Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador: Bartolome Island & Sullivan Bay, Santiago Island

As you can see from the map above, Bartolome Island is a small island off the coast of Santiago Island (North West of Santa Cruz island which is in the middle of the map).  That was our first stop today.

This morning I got up at about 5:30 and watched the sunrise. This time, the colours in the sky looked quite breathtaking. My camera doesn't quite capture the shades of pink and grey but suffice to say, it was lovely. If you look at the top of the hill, as the sun was rising, you might be able to make out what looks like a stick at the top (on the right side of the point of the top hill). I thought that must make for a good lookout point but it sure was high. Little did I know that it was the same place we were headed later that morning. Had I known, I may have said that I already had a picture, thank you - and I would sit this one out. But after Cusco and Machu PIcchu, this might seem like a cake walk.

There was also an amazing rock formation, seemingly emerging in the middle of the water. It is not accessible to people, making it a good nesting place for many birds.

On the way over to Bartolome Island, Alfredo the panga operator saw a penguin (not seen much at this time of year as the water is a bit too warm for them). He was the lone one standing on a rock so Alfredo took us over in the panga just so we could take a picture.
We then headed off to another part of the island for a dry landing today but it's not really that dry. We were not jumping out of the panga on to a beach but the pier which is supposed to be a dry landing is usually wet and extremely slippery from the algae and the rising tides, so it can be very dangerous to step out the wrong way. Omar always tells us to be careful and we are not allowed to leave the panga unless he or a crew member is already out and we have to grab and hold their forearm to get in or out.

Today I witnessed why they said it could be extremely dangerous to step in or out without care. Another group of people were just leaving the island when we arrived and their guide was telling them to be careful but one woman disregarded what the guide was saying and she moved quite quickly from the dry area to the wet, slippery area to attempt to board their panga without assistance. I was watching this from about 20 feet above her and I suddenly heard a crash and saw her disappear from my sight. She had slipped and fallen into the water but fortunately, it was not where the tide was crashing into the pier but on the other side which was somewhat sheltered. I almost felt bad for her but only almost. It was so totally preventable. If she had listened when the guide was telling the group to be extremely careful, it may not have happened. We were quite lucky that not one single person on our tour had an accident.
Now for Bartolome island: yes we had to climb 365 stairs to the top of the hill where I had taken the sunrise picture. Someone had taken the time to mark the stairs by the days of each month (for a total of 365). We got up to the end of February and stopped at a platformed lookout point; I think whomever built it was taking pity on people like us who are not really capable of doing the entire 365 at one time so they call it a lookout point but it's really a resting station! Omar took just enough time to explain the scenery and vegetation - or in this case, a lack of vegetation - and then we climbed another two months (60 stairs) to the next lookout point (aka resting place so we could catch our breath without looking too embarrassed). We did see some candlestick cactus but there must have been about three sets of these in the entire landscape that we saw (although my pictures are the same cactus photographed 3 times).

We finally made it to the top and I have to say that even the young(er) people were huffing and puffing when they got to the top so I didn't feel bad that we all rested along the way. The view from the top was impressive so we decided that a group picture was in order. Omar took the picture. You can see in the second (smaller of the two yachts) and third picture that the Darwin yacht is anchored off shore. That's usually as close to the islands that it will get and then we have to go the rest of the way by panga.  

We were relieved to be going downhill after the 265 stair climb but if you think down hill is easy, then you have not done too many stairs. Yes you don't exert as much energy as climbing uphill but it takes more skill not to do it too quickly or else you can go head first down many stairs.
Sullivan Bay, Santiago Island

Sullivan Bay was where we were supposed to see the lava formations and I was prepared not to be impressed but was I in for a surprise!. Some of these lava formations were referred to as "ropes" because they looked like someone had braided ropes and formed them into rugs with interesting patterns. See for yourself.

During a volcano, the lava flows hot and red with temperatures exceeding 2000 degrees F. As the lava cools, it forms these patterns. They look like they should be crumbly but they are hard as rocks because that's what they are! The same stuff you have at the bottom of your gas barbeque that lasts for years and years. except that this is not porous but smooth and hard and almost entirely non-porous.

Then there was the intestinal lava or brain lava - whichever image suits your imagination. It must have been my years of plucking chickens when I was a kid that made me think that it looked more like intestines than brains but a couple people thought it looked like brains. You decide. I'll stick to intestines.

Then we saw some lava bubbles where the lava dried and left a hole in the middle - like this one.

 Then there was the lava sinkhole that Robin decided to climb into.

Then there was the vegetation. Hard to find but this is what grows here - a very small plant that anyone would be hard pressed to explain its survival in intolerable conditions.

Then there were patterns that any artist would appreciate. I swear some of it looks like modern or abstract art. Again, see for yourself.

I have to say that I my expectations for this afternoon were not high but at the end of the afternoon, I had completely eaten my words. You have to appreciate Pache Mama (Earth Mother) in all her glory.

I went back to the boat feeling very satisfied that if the trip ended, I would have seen everything I wanted to see - and so much more. That evening, the crew served us cocktails since it was our last night. They said we were to have a par-tay but most of us went to bed quite early. It turned out to be a rough night on the high seas so no one was in the mood for partying. I now see why some  intoxicated people are referred to as drunken sailors. Without alcohol you can move on the yacht as if you were drunk, staggering from one side to the other just to walk 10 feet and you'd be lucky if you didn't crash into something or someone.

Tomorrow is our last day so we have an early morning activity before breakfast and then breakfast and then we leave for our flight back to Quito.


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