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San Cristobal Island is National Geographic Endeavour’s Final Stop

Galapagos San Cristobal Punta Pitt beach-1

A day of contrasts

by Linda & Tim O’Keefe

To the west of us, Isabela Island is one of the Galapagos’ youngest islands and among the first we visited. San Cristobal Island, on the other hand, is the eastern most island in the entire archipelago and ranks among the oldest.  San Cristobal also is the first island Charles Darwin visited on his Galapagos voyage but, for us, it’s the last stop on our seven-day journey aboard Lindblad’s National Geographic Endeavour.

This morning the Endeavour is anchored off San Cristobal at Punta Pitt where we have a choice of a Zodiac ride to look for birds on the island’s volcanic cliff or hike up a dry stream bed that requires “good walking shoes and good physical fitness as it is steep and rather slippery”.  Having seen Tim’s pictures from the rugged beach hike with big boulders at Urbina Bay on Isabela Island, I opt for the boat ride; he takes the hike.

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Starting the hike to a plateau overlooking Punta Pitt beach

San Cristobal is home to all three species of boobies. Since we’ve seen only blue-footed boobies so far–and only a few of them– we welcome the chance for a good look at all three species before we depart for home. My Zodiac ride will end at the Punta Pitt beach, which is the trailhead for the hike. Once the morning excursion is over, both groups will have an option to swim or snorkel.

As I maneuver into the wave tossed panga, I feel a definite wind chill factor. Thankfully, the Endeavour’s expedition leader suggested bringing a windbreaker. Glad I did, despite the awkwardness of zipping it up over a life jacket and then wearing my backpack on top of the windbreaker. It’s too rough to re-do things and put the windbreaker under the life jacket.

Galapagos San Cristobal Punta Pitt red-footed booby-3  Galapagos San Cristobal Punta Pitt blue-footed booby-3
Red-footed booby on cliff rock; blue-footed booby at Punta Pitt beach

Jason, our naturalist, tells us about the geologic history of San Cristobal and what to expect in our search for boobies. He explains the contrast between the three birds. The blue-footed booby with its blue legs and feet is mostly white with dark wings and mottled back, a pale head with thin dark streaking and a grayish beak. The red-footed booby, the smallest of the three, varies widely in color from mostly white all over except for large brown wings to completely brown. They are the only boobies that nest in trees.
The largest booby is the Nazca, with a beautiful white head and body with a dark tail, orange beak and eyes and its signature mask around all of its face, not just the eyes. Also known as a masked booby, the Nazca booby–like so many other Galapagos animals–is recognized as a distinct masked booby subspecies.

As the Zodiac navigates around a large rock formation, a bull sea lion bellows out to a female hidden in the crevices.  Perched high above the male sea lion is the first Nazca booby of the day.  At the same time, red-footed boobies glide over us. Taking decent photos is almost impossible–the birds flying, the Zodiac rocking and everyone in the panga moving around trying to see it all.

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On San Cristobal’s high plateau, plant life is easier
to find and far more colorful than the booby birds,
which were scarce and at a great distance

Jason, trying as usual to ensure his passengers have the best views, asks the Zodiac driver take us through a narrow channel circling the shoreline to reach the beach at Punta Pitt instead of simply retracing our wake. The ride offers lots of views of nesting birds . . . until our Zodiac motor stalls out. Unfortunately, it happens to be low tide and the channel is too shallow for us to pass through.

Without power, the waves heave the Zodiac against the rocky shoreline. We start playing musical chairs, moving back and forth in an attempt to shove the Zodiac off the rocks. The tide and wind fight against us but we make progress. Eventually, we’re able to push the craft into deeper water so the motor can be lowered back in the water. The engine starts immediately; we slowly back out of the channel.  What an unexpected adventure!

After passing more nesting boobies on San Cristobal cliffs, the Zodiac edges onto the beach at our Punta Pitt landing. It turns out the beach here is being patrolled by a bull sea lion who is not at all happy about having guests.  He swims back and forth parallel to the shoreline, barking warnings at anyone who steps into the water. At the same time, just a few yards offshore a pair of lively sea lion pups porpoise and play, ignoring the agitated adult.  Several people decide to ignore the big sea lion’s aggressive manner and enter the cold water to swim. The sea lion pups befriend a snorkeling couple and frolic beside them.

Galapagos San Cristobal frolicking sea lion pups-1
Seal pups playing in the shallows off Punta Pitt beach

No longer distracted by the sea lions, I finally notice how the beach literally sparkles in the sunlight. The glittering sand seems to have jewels ground into it.  Not diamonds, of course, but a mineral named olivine, a magnesium iron silicate, that makes this sparkling beach truly spectacular.

A blue-footed booby happens to be nesting on a cliff just above the beach. Tim takes pictures of the booby, noting it’s the closest he’s been to a bird all morning. The birds he saw on his hike were quite far away; he says he spotted only two distant red-footed boobies but no Nazcas. Beyond the nesting blue-footed booby are several tidal pools filled with some of the brightest colored Sally Lightfoot crabs we’ve seen the entire trip. The stationary crabs make the best photo subjects of the morning.

