We navigated on calm waters north, and then west to anchor at dawn off a tiny islet appropriately called “Chinese Hat!” Across the channel and along the shores of the large island of Santiago, we saw miles of barren black lava that whalers in the area noted in their logbooks as erupting in 1897.
After breakfast, we explored the edge of this extensive lava field by kayak or Zodiac. We saw many brilliant red Sally light foot crabs feeding, striated herons stalking fish and baby crabs but we could not find any penguins.
Back on board we wiggled into our wetsuits and boarded Zodiacs for a snorkeling outing in the calm, turquoise channel between Sombrero Chino and Santiago. Now we found the penguins! First, we found 4 on shore. Then some of us snorkeled among them! A very curious juvenile swam among us and delighted our guests. We spent an amazing hour snorkeling with dozens of species of colorful fish, several white-tipped reef sharks, huge schools of tiny baitfish and many invertebrates, too: pencil and green sea urchins, chocolate chip and cushion sea stars, etc. It was only the chilly water that finally got the better of us and forced us to return to the ship for a hot shower!
Our afternoon hike was on the northern end of this same extensive lava field, where we walked across the pahoehoe flow. This is ropy lava and it comes in an amazing array of textures and even colors. In places, it looks like folded curtains or woven baskets, less pleasantly; some imagined cow pies and intestines! The lava is nearly barren, but our naturalists pointed out a few pioneer plants: the brachycereus cactus and mollugo carpetweed. We spied only a few finches and lava lizards but enjoyed taking photos of the spectacular lava, and of one another. As the sun set, we returned to the ship and tonight we enjoyed a delicious sky deck barbecue dinner.