Top right: A sea lion enjoys using the towel bag as a pillow. (Photo by Aura Banda/Lindblad Expeditions) Top left: A blue-footed booby near the tell-tale ring of guano that marks its nest. Middle: A red-footed booby perches on a tree. Bottom: The hike up San Cristobal is a scramble up canyons that funnel water down the hill during the rainy season. (Photos by Janet Shedd)
Friday, Day 7 – San Cristobal Island
Today was our last full day and it was a great one. We set sail in the night for San Cristobal Island, one of the oldest islands in the archipelago and the one furthest east and closest to the South American mainland. Geologists think Santa Fe Island may be a bit older (four million years old), and San Cristobal a little less than that. Because it is older and closest to the mainland, it has more endemic species and parts of its are more eroded and craggy – even canyon-like in some places. I started out the day at 6 a.m. by visiting the bridge of the ship and watching as we navigated into Punta Pitt (our first stop and the first place that the Beagle spotted the Galapagos. To the east: 600 miles to the coast of Ecuador). Most of it is automated – GPS, automatic course settings – but once the Endeavour is close it is guided in manually with a small wooden wheel. Then the anchor is dropped – a gigantic metal anchor with a flat bottom attached to the ship by a huge metal chain that is lowered by machinery. The ship was once used as fishing vessel, then as an expedition vessel to Antarctica before moving to the Galapagos. After breakfast, we headed to shore for a hike up a dry stream bed (the ever-present sea lions all over the beach, as usual). It was steep and twisty with a lot of scrambling and about 200 feet in elevation gain – not much, I know, but much more than the flat hikes we had taken up to this point. In rainy season the canyons eroded from the volcanic tuff cones of San Cristobal funnel water into the stream bed, and amazingly, turns into a stream – a rarity on the archipelago. This island still has about 2,000 goats and a population of feral cats that eat the endemic lava lizards and birds as well. The main attraction on this island are the red-footed boobies! Just as you might imagine, these boobies have red feet and rather than nesting on the ground make ther homes on tree branches. Blue-footed boobies are also on this island, as are Nazca boobies, which nest on cliffs because they are heavier and need the liftoff that the winds there provide. The air is full of sounds from all these boobies! We spot lots of chicks, both red-footed and blue-footed, and sadly, a lot of abandoned eggs on the ground from blue-footed boobies. A male and female take turns incubating the eggs, and if something happens to one of them, it is too big a job for just one, so the eggs are left in the nest. We have some wonderful views at the top of our hike, of the beach, the water and the eroded slopes of the volcanoes that formed San Cristobal. Back at the beach, some of us decide to snorkel and a baby sea lion joins us. This is absolutely one of the coolest experiences I have ever had – the sea lion twists and turns underwater, comes right up to my face then flips backwards! He blows huge, beautiful, silvery bubbles underwater, then grabs a fish right in front of my face! It is truly wonderful and I wish it would go on forever. Later in the day, we head for a formation called Kicker Rock, famous for the amount of sharks that hang around out. It is a very windy and the waves are pretty choppy, so the snorkel turns into what one participant calls “Navy SEAL training” (apologies to any SEALs; I am positive it would be a walk in the park for them). Waves dump water down our snorkels, the sea is churned up and cloudy. We do see a sea turtle, some fish and one snorkeler tells us later a shark was circling around him – but for once, most of are happy to get out of the water when our guide signals to us. I want more snorkeling at a calmer spot! But this is it for the trip. That night, some of us head into the town on San Cristobal, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. It’s a much smaller town than Puerto Ayora, but has a wonderful feel to it, much less touristy. It’s Friday night, so families stroll the streets. Children skateboard and ride bicycles; teenagers roam the waterfront promenade in small packs. Everyone seems to know each other, and it’s a very homey ambiance. Sea lions are all over – sleeping on the beach, laying on benches, sleeping on the sidewalks and the docks. They are a normal part of life here – everyone ignores them. Except, of course, for us. We are the ones taking pictures. As I write this, Friday has turned into Saturday, and most of us from the Endeavour are in Guayaquil on mainland Ecuador. We have a 3 a.m. wakeup call for our flight to Miami and will be back in our homes sometime Sunday. The expedition has been amazing beyond words and is something I will be processing for a long, long time. A couple of thank yous – to National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions for sponsoring the Grosvenor Teacher Fellow program and to everyone involved in it. They really believe in this program, and so do I. And a thank you to the naturalists who so generously shared their extensive knowledge of the Galapagos with all of us. They care deeply about this unique archipelago. Thanks to my school and my fellow teachers for making it possible for me to go on this trip. Lastly, thanks to those of you who read any part of this! I really hope you can visit these islands, if you haven’t already.