Zodiacs begin making trips back to the Endeavour but we’re in no hurry to leave the beach. Eventually, the last hikers return from the mountain, almost 45 minutes later than all the other groups. Tim shakes his head. “Poor people had ‘Chatty Cathy’ for a guide. Now they’re going to miss any beach time, just as I did when she was my guide that one time on Isabela. She can’t go 10 seconds without hearing the sound of her voice.” No need to dodge her anymore since this is our last shore landing.

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The Sally lightfoot crabs are numerous and wear a riot of colors

During lunch, the Endeavour sails from San Cristobal to Leon Dormido, a nearby landmark. Leon Dormido, which translates as “sleeping lion” in English, is most commonly called Kicker Rock for reasons I never learn. This isolated rock outcropping is actually the remains of a volcanic tuff cone that split into two towering pieces.  The Endeavouranchors the National Park regulated distance from Kicker Rock, the last chance to snorkel in the Galapagos.

The water here is supposed to be more than 100 feet deep and filled with excellent marine life.  I feel guilty about not snorkeling yet, but I’ve been waiting for a beach to snorkel with sea lions, perhaps the most popular Galapagos experience.  Only a few days earlier I realized our itinerary doesn’t include the island best known for this.

So now, looking out at the rough seas and knowing how cold the water is, my decision about whether to snorkel today is simple.  A good decision. Later, I learn several friends went into a panic from the cold and rough conditions and had to be hauled out of the water and brought back to the ship.  Despite wearing wet suits, others who stick it out are freezing when they return,. A shivering woman apologizes “I’m going to use up all the ship’s hot water trying to get warm!”

Galapagos San Cristobal leon dormido kicker rock-1  Galapagos San Cristobal leon dormido kicker rock-2
A Bryde’s whale spouts near Leon Dormido; the crack in the landmark formation

Late in the afternoon, the Endeavour lifts anchor and slowly moves toward Leon Dormido, which we are supposed to circumnavigate several times just prior to sunset. The late afternoon light is soft and luminous and most of the ship’s passengers are on deck. Suddenly, in the distance, we notice spray erupting from the sea.  Bryde’s whales, the captain announces. What could be a better finale than this?

One whale breeches and another rolls only about 50 yards from the Endeavour’s bow.  Just two people were lucky enough to catch the breaching action on camera and I wasn’t among them. But at least I was close enough to witness it all and catch a few frames of the animals.

That evening, Tim and I admit to each other we are not ready to leave the Galapagos just yet. We both wish we could stay on the ship for another week, especially since Lindblad’s Endeavour will visit an entirely new group of islands over the next seven days. It takes the Endeavour two weeks to circuit the Galapagos, so a one-week cruise is just part of the entire expedition.

Although we’ve seen scores of sea lions, hundreds of birds and at least a thousand marine iguanas, we’d be happy to see a lot more of them in next week’s settings.

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A farewell look at our Galapagos home, Lindblad’s National Geographic Endeavour

 

Lindblad Endeavour Galapagos  Cruise Links

The Galapagos Experience                                                Endeavour Dining
Galapagos Adventure Upcoming                         Sustainable Dining Policy
How Darwin Saved The Galapagos                      Saturday Dining Menus
Galapagos Photo Tips                                               Sunday Dining Menus
What To Pack For Cruise                                         Monday Dining Menus
Getting to Guayaquil                                                 Tuesday Dining Menus
Las Bachas Shore Landing                                      Wednesday Dining Menus
North Seymour Shore Landing                              Thursday Dining Menus
Fernandina & Isabela Islands                                Friday Finale Menus
Urbina Bay Shore Landing                                       Endeavour Recipes
Life Aboard The Endeavour
More About Life On Board
Puerto Egas Shore Landing
Endeavour’s Floating SPA
Meeting One of World’s Rarest Animals
Puerto Ayoro Walking Tour
Santa Cruz Highlands Tour
Hunting Tortoises in the Santa Cruz Highlands
San Cristobal, Endeavour’s final stop

Galapagos Tortoises in the Santa Cruz Highlands

Santa Cruz Highlands Tortoise Fence-2
Highlands fences must be high enough for tortoises to crawl under

Photographing giant tortoises in the wild

by Linda O’Keefe

After our visit to the Los Gemelos craters, it’s back on the bus for what I hope is an exciting afternoon with giant Galapagos tortoises in the wild. Our Lindblad Endeavour naturalist for the afternoon, Walter Perez, doesn’t share my confidence as he continually cautions us “all we can guarantee you’ll see is lava rock and plenty of it.” Still, I’m optimistic we’ll find some giant tortoises without many problems.

