Today was our first adventure to another island in the Galapagos Archipelago and we had decided to visit North Seymour which is famous for its large birds and land iguanas among other wildlife. We were meeting our tour right around the corner from our house and were supposed to be there a few minutes before eight. The maximum for the tour was 20, but there were only 14 of us on this trip, so the bus that was to take us to the channel between Santa Cruz and Baltra to meet out boat was only slightly more than half full. Along the way we picked up several other passengers who were staying at hotels outside of Puerto Ayora.
The Itabaca Channel crossing (a mere stone’s throw when comparing to things like the English Channel) is always a hustle bustle as it is necessary to pass through here to get to the airport on Baltra Island. Had it not been for the US military having an air base here during WWII to protect the Panama Canal there probably wouldn’t be an airport here at all. We shuttled out to our boat, the Santa Fe II on a zodiac that picked us up at the dock and brought us out to the anchored vessel. The Santa Fe was a beautiful boat and well-equipped with a nice main cabin and upper deck with seating for everyone. Diego, our guide, briefed everyone on the safety features such as the “real” life vests that would keep us afloat for ever and the two life rafts with more than enough occupancy for all of us. Somehow, being shipwrecked on one of these islands for a few days didn’t seem like too bad of a deal, but it was not to be.
The trip to North Seymour Island was about 45 minutes as it’s just north of Baltra Island. The landing there was a dry landing, meaning you didn’t get your feet wet as the zodiac was able to pull right up to the rocks and let us off. It took two trips to get everyone ashore and Diego brought us all together to begin our tour of the island. North Seymour is known for Frigate birds and the Blue-Footed Boobies that nest here. There were Frigates everywhere and only a few of the Boobies to be found, but the Frigates were very impressive. The males have huge red throats that they balloon out when seeking a mate and the bigger the pouch the more likely it is for a female to be enticed. We found one baby in a nest right next to the trail and it didn’t seem to be bothered by us. We also spotted a number of dead Frigates, many of who died while still perched in their bushes, clearly attesting to the harsh environment here and the energy expended in seeking a mate.
Along the trail we also found a number of land iguanas, cousin to the marine species and equally as large. They don’t compete for food or space at all so they leave each other well enough alone to co-exist here on the island. We also found a number of sea lions including a mother with her baby nursing and another tiny pup that Diego said was probably only 7 weeks old. There was also a small shallow tidal pool with a number of young sea lions playing tag with each other.
As we finished our tour of North Seymour and said goodbye to the birds and other wildlife there we loaded again into the zodiac for our trip back to the Santa Fe II. What was supposed to be a dry landing, though, became semi-dry as a wave came up and swamped our landing area just as we were boarding. I had sandals on, but most of the others had running shoes that were now soaked for the day. We had a bit of delay in leaving North Seymour, though, as our anchor became stuck in the rocky bottom and took a good bit of finagling to release it, initially using the onboard winch and finally using the zodiac to tug on it in all directions before it released. There was a huge round of applause for the ship’s mate in the zodiac as we were now able to get on our way for our afternoon swim.
Lunch was served on our way to the beach on Isla Santa Cruz that would take us perhaps another 45 minutes to get to. Lunch was delicious considering we were on a boat – tuna, salad and vegetables, all cooked on the boat. It was a relaxing ride while we ate which is something I couldn’t have fathomed for me in the past as I had always gotten sea sick until just a couple of years ago. I remember never being able to eat when diving and getting nauseated just putting together my dive gear. It’s so pleasant now to be able to enjoy the day without worry. We eventually arrived at our destination which was a beach on the northwest coast of Santa Cruz, but the surf was too rough for us to snorkel. We again loaded into the zodiac for a “wet” landing this time on a very steep beach so it required a bit of timing to get in.
Once both boat loads were there and the zodiac safely back in the water, we walked along the beach and the rocks to a small estuary where there were several greater flamingos. They were more orange than what I’m used to in Tanzania which I’m sure is due to their diet here. There aren’t many flamingos in the Galapagos and the main flocks are on other islands. After this, we both went swimming in the surf with our group and those from another boat. The bottom was completely shells which was a bit rough on the feet, but the water was well worth it. We were on the last load of the zodiac and as we were about to get in, a big wave hit the boat crashing over the bow and it was everyone for themselves for the moment. The boat was half full of water which was fine since we were already wet from our swim. A quick outdoor shower to rinse off the salt and we were soon on our way back to Itabaca Channel and then back to Puerto Ayora.
As I was diving the following day, we were planning to head back to the Scuba Iguana shop to get fitted into my wetsuit and check out my other equipment. The shop was great and the people that work there were very low key, but clearly very attentive to detail which was very reassuring. After Scuba Iguana, we walked over to the Charles Darwin Research Station, where the giant tortoises are raised until they are old enough to fend for themselves. They have many breeding tortoises who live there in very large enclosures. Since it was quite hot outside, we took the opportunity to watch the three minute film twice, including one in Spanish, since it was so cool in the visitor center.
On our way home, we stopped in town for a snack and a drink. I had a beer and Kathy had a margarita which turned into two after the waiter told it was practically a two-for-one happy hour. It was still way too early for dinner so we walked back home to relax a bit in the house and perhaps catch a nice sunset along the way.
We had had such good luck the night before eating on the street, we had planned to do it again and, this time, check out the whole grilled fish. I had spied a good spot the night before, meaning that a number of customers seemed to flock there and were ordering the fish. We asked to split a fish, which came wrapped in foil and was grilled in oil and spices along with some tomatoes on top. This came with two plates on the side of beans, rice, salad and fried plantains. The meal, which was more than enough for Kathy and I, was a mere $20 and rivaled anything I’ve ever had before as far as taste and quality. Fresh was an understatement.
On our way home, we stopped at the Galapagos Deli to get some homemade ice cream that we had spied the day before. It was home after that as I had a big day of scuba diving the next day and Kathy had plans to take a water taxi to Finch Bay and the German’s Beach as it is called since the Germans first settle that area.