and purple flowers because the only pollinator here is the carpenter bee, and those are the colors they prefer.
We were up early, after a wonderful night's sleep, for breakfast at 7am and then off for a hike at 8am. We took the pangas to the island for a "wet landing" (jumped off in shallow water) and immediately saw a seal sleeping on the beach with his head on a rock. Since humans are not allowed to interact or bother the animals, they just ignore us. We were also greeted by our first of many blue footed boobys diving into the ocean for breakfast. We also saw red footed boobies, which have learned to wrap their webbed feet around tree branches, enabling them to nest in trees, while the blue footed and Nazca booby nest on land like a duck. Their feet are so vibrant and their beaks too. The red footed have blue beaks with some red and black. We saw dozens of both, some flying, some nesting, some sitting on the trail and ignoring us.
As soon as we returned, we made a quick change into our bathing suits to get fitted for snorkel gear and went out for a quick swim. We saw lots of tropical fish and a few starfish. The water was not crystal clear but we had decent visibility and a nice temperature. We returned to the yacht for lunch and some time to relax, before we're off to our next site, which was Punta Pitt, a stunning beach. White sand, super fine, and sea lions and marine iguanas to greet us. After a lovely walk and spying several sea turtles, we had time for a quick swim. It was the cleanest water ever, like swimming in a light blue gem.
We disembarked under grey skies to Espanola Island, hearing we might see a Nazca Booby or Albatross. We saw countless boobies and numerous baby albatross and parents. Espanola Island is the only place the giant Waved Albatross nests from April to December, and we observed them courting and nudging beaks. We also saw momma sea lions with pups and many other species of birds as we sat on a cliff overlooking the ocean. That afternoon during our snorkeling excursion, I was joined in the water by a sea lion. It was so amazing, just the two of us swirling in the clear water…like a dream.
When Darwin initially arrived in the Galapagos, he wasn't hopeful of seeing much, due to the quiet, arid environment. However, one creature grabbed his attention - the marine iguanas, one of the finest examples of evolution. These are full-on reptiles with scaly skin and pointy tiny horns, a Mohawk on their heads. They vary from fire red and some with green. BUT they swim. Long ago, they were forced to take to the ocean in order to eat algae - the most reliable food source. And they can remain submerged for up to one hour, an amazing adaptation for a cold-blooded animal. We even saw a "raft" of hundreds of iguanas swimming to a tiny island for lunch.
Our evening beach stroll was another beautiful experience. We observed pelicans and blue footed boobys diving for fish, turtles in the water, and another few dozen sea lions. - Marie Montalvo (Read Part 1)
See the slideshow below for more of their spectacular photos.