Day 5: Isabela and Fernandina Islands
This is part of a series about our vacation to the Galápagos Islands. To see the first article in the series, click here.
August 10, 2010
Overnight, we had a rather long excursion to the north end of Isabela island, the largest of the Galapagos group. This took us north of the equator for the first trip. I left my GPS turned on and awoke in the night a couple of times to check our position, the first time awakening about 10′ south of the equator and the second time about 5′ north. I had wondered whether we would get anywhere near the 0° 91° W confluence point, but it turns out we passed about 10 miles west of there. Besides that, it was dark which made it difficult to document the confluence properly, as a previous night-time visit to that point revealed.
We were urged to be on the lookout for sea activity in the morning, and sure enough, we encountered a pod of the inappropriately-named common dolphins. Smaller than the bottlenose dolphins we saw yesterday, they are actually quite uncommon. The ship followed the dolphins for a while, and did about three full turns in the process.
After breakfast we crossed the equator a second time and this time it was commemorated by a small ceremony at the swimming pool for the kids. Some of the crew dressed as pirates, many kids jumped into the swimming pool, and the kids were presented with Equator-crossing certificates signed by the Captain.
We anchored off Punta Vicente Roca on the northwest side of Isabela and everyone took Zodiac boat tours of the coast. There was a lot to see, including fur seals which are technically sea lions but look different from the common ones; these have a thicker coat and look like small brown bears, only with flippers, as they walk on the rocks. There were also a few turtles and sunfish, and glimpses of a couple of Galápagos penguins. There was an opportunity to go snorkeling later in the morning, but we opted to stay on the ship instead and were told that the water was a little murky.
While we were looking at the scenery, one of the endemic flightless cormorants swam by our Zodiac boat. It seemed to be looking for nesting material, because it kept tugging at some of the ropes on the side of the boat, apparently hoping to pull something free. It was fun to watch, and of course gave us a great look at this unusual bird that has evolved to have only vestiges of wings that are not useful for flight.
Over lunch, the ship moved to Fernandina Island, a geologically recent island just west of Isabela. The area where we walked was mostly lava that had been deposited by an eruption of the volcano in the 1960s, and was very reminiscent of the recent lava flows near the Kilauea volcano on the big island of Hawaii.
Soon after our arrival on Fernandina, someone spotted a small Galápagos snake. They are apparently constrictors (kill their food by squeezing), but this snake’s food must have been very small indeed, as the snake was only a foot or two long and about the diameter of a crayon. In an effort to get a better picture of the snake, I took a step without looking where I was going, and stepped into a crevasse. Fortunately I stepped cleanly into the crevasse, and only scratched my leg rather than doing more serious damage. Looking where you step is important in Galápagos because you might step on something living, and this was a good reminder to me.
The rest of our tour on Fernandina showed mostly what were now familiar creatures: marine iguanas, sea lions, and the very colorful crabs. One thing I hadn’t noticed before was the iguanas “spitting” salt water. This is done to such an extent that small creatures, such as a lava lizard we saw, sometimes have a distinct whitish cast from the dried salt.
Today is Kenna’s birthday, and since the information form we filled out for the cruise included information on birth dates, the dining room staff prepared a cake and small celebration for those seated at our table. I was able to arrange to have some friends we had met on the trip join us at our table, and it was a very nice way to celebrate the occasion. It was a special movie night for the kids, but Celeste came and joined us for the cake and celebration.
For more information on our day at Isabela and Fernandina Islands, you can also read the Daily Expedition Report from the Lindblad Expeditions website.