Galapagos: Baltra and Santa Cruz

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Day 3:

Up at the ungodly hour of 3.15 to catch a 6.45 flight, and arrived at the Galapagos’s Baltra airport with the day still ahead of us. We sat on benches examining pumice, light as feathers, at our feet. A finch with a bright orange bill flitted nearby.

A bus took us to a dinghy and finally we were on our yacht, the Yolita II, which feels very pleasant and even a touch sophisticated, with its white tablecloths on the dining tables. (Though we later discovered, those tables are at such a disproportionate height that we eat like munchkins). The room is comfortable and I was able to get about 45 minutes of welcome sleep.

A hint of what the Galapagos had in store for us came when on our way to the safety drill: a frigate bird, with its scarlet protuberance like a turkey’s waddle. It sat unperturbed on the boat’s prow for a good 20 minutes, waiting patiently as we took pictures and strolled back and forth in front of it.

The afternoon on Santa Cruz island was nothing short of marvelous. First there was the beach itself, Playa las Bachas, with its gleaming pale yellow sands sandwiched between black lava mounds and blue-green hills beyond. And from the moment we arrived, there was always wildlife to look at. Unlike most any wildlife-oriented tourist destination, where the patient traveler must walk and watch carefully in the hopes of glimpsing an animal, here we saw brown pelicans as we approached the shore (and many times after) and a playful seal riding the waves as our dinghy pulled up.

We set foot on sand and immediately the guide started describing the iguana in front of us, the only iguana species that dives into the water – and which can hold its breath for up to 10 minutes. Then came Sally Lightfoot crabs, bright orange because they are so numerous, and their predators sparse enough, that they can afford to be flashy. We saw holes in the dunes where seaturtles had laid their eggs. Still, we were about 10 minutes into the outing.

I started taking pictures of a cactus with a strange rough fur, like porcupine quills, but was beckoned over to watch a feeding frenzy: pelicans, noddies, blue-footed boobies and others, swarming in the hundreds on and over a shallow inlet. Some swooped in just feet from our heads. I tried and failed to capture the spirit of the feast on video, and words are hardly better to convey the noise, the closeness of the birds, and most of all the frenzied activity that made you want to look everywhere at once: a pelican slamming into the water, noddies majestically gliding overhead, the beating of wings, the spraying of surf. I could have stayed there all day. But as with the rest of the afternoon, we had to press on, because the kaleidoscope of animal sounds and images was to continue.

We saw iguanas a bit closer up, leaving trails in the sand with their tails. We saw the remains of a Navy shipwreck. We saw another feeding frenzy, this one dominated by pelicans rather than boobies. And on the way back, as I tarried with one of the other members of my group, I finally saw boobies close enough that I could make out the turquoise of their feet.

Then splashing into the crisp and cool water. There was nothing to see by snorkel – the water was rather murky – but there were numerous puffer fish, so cute in their little box-like form. I resisted the urge to grab one and see if it puffed up.

This is the second in my Galapagos travel diary series. See Day 1 here.

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