Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Galapagos 2018 - Day 16. Guayaquil

Today we are being dropped off at the airport, but before that we had a last nature walk in Seymour Norte Island. We disembarked at 6 am in an inhospitable, flat and rocky islet, where the last surprise of the trip was waiting for us. I stayed in the Fragata Hostel, and spent a week aboard the Fragata Yacht, so it was time for us to witness the courtship ritual of the Fragata bird. This bird, who is a very elegant glider, mates in February and March, but several weeks before the mating season the male makes a nest (it is the guy making the nest, so it is more a bachelor pad than an attractive home; afterward it puffs up his bright red crop and stands there looking pretty, letting the females check him up for several days. Eventually he mates with the female that chooses him, and an egg results. The chicks are of course very cute, but as soon as they hit adolescence they turn dower and morose, sink their with head within his black shoulders, hangs his long curved beak, and broods in the guano-covered nest until his parents come with food. For all practical purposes it looks like the bird of death!

The other species that is in courtship is the Pájaro Bobo, or Blue-Footed Boobie). This is where they are their goofiest, with both male and female goose-marching with their blue feet, lowering and rising their necks in unison, and playing hard to get as they stare at each other amorously with beady little eyes. I also saw a Green-Footed Boobie trying to court a Blue-Footed female, but to no avail. That is what he gets for having turned vegan.

We got to the airport around 8:30 am, said our goodbyes, and started the endless wait for our flights. I am flying to Guayaquil at 12:30 pm, and shall be there at 3:20 pm. My onward flight to Quito doesn’t start until 9 pm, so I am going to rush to the city and see what I can see in five hours. More about that later.

In a brief composite from my observations from the air plus a tour around the city in the tourist bus I can tell you that Guayaquil is a large city (the largest in Ecuador at 3.5 million inhabitants) that was founded at the shore of the Guayas river around 1548. Francisco de Orellana, the Spanish explorer who discovered the Amazon is mentioned everywhere, so I am going to guess that he was the founder. During colonial times the Royal shipyards of Guayaquil built many of the galleons that made the crossing to Philippines, and the city prospered. Now it extends as far as the eye can see from El Mirador, a 100 m high prominence (built by an endless sequence of turbidites) that dominates the city.

My tour started by the Malecón of the Guayas River, which at this point is as wide as the Amazon River is in Iquitos. The Malecón, or Boardwalk, is one of the main attractions of the city, and has been built into a beautiful park where one finds monuments to Simón Bolivar and Sucre, both of whom are the acknowledged liberators of Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela, which at some time formed the Gran Colombia that Bolivar had dreamed as the big confederation of South America. The boardwalk also has a Botanical Garden, marinas, an amusement park, and a couple of museums.

Overlooking the city are the hills of Santa Ana and El Carmen, both of which are covered by a colorful mélange of fabelas (quaint fabelas, not dangerous like the ones in Rio De Janeiro). Atop Santa Ana there is a monumental Christ that looks benevolently over the city, and atop El Carmen is a light blue lighthouse. Both of them reportedly afford great views of the city, but I didn’t have time to climb them. At the base of both hills is the Mono Machín, a 10 m high colored sculpture of a monkey, which has given Guyaquileňos their alternate appellation as “monos”.

Surprisingly, the city has two boardwalks, the second one being along the estuary of the Rio Salado. One of the banks has been handsomely developed with parks and community centers, but the opposite bank had been the traditional dwelling place of the fishermen, who still claim the area, now turned into a colorful fabela on stilts with a well-illuminated wood boardwalk.

And then there is the city itself, which is a vibrant mosaic of old qurters, parks, modern buildings, and fancy districts. Commerce is alive and well, and the old commercial center is a beehive of activity. I had a few dollars left in my pocket, and decided to stop at a bookstore to see if there was something I could blow off my cash buying. To my surprise the books were quite affordable (plus a $6 taxi from the airport, an $8 tour of the city, and a $5 dinner of empanadas Argentinas), and reminded me that Galapagos is a particularly expensive province of Ecuador.

Ecuador has treated me well, and I am very happy I came to greet my Ecuadorian brothers and sisters. It is varied and beautiful land, and I would certainly like to come back. For now it is time to put an end to this journal, as I wait for my flight first to Quito at 9:30 pm, and then to Dallas and San Francisco at midnight. Good night for now.


