You are currently browsing the daily archive for 10/24/2010.
Just a very quick post before we head off to Isabela this afternoon. No need for me to repeat what the others have said about yesterday, as I think it is fairly obvious it was a day we will all remember for a long time! Nick’s video is great, and shows just how close the sealions and turtles came, and how unfazed they were by us, and our strange appearance and gadgets!
When we next have some internet access (which might be back in the UK according to reports about Isabela’s connectivity) I will upload photos and my videos from underwater. I think it was an amazing ‘high’ to leave Santa Cruz on, and we are looking forward to what Isabela has in store! hopefully we can continue to blog from there, but if not, there will certainly be more to follow on our return to the UK.
And I think I could definately join a sealion’s harem – lazing in the sun with the occasional banter with the odd (in every sense of the word!) swimmer sounds right up my street!
I think it’s fair to say that yesterday was one of the highlights of my life. At least.
After travelling for two hours by speedboat, we reached San Cristobal island. After a talk on the importance of conservation in the Galapagos and an informative wander round an exhibit detailing parts of the islands history (I found out that the Galapagos islands were the place they sent convicts from America at the early turn of the century) and environmental statistics, we what can only be described as ‘trekked’ up a mount in the midday heat but it was worth it when we reached the top.
We saw the huge statue of Charles Darwin, surrounded by a tortoise and a sea lion. I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t made out of tone but out of some hollow material but I understood when realising the amount of steps and the incline we had walked up.
If I couldn’t sit on a real giant tortoise, I made sure I sat on a model one!
On the way to lunch we walked past the harbour. It was brilliant watching the sea lions in their natural habitat, lazing on the beach in the sun. However, all of the recent talks about human impact on the Galapagos hit home when, on one side sea lions were lying on a golden beach and splashng in the birght bue ocean, but on the other side they were sunbathing next to rubble and concrete blocks used to make the next building encroaching on the habitat.
After lunch we walked to a beach called ‘Sea Lion Refuge’. Now, sea lions are one of my favourite animals so I thought it was amazing to be able to see them in the water and on beaches.
It was extradordinary to be able to sit less than two metres away from them and copy their lazy, sun worshipping ways! There were about forty, fifty, possibly sixty sea lions all huddled together with at least three babies. Looking to the future, I was quite pleased to see quite a few babies because it means that, hopefully, the population is far from declining. Hearing the barks of them playing in the sea, the baby suckling and the slaps of running flippers, I was actually speechless.
Now, time to pack for Isabella….
A very early start today. Met by Javier at 7am at the hotel and walked into the harbour to catch our boat “Andy” to the island of San Cristobal. As we were pulling out of the harbour we saw some incredible waves – it looked like the swell has been building.
In a little over 2 hours we pulled into the bay where Charles Darwin first set foot on the Galapagos Islands. The spot is marked by a statue. Overhead, frigate birds flew in lazy circles above us. They nest above the bay in their breeding season.
It was our hottest day on the islands, we disembarked in the harbour and had to avoid tripping over the sea lions. It seems that the sea lions have chosen San Cristobal, just as the marine iguanas have chosen Floreana to set up home. We walked to the interpretation centre where we had a talk on the history and conservation of the islands, followed by a look through the exhibition where we saw more of the history. We were all amazed at the amount of development shown by some aerial photos of the islands.
We then walked to view the statue. Like everywhere in the National Park, tourists are only allowed to walk on the paths to prevent damaging the habitat. It reminded me of the Ray Bradbury short story I read at primary school, A Sound of Thunder, in which a hunter travels back in time to shoot a dinosaur. The hunter is only allowed to shoot a Tyrannosaurus rex that is about to die of natural causes. In the panic of the hunt he steps off the path and kills an insect (I think – it was a long time ago!) Upon his return to the present time the hunter notices that things have subtly changed. I wonder if a modern day tourist stepped off the path and trod on, say a tortoise’s nest, it would affect the future of evolutionary progress. I love the idea of contingency! What will happen to the tortoises released onto Pinta Island – will they evolve similar body plans to Lonesome George? Or will conditions have changed to suit a different shaped shell? Or even if the conditions were exactly the same, would something different happen every time we replayed evolution? Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Galapagos is also a great exploration of the idea of contingency. Stephen Jay Gould explores the idea more fully in Wonderful Life – The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History.
