The Galapagos Islands - June, 2002

See Maps of the Galapagos and Route of the Millennium.

web page started: November 5, 2002

I am still constructing this Chapter so keep coming back.


Chapter 1: Introduction, The Millenium, Bartholeme, Urbina Bay, and Tagus Cove.
Chapter 2: Fernandina, Vicente Rock, Santiago, and Snorkeling at Rabida.
Chapter 3: Giant Tortoises on Santa Cruz.
Chapter 4: Espanola and San Cristobal.
Chapter 5: Santa Fe and Isle aza Sur.

Santa Fe

November 18, 2002

After our early morning departure from San Cristobal we landed on the sandy beach of Santa Fe island. This Island is unique in shape and geography because it is not of volcanic origin. It was formed as a result of an uplift that resulted from tectonic activity.
Santa Fe
The turquoise cove where we landed, and later went snorkeling, is protected by a peninsula and then a row of rock formations that form small islands.

This was a "wet" landing on a beautiful sandy beach crowded with sea lions. Those explorers who wanted to wear shoes as we hiked up the hill into the "forest" waded ashore from the dinghy in their bare feet and then dusted off the sand before putting their shoes on. By now, landing on a beach filled with sea lions had become common. Off shore there was a large bull sea lion swimming to protect his harem and keep away sharks and other males which threatened his territory. From time to time he would breach out of the water and give a loud bark to remind everyone he was there. We saw several sea lions lying on the beach which had wounds on their backs which were the result of shark attacks. Roberto assured us that the sea lion would recover, the wounds would heal although there would be scars.
changing after wet landing

November 19, 2002

On Santa Fe there is a large forest of Opuntia cactus trees. They are the largest of their type in the islands. When they are small, and thus most vulnerable to being eating by iguana and tortoises, the main stalk, or trunk, has very long and sharp pointy needles. As they grow taller the trunk becomes thicker and develops bark like a tree which the reptiles can not, or do not want, to eat. Slowly the unnecessary needles drop away. By this time the cacti paddles are high enough to be safe from being eaten, unless, of course, the tortoise has a shell which curves upwards and a long neck so he can reach higher. (Is everything I told you starting to come together now?)
Opuntia Cactus tree with iguana
When it rains, which isn't very often the paddles become gorged with water and then bend down to the ground so the iguana, (see the one at the trunk of the tree) can get to them. Oh, nature, how interesting.

When we left the sea lion beach, and headed up the narrow path to the peak of the precipice where the Opuntia forest is located, Roberto told us to be on the lookout for the Santa Fe species of land iguana. He tells us, "the most I have ever seen is 8, lets see if we can beat that record." Well, there's nothing like a challenge to an American - we looked under ever log, rock, bush, nook and cranny as we walked up the trail. Put us on a hunt and our primeval instincts go to work.
Santa Fe land iguana
The Santa Fe species of land iguana are brighter yellow and have uncommonly large spikes on their spine. I don't think we broke the record but I know we matched it. We crossed through the picturesque forest of Prickly Opuntia Cactus trees and returned to the beach crowded with sea lions.

November 20, 2002

Counting sea lions
When we returned to the beach to await our leaky dinghy to pick us up Fran decided to count the number of sea lions on the beach. There were two sandy beaches filled with lions. She knew the task was undaunting so she decided to count only half of the lions on one beach. She counted 50. Using her math skills she concluded that there were more than 200 sea lions laying out in the sun soaking up the warm rays. (I added this last warming comforting thought since most of us are heading into a long cold winter.)

It is customary for us to take a photograph of Fran and me doing something which depicts an event in our lives for that year which we can use on our Christmas card. A beach full of sea lions might be just the thing. I took this picture of Fran to frame the picture. I asked Fran to get a little closer to the bull lion and then I handed the camera to someone else while I got into the scene. As soon as Fran made the step closer the sea lion started barking and racing toward her - probably thinking she was a threat to his harem. Fran turned and ran away as fast as she could with the sea lion not far behind. Those people standing on the beach with us were laughing so hard that no one got her picture - what a photo opportunity missed. I don't suppose I need to tell you that this scene will not be on our Christmas card.
Fran with sea lion

Mermaid in blue-footed booby shoes
As you can see from the map of Santa Fe the cove we anchor in is protected by several rocky islands on the north side. After our long hike in the hot sun we returned to the Millennium and were treated to our last cooling swim. We put on our "blue-footed booby" shoes (so we would look like the native swimmers) and swam over to the islands on the north side of the bay.