Galapagos 2018 - Day 15. Yate Fragata, at anchor off Santa Fe Island

Our last full day! It is a bit sad to feel we have come to an end, but on the other hand a few more days of this sloth and my brain would turn to mush. Our first activity was a 6 am walk across Point Cormorant to watch … flamingos (I know, the name suggests we could have seen cormorants, but Santa Fe is in the south, and cormorants are only seen in the west coast of Isabela). I also saw a fat, heathy rat; later I mentioned it to our guide Robert and he told me we should have stopped and killed it, for they are particularly pernicious invaders (sorry, but killing an animal was the thing farthest from my mind in eco-minded Galapagos).

The highlight of the walk was the sea turtle we found on the beach! To judge from the prints on the sand she was but one of many turtles who had dragged themselves across the beach and in to the sand dunes beyond to deposit their eggs. Our friend was not happy at being discovered and decided to turn around and crawl back to the ocean. She was slow, and crossing the 10 m that separated her from the shore took her about 10 minutes, even after she was in the water. Apparently they are heavy enough that they have to be fully submerged to take advantage of their buoyancy; once submerged, however, she swiftly moved way into the blue yonder.

Our last snorkeling of the trip was around La Corona del Diablo, and eroded volcanic plug whose jagged remnants stick out of the water has tall pillars that, just like the high points of a crown, surround a small central bay. It was a worthy last dive, even though we didn’t see any big sea life, because the whole of the submerged rocks had been colonized by a barnacle reef, which gave the submarine landscape a golden hue, where the many colors of fish and sea stars shone like jewels.

After the dive we ate lunch while in transit to the island of Santa Cruz. I had been a couple of days there, so the visit to the Darwin Research Station was a bit of a repeat, and I actually declined the suggestion of going to Rancho Chato to see the tortoises. Instead I went shopping for a “Panama” hat, which as it turns out are not manufactured in Panama but in Ecuador, where they are called “Sombreros de Paja Toquilla”. I found a perfect one in the 30% off rack of a shop, where I only paid $49 for a $70 hat. I was very happy with my purchase until Monica later expressed her opinion that it was very expensive. Bah! Women. What do they know about fine hats. 

As a sort of goodbye, the crew dressed up before dinner, and shared a cocktail and toast with us. They cut a fine figure on their dark trousers and white shirts with epaulettes. This made me think that Ecuadorians are, in general, fairly short at an average of 5 ft nothing; Victoriano, our cook, is a fine example of a small person. But there are a few who are tall; at 6 ft tall, our seaman Edison is a splendid specimen of the young and strong seafarer. Quite naturally, the rest of the crew addresses him as “Grande”, or “Grandote”, much to the amusement of our foreign visitors, who are puzzled by the tendency of Latin Americans to hang derogatory monikers on their best friends.

After the toast Roberto showed us a film he had compiled with photos and short snippets of film. It was absolutely fabulous, particularly in so far as it included some stunning submarine shots. He is a great nature photographer. Now I must make a brief advertisement on behalf of the Yacht Fragata. If you ever consider coming to Galapagos, I would strongly recommend checking their website www.FragataYatchGalapagos.com
I was highly satisfied with the ship, the food, the program, and—most importantly—the people who looked after us so well during this week. Give them a chance and they are sure to wow you as well.

Galapagos 2018 - Day 14. Yate Fragata, at sea

Today we explored Espaňola, the southernmost of the islands (also far to the east, although not as much as San Cristobal). We first disembarked in Punta Suarez, on the west side of the island, for another bird watching expedition. Of course there were a bunch of sea lions sunning on the rocky beach, but what amazed us most were hundreds of marine iguanas, laying pell-mell above each other, apparently waiting for the sun to warm them up so they could dive into the cool ocean. According to Roberto they feed from sea algae at depths of a few tens of meters. The females are small and almost black; the males, in contrast, are big and, in Espaňola in particular, are brightly colored carmine red on the sides, and beautiful turquoise green on top and bottom (they are, however, even uglier than their counterparts in the other islands).

Bird watching was fairly successful, with sightings of albatrosses (an adult in flight, and a couple of teenagers clearly planning to leave the nest at any moment now), Galapagos hawks, and finches of three different sub-species feeding in the same tree (or so claimed Catherine, who is the only one sophisticated enough to see the minor differences between the subspecies).

Once we were back on the boat we moved from the west to the east side of the island, to Gardner Bay. There we made a brave attempt to snorkel, but the swell was up and the water was too turbid to see anything more than a few fish.

