Saturday, March 16, 2013

First Impression of the Galapagos Islands – San Cristobal

When we approached the Galapagos after our seven day passage, we half expected pods of dolphins to circle us, groups of sea lions to playfully welcome us, hordes of sea turtles to pop up their heads as a “hello”, and flocks of birds to wave their wings as a greeting. That didn’t happen. Two birds tried to catch our fishing lure. I didn’t want to catch them, so I brought the line in. The abundance of wildlife would become prominent later. It took a peaceful two hours, before our first visitor appeared on our transom steps: a big sea lion, barely fitting in the space of a bottom step. The ongoing battle to try to keep these cute, fun and funny – but also noisy, smelly, dirty and sometimes aggressive - creatures off the boat would start right then and there…

There are sea lions everywhere in San Cristobal, one of the three islands we are allowed to visit with our boat, thanks to a two month autografo. They swim and play in the bay of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, they come say “hi” alongside Irie, they hang out on the board walk ashore and they share the town’s benches with tourists – or the other way around. They are ever-present and amazing to watch, whether gliding through the water, awkwardly clambering the rocks or crowding the beaches. Sometimes - eyes closed - they just enjoy floating by or skimming Irie’s bottom, resulting in blue flippers and bellies. Chi chink, there goes another $30 of bottom paint!

When poking your head out, you might come eye to eye with a pelican, sitting on the bow or stern of the boat. From up close, they are big! When doing things on deck, you get startled by a sudden splash. Something falls out of the sky like a rocket and disappears under the water surface. Then – plop – there is a head and a body with wings and webbed (blue) feet: the blue-footed booby. It devours its little prey and pecks its feathers before flying off. Underneath Irie are multiple schools of fish: tiny ones around the rudders, bigger ones in the shade of the bridge deck and even bigger ones deeper down. One time while snorkeling, I observed a group of baby manta rays near a sea lion platform.

With our friends Bill and Caroline on SV Juffa, we explored one part of the island by foot. We read the signs in the Interpretation Center, walked the easy, paved trails to some viewpoints, to the rocky cove of Las Tijeretas (refreshing snorkel) and to Playa Punta Carola. There, we watched big, black iguanas, lazily walking about or bathing in the sun. Sea lions played in the surf or waggled over the beach. While snorkeling with tropical fish, we spotted a few sea lions in a flash and three giant turtles. These gentle creatures were feeding on the grassy rocks, being unaware of our presence. Camera all the way zoomed out, I was still not able to fit one of the giants in the screen. When the waves pushed us both back and forth, it was hard not to touch its massive shell. The experience was amazing.

Each time we return home by water taxi ($1 a person each way; the alternative is leaving your dinghy on the municipal beach, pulling it up high enough for the tides, and having sea lions trample all over it and claiming it), we never know how many sea lions we will find aboard. We have put fenders, jugs, and towels in place, to block the entrance to our decks and cockpit. Somehow, they manage to ignore it all and produce a slimy, hairy mess on the boat. When trying to chase them out of our home, we have to put up with their objections. When swimming past Irie’s stern, they look at us in disbelief… “Why are these comfy bottom steps blocked by all this crap?” When being told to leave the transom and bug someone else, they try to change your mind with the cutest expression on their whiskered faces.

We are learning a lot about these streamlined animals… They make lots of different noises: they snort, they bark, they cough, they hiss, they sneeze, they piss, they bleat (the first night, I thought there were sheep or goats ashore), they growl. They can push jerry cans out of the way and climb fenders. They can squeeze in between life lines or propel themselves over them. They like to lounge on cockpit cushions and can lay flat on the table without breaking it! Time will tell what other knowledge we will obtain.

Punta Carola

Playing sea lions off the beach at Punta Carola

One of the three big sea turtles at Playa Punta Carola

Playa Punta Carola

Blue-footed booby near Irie

Viewpoint at Las Tijeretas

Municipal beach in town, at night - it is full of sea lion activity!

Comfy on Irie's back step - their behavior reminds us of dogs, sometimes

Happy sea lion blissfully floating by the boat - their breathing reveals their presence

School of baby manta rays in the bay

Hanging out with sea lions on the beach at Punta Carola

Swimming with sea lions in the bay

Rolling in the sand, so much fun!

Am I cute or what?

Sea lion prevention on Irie: fenders, jerrycans, a cushion and a towel...

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