Thursday, April 30, 2009

Galapagos, Day 4: Bachas Beach and Santa Fe

Day four, we disembarked on Bachas Beach, snorkel gear in tow. Bachas Beach is a beautiful white sand beach punctuated by lava formations.

As we were preparing for our hike, we were surprised by this guy leaving the beach in a big hurry.

You can't tell by the picture, but this was our first sighting of a sea turtle. Bachas Beach is a known hangout for the turtles, and if you get there early enough in the morning, you can catch sight of one. As they return to the ocean, they leave trails in the sand like this:

The turtles, like the tortoises, were busy mating while we were in the islands. Their sessions took place in the water, however, so I was unable to get a good picture. Unlike the tortoises, the male turtle is much smaller than the female, which allows him to sort of float on top of her as they do their thing.

The females use Bachas Beach as a nursery, burying their fertilized eggs in the sand. Our guide and others carefully mark the nests with rings of stones like this, so that tourists don't unwittingly crush the precious eggs.

Bachas Beach is also home to the ghost crab, which buries itself in the sand in holes like this.

Unfortunately, my camera lens wasn't powerful enough to catch it, but I could see the white legs of the ghost crab in the hole.

Bachas Beach has some interesting plant life, including the white mangrove.

Galapagos is home to three different types of mangrove: the white, black, and red varieties. I'm proud to say we saw them all.

We continued down the beach to find out where the beach got its name.

And this is why.

Long ago, a barge beached itself here and was slowly buried by the elements. You can still see, and if you're not careful, trip over, parts of the barge sticking out from the sand. "Barge" became "Bachas" to the inhabitants of Galapagos, hence "Bachas Beach." It was amazing to stand on the beach and imagine the huge ship below our feet.

We found our way to this brackish lagoon, where we were lucky enough to spot a flock of flamingos.

While flamingos are not native to the Galapagos, they are found in a few spots in the archipelago. Their pink color comes from a certain pinkish algae that they feed on.

Since there are very few native predators, the herbivorous animals can live together very peacefully, like this flamingo and the harem of marine iguanas.

The big iguana was the male, and all the smaller ones were his females. If we got too close to his women, the male would start nodding and bobbing his head in order to stake out his territory and keep us away. The marine iguanas would also spit water from their nostrils, which was pretty funny.

Acting very cat-like, Gato got up close and personal with the iguanas.

After getting our fill of the flamingos, we returned to the beach for a snorkel. I learned that I much prefer snorkeling from a boat to beach snorkeling. Sand finds its way into everything: in the mask, in the flippers, in the wetsuit. But I did see a sea turtle up close for the first time during this snorkel.

Isaac finished snorkeling. I love this picture.

After lunch, we napped while the boat took us to Santa Fe, home of the land iguanas.

These beautiful yellow specimens are unable to swim like their marine cousins. They are able to mate with them, however, producing a hybrid iguana.

This might be my favorite picture of the whole trip.

This is what I felt like after a whole day of hiking and snorkeling.

The land iguanas feed on the Galapagos prickly pear. But unlike the prickly pears I know from my childhood, these are giant and tree-like.

The prickly pear can grow to about twelve feet high, and as you can see, the bottom is trunk-like. There is no way the iguanas can reach high enough to get to their fleshy food. So, in order to get enough to eat, the land iguanas just sort of hang out under the pricklys all day long and wait for a fruit or pad to drop. What a life.

Santa Fe is a small island carpeted with salt bush. This plant turns vibrant orange and red in the hot months. It's gorgeous, and unfortunately, my camera doesn't do it justice.

Because Santa Fe is a young, small island, we didn't have to hike too far to reach its apex. But for its height, it was surprisingly windy, and I had trouble keeping my hat on for this picture.

And that was the end of another day. Here's one last picture of the impressive Galapagos prickly pear.

Come back tomorrow to see San Cristobal and Isla Lobos.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Galapagos, Day 3: James Bay and Bartholomew Island

The morning of day three, we found ourselves hiking around the lava flows at James Bay.

Here, more than anywhere else, we could get a feel for what it's like when an island is created. Though the lava was more than 100 years old, it looked like it had just been flowing. The only plant we saw was the lava cactus.

The first to appear after a volcano has erupted, this cactus helps to break down the hardened lava and turn it into dirt or sand.

Many of the words used to describe lava formations come from the Hawaiian language. I believe this formation is called "pahoihoi," which means rope.

Sometimes air would get caught in the lava, and then burst in a big, hot bubble. As the lava cooled, it would leave a hole like this.

It reminds me of the drip sand castles we would make as kids.

Isaac and I took a break to pose on some pahoihoi.

It was incredibly hot walking on the lava. The radiant heat from the black ground can even be dangerous if you're not properly prepared. Thankfully, we were slathered with sunscreen, and our guide reminded us each morning to bring a hat.

As we continued our hike, we arrived at the foot of a parasitic cone. These cones are made of ash that has been compressed and solidified into a brown dirt-like substance. Pushed up by great blasts of steam, the compressed ash forms a kind of mountain. 

We made the slippery, hot trek up one of these cones. The breeze at the top was well worth it. Mr. and Mrs. W. even doffed their sun hats and stole a romantic moment together.

