In the morning, we made a dry landing on Fernandina and began a two hour hike. As if on cue, a large Marine Iguana stood posing for at the start of the hike. He stood like a statue as our guide, Luis, gave us an introduction to the island. After walking along a trail through Mangroves, we emerged along a large lava flow on which were sunning perhaps over one hundred Marine Iguana. The smell of algae, their main food source was pungent in the air. Every so often, an iguana would "sneeze" a concentrated solution of salt out of its nose. This is how they regulate their salt and water intake. Males are much larger than the females and all get along peacefully this time of the year. However, in a couple of months, mating season begins and the males get very aggressive. The iguanas appear the ignore the finches which perch on their backs, feeding off of dead skin and cleaning them of parasites. Adjacent to the lava rock is a large sandy area where the females lay their eggs.
As we walked a little further, we came upon a protected inlet of water where we sat and watched a whole host of animals. Two Sea Turtles peacefully grazed on the algae just under the surface and periodically stuck their heads out of the water to breathe. A Galapagos Penguin suddenly shot across the water. On the other side of the inlet as if on cue, dozens of Marine Iguana began walking into the water and then began swimming out of the inlet to feed on algae below the surface.
On the hike back to the pangas, we spotted the dried remains of an iguana that appeared to have died perched up on a piece of driftwood, frozen like a sculpture. The only animal that we hadn't thus far seen was the Flightless Cormorant. Over thousands of years of evolution, these birds have lost the ability to fly. This doesn't stop them from flapping their wings to dry out. Suddenly, one was spotted on the rocks and our panga passed within a few feet. They have very muscular legs that they use for climbing and swimming under water as they look for their favorite food, the Octopus.
After lunch, the Eric made a quick trip across the channel to Isabela. Graffiti which dates back to the early 1900's scars the lava rock faces of the cliffs that surround the bay we anchored in. Education and law enforcement has luckily eliminated this activity. The amount and diversity of life that exists in this small bay is amazing! Almost every nook and cranny has an animal living there. We snorkeled along the tall lava rock cliffs and saw colorful Starfish, Sea Turtles and countless schools of fish. The highlight for me was when a Flightless Cormorant dove into the water right next to me. I got to watch it swim underwater as it foraged for food. In the afternoon, we took the pangas out of the bay along the rock cliffs. Blue-footed Boobies perched on the rocks, resting in between hunting. Large Pelicans flew overhead and dove into the water after fish. Dozens of penguins sat on the rocks. Two large rays over 4 feet in diameter swam right under the raft. Suddenly, the water a couple hundred yards from us appeared to boil as a school of fish broke the surface and birds began diving after their meal. We got a chance to take the rafts into a cave that had been carved into the rock cliffs. Suddenly, a head was poking out of the dark water and moving towards us. Surprise--a sea lion!
That night after a nice dinner, the ship left for Santiago. As we were warned, the ocean became quite rough at about midnight and the ship felt like "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" until we anchored in the morning.