Our first activity on Floreana Island started with a wet landing, meaning the dinghy stops just short of the beach and we disembark barefoot into the surf. This is an olivine beach, a brown volcanic sand with a slightly greenish tinge from the olivine crystals –you have to look close to find them – that are mixed in with the other minerals. Unfortunately there are no animals to great us.
We follow our guide Sabina inland a short ways to a shallow lake of brackish water. Normally this is the home of a flock of pink flamingos, but this year the lack of rain has caused the water to become too salty killing the shrimp that the flamingos feed on. Now it’s a desolate expanse of parched earth with a few small pools remaining at the far side of the lake.
Sabina next takes us to higher ground with a view of the area and the mountains beyond. It’s strangely empty compared to the abundant life we encountered the day before on Espanola. With no animals to talk about, Sabina tells us a complicated story of murder and intrigue involving the early settlers of the island. Around 100 people still live here.
We continue along the path up and over a low hill to a second white beach composed of crushed shells.
A lone crab sits on the beach contemplating his long journey back to the safety of the black rocks.
In the dunes behind us is the nesting area for the giant sea turtles. We approach the surf and watch for turtles and rays in the clear blue green water. Sabina points out their outlines in the waves as they crash and roll to shore. A sea lion greets us on the other side of the beach. He waddles up to our group seemingly lonely without his buddies to play with. As we leave this pristine beach we watch a small flock of pelicans fish in the surf.
The second half of this visit is spent snorkeling off the olivine beach. Don and I head out to a rock about 100 yards from shore. The day is overcast and the water feels colder than yesterday, but soon we are rewarded with schools of colorful fish. Near the rocks you have to be careful not to let the waves knock you into the sharp ridges, but the outcropping provides great crevasses for fish and the occasional ray.
We swim around the formation and towards the cliff edge that borders the beach following it back to shore. Don spots a sea lion but I focus on getting to shore and out of the cold water. At this time of year with the Humboldt current still present a short wet suit rental would be a good investment.
Back on board we wait for lunch on the top deck, enjoying the mild temperatures and the boat ride around the island to our next destination. Frigatebirds follow the boat and we spot the white sand beach we visited earlier that morning. It’s a magical place, the Galapagos, even when just sitting on the boat and staring out to sea.
Dinghy around Champion Island
After lunch we take a short dinghy, or panga, ride around Champion island, just off of Floreana island. There was a second opportunity to snorkel around this small island or islet but not enough passengers were interested so everyone had to go on the dinghy ride. The islet is very small but full of life.
One of its most prestigious inhabitants is a species of mockingbird that exists nowhere else in the world. To the untrained observer, me, it looks like any other mockingbird.
Sea lions and a few marine iguanas lounge on the rocks at the base of the island along with a lone blue heron.
Sea birds nest is the cliffs above – white swallow tail gulls, nazca boobies and the rare tropical red bill with is distinctive long white tail.
It is difficult to take good photos from the dinghy while it bounces on the waves, but fascinating to see so many species sharing one small patch of land. The hour long dinghy ride passes much too quickly.
The Post Office
Back on board the boat we head back to Floreana island to visit the “post office” where sailors in the past would leave mail for other sailors returning to Europe to pick up and take back home. A sort of sailors’ mail exchange. Now the tourists carry on the tradition.
You can leave postcards and letters for friends and family and in exchange pick up and deliver other travelers’ cards. A romantic notion of uniting travelers or a silly activity reminiscent of grade school depending on your perspective.
Snorkel and Beach Time
Back on the beach we have one last opportunity to snorkel. The water seems cold and daunting but promises of sea turtles lure us in. The visibility is poor in the murky water, but we do find one sea turtle with about eight snorkelers hovering above him. After a good look I leave the crowd and head to the beach to warm up.
The sun is getting low in the sky – that time of day when the light is perfect. I walk up the beach with my mother spotting a few sea birds and a dead puffer fish lying on the beach. We reflect on all we have seen in just a few short days.
Although Floreana has some beautiful beaches and interesting topography, it really doesn’t have the density of wildlife that some of the other islands have.
On board the boat we are welcomed back with make your own ice cream sundaes – your choice of strawberry or vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, a variety of liquors, and nuts, raisins and coconut to garnish.
December 13, 2011
For links to all the posts in this series see the Ecuador page.