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 seven in the series.
Our last full day in the Galápagos was spent enjoying a variety of activities on San Cristobal, the easternmost island of the archipelago. The island is comprised of three or four fused volcanoes, all extinct. It is home to the oldest permanent settlement of the islands and is the island where Darwin first went ashore in 1835.
I was up before sunrise so once again joined Hilda for a long stretching session on the sky deck before breakfast at 7:00 a.m.
At 7:45 a.m. we set off in zodiacs to explore Punta Pitt. We disembarked onto the small beach. A steep gully led up the cliff to a breeding ground for all three varieties of Boobies: red-footed, blue-footed and nazca. It’s the only place apparently in the Galápagos where you can see all three species nesting together. Small lava lizards and finches are found here too. Those who made the effort to hike to the top were rewarded with wonderful views and the trail allowed us a closer look at the hardy vegetation that manages to thrive in this volcanic wasteland. From saltbush and spiny shrubs next to the beach the trail leads up to an area of Palo Santo trees, big yellow-green shrubs, tiny cacti and carpets of red vesuvius (a succulent plant found only in the dry season). The heat quickly reached suffocating temperatures and my water bottle was almost depleted so I was glad to get back down to the beach to enjoy a refreshing swim.
My swim was all too brief. I had signed up for the last paddle boarding activity – something I was rather apprehensive about as the water was quite choppy today. A Zodiac collected a group of us from the beach and drove us to a calmer part of the coast where we were reminded how to get onto the paddle boards and how to hold the paddles, etc. We were advised to kneel to start with but it wasn’t long before we were all standing upright on the boards. Great excitement when two sea lions started playing right in front of me – somehow I still managed to stay upright on the board (just)!
During lunch we sailed in a south-westerly direction towards our last visitor site on San Cristobal: Cerro Brujo. The primary attraction of this site is the soft sandy beach of white organic sand where we were able to enjoy strolls on our own among sea lions and marine iguanas with frigate birds flying overhead. This site is also home to some endemic animal species unique to San Cristobal, such as the chatham mocking bird and the chatham lava lizard. Zodiacs were available throughout the afternoon to ferry people to and from the beach. As this was our last swimming opportunity I was keen to delay my return to the ship as long as possible.
Lara with Naturalist guides Gaby and Celso.
Once back on board we travelled to our final anchorage in the infamous Wreck Bay. We were invited to join the captain, hotel manager, expedition leader and naturalist guides on the sky deck for champagne. As the sun set we circumnavigated Kicker Rock or León Dormido (named for its characteristic shape of a sleeping lion) with its vertical tuff cone, rising almost 148 meters straight up out of the ocean. Tuff cones, we were told are created when boiling lava encounters a very cold ocean, resulting in an explosion. I felt quite emotional as we toasted our naturalist guides and reminisced about the wonderful week we had spent exploring Darwin’s “Enchanted Isles”.
Not for long though, as we were invited to gather in the lounge where we were offered pisco sours whilst watching the premier viewing of the slideshow compiled from guests’ photos of the week. The farewell dinner was served in the dining room. We had come to the end of a fabulously fun and inspiring week.