Day 3 - Morning: Puerto Egas, Santiago Island

Kelly Haisfield

It's getting easier and easier to wake up at 6:45 each morning. I never suspected I would be able to get up at such an hour, but the previous day's activities have me so worn out and the ship's rocking is so relaxing that I'm falling asleep before 11:00 pm each night. So I throw on some clothes and shoes and Jessica and I stumble up the stairs and into the dining room, where I eagerly await my morning coffee, coffee that is infinitely better than the sludge from Denny's that I'm used to, hoping that Jaime, our waiter will be serving it shortly. I'm getting better at using my limited Spanish vocabulary to its utmost potential, and am able to explain that I prefer 'mi cafÈ sin leche' and that I would like 'mas agua por favor. 'After running downstairs to throw on a swimsuit and grab my snorkeling gear, it was time for all the Fregatas to head out to the pangas and Santiago Island.


Every Eden has its apple tree and that's just what we found when we stepped onto the magnificent black sand beach on the island paradise of Puerto Egas. The Manzanilla poison apple tree greeted us as we dropped our snorkel equipment and prepared for a hike on Santiago's lava covered ground. Our guide, Luis, explained the fruit's ability to make one quite sick to the stomach, so unlike Adam and Eve, we decided not to sample the tree's dangerous fruit.

Starting on the trail, we learned of Jorge Egas, the Ecuadorian from Guayaquil after whom the area gets its name, and his attempts to exploit Santiago's natural salt deposits for personal gain. Fortunately for the Galápagos Islands, his operation folded just like other previous attempts to mine salt from the crater. We also viewed his home and the quarters of his workers on our walk around the area, the few remnants of habitation leftover from his destructive, selfish efforts. Continuing our walk through the island, we encountered the usual array of lava lizards and assorted finches as well as some spiders and vegetation. Soon we reached an area where the ocean flowed right up to the lava's edge, and into its numerous crevices, creating myriad tide pools. Peering into these little puddles I saw sea urchins, small fish, and algae living there, creating microcosmic rocky shore communities.

Covering the lava that remained above water were the sally-lightfoot crabs, and marine iguanas that are becoming increasingly common on this trip. I'm finding that I no longer stare in awe at the brightly colored blue and orange crabs, nor the aquatic lizards that seem to litter the islands. Each day it seems we find more of these creatures, and the allure of their uniqueness is losing its hold. These creatures are only found in this place, but I've seen so many of them since we got here that they're starting to look like squirrels to me. A few days ago I would have been snapping pictures like there was no tomorrow, but you can only see something so many times, and take so many photographs of the same thing. It'll be interesting when the new passengers come aboard on Sunday, and they see these animals for the first time, the looks on their faces will no doubt be priceless as ours surely were when we arrived on Wednesday and first encountered some of these magnificent creatures. But I digress and must return to Puerto Egas.

Pahoehoe

The iguanas and crabs were widespread and becoming ordinary, however not so common a sight were the interesting lava forms we were walking on. Unusual ripple lava was present in addition to the usual pahoehoe lava, both of which were formed by Sugarloaf Mountain, a nearly 13,000 foot high tuft cone. The ripple lava was thoroughly exciting and it spread across the ground like small waves covering an ocean surface.

