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Beyond Words - Issue #13 Galapagos- a trip diary (2013)

Beyond Words - Issue #13 Galapagos- a trip diary (2013)
By Nandini Chakraborty • Issue #13 • View online
Galapagos is a time capsule, Galapagos is timeless. The charm of this delicate ecosystem never dies. An all time favourite of travellers, the islands never lose their intrigue. The animals are unafraid and curious, the volcanic landscape is ruggedly mesmerizing.
A trip to the Galapagos does not come cheap but is worth every penny. My vote goes to a smaller yacht-cosy and personal with landings guaranteed at every stop instead of alternating with co-passengers.
Here is my trip diary from those years ago.

A land iguana-Galapagos
A land iguana-Galapagos
Day 0- travel from Heathrow to Guayaquil airport via Madrid. No boarding passes given for the Madrid to Guayaquil flight but luggage checked through to Guayaquil. Have only ‘pre-check in vouchers’ at hand. Land in Madrid with 40 minutes to flight and directed straight to the departure gates. Staff at gate (people already lining up) look at the vouchers, have a quick discussion and say ‘yes you can board’. Relief! Vouchers taken away and given a torn chit of paper with seat numbers written on it. Service on board LAN was great. Reach Guayaquil on time. Lady at passport control finds something possibly fishy on my passport and takes all three to talk with a manager. Manager comes and talks to us with a plastic smile, takes our travel history and says we can pass. Never got to the bottom of what that was about! Suitcase almost the last on the luggage belt but just happy that it arrived when we were giving up hope. Taxi to Hotel Palace Guayaquil takes $6. Good sized clean room. We are in Ecuador and we start our Galapagos tour tomorrow. Hurray!
Day 1- We had booked directly with Cometa travel for Yacht Angelito. Bruna, the very helpful lady at the booking desk of Cometa who is prompt with her emails and great with her replies has sent William at 8:10 am to pick us up from the hotel and help us to check in at the domestic airport. William checks we have our travel papers right and ready. Check in done with no problems.
On time at Baltra airport. As far as we know- the national park entry fees are $100 for me and my husband, $50 for my daughter. The lady asks for $300, slightly apologetically. It is my daughter’s birthday and she has just turned 12. Ah well, small price to pay for the Galapagos islands.
We are picked up by Maja, our guide for the next week. She collects all 11 of the new tourists for Angelito, there are another 3 already on board from last week and continuing. We take a bus to the pier and a dinghy picks us up for Angelito. Our luggage with the cabin number marked has already been transported and waiting for us in the cabin when we arrive. We unpack and gather for the first lunch aboard Angelito. Our holiday has truly begun!
First hike of the trip starts at 2:30 pm. A 3 hour hike on North Seymour Island. We saw swallow tailed gulls quite close up as the dinghy neared the mooring place. Our first sight of sally light footed crabs as well (which would later prove to be ubiquitous in the Galapagos). We had hardly alighted when we had our first view of a marine iguana and a land iguana. The hike continued with blue footed boobies, brown pelicans, frigate birds with great red balloons, the Galapagos dove, yellow warbler and medium and small ground finches. This being a nesting site we also saw chicks and juvenile birds of both the blue footed boobies and frigate birds at various stages of maturity. It is amazing how close you can get to the birds, again a Galapagos feature which was to repeat itself quite often. There were also brightly coloured lava lizards. We were also rewarded with the sight of a yellow snake slithering away, a rare view considering how shy the Galapagos snakes are. Another rewarding view was a blue footed booby dance. The male started with the funny clown like alternate foot movements, reciprocated by the female. However within minutes the female seemed to lose interest- so not a successful courtship. The frigate birds were more energetic with their courtship ritual. We saw several males with red balloons on their necks circling the area. Maja’s sharp eyes located the female the showing off was directed to. With so many males to choose from looked like she was taking her time and was in no hurry to decide. Towards the end of the round trip, as we neared the docking site again we saw the first sea lions and several cubs. The cubs were in a playful mood and found photography intriguing. The sea lions lazed around looking at us sleepily.
