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Galapagos Islands: trip report of a magical 15 days cruise


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Day 4: Isabela


Overnight, we navigated to Isabela Island. In the morning, we went ashore at Punta Albemarle We saw lots of flightless cormorants both fishing as well as sitting on the rocks drying their feathers. You can really see that their tiny wings can't be used for flying.






Also other birds that still have the ability to fly can be seen:




We also watched marine iguanas feeding and relaxing on the lava rocks. Note that their color is reddish - it depends on what kind of algae they eat. Those eat red algae. The iguanas that we saw e.g. the next day on Fernandina Island eat green algae and are completely black.








A Galapagos seal posed nicely for us:




Also the scenery was very nice to look at. Even on the beach, we found very interesting creatures that were not alive any more. There are thousands of spikes of sea urchins (the pink coloured sticks). In some beaches, you can still sea lots of shells, on this one, there were just sea urchin spikes instead of shells. If there is a "white tip" at the end of a spike, it is relatively fresh as the white part is which keeps the spike connected with the sea urchin. If the white part is non existent any more, it has been on the beach for a while.







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After our excursion ashore, we did a panga ride for a while along the coast. There were more marine iguanas to see - I especially liked one sitting on a single lava rock.




Then we got very lucky: we saw a turtle! It was a female floating at the surface of the water. Then a second turtle appeared - a male. He wanted to mate, she didn't. That's why she floated as far up as possible so the male couldn't climb on her. We watched him trying to climb her several times while she tried to move away from him. Then even a second male appeared! So it was now two males trying to force themselves on her! What an experience. Reproduction in the animal world seems to not always be fun...








Cruising along the shoreline, it was really nice to just look at the scenery as well. The sun came up, the color of the sky changed from a slight grey to blue. And on the water there were lots of birds. We could also see them very often just sitting on the deck of the Samba, lots of sheerwaters and storm petrels, sometimes also different kinds of boobies or frigate birds flying by. Then it was time to head back to the Samba for lunch.









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After lunch, we crossed the equator - actually for the second time, but the first time everybody apart from the captain was asleep as it was during a night navigation. This time, everybody fully awake, we sqeezed into the space on the bridge to share the 0 degree latitude experience and celebrate with a complimentary glass of pisco sour. I've never had that drink before and really liked it - it became our sundowner drink up from that day. The landscape in the whole area is stunning, we enjoyed just watching everything from the deck. Of course there were many birds to watch as well.



Only a few miles South of the equator, we arrived at our afternoon location Punta Vicente Roca. There it was time for snorkeling first. I think this was the coldest water temperature we experienced. But I forgot about all that once I was underwater: so many turtles everywhere! The water was quite murky so I couldn't see too far in the distance, but there was always a turtle below, to the left and/or to the right. I even had to be careful to not bump into them by accident, and they were not shy at all. Absolutely amazing!
















The walls of the tuff cones full of colorful invertebrates and rich algae blooming, a very pretty sight. Swimming along the island, we came across playful sea lions. They were diving, turning around etc. with us, so much fun!





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After a quick change into other clothes, we went on another panga ride along the tuff cone walls. Again, amazing scenery, lots of birds such as cormorants, brown noddies and boobies. And lots and lots of marine iguanas, some of them sitting very far on top of rocks. Among them were some babies.























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Sunsets like this happened every day. Amazing colors! Usually a few of us gathered on the deck, maybe had a pisco sour of glass of wine, and enjoyed watching the sea, the birds, looked out for whales and dolphins while having great conversations. The sea breeze was usually very pleasant, only after sunset I put on a fleece or windbreaker if the wind got too cold during navigations. It is such a nice way to end the day. Sometimes we went to the bow after dinner as well to watch the stars - I have been to very few places where the sky was so clear.







