How this Blog works

Thank you for visiting my blog, I really appreciate your ongoing interest and support.

- For regular updates related to my travels, guiding work, film and book events or you are simply wondering where the heck I am at the moment, please visit: Travel/Guiding/Adventure blog.


-For South Georgia Expedition and Albatross updates as well as environmental articles of interest, please check out: Oceanmaid Ventures blog site )the site that you are currently on.

Cheers and thanks for your interest. Hayley

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Gorgeous Galapagos

I eagerly plunged into the welcoming luke-warm Pacific Sea, fully clad in snorkel gear, smothered in sunscreen and as keen as custard to explore the ocean secrets below. I led my buddy through narrow reef corridors attempting to get amongst the action of frenzy feeding barnacles, translucent teeny fish gorging on the algae smothered rocks and to simply be amid the surge of ocean current that was the cause of this pelagic buffet. A broad expansive body caught my eye and as I curiously turned to investigate the treasure was soon revealed - a Sea Turtle! I gestured excitedly to Jean-Anne, pointing frantically at my findings and beckoning her to follow. Away we went, pacing ourselves with this steady swimming angel, allowing the current to guide us. Every stroke the creature made, although seeming lethargic, was strong. It seemed as though it was completely mindful of every motion it made as well as deliberate in the direction of travel. The backdrop to this divine animal was cobalt blue, deep and dense and everlasting. The turtle soon slowed then poised before us, and with elegant grace it turned to face Jean-anne and I, hesitating a mere 6 feet away. Two species, one born of water, the other of land, locked eyes for just a moment and although my snorkel was clearly out of the water, I held my breath in wonder and with hope not to disturb this intermit moment. The turtle was soon on its way, however this time taking a prominent turn to the right. As it moved methodically through the spacious ocean kingdom we meandered behind it until we realized we could not go where it was going. Deeper and deeper it descended into the realm of the aquatic darkness. We watched this ancient one gradually fade, smaller and smaller it appeared as it paddled towards the depths of the sea where we could not follow. The Galapagos is a collection of uniquely shaped volcanic islands, 13 of them a fair size and a bundle of smaller islets covering approximately 50,000sq miles. This active archipelago sits 690miles off the Ecuadorian mainland and within the heart of the islands lies the official hemisphere boarder, the equator. The charm and mystique of this well known treasure was first introduced to us by Charles Darwin who was mesmerized with his evolutionary findings and it simply has been oozing with curious history of the animal and human kind ever since. What brings attention to this tropical paradise is the crazy critters who dwell here, and for some this is their only home. The islands are stacked with a variety of endemic animals that have only ever lived here. I was fortunate to land a 10 day guiding job where I was to lead a group of adventurous tourists to explore these fascinating islands, and guided by a local Galapagin  A 3 hour plane ride descending from Quito which stands at 9350 feet put us on the tarmac at sea level and in the welcoming Galapagos heat we already had lizards of a colorful kind scurrying at our feet. A ten minute bus ride later, we glanced across the harbor towards our fine looking home-away-from-home, our mother ship the ‘Reina Silvia’. The gang of strong smelling locals, whom had taken up every seat available in the waiting shelter, seemed completely oblivious to our arrival. The locals in these parts are slumberous, snoozing sea lions and a bundle of Iguanas gazing up towards the sun. We were absolutely, without a doubt ultimately here! A very familiar style vessel (5 meter zodiac with a 25 Hrp outboard) transported us to the boat, where a crew of grinning Ecuadorians warmly greeted us. Soon the anchor was up and we were already bound for our first of what would be many excursions amongst these treasure laden islands. There is a cliché often used in prose relating to the lack of words the English language seems to have when one tries to describe incredible sights, scenes and experiences. However the Galapagos rings true to this phrase more than ever, because there is simply not enough words to describe the creatures who dwell here. It is as though a child’s imagination was allowed to run wild, creating homemade creatures, deformed animals and mini monsters. They are so unusual, completely unique and unlike any other creatures on the planet; they simply could be designed from an untamed, adventurous mind. Wasn’t it the turtle that inspired and influenced Steven Spielberg’s creation of E.T? Once on shore amid the dry desert plains, Blue and Red Footed Boobies strutted there wing-like feet about the place in attempt to find a mate. Whistles and guttural chords were amplified up and out reaching the potential partners that soared gracefully in the skies above. The awkward male Frigate bird, unable to hide its horny disposition, perched on a leafless tree, involuntarily expanding its scarlet red gullet sack. Like a frog with a fully extended throat; the Frigate males endure some weeks at a time, this additional balloon sized growth. Giant leather-like lizards (Marine Iguanas) gather in multitudes like wallowing Elephant