Last of the Galapagos

Oh no! Really?? :-(

On our last full day, we finally got a good look at fur seals, on Santiago island. They are actually sea lions also, but are commonly referred to as fur seals. The Galapagos sea lions, which have been so plentiful, are commonly just called sea lions. The fur seals are smaller, have thicker fur and shorter muzzles.


There were some pretty cool erosion sculptures on this island, also.


We then moved on to what I think is my favorite island, geologically - Rabida.


The unique red sand is so striking.


The marine iguanas here were green-blue.


Later that morning we were snorkeling in a secluded bay, and were kept entertained by its residents.

This little fella was fascinated by us, and was really showing off:

He also liked blowing bubbles -


This video was taken a little later, and he’s moving more slowly. I think we tuckered him out!

We’re now up to our last day in this narration… We did an early morning walk on Seymour island and were treated to the courtship dance of the blue-footed boobies.

Besides slowly raising and lowering each foot successively,


.. the male will also do “sky-pointing” -


… while whistling:


Galapagos 9

I think I’ve mentioned before that each island can be very different, even from a nearby neighbor. Remember that the previous islands had the cactus trees? Well, Chinese Hat island had cacti that definitely resembled saguaro - where they were able to gain a foothold amongst the lava flows.


We went snorkeling off this island and were mesmerized by the amount of fish life.

We then motored by an island that our guide warned us to watch carefully as we went by.


It’s a volcanic caldera that collapsed and is now filled with a salt water lake,


…that hosts a flock of


Yep, you guessed it - flamingos.


As we continued motoring on, there was a shout off the bow of the boat. Manta rays had been spotted jumping. These things have “wing” spans of up to 20 feet and can weigh over 2 tons! They launch themselves out of the water, to land back down with a resounding smack, knocking off parasites. They usually did a full flip, and sometimes even a double! I finally got lucky and caught one in the act -

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So, as we enjoyed the manta ballet, we arrived at Bartolome island, where we had some more fun adventures.


First we went snorkeling and found this starfish field scattered for many feet over the black sand bottom:


…as well as this gorgeous Pacific Boxfish (this has not been enhanced - he really is that shade of purple).

DSCI3912 Pacific Boxfish.JPG

Late in the afternoon, we climbed up more than 350 steps to visit the lighthouse on top of the hill.


The view from the top -

(picture was less than optimal due to facing west into the setting sun)

(picture was less than optimal due to facing west into the setting sun)

There were several spatter cones that we walked by -


On our way back to the boat in the Zodiac, they brought us close by the Pinnacle, that I’m now finding out is the most photographed feature in the Galapagos(!).

the sides looked like they’d been laser etched

the sides looked like they’d been laser etched

You can really appreciate the effects of erosion, as we got closer -


The backside of the Pinnacle hid a breeding colony of Galapagos penguins, that were basking in the last light of day:


It’s just so incongruous that there are penguins at the Equator!


So, goodbye again, from yet another Galapagos island.

I learned that this is called “atmospheric perspective”.

I learned that this is called “atmospheric perspective”.

More Galapagos?!

Well, we’re getting down to the last few days of our trip, but I still have so many pictures I want to share!


This will probably be the only sunrise-over-the-ocean picture you’ll see from me.


For this morning’s jaunt, we landed on Santa Fe, with cactus trees,

this one was 400 years old

this one was 400 years old

and yet another different type of land iguana:


The males’ crest in this species tended to flop over.

I just loved their “lips” -


As we walked down the path, we came upon an unexpected find:


Our guide was just beside himself when we came across this rare sight of a racer snake finishing his lava lizard meal (after all, he sees all this wildlife all the time).


I was loving the continued natural compositions -


After another couple of excursions - kayaking and snorkeling - that didn’t lend themselves to many good photos (Yes! you’re spared!), we headed on to South Plaza island, which was a pretty small piece of land nearby, but had shorter cactus trees…


and… wait for it…

another land iguana species.


Another rare encounter… we were watching this Lava Heron at the water’s edge -


when he suddenly started walking towards us. He never even looked up at me, as he nearly stalked over my feet…


…to stare down a nocturnal gull. I couldn’t get a picture because they were literally at my feet and I had my long lens on!

This was the gull family the heron stalked up to.

This was the gull family the heron stalked up to.

I’ll let this Sally Lightfoot Crab say goodbye for me.


Another day, another Galapagos island

We found ourselves at dawn approaching Kicker Rock near San Cristobal.


We had been told that we were going snorkeling here, but because it’s a very popular spot, the National Park authorities allot 1 hour time slots to different boats, and unfortunately we were lucky enough to get the first slot of the day - at 0600.