Ripples in volcanic ash

Continuing down the island's coastline we came to an area known as the grottos, home to Darwin's toilet, a tourist spot, which wasn't nearly as impressive as the water carved arches of lava and wildlife. It was here that we saw our first glimpses of the fur sea lions, though we had seen many other sea lions, this particular species was new to us. However, they were perched in the cracks and ledges of the grottos, making photography of these creatures somewhat tricky.
In an attempt to get some decent footage of the fur sea lions, I borrowed my friend's video camera, and leaned over the edge of the grotto in a relatively safe manner holding the camera out in front of me. Apparently from the other side of the grotto my position appeared precarious, because Dr. Merck and Dr. Holtz began frantically requesting that Adam hold onto my legs in hopes of preventing me from falling into the water below. They even remarked that it would be a shame to have to rescue me if I fell in, because they would end up killing me for causing them so much stress. I was not worried about falling into the grotto, and Adam and I were both confident in the safety of my positioning, so we were slightly confused by the request, but not one to disobey authority figures he held onto one of my ankles. Promptly after, he was encouraged to hold onto not one, but both of my legs. After all of the commotion, the fact that the shot was not working out as I had previously hoped, and wishing to allay the fears of both professors, I resigned my position for a "less precarious" one and another student videotaped the sea lions from another spot and different angle. Also in the grottos, I got my first glance of a shark outside of an aquarium, when a reef shark swam into the grotto where we were standing. This made me very anxious to begin snorkeling so I could see one of these white-tipped reef sharks up close in the water. As everyone else was also eager to get into the ocean, we hurried back to the beach where we had dropped off our belongings when we first landed on Santiago.

Pahoehoe

After a hasty application of sunscreen, our group made its way into the somewhat chilly waters of Puerto Egas for an hour or so of snorkeling with my main objective being to see a shark up close, and I was determined to stay in the ocean until I had done so. Paddling around for a while, I soon discovered some large areas teeming with colorful fish and other aquatic creatures such as urchins and other echinoderms.
Soon after, I noticed one of my favorite animals, a stingray hiding near a rock crevice on the sandy ocean bottom. Delighted with the cartilaginous fish I grabbed my underwater camera and headed down to the bottom for some pictures of this splendid creature. After admiring the stingray for a while, I rededicated myself to finding a shark. Believing them to be off in deeper waters, I swam out into the ocean. Along the way I was in awe of some of the menacing black sea urchins ominously threatening me with their poisonous spines from in-between rocky fissures in rock walls and underwater arches just over my head.

Reaching an area that was deeper and less crowded with people, I began my hunt for the sharks that were said to be nearby. I looked all through the water column, diving to the sandy bottom and back up again only to be unsuccessful. But then, when I had nearly given up on my fruitless search, two young men, only a little ways off, asked me if I had seen the shark laying on the ocean floor just beneath us, ecstatic I peered down into the depths of the water only to see nothing. I looked again in vain and thought I saw a dark spot in the midst of the lighter colored sand and swam down towards it: lo and behold, a white-tipped reef shark about four of five feet long was resting on the ground; I gazed at the chondrichthye in admiration and disbelief, until I needed to return to the surface for air. Cursing my lungs, I ascended for a quick breath, and then returned to the ocean bottom for another look at this remarkable creature. This time I had my camera ready, and got a shot of the glorious beast, and came within about a foot of him, before he shied away, and swam off. Elated from the sighting, I thanked the young gentlemen for pointing the shark out to me, and excitedly returned to my friends to share the good news. We continued to snorkel for a while, gazing at all of the beautiful fish, snapping a few more photographs, and just enjoying our time at Santiago in general.

Realizing that it was soon time to return to the Ambasador, a group of us headed back to shore only to be interrupted by a small lagoon. Somehow, Mel and I had allowed ourselves to be surrounded on all sides by rocky algae and coral-covered walls, making our return to the beach quite difficult. Not wishing to retrace our strokes and swim the great distance necessary to get out of the lagoon, we tried several escape routes, but attempting to swim over the algae-covered rocks proved more challenging than was previously believed due to the extremely shallow water, only a few inches over the rocks in most places, and the fact that the rocky cove was rather wide. Eventually we discovered an area of relatively low rocks, and managed to escape without causing too much damage either to ourselves or the small organisms residing on the rocks and swam back to shore in plenty of time to join the rest of the Fregatas and catch the last panga back to the main ship.

We left Puerto Egas tired, but happy, enjoying the short ride back to the ship, climbing aboard, returning to our cabins, and prepared for lunch, possibly a short nap, and later that afternoon, our expedition to Rábida.

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