"" Writer's Wanderings: 2020

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Reminiscing: Snorkeling With The Galapagos Turtles

 [While I admit the sea lion snorkeling was more fun, this snorkel adventure was amazing as well.]

Dressed in dive skins and wetsuits, our snorkel gear gathered in our mesh bag, we boarded the zodiac for our deep water snorkel. It was a bit of a ride to the place where we were to snorkel and we bounced along at the front of the zodiac as it navigated the waves and wind coming directly at us. At least, I thought, it will be an easier ride back going with the waves as long as the wind doesn’t change direction.

 We had been warned that the water would be cold but nothing prepared me for the shock when mask and snorkel finally in place, I slid off the side of the zodiac and into the water. Our first deep water snorkel had been chilly. This one was down right cold.

It didn’t take long though to realize it was going to be oh, so worth it! The sea floor about eight to ten feet below us was carpeted in green—a perfect garden for sea turtles to munch on. Our snorkel guide shouted, “Ray! Ray!” and we all dunked our heads in the water to look in the direction he pointed.

A large blue gray sting ray glided swiftly along the rocks the edges of its body ruffling as though it were a gathered piece of trim on a skirt. It must have been about five feet across.

Lots of parrot fish chomped on the rocks munching on much of the greens that the turtles would enjoy as well. Big puffer fish flashed their large puppy dog eyes at us as they scurried past.

And of course there were the sea turtles. With the clear water and the sun shining down through the depths to highlight them, they were a spectacle to behold. Their shells gleamed in the sunlight and they exhibited amazing grace as they slowly glided through the water, stopping to sample the delicacies the sea garden had to offer.

Cold? No one noticed a whole lot until our zodiac pulled in closer to pick us up. Oh, yes, we thought, maybe we are cold but let us take one more look. This was a place we were not going to forget soon.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Reminiscing: So Many Iguanas! And They Sneeze!

 [While they have a face only a mother could love, they are amazing creatures the marine iguanas.]

Fernandina Island is the youngest and western-most of all the Galapagos Islands. It has also had the most recent volcanic eruption occurring in April of 2009. Earlier, in 1968, the caldera had sunk almost 1,000 feet but then the coast line at Espinoza Point was lifted some 9 feet just two years later.

We carefully climb off the zodiac. It may be classified a dry landing, but the tide is really low and the rocks are wet and mossy in places. Life jackets removed, cameras out, our fearless naturalist, Alexis, gets us all organized on a relatively dry spot before we look around. Suddenly he grabs his face with two hands (ala Home Alone) and yells, “Oh my gosh! There’s iguanas!” It’s his joke. We have seen so many iguanas now that every time we come upon another he makes the exclamation.

But here there really are a LOT of marine iguanas and the smell attests to the numbers. The shoreline was populated with hundreds if not thousands. They are so difficult to see with their black coloring against the black lava. With the low tide and the sun climbing, the excrement is fermenting. We pick our way carefully around iguanas which blend into the colors of the lava rock stopping to take photos of the absurd number of them gathered together here.

Occasionally we are startled by an iguana sneezing. They spend as long as 45 minutes underwater feeding on algae. The excess salt in their diet is sneezed out their noses. No snot. Just salty water. This morning the algae is exposed due to the low tide and several iguana are combing the rocks for their breakfast. There are many in the water swimming, using their tail as a crocodile or alligator does swishing it back and forth to propel themselves to the tasty algae morsels they seek.

While we saw some large iguanas, I don’t think we saw any that were a full four feet long which is the length they can reach when full grown. An amazing fact I find is that marine iguanas during a lean time with less food will not only get thinner but will shrink in length. 

Along side of a pile of bones, we stop for an excellent lecture on the skeletal structure of several marine animals including the backbone of a whale. After we’ve learned about which bone is connected to which bone and guess about where some of them came from, we move around a large area of soft sand where the iguanas lay their eggs. More iguanas? Will the island hold them all? It is said that there are about 200,000 to 300,000 in the islands and scientists have estimated that some concentrations of them could be about 4,500 per mile. 

We reach the other side of the lava where a beach area has been established with the breaking apart of the lava rock and the crushing of shells and urchins and I’m sure other things I didn’t recognize that contribute to the making of sand. Just a handful of it yields a host of different objects from the sea.
Suddenly someone shouts, “Snake!” I look quickly for the lady who has said she truly freaks out about snakes. I didn’t know there was someone worse than I am. But she is in another group not in ours. I stay a safe distance and take a couple of pictures but quit when my stomach begins to churn as one man lets the snake slither over his shoe.

To take my mind off the snake, I take more pictures of iguanas and driftwood and a couple of sea lions. 

As we make our way back toward our landing spot, we come across a Flightless Cormorant sitting on a nest.  It amazes me that she doesn’t flinch as we pass by so closely. I have learned that the Flightless Cormorant's wings are one third the size needed to fly. Still, it does quite well in the water feeding off of fish, eel, small octopus, and other small marine life. In between each venture into the sea, they have to dry their feathers and wings as they do not produce as much oil as other sea birds to to keep them afloat. They are the rarest of birds, only found in the Galapagos and their population is estimated at 1,500. 

Carefully we pick our way over the lava again and around the iguanas to get to our landing point. We don our life jackets again and ride to the Xpedition. The zodiac deposits us on the rear deck of the ship once more so we can don our wetsuits and snorkel gear for our deep water dive. We’ve been promised to swim with sea turtles. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Reminiscing: Galapagos Turtles and Land Iguana

 [Darwin did a lot of his work there in the Galapagos. How he could leave God out of the equation is beyond me.]

The afternoon on Isabela Island is spent at Urbina Bay. It is a wet landing this time where we take off shoes and sandals and slip over the side of the zodiac into the waters and onto the soft sand. We leave our snorkel equipment and wetsuits on the beach and follow our guide away from the beach to see what wildlife we can find on our short walk which should be about an hour to be followed by a snorkel in the waters off the beach.

Alexis points out the trails left in the tall grass and undergrowth by the large tortoises or land turtles. While we stand to listen, a flock of finches lands nearby. When Darwin explored the Galapagos, he found somewhere between 13-15 different kinds of finches which he studied from samples he collected. It was his opinion and part of his Origin of the Species work that the finches had adapted to the area and the change in the beaks of the finches were the proof. I prefer to think that a Creator made the beaks that way so that they would survive in the environment in which he placed them.

A few steps more and we find our first land turtle. It is sheltering under some bushes but sticks its head out to see what the commotion is on the trail. This one is apparently a female judging by the smaller size. The giant tortoises are probably the most famous of the inhabitants of the Galapagos. There are eleven subspecies that exist among the islands. They can live well past 100 years and weigh up to 500 pounds. 

We stop by a tree to learn that it is a dangerous botanical specimen—a poison apple tree. Alexis warns us that its leaves can cause us a great deal of irritation should we brush by it and for some people who might be allergic, it can be more serious. There are little fruit on it that appear to be small apples but they are toxic to humans. I avoid it as I do poison ivy.

Suddenly someone shouts out and points to the path ahead. In the middle of it sits a large colorful land iguana. Its orange and yellow markings almost blend into the color of the sandy path. We approach slowly trying not to intimidate it not because it is dangerous but because all of the photographers in the group want a chance to get their pictures before it moves off.

Their are two species of land iguanas on the islands. They can grow to around 3 feet in length. The land iguanas live in the drier areas of the islands getting the needed moisture to survive from eating succulent plants such as cactus. They have a peculiar interaction with Darwin finches. Apparently they raise their bodies off the ground and let the finches pick off the ticks on their bodies.

The land iguana reaches maturity at 8-15 years and the female lays between 2-25 eggs in a burrowed nest in sandy soil. The eggs take 3-4 months to hatch at which time the little ones are responsible for digging themselves out. If they survive being exposed to the harsh dry environment and the predators, they can live up to 50 years. 

The male iguana we see is very accommodating. He sits long enough on the path and then along the side of the walk in the foliage for all of us to get some good shots. 

Further on, we find another female turtle nestled into a comfy hole she’s made. They often do this at night to conserve body heat. The females will travel long distances (in tortoise miles) to find a nesting spot in sandy soil when it is time to lay eggs. She lays between 2-16 eggs the size of tennis balls (ouch!). As with the iguana, the finches are also a means to rid the tortoises of insects.

The tortoises were pillaged during the 1600s by pirates and later whalers as a food source. They could take them on board the ship and they would survive for a long time without food and water making them a fresh source of food for the mariners. It greatly reduced their number as did the eventual settlers of the islands who unwittingly brought predators to the islands. Dogs, cats, etc. fed on the tortoise eggs or ruined nests. That's why there are so many restrictions now in the national park--to conserve these magnificent and unusual creatures.

A large meadow area contains several land turtles and orange land iguanas both. While we watch them moving about, I notice that the large bush next to me is busy with the wasps we’ve been warned about. For several planned landings we have been asked not to wear anything brightly colored as it tends to attract the wasps. One man in our group was stung—not a bad sting, painful but unless you are allergic, harmless. The naturalists all carry epi pens just in case.

We find several painted locusts which look like large colorful grasshoppers. They belong to the same group as locusts, katydids, and grasshoppers. There are 21 different kinds in the Galapagos.

More tortoises are sighted along the way back to the beach and another land iguana close enough to make the photographers’ hearts pitter patter. While Alexis explains how important poop is in tracking the iguanas and knowing where they are migrating or living, I snap this friendly guy as he’s enjoying his afternoon snack. Or perhaps it’s an early dinner?

Our short walk has been so fascinating that we have stayed too long to feel comfortable getting into wetsuits for such a short snorkel in waters that are already being shaded from the sun as it lowers into the horizon. We opt to get on the next zodiac and enjoy our stateroom’s shower instead and our own slide show of the day’s pictures.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Reminiscing: Ah, Yes--The Blue Footed Boobies of the Galapagos

 [So many colors in the Galapagos. Not so much the marine iguanas but most everything else is brilliant color not the least of which are the blue feet of the aptly named boobies.]

Isabela Island is the largest of the Galapagos Islands. It was formed from five volcanoes which are all still considered active. The last eruption occurred in May 2008. The place for our morning excursion is called Punta Moreno and is one of the least visited sites because of its remote location and access.

Our excursion is a zodiac ride and a walk. Our first sighting comes as the zodiac nears an outcropping of lava rocks. A Flightless Cormorant works at his morning preening. The Flightless Cormorant has no natural predators in the Glapagos. It is distinguished by its small atrophied wings. It is one of the rarest birds in the world and found only in the Galapagos.

It isn’t long before we see marine iguanas congregating on the rocks around us and swimming in the water. There are so many iguanas in Galapagos that it is impossible to not see some type of iguana no matter where you visit.

As we motor around the lava rocks along the shore, I notice the red ring of metal around the propeller of the outboard motor. It is there to protect the sea lions and other marine life from the blades. I wondered if that would be helpful to the manatees in Florida? So many are maimed by the propeller blades of motor vessels.

Soon we are among the blue footed boobies. Even from a distance, you can tell their feet are blue. Against the black lava rock, they really stand out. The blue footed boobie has a life span of 15-20 years. It fishes for its food near the shore but it can be seen diving (death defying if you ask me) into the water to go after a tasty tidbit. Sometimes the boobies will do a mass dive which really scatters the fish in a school and makes them vulnerable to the boobies. 

To attract a mate, the male blue footed boobie is said to dance. He brings his tail up, spreads his wings, and whistles toward the sky. Unfortunately we didn't get to witness this little performance. Perhaps we should have played some music?

As we near the lava rock where we will have a dry landing stepping on the rugged and often sharp lava, we are cautioned again on watching where we step not only for our safety but for the safety of the iguana that blend into their surroundings so well.

The lava is punctuated by clusters of lava cactus. The orange tips are the new growth. In the distance we can see candlestick cactus so named because they resemble candelabras.

We pass by a very green area that is actually a marshy tidal pool. To step in it would be like sinking in green quicksand. Continuing on, we come upon the tidal pool that is our destination. Tunnels from the sea lead into it and when the tide is high, marine animals find their way to the pool only to be trapped there during low tide.

Today there are four or five sea turtles swimming in the pool accompanied by three sharks. The largest of the white tipped sharks is about four feet long. We stand and watch their pacing as they make a small circle that gets wider at each pass and then the cycle starts over again.

Our group of 16 makes its way back along the trail we came on. The loose lava grinds beneath our shoes while the more solid places alternate between a smooth porous surface and waves of lava resembling melted chocolate that is cooling. Large pieces of lava that are loose make a sound as if someone has stepped on fine china.

Back on board the Xpedition, we enjoy cool drinks and a BBQ lunch. The air conditioning is nice but we find that sitting outside is pleasant. We have truly been fortunate with the weather so far. There has been a nice breeze and even though at times the humidity climbs, the heat has been bearable. As I watch the chefs cook over the charcoal grills though, I wonder how they can stand the extra heat. The food is wonderful: chicken, ribs, fish, and Galapagos lobster. A good lava walk sure builds up an appetite.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Reminiscing: The Galapagos--The Post Office in the Middle of Nowhere

 [I don't think we ever received our post card but it was a fun idea.]

After our lunch, we were all invited to take a zodiac ride and an optional short walk to Post Office Bay. The zodiac ride took us around and between several outcroppings from Floreanna Island where there were different colonies of sea lions and a bachelor "pad” as well.

Our first area revealed a heron waiting patiently in a rock crevice as he anticipated a crab lunch. The crab seemed to be waiting him out as well. Neither one moved. Suddenly we saw another crab approaching the hidden heron and we expected there to be a successful hunt for the bird. Fortunately for the crab, he sensed something and stopped short. Unfortunately for the bird, it was probably going to be a longer wait for lunch—maybe even into dinner.

We found the sea lion bachelor colony to be very quiet. This is where the males go when they are done with their safety patrol for the young ones in their family colony and it's also where younger males grow until they are big enough and mature enough to go off to begin the mating process. They take time off and relax and rejuvenate by eating and sleeping. (Probably a lot of belching too.) When they are ready to mate and take on the next male who is dominating a colony, they head for wherever the females are and the battle for supremacy reigns.

This bachelor colony looked like quite a resort with large cactus growing everywhere and nice easy slides into the sea and a simple climb out back into the sun and shade. No fighting here that is unless, as our naturalist said, a female should meander by.

Just before we left the lagoon-type area, a brown pelican preened and posed for us then perched in a tree and watched us warily. Something just doesn't seem right about seeing pelicans in trees especially when the branches bow so much with their weight. Looked a bit precarious to me.We took the obligatory pictures and then headed into the beach to make our way to the Post Office.

The Post Office is a barrel (one of many that has replaced the original) where you can leave postcards or letters and have others deliver them for you. There is no postage of course. You deposit yours and pick up any that might be near where you live to deliver. 

The post office was established in 1793 by Captain James Colnett who placed a wooden barrel there and spread the word that those who stopped could leave mail or packages and then pick up others to be delivered as they got to their destination. It was a great way for whalers who were usually gone two years at a time to get messages home to family. The tradition has continued through the years although now it is just tourists participating.

We found two cards that were not far from our home and we hope to deliver them in a few days. It will be fun to see if the cards we left to be delivered to our grandchildren will find their way to them. A fun tradition to carry on. By the way, don't we look dorky in our expedition hats? Glamour played no part in this trip. 

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Reminiscing: Snorkeling With Sea Lions in the Galapagos

 [This was absolutely one of the best things we've ever done.]

Normally we don’t like to wear wet suits. We generally pick warm water places to snorkel or dive but we weren’t about to miss out on what we could see in Galapagos. We donned dive skins (our own) and short wetsuits provided by the ship. We had brought our own snorkels and masks and the ship provided swim fins and a bag to stow all the gear in.

Once suited up and life jackets on for the ride, we boarded a zodiac and headed for the drop off point. It was a long bumpy ride against the waves and into the wind. I kept hoping that wherever we were going would be out of the waves and wind.

The naturalist picked a spot that was relatively calm but did have a bit of a current. We donned our fins and snorkels and jumped in the chilly water. The plan was to start at one end of the bay area and drift with the current around to the far point. It didn’t require much effort and the reward was great.

The sea lions wondered what all this activity was out in the water and soon they were out swimming with us and around us. They would do flips and somersaults in the water and act like entertaining clowns.
Oh, there were some schools of fish around as well but they just couldn’t compete for our attention like the sea lions did.

One other thing of note, there were not any corals. There are some areas that have coral but it is difficult for it to survive in the Galapagos. The islands sit in the middle of five different currents which alternately change the water temperature. Add to that several strong El Ninos that brought warmer waters and the corals struggled to survive. The warm water during those times caused the corals to lose their symbiotic algae which caused bleaching and left them open to disease. I'm guessing these were different corals than what we would see in the Caribbean since those corals survive in a warmer water temperature.

All too soon, we were to the other end of the bay and Juan Carlos was calling us back to the zodiac. Few of us wanted to end our adventure. Cold water? We never noticed after the initial jump in and the chatter about all we’d seen warmed us on the long but much easier ride back to the ship. 

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Reminiscing: Galapagos Islands--Beautiful Floreana

 [Beautiful waters and lovely peaceful landscapes.]

The sun shone brightly but we were greeted by another wonderful breeze as we began our walk on one of the trails of Floreana Island. This island is named for the first president of Ecuador, Juan Jose Florence, who incorporated the islands as a part of Ecuador in 1832. It has a colorful history including pirates, whalers, and infamous settlers. The island is also one of the four islands that Charles Darwin visited on his trip aboard the HMS Beagle.

Fatima was our naturalist for this excursion and the first place she took us was to a lagoon where flamingos spent their morning foraging for tasty marine tidbits in the tidal waters. There used to be more flamingos  she said, but the salinity of the water was changing and they think that it might be discouraging the food source. The fresher the water, the less marine life for the flamingos.

We passed a finch nest and stopped to look at some of the vegetation. Fatima insisted that one of the plants had adapted to the dry weather by making itself a waxy coat on the leaves to keep the moisture in. Several more times along the way she gave interesting points of “adaptation” of plants. I couldn’t understand how she could give so much credit to the plants rather than their Creator.

A frankincense tree that resembled a eucalyptus with its bark and leaves was oozing a fragrant sap. While we stopped to look at a plant that was kin to a sunflower, a small bird happened to perch on a branch. I thought it was one of Darwin's finches but upon later examination of the picture, I think it was a Flycatcher. 

The trail ended at a large beach where others were gathered on near the water’s edge watching a large sea turtle make its way back into the water. The sea turtle was a female checking out the shoreline for a place to lay her eggs. According to our naturalists, the female makes several trips to the shoreline to find a place where the sand is soft so that she can dig the hole to lay her eggs which she does at night. The process takes a while so the night is better to avoid the heat of the day.

Eggs laid in the hole are covered by the female as she begins to climb her way out of the nest. She pushes the sand behind her and thereby covers the eggs. The eggs are left to incubate in the sand warmed by the sun. When the turtles hatch, they have to make their way to the water on their own and hopefully before a predator can swoop dow
n and use them for their daytime meal.

The tracks of the giant sea turtles could be seen in several places along the beach and it wasn’t difficult to see where there had been turtle nests made in the soft sand at the top of the beach. 

Sifting through the sand, you could see pieces of a green mineral that resembles the gem peridot. When the sun was at the right angle the pieces glittered in the sandy beach.

As we watched the turtle slowly disappear into the surf, our attention turned to a blue colored heron perched on the rocks, a watchful eye tuned to the water’s edge for a tasty tidbit.

Fatima led us back to the beach where some opted to snorkel and others, like us, went back to the ship to go on what was called a deep water dive. I hoped the water would be clearer than it had been on our first snorkel in the Galapagos waters.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Reminiscing: The Galapagos--Lizards And Albatross!

 [Seeing the albatross always brings to mind "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." Wouldn't want one of these around my neck.]

The Celebrity Xpedition positioned itself for our afternoon excursion at Punta Suarez on Espanola Island. The trail we were to follow for our afternoon excursion was 1.5 miles long over a lot of rough terrain. As we were briefed the night before, the trail would take us to a dramatic blow hole and for a view of spectacular cliffs. Along the way, the naturalists expected that we might be able to see the albatross who were due to arrive this time of year.

Guests were given the option of a long walk (2.5 hours) or a short one (2 hours), the difference being in the loop that would take you past the albatross if they were there. We opted for the long walk and were well rewarded for it. 

Along the way, we came across lizards and iguana and a mockingbird. It was always imperative to watch your step not only because of the boulders but because often there was an iguana tail or a small lizard darting by.

About a third of the way into our walk, we came across the albatross. The first sighting was in the sky and it was followed by two birds right in the middle of our trail.

The waved albatross is the largest bird in the Galapagos. While they are good sized, they are not as large as the royal albatross we saw in New Zealand whose wing span reaches 9 feet. The flying birds we saw here had a wing span of around 6 feet. Their bodies are about three feet in length.

The albatross live on Espanola (Hood) Island from late March through December and their return each year is only to breed. We saw several mating behaviors and quite a few nests already built. The male/female pairs are monogamous and they are usually together until death. They produce one egg and it is incubated for two months. One of the nesting females was kind enough to shift just a bit so that we could observe the reddish colored egg beneath her.

The Albatross will raise their young chicks here teaching them to fly for their migration back to cooler waters in January when temperatures warm in the Galapagos and food becomes more scarce.

Like the other animals we had observed so far, the albatross were unconcerned with us and let us pass quite close by them--even the ones nesting. That gave opportunity to admire their intricate markings and take some good close up shots.

Reaching the southern end of our journey, we stood in awe of a shoreline of green cliffs pounded by the surf. We rested a few moments and just drank in the scenery as well as the sea birds flying through the air.

A little further down the trail, we could tell we were near the blowhole. Thunderous rhythmic noise grew louder and louder. We came up a slight rise and found the sea powerfully spitting up through a hole in the rocky shoreline below. The water spouted up to 50 feet in the air misting everything around it and downwind from it.

Along a section where we climbed down closer to the shoreline, we found a flock of Nazca Boobies. They were nesting in the rocky area near the shoreline. Unlike the other species of Boobies, they have a set mating period and a unique complication called sibilicide or sibling murder. The female Boobie lays a couple of eggs but about five days apart therefore they hatch about five days apart. If the first one survives, it is of course at an advantage in size and strength to the new born and can overpower it to get to the food it needs for survival. Often this is accomplished by pushing the younger one out of the nest. It adds a whole new meaning to sibling rivalry, doesn't it?

Our path became very grassy after we turned away from the rocky beach and the Boobies. It made walking an adventure with the boulders and the ever present worry of stepping on wildlife. Little did I know, thank goodness, that some of that wild life might be a snake or two.

By the time we got back on board the Celebrity Xpedition, we had little time to do more than shower and dress for our briefing which preceded dinner. The nightly briefing at 7 told us of the next day’s excursions and allowed time for us to sign on for what we wanted to do.

In the dining room, the menu spread before me was swimming before my eyes. I was so tired I’m not sure of what I ate. I barely made it to our stateroom, brushed my teeth, and crawled into bed before my eyes closed for the night. The rocking of the ship woke me several times during the night but I was so exhausted, I went right back to sleep. I needed the rest. The next day would be another great adventure.

Monday, September 07, 2020

Reminiscing: Galapagos Islands--Espanola Island

 [One of the things that stands out in my memory, and my pictures, is the vivid colors of some of the marine life and the birds. The crabs were so orange!]

Espanola Island is the southernmost island of the Galapagos and at approximately 4 million years old, one of the oldest in the archipelago. Gardner Bay on the island’s north side, our morning destination, is one of the longest beaches in the Galapagos.

We had been briefed the night before on how to do a wet landing—a lot less intimidating than it sounds. The zodiac pulled up to where its nose rested on the beach and we scooted toward the front, and when it was our turn, turned and swung both feet over the side (minus shoes) and slipped down into ankle deep water. Since this was a beach walk, most of us opted to keep our shoes off. I figured this was pedicure time as the sand would slough off winter’s calluses.