After a hot trek back into town, we had lunch at a restaurant overlooking the harbour, listening to the honking of the sea lions. Then it was into a taxi and off to the beach. Again some incredible waves. The Galapagos is sure to take off as a world class surfing destination. The path was criss-crossed with lines left by the tails of marine iguanas as they moved from their basking area to the sea to feed on algae. We came to a small reef that the huge waves were breaking against that formed a small lagoon of more sheltered water. On the beach of the lagoon were perhaps 50 sea lions – females and juveniles. In the water was the dominant male, protecting his harem by swimming up and down, honking and occasionally getting out of the water and shaking his head about. He looked impressive with his swollen head – much larger than the females.
The real stars of the show were the young. On a cuteness scale of 1-10, I reckoned a 15, Charlotte thought much higher! They were all wrinkled with puppy fat, their eyes were adorable and when they scratched themselves with their flippers…
For lots more pictures have a look at the Flickr set.
Then it was time to get into the water. Javier showed us the best place to get into the water so that we didn’t disturb the dominant male. The water was quite murky due to all of the sand and seaweed in suspension due to the size of the waves, bringing visibility down to about 3-4 metres. However the animals must have been told that so they made sure they got exceptionally close. Within a minute of getting in the water I found myself practically on top of a large turtle less than 5 metres from the shore. The water was incredibly shallow and I had to avoid bumping in to it. I managed to follow and film the turtle for two and a half minutes – an incredible experience – its flippers moved so gracefully. At one point we made eye contact – awesome!
Then there were the sea lions. They loomed out of the gloom towards us. Once they saw that we had noticed them they charged towards us, blowing bubbles through their nostrils, only veering away at the last moment. It took some getting used to! I don’t think any of us will forget that experience. As time went on the sea lions got even more confident. Coming at me with open mouths and making honking sounds underwater – can just be heard in the latter parts of the video. One then tried to grab one of my fins in its mouth!! It was amazing to see these acrobats of the water, pulling somersaults, changing direction in an instant and most of all having fun! We are definitely not the only species capable of doing that. They reminded us of playful puppies.
I was the first out of the water and was described as, “The most animated we have ever seen you,” by Becky! I will certainly never forget my time on San Cristobal. Amy Turner was escorted out of the water by the dominant male – he must have seen her as a threat, or maybe a potential addition to his harem!
We caught a catamaran back to Santa Cruz – a slower ride, but made worthwhile when we were buzzed by a pod of dolphins leaping out of the water. The icing on a wonderful cake! The icing was then decorated with a beautiful sunset.
Thank you San Cristobal – we shall never forget you!
We’ve had a busy couple of days!
On Wednesday we visited a local school and joined in with some of their lessons. It was very interesting to see how their school life seemed a lot more relaxed than ours. We met some amazing people! In the afternoon some of the students took us to a tortoise reserve they were involved in, where people from the Charles Darwin Research Station told us about what they’re doing to monitor the islands.
On Thursday we visited the recycling centre where we leant a hand. We took tops off bottles, put paper in bags (which required getting into the wheelie bin) and worked on the conveyer belt sorting out the different recyclables. The people working there were very funny especially when some odd items came along. In the afternoon we went to Tortuga Bay which was a 2km walk but it was worth it. The waves were huge! There was over a hundred iguanas all crammed in to one place. There was also a blue footed booby about a metre away from us.
On Friday we went to the Charles Darwin Research Centre and learnt some interesting things about how humans impacting the islands by introducing new species and how the population has dramatically increased over the past 20 years. We also met Lonesome George the last surviving tortoise from the island of Pinta. He seemed happy considering.
Today we went to San Cristobal and visited the interpretation centre and went along a new trail to a statue of Charles Darwin at his first landing site on the islands. We all had our photo taken with him. After lunch we snorkelling and sea lions were swimming right up to our faces and doing flips in front of us. I was a bit scared at first but got used to their playful nature. A sea turtle swam right past me and underneath me. It was an incredible afternoon. On the boat back some dolphins passed by the boat.
Off the Isabela tomorrow.
Thanks to everybody who has helped us on Santa Cruz!!! People who have given us interesting talks, been our tour guides (Franklin and Javier), the staff at the hotel Villa laguna and the many drivers of cars and captains of boats.