Today, April 4th, we visited Isabela island in the Galápagos. The largest of all of the islands in the Galápagos archipelago (and shaped like a sea horse), Isabela is home to two of the iconic species of the islands: the Galápagos tortoise and the land iguana. Charles Darwin based his studies on the role of natural selection in part on his observations of Galápagos tortoises. Isabela was created out of six volcanoes, and Luke the rest of this area, is very seismically active. So much so that the area where we had our first hike (Urbina Bay) was part of the seabed less than until and earthquake in the 1950s lifted up a major portion of the seabed in the 1950s, and parts of the path we walked was lined with dead mangove trees that had lived by the ocean.
Almost immediately, we saw a female Galápagos tortoise walking down the path. You can somewhat tell how old a tortoise is by counting the rings on its shell. This youngster appeared to be merely 50-75 years old. A very young Galápagos tortoise brought back by Darwin in the early 1800s ( and probably born about 1800-1810) lived with an Australian family over several generations until its death in 2006.
Have we mentioned that it’s hot here?!!! As we walked through the lava landscape and the shrubby trees, which are toxic to touch, it felt like the volcanoes were still erupting. After we saw a land iguana, which was actually kind of pretty (orange and yellow instead of the dull black lava color of its marine cousins), all I could think about was flinging myself in the ocean just steps away from this hike through hell! But no, we kept marching (think Bataan death march) until we had seen a total of 10 tortoises and iguanas each. Since most of them were hiding in the shrubs under the shade of the toxic manzanita trees, and thus, could not be photographed decently, I thought this was a little excessive.
After surviving the hike, we returned to the ship for lunch and the ship moved to the northern end of Isabela Island for our afternoon snorkel. We could see lots of turtles swimming with us, as well as the ever present seals. There were plenty of nesting pairs of flightless cormorants on the rocks surrounding our snorkeling spot. There was even one penguin on the rocks where we were snorkeling. We tried to get him to come in and play with us, but he was playing coy.
The Captain repositioned the ship to Punta Vincente Roca off the northern most end of Isabela island, and we took a panga ride in the late afternoon. Among the highlights, we had fun watching a large group of seals frolicking in the waves as the tide came in against the rocks. Which raised the question: What is a group of seals called? Pod or colony seems to be the most common, but…. Crash, Harem, Herd, rookery, spring and also team are used. I’m going to go with “Pod”, as in, we had fun watching a large pod of seals swimming in the surf.
We also saw brown pelicans, blue footed Boobys, Nazca Boobys, nesting colonies of frigate birds, and of course, the ever present marine iguanas. The sea turtles swam right up to the panga. As we rode along the coast, we took the panga into a huge sea cave, which was part of the caldera of one of Isabela’s volcanoes. Our little penguin mascot was also still sitting on his rock.
As we sailed away from Isabela, we crossed the Equator for the sixth time this trip, and we toasted the sunset with champagne, and were given new fish-oriented names by the crew. You have to know the secret handshake to learn our new secret names! It has been a very full day!!!!