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September 3 - Chinese Hat

Sea lions
Sea lions
After a night spent motoring north, I awoke to the eeriest landscape I have ever seen. We sailed into Black Turtle Cove, where the ominous island of Chinese Hat rose out of the ocean in perfect symmetry. We went snorkeling along the shore of Isla Santiago, where Candelabra Cacti stood lone and erect amidst the volcanic rock and red Carpet Weed. As it cooled, the lava formed intricate passages, tunnels, and overhangs under the water. John swam down to peek under one such ledge, and immediately bolted for the surface. He ripped out his snorkel and spurted, ''A shark!'' I took a quick breath and dove, expecting a small nurse shark or similarly friendly species. As I reached the bottom and peered under the ledge, a 6' White Tipped Reef Shark slowly undulated out into the water, only a few feet from my face. Needless to say, I screamed through my snorkel and gaped as the shark made its way through a dark tunnel nearby. I have never encountered a marine predator of that size before. I later learned that at 6 feet, it was a fully-grown adult male. We paddled inflatable kayaks back to the boat, with no rudder it was a bit of a hilarious challenge. We each kept yelling, ''Left!'', ''Right!'', only to end up in the wrong direction. Eventually the panga came to our rescue. Our guide Gustavo and the rest of the crew had quite a laugh! Thirty minutes later we were back on board, dressed for a hike on Chinese Hat. The beach we came ashore on was a napping spot for six sea lions, including three pups! The dominant male, or Beach Master, remained stoic about 20 yards away, monitoring his harem and surveying the rising tide. We kept a safe distance from the sea lions, but even at that proximity our closeness to the animals was unreal. After snapping two dozen photos, we hiked toward the point, catching sight of a Galapagos Hawk and finding the skeletons of two sea lions. We approached the point and the further breakwater, and as the sun set yet another, larger Beach Master emerged from the waves and propped himself up on the sand, perfectly backlit by the purple sunset. In the evening, after a spectacular dinner and a few hours in the top deck jacuzzi, we hung on tight for a night navigation far north, to the northwestern most island of Genovesa. The night was a perfect combination of delicious Ecuadorian food and being rocked to sleep. The seas became rougher after midnight, and eventually our cabin became a deafening cacophony of slamming drawers and banging closet doors. The morning came early, but the surprise view waiting outside the cabin doors each morning was becoming a great motivation for waking up.

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