Destination: Isabela Island, Galapagos
Best of: Swimming with the penguins! Where else in the world can you do that!?!
Worst of: The water was freezing cold, about 15 Celsius (about 58 Farenheit!)
*With the islands being so diverse, we decided to post each one separately. The Galapagos Islands will be an 8 part series. Here is Part 5.
Day 05: Isabela: Punta Moreno / Elizabeth Bay
We began our trip to the western most islands of Isabela and Fernandina with an almost lunar type landing on Punta Moreno. These two islands are the youngest and also the most active in terms of volcanic activity. Punta Moreno is a hike across one of the numerous lava flows. Even in this seemingly barren wasteland, life finds a way to exist. Cactus and short shrub grass grip to an inch of dirt they can find and hold on for life. The lava tubes on this island serve as underground channels where ocean water is fed into inland lagoons supporting pintail ducks, small fish and the visiting flamingo (none here on this day however).
There are also different forms of Lava depending on the speed and existing land conditions. Below we are walking over AA Lava, huge chunks.
And here we are walking over Rope lava or Pouipoui (Hawaiian word).
Our highlight of the day came when we jumped in the water. We were warned that the water would be colder on this side due to the deep ocean trenches that lie just off the western coasts, but man that water was cold! Good thing there was plenty to see! After a dozen turtles or so, we couldn't keep up. There was one right after another, some in groups and some just minding their own business resting on the bottom. Again, like most of the animals in the Galapagos, they didn't seem to mind our presence. They just slowly paddled around gracefully gliding through the water.
As if the turtles were not enough, we rounded the corner and into a flock of penguins just floating along on the water! Instead of diving and running, they would do short dives, check us out, and reappear just a short distance away. Occasionally, they would turn, dispense a black liquid, and jet off so I guess you could say we scared the you know what out of them! We were having so much fun interacting with them that the freezing cold water didn't seem to bother us.
That afternoon, we had a boat safari in Elizabeth Bay. On the way into the bay you pass some rocks in the water that are home to a variety of wildlife. Among the usual suspects of blue-footed boobies, sea lions and pelicans (they never stop being entertaining!) we were also introduced to the flightless cormorant (more on them in the next posting) and another flock of penguins came by to check us out.
Once past the rocks, you arrive into a mangrove lined bay. The mangrove trees survive in salt water by having a special way of excreting the salt through the leaves of the tree. Turtles, rays, sharks, and herons all call this place home due to the smaller fish that breed and thrive under the "protection" of the mangroves are an excellent source of food. Since beaches are rare on this side of the island, the sea lions actually climb into the mangroves and rest on the branches earning them the nickname "tree" lions.
Back on board the Beluga, we enjoyed the sunset (above) and moved the ship up the shore a little more for one more stop on Isabela the next morning.