Ecuador Day 8: Sullivan Bay and Isla Bartolomé

Palabra del día: lava

We wake up at 5:45,  and land in just enough time on the lava fields of Sullivan Bay to see another spectacular sunrise.

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We are the only group on the lava fields in the early morning, walking amongst the scattered life that clings to the island. Only a few plants, mostly lava cactus and a few Scalesia, survive here. Most of the plant life that existed previously was decimated in an eruption in the late 19th century, and large plants have only just begun the recolonization process.

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The climate is cool overnight and in the early morning, but it becomes a sweltering inferno during midday. The small population of lizards and insects of the island seek shelter in the nooks and crannies formed by cracking lava flows, while birds stick to the shoreline with its cooling breezes.

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We walk the mile-long main trail which exhibits ropy pahoehoe lava, and I realize how sharp the path is when I stub my foot and the toe of my shoe comes back completely shredded. We pause several times to discuss the many geologic features of the island, including the driblet cones, which look like tall, sculpted obsidian nests.

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When we return to the Samba, it is only 8:00am, but the sun is already beating down on us. Another cruise has just arrived to begin their tour of the island, but they are unable to go far on the trail due to the heat, instead staying near their landing spot. On our own ship, we are treated once again to the breakfast spread of kings. The tables bear omelets, fruit, sausage, coconut milk, toast, and the soft Ecuadorian yoghurt with granola. Thank you, Ecuador, for making me love simple, hearty foods like locra, yoghurt, and juice.

We have the opportunity to go snorkeling near Sullivan Bay before lunch in waters that are much clearer than those we’ve been in previously. We round the curve of the rocks, and an amazing variety of triggerfish, surgeonfish, and parrotfish swim around us. A single white-tip reef shark drifts directly underneath me while I am taking pictures of a blue sea star. We see a few yellowtail mullet just off the shore before we decide that the water is becoming too choppy, and most of the group are hungry.

Lunch greets us with tree tomato juice, salad, potatoes, corn and cheese, and pork in sauce. It gives us just enough warmth and energy to brave the waters and snorkel again. This time, we try the other shore, following it around Isla Bartolomé. Nicolas, our guide, holds up a colorful lobster shell before pointing out more rays brushing the white sand floor beneath us. The Other Half can’t wear his glasses under his goggles, so I take pictures of the life underwater so he can appreciate their lines later, instead of remembering colorful blobs. I take photos of yellow pufferfish, dusky triggerfish, yellow-bellied triggerfish, and Panamic sergeant majors while I trail further and further behind the group. I am watching a few small, excited silver fish that turn out to be black-nosed butterflyfish when I look up to find a hulk drifting a few dozen yards in front of me.

My first thought is that it is a jellyfish. It floats on the surface, has something dark trailing into the water. Then I realize it is something else. For better or worse, I continue to swim slowly and carefully toward it. When I reach spitting distance, I snap a quick photo before breaking out into a smile. This is what I see:

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Two green sea turtles are copulating in the warm current. Admittedly, I realize I have drifted with them into far deeper waters than I expected, leaving my group and the shoreline behind, though not the ever-watchful eyes of the mates in the tinders. As I try to figure out where the group is, I attempt to keep the turtles in my line of vision, but they dive just as one of our group surfaces nearby and yells something about Ray.

He finally points down, and I see that just beneath my flippers are gliding the wings of several golden cownose rays. I am struck by how effortlessly they part the water as they move.

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We finally catch up to the group as the sand bottom becomes more yellow-gold and limned with old lava flows. The waters here are warm, but we are very close to the shore, so after a few more minutes of watching the fish life, we take our leave for the ship. Delightedly, we see more penguins sunning themselves on Pinnacle Rock near the Samba.

There is enough time to rinse off and change our clothes before we head for our last adventure of the day: a walk on Isla Bartolomé. We are visiting the area just after a storm offshore, so the waves are unusually large at high tide when they crash into the dock. We wait patiently for Nicolas to time the waves and are impressed with his ability to get all of us on shore without anyone getting so much as splashed.

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We begin to climb the immense number of steps up to the island’s viewpoint. On the way, we pass another group who were not so lucky as we. Their guide slipped and was drenched when they were landing.

We stop at each of several landings to admire the plant life and the spectacular volcanic landscape. From only halfway up the walk, we can see three other islands surrounding Bartolomé. At the island’s pinnacle, a panoramic view opens up before us, the sun’s rays dispersing over the waters around the island. The view is gorgeous, though we spend time trying to espy whether the other cruise group will become drenched when they disembark.

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When we return to the ship, we have a break before dinner, which is giant shrimp, or camarones grandes, water, salad, potatoes, green beans with carrot, tomato and cucumber, and flan cake with coconut. We are promised a lecture on the geology of the islands from Nicolas, after which we watch one of his dive videos to show what the deeper waters are like on the islands.

Suffice it to say, we are definitely sold on a dive trip to see hammerheads someday.

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