Sunday, November 9, 2008

Friday 30 May 2008 - Bartolome Island

After a day swimming with sharks and penguins, stumbling upon old turtle nests, grazing marine iguanas ....

...and lazy dozing sea lions that remind me of my little dog Bronte when she is asleep - no wonder these creatures are called the dogs of the sea .... would think there was nothing left to do!

But not in the Galapagos!! It is truly an amazing place!!

But there was one more thing to do before we left this incredible island. We had to climb.

We climbed past lava channels and cinder cones and a landscsape that more resembled Mars than Earth. The dark volcanic dirt and the remnant volcanic vents that were the foundations of this island were uninviting and yet completely captivating.

Once we were at the summit John and I revealed our t-shirts which were part of a Bootcamp challenge! Although I'm still not sure that our trainers really know where we were and how special a place it is.
The low lying clouds threatened a thunger storm which never eventuated. The light was fading and we watched the sun set over an amazing part of our planet. As we pan you can see the classic outline of Pinnacle Rock. You may also notice the black soil and the absence of vegetation, except for the short spit connecting the remnant cinder cones.

To the right you can see a small flotilla of craft, including our own small Lobo del Mar.

The walk way has been constructed to protect the landscape from the ever increasing number of tourists to this most popular stop in the Galapagos Islands.

After descending and returning to our boat for the evening, the fauna entertainment had not finished!

John and I sat up again to watch the great spectacle which is the night sky. If you ever have the chance to get away from the lights of the industrialised world to gaze upon the raw power of the night sky, then you must.

If that experience is followed by such an intimate and empowering experience of a wild sea lion leaping up to sit up next to you like it did to me, then you would be indeed lucky and blessed!

While John and I watched the evening antics of the sea lions hunt for fish as we had the evening before, encouraged by a few beers we sat closer - sitting on the boats transom with our feet dangling it the water.

Look closely here and you can see an older male having a rest on the transom after we have vacated our seat (an after the fright of my life!!!)

While watching the torpedo like motion of seal lions after invisiable prey, I was frightened to death and thrilled to it as well when one seal lion launched itself up on to the transom right next to me!!!!

This was indeed the highlight of my time in the Galapagos. The cross section of life and landscape of such a remote and remarkable land has truly inspired me.

I will return.

Friday 30 May 2008 - Snorkelling Sullivan's Bay

This is the same day. But it was such a completely different experience it needed its own entry.

Following our walk across the alien landscape of the Sullivan's Bay lava flow we had the opportunity to go snorkeling.

Now this was the second snorkeling experience of the trip. And I was still a little annoyed that I was unable to organise a proper SCUBA dive.

I had spent holiday funds doing my SCUBA course shortly before I left Sydney in the hope that I would be able to go diving and see hammerhead sharks, whale sharks, marine iguanas grazing on submarine algae, and the great variety of marine life that these islands support.

Sadly, there was not time. Nor qualified guide.

So, a poorly fitting mask and borrowed fins would have to make do.

After the previous day's experience I figured there would be the same vast array of fish.

Within minutes and metres of the coast, while I was still adjusting my ill fitting mask - there was my first shark!! A six foot white tipped shark!

All my life I have entered the water with a fear lurking in the back of my mind. Fear that a shark would suddenly appear.

Here in the strange and unfamiliar waters of the Galapagos within minutes of entering the water, such a creature appeared within a few feet of me!!

The fear that I expected never occurred. My reaction was one of amazement and curiosity and awe. We swan after it to get a closer look!!! Ironically the shark had to swim away from us!!!

I wish I had photos!

This swim was not finished with wonders. Not only did the same familiar schools of fish dominate the environment, but suddenly we were in the company of Galapagos penguins!! Darting around us in chase of small fish, like torpedoes with a singular aim at tiny silver things darting through the water before us.

If you want to visit the zoo, do so. If you want to be in the middle of all the animals - come to Galapagos!!!

The swim ended all too soon. I was hoping for more sharks, more penguins, more sea lions, more fish!!! And I would be rewarded later.

Friday 30 May 2009 - Late Morning - Sullivan's Bay (Sante Cruz Island)

That's a long title I know. The location is right opposite Bartolome Island. It's the bay on the main land, Sant Fe. But the landscape could not be more different!

This is Sullivan's Bay. This is the land of LAVA.

Sullivan's Bay looks like its from a completely different time in a completely different galaxy, yet it's probably one of the youngest places on Earth.

These are the solidified lava flows of some of the most recent volcanic erruptions on Earth.

The last major erruption on Santiago was probably in the early 1900's. One observer aboard a sailing vessel reported that the ship approached the lava flow so closely that the pine tar used to seal the hull of the ship began to soften, and the captain had to hurry the ship away from the bay.

There are the most amazing lava flow formations!

I will have to make a completely different website dedicated to this place - every step revealed a different lava formation from a different time and lave flow. Despite the consistent black crystaline shimmer of the ground cover, the landscape was neither dead nor uninteresting. Every step was a revelation and an microcosm of speculation and analysis. That may sound silly but it was simply one of the most amazing and dynamic landscapes I have been priviledged to visit!!

There was virtually no sign of life. Yet the shapes and positions of the lava flows left no doubt that this place can MOVE and was that the Earth was ALIVE.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Friday 30 May 2008 Part One - Bartolome Island

A Very Special Place.

The entry for this day has to be split into two. Both places we visited today were so special, but one more than the other, that I have to dedicate two entries for the whole day.

We woke to a beautiful morning anchored off Bartolome Island. It reminded me of my days in the Navy, and some of the things I still miss about that time in my life - waking up surrounded by water and a quiet that only the sea brings.

