Fernandina – Isabela
This afternoon [morning], we make our way over to Tagus Cove on Isabela Island, the Galapagos’ largest island. Here we learn about the volcanoes that formed Isabela, and we take a dinghy ride along the shore in search of more amazing wildlife, including Flightless Cormorants and, depending on season, the Galapagos Penguin!
We deviated from the itinerary today, flipping the morning for the afternoon. That’s why, even though it says “afternoon” above, I am talking about it as the morning’s activity. The two islands, Fernandina and Isabela are quite close to one another – Isabela to the east and Fernandina to the west. Before we made the first stop in Tagus Cove, we had a dingy ride to see the lay of the land around us.
Wow! It’s fascinating – if you like geology. And I do. By this point on the trip we had two geologists with us. One was a petroleum geologist from Canada and the other a geology professor from California. Their knowledge added so much! Our guides know a lot, but the additional experience of these two professionals really added depth to our understanding of what had happened around here. And when!
So, in addition to being students of the birds and aquatic animals, we were spell-bound listeners learning about the rocks in front of us. I will try to explain them in the captions of the pictures as they are much easier to describe when you can see them. Riding around we saw Blue-footed Boobies, pelicans, herons, penguins, brown noddies, gulls and cormorants …and of course, the marine iguanas and crabs.
Here is a slideshow of the birds we saw. You might watch it through twice, once to focus on the birds and once to focus on the rocks. For more about the birds themselves, this is an excellent website.
Following the ride, we disembarked on the island, and hiked up past Lake Darwin. In fact, we followed the path Darwin took when the Beagle anchored here in 1835. Of primary interest along the walk, beyond the views of Lake Darwin (with its strange colors) to the sea beyond, were all the different plants. The sub-species of “holy stick” (palo santo) trees in this is only found on specific islands.
Where we climbed out of our pangas, our “dry” landing spot, the ground was quite rough and steep. Fortunately, there was a railing to help us steady ourselves. The walls of this canyon are covered with graffiti – some of it very old. Nowadays, you cannot write on the cliffs, but there are messages back to the early 1900s. Even older graffiti is visible in some areas, we were told, originating with whalers and pirates back in the day!
Our destination on the walk was an area of a lava flow that cut the island in two. This is significant because the giant tortoises cannot cross these ancient lava flows, accounting for the several regionally localized sub-specied of these creatures. Think back to when I told you that the biologists in charge of the tortoises don’t know what to do with the old pets they have in captivity in the breeding center. You begin to understand why they cannot be released back into the wild. Into which area would they go – especially if you do not want to be the agent of cross-breeding species!
According to my notes, we had excellent snorkeling here. Honestly at this point, trying to reconstruct everything, some days are just a blur! My notes are reminding me that the snorkeling included rays, turtles and penguins. I am wondering if this was the day I had my close encounters with the sea lion. There were several swimming/playing with us, and one (twice) swam straight for me, and when we were practically touching noses, she turned and left me cold. I know I flinched the first time (a fellow traveler has the underwater video to prove it!) but even the second time, I know I was really scared we were on a crash course! Her flexibility was just amazing. I was so envious of her fluidity in the water.
Back on the boat, warming up and dressing for lunch, we were granted another beautiful and rare glimpse of nature. A group of over 30 dolphins swam into the cove. It was so fun to watch! A single fin looked like a shark, but most of the animals swam in pairs or trios, and they looked like synchronized swimmers, rising out of the water at the same time and in the same arc. My picture shows that there were many of them, but not the grace and beauty of their swimming. I said it was rare because of the size of the group. I guess dolphins normally travel in smaller groups.
This morning [afternoon] we visit Espinosa Point, on Fernandina Island, in search of marine iguanas, Flightless Cormorants, and Galapagos Penguins! We stroll over lava formations, encountering cacti and mangroves along the way.
The afternoon was special too. This excursion off the boat took us to a place called Espinosa Point on Fernandina Island. Geology was again the theme for the day as we were walking on the strangest lava! It was hard to walk on and you really had to watch your feet, yet it was hard to look away. (And you didn’t want to as you might step on a marine iguana, so well did they blend into the scenery!)
What a gorgeous contrast to the bright blue water of the Pacific and the white foam from the waves crashing against the rocks. Add to that a dark sky on the horizon, brilliant sunshine in the foreground, the white sand of the beach and the pale outline of a volcano across the strait and you have a photographer’s dream landscape!
I suppose this is a good time to try to explain what I think I learned about the Galapagos and their formation…Start with a vent under the ocean where magma can escape. Now think about how the plates in the Pacific Ocean are moving – and realize that they are moving south easterly. If you look at the map of the Galapagos Islands, the oldest islands are to the east, and the youngest of them all, Fernandina is the most westerly. Over time, the volcanoes have formed from the vent and created islands. The islands have moved to the south east on their plates, and the vent continues to push up new volcanoes or to allow magma to seep out to the surface. It would seem that the vent has not yet created a brand new volcano and a new island for the chain, but the volcanic activity is still going on beneath the earth’s crust. Some of that will bubble up as lava in odd places. (How’s that for a very unscientific – and probably erroneous – explanation!)
It was on this hike that I saw a cactus I was really interested in seeing, the lava cactus. This is one of the first species to inhabit a lava flow, so we expected to find some on this recent upwelling. And we did! There is no dirt or soil on the lava, so the catus actually grows in the decomposed matter of its old branches. Cool, right? Gotta love the colors too – they coordinate so well with black! Our walk also covered tidal pools with interesting plants and bleached driftwood around them, and artifacts – whale bones. Glenn, our neurologist friend, quickly pointed out that the spine of the whale was organized with the head where the tail should be and vice versa!
There was certainly no dearth of marine iguanas – by now I am finding them positively revolting (and they smell awful!). We also saw a few sea lions, and watched the drama of a mother looking for her cub, while some other little sea lion tried to pretend it was he. Sea lions identify their pups by smell (that’s why you cannot touch them!) and she was not fooled by the little fellow following her.
There were lots of Sally Lightfoot Crabs everywhere, too – they are so beautiful!