Day 39: In The Footsteps of Darwin

Fri. 21st September 2012

Graffiti everywhere!It was another early start again today with breakfast at 7am and then on the pangas at 8am for our first excursion of the day. After our overnight cruise, we were at San Cristobel island which is where Darwin first landed in 1832(?).

If I scratch your back, will you scratch mine?We started with a walk along the beach as the Ghost Crabs scuttle off back to their holes and the sea lions ignore us completely. After all the sea lion photos that we had taken yesterday, we tried to impose a moratorium on further pictures unless they had significant artistic merit. We probably failed on these grounds, but at least it did make us think about what else we could photograph.

Blue footed Booby going fishingThere were a couple of Blue-footed Boobies who were diving for fish just in the bay where we landed. Fantastic (and relatively easy) to watch, but a real challenge to photograph. It is probably more down to my camera than my own skills that I was able to get a pretty good sequence.

[As a sidenote, I am super-pleased with my Sony RX100 camera. Whilst I hate to admit it, it is thanks to Mark Platt for the tip-off. This compact camera has many of the capabilities of my Nikon DSLR, and some additional tricks like stunning low-light capability and built in HDR. Highly recommended.]

Oystercatcher at workAfter our walk, it was wet-suits on for another snorkelling session along the cliffs at the side of the island. Whilst there were no turtles or sea lions coming out to play this time, there were lots of fish feeding (and squabbling for territory) amongst the rocks and then in the sandy sea bed, Janet spotted a group of 4 Eagle Rays swimming by. It was almost hypnotising, swimming gently along the surface tracking them as they glided effortlessly by.

Who are you calling "big nose"When we got back to the Cachalote, it was more mundane and it was time to get undies washed as we (or at least I) were in danger of running out. At least this was a productive activity – in the afternoon, we were supposed to have a trip up to the highlands to see a fresh water lagoon / sink hole. However, once we got up there it was deemed to be too wet (we were up in the clouds) and so Plan B was for us to go to a(nother) tortoise sanctuary.

Lichen giving the trees a beardWhilst the general consensus was that there were only so many tortoises you could maintain an interest in, I think that I would prefer to note some thoughts on the way that tourism is managed in the islands. The route of our boat and our arrival and departure times at each of the islands are set by the National Park. Once on an island, you are constrained by the marked paths and the directions of your guide. The upshot is that you can feel somewhat restricted and herded around – particularly when two or three other boats are visiting the same island at the same time. However, it never feels busy and the islands are so unique – and you can get so close to the animals – that it is a price worth paying.

we have seen relatively few other tourists when ashore and we have felt that we have had the place to ourselves.

There is also (appropriately) a real drive to minimise the impact of human activity on the islands. One sign that there is very little pollution is the amount of lichen growing on the trees. The above picture doesn’t really do justice to the number of trees that we have seen that seem to have grown beards.

As we did not sail until midnight there was time for a good old sing song as the guide had bought his guitar and a few of the other guests were very good musicians.

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