Walter advises us how to track one of the huge tortoises in its natural environment: to walk quietly through the forest, listening closely for sounds made by an 800 lb., five-foot long reptiles as it flattens the underbrush in search for food.  Fortunately, our search turns out to be incredibly easy.

After our bus turns onto a small winding dirt road and we head toward two small farm buildings in the distance, Walter excitedly points ahead of us. “Look there’s one–and there’s another! Oh boy, I can’t believe this!”  Ahead of us, on both side of the road, are what look like large, clumps of rock moving through tall grass just 10 or 15 yards from us.

Santa Cruz Highlands Tortoise fence-1  Galapagos Giant Tortoise Lindblad National Geographic Endeavour

We quickly clamber out of the bus. Walter divides us into two groups, one to view the tortoises along the long road and the other to descend the hill behind the farm house.  Tim decides to stay with the first group where he knows he can photograph tortoises. I decide to venture off with those going down the hill with Walter.

The slope is surprisingly steep but I glance in the distance to spot what look giant, gray pith helmets scattered across a field. The closer I get, the more I realize the enormity of these creatures. Santa Cruz Island with its humid, grass-rich highlands is home to the largest of all Galapagos Tortoises.

Galapagos Giant Tortoise Lindblad National Geographic EndeavourTortoise walks along the edge of pond.

These have a domed shell and short neck unlike the tortoises in the dry lowlands with a saddleback shell and longer neck. When Charles Darwin visited the island the vice-governor told him he could tell which island a tortoise inhabited by looking at it. Darwin was astonished by this statement but as he traveled from island to island he realized the shell patterns did vary from location to location. Those distinguishing features were one of the many facets that compelled Darwin toward his theory of natural selection and adaptation.

As impressed as I am with their size, the huge tortoises are not impressed with us at all.  In fact, they seem truly oblivious to our presence, continuing to eat, drink and simply wander around. Their movements are slow and deliberate and their legs, feet and toes are enormous, resembling tree trunks with huge toenails.  Each toenail is approximately the size of my fist. One tortoise walking through the field reminds me of an alligator back home in Florida as it “high walks” one leg at a time over the ground.

Galapagos Giant Tortoise Lindblad National Geographic EndeavourThese feet are big!

As the tortoises shift to drink at a small pond covered with pink tiny flowers, I expect to see them drink with a cat-like behavior, lapping up the water. Instead, they barely open their lips as they gently suck in the water.  The tortoises share their water hole with a several white-cheeked pintail ducks. We photographers are thrilled by the juxtaposition of the tiny ducks with the giant tortoises. We have an amazingly harmonious portrait of nature not often seen in the wild.

Galapagos Giant Tortoise Lindblad National Geographic Endeavour
Tortoise sips water with grass still in its mouth

We have only a 45-minute window to photograph the tortoises and much too soon it’s time to return to the bus. My group lingers longer than we should, trying to get that last perfect shot. I could stay here for the rest of the day watching these magnificent creatures loll about but the time crunch is sounding.

As we walk up the hill, Walter comments, “You don’t know how lucky you are!” I leave with mixed feelings: lucky to have witnessed so many tortoises with perfect sunlight but also a little sad to know I probably will never have this kind of opportunity again.

Lindblad Endeavour Galapagos Blog Links

The Galapagos Experience                              Endeavour Dining
Galapagos Adventure Upcoming                  Sustainable Dining Policy
How Darwin Saved The Galapagos               Saturday Dining Menus
Galapagos Photo Tips                                        Sunday Dining Menus
What To Pack For Cruise                                  Monday Dining Menus
Getting to Guayaquil                                          Tuesday Dining Menus
Las Bachas Shore Landing                               Wednesday Dining Menus
North Seymour Shore Landing                       Thursday Dining Menus
Fernandina & Isabela Islands                         Friday Finale Menus
Urbina Bay Shore Landing                                Endeavour Recipes
Life Aboard The Endeavour
More About Life On Board
Puerto Egas Shore Landing
Endeavour’s Floating SPA
Meeting One of World’s Rarest Animals
Puerto Ayoro Walking Tour
Santa Cruz Highlands Tour
Hunting Tortoises in the Santa Cruz Highlands
San Cristobal, Endeavour’s final stop

Dining on the Lindblad Endeavour–Cruise Review


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               Classic Spanish paella with shellfish but no shrimp

Sustainability guides the dining choices—yum yum!

Lindblad Expeditions takes its dedication to conservation seriously, extending it even to the Endeavour’s dining room. Although seafood is a staple on the ship’s menus, you’ll never find a shrimp cocktail, fried shrimp or shrimp of any sort on the ship. Lindblad banned shrimp from its kitchens more than a decade ago, in the summer of 2001 as part of its sustainable dining program to help preserve fish stocks world-wide.

Lindblad says it could not find any shrimp suppliers who could prove that their shrimp harvesting methods did not damage the marine environment. One of the serious problem shrimp trawlers create is the “bycatch” of unwanted fish species that end up being killed and disposed of. In addition, in some areas the trawlers may sweep the same section of sea bottom several times a year, which leaves no time for re-growth or recovery of the marine habitat.

