Sunday 24 August 2014

Day 101: The Galápagos Islands Day 2 - Snorkelling Kicker Rock

Sea Lions at Punta Pitt
We started the morning with a trek in the bleak volcanic landscape of Punta Pitt on the eastern side of San Cristobal Island.  Our guide told us that one of the Spanish 'discoverers' of the Galápagos Islands described it as "a land that God forgot to finish".  An apt description.  The scrubland around the coast lay bare of greenery, like a burned-out world, while the bones of the mountains protruded regularly through their vegetable coverings.

Red footed Booby in flight hiding its feet!
Fortunately the red-footed boobies (an endemic bird species, likewise aptly named) were not deterred and we had good sightings of them along the cliffs.  Alas, this was our only sighting of the red-footed boobies in the course of the week, excepting the many portrayals on t-shirts in the souvenir shops around the harbour.  The inventiveness of Galapagos t-shirt designers merely extends to writing 'I love boobies' across the chest of their t-shirts, accompanied by a cartoon of the birds.  Could someone send them a more inspired designer pronto?

In late morning we donned our snorkelling equipment for the first time and headed out from the bay to see Sturgeon Fish (shoals of blue-grey fish with bright yellow tails) and King Angel Fish, amongst others.  They were colourful enough but the waters remained relatively quiet until a new kid arrived on the block: a sea lion pup bent on showing off his diving skills.  We served as a receptive audience while he picked pebbles off the ocean floor, swam to the surface and then dropped them again (a bit like building a tower of lego and then knocking it down again for fun?).

Heading back to the boat.
That's Kicker Rock in the background.
When he said his farewells, I decided to swim back to shore only to find an adult sea lion staring straight into my face from about an inch away.  He kept returning for further staring matches until I started getting scared (I was considerably the smallest and least agile of the two of us, and likely to be worsted in a girl-versus-sea-lion fight).  But he seemed merely curious and I had to conclude that, after all, you can't beat a morning swimming with sea lions.

But the best snorkelling of the day was still to come.  After another chance to get snap happy with crabs and sea lions on a beautiful sandy beach, we headed off shore to Kicker Rock.  This split stone edifice in the deep waters off San Cristobal is frequented by turtles, white-tipped reef sharks, black-tipped sharks and hammerheads.  Our guide assured us that none of these species are dangerous.  "Hammerhead sharks are definitely dangerous," countered two Australian girls on the trip, so when we plunged into the water and saw the deep ocean floor falling away beneath our feet, we had a fair bit of adrenalin flowing.

The imposing Kicker Rock.
As it turned out, we did not see any sharks but were compensated by the chance to swim with numerous turtles: sometimes four or five of them drifted along in front of us at once.  Combined with the beauty of the plant life on the vertical walls of Kicker Rock, this made for an amazing snorkelling session - highly recommended if you ever visit the Galapagos.

Swimming with sea lions in the morning; swimming with turtles in the afternoon.  Could tomorrow get any better?

Sally Lightfoot crabs were everywhere!
Fabulous seascape.

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