We were on Isabela a little after 7 this morning, landing at Urbina Bay, at the base of Alcedo Volcano. About 100 yards from where we dropped our towels and gear, we saw our first Giant Tortoise. It was a young one, only about 30 years old according to Angelika. We saw about 15 tortoises along the trail, of all ages and sizes. The shell plates have rings, much like trees, which help to determine age. Angelika, however, estimates by size.
Soon, we began seeing land iguanas which are bigger than their marine cousins, and are a golden orange color with longer snouts. The first two we encountered were male with a female behind, sticking out of a burrow.
The path was along the area of the island that experienced a tectonic uplift in 1954. We saw evidence of this along the trail by the presence of barnacles and tubeworms in abundance on the rocks. There was also an area with a great deal of coral, including a huge brain coral which was being eroded and broken over time.
There were mockingbirds and finches flitting around and lots of wasps. Fortunately no one was stung, but I was having flashbacks of the dry forest in Costa Rica when I was stung 35 times!
Today was the first day that the heat was a problem, mostly because we had gone into the interior where the ocean breezes didn't reach. We had to climb over various sections of aa lava as we made our way back to the beach. One section required using our hands to maneuver over the maze of rocks.
Penguins, blue-footed boobies, a great blue heron and a night heron were at the beach as we swam and cooled off. One penguin swam around us over and over as if checking us out but was actually looking for food. We watched a pelican dive for food over and over ... very efficient! The dive bombing boobies put on a show, often in tandem and in perfect synchronicity.
Our afternoon outing was an hour and a half dinghy ride at Elizabeth Bay which is a series of lava islands colonized by red and white mangroves. As we approached, Santiago and Fernando turned off the motors and paddles among the islands on calm water, reminiscent of the canals in Costa Rica. We watched turtles and penguins swim, sea lions lounging on horizontal mangrove trunks, pelicans, and a mangrove heron. One pair of penguins return to the same spot to nest every year. It was slow and gentle, magical and unexpected.
The mangroves are amazing organisms, able to survive in salt water, sending shoots down across and around, creating a thick tangle of impressive and impenetrable thickets. Red mangroves have long cylindrical seeds with the ability to germinate while still attached to the parent tree. When they separate from the parent, they drop and float vertically until they find purchase on a crack in the rock and start growing. We saw many such shoots. White mangroves are also viviparous. Like black mangroves, they produce above ground root extensions which help them to breathe.
As we began to head back to the boat, it began to rain lightly, the only rain of the trip. The sky was gray and the waves lively. We were all chilled and once back on the boat changed into long pants and sweaters. Who would have predicted we'd be cold while visiting the equator!
We were able to view the sunset without boats or islands in the way for the first time. How quickly the sun sets here!
We had a rough passage around the bottom of Isabela this evening. Two currents ... the Humboldt and the Cromwell ... come together. More than half of the passengers were seasick, including me! The boat rocked and rolled for several hours and the waves slammed into the hull until we finally anchored after midnight.
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(Music: On the Shore by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons "Attribution 3.0" http://creativecommons.org/ licenses/by/3.0/