Once again we were treated to another exhibition of sea lion swimming skills. The young sea lion pups once again thrilled us with their antics of swimming at us very fast and then veering off at the last minute just before a collision. Trying to get a photograph of this event with an underwater flash point-and-shoot camera says a lot about my technical skills - sometimes I may be a little too aggressive. Maybe, but I got some great photographs which I share with the world.
playful sea lion pup

November 21, 2002

Isla Plaza Sur

A tear comes to my eye as I start to send this e-mail - it reminds me that our fabulous trip to the Galapagos is coming to an end. Our last full day on the Islands ended at Plaza Sur which is home to Opuntia Cactuses and Sesuvium plants.
Map of Plaza Sur

Plaza Sur Cove
Plaza sur is a very small island set in the beautiful blue ocean. It is a haven for wildlife and Plaza Norte, which we did not visit - maybe next time, is a nesting grounds for the famed frigate bird. With a fresh dusting of white snow on the ground in Minneapolis this scene is even more inviting.

This is the point on North Sur where the Frigate birds breed. Note the birds circling in the wind currents above the island.
Frigate bird breeding grounds on Plaza Norte

male & female Frigate bird
With my new 35mm Cannon EOS ELAN7 SLR, which has a very fast automatic focus, and a 300mm zoom lens I was able to capture this scene of a male and female frigate bird. Remember, the male has a red chest which he fills with air during the breeding season in order to attract a mate. The female has a yellowish/white chest. It would not be uncommon for the frigate bird to fly into the draft of the Millennium as it sailed between islands and ride the wind current above us caused by the moving boat.

November 22, 2002

The guide book warns that swimming at Plaza Sur is not encouraged because the macho or bull sea lions are particularly aggressive. Here you see our dinghy filled with passengers making their way to shore from the Millennium.
bachelor colony of sea lions
Plaza Sur has one area that is of particular interest - the bachelor sea lion beach or convalescent home. Here, all the beaten and battered male sea lions who have been unsuccessful in finding a lady sea lion come to rest and recuperate from their battles before heading out on another hunt. They probably talk about their efforts to find a mate. Dr. Roberto Doolittle, says he overheard one of them talking about being on the beach on Isle Santa Fe earlier that day when he saw this really cute two legged female. He talked about how he called out to her and ran as fast as he could to cuddle up but she turned and ran and all the two legged creatures just laughed at him. He was so embarrassed that he left the island in shame. Poor sea lion, having been humiliated and rejected, is probably emotionally damaged for life.

Plaza Sur is quite a barren island and one unique characteristic is the unusual vegetation made up of Opuntia Cactuses and Sesuvium plants. The Opuntia trees grow tall to protect their paddles and flowers from the land iguanas that feed upon them.
Fran with Opuntia cactus

The brightly colored greenish- yellow iguana lies under the cactus trees, barely moving, waiting for a juicy pad of the prickly pear cactus to fall and provide a meal. There are iguana nests all over the island. Since there are no predators the iguana need not hide its nest under a rock. Once again we are reminded that the color of the iguana is obtained from color of the food it eats. Here the food includes the yellow flowers from the cactus.

Here is a photo that is really too good to not pass on - because it has me in it - which gives you an idea of how big the Opuntia cactus trees get. As you may know, I am not a tiny person. Look at how big the plant is behind me. We continued our uphill climb to the cliffs overlooking the ocean.
Bob cloaked by Opuntia cactus

Vegetation is limited on Plaza Sur (South Plaza) and the main plants of interest are the large Opuntia Cactuses and the Sesuvium plants. In this photo you can see the low growing red and yellow Sesuvium. It is a succulent plant which stores water in its leaves and it forms a reddish carpet that spreads over and adds color to the otherwise gray rocks.
Opuntia Cactus and Sesuvium plants
On this Opuntia tree you can see the very sharp needles which protect the plant from being eaten when it is young. After it grows tall the needles fall off and are replaced by a hard tree-like bark. In the distance you can see the Millennium on the right and a scuba diving boat on the left. The captain on the dive boat was concerned because he had lost two divers and there was a fear that they had been washed out to sea by the strong current. The water here is cold so the divers need to wear wet suits to preserve body heat. Before we left the divers were located and all was well.