We returned to the yacht and spent time on the sun deck before dinner. A flock of a dozen frigate birds accompanied the boat, sometimes swooping low, a few inches overhead. We were to later learn that this was common behaviour for frigate birds. However that first evening, the smooth flying birds in twilight, sailing in the air along with the boat was magical.
As we entered the dining area, large banners saying ‘Happy Birthday’ greeted my daughter whose expression was unforgettable. After a wonderful meal which showed great promise of more to come over the fortnight, her surprise was even more memorable when the lights were switched off and Felix the cook entered with a pink birthday cake with 12 candles. One birthday she is not likely to forget in a hurry!
Day 2- breakfast at 7 am. Alarm set for 6 am- Ecuador mainland time. Which meant we were awake an hour earlier than intended. However we were rewarded with the views of great volcanic landscape as the yacht steered towards Chinese Hat, our first island of the day. A strangely shaped island with lava piled in the shape of a hat which gives it the name. The waters around it are emerald green.
We saw marine iguanas, a hermit crab, sally light footed crabs, lava lizards, sea lions, small ground finches, Galapagos doves, shells of pencil sea urchins and white corals on the beach. The best sighting was of two Galapagos hawks sitting near a sea lion placenta. With plenty of young sea lion cubs around, placentas were plentiful as well, which accounted for a great number of Galapagos hawks we were to see during this trip. Maja told us to take photographs of the hawks and then inch ahead slowly, another photograph and nearer again…… ultimately I was sitting less than a metre away from the hawk, so close that I could make out the bloodied talons and the pupils of its eyes as it watched me with some disdain (and possibly confident scorn!). We continued our hike on lava rocks, small pits and lava tubes dotted the surface. The pits had accumulations of sea salt left by the receding tide. Maja told us we could taste it, the salinity protecting against any infections. Ummm…tasty.
Back on board to get fitted for our first snorkelling experience. Maja was great in improving our confidence and explaining the use of the equipment to us absolute first timers in snorkelling. We decided to wear life jackets (not to take any chances and I in particular am not a confident swimmer at all). The water had seemed okay and we decided to give it a go without wetsuits. Subsequently for the rest of the trip my husband and I continued with just our swimsuits and life jackets for snorkelling and found it very refreshing in the water. This is a very individual perception as we had members in our group who found it too cold even with wetsuits. My daughter opted for a wetsuit after the first day and Maja explained that due to the buoyancy of the wetsuit she would be okay without a life jacket. She still used the buoy but for the last two days was confident to go into water with just her wet suit. Maja again was a great help, keeping an eye on her and helping her to improve her technique, also giving lots of encouragement. Without Maja’s instructions on our first snorkelling, this part of our trip would have been very different.
The first splash in water was clumsy as I tried to manoeuvre myself into position. Once I had flipped myself on to my stomach, the first sight of underwater life was a great calmer. Suddenly I stopped struggling to get myself into position and flipped away to explore. Colourful fish seemed to move in slow motion. Great shoals of yellow surgeonfish glided inches away from me. The other sea life seen (identified from a book after every trip) were convict tangs, king angelfish, male & female bluechin parrotfish, bicolour parrot fish, hump head parrot fish, yellow bellied triggerfish, sea urchins, chocolate chip starfish, cortez rainbow wrasse and striped salema. My miss of the day was a white tipped reef shark- but husband and daughter got to see it.
Back on board the yacht steered towards Bartolome (Bartholomew) island, our destination of the afternoon. After lunch we had time to laze around a bit and a few of us got to the sundeck. I took a chair near the railing, lazing in the sun and looking out dreamily at the contrast created between the blue waters and red volcanic rock. Suddenly a black fan like form shot out of the water for a few seconds. I sat up and looked out. Again it happened. Excited, I called fellow travellers to have a look. The form was black with white spots on one side and a pale sheen on the other side. At one point two seemed to come out of the water together. We later got to know from Maja that it was a group of spotted eagle rays.
