Tuesday June 2, 2009
We hopped off the panga early this morning at Gardner Bay (Española Island). It was a beautiful, white-sand beach mottled with sunbathing sea lions. It was amazing to be so close to them. There were several babies running around playing as well – some would lay at the edge of the shallow water and let the waves carry them onto the shore. Walking down the beach, we passed large lava rocks covered with marine iguanas and vibrant sally lightfoot crabs, and also spotted several of Darwin’s finches hopping around in the scrub brush. After exploring the shoreline, we relaxed on the scenic beach, lying amongst the carefree sea lions.
After the morning on the beach, we were dropped off at a large rock with a surrounding reef for an open-water snorkel. There was a fairly strong current and some rough waves, but after settling in, the underwater scenery was quite pretty. Giant sea stars scattered the ocean floor, and large schools of yellow-tailed surgeon fish would congregate to nibble at rocky areas, their yellow tails swishing frantically in the undercurrent. As we had made our way around the large rock, some sea lions decided to jump in and have a swim with us. There were about 10 or so that circled around playfully before we reboarded our pangas.
Our afternoon continued on Española Island, this time at Suárez Point. This walk was absolutely amazing! We saw blue-footed and Nazca boobies, as well as waved albatross, at only arm’s length away. The birds were all so striking. The feet of the [blue-footed] boobies were an unbelievably intense shade of azure, and they were so goofy as they paraded around the rocks. We made our way through the undergrowth to the birds’ breeding grounds, beside towering cliffs, and were even able to see a fluffy, white, baby Nazca booby. We stopped at one point along the cliffs to admire the magnificent views, and to watch a blowhole from a craggy sea cave blast water skyward. Here we were also able to see the waved albatross in flight. It’s hard to believe when you are standing next to the knee-high bird that its wingspan can be over 7 feet.
Finally, as we made our way back to the panga, we caught some marine iguanas swimming. The seemingly fun-loving lizards would ride the waves along the rocky beach, only their spiky heads sticking out above the turquoise water. Those who chose to remain on the warm, sun-drenched rocks would sit there spitting frequently (apparently expelling excess sea water they had swallowed).
This was a truly exceptional day for spending with nature; the proximity at which we were able to observe such unique wildlife was remarkable. We were even afforded a special view this evening – both the Southern Cross and Big Dipper shining brightly in the clear, night sky. The constellations were completely unobstructed by clouds or light pollution as we lay on the solarium deck of the ship, heads pointed skyward, and sailed due west to Floreana Island.