Galapagos: More Isabela (Elizabeth and Urbina Bays)

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Day 7: Awoke early, about 5am, and lay there thinking idly of not much – mainly, what I planned to wear that day to protect my face from the sun. Then my dad woke up and we took in the sunrise. The sun pushed a few rays between low grey clouds and cast the sea’s ripples into relief, but there were no great swashes of color. Muted yellowish land stretched across the horizon, with wide and low-slung blue hills slowly pushing up a curtain of clouds.

We spent our morning on the dinghies. On a small outcropping of rock we saw a group of seven or eight flightless cormorants, which look rather pitifully as though they were born deformed, so stumpy are their strange wings. One hopped a little and the rest preened, and all the while a blue-footed booby presented himself to us as clearly the more handsome specimen on display. “Why are you looking at these weirdos?” he seemed to say.

We pushed on to a sort of marine forest. The waters of Elizabeth Bay formed a wide avenue, and a few alleys, between long mangrove stands. This next part of the outing represented a rare occurrence: actually searching for wildlife, rather than having it come right up to us and beg for its picture taken.

First we spotted a fairly large iguana gliding through the water, swishing its tail slightly as it went. There were several almost and nearly passes with sea turtles, lifting their heads and then the tops of their backs briefly to the surface, before we found one lying on the bay floor about four feet down. A few times a Galapagos martin raced overhead, beating its wings in a moth-like flutter before swooping a few dizzying figure eights. We came upon a striated heron perched quite elegantly about 15 feet above our heads; and above that a yellow warbler.

The greatest delight, however, was once again provided by the Galápagos penguins. During most of the outing they made only the most fleeting of appearances, their heads bobbing just above the water’s surface. Just after we pulled away from the mangroves to the open bay, I saw a duck-like shape atop the water. “Cormorant?” I enquired. But it soon became clear: this was a penguin, he had three friends nearby, and all were happy to swim to within feet of the dinghies. They did a sort of doggy paddle with their flippers, bodies looking slightly less at ease – almost crooked into that duck shape – than when they torpedoed under the water. But all exuded a quiet playful air, and we delighted in them, everyone managing a few camera shots before it was time to return to the Yolita.

In the afternoon, snorkeled off the dingy and quickly found sea turtles. The water was a little murky, and several times I was swimming along looking at fish when suddenly a grim-expressioned, ancient face came looming at me out of the murk. On a few occasions I had to swim carefully away from the creature, as the current was in danger of sweeping me into him – and he didn’t show the slightest inclination to avoid me. Indeed, when one of those beasts fixes you with his stare, you rather feel he is going to go at you, and you must draw upon a more rational part of your brain to remind yourself that he’s a vegetarian.

I also saw a magnificent parrot fish-like creature with two long, streaming, lapis lazuli colored tail fins – as best I can identify, a Mexican hogfish; a huge school of hundreds of silver-colored fish, each six to nine inches long; and others that I will tentatively identify as a Galapagos ring-tailed damsel fish, juvenile Cortez rainbow wrasses and many Panamic sergeant majors.

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As we got ready to climb back in the dinghy, we found ourselves being watched by a motley Galapagos crew: a couple blue-footed boobies, an iguana, and a sleepy penguin.

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Next we landed at Urbina Bay and walked a black sand path inland, shaded by muyoyo, espino and palo negro trees, and saw several land tortoises. My damn camera won’t retain the flash off setting and I set one off Ina poor tortoise’s face. I feel awful – what did the poor guy do to deserve this? Way to disrupt a pristine habitat, Wilner.

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The land iguanas proved elusive at first, but eventually we sighted one in the wood, and then another more or less exposed. They really do move like dinosaurs.

This is the sixth in my Galapagos travel diary series. See the rest here.

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