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.