Shrimp farming also has serious negative impact because shrimp growers have made their pond water poisonous due to the large amounts of artificial feed, pesticides, chemical additives and antibiotics used for the highest possible production rate. Typically, the ponds are located in coastal areas to provide easy access to new fresh water sources to refill them. Unfortunately, instead of reducing pressure on overharvesting, shrimp aquaculture’s toxic effluent is blamed for reducing local shrimp and fish populations in some regions

When it comes to the fish served on board the Endeavour and other Lindblad ships, they are species considered not to be over-fished or caught by environmentally destructive practices. Lindblad Expeditions is not being extremist in its sustainability approach. According to Ocean Wise, a Canadian non-profit education and conservation association, an estimated 90-percent of all large, predatory fish have disappeared from the world’s oceans and it states that one recent scientific study predicts a world-wide fisheries collapse by the year 2048. Obviously, this is a topic that impacts all of us and one we all should be concerned about.

Placing the serious aspects of the Lindblad Endeavour’s menu aside, as you’ll see from the accompanying photos and the week’s menus on accompanying pages, no one starves and there is a serious emphasis flavorful food, although the preparations are not always ones we have every day or perhaps ever have had before. But trying new foods always has been an essential part of travel. The menu emphasizes Ecuadorian cuisine, as you would expect.

Here are some sample signs that are posted to explain unfamiliar dishes:

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Here’s how seriously Lindblad Expeditions takes its commitment to cater to the diverse tastes of its passengers. The photo at the top of this post shows paella served once a week at lunch that definitely would not suit vegetarians. So, a vegetarian paella is served at the same time.

This kind of catering is routine on large cruise ships. But the Endeavour carries fewer than100 passengers. Here is a photo of the vegetarian paella served at the same lunch.

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Vegetarian paella, a rice dish from Valencia, Spain

See for yourself what the dining on the Lindblad National Geographic Endeavor is like. You won’t be disappointed, I promise you. If I didn’t like it, I would tell you. But I do wish there was just one time during the week for plain old hamburgers with buns and all the trimmings. But that may be just me.

Lindblad Endeavour Galapagos Cruise Links

The Galapagos Experience                              Endeavour Dining
Galapagos Adventure Upcoming                                  Sustainable Dining Policy
How Darwin Saved The Galapagos                               Saturday Dining Menus
Galapagos Photo Tips                                                        Sunday Dining Menus
What To Pack For Cruise                                                  Monday Dining Menus
Getting to Guayaquil                                                          Tuesday Dining Menus
Las Bachas Shore Landing                                               Wednesday Dining Menus
North Seymour Shore Landing                                      Thursday Dining Menus
Fernandina & Isabela Islands                                        Friday Finale Menus
Urbina Bay Shore Landing                                               Endeavour Recipes
Life Aboard The Endeavour
More About Life On Board
Puerto Egas Shore Landing
Endeavour’s Floating SPA
Meeting One of World’s Rarest Animals
Puerto Ayoro Walking Tour
Santa Cruz Highlands Tour
Hunting Tortoises in the Santa Cruz Highlands
San Cristobal, Endeavour’s final stop

Lindblad Endeavour’s Floating SPA

Lindblad Floating Spa-1

by Linda O’Keefe

A motional massage

One thing I don’t expect to find onboard Lindblad’s National Geographic Endeavour is a wellness specialist as well as a mini spa. Alexandra Cueva, the wellness specialist for our voyage, puts in a long day, beginning around 6:30 a.m. with a yoga, stretching or water aerobics class just before breakfast. The rest of the day she is on call for paid spa services such as massage, reflexology and other spa treatments.

One service on the spa menu especially catches my eye: a “floating massage.” Technically, all massages given aboard the Endeavour are floating but this offering is something special. One of the Endeavour’s old glass bottomed boats has been redesigned to provide a viewing porthole of the sea bottom directly under the massage table’s head cradle.  The idea is to have a massage while watching sea life swim underneath the boat.  Instead of a massage on the beach, it’s a great rub on an ocean tub.

Scheduling any kind of spa treatment on the Endeavour is difficult because it usually means having to give up something: a shore landing, snorkeling or kayaking. Also, the opportunities for a floating massage are limited to certain locations where sea conditions are calm enough that Alexandra can stay on her feet and the massagee doesn’t slide off the table.

While kayaking Tim and I had seen the floating spa bouncing around in Tagus Cove where a Zodiac tried to keep it from crashing on shore. The waves and current were much too strong for any sort of stability. The Zodiac with its rubber hull acted like a seaborne bumper car to keep the spa boat away from land but there was no way the Zodiac could do it gently. In fact, we heard lots of crashing aboard the spa boat as we paddled pass but no shouts of alarm. Can’t imagine how Alexandra managed to stay on her feet that day.

