Darwin Lake, Isabela Island
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
15 Days In The Galapagos Islands
Day 2 - Black Turtle Cove Zodiac Ride, Santiago Island Snorkel, & Chinese Hat Walk/Hike - Galapagos Islands
We were up early as we had three excursions and some traveling to do today. There was a buffet breakfast waiting for us, and the Sous Chef was working a made-to-order eggs/omelet station.
While having breakfast, our cabin steward (who was also the ship's bartender) cleaned our room, and prepared towel animals to greet us when we came back to the cabin. Note: He did that every day but that was pretty much the only thing that was comparable to a traditional cruise.
The bartender acted as cabin steward for the four cabins on the main deck, while the only female crew member was the cabin steward for the second deck.
Black Turtle Cove Zodiac Ride
Shortly after breakfast we boarded a Zodiac for a tour of Black Turtle Cove, an inlet with several sheltered areas lined by mangroves that serves as a nursery for various sea animals.
Our first wildlife encounter was before we entered the cove. This iconic Blue-footed Booby was sitting on the rocks as we approached.
Our sailor nosed the Zodiac up very close, and the bird just looked at us with no concern at all.
According to Myra, their feet are blue based on their diet, and the brighter their feet, the healthier they are and the more attractive they are to the opposite sex. In fact, displaying of the feet is a big part of the Blue-footed Booby mating dance.
As we entered the cove, it wasn't long before we spotted the first of many Green Sea Turtles.
They were so graceful in the clear, shallow water.
Next was another Blue-footed Booby, ....
and then another sea turtle.
Then we spotted our first Lava Heron, another endemic bird. They are about the size of the Green Heron that we see back in the U.S.
After more turtles and another Lava Heron, we spotted turtles mating in the open water of the cove.
In the left photo above, you can see another male just under the surface to the right waiting in line. Myra said the females sometimes have to crawl up onto the beach to get away from multiple amorous males.
Moving farther into the mangroves, we found another posing Blue-footed Booby ...
Next, we came upon three Spotted Eagle Rays which swam around us a couple of times giving us excellent looks.
As mentioned previously, the cove serves as a nursery and we saw several baby sharks, and one not-so-small Black-tip Shark.
We explored more areas of the cove eventually stopping just to float for a little bit. Soon, turtles were popping up all around us.
After hanging out in the quiet backwaters with the turtles for awhile, it was time to move back toward the ship.
Black Turtle Cove would be fantastic for kayaking but, unfortunately, it's not allowed.
On the way back, we had a Brown Pelican fly-by ...
and we got a great look at an American Oystercatcher. We've seen those before, but they are striking with their bright orange bills and eyes contrasting with their dark heads.
After a wonderful morning, we exited Black Turtle Cove and headed back to the Domenica.
Back on board, a snack and juice was waiting for us. And then we had a little time to relax as the crew raised the anchor and we started toward our next destination. En route, we enjoyed our buffet lunch (which was like a full-blown dinner every day).
We cruised past several rocky islets and eventually pulled into a channel along the eastern coast of Santiago Island with Chinese Hat (aka Sombrero Chino) on our left.
Not long after we anchored, we prepared for our first snorkeling excursion. We tried on fins and were supplied with a mask and snorkel. Then we were given the opportunity to rent wetsuits.
There are basically two seasons in the Galapagos - the dry season when there is little rain and the ocean currents bring in colder water and cause choppy seas, and the wet season when there is more rain, and calmer, warmer ocean waters. December, when we visited, is a transitional month between the seasons. Since the water was still in the process of warming, we opted to get the wetsuits (which turned out to be a very good decision).
The crew gave us a numbered mesh bag for our gear and we memorized our wetsuit numbers as well. The rest of the trip, our snorkel bags and wetsuits would be hanging on hooks on the back of the boat whenever it was time for a snorkeling excursion.
Snorkeling Santiago Island
Soon, we were on the Zodiac heading to our drop-off point. The aqua-marine water was beautiful and contrasted nicely with the dark brown rocks and red carpetweed on the island.
Behind us, Domenica got smaller and we could see the landing beach on Chinese Hat where we would be later for our third excursion of the day.
Here's a good look at Chinese Hat making it clear as to how the islet got its name.
