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Beaches (and sealife!)

I don’t have an underwater camera and so can’t show you all the amazing things we saw when snorkelling off North Seymour island.  There were hundreds and hundreds of surgeon fish swimming in formation; sea urchins; sharks; rays; angel fish; eels and blue-chinned parrot fish.  But I did manage to capture a shot of a bulls-eye puffer fish.  I saw a big one when snorkelling and this is only a baby – by the shore - but it gives you an idea of how perfect their camouflage is ….

The beaches are pristine and an interesting mix of black knobbly lava and soft white sand, still scattered with the twigs and stumps of the corals which forged the beach

The wonderful Sarah from Mill Hill has a Go-Pro with underwater settings and so I am hoping to add some of her amazing shots of shark and octopus and rays. 

In the meantime, I’ve a couple of videos from the shore.  A marine iguana in action and a family of Sally Lightfoot crabs.  The parents are scarlet, the teenager, who comes into frame late, is dark mahogany and I challenge you to see the baby crabs?  There are at least three in the first part of the movie – black as coal and really hard to see – which is all part of their survival and the Darwin evolution story….

Going back to beaches for a second – there are some glorious beaches around Santa Cruz island.  The German Beach; Tortuga Bay and Playa Mansa.  The water is gorgeous and there’s usually a scattering of fish and the little black-tipped reef sharks – but everyone swims together. 

Rather lovely, also, is the absence of beach furniture.  There are posts with places to hang your bags – but if you want shade – you just huddle under a mangrove tree 😊

Between Tortuga bay and Puerto Ayora is Las Grietas, a great volcanic crevasse.  The pathway to it takes you alongside the Italian Embassy – the white building in this shot.  You can only visit by boat to their jetty – or by taking the coastal path.  What a diplomatic posting that must be!

When you get to las Grietas, the swimming is amazing and special because you are so close to the fish. 

Near to the surface there are hundreds of 9 - 12 inch fish: stripey Sergeant Majors; Yellow Tailed Surgeonfish and Parrot Fish mainly.  If you float gently, they swim on either side and you become, for a moment, part of the shoal.  Deeper down there are bigger Yellow-Tailed Mullet and the water is so clear, you can see all the way to the sandy floor, which must be 20 – 30 metres away.

Just as volcanic activity created Las Grietas – is is also responsible for other quirks of the landscape.  Los Gemelos – or the twins – is a pair of circular sink holes formed when a bubble in the lava flow created a sort of lava igloo.  Over time, the fragile roof collapsed leaving perfectly circular craters.  The lava tunnels came about because the rivers of lava moved incredibly slowly, so the outer crust, in contact with the atmosphere, cooled and hardened, whilst the hot and heavy core carried on flowing, leaving a shell of lava, forming a tunnel. The first one here was about 30 feet high!

On Isabella island, the lava tunnels, or Los Tuneles, have been partly submerged and many of the roofs are partially collapsed.  It makes a spectacular and safe place for seahorses, fish, rays and turtles galore. 

One of the most iconic shots of the Galapagos is of Pinnacle  Rock on Bartolome island and that too is a volcanic feature.  It’s  beside Sullivan Bay – and both the bay and island were named after Bartholomew Sullivan, a young crew member and friend of Fitzroy, captain of the Beagle on the surveying voyage with Charles Darwin in the 1830s. 

The last photo is just to prove I did climb the 380 steps to the mirador for the iconic shot – with Jeff, who’s birthday it was, and Matthew 😊

The volcanic black lava on Santiago – next to Bartolome – is only around a hundred years old and the bubble and rope-like ripples in the flow are still very clear.   This is called Pahoehoe lava, for it’s likeness to rope – and very different from the AA lava in North Seymour: you can see scattered lumps on North Seymour Island, by the incense trees!  (AA is, I gather, Hawaian for Ouch Ouch – because that lava is so spiky to walk on!)

It seemed surprisingl to me – given how close we are to the equator – that a colony of penguins has settled at the base of the Rock. And there are little groups of flamingos across the islands too!

Snorkelling today was a total treat.  On top of the fish we are using to seeing – there were more reef shark; rays, puffer fish in a courtship ritual and two things that took my breath away.  I was drifting slowly, scanning the rocks and the floor of the ocean when, suddenly, something caught my eye.  It shot under me in a swoosh and it took me a beat to realise it was a penguin.  I can now  truly say I have swum with a wild penguin! 

And then the sealions.  They swim fast too and this one put one flapper out of the water, looking a bit like a shark-fin.  I’m told this is for educating young sealions of the dangers of shark; for cooling the body; or as an internationally recognised signal that the sealion was about to poop.  I can verify it was the latter, this time ☹.  They are so mischievous in water.  They taunt the sharks; delight in acrobatics and focus on the joyful…. (the videos are only a few seconds long, to make the media more manageable)

Back to the beautiful natural beaches though - such a bonus for the Galapagos!  There are white ones, like below; yellow ones like Pinnacle Rock; Red ones in Rabida and tiny olivine crystals have created a green beach on Floreana!

I struck lucky on the Isle of Isabella because my room in the beautiful little hotel is right on the beach……

Everything in the Galapagos has been easy and safe.  There are only 30,000 people across all the inhabited islands – so, pretty much, everyone knows everyone.  Taxis are all Toyota pick-up trucks and when you take one, it’s likely to pick up local people too – or do the school run en route. 

The water taxis drop people and petrol to the boats at moorings before arriving at your expedition boat.  You often see whole families on one small motorbike.  There’s lots of half finished houses, with breeze block sides – and new homes begun (look behind the swimming pool).  There’s no hurry here and people will finish them as they can.  Something you hear all the time is “Mas O Menos” (more or less).  If you ask what time the Ferry leaves – you’re likely to be told "2pm, mas o menos" 😊 

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