Galapagos Islands Cruise Day 7: Snorkelling with Sharks!

The clouds have overtaken us.  I awoke this morning surprised to see we were still anchored in the bay at Rabida Island and disappointed by the overcast, gloomy sky.  Considering this is our final full day at sea and every day thus far has given us perfect weather, one can hardly complain.  As I enjoyed my morning coffee perched high on the top deck, the boat headed off to Chinese Hat Island, so named because it looks like a Chinese hat. This tiny island just off the south eastern tip of Santiago Island is less than a quarter of 1 sq km in size.

As the anchor was dropped, the sun came out as if on cue and the rest of the day remained warm and sunny.   After breakfast we headed to the island for a walk, the first group to land today.  Enrique was well organized and very knowledgeable about the other boats at each island and did a great job insulating our small group from the crowds that sometimes overwhelmed an island.  A welcoming committee of several sea lions greeted our boats as we made a wet landing.

The highlight this morning was a sea lion with her newborn pup, estimated to be only a few hours old.  The blood on the rocks where the birth took place was still fresh, as was the bloody trail from the birth site to her present resting place.

A hawk watched from a close distance, its bill and talons stained red from the blood of the placenta he had been feasting on only a few feet away.

We marvelled at the miracle of birth, at how this mother sea lion had carried her pup for an eleven month gestation period, had carefully selected this birthing location, and was now resting with her newborn. When we returned from our walk, both mom and pup were awake and moving slowly along the sand.  Another pup, perhaps a week old, was checking out the new kid in town and we were told that within a week both would be playing together.

While travelling in the dinghies, we again witnessed thievery on the high seas.  A Blue Footed Booby dove powerfully into the water and resurfaced with a good sized fish in its mouth.  This was by now a common sight, except this time a frigate swooned in unexpectedly, snatched the fish right from the Booby’s mouth and then swallowed it whole without hestitation.  A few feet away, a pelican took careful note of the commotion.   Suddenly, the frigate spit out the fish (probably because it was too large) which was still intact and swoosh, the pelican dove in, snatched the fish and flew away victorious.    This was the second time we saw the cunning and calculated manoeuvers of the pelican and the frigate’s cleptomanic tendencies.

Snorkeling in this location was great.  As we drifted along the rocky edge of this island, we were amazed to see a white tipped shark!  Visibility was excellent and there were many large schools of colorful fish.  Chris and I decided to go kayaking for a while – once Chris recovered from overturning the kayak that is.  I wisely let Chris get on the kayak first so he was the only one to go under.  I had learned from previous canoeing experience with Chris (nothing more needs to be said on the subject).  There wasn’t much to see from the kayak; the fast moving current gave us a good upper body workout as we cut across the channel to the yacht.  That was our first and last kayaking experience in the Galapagos Islands.  Later we learned that some sea lions decided to play with Dafne and Jasper, even blowing bubbles in their faces.

Bartolome Island was our next destination.  To stay ahead of the crowds, we ate lunch as we travelled to the island.  This island is a popular day-trip destination and so it was not surprising to find several boats already in the bay.  There is a spectacular lookout point, accessed by a man-made boardwalk and steep set of stairs. But of course, before reaching the stairs, we had to make it past yet another welcoming committee of friendly, playful sea lions.  In this case, we were refused passage on the stairs and had to walk on the rocks to get around them.  They must think they own the place or something!

Did I mention the stairs to the lookout?  There were a lot of them – a couple of folks with bad knees or backs wisely opted out of this excursion.  It was a long climb to the top in blistering heat.

We were rewarded with a postcard worthy view from the top.  And of course, everybody wanted their picture taken. If this view looks familiar, it’s because this scene is commonly used to advertise Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. (Sorry Babs, but the picture with you and Enrique was too blurry to include in the collection below.)

We snorkeled from the beach along the rocky shoreline at the base of the infamous Pinnacle Rock.  The schools of fish seemed much larger here; at times we were surrounded by hundreds of fish, often finding ourselves in the middle of a school swaying back and forth harmoniously in the surge.  As we explored the rock formations we searched for new and interesting marine life; a water snake was the only new discovery this time.  On the other side of the Pinnacle Rock, we saw our second White Tipped Shark of the day and several from our group dashed off after it.  Again the sea lions were out to play.

A short walk to the other side of the island ended our visit to Bartolome.  We now travelled to North Seymour amidst the choppiest waters so far.  A few of us perched ourselves on the cushioned seats at the back of the middle deck, swaying back and forth as our boat plowed through the swells.  It was difficult to walk as the boat tipped precariously from side to side.  A flock of about eight frigates decided to join us and flew directly overhead for quite a while giving us an excellent view of their undersides.  It reminded us of the dolphins swimming alongside the boat a few days ago.  Apparently frigates can fly for up to two days straight!

By now, we all knew, word for word, Enrique’s announcements before each excursion:  ”Ladies and Gentleman……..we will be going in the dinghies for a walk in 10 minutes.   Please bring nice shoes or sandals, water, sun screen, hat, insect repellant, and a rain jacket.  Thank you.”

To our amusement, Stephanie decided to take over the microphone and make an announcement on Enrique’s behalf.

Before dinner we watched a slide show compiled by Enrique with both his photos and those contributed by some of the passengers, Chris included.  It was a great opportunity to reflect and relive some of the more special moments of the trip.  After dinner, we exchanged email addresses and compared notes, filling in some of the gaps or missing details in my story.  Invitations were extended by our new American friends to visit them in Spokane or to join them at their ski condo in the mountains if we ever found ourselves in their neck of the woods.  It’s great incentive to learn how to ski!

The night concluded with a farewell cocktail shared with the crew and passengers.  We expressed our thanks and appreciation for all the work the crew did to make this voyage so enjoyable and memorable.

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