Ecuador Day 4: Isla Rábida and Egas Port

I woke up at 5:45 am when the yacht started moving. I continued to lie in bed and tried to sleep but sleep would not come. As the yacht was swaying quite a bit, I started to feel a bit seasick. So I got out of bed, changed out of my pajamas and went up to the top deck. From experience, I knew that fresh air would help me get over the seasickness.

It was dark as the lights on the top deck were switched off. The waves rocked the boat but I held on to the railing as I slowly climbed the steps so I was alright. It was quite chilly. I sat on one of the lounge chairs and enjoyed the peace and quiet. Apart from the low rumble of the yacht’s engine, there was no other sound. It seemed as if the world at this moment was still asleep and I was the only one awake. I enjoyed this feeling of solitude.

Slowly, my eyes were able to make out the dark shapes of land mass, all misty and grayish-blue. Dark shapes above the water, like the backs of slumbering dragons. The sky slowly brightened but I could not see the sun as it was hidden by the clouds. It looked like it would be a cloudy day. Then I caught the sight of birds flying far on the horizon. I watched them for a while. When it was almost 7 am, I went back to the cabin.

KKH woke up when I entered. While KKH was in the bathroom, the voice of Alex (cruise coordinator) was broadcast over the PA system. “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. This is a wake up call. It is now 7 am.” At 7:30 am, we went down to the dining room for breakfast. In the dining room, Alex and another crew member were walking around and making sure that everything was alright. They acted as waiters, clearing our empty plates and asking us if we wanted coffee or tea. When they asked me if I wanted coffee or tea, I picked coffee with milk, figuring that I would give their coffee a try. Thankfully, it didn’t cause me any unpleasant side effects.

We would be visiting Isla Rábida in the morning. Hernan told us that Rábida was closed for three months and just recently opened up for visitors again. It was closed to conduct an experiment to eradicate the rats from the islands. The rats were not native to the Galapagos Islands and were brought to the islands by the early sailors. As the rats were destructive and competed with the native species for food, they had to be eradicated. For the experiment, remote-controlled mini helicopters or planes were used to drop rat poison all over the island. The hawks on the island hunt the rats, so to prevent the hawks from being poisoned due to feeding on the poisoned rats, all the hawks on Rábida were captured and taken to another island to stay for three months. After three months, when all the rats were assumed to be dead, the hawks were released back to the island. Hernan said that if the experiment was successful, it would be carried out on the rest of the islands.

It was a wet landing, meaning that the dinghy would go as close to the beach as possible and then we got off from the dinghy into the water. The water reached up to my knees and the bottom part of my berms got wet. But I didn’t mind it much because the hot sun would dry it quickly. The sand on Rábida was red in color due to the high iron content.

On the beach, we saw a Galapagos hawk. It was a juvenile so it was curious about us but still remained a bit wary. It stayed on the beach, looking at us while we took photos of it.

Further inland where there were more bushes, we saw a vermilion flycatcher. It only stayed for a short while and quickly flew off.

We arrived at a saltwater lagoon but this time there were no flamingos in sight.

In a tree, we saw two Galapagos hawks. As we were taking photos of them, a third hawk landed in the same tree. All three hawks looked down at us as we took photos of them.

We were able to go quite close to the tree without scaring the hawks away. We tried to stay mostly to one side of the tree and not surround it so the hawks would not feel threatened.

It was an easy hike on Rábida as the ground was mostly flat and the trail was wide. There were no dense undergrowth with thorny bushes.

We walked up a slope and could see our yacht anchored nearby.

On the other side of the cliff were beautiful blue waters.

Then it was back to the beach for some free time. You could swim or snorkel or just walk along the beach. KKH snorkeled for a short while as the water was cold. I didn’t snorkel and walked along the beach instead. Sometimes I would walk in the water until it was deep enough to reach my knees. The water always felt cool no matter how hot the sun was. It wasn’t boring walking along the beach as there were so many things to see.

The juvenile Galapagos hawk was still roaming the beach. Now that there were less people taking photos of it, it was more relaxed and I managed to get a good photo of it.

I saw some lava lizards. They were small lizards and very wary of bigger creatures like humans. It was hard to get close to one. I guess it was because they were preyed on by the Galapagos hawks so they tended to be more timid around larger animals. This is the male lava lizard.

The female lava lizard has a red throat.

There were holes along the beach which were crab burrows. The crabs were not the famous Sally Lightfoot crabs. I thought they looked like ghost crabs but I could not be sure. It took a long time for the crab to emerge from its burrow. I could not move at all as any slightest vibration would send it back into its burrow.

Soon one hour was up and it was time to head back to the yacht for lunch and some rest before the afternoon hike. A crew member was waiting with a hose to rinse off our sand covered feet and shoes. I did not have much appetite for lunch as I was starting to feel a bit seasick again. After lunch, I went up to the top deck to read my book and felt much better.

At 3 pm, we went to Puerto Egas on Santiago Island. This time we were in the group with the other guide, Jorge. His English wasn’t as descriptive as Hernan but he was very jovial and often cracked jokes. Even thought he knew our names, collectively KKH and I were called “Singapore!”