We reached a wall along Santiago Island across from Chinese Hat, and we all slipped into the water off the side of the Zodiac. We quickly started paddling to get over the initial shock of the cold water. Fortunately, in just a few minutes, we were fine.
The water was wonderfully clear and I was armed with a small Olympus Tough camera that's good to several feet under water. Linda had our GoPro on a wrist mount.
There was no coral, but the algae on the rocks was quite colorful, as were the fish.
I especially enjoyed the large schools of Yellow-tailed Surgeonfish, and the Streamer Hogfish (aka Mexican Hogfish).
We also got our first look at a large Diamond Stingray and a harmless (at least that's what they told us) White-tipped Reef Shark.
Here's a little underwater video.
The shark swam away from us, but we later found it hiding under this shelf.
It was a great first snorkel, and it certainly left us wanting more.
When our time was up, we gathered at the Zodiac, and struggled up the ladder where Myra and our driver were waiting with towels. We then headed back toward the ship.
But on the way, we spotted our first Galapagos Penguin on the rocks. Linda, being a penguin fanatic, was thrilled with this sighting.
The Galapagos Penguin is another endemic species, and it is the only penguin in the world that lives north of the equator. It’s also the second smallest penguin in the word behind the Little Penguins of Australia and New Zealand.
We didn't see any others and continued on back to the Domenica. Back on board, hot chocolate and more snacks were waiting for us on the back deck. That really hit the spot.
We took just a little time and then got changed. After a few minutes, we were back on the Zodiac heading to Chinese Hat for our third and final excursion of the day.
Chinese Hat Walk/Hike
This would be our first "wet" landing where we hopped off the side of the Zodiac into knee-deep water and walked up on the beach. They had towels for us to dry our feet, and we found rocks where we could sit and put on our shoes as our Zodiac crew pushed off.
Chinese Hat was also the first stop where we got up close and personal with the Galapagos Sea Lions. Though closely related to California Sea Lions, they are a different species and another endemic species here in the Galapagos Islands.
This pup was the first to welcome us to its beach.
We walked right by the sea lions and even the mothers with tiny pups paid us no attention. Myra gave us her sea lion talk while we watched the young ones nurse.
Galapagos National Park rules state that we are supposed to stay six feet (or about two meters) away from the wildlife. We did our best to obey the rules, but we would discover that wasn't always easy.
We walked past several babies, a couple of which were only days old. You can't help but smile at the antics of the pups as they look at you with their big brown eyes.
Myra explained the differences between the males and females and noted that the large males (or bulls) have a more rounded head with a clear "bump".
These large bulls patrol the beach and protect their harems. They are known as the "Beachmasters", and they can be aggressive if you get too close as they are quite territorial.
A few of the adults swam in the shallows and "barked" at each other.
As it was our first close encounter with the sea lions, they were certainly the stars of this excursion. But there was more to see.
We came upon our first Lava Lizard. All the lizards on the islands that are not iguanas are collectively known as Lava Lizards, but there are seven distinct species.
It is thought all seven species evolved from a single species, and all of them are endemic to the Galapagos.
Moving on we admired the red Galapagos Carpetweed which contrasted nicely with the surrounding landscape. It’s another endemic plant.
Around the point on Chinese Hat, we saw more Marine Iguanas, ....
and I saw our first Galapagos Hawk in the distance. Myra said it was a juvenile, and as we walked back, it perched on a rock just a few feet from the trail. It wasn’t afraid as we got numerous photos of the beautiful bird. That was another endemic species to add to our list.
So, in four excursions in two days, we have seen twelve endemic animals (eight of which were birds) that we can’t see anywhere else and may never see again once we leave the islands after this trip.
We slowly walked back along the beach and took more photos of sea lions and crabs before getting back on our Zodiac. It was then just a short trip back to our boat.
Back on board for the rest of the evening, we were able to rest for a bit before the briefing on tomorrow's schedule. After the briefing, we had dinner.
And then we went up on the top deck to watch the sun go down. The Gran Natalia made a great foreground for the beautiful sunset.
What a wonderful day .... and it was only Day 2.
After sunset, the crew pulled up the anchor, and we started the long, overnight trip to Genovesa Island, the outermost island we will visit on our trip. We will be there all day tomorrow before another overnight trip back to the central islands.