Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Galapagos Islands — like nowhere else

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How did I get this crisp brown pelican's portrait? I was close. I mean  C L O S E.  Perhaps four feet away, crouched in the sand at eye level with my calm and curious subject.
In the Galapagos Islands the wildlife is habituated to people, as if humans are a natural part of their desert island world. To keep it that way, the Galapagos Islands National Park has issued 14 strictly enforced tourist rules including one that says don't get too close. Others include no feeding the wildlife, don't stray beyond the trails or marked areas, and always be be accompanied by a guide.

I had unwittingly broken the no-closer-than-six-feet from wildlife rule.

Later that day, while snorkeling, I shattered this rule again as I bobbed up to clear my mask and was shocked to find myself nose to beak with a floating pelican. They're big! The bird was unruffled. It didn't fly off or make any move to escape my unexpected and immediate presence.

At that point, the pelican needed to observe rules not to scare the crap out of tourists!

Actually, I was thrilled. I think I had the biggest smile within a 50-mile radius.

It was amazing. I will never again see a pelican without recalling the special moments I enjoyed that day. Many more incredible wildlife episodes thrilled me and my companions during the eight days we sailed, hiked, and snorkeled in the Galapagos Islands.

Our floating home in the Galapagos accommodates 16, but there were just 13 including PK and me and our friends and fellow Oregonians, Laurie Gerloff and Steve Lambros. Small yachts are a popular way to tour the islands. Many others choose to stay on an island or two or more. For us, not having to book hotels, find restaurants, hire qualified guides to take us to wildlife areas and snorkeling was worth the few downsides. The yacht was, as they say, pricey, but included all meals and an on-board naturalist who guided us daily on land and sea. Snorkeling! Every day! 
 Our guide, Efren, is a knowledgeable Galapagos native. Visitors 
cannot explore without a guide and must stay on marked trails. 
I confess that before our December trip, I had misgivings. I've seen sea lions, iguanas, turtles and birds galore in the wild, in pictures, and in films. Why would I pay big bucks to see more?

Uncharacteristically wise, I kept these doubts to myself.

Good for me as I was wrong. So wrong.

The sheer volume of wildlife alone is astounding. It's insanely beautiful, exotic, and exciting to step around and over hundreds of creatures during a couple hours of slow hiking over lava and sand, and on paths through thickets of brush including the eerie white palo santo (incense) trees endemic to the islands, and the occasional pond fringed by lush vegetation. The trees were beginning to bud during our visit, which in that part of the world, was early spring.
In this photo at least 10 birds are visible and others are flying overhead. Marine iguanas and Sally lightfoot crabs are likely on the lava rocks, and other birds are no doubt perched in the white palo santo trees. Nearby we'd viewed frigate birds dive bombing nesting flightless cormorants, blue-footed boobies nuzzling on their lava perch, Pacific green sea turtles swimming past our dinghy, and more and more and more.
Many species we saw exist only in the Galapagos Islands and were central to Charles Darwin developing the theory of evolution. 

I've evolved  into the sort of person who gets a huge charge out of photographing wildlife, and it's likely there are few places on earth more satisfying to be a camera freak than the Galapagos Islands.

For the most part, the various species carry on as if you aren't there. If you laid down on the sand or lava, they'd just walk right over you and maybe pick through your hair for morsels.
A bird - a Galapagos mockingbird, I think -  perched upon a marine iguana may just be seeking higher elevation, or perhaps she's looking for a snack lodged in the iguana's armor.

I'll shut up now and share more of my favorite images from a magical week.

Steve and Laurie enjoy up close the sight and sounds(!) of a baby sea lion suckling.

The pup's noisy suckling was entertaining. Our presence didn't
appear to affect any of the hundreds of sea lions we observed during the
week. Sand in the eyes doesn't seem to bother them either.
Unabashed sun worshipping is common. I love the sea lion's glossy coat and burnished colors.
         Blue-footed boobies are common in the Galapagos. 

Even more common are the colorful Sally Lightfoot crabs, which occupy seashore lava. 

A Sally Lightfoot crab appears to be pursuing an oystercatcher, but is headed for the water. 

   Here's another oystercatcher, nesting. What an odd eye with an iris that seems to be leaking. 

Marine iguanas, like most amphibians, love to luxuriate in the sunshine. I never made personal contact with an iguana, but that guy in the middle seems to be giving me the eye. I just now noticed that their lips look like tires. So prehistoric looking.  
Nice top knot on this snoozing sunbathing iguana, which, with all that pink, must be a female. :)
I was surprised and delighted to see a few flamingos. Our guide explained that prolonged drought has dried up some of their habitat, and usually they can be seen in flocks of 50 or more. 

                                          The common stilt doesn't look at all common to me. 
Galapagos great blue heron in a mangrove lagoon. These herons aren't as blue as the ones we're used to seeing in the Pacific Northwest, but every bit as graceful and eye-catching.

This yellow warbler wandered around on the beach as if she hadn't a care or an enemy. 
                        Vermillion flycatcher.  We were fortunate to see one, according to our guide.
An inspiring sunrise on a Galapagos morning. I was up early for the usual two-hour hike followed by an hour or so of snorkeling. Snorkeling every day! Next up - a post about sea life and a bit more about taking the yacht route to exploring the Galapagos Islands.

Earlier posts about Ecuador travels 2016

Amazon Adventure - Kapawi Ecolodge  - All about tramping around in the rainforest, gaining insights into Achuar culture, and seeing how various rainforest plants are used for just about everything from housing construction to medicine to spiritual enlightenment.

Off to a shaky start at Kapawi Ecolodge   But it was all good, even the fishtailing bush plane and the drink made from manioc and spit.

Wild in the Amazon - photos and some amateur anthropology