Afternoon hike on Bartolome. The bright sun that afternoon lit up the island a fiery red. We walked across lunar landscapes and volcanic cones. One place has a viewing platform which offers a view right into a small crater. There were lava lizards, finch marks on the sand and lava cactus. The island is climbed through 370 steps. A guide had once come up with the brilliant idea of each of the steps being a ‘birthday step’ because 370 was so close to 365- in order to entertain a group of kids on the long steep walk. The beginning and end of each month is inscribed on the steps. The whole group decided straightaway to find my daughter’s birthday step. (she has a photograph on it.) The views from the top were beautiful and expansive.
We then climbed down to wait for our dinghies. Got startled by a big male sea lion who protested to us taking away his basking place on the landing platform with a huge splash of water on the group accompanied with a not too friendly bark!!
The dinghies then took us in a circle around the islands where a lot of marine life can be seen close up. We saw penguins; a lava heron, a great blue heron and more (guess?) …sea lions.
Dinner and we are briefed and prepared for an 11 hour navigation through the night.
Day3- Genovesa. We wake from a bumpy night which left many seasick to the grand landscape of the northern island of Genovesa. We were circled by a tall semicircle of volcanic rock, the centre of a large caldera. In the usual Galapagos style where wild life spotting does not begin with the official hike, a stroll on the deck before breakfast gave us a view of red footed boobies, swallow tailed gulls and sea lions at a distance. A shoal of fish clustered near our boat. Maja got her book out- they were milkfishes.
7:45 am, wet landing on the beach. We saw the four kinds of finches you see here, swallow tailed gulls and mocking birds. It was also our first close up view of red footed boobies and nazca boobies with lots of young birds in different stages of growth. We also saw them warming eggs. First view of a mangrove forest. The usual frigate birds, suckling sea lion cubs with their mummies and the ubiquitous sally lightfoot crab. Because it was a slightly cloudy day, we also saw plenty of golden crested night herons.
Back on the boat and time for snorkelling. Before we left we saw a pair of lava gulls on the dinghy, which Maja explained were fairly low in numbers and hence a good sighting. The water here was much deeper. For a weak hearted swimmer like I am, the view of the crater floor dropping away to bottomlessness was anxiety provoking as it was beautiful. Glad of my lifejacket, I flapped my way through more groups of bluechin parrot fishes, king angelfish, bumphead parrot fish, chameleon wrasse, cortez rainbow wrasse, yellow surgeonfish, pacific boxfish, Moorish idol, yellow bellied trigger, yellow starfishes, sea urchins, giant damsels. Nearby we saw pelicans and sea lions swimming near us while red billed tropical birds flew above us into the sheer cliffs where they had made homes.
The afternoon hike was on Prince Philip’s steps. Before we reached the landing platform, we saw a hammerhead shark cutting across ahead of us. We saw one fur seal, but found it fairly difficult to distinguish from a sea lion.
A trek over the rocks showed us more red footed and nazca boobies and frigate birds. A pair of nazca boobies set up a noisy, energetic swordplay of beaks. One of our co-travellers asked if that was a ‘marital tiff’, Maja said that it was more likely a welcome from a spouse (how very exciting, are humans missing something?) We ultimately came to a vast volcanic plain which had turned reddish brown in the late afternoon. Here Maja told us that our ‘the sighting’ would be a short eared Galapagos owl, a bird around six inches tall, much the colour of the volcanic rocks, anywhere in the vast plain. She had left us enticing hints of her presence in petrel feathers (the remains of a tasty meal) but with little guidance on how to find her. We roamed through groups of marine iguanas, red billed tropical birds overhead, more boobies until we turned back a little dejected at not having found our owl. Just as the track was about to turn from the volcanic plain towards the inner island, one of our cotravellers spotted her! There she was, with beautiful brown eyes, rimmed with brown feathers, looking out curiously from a green bush! We took lots of pictures of the owl which Maja raved about the luck we had!
