September 15, 2007
Galapagos Cruise Day 2
Luckily for us, we didn't have to go very far to reach our first stopping point today, so we remained anchored in the calm bay most of the night. At 5:00 AM, however, the noisy engine started up, we started rocking our way toward the Plaza Islands, and that was the end of my good night's sleep. At least our cabin wasn't in the back of the ship, where some of the other passengers complained that the fumes were so bad, they couldn't sleep at all. That's strange, I would think the fumes would help one sleep much better than normal.
Our guide Wilmer took us for a walk around one of the Plaza Islands on what seemed like a lightning-fast tour this morning. When we first landed, we were greeted by about half a dozen sea lions. They didn't seem to mind having us nearby as long as we didn't get within two meters or so of them. But whenever someone got too close, they really got aggressive and started chasing after them. Well, they chased people as fast as an animal with fins instead of feet can move on terra firma
As we began walking along the designated path, we witnessed a dry colorful landscape consisting of lots of cacti and red vegetation mixed with the volcanic rock. We also passed dozens of land and sea iguanas sitting in the sun. Just like most of the other animals I had seen so far, I was able to walk right up to them and they never even flinched. The coolest part of the visit happened when one iguana scurried past us carrying a delicious piece of cactus, only to have it swiped away by a bigger and stronger iguana, demonstrating survival of the fittest in dramatic firsthand fashion.
Toward the end of our path was a high cliff with waves crashing against the crab-laden shore below. Lots of birds made their nests in the area, and they were constantly flying in and out in search of food. At that point, we saw a few baby sea lions nursing on their mothers. We even came across the mummified remains of a sea lion and a lizard. The nature we saw there was incredible.
After we made our way back to the ship, we steamed to Santa Fe Island for some snorkeling. The water was much colder today, so Daniela and I rented wet suits. When I asked if I should go naked underneath my wet suit, everyone started laughing. Hey, I had never worn one before, so it was a serious question. I didn't realize I was on a cruise with a bunch of Jacques Cousteau disciples, I thought as I proceeded to put my suit on backwards.
Anyway, from the moment I jumped in the water, I was amazed at what I saw. A sea lion had been sitting on the rocks close to our boat, but when he saw me in the water, he swam right up to me. Sea lions are smelly, loud, and kind of ugly on land. They constantly bark, burp, cough, and poop everywhere, giving them a striking resemblance to big, fat couch potatoes, sitting around watching football all day. But in the water, they are fast and graceful like massive ballerinas. My sea lion friend darted at me so fast there was nothing I could do but watch him and hope he didn't knock me out and drown me. But at the last second, he took a sharp turn downward, swam underneath me, and came up for air on the other side of me, barking out his approval. From that point on, I was hooked on snorkeling.
There were also a lot more animals in the bay than sea lions today. At first, there were just a bunch of ubiquitous huge tropical fish moving back and forth everywhere around me, but then I looked down and saw a massive sea turtle right underneath me. I took a huge breath and swam down to it, using my fins to propel myself along with it, contemplating grabbing onto its shell and seeing where it would take me. But then I remembered that I couldn't hold my breath for thirty minutes like a sea turtle, and had to come back up for air.
I climbed back into the ship for a short break, and one of the crew members informed me that he was about to take some people to the other side of the bay in the small boat. I went along with him, and within a few minutes, we were looking at about fifty eagle rays that were bigger than me. They swam slowly in perfect formation directly under our boat. Then we saw a bunch of sharks with white-tipped fins thrashing around near us. Suddenly, the boat driver yelled "OK, jump in!" and everyone just looked at each other like he was crazy. Surely he couldn't have intended for us to go snorkeling with thousands of deadly animals near us. I contemplated this for a few minutes and decided that the crew of the Friend Ship wouldn't risk our lives so cavalierly. On the other hand, this was a "budget cruise," so maybe lightening the load a bit would be good for the ship's bottom line. Eventually I threw caution to the wind and jumped in. The water was surprisingly quiet at first, but as soon as a massive stingray swam right under me and I looked up just in time to see a shark pass me, I freaked out and made a beeline for the safety of the boat.
When we had gotten our fix of snorkeling, we landed and made a tour of the island. The main animal we were looking for was the endemic land iguana, which existed nowhere else in the world. It took a lot of searching because it was so well adapted to its environment, but eventually we spotted one. It made a little smirky smile at us as if to acknowledge that it had lost its game of hide-and-go-seek. We also saw some doves and a bunch more sea lions. Wilmer assured us that the thick, dry brush that seemed so typical of the Galapagos Islands was not dead and would in fact regain its brilliant color during the rainy season. We still had some time left in our long day, so we lay on the beach with the sea lions and watched the sunset.
Our destination for tomorrow would be Espanola Island, which was so far away that we had to start steaming as soon as we finished dinner tonight. Our food hadn't yet settled in our stomachs, and consequently I saw a lot of flushed out faces around the ship as we started rocking heavily in the huge swells of the open sea. Soon I started to feel sick myself and went outside to stare at the horizon, only to realize that it was a moonless night, and the horizon was not visible. I sat on top of the ship, where the Israelis were smoking cigars, drinking beer, and telling loud, animated stories to each other in Hebrew. I admired their iron stomachs for a minute, but then the smell of the cigar smoke pushed me over the edge. I ran down to my cabin just in time to vomit and noticed that Daniela had preceded me in her purging. I lay down, closed my eyes, and waited the night out, which was about all I could do to keep from getting sick again.
The photo album for this entry is here.