It's going to be pretty hard to top today for the rest of this holiday! What an awesome day we've had.
This morning we started with an early breakfast at a cafe used more by locals than tourists. There were some mysterious items on the menu, but we had a fairly conventional breakfast, although it is not usually accompanied by Darwin Finches! We ate early and were at the wharf by 7.30 to get on our boat to today's destination, the island of Santa Fe, about a 2 hour boat ride southeast of Santa Cruz, where we are staying.
The boat ride was a little rough, and the skies were mostly grey. But we spent a large part of the journey over on the front deck trying to photograph the Frigate birds that were flying overhead, coasting in our slipstream. The highlight of the trip was seeing rays jumping high out of the water, and doing a triple somersault in the air. No photos (it was too quick) but very cool to see.
When we arrived at the beach on Santa Fe, we could see sea lions lying all over the beach. It is one of the iconic images of the Galapagos, that you see on every tour brochure and website, people wandering unhindered amongst lazy sea lions, and here we were. Before we even landed we were treated to a few sea lions frolicking in the water right next to the boat.
We spent over an hour walking among the animals, photographing, admiring, and telling each other how amazing it is to be here. The only restriction was we had to keep a distance of 2 metres from the animals, a rule we more or less observed, most of the time! There were several very young babies, a few nursing mothers, and a couple of noisy bulls. They took no notice of us at all, and it really was like being in the middle of a David Attenborough documentary! There were also lots of Sally Lightfoot crabs – brightly coloured large endemic crabs that hang out on the black rocks, and assorted birds (including blue-footed boobies, which we will see close up tomorrow, but today we watched as they dived from the top of the cliffs with pinpoint accuracy into the water). We saw a shark, and a few turtles in the water, but the main attraction was definitely the sea lions.
Our guide David took us on a walk away from the beach into the surrounding scrub, in search of the Santa Fe Land Iguana, one of the largest Iguanas and found nowhere in the world except Santa Fe Island. We found several amongst the huge cactus trees, and enjoyed a lovely view of the beach and cliffs. It really is incredible the way these animals ignore people and allow such close observation. The rangers make sure we don't touch or harass them, but they show no fear at all.
All too soon we were collected and sent back to the boat, where we changed into our snorkelling gear. Surprisingly only Keith and I had snorkelled much before (apart from Chris & Jess) so the 4 of us, plus David the ranger/guide were dropped off in rather choppy waters to snorkel, while the others had a lesson and a snorkel in calmer waters around the bend. We've only really snorkelled in the Barrier Reef before, so didn't know what to expect. There was no coral, but hundreds and hundreds of brightly coloured fish. It was spectacular! We saw one huge school of fish surging as one in and out with the waves. I've never seen so many fish before.
We swam for about 30 minutes and met up with the others. By that time we were pretty cold (the grey skies stayed grey and in fact it was raining lightly by now). We were taken back to the main boat by tender, and were very very cold by the time we got on board. But we were greeted by a warm shower and the smell of lunch cooking, so we were soon happy again.
Lunch on the boat as we motored back to Puerto Ayora was delicious – yellow fin tuna steaks with a lemon parsley sauce, and some kind of soggy sponge cake with was unusual but very tasty. After lunch I pretty much slept most of the way back, as did several others. The choppiness hadn't eased up so many of us were feeling a little seedy, and sleep was the best remedy.
By the time we got back to town it was around 5pm, the end of a very satisfying day. We headed for the hotel to wash the salt off and download photos, and met Jan and Rex who had arrived not long before. It was great to see them, and now our little group is complete.
After a drink in the common room it was time for dinner. This time we eschewed the tourist restaurant and headed for the local version of a food hall at the mall – a street full of cafes, where the tables were in the middle of the road, and it was hard to tell where one ended and the next began. The tables full of locals and the scent of grilling combined to create a really festive atmosphere. Chris & Jess had preordered our dinners and a table was waiting. Most of us had lobster (served with rice and sauce, and a salad) for all of $15. So much fun.