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September 4 - Genovesa
Ecuadorian Amazon & The Galapagos Islands

Blue footed boobyBlue footed booby (Sullivan Peraino)
At 6AM, I opened our cabin door to find myself in the middle of Bahia Darwin, an enormous crescent bay, formed from a collapsed caldera, as wide as three football fields and shaped like a perfect half-moon. The 75 foot sheer, vertical cliff sides provide ample nesting and shelter areas for sea birds and sea lions. The island is 1.9 million years old, Genovesa and the rest of the northern islands were formed by lava seeping through the Cocos and Nazca tectonic plates. Endemic Swallow Tail Gulls with red legs and red rings around their eyes breed here, they do not land on any other islands in the archipelago. They have been sighted 80 miles off the coast of Chile, but this is the closest they have been seen to the mainland. They only come ashore in the Galapagos. Red Billed Tropic Birds swoop overhead, making remarkably elegant crash landings into their nests. Without enough strength in their legs to support their body, they must glide into the holes in the rock where they have laid their eggs. Yellow Crowned Night Herons cling to the crumbling black and grey rock, staring into the deep, cobalt blue water. Fur Seals lay upon rocks as far as 25 feet out of the water, seemingly waiting for the tide to bring the surf to them. They are joined by sea lions, and are identifiable by their external ear flaps, which sea lions do not have. We learned that the lazy behavior of the seals and lions is not quite as enjoyable as it appears. They are actually allowing the acids that have accumulated in their bloodstream during deep dives to dissipate, waiting for the cramping to subside before they head again into the depths. Sally Light-Foot crabs skitter over the rocks and tease the seals and sea lions as they nap. The crabs are a monochrome black as juveniles, helping them camouflage against the dark basalt. As they mature, they become a bright, vibrant red. We climbed a wooden staircase to the top of the cliffs and found ourselves on an expansive plateau, with bare Palo Santo trees and huge Yellow Cordia bushes with pretty flowers. In nearly every bush, between every tree, on every single patch of bare ground there was a nesting pair of Swallow Tail Gulls, Blue- and Red-Footed Boobies, Warbler Finches and Vampire Finches. Less than 20 minutes of hiking led us to the opposite shoreline. A bare, cooled lava field crossed by gaping fissures appeared to be one of the most unfriendly and desolate landscapes imaginable. It took only a few moments, though, to begin seeing that the sharp rock was teeming with life. Morning Glory and Lava Cacti grew sporadically, and Frigate Birds and gulls filled the sky overhead. Gustavo told us to keep an eye out for owls, and not five minutes later a huge brown owl dove from overhead and into a nearby crevasse, carrying a smaller bird in its clutches. We walked along the edge of the fissure and were able to stand only 15 feet from the owl as it ate its catch. The Galapagos Owl's bright yellow eyes stayed on us and provided a look into the stare of a predator. We finished the day snorkeling along the cliff side, scouring the rock walls beneath the surface of the ocean. All of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a 6 foot wide Eagle Ray gliding past us! The bright white and iridescent blue spots along the black body gleamed in the silty water. We swam along with it until it disappeared into the depths below us. With the rock wall dropping almost completely straight down into the water, we wondered what other creatures waited just beyond our visibility.

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