Last night was one of the most rocking and rolling nights on a ship that I can remember. There was no real storm per se. Rather all the currents and winds that run north and south along the Equator seemed to bang together here. After a fitful sleep I got up this morning feeling like I had already taken a Zumba class, trying to hold on to the sides of the bed so I wouldn’t roll out on the floor. At least my stomach didn’t take offense as long as I stayed in a horizontal position.
We spent the day on the island of Española. The specialties of this island are marine iguanas and albatross. Sylvia, our guide, warned us that nearly all of the morning hike was over ground strewn with boulders. There were a few strategic points where some of us could turn back and some did. I was glad that I could do the whole thing, but my knees were not. It was easy to step on the lizards that littered the path. On Floreana they were black; here they are a showier light brown with tinges of red. One of the unique features of the Galapagos is how different the same kinds of animals can be from island to island.
We first had intimate contact with the albatross last winter on the Falkland Islands and fell in love with these peaceful giants, the largest flying birds in the world. These monogamous creatures show such affection for each other and their chicks. And then when it’s time for a meal, they waddle over to the edge of the cliff and hurl themselves off. If they plan it right, they can catch an air current and expend little energy swirling over the waves until a tempting fish comes into view. The fluffy babies wait in the nest for a parent to stop by and regurgitate a meal. We found a few deserted eggs here and there. These are “insurance” eggs. Generally, the parents only have enough resources to raise one child, but if something happens to that one early in the season, it’s good to have a spare.
You would think that the animals here would do their best to avoid the designated paths where all of us human types have to stay. Instead they prefer the cleared-off areas that are perhaps less rocky. We could hardly walk from the boat landing to the island interior without stepping on a marine iguana. On this cool overcast day they were all looking for a spot with sun exposure and there it was: on the path. These black creatures blend in so well with the black lava rocks they perch on. Many of the males still had bright red patches on their skin, the better to attract a mate during the season just past. It is not obvious that our presence stresses them; their faces are anything but communicative. We were one of four boats in this spot today and virtually all of their passengers will also go tromping by.
We started seeing some blood on the sand and came upon a sea lion who had just given birth within the hour. The afterbirth was still attached, and the mockingbirds were hovering, hoping for a bit of a taste. Gross! Mom had licked off the afterbirth from her pup who was demonstrating his sucking skills. Sylvia said that as soon as she was up to it, mom would drag the pup into the sea in her mouth like a mother cat and give it a proper bath. She will nurse for a week and then leave it under a bush which she goes back to the sea to finally eat something for herself.
We’ve enjoyed the blue-footed boobies the last few days and here we ran into their larger cousins, the Nazca boobies. They too were in the family way, tending to their demanding fluff balls of cuteness. They spend so much time preening. They have lice to remove, but more importantly oil their feathers and relock the barbules on their feathers for maximum flight and floating in the water.
After lunch we headed out for a snorkel from the zodiac. The water was so much colder than the water we swam in from the beach yesterday, that it was hard to get used to. Most of the fish seemed smaller as did the turtle. The sea lions snoozed on the ledges right above us, but weren’t interested in an encounter today. It’s not Disneyland. You never know what you will (or won’t see).