After dinner (where we had lots to talk about!) we decided to turn in after a long long day. But Galapagos had more. The back of the boat, around the landing platform was lit up by a swarm of hundreds of stars in the water which looked like a milky way following us. They were mullet fishes with fluorescent mouths. Suddenly a larger shadow flitted within them- a Galapagos shark. A pity the scene was too weak in light for photographs but all of us who saw it will not forget. We stood mesmerized for half an hour while the starry show continued, with the hungry shark cutting through the sparkling waters.
Day 4-Isla Santiago, landing on Puerto Egas. The landing was on a white sand beach flanked by pretty ‘tuff lava’ formations, sculptured by wind and water. Welcomed by sea lions we continued our hike through green vegetation which housed the smooth billed ani (an introduction that Galapagos would like to rid itself of), saw more small ground finches, until we came to another volcanic plain (darker than Genovesa) but spotted with inland pools fed by tidal water. Here we saw families of fur seals, turtles (an especially big one with a beautiful orange-brown shell, swimming with the fur seals) and more marine iguanas, blue footed boobies, oyster catchers, golden crested night heron, yellow warblers, sanderlings, least sandpipers, brown pelicans, brown noddies and whimbrels. Of course lava lizards scurried all through the way.
A two hour navigation to Isla Rabida, a volcanic island with a dramatic red landscape rising between waters which range between emerald to sapphire. An early lunch and we set off to explore. We see ground finches, cactus finches, lava lizards, Galapagos flycatcher, cactus plants and a lonely marine iguana that had trekked a long way from the sea up the cliffs.
Snorkelling starts parallel to the rocks, which stretch from the beach. The dinghy drops us off into the deeper end and we make our way towards the beach. We see varieties of parrot fish, king angelfish, cortez rainbow wrasse, orange cup corals, yellow bellied triggerfish, yellow tailed surgeonfish swim by in shoals, hieroglyphic hawkfish, Mexican hogfish. Sea lions swim near us.
Back on board early today to prepare for a long navigation before dinner. As the rocking starts, we withdraw to survive the misery in our own cabins. In a long navigation that many of us try to sleep through, we emerge for dinner at 8 pm, red eyed and wobbly in our movements, taking stock of who survived. No casualties- thank Goodness!
The night is spent in anchor with gentle rocking movements soothing sore muscles. We have reached Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz island. A golden ray and turtle gently swim near our boat to bid good night.
Day 5-We wake up feeling strange in civilization- Puerto Ayora. Just to assure us that wildlife is not far away anywhere in Galapagos, they mill around our boat- pelicans, lava herons, a lone sea lion, a variety of fishes and a ray. On the way to the Darwin Centre we saw more birds and marine iguanas. As Maja pointed out, wild life is never far away wherever in the Galapagos.
The morning is spent at Darwin Centre where we see firsthand the effort at reviving the tortoise population. The habitat within the centre is as natural as possible. Tortoises in various stages of maturity. We then have some free time to walk to the pier from the centre. We do some leisurely shopping and taste lobster at the El Rinco restaurant. We see a fish market surrounded by pelicans and a greedy sea lion. A pelican flaps away when shooed by a fish lady and gives me a whack on the head with great wings. Before we board the dinghy to get back for lunch we spot a lazy sea lion dozing on an anchored dinghy.
After lunch we spot a shoal of fishes near the yacht. They are black and white with ring like markings. We later find out that they are concentric puffer fish.
The afternoon trip is to the Santa Cruz highlands where we find out that tortoises from the national park stroll into farmlands. The farm now charges for sighting the tortoises and has to do less farming! We begin to see tortoises on the road side long before reaching the farm. The surroundings turn misty which Maja tells us is usual for 80% of the time in highlands.
The trip to the farmland was more interesting than I had expected. Numerous giant tortoises could be seen very close. We also saw cattle egret, lava heron, male yellow warbler with a red streak on the head, white cheeked pintail swimming with a tortoise. The farm also has two huge tortoise shells that visitors can climb into for the experience of ‘living in a shell’ and some nice pics.