Lindblad Floating Spa-2  Lindblad Floating Spa-3

Remembering that spectacle, I wonder how real this floating massage is and how much of it is a gimmick. So the night before my scheduled tub rub when I pick up a robe and slippers from Alexandra, I ask her what I should wear the next day with the robe.  Her response is quick and firm, “Nothing. This is a professional massage.”

The next morning, clad only in my spa robe and slippers, I wait at the reception area for Alexandra to fetch me.  I know in the back of my mind the glass bottom boat is away from the ship but for some reason it hasn’t yet occurred to me I’ll need to ride in a Zodiac to reach it. Just normally getting into a Zodiac when the waves bob it up and down is not the easiest maneuver even in normal attire. With a robe and nothing underneath, it’s really tricky. Fortunately, I make it on and off without any wardrobe malfunctions.

I take the Zodiac about half a mile from the ship to find the spa boat anchored in an isolated cove near shore. In the cloudy “garua” weather, the cliffs and a small island rock formation close by is both mystical and relaxing. After disembarking the Zodiac trip, I climb onboard the “floating massage” table.

As I lay face down and Alexandra works wonders on my back, the view through the three-foot wide glass circle is disappointing.  There isn’t a great view due to the reflections of the boat and sky. I spot only a few fish that wander by.

Despite the lack of underwater activity, I love this experience. The sound of the waves drumming the boat is more soothing than any new age music . Inhaling the salty sea air is natural aromatherapy. Occasionally the relaxation is broken as the wind sweeps the sheet off my body and there’s a quick scramble to grab it back.

Lindblad Floating Spa-4

After my massage and I wait for the Zodiac to return, Alexandra points out a large sea turtle swimming on the surface with several other turtles surrounding it. As the turtles approach our boat, I realize something seems rather odd about what I thought was a single large turtle.

I ask Alexandra , “Are those two turtles–not just one?”

“Yes,” she replies with a sly grin on her face.

I wonder aloud, “Are they doing what I think they’re doing?”

Her smiling face answers my question before she answers “Yes” and bursts into laughter. She confesses she has been watching them for a while. And we continue to watch the turtles float obliviously toward the boat.

My already R-rated adventure pushes the limit as the two mating turtles drift closer and closer to the boat. Eventually they bump into us, separate, swim away. At this point, Alexandra and I are close to hysteria laughing at them. (Though they probably don’t understand our idea of humor.)

Alexandra and I are still laughing when the Zodiac arrives to carry us both back to the Endeavour. All in all, this is an experience I won’t soon forget.

Lindblad Endeavour Galapagos Cruise Links 

The Galapagos Experience                               Endeavour Dining Galapagos Adventure Upcoming                                    Sustainable Dining Policy
How Darwin Saved The Galapagos                                 Saturday Dining Menus
Galapagos Photo Tips                                                          Sunday Dining Menus
What To Pack For Cruise                                                    Monday Dining Menus
Getting to Guayaquil                                                            Tuesday Dining Menus
Las Bachas Shore Landing                                                 Wednesday Dining Menus
North Seymour Shore Landing                                         Thursday Dining Menus
Fernandina & Isabela Islands                                           Friday Finale Menus
Urbina Bay Shore Landing                                                  Endeavour Recipes
Life Aboard The Endeavour
More About Life On Board
Puerto Egas Shore Landing
Endeavour’s Floating SPA
Meeting One of World’s Rarest Animals
Puerto Ayoro Walking Tour
Santa Cruz Highlands Tour
Hunting Tortoises in the Santa Cruz Highlands
San Cristobal, Endeavour’s final stop

 

 

Lindblad Endeavour Arrives at Puerto Egas

Puerto Egas beach animals-1

One perfect afternoon at Puerto Egas, where wildlife offer warm welcome

Everyone who takes a Galapagos cruise usually has a favorite shore landing. Mine comes unexpectedly almost midway through the trip when Lindblad’s National Geographic Endeavour, at a place called Puerto Egas on Isla Santiago (also known as James Island and Isla San Salvador). On our afternoon stop there, everything comes together: the sunlight is gorgeous, we encounter a good variety of birds and mammals and also witness lots of lively animal interaction, including a large bellowing male Galapagos fur seal. Best of all, this is one of the most leisurely walks, without the usual and constant push to keep moving.

Ironically, when Lindblad’s National Geographic Endeavour arrives and anchors off Isla Santiago, there is no hint this will be a special afternoon. Instead, once our Zodiac lands on a narrow rocky beach, the scenery is almost depressing. A dilapidated house sits on a small cliff above where we stand. Then, after we exit the beach and get a better view of the old deserted homestead and its empty, fenced-in fields, the spot seems even more dismal.