Only 200 metres from us lay a beautiful equatorial island with majestic rock formations, sandy beaches and the allure of strange and exotic life, thousands of miles away from civilisation. We were living on the edge of adventure. We were about to land on an exotic planet so strange. It was completely compelling.

The first thing we did after breadfast was a quick tour via zodiac of Bartolome Island.

Behind me in the picture is the most prominent and identifiable part of Bartolome - Pinnacle Rock. Some of you may recognise it from the movie Master and Commander. This is where they filmed to scene where Russel Crowe's ship met the pirates!

It truly is a magical place and has a long history of being a refuge for 18th Century pirates. Even after coming across the islands by accident, the Spanish did not even bother to chart the islands because they were considered too hellish!

This small island located just off Sullivan Bay east of Santiago. It is a desolate island with few plants is the most visited and most photographed island in the Galapagos.

The island consists of an extinct volcano and a variety of red, orange, green, and glistening black volcanic formations. The best known of the island's features is the Tuff Cone known as Pinnacle Rock. This large black partially eroded lava formation was created when magma expelled from the volcano reached the sea. When the seawaters cooled the hot lava it caused an explosion. The exploded particles eventually fasten together forming a rock composed of thin layers. You can see many more smaller examples of this formation around the island.

As an interesting note, this prominent sight was used as a target for US airmen during WWII. When you think of all the museums and art galleries and other historical sites bombed in Europe and Great Britain during both world wars, it gives you a different perspective to think such a lonely rock thousands of miles away was affected by the same moments in human history!

Right next to Pinnacle Rock is the beach where we later snorkelled. Unfortunately the day we were there the water was a little murkey and we didn't get to see much sea life.

The island is pretty barren. It is only a small island based largely on volcanic rock so there is little vegetation.

Seasonally Bartolome is the mating and nesting site for the Green Sea Turtles. We didn't get to see any turtles, but there were fresh tracks leading to a nest (see pic below.)

Green Sea Turtles do not mate for life or form bonds with their mates. Both the males and females of the species have many partners each season. Peak mating occurs between November and January.

Females come ashore at night during high tide to lay more than 80 eggs at a time. The female may lay eggs 8 times per season. The female comes ashore and digs a pit with her flippers near the high water mark. After laying the eggs she covers them with sand before returning to the sea. The process takes 3 to 4 hours.

The temperature of the incubation determines the sex of the young turtles. Eggs incubated at 82ºF will be males and those incubated at 90ºF will become females. The eggs hatch in approximately 2 months.

Very few of the hatchlings survive their first year of life. Eggs are vulnerable to pigs and goats, as well as the natural predator the Trox Suberosus Beetle. Sea Birds prey on the young turtles making their way from their nests to the sea. Once in the water Orcas, Sharks and Crabs feed on the turtles. With the high mortality rate and disappearing nesting grounds around the world Green Sea Turtles are now an endangered species and the Galapagos breeding grounds is an important area for the preservation of these creatures. However we were lucky enough to still see one very young turtle off the stern of our boat on our last night. It was little bigger than the palm of my hand. It was an amazing sight, but I still wondered whether it would survive the night.

After this morning ride we visited the most alien place on Earth!

See the next post!!!!

Thursday 29 May 2008 - Bartolome Island

Pinnacle Rock - Master and Commander!

From Rabida we sailed to Bartolome Islands for an overnight stay.

En route we stopped at Flamingo Island - an old volcanic cone now a large lake and home to thousands of pink flamingos.

Sadly there were only a handful the evening we stopped by. The lack of rainfall had depleted the lake and most of the flamingos had sought fresh water elsewhere.

From the moving deck it was difficult to get a good photo. In the photo to the right you can clearly make out the shape of the old volcanic cone, but unfortunately you can't see into the inland lake.

We weren't the only on-lookers either - the large National Geographic vessel was also in company with us.

A little larger than our modest craft. We were all headed for the same spot - an anchorage just off Bartolome Island, made famous recently for its appearance in the film Master and Commander.
In the next post you'll recognise Pinnacle Rock which is a great geologic feature that stands out in the film.
For now a quiet night lay ahead. Well for most people.
John and I stayed up after dinner. The view of the heavens from the upper deck was just too spectacular to leave.
You could see the Southern Cross to the South - something the North Americans loved to have pointed out. And to the North you could also make out the North Star - Polaris.
The remainder of the sky was thick with that greater milky spread of stars and galactic clusters.
After everyone else went to bed, John and I were attracted to a splashing off the stern of the boat. Here, one of the ships lights had been left on. It flooded the water off the stern. In and around it half a dozen sea lions chased the fish that the light attracted. It was an amazing show of water acrobatics!
In amongst the playful sea lions was a tiny sea turtle, no bigger than the palm of my hand, also swimming around in the light. Wow.
Once again, the life in Galapagos just overwhelmed us.
Tomorrow we'd visit one of my favourite sites in the whole of the islands - but it would have nothing to do with wild life!

Climbing in the snow

Climbing Mt Cotopaxi.

If you look back to an earlier post you can read all about Mt Cotopaxi. It's an equatorial volcano, still active and spatially the closest point on the Earth to the Sun.

We were heading for the caldera, but to be honest we probably needed a much longer day. What we also needed was much better weather.

Our guide humoured us and took us to the second base camp. By that time the weather was closing in and it would have been madness to continue.

See the weather we were hiking in!

So, if the last post worked my video uploads are starting to work.

This was our room in Santiago. It was a great little hotel, sadly on a very busy road, but on the upside was close to some great restaurants.

See ya next time.