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2011 Trip Report - Galapagos Islands

A Day in the Galapagos Islands

June 19, 2011

By Allan Wicker

On the morning of June 19, 2011, Ding and I  awoke in a cabin on the Tip Top III, a 100-foot yacht that cruises the  Galapagos Islands. The previous night we had encountered some rough seas as our  vessel crossed open waters on its approach to Genovesa Island. But beginning  around 3:00 a.m., when the yacht arrived and anchored, it was calm.

After breakfast, we and the 13 other passengers on the  yacht loaded into two dinghies for a hike on the island. This hike, on the third  day of our weeklong tour of several islands, was one of the most impressive of  the trip. (Most Galapagos tours don’t include Genovesa on their itineraries,  because it is an outlier, about 7 hours from its closest neighbor.)

With 5 other travelers (all women) and us aboard, our  dinghy motored to a small platform below a steep path leading to the top of a  cliff. The climb took us to a trail through a nesting area for numerous birds.  One thing that makes the Galapagos so notable is that most animals lack any  wariness of humans. They behave almost as if

people are invisible. Franklin, our guide, had  instructed us not to disturb any creature, and to keep our distance. Although he  said 9 feet, on this trail, the distance was more like 2 or 3 feet, since many  birds had nests or were perched right beside the path on which we were obliged  to walk.

We’re not avid birders, but this walk was amazing to  us. Among the birds we encountered were nazca boobies with their chick (the  mother lays two eggs, but only one is hatched), red-footed boobies, large  frigate birds--also with babies, and even a short-eared owl, the only owl that  is not nocturnal. We saw one of them catch its breakfast, a storm petrel (a  seabird), in mid-air. The storm petrels have a nesting site on one side of the  island, and hundreds or perhaps thousands of them were soaring and flying  around, somewhat like swallows do. So the owl had plenty of opportunities.

Some male frigate birds were perched in bushes,  showing their scarlet gular pouches (chests) in an attempt to lure a mate. This  sight is not something one has to get up at 4:00 a.m. to see—like birdwatchers  do to view the mating dance of the Andean cock-of-the-rock bird in the  Ecuadorian cloud forests. The frigate birds simply ignored photographers like  Ding and me. One mocking bird even approached us on the trail and hopped so  close I thought he was going to mount my hiking shoe.

A couple of hours on the island did not seem like  enough, but keeping to schedule, we returned to the yacht for some kayaking.  That afternoon, the yacht sailed on to Darwin Bay, also on Genovesa Island, for  a "wet landing" on the beach. There we shared the sand and when snorkeling, also  the water with sea lions and more birds, including a curious heron.

Other days on our tour yielded marine and land  iguanas, sea turtles and giant tortoises, several kinds of lava and plants that  survive on them, and numerous other natural curiosities and attractions. Ding  and I count our time in the Galapagos, along with the week we spent on our own  in and around Quito, Ecuador, as some of our best foreign travel.