Commemorating a Historic Milestone in the Galápagos
The decades-long effort to protect the Galápagos Islands realized an important milestone on January 14 when Ecuador’s president Guillermo Lasso signed a decree to conserve more than 23,000 square miles of ocean around the Galápagos Islands and beyond. Lindblad Expeditions founder Sven-Olof Lindblad was honored to witness this historic moment.
The last day of our trip found us just outside the sandy beach of Caletas Bay, where our good friend Enrique welcomed us into his home and gardens. Caletas’ beach had many options for us: some guests took part in a long repositioning hike along a fine trail that borders the beach, others enjoyed a long and difficult forest hike, or finally, some took a wonderful walk around the grounds looking for plants, flowers, and birds. We then repositioned our vessel a few miles south to reach the San Pedrillo Park Ranger’s Station in Corcovado National Park, where guests could take the inner forest trail leading to a waterfall and waterhole; or enjoy a flatter trail, parallel to the beach, in search of wildlife. We headed off into our daily adventures and finally, gave closure to our Central American voyage with a quick and elusive green flash.
Another big day today! Morning starts quite early, in the middle of the night almost anywhere else, but it’s not very dark here when we heard the PA announcement: “Orcas! Killer whales, all around the ship.” These are smallish Type B killer whales and there are many of them. They hunt penguins and fish, and do not attack other whales in the area, such as minkes and humpbacks. After breakfast we are at Booth Island. Lots of penguins, both gentoo and chinstraps breed here. Plus, there is snow with nice handmade paths and a hike. The hike is to the top of a hill with an almost 360° view. At the top is a rock cairn with a wooden pillar, like a huge street sign, commemorating the first French expedition led by Jean-Baptiste Charcot that wintered here in 1904. We also found a healthy and diverse community of lichens. After kayaking, we have lunch as National Geographic Explorer transits the Lemaire Channel from north to south. It is a narrow waterway with steep snowy cliffs on either side, one of the most beautiful passages in the peninsula. There is much ice in the channel, but our ship nicely skims through the ice. The sun is out in full force and the world is a festival of sparkles. South of the channel, there is broken pack ice, including floes. These are flat puzzle-pieces with the imprints of penguins and seals. Some of the imprint makers are still here, lazing seals and inquisitive penguins. What is next on this beautiful day? A BBQ on deck with grilled sausages and cold beer, camaraderie and incredible scenery.
This morning found National Geographic Resolution cruising through the spectacular scenery of the Gerlach Strait, sailing towards our first destination of the day, Mikelssen Harbour. This is a beautiful, enclosed bay with the small island of Mikelsson to one side. It is surrounded by glaciers flowing down to the sea and is home to gentoo penguins and a number of Weddell seals. Guests went ashore to see the gentoo penguin colony and to visit a beach, which has whale bones and the carcass of an old wooden boat. The whale bones are evidence of the whaling industry, which first brought people to the area in the early 1800s and continued well into the 20th century. The boat was used back then as the equivalent of the modern-day Zodiac, to ferry people from ship to shore and back again. Guests were also given the option of a second round of kayaking, which many leapt at the chance. The kayakers were treated to calm weather, and good views of the glaciers calving, from a distance, of course. After lunch, National Geographic Resolution moved a short distance to Spert Island. This is a venue that can only be visited in very calm conditions, as they were today. The Zodiacs were loaded with eager guests who set off to the first stop, the chinstrap penguin colony on the end of one of the islands. This completed the check list of all three brush-tail penguins that inhabit this area. From there, the Zodiacs moved into the bay behind Spert Island, which gave views of raw, vertical cliffs that rose out of the sea, and which had been carved and beaten by the waves into caves and sheer faces of volcanic rock. Also, this bay is a collecting point for many icebergs that had drifted along the channel. The bergs were of all shapes and sizes, adding to the wild feeling of the bay. Unfortunately, it is time now to leave Antarctica and head out into the Drake Passage once more and make our way north. But with the beautiful, calm weather and stunning light playing on the sublime scenery, Antarctica is bidding us a fond farewell. We’ll be back.
Today we visited several community projects in the surroundings of La Palma Village. Once we reached Playa Blanca Beach several buses were available to take our guests in different directions. Some went to learn about gold panning and artisanal sugar mill production, others went to the cacao and heart of palm production area, and others visited the trails of Danta Lodge for a nature walk. At noon, we all gathered together to enjoy a delicious lunch at the beach and a folkloric dance show. Then our visit was crowned by a lovely demonstration by a local sea turtle research station carrying out a sea turtle tagging operation. It was a full day in which we enjoyed not only the beautiful natural environment surrounding this progressive community, but also learned a wonderful example of how conservation is exercised by the locals.
We left behind Sombrero Chino Island, and navigated all night long, crossing the Equator Line south to north. We arrived at Genovesa, or Tower Island, one of the northern islands in the archipelago. An impressive caldera has been opened to the sea, and we anchored inside this stunning geological formation. This island has remained isolated from the rest of the islands, so Genovesa doesn’t have land reptiles or Galapagos hawks, but it is home to the rarest species of finches in the archipelago, such as the sharp billed ground finch (well known as vampire finch) and the large ground finch. With the first beams of sun, we went to the outer decks to observe hundreds of seabirds flying above us! Genovesa is a paradise for birds, and of course for birdwatchers. In fact, more than a million birds live here (marine and land birds). After breakfast, we disembarked at Darwin Bay on a beautiful white-sand beach covered with red mangroves. Red-footed boobies and frigatebirds were in these trees, while the sandy beach was occupied by swallow-tailed gulls and Nazca boobies, all in different stages of their nesting cycles. We saw frigatebirds in flight earlier, but today we were able to see them closer. Walking along the beach, we had the opportunity to see a new variety of prickly-pear cactus. Featuring spines as soft as hair, this cactus evolved without predators such as land reptiles. We returned to National Geographic Endeavour II , to prepare for the next outing. Some of our guests enjoyed the rest of the morning on the beach, while snorkelers left Darwin Bay to go swimming along the caldera, observing a great amount of marine life such as trumpetfish, Moorish Idols, pompanos, white-tipped reef shark and the incredible hammerhead shark. In the afternoon, we went to Prince Philip’s Steps with the important goal of finding the short-eared owl. We went straight to a cliff where thousands of storm petrels come to nest. Owls love to feed on petrels, so what better place to start our search? Success: we spotted two owls from a distance and one close to us, on top of a lava tube. Just before the sunset, we went back onboard to behold the sunset coloring the walls of the caldera, remembering the incredible week and the incredible creatures that will be part of our memories forever.
Joining us on any expedition means signing up for adventure; and the reward for your curiosity is inevitable—the most exhilarating experience of pure discovery possible.