I awaken to the soft sound of jazz playing over the PA system in our stateroom. When normally I would sit up and wait for the sleepiness to seep away, I just stayed laying on my bed. I was on the bottom bunk, and the top bunk couldn't have been more than 2 feet above my head, making sitting up impossible. My other two roommates still seemed sound asleep.
An announcer comes on the PA system calling fifteen minutes until breakfast, first in Spanish, then English, then French. By that time, Christina had roused and was precariously making her way down to the floor from her bunk. April and I continued laying as Christina readied herself for breakfast. She left just as the PA system calls us for breakfast at 7:00, how meticulous. April and I decide to go to breakfast in our pajamas instead of fully getting ready. Little did we know this was to become a habit.
Our tour guide Luis informs us of our first activity: a dinghy ride around Tagus Cove. This is where the boatman drives us around to places we would not be able to hike ourselves. We set off with our group, cameras in hand. The first thing that struck me during our first few minutes on the dinghy was the frequency at which the large brown pelican (1) or blue footed booby would fly very low and close to our boat.
Galapagos sea birds catching fish was a common sight by the time we almost reached the Ćentrance' to the Cove. Right before the start of the tour, Luis points out on the left side of the dinghy a sea lion (2)! The first one we've seen so far.
Cameras instantly start clicking, unbeknownst to us that we would be seeing many more sea lions in the next week. Then, a truly rare sighting happens not long after that, a Galapagos sea turtle swims very close to the surface. Whether it popped its head out I could not see, but there was an awful lot of commotion on the right side of the dinghy. As we approach our first set of rocks, what seemed like just a plain rocky surface was suddenly abound with Sally Light-foot Crabs (3).
The darker ones were smaller and immature, while the older one gets, the more brightly colored red its shell becomes. I curse at the ineffectiveness of my 10 year-old camera. The zoom is broken; I would have to depend on the boatman's skill in getting us as close to sights as possible to get good pictures. Looking up, I noticed that there was this white paint like covering (4) on almost all the top surfaces of the cliffs and rocks.
Then, seeing the number of blue-footed boobies on one platform informs me that the whiteness is from thousands of undisturbed layers of bird excretion.
The rock formations (5) are truly amazing, mimicking the curvedness of a marine iguana's tail.
In some areas, we were able to see groups of penguins walking carefully on the slippery rocks flanked by swallowtail gulls and always with a layer of Sally Light-foot crabs lining the bottom of the rock by the waterline. The amount of different life we saw just on that short dinghy ride was unbelievable. It reminded me of those diagrams in children's education textbooks where an illustrator draws all the possible animals on one page in one setting to make it look like there's such an abundance of diversity - only this time it was real.
We do a dry landing onto the actual island of Isabela. A dusty, rocky path lay ahead, as well as a large male sea lion! Galapagos Park rules say that you cannot disturb or threaten any animal in its natural state. There it lay, yawning and flapping (6) in the dust, sunbathing. Luis finds an alternate route that involves tramping in some dry plants, so one by one (7), we continue on our hike.
The first landing at which we stop is a rocky overhang covered in graffiti (8). Shocked, I wondering how this happened and why wasn't anywhere there to stop these people from defacing this natural place. Looking closer, I realized that the graffiti was from as early as 1710. Luis tells us most of the markings are done by pirates who stopped occasionally at the islands to hunt land tortoises.
Further up the path, we sighted our first Darwin Finch (9). We learn then that there are about four different species of finch on this island alone not including the yellow warbler, a magnificently bright colored bird.
Midway through the hike, Luis stops us at a scenic rest stop (10) and starts telling us about the Galapagos mockingbirds. They are very curious creatures that mimic noises and seek out bottled water in tourists' hands. They prey on baby turtles, baby blue-footed boobies, and baby finches. Luis goes on to tell us that there are Vampire Mockingbirds. Those are mockingbirds that bite off the ends of iguana tails to drink their blood. Not only that, apparently there are also Vampire Finches! The hike became much more interesting after that.
I am not sure how much our tour guide Luis knows or what he thinks about being a tour guide and saying the same information over and over again. Then he begins talking about El Niño. In his limited English vocabulary, he describes briefly the effects this weather phenomenon had on the Galapagos Islands. I grow sad as he talks about the devastation of the Fur Seals and Sea Lions during the 1982-1983 catastrophe, "Imagine beaches and beaches of Sea Lions dying or dead. It was very, very sad." After that, it was clear that in Luis's 20 years of experience tour guiding for the Islands, he has grown a sentimental attachment to them as a large part of his life. In the same stride, he points out almost nonchalantly a brand new iguana nest that "was not here a week ago," he says. Sure enough, it is a nest tunnel with two holes each about 1 to 1.5 meters apart.
Time to return to the boat. Before lunchtime at 12:30pm we have time to shower, nap, or enjoy some cocktails on the deck. I know that some of us have definitely been taking advantage of the 18-year drinking age in Ecuador. What also doesn't help is that the Ambasador has a tab pay system. I return to my stateroom for a quick nap before our afternoon's exertions.
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