From the National Geographic Islander in Galapagos
Feb 7, 2013 - National Geographic Islander
South Plaza & Santa Fe
This morning’s visit to South Plaza Island was fabulous! Today dawned bright and sunny but luckily during most of our outing there was a fresh breeze blowing in our faces to keep us somewhat cool as we hiked. We disembarked on a cement dock and stopped to admire the dozens of splashing and swirling sea lions swimming and playing all along the rocky coast. Big bulls were at regular intervals, and patrolled their territories announcing their presence with deep rhythmic barks; the females swam, rested or nursed their pups.
Under a half-dozen flowering Opuntia cactus trees we observed numerous land iguanas and one very unusual “weirdo.” The land iguanas were feeding on cactus fruits and pads, and a large male nodded his head to attract a female and then they sprinted off in a sudden chase across the lava rocks. The “weirdo” was faintly striped and had an oddly flat face. He looked like what he (or she) is: a half-breed. Occasionally an amorous male marine iguana (who has wandered a bit inland) gets carried away with a female land iguana (that is down by the shore) and the resulting offspring are “weirdos” or iguana “mules!” They are odd looking, infertile lizards that feed on land and are great climbers (like the Dad marine iguana) and so scale the Opuntias and shrubs while searching for food. Today we were able to get wonderful photos of this unique and rarely seen reptile.
We hiked along a rocky trail and were delighted with the vibrant colors! Green cactus with yellow flowers amongst a mat of succulent Sesuvium that ranged in all shades of oranges and reds and as a backdrop we had the azure and turquoise of the sea. We’ve already hiked on four islands but today the colors were amazing and what I have been telling our guests was once again proved true: that each island is varied, the walks are all different, and the wildlife is unpredictable. One never knows what we might see and learn on an outing!
Soaring swallowtail gulls, red-billed tropic birds flashing by along the cliff and an impressive and violent fight between two male lava lizards were other highlights of this morning’s walk. By late morning we were all hot so when we returned to the ship Captain Pablo Garces supervised while some of us took a quick, extremely refreshing swim from National Geographic Islander!
Our photo instructor Fernando Sanchez gave us a final talk and hands-on assistance with our cameras before lunch and siesta. Meanwhile the ship repositioned to the island of Santa Fe. Here we took three Zodiacs of snorkelers into a lovely bay, where the water was comfortably warm, and where they swam among huge schools of fish and a few of the guests saw sea turtles, a shark and sting rays.
The hiking options for the late afternoon were a choice between a short rocky walk that led us from one sea lion beach to a second beach with even more sea lions on it, or a long, fast-paced hike up a rocky trail behind the bay. Those who set out with Fernando for the shorter walk found eight land iguanas! This is practically a record number seen along this trail! The long hikers all saw two or three land iguanas and had a magnificent view from high above the bay.
In the evening during our Recap session Xavier showed us an amazing variety of planktons on our video microscope that he had collected with a fine mesh net. After dinner I asked the officers to turn off all the ship’s lights and we had a very pleasant half an hour of stargazing. The Milky Way was spectacular, we could see the Small Magellanic Cloud (a nearby galaxy) and this was a magical way to end another wonderful day in paradise!