Frontiers Note: Lara MacDonald is from the Frontiers UK office. She shares her spectacular experience during a recent trip to the Galápagos Islands. This is part two in the series.
We awoke at 6:00 a.m., to the sound of our expedition leader, Cindy’s cheerful voice over the loudspeaker, welcoming us to a beautiful morning and alerting us to the fact that Galápagos sharks were swimming alongside the ship!
I joined a small group on the sky deck for an early morning stretch class with Hilda, the wellness specialist on board. It was a beautiful way to start the day with frigate birds flying overhead and the sun rising just after 6:00 a.m. The sea was as flat as a mill pond.
Breakfast was served between 6:30-7:30 a.m. In addition to the classic breakfast foods (fruit, yogurt, cereals, cheese, hams, egg station etc.) there were “huevos rancheros”, fried eggs served on hot corn tortillas and smothered in cooked tomato salsa. So yummy!
A deep blue sky and sea welcomed us as we headed out in zodiacs to land (this time a ‘dry’ landing) on North Seymour’s rocky stretch of coastline where sea lions and pups were playing, sleeping and romping beside marine iguanas. It was already extremely hot as we set off on a long loop (1.2 miles) around this tiny island but the rewards were great. We encountered an amazing plethora of wildlife: mammals, reptiles and birds. For those that didn’t want to do the complete loop hike, there was the option of doing a short loop followed by Zodiac ride along the coast to search for wildlife (terrestrial and marine).
A land iguana.
Our fellow passengers photographing a blue footed booby.
Henrietta and Lara posing with their new friend, a blue footed booby.
Male frigate bird with inflated pouch to attract mate.
North Seymour hosts large populations of swallow-tailed gulls, blue-footed boobies and frigate birds. We were lucky to observe blue footed boobies and frigate birds courting: the male blue-footed boobie trying to persuade the female that his feet really are the bluest whilst the male frigate bird, easy to identify by the red pouch hanging from his neck, was inflating his pouch to attract a mate. There were some swallow-tailed gulls incubating their eggs right in the middle of the trail and there were huge nesting colonies of magnificent frigate birds some of whom were rearing chicks. We also saw our first land iguana. These reptiles aren’t native to this island: we were told that in the 1930’s some land iguanas had been moved from Baltra Island to North Seymour in order to provide better conditions for their survival, as introduced goats were destroying the habitat on Baltra and contributing to their declining population.
When back aboard the ship we were able to recover from the heat and take advantage of the complimentary back and shoulder massage being offered by Hilda.
It was then time to join Cindy in the lounge for a briefing on the water activities on offer during the course of the week: snorkeling, glass bottom boat trips, paddle boarding and kayaking.
We were all required to sign snorkeling release forms before being kitted out with snorkeling gear (mask, snorkel, fins and buoyancy aids if required) and wetsuits. Each passenger was given a mesh snorkel bag (clearly labelled with cabin number) to keep their kit in which when not in use is hung together with wet suit on the railings in the Expedition Gear area of the Lounge Deck (also same level as our cabin). The ship provides “shorty” wetsuits in a range of adult sizes (smaller children should bring their own to be sure of one that fits properly). Once you find one that fits, you keep it for the week (all are numbered on the leg).
Celso Montalvo, one of the six naturalist guides on our voyage and the onboard National Geographic photo instructor, was running an iPhone photography clinic in the lounge in which he gave us some great tips on how we could significantly improve our iPhone photos making the most of the wonderful photographic opportunities that would present themselves during our voyage. He talked about composition, shooting from a low angle, using symmetry and showing depth in photos, panoramas, time lapses and slow motion video.
Our naturalist guide and onboard National Geographic photo instructor, Celso Montalvo.
During lunch the anchor was weighed and whilst sailing west towards Rabida Island we were treated to a spectacular dolphin display…a large pod swam alongside the ship before bow riding.
By midafternoon we’d arrived at Rabida Island. This was our first opportunity to snorkel and I was very excited about it. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never snorkeled before; the naturalist guides offered lessons from the beach for those who were either learning for the first time or who, like Henrietta, had not snorkelled in a long time. Those that didn’t want to snorkel went out on the ship’s glass bottom zodiac. I joined a group of deep water snorkelers led by the ship’s underwater specialist, Jason Heilmann. Once we reached the rocky wall near the point where we were going to snorkel the driver cut the engine and we took off our life jackets, put on our flippers and squirted a few drops of Johnson and Johnson baby oil into our masks to stop them from fogging up. We were ready to jump in on Jason’s signal. Lindblad insists on a “buddy” system for everyone snorkeling so that if you’re in trouble, your buddy can call for help by raising an arm.
Lara and her “buddy” snorkelling.
Whilst snorkeling the zodiac driver is always on the watch for your safety. Nothing can prepare you for the variety and abundance of marine life you will see here. Within minutes someone spots a well camouflaged stone scorpionfish and calls us over to share in the sighting. We swim through large aggregations of mixed fish, whilst spotting panamic sea cushions, parrot fish and brightly coloured king angelfish, chocolate chip seastars, Galapagos conch, large schools of black striped salemas and razor surgeonfish, sea lions, a marbled ray feeding on the ocean floor, white tipped reef shark, a spotted eagle ray, garden eels, a hawksbill turtle (encountered only occasionally as they aren’t known to nest in the Galápagos)…and so the list goes on….and all in our first hour snorkelling on Rabida. All snorkellers returned to the ship after the water activities happy and greeted with some welcome water and fresh juice.
Our visit to Rabida Island began with a wet landing on a dark red volcanic sandy beach. Henrietta joined a group walking inland up to a point with wonderful views. I chose to join Celso who was leading a short walk with emphasis on photography. Our model was a sea lion nursing her pup in the shade of a cave nearby – light conditions weren’t great (dark sea lion on maroon coloured beach with little daylight) but with a few simple tricks from Celso we managed to get some reasonable shots.
We were all back aboard by 6:00 p.m. to enjoy the view from the sky deck of the sun dipping behind the horizon, creating a beautiful array of colours through the sky. Time for a quick shower before joining everyone in the lounge for cocktails and our first recap session and a briefing about the next day’s activities.
I enjoyed a delicious dinner of poached beets, cherry tomatoes, cheese and crispy quinoa followed by ricotta gnocchi, mashed pumpkin and parmesan cheese. Desert was panna cotta with poached pears. Most dinners are plated with a choice of three main courses (meat, fish or vegetarian) which you pre-select in the morning.
During dinner the anchor was weighed and we began sailing the long distance to the westernmost island of Fernandina. During the course of the night we would sail over the equator twice!
The end of our first full day and already we were experiencing the incredible diversity of this archipelago. I went to sleep excited for tomorrow’s adventures.
Video courtesy of Lindblad Expeditions.