Ecuador Day 9: James Bay and Isla Rábida

Palabra del día: piscina de marea 

Once again, we awake just before the alarm bell goes off at 5:45am. This will be our last full day aboard the Samba. The sky is a dreary steel grey, and rain has followed us overnight. We must move to our landing spot, just off James Bay, while we are inside sipping coffee and tea.

By 6:30am, we have landed on Isla Santiago, and the clouds have moved, revealing a small rainbow just off of the port stern. The first tinder sets off from the ship, not realizing that a 1.6m shark precedes them up on the shore, riding the wave at their bow. After storms, the marine life comes in close to the shore to collect any errant prey which may have washed up. They wait for the shark to clear out of the area before disembarking.

On the shore, I am struck by the sound of a breeze gently parting the leaves around us, carrying the morning song of Darwin finches and revealing numerous orb weaver spiders. We are the first ones on the island, so our guide Nicolas gently lifts the webs away from the trail, allowing the spiders to glide downward safely.

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Heck, we even spot a praying mantis during our walk. When our group reaches the shore, marine iguanas are strewn about the beach like so many drunken bodies after an all-night party. They sprawl over every surface trying to garner the last of the previous day’s warmth before the sun comes up.

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Only two are really awake, allowing us a brief look into the kind of camaraderie seen in this species.       [Kidding, but it was hilarious to see.]

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A sea lion air snorkels in the deep waters of a tide pool, but we skirt to the side of it to find the dark columns and bridges of the grottoes. Herons and shorebirds dot the grottoes which serve as the home to the fur seals of James Bay. A juvenile yellow-crowned night heron clacks its beak rhythmically against the dark rock attempting to fish out a wary crab, while wandering tattlers and plovers carefully skirt the rocks between us.

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We observe the fur seals’ morning routine, grooming, heaving themselves up on the warming rocks, and turning tight circles in the waters below us. A green sea turtle surfaces nearby before diving back down to continue eating its breakfast.

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The group is enamored of the peaceful scenery and quiet morning, only the breaking waves and the occasional snort of a seal disturbing the quiet. When we return to the ship, however, we are abuzz with excitement about our latest discoveries. Over a breakfast of pancakes, fried eggs, and toast, we discuss our trip so far. 

We decide that the morning is clear enough to snorkel in the waters off the coast, near where we saw the shark earlier. A blue-footed booby peeks its head under the water to observe our movements, waiting for us to leave before resuming its hunt. We catch the first wave of diving marine iguanas making their way to the algal beds which grow on the rocks just offshore.

Our group happens upon a pair of sea lions diving for food. One remains down below at all times to ensure the fish remain corralled, while the other quickly rises for air before relieving its companion so that it can dash at the fish, confusing them enough to allow them to be caught.

The sea lions aren’t the only ones inhabiting this small corner, either. Barracudas and hieroglyphic hawkfish share the shallow waters with tuna, blennies, and porcupinefish. Further out, the waters become too choppy, and we return to the Samba. 

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Lunch is onion and egg soup, juice, yucca, steamed jicama, cabbage with lemon juice, and steak. Afterward, we snorkel along a line of rocks just off the island of Rábida. Another crew of snorkelers from a much larger ship decides to horn in on our outing, dropping no less than 30 other snorkellers right on top of us. For the first time, we find ourselves with more than 16 people.

Three people with the other ship try to buddy-pair with me, and others keep calling to our group that we need to don the fluorescent yellow gear the new group is wearing. The crew manning the tinders become confused as to who belongs where until we decide after a mere minute to move further down the shore and away from the newcomers.

We land on Rábida as the sun becomes hidden behind the clouds. The red, Martian cliffs of the island tower coldly above us even as our toes are warmed by the hot sands of the red beach. More insect life awaits us on the trail, as do the many species of Darwin’s finch that live on the isle. For the first and only time while we are in the Galapagos, we pause to apply insect repellent to everyone’s legs so they do not get eaten alive by mosquitoes.

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That evening, we say our farewells to the crew. We have a turkey dinner with cabbage, rice and lentils, and chocolate cake. The crew brings out cocktails in their dress whites, and we toast to their helpfulness. I am jokingly put on the spot to eke out in broken, embarrassed Spanish how wonderful the trip has been. I find the captain later to thank him for his time and for helping me expand my language skills. I tell him I wish I could speak a beautiful, romantic language more often, and he replies that in Ecuador, many wish they could speak more English instead.

It seems that no matter where I travel, my perspective shifts just a little when I hear what motivates others.

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