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Jarring reminders of the humans who once lived here

There may be 30,000 people living in the Galapagos, but this is the first evidence of human occupation we’ve seen since sailing from Baltra on Saturday morning. This unexpected detritus of human intrusion is an irritating reminder of past efforts to harvest salt here, first between 1928 and 1930, then much later in 1964. Both attempts invariably caused environmental damage by using native and endemic trees for firewood and also introducing new plants and animals. The Puerto Egas name, in fact, refers to the last salt company operation, run by Hector Egas whose venture failed when the price of salt in South America became so cheap that operating in the Galapagos was impractical.

Thankfully, we quickly leave the settlement area and make the short walk across the island’s narrow point to the other side, which is surprisingly different. It’s long black lava coastline that seems to extend endlessly along James Bay, where Charles Darwin’s ship anchored and he explored the interior of Santiago Island. The shore, comprised of an old lava flow that poured into the ocean, has many large inlets and tidal pools created by the erosive force of the rough wave action. One of these inlets, a vertical chute where the water rises and ebbs as waves regularly crash against the rock, carries the appropriate if undignified name of “Darwin’s toilet.”

This lava shoreline is a favorite haunt of fur seals, the smallest of the pinnipeds and creatures we really haven’t encountered closely before. Endemic to the Galápagos Islands, an estimated 40,000 fur seals are spread throughout the islands, apparently much smaller than just a few decades ago. Scientists say the fur seal population was reduced significantly in the 1980s due to the effects of El Nino, which also reduced the local fish populations.

The best known place to see fur seals is Gruta de las Focas, which has a natural bridge above the inlets where fur seals are normally found. They’re present today because, thankfully for us, Galápagos fur seals are the most land-based of all the fur seals, spending at least 30% of their time out of the water. Fortunately, they also do most of their fishing at night since they prefer to spend as many days as possible warming themselves on the lava rocks and only occasionally sunbathing on sandy beaches.

Galapagos Islands SantiagoPuerto Egas American oyster catcher-1American oyster catchers were common place at Puerto Egas

Hopefully, they will be as prevalent here and throughout the Galapagos in coming years since the current climate change seems to have prompted an ambitious group of Galapagos fur seals to look for better fishing waters in Peru. No one is sure why, perhaps because there are more fish there. This migration happened in 2010 when a group of Galapagos fur seals traveled 900 miles (1,500 km) to the northern waters of Peru and established a colony there, the first recorded instance of Galapagos seals migrating from their homeland. Rising water temperatures have been credited as the motivation but the water still averages warmer in the Galapagos.  Water temperatures off northern Peru have increased from 62F (17C) to 73F (23C) in the past 10 years; Galapagos water temps average 77F (25C). It’s speculated more such colonies might be established in northern Peru. Still think it’s due to better fish populations in Peru and not the water temperature.

Darwin paid scant attention to the fur seals during his visit, perhaps because fur hunters had almost hunted the animals to extinction. On this day fur seals are prominent at Puerto Egas, along with Sally Lightfoot crabs, marine iguanas, American oyster catchers, a Galapagos hawk and more. Two fur seals are in a contest with a sea lion to dislodge the sea lion from its flat rock perch just above the waves. The sea lion ignores the fur seals’ loud noises and aggressive threats, holding its head high with an expression we interpret to mean something like “Well, here goes the neighborhood!”

Galapagos Islands Santiago Puerto Egas lava gull-1Lava gull stalking the Puerto Egas tidal pools

The matter is semi-resolved when one of the fur seals jumps on an adjoining rock and gradually nudges its way into sharing part of the platform. The sea lion refuses to retreat and both animals end up appearing to have reached a compromise for the space. The second fur seal stays in the water, preferring to swim around and keep out of the way. Once the action subsides, we wander away, careful not to trip over or step on the marine iguanas littering the craggy lava surface like washed-up seaweed.

As we walk the shoreline in the direction of the ship, it’s obvious the Puerto Egas tidal pools are attracting the largest variety of birds we’ve ever seen in one location. Even several Darwin finches land in the trees bordering the shoreline only a few yards behind the beach. I lag behind the others for the unusually prime photo ops. It’s what photographers call the “golden” or “magic” hour, very close to sunset, and the colors are amazing. This one afternoon almost makes up for the  cloudy days we’ve had to work around most of the trip.

When I finish photographing the birds in the tidal pools, I catch up with my group and see they are watching a Galapagos hawk dine on a sizable marine iguana. We are perhaps 20 yards from the hawk, which is well aware of our presence but continues to feed while keeping an obvious watch on us. We’ve seen numerous marine iguanas along the coast, more than in most places, and it’s not surprising there would be a natural death the hawk would take advantage of. The hawk carefully watches on us as we photograph/view it.

We’ve seen numerous marine iguanas along the coast, more than in most places, and it’s not surprising there would be a natural death the hawk would take advantage of.  It certainly couldn’t have carried here something this size. The iguana seems as large as the hawk, so the bird shouldn’t have to scavenge for several more days.

galapagos santiago puerto egas galapagos hawk-1  galapagos santiago puerto egas seal pup-1
                              Galapagos hawk feeds on its prize meal; a fur seal pup.