We are now getting ready to leave the last island and head toward Baltra where we will spend the night in the channel before disembarking for the airport and an early morning flight. My story is not over but I think it has been well told well. As you have have probably guessed, I would return to the Galapagos in a New York minute.

November 25, 2002

After our tour of Plaza Sur we returned to the Millennium and prepared for our traditional farewell dinner. It is a tradition with Overseas Adventure Travels and Grand Circle Tours to have a farewell dinner before we depart. In this case it is the last night we will all be together. We had met two weeks earlier in Lima, Peru, studied the Inca empire in Cuzco, Sacsayhuaman, the Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu, and now we are about to separate.
Tomorrow we will disembark at Baltra and fly to Quayaquil. In Quayaquil some of us will travel on to Quito, Ecuador for the extended trip into the Ecuadorian Highlands. The rest of the group will stay one last day for a tour of Quayaquil and then fly home to the United States.

Marie, our poet laureate, said it best:

Last night aboard, we'd celebrate;
This whole experience first rate.
We thanked the crew, we tipped a glass;
Our final dinner was first class...
Lobster, shrimp, and all the rest.
Our chef even outdid his best.

Before dinner we were once again introduced to the crew who are now dressed in their best white uniforms. Wee raised our glasses in a salute to the the people who so graciously shared their world with us. Here Fran is seen with Roberto, our Naturalist, and next to him is the wonderful accommodating,and always smiling, dinning room steward, and to her left is the ship's Captain.
Fran with Millennium crew

Millennium crew
From left to right: The assistant cook, the Chef, the assistant mechanic, and the head mechanic. All wonderful people who provided us with an experience we will never forget.

The Galapagos Explorers
Evelyn, Pat, Herb, June, Fran,
Big Bob, Two Bob, Margaret Ann,
Kelly, Harold, Karen, Lew, Joni,
Maggie, lastly -the writer- me.
Love this group like family,
enjoyed our camaraderie,
Always open, always caring,
Through these special days we're sharing.
Though I always hate good-byes,
That day must come, I realize.
Yet with photos, poetry,
I keep them always close to me.
I weave a special tapestry
With threads of our camaraderie.
And even though we're far apart,
I pull it out and warm my heart.
Memories -- my priceless treasure --
They make me wealthy beyond measure.
And if the fates ever allow,
We'll meet again somewhere, somehow.

"Hey, Ms Sea Turtle, where you going?" the excited Overseas Adventure Traveler asked.

"I've laid my eggs in the warm sands of the Galapagos and now I'm headed for Peru to learn more about your travels through the ancient Inca Empire in Lima, Cuzco, the Sacred Valley, Sacsayhuaman, and Machu Picchu. Come along if you wish." said she.

I grabbed my blue-footed booties and followed her into the sea.

Return to Chapter 1: Introduction, The Millennium, Bartholeme, Urbina Bay, and Tagus Cove.
Return to Chapter 2: Fernandina, Vicente Rock, Santiago, and Snorkeling at Rabida.
Return to Chapter 3: Giant Tortoises on Santa Cruz.
Return to Chapter 4: Espanola and San Cristobal.

Remember, you can also follow my story of Why Women Wear Hats in the Market in Peru.

If you have any questions about what you are seeing, or want some further information, feel free to send me a note.

If you are looking for a good tour book I recommend Ecuador & Galapagos published by Insight Guides. Although it covers a lot of Ecuador it has the greatest explaination and photographs of the Galapagos Islands. I bought my copy at Barnes and Nobel Bookseller after I returned.

Have a good day, keep coming back and watch this story develop.

Since October 19, 2002, you are visitor: