Sunday 24 August 2014

Day 100: The Galápagos Islands Day 1 - The Homo Sapiens and the sea lions

Sea Lions at play in San Cristobal Harbour
Giant tortoise at the breeding centre on San Cristobal
San Cristobal airport, our point of arrival in the Galapagos, lay minutes away from a harbour populated mostly by sea lions and big red crabs.  We watched the meanie of the red crab family pushing his little brothers into the sea, then grabbed our cameras to try and get action shots of the sea lions frisking in the water.  Little did we realise that such fleeting sightings would barely cause us to turn our heads a few days later.  Once familiar with Galapagos life you can walk nonchalantly past a sea lion without recourse to digital photography, but on day one it's the rule that you must fill your memory card with bad sea lion photos, ready to delete later.

Not only was the wildlife on the beach unfamiliar to us, but some of the Homo Sapien life on our cruise ship also seemed novel.  Some of the people we met appeared to have clothes other than hiking boots and trekking trousers; they had skirts and colourful t-shirts and other stylish cruising apparel.  They also appeared not to have spent much of the last few months camping in temperatures below zero and drinking river water.  What strange beings!  "The boat's quite small, isn't it?" one of them remarked, "but I guess we'll have to rough it a bit on this trip."  I relaxed into the cream, leather-covered seats, glanced at the well-stocked bar and polite serving staff, while a chef prepared my lunch for me, and wondered if there'd been lower quantities of 'roughing it' at any point on our trip (or any holiday I've been on, for that matter).  Perhaps Guy and I were the slightly strange human beings, with an unusual genetic variant or three, worthy of a moment's observation by our cruise-mates?  Well, we would adapt over the course of the week.

Once all fifteen passengers were on board, we rode the pangas (dingies) back to shore to visit a tortoise reserve.  Apparently the rats (having thumbed a lift to the Galápagos Islands on board many a trading ship over the years) are now partial to a dinner of baby tortoise.  National Park programmes have succeeded in eradicating rats from some islands but not all.  The baby tortoises of San Cristobal therefore live in pens for their first few years until their shells have hardened enough to ward off rodents.  As we arrived in mid-afternoon, most of the inmates were napping (as all good infants should be, right?).  But outside the tortoise nursery, we soon had our first sighting of a large adult giant tortoise, lumbering along on its scaly legs, looking like a shell-bearing version of ET.  Click.

Back on the ship and tucked into our cabin for the night, we discovered just how noisy the raising of the anchor can be - and how big the swell around the islands.  A disturbed night?  Not really.  I could happily sleep with rolling waves underneath me every night.  My seafaring ancestors would be proud.

Sunset at San Cristobal Harbour

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