Our last stop before heading back was at a lava tube. It was one of the largest we had seen, a large tunnel one could walk through. Initially Maja suggested that we should turn back after a little distance since there was a part where one had to crawl through and it was likely to be muddy. However our group was divided in wanted to go through the lava tube from end to end. Ultimately we split into two groups. My husband, daughter and I decided to go through the entire lava tube. The part which needed crawling was not as muddy as expected and was rather fun! We emerged into daylight with a sense of satisfaction, and back to the yacht.
Day 6-back to wilderness. Overnight navigation to Espanola which was not as bad as our other long navigations! The morning was spent on a white sand beach with more sea lions than humans! (and there were more than one tourist group here this morning). The dinghy dropped us off at a crop of rock a little distance from the beach. We swam around this and then swam back towards the beach. We saw shoals of yellow surgeonfish, cortez rainbow wrasse, green sea urchins, dusky sergeant, parrotfish, yellow bellied triggerfish, Meyer’s butterfly, hieroglyphic hawkfish, pink cup corals and masses of sea weed.
In the afternoon, we had a dry landing on another beach. The usual greeting sights of sea lions and marine iguanas. The speciality of the marine iguanas here are the bright green colouration of the males, an indication of their readiness for mating. October could be a little too early to sight this colouration, but as Maja kept stressing- we were a lucky group! We continued to ‘albatross land’ as colourful lava lizards scurried out of our way.
Finally we reached the albatross territory which started with the sighting of a number of rather ungainly chicks (which turn into beautiful birds, ugly duckling style). A little further and we reached the albatross ‘landing pad’. The albatrosses land here after months at sea which requires more than a few attempts, with fine complicated moderations of their speed and directions. We watched the attempts of a single albatross which took around 11 rounds around the field. I have a video filming of around 15 minutes with Maja saying 10 times ‘ No, not this time!’ until the 11th time the entire group go ‘yes’ as the albatross lands at last. Further ahead we came to a steep cliff which was the albatross ‘launching pad’. This was where the albatrosses jumped off to start their flight. One particular attempt was touching as the hesitant bird waddled on to the edge and took a few seconds until launch- to the cheers of the entire group.
We were in great anticipation to witness the albatross mating dance, though trying not to build our expectations too high. But as Maja kept saying, we were a ‘lucky group’. The first interaction we saw was within a group of three albatrosses. The lucky member in the middle seemed to have the attention of both. An interesting alternating dance ensued. We saw two groups of three albatrosses. We were then rewarded with three pairs which appeared more dedicated and surer of each other! We spent a lot of time watching the rhythmic coordinated movements of beaks opening wide, the ‘moo’ ing of the male, followed by an energetic clicking of beaks. We left albatross land to enter the territory of nazca boobies. Maja told us that ‘love was in the air’. Though the courting of nazca boobies is nowhere as dramatic as the albatross or blue footed booby, it was rather cute to see a pair of nazca boobies gently caressing beaks after the energetic swordplay of albatross beaks!
Our hike continued on a rocky path where we saw finches, a Galapagos hawk, Espanola mocking bird, golden crested heron and a snake. Our last spectacular sight was that of a blow hole, a place where ocean water was sucked in and then gushed out in a forceful column like a mechanical geyser.
Day 7- Santa Fe. Quiet navigation. The island has a particular species of land iguana which is translated to ‘the pale one’ for its colouration. Due to their large territories the iguanas are found at wide distances and there might be no sightings at all. We got to see 3- 2 males and 1 female. We saw around 5 Galapagos hawks. The way back was marked by sleepy sea lions, lava lizards and large cacti. At one point we had to delay the hike to make way for a mum sea lion with a very young cub who Maja said might not kindly take to us skirting around her. The end of the trail was marked by numerous large white corals. Maja explained that this showed that the island was an uplifted one, previously submerged areas emerging out of the water.
Snorkelling on this day showed Mexican hogfish, yellow tailed damselfish, yellow bellied triggerfish, crimson soldierfish, various humpheaded fish, gorgonians, two stingrays resting close to each other and……..a white tipped reef shark. The shark was resting at the bottom but then suddenly seemed to come to life and swam within a few feet of us. A family of sea lions swam nearby with the male looking bigger underwater than the others had seemed on land.