seals, liking close body contact as they slumber on top of one another in the attempt at reaching closer to the sun. Their thorny backbone bodies held erect by their stubby front legs stand poised in the exact same position staring directly at the sun. It is as though they are worshipping the bright light in the sky or perhaps taking in the suns radiation directly from their very own eyes. Sea lions completely fearless of human intruders, like homeless drunks lay sprawled along our walkways, seldom budging as we navigate around their lazy bodies. And amongst all these creatures great and small, scattered about the rocks are the delightfully colored Sally Litefoot, mediocre sized crab soaked in a delicious red coat, which dots the terrain for miles like a poker dotted blanket. It is only here amongst these islands that one can encounter the only Penguin that officially resides in the Northern hemisphere; all other 16 species live in the depths of the south. And it is also here that the flightless Cormorant dwells, a weird looking bird that I usually relate to as the fully fledged and flying kind. But no, not here, this stubby short winged wonder can not lift off and take to the sky but boy can it fly underwater. We witnessed a rather grotesque but successful hunt as a Cormorant caught and swallowed whole a large spiny Scorpion fish. We literally watched the neck of the cormorant bulge out like an enormous awkward growth, the lump gradually descending down its gullet and into the belly of this now happy bird. Ouch! A similar scene was observed with a Great Blue Heron as it gulped down a Gecko. We could see the shape of this frantic lizard scrambling for its life within the dark tunnel of death being the Herons neck. After busy days and festive nights I slept like an exhausted child outside on the outer stern deck of the vessel. We were often underway, transiting from one island to another during the star lit nights. I was deliriously delighted when I recognized a constellation from my far away home. The Southern Cross hung over me, its starry arms embracing me like a mother holding a child. What a fabulous sleep I had with the scent of sea in the air and a constant ocean breeze caressing my face. The final day of excursioning struck me like a chord deep within my heart. For starters the entrance to our landing site consisted of a left hand surf break creating a classic obstacle we had to maneuver around in the zodiac. Sea lions utilized the perfect waves and rode them like champs frolicking in their liquid glory. We landed safely and wandered in the intertidal zone passing nesting Boobies and basking Iguanas. Moving inland and amongst the sparse shrubbery (be still my beating heart) we came upon two flirtatiously large and lanky birds. They were in the middle of an extremely important performance, both playing a part of performer and audience. Staunch and sexy tango moves were delicately displayed as they raised their paddle sized feet holding them in a yoga pose. Clap clap clap went their beaks as they snapped them together again and again creating this hollow, haunting drum rhythm. A beautiful arch was carved perfectly by their elegant heads and together they danced in harmony. We were observing the endemic specie of Albatross that only nests on Espanola Island. There are approximately 1200 nesting pairs of Waved Albatross but numbers are dwindling steadily due to the increase in the long line fishing industry. Adults and newly fledged chicks plummet to their deaths immediately after foraging on the baited hooks. When a population is small and limited to one area and one island, they are vulnerable, and the potential for them to eventually become extinct is there. So I had an emotional connection to this particular visit and to this specific bird. In South Georgia we are unable to have such a close encounter so I was completely overwhelmed by my proximity to these birds, especially when they indulged in courtship of a very special kind. The end of this day came too quickly and soon we were gathered around the dining area passing our thank yous to the crew and local guide who showed us the best the Galapagos had to offer, with grace, hard work and respect for their wilderness home. Most guests had gone to bed early this night but I was up with a few others, taking in the last of the Southern starlit sky. A crew member came skipping along the passage way to announce there was a dolphin riding our bow. Sure enough we rushed to the front and below us, completely lit up by bioluminescence was a dolphin frolicking in our bow wake. We could not actually see its body in flesh but it was lined with that magical glow of micro-organisms releasing the suns energy they had been absorbing all day. In all my days on boats and around marine mammals I have never seen such a spectacular phosphorescent sight. Ahh… can this trip offer any more delights? Oh but of course! In the morning as we loaded the zodiac with luggage and people, we were soon joined by a dolphin-sized shark who seemed intent on accompanying us towards the shore. It seems that the Gorgeous Galapagos Islands has a tendency to throw at us, all its spontaneous glory in a matter of 7 dreamy days. With the memories this journey has instilled in me, the classic encounters, the scenes still churning in my mind, I realize how like a sponge we all were, soaking up unforgettable moments, leaving us quenching for more. For me this trip felt like I had lived an entire life-time in that one week and I shall be grateful and cherish every memory forever.

No comments:

Search This Blog