It was another wet landing at the beach. This time the sand at the beach was black in color. I found it amazing that Isla Rábida and Santiago Island were next to each other and yet the sand on the beaches were so different.

We were allowed to snorkel first as the water would get too cold later on. I walked along the beach and some fellow passengers told me that a sea lion was sleeping on a rocky ledge. I wonder how it managed to get so high as the ledge was at my shoulder height. When I went near, it opened its eyes and peeked at me. Then obviously deciding that I was just a curious tourist and not a danger, it went back to sleep again.

A lot of Sally Lightfoot crabs were clinging to a rock. The matured ones were red in color while the young ones were as black as the rock they were on.

Jorge said they were named Lightfoot because their legs ended in a tip so they looked as if they were walking on tiptoe. Someone asked Jorge if Ecuadorians eat the crabs and Jorge replied that they don’t, as the crabs were food for other animals in Galapagos. I didn’t notice it when I was there but the Sally Lightfoot crab’s eyes seemed pinkish! How pretty!

There were also some marine iguanas lying on the beach. They didn’t seem to mind my presence even though I could be only 1 m away from them. But I tried to respect their personal space so they would not feel disturbed.

Because the marine iguanas were so motionless and unafraid, they were perfect models for photos. Can you see the two tiny flies sitting on its head?

There was a pelican sitting on top of a rocky ledge. It was so still that a fellow passenger thought it was a piece of rock.

After an hour, it was time for the hike. The terrain of Santiago Island felt different from Isla Rábida. The rocks were arranged in flat layers and it looked as if someone had paved a road.

Jorge told us that people used to live on Santiago Island. There was a mining operation and the workers would live on the island. Now there were no longer people living on the island and what was left of their houses were just sticks stuck in the ground.

We walked along the coast and it was more obvious that the rocks were arranged in horizontal layers, one on top of the other. I was reminded of my geography lessons in secondary school. My geography teacher would love it here as there were so many real life examples of the land formations that she taught us.

There were groups of marine iguanas sunning themselves along the coast. It was the first time I saw so many marine iguanas together. Previously I had only seen a few at a time.

Jorge found an empty crab shell which he passed around. This was the shell left behind after a Sally Lightfoot crab molted. A young Sally Lightfoot crab may molt up to 100 times a year, while an adult Sally Lightfoot crab would not need to molt so often.

We saw quite a few birds along the coast too. This is the lava heron.

There were two oystercatchers sitting on the rocks near the water’s edge.

Not all birds stayed still. This little yellow bird kept hopping around and flew off after a few minutes. I think this could be the female yellow warbler.

There were also sea lions resting along the coast and we saw a few babies. The babies were a few months old and they were mostly alone as the mothers were out hunting. The babies would look at us sleepily and sometimes they would cry, like human babies. One of the rules was that we cannot touch any animal on the Galapagos islands. Jorge said that if we touched a baby sea lion, we would leave our scent on it. This would cause the mother sea lion to reject her baby when she returned as she could not recognize her baby by the smell.

I managed to take a better view of the male lava lizard. See, no red patch at the throat. I love the way it looked as if it was going to dash off any second.

I think these are the Galapagos mockingbirds. Young ones though.

I spotted a finch. There were 13-15 species of finches on the Galapagos islands. Each species had its own name but together they were called Darwin’s finches. Specimens of the finches were collected by Charles Darwin when he visited the islands but at that time, he had no clue to their significance. In fact he thought they were different species of birds as some of them looked quite different. Then John Gould, an ornithologist, examined the specimens and told Darwin that they were all finches. Upon hearing this, Darwin cried “Eureka!” and the beginnings of the idea of evolution was planted in his mind. Subsequently, the term “Darwin’s finches” was popularized by David Lack in 1947.

We soon came to another type of terrain which was formed from relatively young harden lava. I had to be careful while walking as the ground was uneven and there were cracks all over. Some of the larger cracks became pools and the water was calmer here.

We saw some sea lions swimming in the sheltered pool. The sea lions we kept seeing were the Galapagos sea lions. They were descended from the California sea lions but they were smaller in size than their California ancestors.

We also saw two sleeping Galapagos fur seals. They were smaller than the sea lions and unlike the sea lions which could be found on the beach, the fur seals preferred to rest on the rocky ledges. I think the fur seals were rarer than the sea lions as I only saw them at most twice while the sea lions seemed to be everywhere. Jorge said that we could differentiate them from their faces, as the fur seals looked a little like bears. Actually, fur seals were more like sea lions than true seals. So this was a case where an animal was named wrongly but the name stuck. I guess that’s why Hernan said there’s no seals, only sea lions in the Galapagos.

We were back on the yacht by 5:45pm. I stayed in the cabin until dinner time. Or more accurately, I sat on the floor next to the cabin door and just read and watch the sea.

For dinner, I did not have much appetite and took less than my usual amount. KKH had no appetite too but her lack of appetite started even before we flew off so it was not because she was seasick. But the dessert looked so tempting that KKH said to me, “If we managed to finish both our dinners, let’s share dessert.” Sadly by the time we finished the food on our plates, we were too full to think of eating any desserts.

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