The afternoon was spent on South Plaza Island. It is an exceptionally colourful island covered with red Galapagos carpetweed and green opuntia cactus against emerald green water. We saw several land iguanas (one to each opuntia), sea lions frolicking. We walked up to a steep cliff where hundreds of frigates, swallow tailed gulls, red billed tropicbird and brown noddies flew around. The hike continued to the sea lion bachelor pad (where male sea lions came to rest between their territory battles). We saw a great white egret on the way back. Maja pointed out the landscape as that of an uplifted island, steep cliff on one end and the other end dipping gently into the ocean, lined by swatches of white coral polished smooth by resting sea lions.
Back to the yacht it was time to sail back towards Baltra. The navigation back was pleasant and scenic. We were joined by the frigates again.
Day 8-5:45 am start to Black Turtle Cove, earliest start yet and our first pre-breakfast excursion. The cove is a mangrove forest labyrinth where the dinghies gently weave through. We saw numerous green turtles and white tipped reef sharks. Once a turtle and shark swam close by each other- not much of excitement, they hardly seemed to notice each other. We also saw numerous schools of spotted eagle rays, one sting ray and large schools of fish. Other sightings were yellow warblers, egrets, storm petrels and blue footed boobies.
We returned for breakfast and then the yacht started for Baltra. We passed a landscape dotted with volcanic cones and craters. The Daphne Major volcano dominated the horizon, its caldera slanted beckoningly to the view. Soon it was time to say goodbye to our first set of newly made friends and to dear Maja. She assured us that Gustavo was an excellent guide and we would be in good hands! We then had some time to ourselves to tidy up, write up reviews and wait for our new cotravellers to join us.
Just before lunch they arrived, a full group of 12 people to join us, with Gustavo our new guide. He looked self assured, confident and professional. The group were eager to make acquaintance over lunch. A short rest and we started the next itinerary with a hike to Las Bachas.
It was a beautiful white sand beach framed with black volcanic rock. We were on the beach when we saw two graceful flamingos fly by. Gustavo said that now that we knew where they were, we could proceed there. Having seen flamingos in Africa it was strange to see only two in an inland pool but to see them at closer range. We saw another four in a second inland pool. Other birds we saw were great blue heron, sanderling, medium ground finch, brown pelican with noddy companions, lava heron, semi pulmated plover, black necked stilt, least sandpiper, blue footed boobies. We saw marine iguanas. The beach had a number of turtle nests which Gustavo pointed out to us. We then had a bit of a rest on the beach where we saw a golden ray and a black tipped shark!
The landscape around us was first a line of beach, followed by a line of green vegetation beyond which was a lunar land dotted by cinder cones. Daphne Major remained in the background.
Day 9- morning in Mosquera, a sandbar between North Seymour and South Seymour. Gustavo pointed out the islands having a slanted line at their lower ends which showed where the lift had happened. Clearly west of the islands were closer to the waters, whereas the eastern ends had been lifted clear into steep cliffs. The beach had numerous sea lions, a clear ‘beach master’, lots of cubs playing blissfully. We spotted the carcass of a shark and the skeleton of a whale. There were marine iguanas, sally light footed crabs, sanderlings, blue footed boobies and brown pelicans.
The surrounding landscape was of a rocky coast (like Genovesa but not as high).
Snorkelling this morning was near the coast of North Seymour. Strongest currents we had encountered so far. Glad of the life jacket. Saw the usual shoals of yellowtailed surgeonfish, cortez rainbow wrasse, trumpet fish, blue chin parrotfish, bicolour parrotfish, king angelfish, shoals of mullet, shoals of black triggerfish, jewel moray, shoals of panama sergeant major, damsels, sea cucumbers (holothuria atra). I was lucky to spot a black and white octopus slithering out of the rocks. A few sea lion cubs frisked around.