I skipped the afternoon walk along the beach, plus an hour of sunbathing, and instead watched a bloody movie on board: Al Pacino’s “Hangman”. 

Monday, January 22, 2018

Galapagos 2018 - Day 13. Yate Fragata, at anchor off Cerro Brujo

It was just 5 am when the engines were started and we started sailing toward el León Dormido, a massive pillar, 50 m high, that sticks out of the ocean maybe 10 nautical miles from the coast of San Cristobal Island, and which in the distance resembles the profile of a sea lion. We were scheduled to make a dive there, at 6:15 am! None of this nonsense of sleeping late for adventurers like us, particularly because there was a small chance that we might see hammer-head sharks. Alas, it was not to be, because the water was comparatively warm, and this type of shark prefers cold water. The only thing I saw worth of notice were some tiny jelly fish with a peacock blue phosphorescence and a boring old shark, but others saw more sharks and a couple of sea turtles.

Back on the boat we had breakfast, while the boat motored toward Cerro Brujo, which forms a small peninsula off the coast of San Cristobal Island. Once there we sailed around it in the dinghy, looked at sea caves and a sea arch, and then headed for the beach for a promised “roast and swim session”. I was more interested on Cerro Brujo itself, which is formed by a rock that is massive and most definitely not basalt. On close inspection I concluded that it was an erosional remnant of a thick ignimbrite, and now that I saw it at close quarters I became convinced that it was the same rock that formed el León Dormido 15 km away. I wonder if the pyroclastic flow that formed the ignimbrite entered the sea (perhaps gliding over the sea surface?), or whether it was formed at a time during a glacial interval, when the sea level dropped enough to create a tongue 15 km long and 50 m thick, that was later eroded as sea level rose during an interglacial.

My reputation as a bird watcher is growing, as I was the only one to successfully observe, and describe, a flock of Oystercatchers looking for something to eat among the rocks.

In the afternoon we walked through Isla Lobos, another of the many islets adjacent to San Cristobal. As the name implies we saw dozens of lobos marinos (sea lions), which was not very exciting because they just lie like smelly lumps on the sand. Yes, the little ones are cute, but there are only so many cute photos you can take (never, ever, ask your friend to show you his photos of Galapagos, unless you want to spend hours looking at endless shots of sea lions). There was a redeeming moment, however, when we got to see a Piquero de Patas Azules (also called the Pájaro Bobo, Blue-Footed Boobie, or Stoepel in German) feeding its young. This bird is the symbol of the Galapagos, where one of the most popular t-shirts says “I like boobies” and the logo are two blue “feet” that manage to look like a pair of “boobies”. As the names Pájaro Bobo, Boobie, or Stoepel imply, it is a goofy-looking bird that likes to do goofy things.

Our dive this afternoon was off the coast of Isla Lobos, where the attraction is to swim amongst the sea lions. Now, that was exciting! The lumps on land become amazing contortionists and acrobats, who come straight at you only to veer off at the last moment (the mask makes all objects look closer than they are, so you have the impression that you can almost touch the gracile forms as they dart left and right around you). I got a real scare a couple of times, when one of the adult males, probably in charge of looking after the playful kids, slowly covered your whole horizon, looking for all purposes like a leviathan overseeing its dominion. One of the best dives we have had!

In the afternoon we disembarked in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, a handsome little town of 10,000 people, which also happens to be the cantonal capital of Galapagos. We had hour and a half to do whatever we wanted, although half an hour was ample time to cover the town. I reflected that I only had two more full days left in Ecuador, so for old time’s sake I dined on a delicious ceviche mixto of fish, shrimp, octopus, and cachalanga (the later is what they call chiton). Before I had said that the Ecuadorian ceviche was like the Peruvian one, but now I realize I was wrong; the Ecuadorian ceviche is soupier, with the cold broth being citrus-rich, and the seafood is cooked cooked, rather than being cooked in lime juice. It spoiled my appetite for dinner, but it sure was a delight.

As planned, after dinner on the boat we took a night ride back to town, and took over a small bar where we negotiated a bulk price of $5 per drink (I think most of us started with mojitos), and took over the pool table and the dance floor. It was a merry party, and I got to dance plenty, but I am afraid some of the modern Latin rhythms were a bit outside my repertoire. Monica, who is a petite Ecuadorian trigueňa, was in her element, and effortlessly organized the party by teaching the more adept the one-two-up step that forms the basis of bachata. Catherine and Michael once again amazed every one with their mastery of bachata and salsa, and were also actively engaged in making sure that everyone had a chance to dance and have a good time. Roberto, our guide, was also in the thick of it, totally oblivious that he is much smaller than the big German girls, whom he twirled like if they were petite debutants. Everyone had a good time!