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Day 5: Fernandina & Isabela


Fernandina is the youngest island of the archipelago. As all islands, it is volvanic, therefore there are lots of lava, some mangroves and some cacti. Despite this rather hostile environment, at Punta Espinoza many reptiles, birds and mammals can be seen. And there are sooooo many iguanas! Huge piles of them, they also sometimes sit on top of each other. They are everywhere and you have to be careful to not step on them as they obviously don't care at all where the walkways are ;)


We again went ashore very early before everybody else and were able to watch the igauas waking up while the sun was rising. They need heat to heat up their bodies before they can go into the water and dive to eat algae off the lava rocks - because the cold water reduces their body temperature. As they eat algae, they also consume a lot of salt which is too much for their bodies. So they kind of sneeze out the excess salt they don't need or can't digest. There were also a few baby iguanas climbing adult iguanas, wandering around, etc. It was so much fun to watch them! The blurry ret dots in the following photo are sally crabs - they were everywhere too!






And more exciting very recent news: I got informed yesterday that the next photo will be published by the Galapagos Conservancy in their 2018 calendar!











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Dave Williams

Great report with lots of useful information but I shouldn't have read it as I now want to visit too !!!!

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Walking about 100 meters away from the first "iguana spot", there was a baby sea lion that turned out to be not only very cute and playful, but also very curious! When I sat down and waited, it approached me closer and closer - at some point nearly putting its nose on my lens!













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Next up: more iguanas, more sally crabs, more sea lions and more cormorants!








Fernandina really is a special place. Not only the animals, but also the geology is stunning. The black lava is very pretty.

On the way back towards the landing site, there was a skeleton of a huge whale and Juan explained a lot about whales, skeletons of marine mammals, how they can be differentiated and why they are strutured as they are etc. Very interesting!

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Fernandina is a favorite!!  Great photos and great capture of the "sneeze".  ;)  Well done on being published in the Galapagos Conservancy Calendar!!  We landed first thing in the morning too; it must get really hot later in the day on that lava.  Plus you have the iguanas posing so nicely when it's just warming up. 


One thing I found fascinating is that the cactus shown above could be something like 200 years old.  Takes forever to gain a foothold there.


The baby sea lions are absolutely endearing, especially how they twist their head around... makes you want to give them a cuddle which of course you can't.

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Thank you, @AmyT and @egilio! Tortoises can be seen soon!

Edited by BieneMaja
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After the landing, we did a panga ride along the coast - and saw our first penguins! I love penguins and enjoyed watching them a lot. There was even a mating pair. Among other animals, we also saw more cormorants and brown pelicans.


Upon return to the Samba, we changed into our wetsuits and went snorkeling. In addition to colourful fishes and more turtles, we saw many colorful sea stars.

















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@BieneMaja more great photos and travels. Congratulations on having your photo published in the 2018 Galapagos Conservancy calender.

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After lunch, we had another landing at Urbina Bay on Isabela. Urbina Bay is located on the Western shoreline of Alcedo Volcano. In contrast to Fernandina, there is a lot of vegetation. And there, we saw our first giant tortoises and land iguanas!


A minute after we landed, we saw the first giant tortoise relaxing below a tree.




The land iguanas are larger than the marine iguanas and depending on the location have a yellow-orange-brown color. They like to eat cactus flowers and fruits - and if there are none available they also eat parts of the cactus itself because they need the moisture. We actually saw two land iguanas about 5min apart from each other.




Then the next giant tortoise: this one was on the move.




And he couldn't have cared less about those humans who were so curious. If you just sat down, didn't move any didn't make much noise, he would just walk right past you.



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Day 6: Isabela


The next morning started with a panga ride along the coast of Isabela in a beautiful area. There are lots of mangroves, and it is the only place on earth where you can see mangroves and penguins in the same place. We started early again and the weather was perfect.


We started to cruise along the coast where we saw lots of boobies on lava rocks and pelicans both in the water and in the mangrove trees. Look at those huge feet of the boobie!






Then we headed into the "alleys" of mangrove forest on lava and continued often without using the outboard motor, but only the oars.




It was so nice and quiet, nobody around us. We saw many schools of fishes in the clear water and some turtles.