Cerro Dragon-landscape similar to Las Bachas- lava rocks against white sand, behind which there was a line of carpetweed, green sesuvium, yellow ‘pattis’ and opuntia, followed by a dry line of palosanto trees. The landscape beyond is of cinder cones and craters.
We saw more land iguanas, blue footed boobies, marine iguanas, finches, one flamingo and Galapagos flycatcher.
Day 10-Tagus cove (Isla Isbela). After overnight navigation we wake up in the centre of a protected cove. High mountains in an inverted U shape made from tuff cones covered in the ubiquitous palosanto trees surround us. We land near some steep steps where the graffiti is obvious.
Day starts with a power hike to the rim of a small crater, one of the many that dot the landscape. We see flightless cormorants, lava lizards and pass a crater lake (Darwin’s lake), ultimately to reach the highest point. On the way we stop at vantage points where the lake and the sea with the crater wall between them can be viewed together in various shades of green and blue. On the highest point, the general landscape of Isla Isabela dotted with large shield volcanoes and intervening huge lava flows becomes apparent. We also see the Galapagos cotton tree.
Snorkelling by the rocks of the cove we swim with huge green backed turtles, watch shoals of penguins shoot through the water and see a flightless cormorant dive into the water. We see Harlequin wrasse, a sea lion bathing in a distance, yellow starfish, red starfish, needle sea urchins, green sea urchins, white sea urchins, damsels, shoals of panama sergeant, cortez rainbow wrasse, Mexican hogfish, white spotted puffer, chocolate chip starfish, panama cushion star, blue chin parrot fishes. Suddenly found my co-travellers shouting and pointing and Gustavo was indicating that we should all get back on the dinghies. My reflex thought was ‘shark’ and my heart stopped when a huge black shape flitted into view and swam two feet below me. No- not a shark- a giant manta ray. One of my most memorable snorkelling sights. Gave a whole new perspective on the word ‘giant’.
After lunch we navigated to Fernandina. Lots of turtles and Eliot’s storm petrels milled around the yacht.
We had a second round of snorkelling this day, in shallow waters this time. Lots of gorgonians, orange cup corals, parrot fishes, panama sergeant shoals, green sea urchins, needle sea urchins, turtles, marine iguanas swimming underwater, chocolate chip starfish, sea cucumbers, whiptail sting rays, shoals of grey hunt, shoals of grunt, pacific beakfish.
Hike was on Punta Espinosa on Fernandina island. We see a number of inland pools within dark lava rocks. We see flightless cormorants, a large flock of red necked phalarope from a distance, a juvenile Galapagos hawk, lava cactus, turtles trapped in inland pools. A lava lizard scurrying on a seal and a crab walking on the shell of a turtle make nice symbiotic pictures.
Day 11- Urvina Bay (Isla Isabela). A lava gull perched on the deck just outside the dining room window. Ultimately the pair hitchhiked with us throughout the day. Particularly noisy at meal times.
Day starts with a hike on a dark sanded beach mixed with shells, pencil sea urchins and pumice stone. Trail takes us through Galapagos cotton trees (which have red flowers when young, mature into bright yellow) and poison apple trees. Uplifted areas show past history as a beach in their topography. Volcano Alcedo is in the background. We saw a total of 5 tortoises of which one was a baby and one was walking (a relatively rare sight). Yellow warblers, finches, mocking birds and black ani were amongst others. Land iguanas munched on meals of cacti. Goat skulls lying around were testimony to another history (we heard about ‘Judas goats’ which were released among the feral ones to entice them to death).
Snorkelling was started, a little distance away from the beach. The highlight was huge turtles. It was rather soothing just to sway with the currents in tandem with these gentle giants. We again saw diving cormorants, pelicans which swam so near that you could see their pupils, blue chin parrot fishes, humphead parrot fishes, panama sergeant major, sea cucumbers, varieties of damselfish (yellowtail, white tail, aca pulco) spinster wrasse, cortez rainbow wrasse, Mexican hogfish, bicolour parrot fishes, green sea urchins, needle sea urchins, white salema shoals and sauro lizard fish.
