Ecuador Day 7: Islas Santa Fe and Plaza Sur

Palabra del día: lagertigo

Today, our wake-up call comes at 5:45 am. We eat breakfast before our hike, accompanied by freshly made coconut juice. Sunrise hits the waters of Barrington Bay which surround the Samba. 

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Another ship, the Beagle, is moored nearby. Theirs is the group we have been seeing when we leave the islands in the morning. We load into the zodiacs, excited to see what adventures this newest area will bring.

We disembark onto a sand beach, stopping at some convenient rocks to put our tennis shoes on for the rocky hike ahead. Sea lions observe us from their shaded territories under rocks and branches. One of them is even trying to hide on the shaded side of a large piece of driftwood.

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We begin by walking among the large Opuntias of the island, where we observe the extensive filtration system that allows these large cactus trees to store water during the dry season in several downed stems. The large, crazily branching prickly pears dance on their smooth, woody trunks in a slight breeze.

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The trail slopes steadily, and then more steeply, uphill, until we need handholds to prevent from slipping on the loose rock of the trail as it rises. We must crest the top of the hill before we find our prize, a large male iguana guarding a territory spanning a radius which includes several Opuntias. 

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The large, thick-bodied iguanas of this island survive by scraping the spines off fallen Opuntia stems, then eating the meat. It is because of this interaction that the cacti on this island have grown so tall: the iguanas eat the lowest stems, encouraging the Opuntia’s continued upward growth cycle.

We find more iguanas on our hike, slowly warming up in the morning sunlight. On our return down the trail, I am waylaid by a flycatcher who keeps trying to land on my camera lens. The experience is highly amusing, but I remember to try to hide the lens from other flycatchers we run into. After all, no one likes cleaning bird excrement off their cameras.

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When we return to the ship, we are once again greeted with refreshments, more blackberry juice and cookies. We have a short break before we put on our wetsuits and load into the tinders to find rays along the soft sand bottom of Barrington Bay. We begin on the outside rock shelf that defines the protected waters in order to allow a beginner’s diving course to finish their class.

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The rocks at the edge of the bay are teeming with millions of fish. Salema and surgeonfish hold their own among fish of many different colors. Our guide dives through a large school, forming a ring through which he frames his pictures upward.

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By the time we make it around the corner near the ship, there are thick-tailed rays flanked by other fish gliding along the bottom of the bay.

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We have time aboard the ship for a break before lunch. I am reading on the ship’s stern when the first mate drops by; he has offered to let me practice my Spanish with him during our trip. The rest of the crew also speak with me, encouraging me to expand my kindergarten-level language skills. By the end of the day, my journal has already devolved into haphazard Spanglish notes on the day.

We eat more of the chef’s delectable creations for lunch, including cheese soup, pea salad, coleslaw, guavaya juice, vegetables, cordon bleus with mushroom sauce, and a dessert of papaya parfait. The meals we have eaten on the ship are probably the most balanced meals I’ve had since starting vet school.

The ship’s passengers have another midday break before we move to our afternoon destination. This time, the waters are dark and somewhat murky, which only highlights the grey rock and warm plant life of Isla Plaza Sur, or South Plazas Island.

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Though small, the island has a rich community of marine and land iguanas, as well as hybrids. The near side has low rock, while the far side has tall cliffs on which seabirds nest while the waves crash below.

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The Other Half is taking a picture of a swallow-tailed gull when the bird urinates on me, covering my shorts and most of my leg, much to the amusement of our tour group and guide. Instead of retrieving a towel from our bag, the Other Half laughs and takes a picture, while our guide quietly hands me a few napkins to clean up with.

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The island has a bachelor colony of sea lions high up on the cliffs near the lighthouse, and is also one of the best viewing sites for yellow-tailed mullet in the islands. These mullet dine on plankton in the shallow reef waters between the Galapagos and Peru.

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*begin soapbox*

Unfortunately, even the Galapagos are not immune to the side effects of human waste. While we are observing a large brown pelican, it repeatedly attempts to fish a plastic bottle out of the water. Though it finally gives up and leaves the area, it is a sad reminder of the environmental effects that can come with a society which consumes so much, even in areas that are perceived to be protected.

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*end soapbox*

One of our cruise buddies asks to swim back to the boat, as he has done several times in the past several days. Our guide, however, explains that in the past, some cruise ships chummed the waters to attract sharks for their customers. Sure enough, when we return to the Samba, a large Galapagos reef shark is languidly circling the ship.

During the evening, we enjoy grouper, rice, ranch beans,radishes, and tres leches cake. Overnight, we will move to our next destination, the lava fields of Sullivan Bay.

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