Beach, Brackish Lagoon, Cerro Dragón, Citizenship, Ecuador, Education, Flamenco, Flamingos, Galapagos Islands, Galapagos Shark, Ghost Crab, Jeopardy, Land Iguanas, Medical Care, Metropolitan Touring, Mud, Pelican Nesting Site, Rábida, San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Schools, Sea Lions, Snorkeling, Wet Season, White-tipped Sharks
Sun., Feb. 10 – Rábida, Santa Cruz
It poured rain all day today. Since we are here during the rainy season, everyone was actually surprised there hasn’t been more of it up to this point. We were all a little worried that we wouldn’t be able to participate in the excursions on our last full day, but the naturalists took us out to snorkel anyway.
Rábida’s beach where we landed was a beautiful red color, due to an excessive amount of iron in the volcano’s eruption. There were many sea lions on the beach basking, even in the rain, when we got on the beach, and many babies swimming around the rocks as well! They are so adorable, you just want to take one home! Jose had to remind the kids a few times to stay a safe distance away from them to where they wouldn’t accidentally run into them or brush up against them. The mother recognizes her pups by their scent, and if a human touches a baby, the mother cannot recognize her pup, and will no longer take care of it.
We struggled getting our snorkel gear on in the sand rather than the panga, but we eventually got going. The water was surprisingly clear! The clearest we have had. The fish were especially radiant in the clear water, and we saw more of them than ever before! They were swimming around colorful coral, starfish, and sea urchins. The current was a little rough, but I kept up with Dennis, one of the naturalists, as we turned around the cove. Dennis suddenly motioned to me and pointed down, and a Galapagos Shark passed right by us! It was huge, about nine feet long! After it passed, he told me to stay close. When swimming with several people, the sharks think the shadow could be a large predator and won’t get too close. However, if there is just one person swimming, the shark will get curious. (Snorkeling photos to come after Metropolitan Touring posts them to facebook!)
As we swam on and joined the larger group, we saw many white-tipped sharks as well, about seven of them all sleeping near a rock at the bottom of the reef. They are nocturnal, but were moving slightly, as if they stop completely, they could drown (with no water passing through their gills). It was an awesome last snorkeling experience! We were also in the water for two hours, rather than the usual 45 minutes, which also made it special. The water was as warm as a pool, and we could barely even feel the rain, so everyone could stay in the entire time.
We made it back to the beach, and after watching the baby sea lions play for a bit, took a walk to see the pelican nesting sites. On the way we saw a ghost crab, and a baby sea lion that was only about a week old! It was making sounds like a calf, and it was obviously hungry, as it came toward us hoping we were its mother. The pelicans’ eggs had just hatched as well, so we saw many of them covering their babies from the rain.
During lunch, we sailed to Santa Cruz. It was still pouring rain, but again, the naturalists decided to take those who wished to see the flamingos of Cerro Dragón to disembark. We saw several beautiful flamingos, their color standing out in the gray weather. Socrates told us that Flamenco dance mimics the flamingos mating ritual. The castanets are made to sound like the flamingos’ clicking beak, and the woman’s dress is moved in a way that resembles the male flamingo showing off his lower feathers (black) that prove his health. I have a video of the dance in my blog from Madrid here:
The guides still offered the long walk up the hill to see more land iguanas and a lookout point of the bay—but warned us it would be muddy. What we didn’t know was that this mud was the most intense, brick red mud we had ever encountered. More and more stuck to your shoes as you walked. One person joked that it was like building adobe houses on your shoes as you went.
At least as we went we saw more land iguanas than the naturalists have ever seen there before. They said usually there is only about three or four iguanas that can be seen, due to the feral cats and dogs who have reduced the population. But today, we saw around nine! They must have needed some rain.
Though my shoes are now permanently red, and my camera might be broken (though I had it in a Ziploc bag, I took it out several times to get a picture, and now the screen is acting weird—luckily Francisco, the manager, put it in rice for me overnight), it was worth it for the adventure! I walked with Jose much of the way, and he told me about his childhood on Santa Cruz, their medical care, and transportation between the islands and the mainland. Here are some interesting facts:
- A law passed that stated those who lived on the islands prior to 1998 have permanent citizenship on the Galapagos Islands. Anyone else arriving after are only allowed to stay up to three months. The naturalists said they have to renew their citizenship every five years.
- If you ask many of the children on the islands, they have no idea that there is anything beyond the islands. Also, up until a few years ago, the residents only had television from Lima, and many children thought their president was the president of Peru.
- There are several schools and high schools on Santa Cruz, which is the most populated island in the Galapagos.
- Santa Cruz is the only island that has a paved road that crosses its interior.
- Many people travel to the mainland for emergency medical care, as well as childbirth. Dennis’ mom went to Quito a month before she was due, and Jose also flew to Quito when he was younger with a sharp pain in his stomach, which turned out to be appendicitis.
- Their medical care is changing, but for now doctor visits are free, but they must pay for their medication.
- Santa Cruz and San Cristóbal have universities focused on preservation and sciences. The naturalists were unsure if others could transfer into the schools, but the Santa Cruz university has an exchange program with UNC.
Back on the boat, we cleaned up and got ready for the captain’s toast, group game of jeopardy, and briefing for tomorrow morning.
Socrates split us up into three groups of around 12, called the Turtles, Sea Lions, and Boobies. All the questions were regarding what we had learned on the trip. Unfortunately, team Sea Lions (our team), didn’t do very well at all (many times we couldn’t agree on an answer), and got the lowest score! Team Boobies was the winner, and received glasses of wine on the house.
The crew prepared a slideshow for us as well, and turned down the lights while we watched photos they had taken during the trip, some taken underwater during snorkeling. I actually teared up a little! This has been a very special experience for all of us, and we are all sad it is coming to an end. After the video we toasted with the captain and head to our final dinner, where skewers of delicious meats and seafood were brought around by the crew for us to try.