Espanola Island – The Best of the Galapagos

After a mostly calm night of gently rocking, except for the anchor dropping at around 2AM, we arose early before the breakfast call and climbed to the top deck for our first view of Espanola. A relatively flat island with shrubby dry plants that from a distance didn’t look like the kind of place that would support much wildlife.  It was a misty morning with low clouds and not too cold. Peaceful in the quiet of the early morning with a hot cup of coffee.

After breakfast we don our sturdy shoes, sun hats and cameras. From the dinghy, before we reach the island, we can see sea lions playing in the clear green water, a beautiful setting against the black rocky shoreline. We descend the dinghy take off the life jackets and walk a ways on the concrete path.

Already, on both sides of us are numerous red and green Christmas iguanas waiting to be photographed, such amazing colors and an ugly face.

In a few paces we reach the beach and Sabina, the naturalists, begins her talk on the island and the animals – the sea lions playing on the beach before us, the iguanas lying on the rocks behind us, the mocking birds hopping about and the red throated lizards lying on the path at our feet.

 We continue inland and quickly find more species of birds – the blue-footed booby, nazca boobyand small finches. The birds are so close to the path you have to be careful not to back into them or worse yet, step on an iguana sunning himself on the rocky path.

This is considered the most difficult walk of the tour, but really it is just rocky and easily managed with a good walking stick.

The shrubby plants are mostly bare as this the end of the dry season and the plants have not yet leafed out. It makes the stark landscape look deceivingly uninhabitable, but on the contrary, it is the home to so much life.

We walk, listen to Sabina, ask questions and snap pictures. Although Sabina’s explanations are interesting it is difficult to give her the attention she deserves when the opportunity for so many amazing wildlife shots are right at the tip of your finger. Nowhere else on earth can you get so close to wild animals.

On the other side of the island we reach the steep rocky shore where more species of birds – hawk, night heron, frigatebird and the albatross soar over our heads.

 Several blow holes are also visible and we stop to watch the birds above and wait for the waves to hit the blow hole below.

Back across the island we traverse the booby and albatross nesting areas.

Some of the young albatross still have their downy coat, giving them a scruffy unkempt appearance. Sabina fears that they will not be ready in time to make their long flight to Peru next month.

We end the walk where we started, the sea lions still playing in the surf, but now it’s low tide and the iguanas are also swimming in the sea to find the algae they feed on.

They say that Espanola is one of the favorite islands of the Galapagos and with so many species in one place I can see why.

Espanola – Gardner Bay

At 2:30 we all gathered on the upper deck to get snorkel gear and wet suits. At this time of year the water is tolerable but can get cold if you stay out too long. Today we have our choice of going deep water snorkeling off the dinghy or snorkeling from the beach. I went with my parents to the beach, beautiful blue-green water and white sand crowded with sea lions soaking up the sun.

The sea lions are so unafraid they will actually waddle towards you as you take their picture seemly to pose for as many cute shots as you have the desire to take.

As we test out our snorkeling gear in the shallow waters, baby sea lions swim around us wanting to play. More baby sea lions play in the surf near the rocks on the left side of the beach while large sea turtles pop their heads up from time to time. 

We snorkle out to a rock outcropping where we spot various kinds of fish, some in large schools; rays and sea lions. 

Reef sharks are also supposed to inhabit these waters. Before returning to shore we swam to where we had earlier spotted the sea turtles, but the water was so murky I nearly ran into one when I looked back to see what Don was taking a picture of. 

Boarding the dinghies to go back to the boat while they bobbed in the surf proved to be difficult as the high waves made climbing aboard more of desperate leap. In the end, everyone boarded safely and we returned to the ship for a hot shower and short rest before dinner.

Dinner tonight was a barbeque on the upper deck. The weather cool but not cold, they had moved the boat out of the wind in a pretty inlet with a flock of frigatebirds soaring above. A pleasant way to end a glorious day on Espanola Island.

December 12, 2011

For links to all the posts in this series see the Ecuador page.