240 Photos

Espanola
Darwin Country

A young boy learning the ancient craft of masapan figurines.A young boy learning the ancient craft of masapan figurines. (Kerry Wohlstein)
Espanola is a table top island, the oldest and easternmost in the archipelago chain with only a caldera of rock left. Millions of years ago it was a shield volcano which has basically fallen into the sea. Española's remote location helped make it a unique island with a large number of endemic creatures. Secluded from the other islands, wildlife on Española adapted to the environment and natural resources. Marine iguanas on Española are the only ones that change color during breeding season.

We saw this up close and personal when we dry landed at Punta Suarez and there were the resident sea lions, Sally Lightfoot crabs and colorful red and green marine iguanas. We hiked all over the island ending near the cliffs where we saw Blue Footed Boobies, Nasca boobies, Hood mockingbirds, red billed tropic birds, and the famous waved albatross. They were all nesting and the babies were full of down and fluff.

The waved albatross only nests on Espanola and at last count there were more than 10,000 pairs. I was standing apart from the other guests watching with awe as one pair of waved albatrosses actually laid an egg right in front of me! Her mate looked on with wonder as they clacked their yellow bills together. They mate for life and raise the chicks together. At the top of the cliff, the ungainly albatrosses waddle to the edge and soar away on a 8 foot wing span. The island's steep cliffs serve as the perfect runways for these large birds which take off for their ocean feeding grounds near the mainland of Ecuador abandoning the island between January and March. It was incredible to see this majestic bird winging away. (This one's for you Hayley!!)

The blowhole is a dramatic geological feature that had everyone oohing and aaahing as the glacial blue waves crashed on the jagged rocks below and shot up nearly 50-70 feet in the air. A very spectacular display. The abundance of animal life on Espanola is unlike anything I have ever seen. The animals show very little fear as the curious mockingbirds came over and landed on our heads and shoulders as if to say, "Whatz up?"

The highlight of the day came when we went snorkeling at Gardner Bay and a young sea lion came over to check me out. He pushed me in the tummy and then glided around. Then he came back and we were swimming together. If I went one way, he followed with turns and amazing agility. It went on for about 15 minutes. It was incredible. Though awkward on land, sea lions are masters of the water, diving and gliding and swimming. Here on the pristine white sands, hundreds of sea lions lie around like forgotten litter, nursing, playing, talking to each other and rolling around while the beach master keeps an eye on his harem.

We returned to the ship, put the sails up and set a course for San Cristobal. On the way, the crew yelled, "Ballenos!" (whales) and we got to see 3 gray whales and a pod of bottle nose dolphins swimming next to the boat. The seas were rough and the stars were extraordinary that evening. What a fabulous day!

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