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My Galapagos Adventure – Day Three

June 30, 2014 Luxury Cruises Galapagos, Travel to Ecuador No Comments

Join me for day three of my 15-day journey through the Galapagos Islands.  When I left you, it was night time and we were leaving Espinosa Point on Fernandina Island.  Over night the boat moved a short distance back to Isabela Island where we are to be treated to many more wonders. (Click the links on the right to read about the beginning of my journey.)

A Taste of History

Pirate Graffiti at Tagus Cove

Pirate Graffiti at Tagus Cove

When you first open your door and walk onto your balcony to greet the day at Tagus Cove, you’re surprised by grafitti all over the cliff walls. With this park so protected, how could anyone make it out here and destroy it so callously? It’s because the people who did this were callous and rude. They had no regard for the land, nature or evolution. Preservation and conservation were simply not in their lexicon. In fact, the graffiti artists were here 300 years or more before Charles Darwin.  Tagus Cove is where the history of these pirates and that of Darwin can visually be seen to intersect.

Pirate Graffiti at Tagus Cove

Pirate Graffiti at Tagus Cove

Invader Villam and many others made their mark, scrawling their names in huge letters on the sheer cliff.  Imagine these men in horrendous conditions exploring the world and plundering as they went.  Centuries ago, the cliffs wouldn’t have been covered in scrubby brush as they are today because the islands were too new and undeveloped.   And the top of the volcano was teeming with giant tortoises.

Here, at Tagus Cove, to them a desolate and isolated place, starved for fresh water and food, the pirates would stop and do what they could to find sustenance. It didn’t look at all like it does today. Giant tortoises were the source of food and oil. Over the years, one groups of pirates after the other hauled the tortoises from here and other places onto their ships. With no regard to the future, only their hungry bellies, they loaded up the tortoises by the thousands, literally piling one on top of another. Whether a tortoise would become food, oil, a commodity or simply die at sea and be thrown overboard didn’t matter. The pirates took what they wanted, seriously impacting the balance of nature and creating challenges in Galapagos that continue today and are being remedied by the Charles Darwin Foundation and others dedicated to restoration of the giant land tortoise population.

Darwin LakeThroughout Galapagos, then and now, fresh water is limited. So, I’m sure that when these plundering filthy dirty scoundrels came upon a crystal blue lake, it looked inviting and like salvation.  They ran and plunged headlong into it to allay their thirst. Ha!  Those pirates got what they deserved! For this gorgeous lake at Tagus Cove has a salinity twice that of the ocean! This very lake was later discovered by Darwin himself and is now known as Darwin Lake. This is where worlds collided and plundering evolved into preservation.

Ascent at Tagus Cove with Ocean Spray

Ascent at Tagus Cove with Ocean Spray

At Tagus Cove we go on an extended hike, stopping along the way to see the vistas.  Here we are at the beginning of the trail.  Sea lions literally had to be cajoled out of our way since they claimed the path as their own.  “We were here first,” they seemed to say.  In fact, the big guys up here really didn’t want to be bothered – they weren’t at all like the docile mothers and babies we had seen before.  These were males who had come here for a rest after an extended period of time being in charge of a harem of females and their pups.  While they are patrolling the beach protecting their harems, they get no food or rest and become quite run down.  Eventually, another male vies for and wins the territory.  To the victor goes the harem.  To the loser goes a respite on a warm island for sleep, food, relaxing, rebuilding strength and muscle and taking in the sun – the sea lion version of a coach potato. Not a bad life for a loser!

Tagus Cove looking west to Fernandina

Tagus Cove looking west to Fernandina

Tagus Cove - Vista from the Top of Isabela looking East

Tagus Cove – Vista from the Top of Isabela looking East

Not that the sea lions and gorgeous provocative Darwin Lake aren’t enough, but Tagus Cove is also the home to flightless cormorants, iguanas and breathtaking vistas. We see, from the hike, Fernandina to the west, and four of Isabela’s volcanoes: Ecuador, Wolf, Darwin and Cerro Azul.  Our trip down is way easier than going up and by the end, we are ready for a swim.

Photo Apr 09, 9 33 04 PM

As if by magic a mother and a noisy baby cormorant greet us to say goodbye to dry land and invite us into the water to play, which is exactly what we do. The snorkeling does not disappoint. Once again our guide leads us to the very best spots to find underwater treasures. We are awarded with cormorants, puffer fish and more.

Penguinos Tagus Cove Isabela IMG_1747And from the water we were able to have a visit with a family of Galapagos penguins – yes, more penguins on the equator.  So cute!

Our morning history lesson is complete.

On our return to the boat, our ever-present steward and waiter Xavier awaited with hot chocolate.  Now to be outdone, the wonderful Dr. Trixie (we never quite figured out where she got the title), draped each one of us with delicious large beach towels fresh and warm from the dryer.  Heaven!  We’ve seen and experienced so much already today, it’s hard to believe that it’s still morning and the day is still young.

