Ecuador Day 4: Isla Floreana and Introduction to Snorkeling

Palabra del día: lobos de marila

We are awakened at 5:45am by the tolling of the dinner bell. We quickly dress and assemble downstairs to board the zodiacs. We slow, motoring near the dark rocks that surround the white sand beach of Punta Cormorant, to see a lava heron camouflaged amidst the charcoal-colored lava. The zodiacs are carefully steered ashore, allowing us to step over the sides into calf-high waters. I stare in awe for several moments before catching up with the group, which has already started up one of the paths. We pause near a Scalesia  bush for a discussion on its origins. Most of the brush on the islands is descended from the dandelion family; the most visual evidence of this is the small, dainty yellow flowers that cover the plant in a bouquet of color. The Other Half and I high five each other excitedly several times during our walk and the ensuing discussion.

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We reach a still lagoon that reflects the morning activities of two dozen greater flamingos in its mirrored surface. They are too far away to notice small details, but one of them obligingly flies closer, allowing us to see the black panel of its wings and the yellow-shot-with-red of its eyes.

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The morning is already a busy one for the birds. Another couple notice the movements of a pair of black-necked stilts stealthily picking their way toward our observation spot, our guide oversees a yellow warbler in the bushes around us,  and the Other Half points out a lava heron on the other side of the group. No one notices the flamingo who flies up right behind us until it is staring right at us.

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Eventually drawing away again, the flamingos serve as our cue to continue our walk. We head across the island to a shallow beach known for the rays found there. A brief and rocky climb leads us back to Punta Cormorant and another trail. In between, several of us stop to watch a diving blue-footed booby. It keeps almost hitting a small, black bird that sits low in the water. We all gather around the camera and show it to our guide, who confirms that we have found our first Galapagos penguin of the trip. He says we will likely see more on other islands.

Lava lizards skitter out of our way and do pushups on the rocks near the trail. They are well-camouflaged, and the Other Half and I make a game of how many lava lizards can be seen in one area. The beach on the other side holds no rays, but it does hold the footprints of several sea turtles who have made their way to the small dunes to lay their eggs. I avoid the area, instead splashing around in the ray-free waters of the beach. We eventually return to the zodiacs; the crew has kept watch over our penguin, so we slowly drift nearby to see what he is up to before heading back to the Samba. 

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Back aboard the ship, we have our first taste of breakfast. In a word, it is amazing. The spread before us includes jugo de guavaya (guava juice), toast, fresh cheese, poached eggs, bacon, jam, corn flakes, and yogurt.

We meet on the foredeck to fit our wetsuits, flippers, and goggles. I have never worn a wetsuit before, so I put it on backwards, to the amusement of the crew and my fellow guests. Oops. From this point on, every time I put it on right, I get a verbal high five from everyone. I load my little camera up into its waterproof case and prepare to board the zodiac. The Other Half is uncomfortable with the idea of snorkeling, but one of the other guests offers to buddy up with him for his first time out.

The group arrives at a small protected cove just off Channel Islet, where we jump of into the shallow waters to check our equipment and swim with the sea lion pups. They twist and turn around us in a complex dance; I dive with one before getting distracted by the fish in the area. Following one, I come to close to the shore and get the hot breath of the bull barking in my face. I smartly turn around and head back to the group.

Nicolas, our guide, calls to us after allowing us our fill of swimming, and we begin following the curve of the shore out into more unprotected waters. Schools of yellow-tailed surgeonfish, queen angelfish, and the small fish called black-striped salemas swarm the rocky shoreline. Streaming hogfish, several different parrotfish, and some larger fish swim nearer the open waters. We spend time with several different colonies of sea lions before spotting our first green sea turtle, which makes a quick escape when it notices the cameras turned its way.

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Slowly, pe      ople start dropping away, clambering back aboard the zodiacs. I am tired and know I should join them, but instead I continue to swim behind a short, rough-voiced man who is later introduced as our captain. Eventually, we decide the underwater visibility has become too poor, and we are hungry, so we stow our flippers for the morning.

Lunch is a delicious affair, with juice, salad, beets, and a beef soup that leaves me wanting more. Tired after the long morning swim, the Other Half and I take a nap while the boat moves. We hear the anchor before we visit Post Office Bay. We wander the beach, some of our group swimming, and wonder at the small rays in the shallows and the finches in the brush.

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The post office has several postcards for our group to deliver, but none near us. I do find someone addressed to my father’s name near where he grew up, so we take a picture of the postcard to show him. We return to the Samba with the promise of kayaking to our next stop, Baroness Overlook. Half of us will kayak out, while the other half will meet us at the beach.

We are guided through the shallow rocks by the first mate, who calls out to us from a tinder. We make conversation in my stilted Spanish as our small flotilla make their way to the shore. One of our newfound friends seems to be a creature magnet, with a tail of sea lions following behind him.

Once we reach the beach, we drag the kayaks up to land, shedding our life vests and following our guide up the hill to the wood deck of the overlook. The view is gorgeous, even with the light rain following on us. As we hear the history of the Baroness and the island’s family rivalries, the temperature drops a few degrees with the clouds, and our shivers aren’t quite imagined.

I volunteer to kayak back again since I like to row. The landscape beneath us changes from green sea grass to white folds of sand to black volcanic mounds of rock that shape the channels we row between. A turtle swims underneath us, a different silhouette than the shadows of the sea lions which rollick through the waves.

Dinner is a formal affair for the crew as we are officially introduced to them for the first time. The first mate and captain have already offered to help me practice my Spanish during our voyage. They do not join us for the meal; it takes us several days to convince our guide to sit down and eat with us. Our meal consists of shrimp, plaintain fritters, salad, corn and bell peppers, with blackberry juice on the side.

I’ll be honest, if I got nothing out of this trip, it is a newfound appreciation for blackberries. Just thinking about them makes me want to go find some… After dinner, we gather with our guide for a short lecture on the natural history of the Galapagos Islands.

We are too tired to do much but talk for a few minutes before falling asleep. Our adventure, however, has only just begun.

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