Galapagos Islands Cruise Day 6: Playful Dolphins!

James Bay, also known as Point Egas on the island of Santiago was downright crowded as we shared the small bay with five other boats (none as nice as ours was our collective assessment).  The plan today was to let all the other boats go ahead of us, a strategy that served us well.  This meant a later breakfast and a more leisurely start to the day – no one complained on this point.

In the dinghy, we saw the first sighting of a Nazca Booby which is similar to the Blue Footed Booby except, you guessed it, his feet are not blue.

After a dry landing, we explored the tidal area like children on a school trip.  The highlight for me was watching three pups playing in a shallow pool of water.  This was also our first sighting of the Galapagos Fur Seal which is really a sea lion in spite of its name.  We also saw plenty of marine iguanas, sea lions, crabs, and sea turtles.  By now, our group was quite adept at naming birds: look, there’s another oyster catcher, oh and look at that great blue heron.  A few new birds were sighted: the lava heron, the plover, and the white crowned heron.  A few in the group saw two sea lions mating but Chris and I missed most of the show as we were distracted a distance away.

One of the few Fur Seals we saw on this island.

Back at the beach, I was happy to see most of the groups had already departed and the remaining stragglers were wrapping things up.  This meant we had the snorkel site just off the beach to ourselves.  The water was much warmer here and the fish more colorful.  Several sea lions decided to take a swim while we snorkeled.  When one passed by a group of us, Laura, the youngest in our group and a very strong, powerful swimmer took off as fast as she could but there was no competition, the sea lion disappeared out of sight leaving Laura, breathless, in its wake.

I was once again impressed to see Wim, the four year old, swimming side by side with his parents, fearlessly dipping his masked face into the waters.  This little fellow has been a real trouper on this trip.  He has participated in every activity and has shown an interest and curiosity in his surroundings that seems beyond his years.  Not once have I heard him complain or whine, even when the heat has been unbearable and the walks have been strenuous.

The same could be said about all the passengers.  Consider this:  we came together as a group of international strangers, from diverse backgrounds, of varying ages ranging from 4 to 60ish confined to a small boat for eight days.  What are the odds that we would all get along?  I am always curious about group dynamics and this has been no exception.  While some patterns of behaviour were predictable – we all started to sit at the same place at the dining table after day 2, other interactions surprised me.  While two couples were already friends, they did not isolate themselves from the group or limit their contact with others.  To the contrary, they seemed to embrace the opportunity to extend their circle.  Seven of the thirteen passengers spoke English as their second language (very well I might add); yet I never found language to be a barrier, except perhaps with Wim who could only speak German.  He quickly attached himself to Laura, who also spoke German.

As the days passed and we became more familiar and comfortable with each other, the laughter and fun increased.  Here it was day 6 and there were no signs of people getting on each other’s nerves at least none that I could see.  Mind you, if Stephanie mentions her incessant craving for French chocolate one more time, I think someone might be tempted to toss her overboard.  Chris on the other hand has managed to avoid the wrath of the group as he consistently lags behind trying to get that perfect photo by promising everyone copies of the best of his photos.  This was a great group to be with.

After lunch we headed to Rabida, a small island south of Santiago, and most of us retired to our respective cabins for a little siesta time.  Suddenly the emergency bell rang out and we all rushed out of our cabins to see what was up.  Dolphins!  We hurried to the middle deck, binoculars in hand to get a better look.  The captain circled back to where they were first spotted, and after a few minutes the dolphins were back swimming playfully at the front of the boat. 12-15 large dolphins danced in the waves in front of each of the catamaran’s keels.  They switched from side to side, sometimes jumping out of the water in the middle.  They kept just in front of the boat, as if in a race.  Whenever a dolphin jumped – sometimes as high as six feet in the air – we all clapped and cheered in appreciation.  There was one white dolphin that stood out in the crowd – turns out he was an albino dolphin, very rare, in fact the crew had never seen one before!  And then, they were gone as quickly as they had appeared.

As we scanned the horizon looking for more dolphins, we spotted the manta rays.  These huge creatures floated near the surface and occasionally lifted a fin, appearing almost like a shark.  You could see the dark shape from quite a distance and occasionally a manta would get quite close to the boat.  We joked that we could just skip Rabida and hang out in the open seas as there seemed to be a lot to entertain us.

Rabida is a red island formed millions of years ago by a volcanic explosion that reached the mantle of the earth.  It reminded us of Prince Edward Island.  We were greeted by more sea lions as we made a wet landing on the beach.   Again, a lot of people were already on this island, so we kept our distance and let the other groups stay ahead of us.  During a short walk, we challenged ourselves to find new birds and were rewarded for our efforts.  Tim, with his eagle-like eyes, spotted a grey cuckoo (pictured below), a rare sighting even for our guide.

Snorkeling in Rabida was from the beach, similar to the morning excursion in James Bay.  The water was very murky from the red silt being churned up by the waves and visibility was almost zero for about fifty feet.  We swam along the rocky edge and as we got further out, visibility improved and we began to see much of the same sea life as was saw in the morning.  The water was warm and the fish were colorful and plentiful.   Although we didn’t see anything new this time, there was still a lot to look at.

Another great dinner, an after dinner briefing and then off to our cabins.  Chris and I have been trying to get our studying done for the next three dives of our Advanced Certification course.  It’s a challenge as we’d rather be doing other things, like writing the blog, editing photos or just relaxing or sleeping.  Ah well, it’s a necessary evil. I’ve done two chapters, just one more to go.

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