240 Photos

Sombrero Chino and Dragon Hill
Darwin Country

This is an example of the various rock formations. This is an example of the various rock formations. (Kerry Wohlstein)
After a leisurely breakfast of granola, milk and fruit, I looked at the island we would be visiting today. It is only from far away that you can actually see the shape of the Chinese Hat (hence its comical name) As we landed on the shore it was amazing to see that this ancient, miniature volcano, though one of the youngest in the archipelago, has changed little since its discovery many centuries ago. When the volcano spewed out it's fire, spitting gas and lava, it raced to the sea. The fragile lava formations, tubes and pillows are still visible as far as the eye can see. The rock had been compressed to thousands of degrees, forming impressions found only at the base of volcanoes. The waves explode on black rocks that have fallen into the sea. It is a landscape like no other.

Here, at the water's edge, sea lions suckle their young, rest at the edge of the lava rocks, and the brave ones, as always, show their acrobatic moves in the punishing surf. There are seven species of crab, including the orange and blue Sally Lightfoot crab, and, along with ink black marine iguanas, scrabble for purchase among the smooth rocks. The tidal pools are abundant with the crabs and their eggs, waiting to hatch.

Lava tunnels are everywhere. In my mind I can imagine the boiling, hot lava flowing down the mountainside only to be supercooled to the core as the molten rock reaches the sea.The black and brown landscape supports small whitish bushes (tigilia), as well as yellow flowers and lava cactus struggling to grow and survive in the scarce soil. The surrounding vistas from this pahoe hoe boulder strewn land are wide reaching.

In the afternoon we snorkeled with aloof, white reef tipped sharks,saw multi-colored coral and the explosion of colorful fish and sea stars. The water is colder here because of the Humboldt current. As I didn't have a wet suit, the water was a bit uncomfortable for me and I didn't last as long as I wanted.

Our last stop for the day was Dragon Hill, a virtual plethora of tall Scalesia trees, shrubs and greenery in numbers that we hadn't seen the entire trip. This area gets more rain per year, so everything grows in this hot, windy and rainy climate. The gentle slope through the Scalesia forest to the top had wonderful vistas of the bay and surrounding areas.

It is named Dragon Hill as the first visitors saw many ugly dragons, i.e. land iguanas. Dragon Hill has become an important nesting site for iguanas reintroduced by the Charles Darwin Research Center. The success of the captive breeding program of the land iguana, is necessary because of the presence of introduced mammals, such as predators (cats, rats and dogs) and those that compete for the food supply (donkeys and goats) An eradication program is in effect for these non-native species.

Birds abound, especially the mocking bird, who is a very curious fellow. Sulfur and monarch butterflies flit from flower to flower drinking nectar. We walked past a hypersalinic (saltier than the ocean) lagoon where I noticed common stilts, pintail ducks and other species of birds. It is sultry and still in the interior of the island, but very windy and scorching hot at the top. Rich, organic red soil helps keep erosion to a minimum. We could see Santa Cruz in the distance.

The land iguanas look very fierce, with their yellow crowns and prehistoric skin. We watched many of the cold blooded reptiles cooling off in the shade and moving to protect themselves from other reptiles. They are silent, but watchful and I was in constant wonder that a relative from eons past could still exist here.

As we returned to the sea for our panga ride back to the boat, we saw many black marine iguanas as they evidently congregate on boulders and sand near the water's edge to stay cool.

Tonight we had a farewell dinner with Captain and the crew along with our ever present guide, Daniel. This has been a special trip and I will find it hard to say good-bye tomorrow. All the people who made this trip possible are to be commended for a job well done.

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