Galapagos 2018 - Day 12. Yate Fragata, at sea

I am beginning to run out of ways to tell about our walks and dives, so maybe I will limit myself to recording the location, and mentioning a few of the unique things we saw. Early in the morning we went ashore in the Plaza Sur islet, which is separated by a narrow channel from its twin islet Plaza Norte, off the east coast of Santa Cruz. Both islets are erosional remnants of a lava field that was fed by a cinder cone on the shore of adjacent Santa Cruz. We took a walk here not because of its geologic significance, but because on the cliff that faces the open sea there are myriads of sea birds.

Before we got to the cliff, however, we saw a hybrid iguana climbing a nopal tree (yes, nopales here grow into trees, rather than clusters). This iguana, we were told, is a hybrid between a male land iguana, which are aggressive, and a female marine iguana. The hybrid is apparently sterile (?), but has adapted to feed from the pads and tunas directly from the tree, thus avoiding competition from its land or marine compadres.

Once we got to the top of the seacliff, which is a good 40 m high here, we witnessed obsessive activity on the side of the Galapagos Shearwater, which fly in big flocks that take turns to take off the cliff, swing around the ocean looking for plankton, and return to the cliff, all in a matter of less than a minute (I imagine that if they fid a patch of kreel they all dive in, but today the pickings were poor). Also present were the by now familiar Fragatas, harassing the also familiar Tropical birds, and a handful of pelicans and seagulls. Wait, what is that bird that is brown all over? I asked our bird expert Catherine, who dismissed it as yet another seagull. “But it is brown both on top and in the chest”, I remonstrated. “What?!” Aha, now I had her full attention. It turned out to be the elusive Brown Noddy! My standing in the bird watching cabal has increased a couple of notches 😊

We also so sea lions. In fact, the day could be considered sea lion-dominated. I am from California, so sea lions are a bit of old hat, but my fellow travelers had to coo and sigh at the beauty of the baby sea lions, who find in the channel between the islets a good place for Mom to bring some food.

We didn’t snorkel that morning, because we needed to sail from Santa Cruz to Santa Fe (a couple of hours), where we found ourselves a bay where we first went for a walk to see more sea lions, and later for a nice dive. I sighted three sharks sleeping at the bottom of the bay, a sea turtle also resting in the sandy bottom, and two different pairs of manta rays. Looking between the rocks I also saw the normal assortment of fish, sea urchins with fat spines (I suspect they are fat because of secondary growths). Oh wait, … wow … a veritable river of fish! They were some type of zebra fish, numbering in the thousands, that kept to a tight school that meandered along the bottom as a giant sea serpent.

From there we started sailing on a slightly choppy sea, to cross to Cristobal Island, and pretty soon three or four of our group were either puking or feeling queasy enough to skip dinner. Great. Double portions for those of us who didn’t fall sick!

After dinner the survivors met in the Grand Cabin to review the plan for tomorrow, after which our guide Roberto put some Ecuadorian music. Right away Monica started to shake, and she and Roberto gave us a nice demo of the popular dance music in Ecuador. Not to fall behind Catherine and Michael asked for a salsa, and promptly proceeded to wow everyone with their professional style of dancing. Not to be left behind, David (61 years old) asked for rock-and-roll, and she and Catherine gave a good demo on East Coast Swing. Excited about the music, the group decided that tomorrow night we will escape the boat at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and go dancing 😊