We were to drop in on this side of the split between the rocks and float between them, then turn left and swim around the largest one.

It was just too dark to see much, but as we rounded the last corner, Steve and I were the only ones still in the water. All of a sudden I was seeing a dark river of fish that seemed to go on forever, and their flashing open mouths kept catching my eye. I turned on my video to capture that, and got an extra treat!

As you can see, I’m definitely not in NatGeo territory as a videographer, but hopefully you could see the size of the bait ball by the enormous number of fish layers.


This was the other side of the cut, after we came through and were riding back in the Zodiac (forgive the blurriness at the bottom - I used my underwater camera, and thought I had wiped off all the water on the lens).


After getting back to the boat and warming up over a big hot breakfast, we headed around the island to this cove. We hiked up and over the cut to the left and found lots of boobies.


You might recall that the red-footed boobies hang out and nest in trees,


while the blue-footed ones prefer the ground.


As we were admiring this pair, the female stretched and we could see what she was hiding:


Our guide told us that this species always lays 2 eggs, about 1 day apart, and that usually the first hatched chick kills the second, by dint of being a day older and stronger. The parents can only provide enough food for 1 chick at a time, but 2 eggs are laid, in case one doesn’t hatch. Thus, this chick was 24 hours old, or less! (make sure your sound is on for the video)

You can see that the mother is shielding the chick from the hot sun, and it’s laying on her cool feet.

As we headed back down, you can appreciate the vantage point we had up by the boobies -


In the late afternoon, Steve and I were 2 of only 4 people who opted to go snorkeling. We had fun entertaining a sea lion pup that kept coming around, hoping to entice us with his antics -

He was just so cute!


I’ll end with this Lava Gull. This species is the rarest gull in the world, with only 300-400 pairs in the world, and it is only found on a few Galapagos islands.


And now for something completely different - Galapagos 6

I don’t think I’ve put a picture up of our “home” for 2 weeks:

The Samba

The Samba

This morning on Espanola we found that marine iguanas here are red and blue (instead of the black ones we saw on Fernandina) due to the types of algae that they eat on this island.


We landed on a beach where there was a very big colony of sea lions that we had to carefully maneuver around.


As we walked on, we came to a large Nazca booby nesting site,


and again, the great natural compositions -


(this gull didn’t seem to like his neighbors):


At the south end of the island we were treated to some awesome blowholes (I hadn’t even noticed the boat offshore until after I took my pictures, as I was focusing on timing the surf - that Zodiac was from another boat).


We came back to the beach where we landed to find that the wind had really picked up,


and in the sea lion nursery, there were probably 30 pups playing in the shallow cove and surfing.

Later in the afternoon, we anchored off the coast of a blindingly white sand beach. I guess because it was so white, it was quite cool to the touch and easy to walk on, even at 2 in the afternoon.


Next post will be a long one, I think, so I’ll stop here. This American Oystercatcher seems to be saying, “Hmmm… I guess I’ll see you later”.


Galapagos 5 (!)

It just keeps going… and going…


On Floreana island, we visited this replica of a barrel that has been used as a “post office” since the 1700’s by passing whalers. This is the southernmost island in the Galapagos. Ships would drop off letters here as they were plying these waters, and others heading back home would stop and collect letters to be hand delivered, once they arrived. We looked through the stack of postcards that had been left recently and took a few bound for TN, after leaving some letters for family. We haven’t heard back yet that all made it to their destination.


Later that afternoon, we went snorkeling here at Devil’s Crown. We were treated to a number of white tip sharks that really liked the strong currents.

I really liked this traffic sign

I really liked this traffic sign

On the last day of our first week, we headed to the highlands of Santa Cruz island to a ranch where they are raising tortoises to help repopulate some of the islands. Whalers completely cleared some islands of their giant tortoises, as they were a prized commodity. They can survive for a year without eating or drinking! Later in a voyage, they would be killed to supply fresh meat to the sailors.


Many of the tortoises at the ranch kept cool in the ponds or mud holes.

We also explored some lava tunnels. These are formed when the outer layer of lava cools and hardens, but the inner core is still hot and flowing. Hopefully you can enlarge this picture to appreciate the immense size of the area, by looking to the hand rails for scale.


That afternoon we went to the Charles Darwin Research Center where they are working with the remnants of a species of giant tortoises that had been on Espanola island. We met “Super Diego” who is still, at 120 years old, continuing to bring back his species from extinction, with over 800 descendants and counting!

_DSC0782 Diego.JPG

He is a saddleback type of giant tortoise, in contrast to the domed shell ones we had previously seen.


