I woke up at 5am but I continued to lie in bed as 5am was too early to be awake. When I found myself still awake at 6am, I concluded it was unlikely that I would fall asleep again. So I got up and went up to the top deck. It was chilly so I wore a sweater. The yacht wasn’t moving so the only sound was just the gentle lapping of waves. I was a bit surprised that I could still see the moon.
In the morning we would be visiting Fernandina Island, the youngest island of the Galapagos islands. It was located on the western edge of the Galapagos Archipelago while the oldest island was on the eastern edge.
KKH and I saw one of the crew members preparing the dinghy that we would take to the island. There was a crane at the front of the yacht where it would lift the dinghies onboard when we were not using them during the night. Then every morning, the crane would lift the dinghies and lowered them onto the sea and the crew would drive them to the disembarking area at the back of the yacht.
It was a dry landing at Fernandina. The dinghy went right up to the black rocks and we got off. It was the beginning of low tide and the waters were receding. The rocks we landed on used to be underwater. So the rocks were wet and as slippery as hell. It was hard to get a grip on the rocks. I had to move slowly, testing each time I placed my foot to make that it would not slip before I placed my weight on it. At one point, I had to use my hands. I thought the problem was with my sandals and maybe if I had wore hiking shoes, the grip would be better. Then I saw someone else who was wearing hiking shoes but who was also having difficulty walking on the wet rocks. So I felt a bit comforted that the problem was not unique to me and wearing hiking shoes might not make it any better. The going was much easier once we reach the dry part and I was able to walk normally again.
The harden lava was still young compared to the other islands, about 150 years old. The folds of the molten lava as it cooled could still be clearly seen. There were great areas of black harden lava fields along the coast. The terrain was rough and jagged so I was very careful when walking. It would really hurt if I fall.
Fernandina seemed to be the home of the largest marine iguana colony we visited. This was the first time I saw baby marine iguanas. There was also a lot of poo on the ground.
It was easier to tell the young apart from the adult marine iguanas. Not only were the young marine iguanas much smaller, they also did not have any spikes along their back.
We saw some marine iguanas who had finished basking and were making their way into the sea to feed on the algae. Their body temperature could go up to as high as 52°C before they entered the cold water. They moved slowly and unhurriedly into the water. I thought that since there was limited time to feed, they would hurry into the water but I guess not. The sun was very bright so it was hard to see them clearly. All I could see were black moving shapes on the black rocks. A fellow passenger called the sight “the march of the iguanas”.
There were sea lions on this island too. I was starting to feel that they seemed to be everywhere.
We saw a male sea lion staking it’s claim on a pool of water. It sat in the pool and once in a while, it barked loudly, announcing to the world that this pool belonged to him. Sometimes it would swim around and patrol the edges.
The lava lizards on this island was not as brightly colored as the ones on the other islands. Maybe it was because the terrain was mostly made up of black rocks and having color would stand out.
Sometimes there were cracks in the lava fields. This was because the surface of the lava had cooled and hardened, forming a thin crust, but below were still molten lava. Don’t worry, that was 150 years ago. All the lava had cooled and hardened by now. Someone compared it to the icing on a cake which I thought was a good example.
We saw flightless cormorants drying their wings. Jorge pointed out the big gaps in their wing feathers which were to weak to carry them into the air anymore. As they had no predators on the Galapagos islands, there was no need for flight. Over the generations, these birds were slowly losing their flight feathers as they traded their flying ability for swimming ability. Maybe generations later, they would lose all the flight feathers on their wings and replace them with something that was more suitable for swimming, like what had happened to the penguins. I suddenly realized I was seeing evolution in process and that thought was mind-boggling.
We walked past this field of broken loose stones which Jorge said was made from a different type of lava. When I stepped on the stones and caused them hit each other, they made a kind of ringing sound that was similar to those made by good quality charcoal.
While Fernandina was still mostly made up of black lava fields, plants had started to take root on this island. There were mangrove swamps along some of the coastal areas and there were trees and bushes further inland where sand was available. On the lava fields, lava cactus were growing.
The lava cactus were short plants, maybe because there wasn’t much nutrients in the lava fields.
We also found this mark embedded in the rock which was left by the Ecuadorian army.
We came to this part of the island which was underwater at high tide. Parts of the rocks were covered in algae which was slippery but because the terrain was flat, it was still easy to walk on.
The waters here were clear and I could see all the way to the bottom. We were able to observe a few herons and pelicans in the area too.
