South America (2) - Galapagos 2014

You know you are somewhere special when one of the first things you see when stepping off the airport bus are sea lions sleeping on a park bench. But such is life in the Galapagos that such scenes are commonplace. The isolation of the islands has resulted in its wild inhabitants never having developed a fear of mankind. To the indigenous birds and other animals we are simply a large, benign moving object that may occasionally provide a useful perch. The only reaction a human is likely to engender is a look of mild curiosity and a reluctant shuffling out of the way when you are close to treading on a wayward foot or flipper. It is a world apart from the everyday and is simply unique. 
We were very fortunate to be able to spend 10 days there as part of our recent trip to Ecuador and Peru. The first week was spent cruising around the eastern islands on a very comfortable medium sized yacht. Life on board settled into the routine of breakfast followed by a trip on a Panga (inflatable dingy to you and me) to land on one of the islands. Here we would hike/snorkel/kayak our way around and marvel at the scenery and wildlife. Late morning would see a return to the boat, lunch and an hour or two relaxing to avoid the intense afternoon heat. During this period we would move to another location where we would again set foot ashore for further delights. In this way we covered most of the eastern archipelago seeing first-hand the way in which the islands are developing and how each holds its own unique plant life and associated fauna.
Birdlife was prolific with every island holding colonies of nesting boobies, shearwaters or, petrels. The seas were also alive and late one evening we watched enthralled as thousands of fish swarmed around the lights of the ship. These in turn attracted sea lions, pelicans and sharks that began feeding on the bounteous small fry. During daylight hours dainty Elliot’s petrels would sometimes follow in our wake, treading water as they picked some tiny morsel from the surface of the deep blue ocean. Once, whilst trying to come to terms with my snorkelling gear, something zipped past my face at tremendous speed. Intrigued, I made my way in the direction this jet propelled object seemed to be heading and there perched on a rock

preening itself was a Galapagos penguin – the only penguin to actually occur in the Northern Hemisphere (good pub quiz trivia that one). And most poignantly we walked on the very beach where Darwin first made landfall and there all around saw the finches and mockingbirds that enticed him to develop his theory of evolution.
The highlight of this portion of the holiday had to be wandering through a colony of waved albatross that nest on the island of Espanola. This island is the south-easternmost of the archipelago and is therefore the one nearest to the birds more traditional nesting grounds well down in the southern hemisphere.  It was a humbling experience to watch these huge birds sailing effortlessly on the warm ocean breeze or gently preening one another at the nest site.

And then of course there were those frigate birds, pictures of which had entranced me as a young lad. Could a bird really have such a disproportionate large and startlingly bright red throat pouch? Well I’m pleased to report the answer is most certainly yes. These huge angular and prehistoric looking birds can be seen all over the islands with two species present and breeding. We spent an hour watching a colony of great frigate birds on Genovesa Island. Here the males would puff up their throats and quiver their outstretched wings whenever a likely looking female passed overhead. Even those males already paired didn’t seem to be able to stop themselves trying it on with any other gal that just happened by. Immature birds would content themselves with harassing any

passing red-footed booby that was carrying nesting material. Spectacular dog-fights took place all around as the poor booby tried to shake off as many as five or six larger and aggressive pursuers. A sea bird colony is always lively, but when you’re amidst a colony of frigate birds with 7 feet wingspans flying within feet of your head the experience reaches new heights. I could have stayed all day!

All too soon our cruise was over, but to milk a little more we spent a few days relaxing on Isabela Island. Palm trees swaying in a gentle tropical breeze, lulled to sleep by the soporific sound of the Pacific waves breaking on the beach and yet more interesting scenery and wildlife; you get the picture I’m sure. We had seen it all on TV, but nothing prepares you for the life event that is the Galapagos Islands. One more thing from the bucket list ticked off. Now for Peru and Machu Picchu….  


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