Evolution in an Instant, Not an Eon

Fernandina Island

Fernandina Island

Flightless Cormorant

Flightless Cormorant

In geological time, the Galapagos Islands are very young.  The oldest island no more than 5,000,000 years old, the youngest – Fernandina -  just 750,000 years.  Time goes slowly when talking about evolution and change takes place in tiny increments, usually unseen.  The marine iguanas that populate so much of Galapagos evolved more than 20,000,000 years ago.  (How the marine iguanas are older than the islands themselves is another fascinating topic of conversation.) The giant land tortoises, different on each island because adapted to each area’s topography and fauna, took millions of years to develop their distinguishing characteristics and the evolutionary changes started as many as 6-12 million years ago, before the origin of the oldest extant Galápagos islands. Likewise, the Galapagos Flightless Cormorant took many eons before it became the only cormorant on earth with wings but no ability to fly.

Flora at Urbina Bay

Mangrove at Urbina Bay

This is how things tend to change in geological time periods. It’s a time consuming chain of events that causes animals to change and to adapt to their environments.  The opposite happened, however at Urbina Bay, located at the base of Volcan Alcedo.  One day, there was a beach at Urbina Bay.  Then, in a matter of an instant, an uplift occurred in 1954.  One day the pressure from under the earth became too much and in a burst of time – just like a pressure cooker – the earth was lifted 16 feet and the beach became an inland pathway when a whole new ½ – ¾ mile-wide sea shore was created. In other words, what was beach and under water moved inland. The activity happened in a matter of hours, not millenniums. In a moment, sea tortoises, sea lions, fish and all the marine creatures that were raised out of the water were stranded and died. The geological change was so fast that no one knew it happened until the uplift was discovered by passing fisherman who smelled the decay and went for a look.

On our walk through this “freak of nature” we saw evidence not only of stranded sea creatures, but of the ocean bed itself.  The inland walk is lined with shells, further proof that this was once the sea bed. There are mangroves, which usually grow only with their roots embedded in water, located between the inland path and the beach. There are areas of pumice as well. Boulder-sized pieces of coral still line the path, very strange and beautiful, but breakable and fragile – so, don’t touch.

Galapagos Tortoise at Urbina Bay

Galapagos Tortoise at Urbina Bay

At Urbina Bay you can see giant sea turtles in the wild and an extensive tortoise nesting area.

Land Iguana Eating a Poison Apple

Land Iguana Eating a Poison Apple

There are some really big land iguanas with round tails, unlike marine iguanas that use their flat tails to navigate through the water.  The land iguanas eat poison apples while a human who touches the same tree will end up with a poison ivy-like rash.  These are all signs of evolution.

You’ll take lots of photographs at Urbina Bay.

This is a good time to take a break from sightseeing and tell you about the nightly activity on the cruise ship.  Upon returning to the boat after the afternoon activity, a delicious Latin American delicacy awaits to whet your appetite for dinner.  It’s always a special treat: maybe cheese, plantain, potato, but always something unusual and served with a refreshing non-alcoholic beverage. (For those interested, alcoholic beverages always are available too.)

Ocean Spray Lounge

Ocean Spray Lounge

After taking a few minutes to unwind, everyone usually goes to the cabins for a short rest and shower.  Then, we hear Harry on the radio calling us to a briefing in the ship’s comfortable lounge area. There’s time to grab a glass of wine or a drink to enjoy while listening to the briefing, which can take a few minutes or an hour.  Usually, the guide goes over what the next day’s activities will be and he’ll tell you the highlights of what to expect.  At the beginning of the cruise, he likes to provide information about how the volcanic islands were formed or how the ocean currents play a role in the flora and fauna or the uniqueness of the endemic Galapagos species.  Briefings provide a chance to ask questions and learn more about the Galapagos Islands.  After all, the Islands are a mecca for scientists and evolution buffs.

This, for me, is an important aspect of choosing the right cruise ship because you want a guide who speaks impeccable English (not just passing English) and who has tons of knowledge – more than he can impart.  I’ve talked to Harry about what is taught in guide certification school and it’s really the basics.  To be a great guide, formal graduate level education isn’t at all a prerequisite.  What a great guide needs is a thirst and enthusiasm for knowledge and the willingness and desire to become immersed in the culture, science and history of the archipelago.  That’s what the guides on the best ships have done. Often the most knowledgeable are native to the Galapagos Islands.  Be certain to ask questions about your guide’s credentials when making plans for your Galapagos journey.

FoodImmediately following the briefing is another luscious dinner.  Seriously, the food is as beautiful as it is delicious.  And NEVER forget to take a look at the center pieces.  Here’s just one example – this little penguin is made from eggplant.  And see that pineapple upside down cake in the foreground – absolutely mouthwatering and every bit as good as it looks as it was based by our french-trained pastry chef Angel.

To learn more about the Galapagos Islands and for help planning your cruise, go to Haugan Cruise Lines or call 1-800-769-0869. Personnel are equipped to help answer all of your questions and get your started on a glorious, once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

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