During lunch we had the noisy lava gulls at hand to start with and then a major interruption and show by at least a dozen of frisky feeding bottleneck dolphins. The yacht circled round and round to give us a good view and we saw them for around half an hour.
Sailing under bright skies today we proceeded towards Elizabeth Bay. We sailed past the Isabela landscape which was marked by huge shield volcanoes and pitted with smaller craters and cinder cones. Gorgeous scenery. We saw a lonely sea lion frolicking in the waters, brown pelicans, frigates, Eliot’s storm petrels.
We reach Elizabeth Bay in bright sunshine. The excursion is similar to Black Turtle Cove, a dinghy ride amongst mangroves. En route we stopped at a rock to watch more blue footed boobies, a flightless cormorant and a sleeping sea lion. In Elizabeth Bay we saw penguins, turtles, shoals of striped mullet fish and whimbrels. The weather we had at Elizabeth Bay was better, making the place sparkle like one big emerald. The sightings however were better at Black Turtle Cove.
In the evening we have another surprise visitor at dinner. A storm petrel gets into our dining rooms and flies around in panic before hiding below the bar. One of our co travellers scoops it up and gently throws it back to the winds to take flight.
Day 12-Punta Moreno. 6:15 breakfast, 7 am start. The landscape as we approached was similar to Elizabeth Bay until we landed on a rocky plain of black aa aa lava, with some patches of pahoehoe. Landing was a scramble on rocks. Chasms marked the landscape that was overshadowed by Sierra Niegra and Cerro Azul.
The black plain is interrupted by surprisingly hidden oases of vast green tidal pools surrounded by thick reeds. Some places have grassy plains. Flamingos, moorhen, white cheeked pintail and lava lizards greet us. The trail leads up to the other end of the island marked by the breeding place of blue footed boobies. We sit by the emerald waters waiting to be picked up. We see around us turtles, pelicans, penguins, lava herons and Galapagos hawks.
Snorkelling on this last day shows us panama sergeant, cormorants, turtles, pelicans, blue chin parrotfish, King Angelfish, striped salema, chocolate chip starfish, Harlequin wrasse, spinster wrasse, forests of seaweed, cortez rainbow wrasse, red algae, yellow tailed damselfish, sauro lizard fish, crimson soldierfish and dusky chub shoals.
Early end to the day, we sail towards Puerto Villamil. The voyage is accompanied by flocks of Galapagos shearwater, storm petrels and one lonely albatross. The beautiful landscape of Cerro Azul looks like a stone’s throw away. We spend an hour on the deck watching cinder cones and craters changing colour.
We reach P Villamil around sunset. The beautiful beach is visible. A sea lion sleeps on a buoy and a baby shark swims around our yacht.
It is time to pack.
Day 13-Travel back- early start to the day to get ready by 5:00 am. Felix has lots of food ready for us to make our own sandwiches. Then we board the dinghy for the last time to get to the speed boat that will take us from Puerto Villamil to Puerto Ayora. 3 of the crew accompany us, while William the captain and Gustavo come to bid us good bye and safe trip at the landing platform.
We are boarded onto a speed boat and the crew bid adieus. We wait for the speed boat to fill up. Seems like mostly local people getting to the airport. Some tourists like ourselves. In the meantime the wild life roam around us in a way we have got used to. We counted 7 turtles at one go near the boat. Pelicans resting on the nearby rocks, a sea lion swimming by complete the usual Galapagos picture. The ride is an experience. Bumpy but ok if you consider it an extended rollercoaster experience.
We are greeted at Puerto Ayora by the driver Bruna had arranged for us. He drove us to the port at the other end of Santa Cruz where we took the ferry to Baltra and the bus to Baltra airport.
And then the flight back to Guayaquil- with hundreds of photographs and even more memories.
Did you enjoy this issue?
Nandini Chakraborty

Stories from travel and psychiatry. There is nothing that teaches us more than human interaction. One story per newsletter.

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