The saddlebacks have super long necks and legs to help them reach vegetation in trees and even cacti.

At the Research Center, they are raising young tortoises from different islands. These are giant tortoises that are only a few months old, and they were so cute to see “scurrying” around, in contrast to the speed at which their elders travel.

Amazingly, we are now starting into our second week’s stories…


We went back to Floreana for an early morning visit to a salt pond with another group of flamingos, albeit at some distance. [I want to make this into a jigsaw puzzle]:

_DSC0833 (puzzle).JPG

One of the juveniles came close enough to see his developing plumage.


I just loved the natural compositions -


Near sunset, we went out for a kayak and Zodiac ride, and 2 pairs (of only 10 pairs on the island) of Galapagos penguins posed in the waning light.


Until next time…


and now more from the Galapagos

What - you thought I was finished? Bwahaha

_DSC0452 Golden cowrays.JPG

Like a Monet print, these Golden Cowrays were mesmerizing on our early morning Zodiac ride through the mangroves; as was this turtle -


Several other denizens who shared the morning with us -

Lava heron

Lava heron


…and the promised stubby wings (of the flightless cormorant):


That was an exceedingly difficult shot to get, as they only extended their wings as they were rock hopping, lending a lot of blur to photos (not to mention balancing on a moving Zodiac).


That afternoon found us hiking across a very rugged lava field, with really neat and different forms of lava.


Our long, hot walk was rewarded -


Flamingos are very pale when younger, and become darker pink with age, due to the brine shrimp and algae they eat.


Hmmm… what next?


Galapagos 3

So where were we? Ah yes, in the middle of the Pacific on the Equator…


This was our welcoming party as we landed at dawn on Fernandina.


The piles of marine iguanas are common in the morning, until they warm up enough to get into the chilly water, to eat algae When they were washed up on the shores of these islands over 4 million years ago, they were originally land iguanas, but there was little in the way of plant life on the barren volcanic ground they found themselves. They evolved to be able to eat algae underwater or at low tide, as well as developed salt glands near their noses to excrete excess salt. We encountered many “sneezing” iguanas (but I never was able to get an action shot).


A lava lizard found a good vantage point:


As we walked along the trail on the island, we kept meeting more of the inhabitants.


The cormorant on the Galapagos is the only species to have become flightless (I’ll have more pictures later of their stubby wings). Note the gorgeous blue eye! The land crabs are Sally Lightfoots.


Can you guess what is a predator of the iguanas?


This Galapagos hawk was totally unfazed by our presence during his breakfast.


This little fella was super curious -


That’s our guide, who had settled on the beach to tell us about the “nursery” we were watching in the protected cove. The sea lion mothers leave the babies to go fishing all day, and somehow teach them not to swim out of the shallow protected areas, where they would be good snacks for patrolling sharks.

After going back to the boat for breakfast, we returned to the island to snorkel, hoping to find marine iguanas feeding underwater.


Yep, we did.

I couldn’t have composed this group any better if I tried:


While snorkeling, I popped my head up every once in awhile, and was thrilled to see these cormorants, blue-footed booby, and marine iguanas sharing a rock.

Later that same day (!), we crossed back to Isabela island and on just a short hike, found land iguanas…


..and giant tortoises.


For this lady (whose shell came up above my knees), we had to step off the trail into the bushes to let her continue on down the path we had been walking on. We stood in a pretty quiet line just watching her pass.

As we were motoring on down the coast, we had some friends join us. Because our boat, the Samba, was so small, the captain chose to “drive” in big circles keeping these guys, and scores of their friends, enjoying our bow wake for over 30 minutes! All I can say is “Man! They’re big.” (check out during the video how they turn on their side to check us out)

And all that was just one day! Whew. I’m exhausted. See you later.


Galapagos 2

I don’t know how many of these posts in total that I’ll have, since there are so many pictures and stories I want to share! That’s why the titles of these blogs is not very inspired. Now, when we last left, I promised some video. Most likely, the underwater videos will be from Steve’s new GoPro, as the clarity and colors are gorgeous on it, compared to the ones I shot. However, the land videos will be from my Nikon.

As I hinted previously, we were absolutely thrilled to be seeing hammerheads so close. We had planned to dive in Galapagos, but then I had my little episodes of bends, and decided that the conditions there were not safe for me to contend with. Diving in the Galapagos essentially “guarantees” schools of hammerheads, as well as other sharks, but from quite a distance usually, as they’re skittish animals, and don’t like divers’ bubbles. Thus, seeing them right below us when snorkeling fulfilled a nearly lifelong dream.