The zodiac had rested just between two groups of sea lions who were undisturbed by us. They lifted their heads and looked as if to say, “Hey guys, the tourists are here again.” Our group of 16 led by our naturalist, Alexis, dropped our snorkel gear for later on the upper beach and gathered for another reminder to not touch the wildlife and to not get between the sea and the sea lion who looked at the water as his escape route if he felt threatened.

But wait! Someone forgot to tell the sea lions! As we stood there one rather large sea lion ambled up and slid between the legs of a couple of us. So much for the 8 foot rule (stay 8 feet from the animals).
Alexis explained seven different ways sea lions were different from seals the most obvious being that the sea lions have external flaps over their ears. 

Galapagos sea lions are different than any other in the world and are only found here in the Galapagos Island or on Isla de la Plata, which is a small island just off the coast of Ecuador. The males can reach about 900 pounds when full grown and the females average about 244 pounds. Male sea lions declare their spot on the beach and fend off any other males to establish a harem of sorts. He mates with the females in his group, some of whom may already have a pup. The female is ready to mate again about two weeks after her pup is born. 

Young pups find their mothers and vice versa by the guttural sound they make. Then when they are in close proximity, the mother can smell the young one and recognize that it is hers. Only then will she allow the young pup to nurse. The pups nurse until they are about a year old—some longer if the mother allows it.

Meanwhile, Papa sea lion patrols the water’s edge to be sure that the young pups don’t venture out too far and become dinner for any predators in the area—most specifically sharks. This is a group effort on the part of the males. They take turns patrolling and often go for long spells of time with no food to get the job done.

After a sufficient time without food, the males will congregate in what is called a bachelor colony while other males take over the guardianship. The bachelors use their off time to eat, rest, and soak up the sun. There is no rivalry here unless a female decides to enter in. Then it could be no holds barred.

The pups in the family groups are of course the cutest. They curl up to sleep and are curious enough to want to venture up to you and look at you with their wide soft eyes. The eyes of the sea lion are special in that tears are produced to protect them more from the elements. Perhaps that’s why they look so vulnerable.

As we walked down the beach, I could see an area that looked speckled with black objects. I thought at first it was a larger colony of sea lions but the nearer we got, the more I realized it was an outcropping of lava rocks. Suddenly, as we neared one large one, wet from the sea, we could see bright orange colored Sally Light Foot crabs climbing all over it and between them, a host of marine iguanas.

The iguanas are vegetarians and the crabs, scavengers, so they got along just fine. The colors of the crabs were phenomenal. There were fine lines of yellow mixed into the orange and blues and turquoise. Patterns emerged in their coloration as you examined them closer. Alexis mentioned something about how they got the name Sally Lightfoot but there was no way to take notes and by the time I got back, I'd forgotten. Of course with Alexis' sense of humor it may have been just a funny comment.

The marine iguanas were not what I call a beautiful animal but then beauty is in the eye of the beholder. There were some red tones on their backs that reminded me of molten volcanic lava running between and under lava that has cooled. Perhaps that made them indicative of the Galapagos Islands since the islands are all born of volcanoes. The iguanas have huge sharp claws which enable them to climb the slippery rocks and cliffs on some of the islands. They eat algae off the rocks in the water tearing and scraping it off with their sharp teeth. They were very benign creatures just mostly basking in the sun. As they swam in the water they used their tails much like a crocodile or alligator does to propel them along.

When our walk was done, we donned our dive skins and wet suits and wandered between the sea lions to the water. Unfortunately, the surge and the waves did not make for good snorkeling. The water was clouded with sand and particles kicked up by the wave action. We saw some fish but they were more like shadows. Disappointed, we gave up and opted for a return to the ship. Watching all those sea lions lolling in the sun had made us tired too.

A hop and a twist to pull our feet over the side of the zodiac and it wasn’t long before we were on our way back for lunch aboard the Xpedition. The crew was ready for us and the food and pampering was much appreciated.

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