Travelogue Day 3 - Afternoon: Rábida

April Broyles

After returning from Puerto Egas, we all scurried aboard in a frantic effort to secure the first shower. Snorkeling is great fun but let's just say that salt water doesn't really make you feel so fresh and so clean, clean. After showering, which was always an experience, (let's just say boat bathrooms are an adventure but in a good way) we had the pleasure of superb Ecuadorian dinning. I made it a point to gorge myself daily and followed each gluttonous indulgence with a much needed nap while the boat motored it way to our next enchanted destination. I have a knack for always being late. And this trip was no exception; I was routinely awoken from each of my naps by the 15 minute departure announcement. I'm not really sure how I managed to collect everything I needed in such a rush but I usually did, and trotting off to the departure point snorkeling gear in hand with my camera and water bottle bouncing on both sides.

That afternoon we were destined for the shores of Rábida, a small island just south of Santiago. Upon landing we all noticed Rábida's distinct red sand which was littered with large stone clasts that made walking barefoot a bit painful. I was eager to begin our hike in hopes of seeing some flamingos. Rábida is one of the few islands that provides a suitable habitat for flamingos, having a small brackish lagoon on its north coast between two eroded pyroclastic cones.

Unfortunately we saw the lagoon minus the flamingos. Our guide informed us that many had died and their numbers had been greatly decreased during the El Niño phenomenon mainly because their eggs wouldn't hatch and that there are currently only about 400 flamingos in the entire archipelago.

After visiting the lagoon we headed further into the island were we saw various Galápagos flora and fauna. Rábida has 6 different species of finches and by golly we saw about a ba-jillion of them all.
portrait portrait
Small tree finch Common cactus finch
Forty minutes into the hike Mrs. Shaw remarked that Darwin's finches had officially become the new marine iguanas, they were everywhere. Their abundance by no means took away from their novelty though, and we a snapped away at each new one we saw, interested to learn which species and gender it was. These little fellas provided us with some particularly nice "naturalists" Kodak moments, one of the most touching was being able to watch a mother finch feed her young chick.

Finches weren't the only birds we saw I'll have you know; we saw several mockingbirds, Galápagos doves, and a far off sighting of the elusive Galápagos hawk. The mockingbirds in the Galápagos are strikingly similar to those in the United States suggesting that a not so ancient common ancestor links the Galapagos' seven sub species to our native North American species. I found the Galápagos dove particularly interesting.

According to our guide Luis the island's dove populations are loosing their ability to fly and are almost mute. They are ground feeders and are evolving traits that help them to avoid predation by hawks, like becoming mute. It was a unique experience to see first hand that evolution is still alive in the place many herald as its conceptual home.

Along the hike we also encountered some new vegetation, the blade mangrove tree surrounding the lagoon, whose leaves are a source of carbon in batteries, as well as other foliage. The prickly pear cactus was the most distinguishable and widely known of the plants we saw. They are the home to the Cactus finch that both nest and feeds on them, their spine providing it protection form predators. Even the fruit of the cactus is covered in small fine spines that are more then a bit bothersome to remove form ones finger; I had the pleasure of find that out first hand. Some of the cacti we saw were 70 to 80 years old.

I think we all enjoyed the hike but by the time it was over we were all more then ready to plunge into the chilly water and cool of and get our snorkel on! Snorkel was by far my favorite aspect of the trip and I feel as though Rábida was one of the best places we snorkeled. During our time in the water we toured along the rocky coast fascinated by the marine life teeming below. Even though the archipelago's surrounding waters are far from tropical the diversity was amazing to me. I enjoyed surveying the small oceanic worlds between the rocks along the ragged cost. Little crevices chuck full of anemones and urchins full of color. The same adventurous spirit that had me poking my head into small dark alcoves got into quite a mess with some barnacles later in the week.

Kelly and Mel our expert divers taught me how to clear my ears under water so that I could dive down and see things on the bottom more closely. Adam and Kelly were lucky enough to get up close and personal with some rays, and Mel saw some chocolate chip star fish. I'm a slow swimmer and I always seemed to be a kick or two behind Mel and Kelly. Every time I thought I had found something new and exciting I would kick to the surface ecstatic to share my discovery with the world only to find out someone else had already found it. This never dampened my own excitement though, there was simply too much to see to be worried with being the first. Not only was the diversity of species remarkable but the abundance of them. We swam through a herd of yellow tailed surgeon fish that seemed to go on and on and it wasn't the only one.

On our swim back into the beach we decided to take it easy and simply paddled along beside the rocks enjoying the above water view. Housed on the rocks above us was another world full on sunning iguanas and resting birds. One young iguana got a bit too adventurous and sent himself head into the water below, we all got a kick out of that. When we got back to the beach we heard about all the things the rest of the group saw. Meghan, Amanda, and Jessica had seen a scorpion fish, a supposedly rather scary looking fellow whom nobody was willing to get to close to with the tide washing them in toward the rocks and the unknown fish. Dr. Merck saw a hieroglyphic hawk fish of which he was rather proud.

Hieroglyphic hawkfish.

Several people also saw sea cucumbers and a few bullseye puffer fish.

The pangas came and back we went to the boat to shower yet again and prepare for the sumptuous dinner that awaited us.

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