Today was billed as one of the highlights of any Galapagos trip. After the previous days disappointment, I wasn't holding my breath at the high expectations people were talking about for this. This trip our guide energetically discussed, to the nearby island of Seymour Norte, a ninety minute journey from Canal Itabaca on Santa Cruz would allow us to see both the infamous frigate bird, with their swollen red balloon necks, and, the blue footed boobies with their crazy dancing routines to attract the ladies. The guide divulged that normally such scenes of love and affection are saved until the months of April at the earliest, but this year they started early. If all I did was fly and eat, then I would have started early as well.
I shouldn't have been so pessimistic as the birdlife witnessed was unbelievable. Each and every way you turned, the nearby bushes and floors were crammed full of different bird species. I would never have thought such birds would consider making their nests and performing courting rituals on the islands pathways, where discreteness and intimacy is a non starter. Indeed, so close are they to the open mouthed, gawping tourists that stuffing one under your T-shirt wouldn't be a problem. I didn't feel the need to participate in such an illegal act, taking a ridiculous number photos instead. Seeing evolution, creation, or whatever you decide to call it first hand, as the female blue footed boobies use the warm veins of their webbed feet to keep their eggs warm and the baby frigate birds, at 15 months, a little too old to be relying on parents, still sitting in the same destroyed nest, is amazing. Other birds nesting here, such as red billed tropicbirds, swallow tailed gulls, lava gulls, brown pelicans, and storm petrels certainly take second stage to their more colourful opposition.
Getting close and personal with the birdlife on Seymour Norte, isn't the only benefit of the island. Also found here is a strong sea lion and marine iguana population. From my experience all guides strictly state the touching of animals is absolutely prohibited. For example, touching a sea lion pup results in the poor creatures early demise as the parents cannot distinguish the furs new human smell. Relying on smell alone to recognise their babies, the sea lion parents have no option but to abandon them.
In fact, on two occasions the strong smell of putrid rotting in the air, something resembling the smell of 'over-ripe' fish, could be smelt that wasn't far off from causing instant gagging. The culprit of the smell, two lifeless baby sea lion corpses, their bodies flat, the life sucked dry out of them wasn't far away. On closer inspection a million maggots filled the rotting flesh. I'd be happy never to see such a sight again.
With such warnings and appalling graphical images on show, it disgusted me how some tourists still failed to follow the rules, a picture of them stroking a bay sea lion pup too enticing. I was delighted when our guide upon seeing one couple partake in a little mammal touching, both dressed in horrid fluorescent shell suits and with body odour that matched the filth of decomposing sea lion flesh, lost his temper and shouted furiously what their actions had caused, only stopping short of calling them murderers. It certainly seemed to have the desired effect as for the rest of the trip they were always the furthest people away from the wildlife. I have the utmost respect for the guide, someone who is willing to say exactly what they need to say, and not worrying about keeping everyone happy to line his trouser pockets with tips. In this matter I was definitely on the guides side, and the horrible B.O. smell wafting through the air made it easier to shun the couple for the rest of the trip. I have a feeling they learnt their lesson.
On the return leg of the trip, we stopped along the southern Santa Cruz shoreline, on Bachas beach, so named for the wooden barges abandoned by the American military during World War II. I was expecting seeing something resembling the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan, minus the bodies and blood, but I was slightly disappointed upon reaching the beach to find no sightings of barges, wood, or any other military transportation. It was probably for the best as the pristine beach was picture card perfect.
As our guide was explaining the biodiversity of the beach and pointing out the no-go areas where sea turtle eggs are currently buried, I noticed a flamingo in a salt lake behind the beach. After seeing flamingos along the shoreline of Lake Nakuru in Kenya, where depending on the time you visit there is the chance of seeing one third of the worlds flamingo population, I quickly clambered to the top of the nearest sand dune expecting to see many a wading royal pink flamingo. It wasn't worth all the effort. Upon reaching the top there was just one lone flamingo going about his daily business.
The rest of the time on Bachas Beach was spent under water, snorkeling the rocky coastline that surrounded the unspoilt beach. Compared to the previous day this was a different class, as clearer, deeper water and more rocky hiding places led to a ridiculous variety of fish being spotted, including blue-eyed damselfish, sergeant major, morrish idol, hieroglyphic wrasses and parrotfish to name but a few. I swear a white-tip reef shark also swam past but I couldn't confirm this sighting as it was over before it started. Thinking of coming face to face with a shark for the first time brings up images of Jaws and fear. Neither of these entered my mind though, just how gracefully it moved through the water.
This possible spotting made for a fine end to a quality day and as I tucked in to my fish cerviche later in the evening on Calle Charles Darwin down by the Capitania, watching the locals play a spot of Ecua-Volley, I reflected on a very successful day. It made me realise how poor the previous days Bay Tour was.
Grave doubts also entered my mind about the future of the Galapagos Islands. On this one trip, during our time on Seymour Norte, there must have been at least five boats, all containing 20 or so passengers. If just one of these passengers is stupid and ignorant enough to try and touch any of the wildlife here, then it won't be long before the human-animal relationship is changed forever. Not to mention the vehicle pollution and the damage it's causing to the ocean life.