After lunch, we boated over to Bartholomew Island, or Isla Bartolome. Many of the islands have two or three names, including one in Spanish and in English. 

Disembarking, we walked a steep trail to see one of the most famous views in the archipelago.

This view is so well-known, it was even immortalized in a mural behind the bar on our boat.

While enjoying the breeze at the top, we had some fun with the pointy rock.

We concluded the day by snorkeling around Bartholomew. It was absolutely freezing, a big shock to the system after such a hot day. The water temperatures varied vastly in the islands, a result of many different currents which come together here.

We saw more penguins. Fortunately, these guys had all of their wings intact.

And finally, we returned to the boat for the night. To round out the day, I'll leave you with one of the stunning rock formations of Bartholomew.

Come back tomorrow for pictures of Santa Fe Island and Bachas Beach on Santa Cruz.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Galapagos, Day 2: Santiago and Chinese Hat

The second morning began with a cruise in the small boats around the coast of Santiago. It was a striking landscape, with cacti and lava shores surrounded by cool blue water.

We were greeted by all sorts of animals. If you look closely, you can see a marine iguana swimming for his breakfast below.

We also caught sight of a lava heron. These herons love to feed on the Sally Golightly crabs, which you'll see later on.

And I'll never forget this little guy.

I was so excited to see a penguin, but this sighting was bittersweet. He had lost his right wing, and was probably going to die soon, though this day he was still hanging on.

After a morning snorkel around the same coast, and a big lunch, we headed to the nearby island of Chinese Hat, so named because it looks like, well...

The beach was guarded by this guy, a juvenile Galapagos hawk.

Like all the other species in the islands, the hawk is not afraid of people, and our guide told us tourists have had hawks perch on them before. Thankfully, this guy was happy to stay on his own perch.

We got a close look at the Sally Golightly crab, named for its super-quick movement across the rocks.

Really, these guys can move. And they have to, since they have all sorts of predators, including the lava heron, after them. But they are usually in the clear once they mature to this vibrant orange color, since their shells have hardened.

Here's a lovely picture of Sally and a sea lion.

Another abundant animal, pretty much everywhere we went. The sea lions were so smelly, yet so freakin cute. Like these two pups, taking their afternoon naps.

Here's the requisite picture of me up close and personal with a marine iguana.

Like the sea lions, these guys were mostly sleeping or sunning themselves on the rocks. But I caught this one on the move.

I found myself fascinated with the tracks left in the sand. We could see these most clearly on early morning hikes, when the tracks hadn't yet been disturbed by tourists. But I got a good picture of some iguana tracks on Chinese Hat. 

The coast of Chinese Hat, like Santiago, was mostly lava formations. It was really fun to hop around on, and I was glad I had sturdy shoes.

For some reason, on our way back to the boat, our guide, Gato, had us touch the prickly pear. As a native Arizonan who has had my fair share of cactus thorns in my body, I refrained, but caught everyone else in the action.

And that was the end of another day. I'll leave you with a picture of the Palos Santos, or incense tree. It smells like every church I've ever been in. 

Tomorrow, please return for pictures of the James Bay lava flow and Bartholomew Island.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Galapagos, Day 1: Santa Cruz

Our flight to the Galapagos Islands, brought to you by Chivas Regal.

When we landed we were greeted by turquoise water

and abundant wildlife. This is a blue footed booby, the first of many.

Once we landed, we took a bus to the ferry, the ferry to another bus, then a long ride to Puerto Ayora, where we met our boat at the dock. While we were waiting for our boat, we saw another first, the marine iguana.

They really do get that close to you, and you must watch your step everywhere to avoid trampling them. One of the reasons the Galapagos have stayed so pristine is that they enforce strict regulations against handling or disturbing the animals in any way.

Once our luggage was safely aboard the boat, we boarded yet another bus for a ride to the Tortoise Farm. The tortoise below is a baby, less than 100 years old.

You can tell the approximate age of a tortoise by the texture of its shell plates. If the plates have rings, less than a century. If the plates are smooth, more than.

The farmers don't raise the tortoises here, but they do encourage them to inhabit the area by building wallows such as this one.

This serves two purposes. It brings the tourists, and it provides the tortoises with some necessary cool-down time. And take it from someone who knows: it gets hot!

It was mating season for many of the land animals, as you can see below.

The male is much bigger than the female, and the mating process can last up to two hours. They bellow out some mighty strange moans during this process as well.

Along with tortoises, we saw some beautiful plant life, including this Galapagos Passion Flower.

The flower is striking, but the name is deceptive, having no connection with the animal passion going on in its vicinity. Rather, this flower was named by a priest visiting the archipelago, who saw in its petals and stamen an allegory for the Passion of the Christ.

A short bus ride brought us to the first of two lava tube caves we would enter.

These caves were formed when rock and dirt covered streams of hot lava, which eventually cooled and eroded, leaving long corridors down into the earth. We entered this side, walked a ways, then had to get down on our bellies to squeeze through the other side. Unfortunately, I was unable to take a picture of the proceedings, as I was on my hands and knees in the mud, but returning to daylight was exhilirating.

Then it was back to the bus, and on the boat for the night. I'll leave you with another lovely example of the flora of Santa Cruz.

Be sure to return tomorrow for pictures of Santiago and Chinese Hat.