May 5, 2010
The island of Floreana, a 5 hour motor sail from Santa Cruz and Baltra, was breathtaking at dawn. We had a hardy breakfast at the communal table and watched the sea lions congregating peacefully on the boat next to us as they barked out their morning greetings. We had a dry landing at Puerta Valesco Ibarra and were greeted by some of the locals, sea lions and brown pelicans. This port was named after a former populist president, Valesco Ibarra. The island was used in the 1600's by whalers and pirates. Floreana was the first inhabited island in the Galapagos where in 1932 the government established a penal colony. We took an open bus, called a scivia, to the highlands, Asilo de la Paz, and the top of the extinct cinder cone.The Santos Paulo and Scalesia trees dotted the landscape along with plum, orange, banana and guayabana. Though all the islands are volcanic in origin, each island has its own unique flora and fauna.
As we walked among the trees on paths leading to caves and exquisite views of the bay, I saw a multitude of Darwin's Tree finches as they flitted from branch to branch singing their melodies as yellow warblers sang for their supper.
Though the tortoises are in captivity here, it is for their own good as they were hunted to near extinction a short time ago. The National Park protects these prehistoric creatures fiercely. Now there are about forty gentle giants on Floreana and it is amazing how close you can get to them! When I stooped near one and raised my hand to make him turn to the camera, he did! I am now called the "Tortoise Whisperer".
As we walked along and paused in one cave, Daniel regaled us with stories of early settlers, mystery, murder, mayhem and dentures. Oh, how I love a good story! I must admit though, it must have been extremely difficult for those first inhabitants. If not for the fresh water spring, still in use today, I think they all might have perished. As we retraced our steps back to the transport, I viewed a Galapagos hawk taking off, some locals cutting the grass, and packs of elephant ears wrapped in colorful cloth for local trade. When we returned to the panga, sea lions occupied nearly every available spot, as they are without predators on the islands. They are, quite simply, king.
We returned to the Beagle for a carefully prepared lunch and a much needed siesta. I would like to mention here specifics about the food on the Beagle. The chef, Big Pedro, as he is known, is a gourmet cook. All of the dishes are served family style by the steward, Tricky, and there is always plenty to go around. Pedro never scrimps on ingredients, using fresh herbs and sauces with fresh meats and fish. I am a vegetarian and he catered to my tastes, making a complete veggie meal at each sitting. All of it was beyond delicious and the portions were huge. No complaints here!
We finally went snorkeling from the panga at Cormorant Point and at Devil's Crown. The water was so clear you could see all the way to the bottom. I didn't have a wet suit, but the temperature was perfect. We saw brightly colored Moorish idol fish, chocolate chip starfish, angel fish, surgeon fish, parrot fish, a couple of reef sharks, a golden eagle ray and Captain Washington showed us an octopus under the rocks. Snorkeling is a great way to view the marine life. After returning to the ship, we changed and went on a wet shore excursion before dinner. We walked among blue footed bobbies nests, brown pelicans, a flock of pink Caribbean flamingos at a brackish lake rookery, American oyster catchers and of course, the requisite sea lion or ten. At the top of the cliffs I watched elegant red billed tropic birds with their wispy tails, lava gulls, herons, ani, sandpipers and frigate birds flying overhead. I caught sight of the baby birds hiding in the rocks, all fluffy down.
On the windward side of the island we saw magnificent frigate birds, nicknamed the pirates of the sea, soaring overhead and went to investigate. There were many green sea turtle nests in the sand. One curious, brave fellow tried to make it to the ocean. He was pulled into the undertow, then pushed back by the waves, then out again. We were cheering him on, when we saw that ultimately, he was scooped up by a frigate bird and eaten! So sad, but that's life.
We had the Captain's dinner tonight and met the crew. I held a short Memorial service for our dearly departed Floyd, the sea turtle who waged such a brave battle. I watched the stars for hours tonight. The Southern Cross was visible as was the Milky Way. I don't think I ever saw so many stars at one time. It was truly a gift for the eyes. I finally turned into my cabin and the sounds of the waves lapping on the sides of the boat lulled me to sleep.