My day’s highlight comes near the end of our walk where we encounter a huge male fur seal with his harem.  The males are supposed to grow no larger than 5 feet (1.5m) in length and weigh no more than about 145 pounds. This fellow not only looks much larger and scarily impressive because he sits on a rock plateau just a few feet above us.

Seen in profile, this huge male should emphasize why the Galapagos fur seal’s scientific name is Arctocephalus galapagoensis, from Greek words meaning “bear headed.” to my, it doesn’t. Although this fur seal does have a short, pointed muzzle, along with a small, button nose and large eyes, the muzzle of most bears I’ve seen are considerably longer and the noses hardly button-size. Think hound dog, instead. But when the male fur seal starts bellowing at one of his concubines, he draws his lips back and flashed sharp, triangular teeth that did make me think of something as deadly as a bear.

Galapagos Santiago Island Puerto Egas male fur seal-1Male fur sea offering us some advice: “Stay away!”

Dominant male fur seals are enormously protective of their breeding territory, often required to challenge and chase away challengers. This fellow also obviously expends a lot of effort trying to keep his women in line, though he doesn’t seem to have much success. He seems to be loudly coaxing, or whatever—with hands, he might act like a gorilla beating its chest–to impress the only female on the platform with him. She acknowledges his “whatever,” occasionally swaying her head like a boxer in the ring, but eventually just turns and descends to join the other girls below him.

Our guide (a woman) explains, “She’s out to prove she wants more than a one-night stand. He needs to step up his game and romance her.”

It seems absurd that a creature this size and fearsome could ever court (date?) a mate. But male whales do it. Male sharks do it. Male magnificent frigate birds do it (remember those big red sacs?). Male blue-Footed Bobbies do it (by building impressive nests and their dancing). Uh, even human males do it. But instead of impressive nest building, we’ve evolved to dinner, a show, a sports event or not even acting in person, just text messaging.

In the Galapagos, you realize a lot about life and love.

Galapagos Santiago Island Lindblad Endeavour cruise shipLindblad’s National Geographic Endeavour off Puerto Egas

Lindblad Endeavour Galapagos Cruise Links

The Galapagos Experience                                             Endeavour Dining
Galapagos Adventure Upcoming                                 Sustainable Dining Policy
How Darwin Saved The Galapagos                              Saturday Dining Menus
Galapagos Photo Tips                                                       Sunday Dining Menus
What To Pack For Cruise                                                 Monday Dining Menus
Getting to Guayaquil                                                         Tuesday Dining Menus
Las Bachas Shore Landing                                              Wednesday Dining Menus
North Seymour Shore Landing                                      Thursday Dining Menus
Fernandina & Isabela Islands                                        Friday Finale Menus
Urbina Bay Shore Landing                                               Endeavour Recipes
Life Aboard The Endeavour
More About Life On Board
Puerto Egas Shore Landing
Endeavour’s Floating SPA
Meeting One of World’s Rarest Animals
Puerto Ayoro Walking Tour
Santa Cruz Highlands Tour
Hunting Tortoises in the Santa Cruz Highlands
San Cristobal, Endeavour’s final stop

More About Daily Life On Board Lindblad’s Endeavour

Lindblad Endeavour kayaking Galapagos-1

More thoughts and observations about daily life on the Lindblad National Geographic Endeavour, a follow-up to yesterday’s post.

Kayaking
According to Carlos Romero, our expedition leader, Lindblad Expeditions is the only cruise company to offer kayaking, That isn’t surprising since, according to the National Park, most other boats carry only 16 passengers. The kayaks serve two purposes: to provide a different activity and to allow passengers to seek out on their own the birds, iguanas and sea lions that reside on steep island cliffs. All kayaks are two-person sit-on-top models, which are quite stable; you’d have to work extremely hard to tip one over.

Lindblad Endeavour kayaking Galapagos-2                                       Paddling at Tagus Cove, Isabela Island

But with two people paddling, it’s vital both paddlers be in synch, each alternating to the same side with every stroke. Paddlers are out of synch when, seen from the front or rear, their paddle blades resemble a windmill in motion, which is not good; the purpose of windmill blades is to spin in a circle.

The only tricky part is getting in and out of the kayak, which is achieved from a Zodiac, not the Endeavour. A kayak is held alongside the inflatable as two paddlers, on at a time, slide onto the center of the kayak. It’s a more delicate exercise to slide back into the Zodiac since the kayak is lower. If anyone is likely to fall into the drink, it’s during the loading and unloading exercises.

The Endeavour has no scheduled kayak quick-course since it doesn’t require much instruction to propel the craft. However you may find these tips helpful. Guides accompany kayakers, able to shout directions to anyone needing help.  As with snorkeling, a Zodiac stays close to pick up anyone needing assistance or provide a tow.