Galapagos 2018 - Day 11. Yate Fragata, anchored off Bartolome Islet

Walk, swim, eat, sleep, repeat; walk, swim . . . Yes, it seems that we are developing quite a rhythm in this excursion. Today we admired the volcanic landscape of Bartolome Islet, which is separated from the much larger Island of Santiago by the Seymour channel. What a difference with respect to flat Genovesa! Bartolome, and the adjacent coast of Santiago, are formed by the juxtaposition of several Surtseyan tuff rings and subaerial cinder cones. Surtseyan eruptions take place when magma erupts at a depth of a few meters below the surface of the ocean; because the water pressure is low, the contact between the hot basaltic magma (1,000 to 1,200 degrees C) flashes the water into steam and causes powerful explosion jets. The explosion jets were observed for the first time in Caphelinos (Azores) in the 1950’s, and later as the new island of Surtsey (Iceland) was born in 1965 (it was then that trained volcanologists saw and described the eruption, and hence the name Surtseyan was memorialized in the scientific literature). As described, the explosion jets resembled black pine trees that grew instantaneously in all directions, only to turn white once the steam condensed into tiny droplets. The force of the explosions comminutes the magma, so the layers of tuff formed are vey fine-grained, and sometimes bear evidence of powerful lateral forces in the form of thin laminations, ripple marks, or cross bedding. As the new volcano rises from the sea the waves immediately start cutting it down, so for a while the new island struggles for survival. If it is to last it must grow fast enough to cut the connection between magma and sea water, and either coat itself with lava or at least grow into a cinder cone armored with larger volcanic bombs. Sometimes, long after the eruption has ceased, the waves manage to cut down a flank of the tuff ring, exposing the crystallized plug of the vent to form a pinnacle (which happens to be the case at Bartolome).

The fact that several Surtseyan tuff rings and Strombolian cinder cones are clustered in Bartolome and the adjacent portion of Santiago suggests to me that this was a point of active basaltic magma intrusion through the oceanic crust. However, I don’t think a magma chamber had the chance to form, so the whole ended being just a field of small monogenetic volcanoes. The bulk of Santiago, however, eventually was formed by a shield volcano, not unlike the one in Santa Cruz, and so provided me with a good example to describe the difference between monogenetic and polygenetic volcanoes.

All this I explained in fits and starts to my fellow travelers as we climbed the 350 m high tuff ring closest to the shore. On the back side we found a filed of spatter cones, formed by small central vent eruptions, which again made a textbook example of central vent versus fissure eruptions of the type we had seen in Genovesa.

From the top of the tuff ring we had a fabulous view of Bartolome, the Seymour channel, and Santiago. We could see that a very young, large lava flow had erupted in the not so distant past (1897 as it happened to be) from the flank of the Santiago shield, and had flooded the partially eroded or relatively new cinder cones and tuff rings, leaving them as “inselbergs” sticking out of a sea of black rock (I am borrowing the term inselberg from glaciology, where it is used to refer to mountain tops that stick out of an ice sheet).

To the delight of our friend Catherine, who is the avid bird watcher of our group, we sighted the Galapagos Hawk, albeit soaring high in the sky.

Our snorkeling this time was off the dinghy, following the coast. I sighted a shark, so close I could have almost touched it, a different type of isolated coral colony that looked like a stack of cereal boxes, and any number of colorful fish. Our guide saw and took a movie of a shark sleeping on the sandy bottom that was fascinating (sharks do not have a swim bladder to control their buoyancy, so they must swim continuously, or rest on the bottom while asleep).

After another delicious lunch the sip crossed Seymour channel, and our second walk of the day was a geologic walk through the 1897 lava flow. This lava flow exhibits the most beautiful gallery of ropy pahohoe (we all went nuts taking photographs of cool ropy structures), with the odd patch of aa lava in between (did you know that in Germany little kids that need to go to the bathroom are asked by their moms “Do you need to go peepee or aa?”). Gives a completely new meaning to the term aa lava!

Quite surprisingly the surface of the lava flow is practically devoid of life. I have always claimed that life, in the form of odd seeds and small reptiles, is quick to colonize new areas. I stand corrected, at least in the case of a rocky, black surface in a dry climate. Not much has gotten a foothold here in over a 100 years.

Our final dive was delightful, with sightings of two turtles, isolated coral clusters, and my first sighting of small white mollusks attached to the rocks, and some sort of yellow submarine lichen (?) that gave the jumble of rocks the aspect of a gold field.

After diving I had a delightful conversation with Catherine and her boyfriend Michael. Catherine, our bird watcher, was a professor of ornithology at State University of New York (SUNY), until she got tired of the pressure to do research and get grants, and now she works as researcher for the Swiss Research Institute. Michael is the other geologist on board. He is a petroleum geologist, specialized in field development and well completion. He was there for the heyday of the British exploration and development of their portion of the North Sea, and now seems to spend a lot of time consulting for companies doing development in the Norwegian oil fields. His guess is that the petroleum industry will not recover from the current slump (too much oil available already, plus the bad boy image of the oil industry), and that geologists would be well advised to specialize in something else. I like this couple very much.