Lots of boobies and pelicans tried to get some breakfast.






And there were lots of penguins! They were very curious and enjoyed swimming around our pangas.








This pelican was successful.




A Galapagos hawk posed for us - and let us get quite close. This was the closest encounter we had.




Another successful pelican. It was great to watch the pelicans diving for fish. When they catch one, they can't eat it right away but need to get rid of the excess water in their bill. So they bow, open the bill just a little bit and wait until the water has drained. But through the opening, also smaller fishes get out - and the penguins wait exactly for that kind of food. It was so much fun to watch the pelicans and boobies diving for their food and the teamwork of the pelicans and the penguins.






Some more pelicans and penguins:






We also saw some rays. One time I just dipped my unterwater camera into the water from the panga and took some pictures blindly. Some turned out to be really nice and you can see so much more this way than by trying to photograph them through the water. And even a turtle made her way into the picture ;)



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Fortuitous dip shot!  Very lucky with the penguins.  Those mating--or trying to mate--turtles were a rare sight.  You're seeing the best of the Galapagos!


Did your guides share with you any #s, such as which species are doing well or holding their own and which are in trouble?  How about accounts of illegal fishing?

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Love seeing the flightless cormorants nesting; was a favorite viewing.  Nice photo of the Galapagos hawk... they tend to hang around but we couldn't find one on our second visit.  I regret not having an underwater camera, your photos are great!


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  • 1 month later...

@Atravelynn Thank you! We did talk about species a lot and also got a lot of information about which animals and plants suffered from introduced species of animals and plants as well as the programmes started by the national park and other conservancies (e.g. tortoise captive breeding programmes, goat extinction programme,...). And sadly most of the endangered or extinct species suffer due to the human - starting already with the early settlers and sailors who loved to capture lots of turtles as they could survive for a year without having food or water before being killed for food and oil.


t is really also really interesting to find out how everything is connected - e.g. that on a certain island there would be no Galapagos hawks because their favorite food, the Galapagos lizard, doesn't live there, which again results in the red-footed boobies to live there.


Illegal fishing does happen, but much less frequently than years ago. Two months ago, a Chinese boat with more than 6,000 sharks was captured: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-ecuador-environment-galapagos/ecuador-jails-chinese-fishermen-found-with-6000-sharks-idUSKCN1B81TS


@AmyT Strange re the Galapagos hawk. We saw so many on different islands... but this one on Isabela was by far the closest encounter. I used an underwater camera for the first time but absolutely love the photos! So worth buying the underwater housing...

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Before lunch, we went snorkeling. This turned out to be probably my facorite snorkel location and one of my favorite moments of the whole trip. We snorkeled through an underwater landscape of lava with brackish water. Really interesting - where salt water and sweet water mix, there is low visibility and also the temperature changes a bit. We saw lots of beautiful fishes and also one cormorant went diving next to us. They are so fast!


At one point, Juan told us to be very quiet and not move quickly after we cross over the next shallow stretch of lava. Imagine an underwater amphitheater filled with water and lots and lots of turtles - this is exactly what it looked like. I didn't even know where to look first, there were turtles all around us! Literally everywhere. Right, left, in front of us, below us. Absolutely stunning. It felt like being in paradise.






And the icing on the cake was a penguin that swam with us and then decided to jump on a small lava rock. I love penguins and one swimming with us was another highlight. That's the penguin and me!



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After lunch, we went snorkeling again. About a minute after we got into the water, the captain found a sea horse for us! What a great sight! This was the only one we saw during the whole trip.




Moreover, we saw lots of amazing fishes as well. Among them was a very funny looking one.




Also here, we saw quite a few turles. Some of them swimming, some of them feeding. No matter what they do, they are always a great sight!






And last but not least, an octopus! This one even decided to put on a show for us. It sprayed its ink into the water which turned completely black! I took two photos right after each other - here you can see the octopus and a bit of the ink, the next one was completely black.



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