Talks by Naturalists

These are one of the high-points of the trip. Frequently the briefings are just after lunch or part of the evening recap. Naturalists change regularly to rotate to other Lindblad ships or take a week or two off, meaning topics may change from week to week Almost all of the naturalists are Ecuadorians, either born in the Galapagos or long time island residents. All have been trained and certified by the National Park Service

Lindblad Endeavour Galapagos penguins-1  Lindblad Endeavour sea turtle Galapagos-1
Possible talk topics include Galapagos penguins and Pacific sea turtles 

Sample talk topics may include a history of early 20th century settlers in the Galapagos (if Galapagos native Aura Cruz gives this talk, you must attend not only for the information but the strange and wonderful video of people dancing with their “adopted child:” a donkey!). Expect an explanation of how Charles Darwin’s visit to the islands helped form his theory of natural selection, perhaps even a separate session or the evolution of fish species. Regardless, all sessions are informative and usually accompanied by films or slides shown on large flat screen TVs scattered around the lounge so everyone has a good view.

Personally, until one of the talks I never knew that Charles Darwin’s family was so wealthy and that it was due to the Darwin family tradition of marrying one of the Wedgwood daughters, as his father and Charles both did. These are the same Wedgwood  as in fine china and whose name has become almost a generic synonym for elegant table ware.

Endeavour Library
The ship’s library offers a small but interesting selection of books about the Galapagos and other expedition regions. Tim was one of the first people in the library after we sail from Baltra and he happened to find a worn copy of the Pulitzer-prize winning The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time. He found it a fascinating read, describing a 20-year study recording how the beaks of finches on Daphne Major Island changed over the span of 20 generations. The research proved for the first time the process of evolution not only occurs, it can also be observed. The study is still ongoing.

Lindblad library-1  N Seymour Darwin Finch-2
                 The Endeavour library; a Darwin finch on North Seymour Island

The library is worth visiting even if you don’t intend to read (there isn’t much free time except at night). The small room is a quiet, out-of-the-way place to sit and enjoy a cup of tea or snack on a wafer anytime, around the clock, since everything is provided on a self-serve basis. This is one of the ship’s less frequented areas.

The Computer Lab                          
A small computer lab located next to the reception area offers three  computers. All are linked to a printer, which can be used to make a hard copy of any important documents, such as airline online check-in. Satellite internet time is sold in various units, with the system working best when the Endeavour is stationary.
Lindblad Endeavour computer room-1

The Main Lounge
The social hub of the Endeavour is located on the deck just above the 100 cabins. The lounge is open around the clock for tea and free soda fountain (Diet Coke, Coke, Spite). A small glass-fronted cooler offers Ecuadorian beers with an honor system signup sheet for a person’s room number and the number of items taken. In early evening, just before the daily recaps, appetizers are served with treats like chicken lettuce wraps, chips, salsa, and veggies with dip. And the full bar here also is open at that time.

Lindblad lounge-1

The lounge provides the only the nightly entertainment, which normally consists of TV specials by (surprise!) National Geographic about different aspects of the Galapagos. Toward the end of the cruise, a group of local musicians and dancers from Santa Cruz Island entertained us with music and dance not only from Ecuador but Bolivia and Peru. Called Eco Arte, they were so impressive we bought all four of their CD’s, a perfect memory of the Galapagos. If you like their playing, buy the CD’s from them when they are on the ship. It’s the only opportunity you’ll have.

Galapagos Eduacorian dancer Lindblad National Geographic Endeavour

The Outside Decks
The stern has have a mix of tables and chairs and loungers, usually occupied by people reading or dozing between shore landings. A tiny swimming pool located near the stern is more like the size of a plunge pool and it seems universally ignored by everyone. It might appeal to young children, but none were on our trip.

Lindblad Endeavour sun deck-1  Lindblad Endeavour swimming pool-1

Tip: Wet bathing suits can really start smelling after a couple of days. Use the complimentary clothes dryer in the spa wellness area for anything that gets wet. Or take advantage of the Endeavour’s one-day laundry service.

Lindblad Endeavour Galapagos Cruise Links

The Galapagos Experience                                       Endeavor Dining
Galapagos Adventure Upcoming                            Sustainable Dining Policy
How Darwin Saved The Galapagos                         Saturday Dining Menus
Galapagos Photo Tips                                                  Sunday Dining Menus
What To Pack For Cruise                                            Monday Dining Menus
Getting to Guayaquil                                                    Tuesday Dining Menus
Las Bachas Shore Landing                                         Wednesday Dining Menus
North Seymour Shore Landing                                Thursday Dining Menus
Fernandina & Isabela Islands                                  Friday Finale Menus
Urbina Bay Shore Landing                                         Endeavour Recipes
Life Aboard The Endeavour
More About Life On Board
Puerto Egas Shore Landing
Endeavour’s Floating SPA
Meeting One of World’s Rarest Animals
Puerto Ayoro Walking Tour
Santa Cruz Highlands Tour
Hunting Tortoises in the Santa Cruz Highlands
San Cristobal, Endeavour’s final stop