Their heads and eyes are just so cool!

OK… on to other species. The next day we were to go snorkeling near a deserted island (Marchena), when the crew spotted dolphins on the way. We dropped into the water to find:

We were amazed and thrilled at the sheer number in the pod. I don’t have anything to compare their size against, to show you, other than to say that they’re huge! Later, I’ll share another video when they were in front of our boat.

The next day found us off the NW coast of Isabela island, after a nearly sleepless night due to a rough ocean crossing, then an anchorage that had us rolling back and forth very sharply in our beds. Our hike that day was cancelled because the waves were too high for us to land. It was a pretty interesting island to see from a distance -


Around lunchtime, we crossed the equator:


and celebrated with a countdown and pisco sours. This is Isabela island at the equator:


Many of the islands we visited on our trip looked like this. In fact, it was really weird when we encountered “civilization” of a town of 100 souls later in our voyage. Further down the coast of Isabela was a protected cove that had some of our neatest underwater encounters. We jumped in to find the water was remarkably colder than we had had previously. It was now 72 degrees, and on a later snorkel, registered 68 degrees. For those of you who probably snorkel in the Caribbean, the water there is close to 80 degrees. Jumping in literally took our breath away!

This bay gave us our first exposure to friendly and playful sea lions:


… a tropical penguin…AND… marine iguanas -


I couldn’t resist this photogenic crew:


This bay also treated us to flightless cormorants underwater. These islands are the only place in the world where cormorants evolved to be flightless.

This cove also had the largest concentration of green sea turtles that we had ever seen (note how shallow)

I don’t have a blockbuster finish for this post. Here’s one of the many sunrises we were treated to on our 0600 excursions -



We embarked on our 2 week exploration of most of the islands aboard a small boat, along with 12 other intrepid souls. Our first stop was this blindingly white strip of sand -


where we literally had to tiptoe around the occupants.


While walking along the beach, we came upon this marine iguana on a whale skeleton, as if he was posing for us:


And this was just the first afternoon after boarding the boat! Our group of 14 quickly bonded over 6 am excursions and ocean snorkeling trips.

Speaking of early morning hikes, the next day found us nose to beak with a noisy colony of Great Frigate birds.


When a male is trying to attract a mate, he extends his neck pouch and wings and calls to her. These 2 pairs are seemingly happy, but a guy can’t be too sure, can he?

We also saw both morphotypes of red-footed boobies - white:


and brown -


The red-footed boobies nest in mangrove trees, while the Nazca boobies make nests of twigs and pebbles on the ground:


Later that same day, we made another landing and hiked up onto a plateau where we were treated to a Short eared owl snoozing after a successful hunt. I was so glad I had brought my long lens to get these great close-ups, but sometimes the animals were so close, I had to switch back to my short one!


In my next post, I’ll include a video of this guy:


Steve and I felt like we’d died and gone to heaven to be just snorkeling and see several Scalloped Hammerhead sharks mere inches below us! Again, this was all on our first full day!! Awesome.

Quito, Ecuador

Before we headed to the Galapagos for our 2 week exploration, we had a day to check out Quito. The first thing we did was go up the aerial tram for awesome views of the city and surrounding mountains. Quito sits at 9350 ft. and the tram took us up to 12,950 ft. Since we had just flown in from Miami at sea level, this was quite a difference. Last year, I hadn’t noticed the altitude much, as we had plenty of time to become acclimated, but this time, I really noticed the headache, dizziness and breathlessness when just climbing a few steps after we got off the tram.


Of course we headed on up to the swings that we could swing out over the edge of a cliff at 13,450 ft!


For those who don’t read Spanish, that translates to “swing in the clouds”. I was thinking of my sister, Ann, when we had this picture taken:


The views from the top of the world were breath-taking.


We then wandered down into Old Town, and couldn’t figure out why everyone was spraying each other with foam, until we remembered that the next day was Mardi Gras (and at least in Quito, the Monday before is a holiday, and the streets were packed). We managed to not get too soaked, and saw a number of churches and nice government buildings from the 1700s, as well as the Plaza Grande, that reminded us of the square in Arequipa, Peru.


The Basilica towered over the city, and this view begins to hint at the “verticality” of the city (we hiked up and down LOTS of streets).


When learning there was the chance to climb up the clock tower, guess what we did?


There were great views of the city:


… as well as their version of gargoyle water spouts (different bird species). {expand the picture to get more details}


The last 2 in the line, frigate and pelican, give a nice segue to our upcoming adventures in the Galapagos.


Stay tuned, for many more little friends…