Galapagos 2018 - Day 10. Yate Fragata, at sea

We anchored off the island of Genovesa, within Darwin Bay (the cult to Darwin is evidently strong wherever we go). The bay itself is beautiful, but the land looks totally uninspiring, as the island lacks a central mountain, being effectively a plateau covered by palo santo. This particular bush/small tree, which is also found in the coast around Puerto Vallarta in Mexico, has the peculiarity that during the hottest part of the year sheds all its leaves to avoid dehydration, so for all practical purposes the forest looks like a cluster of dead trees. Once the temperature drops the tree starts donning leaves once again and, like a miracle, the forest apparently comes back from being dead, and hence the name palo santo.

We made a dry landing early in the morning, and went for a short walk over the rocky ground, intent on seeing as many birds as we could. Yes, apparently my new friends include some avid bird watchers, who go in total rapture when they see the Small Finch (an ugly little dark gray bird) or the Red-Footed Boobie (which has webbed feet but enjoys perching on the palo santo, giving the impression that it is wearing boxing gloves). The Red-Footed Boobie makes an ugly, rickety nest, and normally sits on two eggs, although once the first chick is born he ignores the other egg, which normally fails to hatch. We actually saw some of the chicks, who look like little pillows on account of their dense white down.

The Nazca Boobie, in contrast, “nests” on the ground, on a thin collection of bits of wood I would be ashamed of calling a nest (the male makes the so-called nest, and from there whistles to attract the attention of a female who might be willing to overlook his total incompetence at building a nest).

Being one of the two geologists on board (the other one, Michael, is a petroleum geologist), I am often asked what I think about this or that. We came to a big crack that was a good 5 m deep and several meters long and the guide introduced it as a geologic fault (sure, why not?); a few hundred meters along the road; however, we came to another “crack”, but this time it bore a thin coating of shelly pahoehoe lava that draped both sides of the fissure, and irregular “turds” of lava shreds, sometimes with a late cover of shelly pahoehoe. As pretty an example of a fissure along which lava had erupted as you can hope to find. The fissure was over a 100 m long, and appeared to have three en echelon segments. I think the whole island was formed by one or more fissure eruptions, as a miniature plateau basalt, and that is why it is so flat.

Continuing with our bird watching expedition, we have seen lots of Fragata birds soaring on thermals, innocently enjoying themselves. Ah, but there is nothing of innocent in their behavior when they spot a Tropical bird coming back from a successful fishing expedition. The Fragata bird then shows his true colors as a bully, attacking the Tropical bird until the latter regurgitates its food, which the Fragata then devours with greed. When in flight Fragatas are elegant gliders, and are popular symbols of the Galapagos because during mating time the male puffs its bright red throat to attract females.

Finally, we got some sightings of the elusive Galapagos Short-Eared Owl, a small, cute, and totally ruthless little owl, who disembowels small petrels and finches with surgical precision.

After I had had my fill of bird-watching we returned to the ship, changed into swimming suits, and went for some snorkeling off the side of the cliff. It was OK, but outside of some brightly colored fish there were no significant sightings of larger animals.

True to Ecuadorian fashion we had an abundant lunch centered on a delicious stew of fish and shrimp, and took the early afternoon off to lay on deck or read during the hottest part of the day (the overall temperature is very pleasant, but the direct sun will soon drill unto your skull).

The mid-afternoon activities were a mirror image of the morning, with a short walk pajareando (this short walk took forever, particularly since I had forgotten my hat and had to use a towel to protect myself against the fierce rays of the sun, just like Lawrence of Arabia), and snorkeling off the beach afterward. Interesting to see how bigger chicks feed from their parents, sticking their whole head into their gullets. We also saw the bones of a whale, blanching in the sun, which I suspect is the Galapagos version of a Disney attraction.

Snorkeling was great, with very satisfactory sightings of three manta rays and two sharks, plus any number of beautifully colored parrot fish, and scar-face angle fish, not unlike the one in Finding Nemo. I was puzzled by the presence of bits of coral on the beach, because I had not seen any coral during the previous snorkeling trips (this kind of makes sense because the water is too cold for corals), but here I finally found the answer. There are small individual colonies of coral, dotted here and there among the blocks of lava, like if they were a large white beachball attached to the bottom.

Dinner was once again delicious (we made a point of admiring the artistry of our cook, Victoriano, in the hope that he will continue producing these masterpieces for the rest of our cruise), and after dinner we got on our way, for the transit between Genovesa and the islet of Bartolome.