The low tide had uncovered some of the algae and we saw a marine iguana feeding. Jorge said that the algae was lusher underwater so that was why most marine iguanas still dive underwater to feed.
One last look before heading back.
On the way back, we passed by this pile of bones which were collected from the coast. From the size, the body was likely the bones of a pilot whale. As the skull could not be found, a dolphin’s skull was placed at the head. There was also the little skeleton of a marine iguana. Then we walked back to the landing site at around 10:45am to wait for the dinghy to pick us up. I was a bit apprehensive when I thought of the difficulty I had walking on the slippery rocks. But I need not have worried because the sun had dried the wet rocks so they were now much easier to walk on. Someone else commented that same thing so I wasn’t the one only who thought that.
While waiting for the dinghy, we saw an adult Galapagos hawk in a tree along the mangroves. The coloring was different from juvenile Galapagos hawks that we saw on Isla Rábida.
I managed to eat a bit more for lunch but it wasn’t my usual amount yet. At 3pm, some passengers went snorkeling. The dinghy did not land at a beach and they just jumped into the water from the dinghy. KKH went and she said the water was quite deep and colder. I stayed behind on the yacht to read and nap. It was very peaceful as there were only a handful of us left on the yacht. Finally there were enough lounge chairs for all of us.
The snorkelers returned after an hour. At 4:30pm, all of us went to Tagus Cove on the northwestern side of Isabela Island. Isabela Island was the largest of the Galapagos islands. First we went on a dinghy ride around the area where we saw more flightless cormorants drying their wings. Because of the way they bent their necks, I thought they looked headless ha ha.
We saw some blue-footed boobies on a rocky ledge. As we watched, one of them pooed.
We saw a Galapagos penguin sitting on the rocky ledge. It was the second smallest penguin in the world at around 35cm tall. These penguins were the only penguins living near the equator. They were able to survive because of the cold Humboldt Current from the south. Hernan said that the El Nino killed a lot of sea lions and penguins. The sea lions recovered their numbers faster while the penguins took a longer time.
It was a dry landing but the incline was very steep. Hernan advised us to use our hands to hold on to the rock walls until we reached flatter ground. Apparently Darwin landed here which was why so many visitors came to this spot. We reached a rock wall where the early visitors carved their names. The earliest we saw was dated 1836. This was before Galapagos was declared a national park. Of course, carving in the rock walls was now considered vandalism and forbidden.
We continued up until we reached the top of the crater. It was hard work and I sweat a lot, probably the most I’ve sweated on the Galapagos Islands. At the top was a crater lake. Like the dead sea, it was an isolated body of water and the water in the crater was saltier than the sea water. Hernan said that he had dived in this area many times and he was sure that there was no underwater opening linking the crater lake to the sea. Yet he felt that water must be seeping into the lake from another layer because with the strong sunshine in this region, the lake would have dried up long ago.
We found ice-cream waiting for us when we got back to the yacht. I think the ice-cream were homemade and there were the basic vanilla, chocolate and strawberry flavors. We could have as much as we wanted and some people went for second helpings. On a small table nearby, were various toppings we could add to our ice-cream. There were raisins, chopped nuts, chocolate syrup, strawberry syrup, tia maria, almond liquor, chocolate liquor and mint liquor. I had vanilla and chocolate ice-cream and added lots of chocolate syrup, some raisins, a dash of tia maria and chocolate liquor.
The yacht left Isabela after 6pm. A pod of dolphins was sighted and all of us went up to the top deck for a better look. It was a large pod. The boat followed them for 30 mins or so. We saw some of dolphins jumped out of the water. Some were really good and jumped in a graceful arc, while some landed on their stomachs. After the dolphins dispersed, KKH and I went to bathe before dinner. I looked into the mirror and thought the back of my neck looked a bit red. KKH confirmed that the back of my neck looked sunburn and added that the tips of my ears were sunburn as well. She passed me some aloe vera gel for me to put on the sunburn parts.
KKH and I finally made it to dessert today. We shared a slice of cake. I also had some canned peaches. I loved them. Yummy!
We would be crossing the Equator line tonight. Alex announced over the PA system when it was almost time and all of us crowded into the bridge with the captain. It was dark in the bridge and the only light came from the data screens. All of us waited for the GPS to count down to zero. It was a long wait so a girl left, telling her siblings, “give me a holler when we crossed the Equator.” Can’t say I blamed her as it was quite boring standing in a dark room, watching the numbers slowly decreasing. When it was finally zero, a lot of people took photos. Then we thanked the captain and left.