Tripping over animals is how I would describe the start to our day. We were now on the stunning island of Espanola – a low lying rocky outcrop of crumbled lava stones and large boulders bordered by a moat of turquoise water. This island offers the highest rate of endemic species in Galapagos.
Sea lions greeted us with their noisy dog like barks, as curious Hooded Mockingbirds pecked at our shoelaces. From the moment we set foot on Espanola, we had to make sure that we were not setting foot on an animal. Our first point of call was Punta Suarez.
Piles of Christmas coloured marine iguanas were just that… piled on top of one another. Their rough black skin highlighted with splashes of vivid green and red caused by algae that grows on their skin. The green from the cooler waters and the red from the warmer. They were beautiful. Sea lions, both mamma and pup block our walk ways and lava lizards zipped in and out from under our feet.
We came to a small beach where playful sea lions dipped and zig zagged through the waters, riding on waves, twirling and showing off for us as we stood by watching in awe.
Brightly coloured Sally Lightfoot crabs were breeding on the dark lava rock formations whilst other stray crabs clambered carefree over the spiny backs of the placid marine iguanas.
Small herons, known as the ‘Galapagos vampires’ due their prey like nature picked whatever they could from the backs of the iguanas as well as following us around like shadows. We all kept one eye on these little monsters!
Continuing our hike, leaving the beaches behind, we headed inland on a slight gradient. The terrain was fairly flat but extremely rocky and uneven. Surprisingly, even at the top of cliffs, we had sea lions blocking our paths, sleeping lazily in our walkway, completely oblivious to us as we stepped gently over them.
As we hiked higher, we came to the nesting area for the Nazca Boobies. We watched with patience as they slowly created their nests, one stone and twig at a time. We were also lucky enough to witness them mating even though the entire performance lasted less than 30 secs. Their pure white bodies with green/grey splayed feet were stunning against the dry background. Not quite as vibrant as the rare red footed boobies we had seen previously, but amazing in their own unique way.
Woosh!! Incoming! Suddenly a random Blue Footed Boobie appeared from nowhere and landed right in front us as if to say ‘Hey guys, it’s my turn now. Take a few shots of me’. He paraded around like he owned the place and he pretty much did as we all followed him with our eyes and camera lenses trying to snap the perfect shot of those vivid blue feet.
As we scaled and descended, we passed skeletons of iguanas, birds and other island life that had finished their time on the Galapagos including some abandoned albatross eggs and sadly baby sea lions.
Several Galapagos Hawks and an Albatross circled overhead as we explored the island – perhaps waiting to see if one of us strayed behind… perhaps we could be their next prey? They certainly looked large enough to swoop one of us away with their fierce claws.
The albatross birds were beautiful. Stunning yellow beaks which hooked slightly at the end, pure white feathers featuring small grey waves that crossed their bellys, identifying these particular birds as Waved Albatross.
We came across some young albatrosses. Not quite ready to take flight yet, as they were still weighted with their fluffy down or chick feathers. This did make for some amusing photos though as they had lost their feathers over most of their body except for their heads which gave them great mullets and 80’s perm style hair do’s. One of them even only had fluffy eyebrows left, so I named him John Howard.
As we headed back towards our pangas, we witnessed a blowhole caused by a crack in the solidified lava below. I was secretly hoping to see a marine iguana get spurted upwards like a photo we had seen the evening before, but it was not to be.
As we boarded our pangas, we had the sea lion pups once again calling to us and the juveniles frolicking in the waves surrounding our panga. Marine Iguanas popped their heads up from the vivid turquoise waters as we dodged to avoid them.
Following lunch, it was back onto the pangas and we headed towards a small island, Tortuga Rock. Here, we jumped straight into the clear waters. It was like glass. Sea lions frolicked around with us, so graceful in their underwater movements as they zoomed by, circling us. The visibility here was about 30-40m. The rocky lava under the water was light green in colour, covered with algae which the marine iguanas munched on. Large star fish the size of dinner plates splayed themselves on the ocean floor, sting rays flapped past while small octopus putted along in the undercurrent.
Caves had been well worn into the harsh cliffs, formations and schools of yellow tailed surgeon fish passed beneath us by the hundreds. The colourful diversity of sea life here was spectacular in the crystal clear waters.
Marine Iguanas clung vertically to the cliff chomping away on algae, their little teeth crunching away, whilst pelicans and small hooded mockingbirds waited anxiously for their next meal.
From here, we zipped over to Gardner Bay and took a stroll along the seemingly endless stretch of white sandy beach lapped by Bombay Sapphire waters. We encountered colonies of sea lions yet again, lazing on the beach and taking a dip in the shallow, balmy waters. There is no trail to follow here, so some of us swam and sun-baked, others discovered and explored what the beach front had to offer.
Pelicans soared in the sky above, plummeting into the waters with full momentum in the hope of catching an early dinner, annoying mocking birds followed you like a shadow and were not shy. They jumped on your bags, tried to open your drink bottles and did not move when shooed away.
Some of the group took this opportunity to kayak in a nearby cove. We walked side by side along the water’s edge with a large female sea lion for about 200m.
Upon the return to our yacht, this evening the sky was clear of clouds. A velvet black with dancing sparkles. The stars as clear and bright as they could possibly be in this sea of darkness.
Crooked Compass travelled with Ecoventura on board MY Eric.
This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.