Our second day began, as would most of the following days with soft music and a gentle prod from our cruise director, Mauricio, to get moving. Early morning and late afternoon are the best times for the viewing the animals. Breakfast began at 7. We enjoyed Eclipse's typical buffet breakfast -- fresh fruit and juices, cereal, granola, yogurt, eggs, breakfast meats, cheese and more - and then gathered on the aft deck to collect our snorkeling gear. Masks and snorkels, fins and numbered mesh gear bags were provided and we checked out what we needed for the rest of the cruise. The the first panga departed for Puerto Egas on Santiago Island at 8.
We landed on the black coral sand beach and set off across the interior of the island where we passed the remains of an abandoned salt mining enterprise. We stopped to watch a heron, standing in a clearing, slowly waving its neck like a branch of a tree as a means of camouflage. As we watched, it easily caught an unsuspecting lava lizard for an early lunch.
The trail then led along the coast, past tidal pools brimming with colorful marine creatures, to fur seal territory. Puerto Egas is one of the few islands where fur seals, the smaller, thicker furred relative of the common Galapagos sea lion, can be spotted. We found them resting in the shade, on ledges and the edges of tidal pools. We climbed on the rocks among mother fur seals curled up with their babies, examined the molted shells of Sally Light Foot crabs and, when the trail ended back at the beach, were ready to cool off in the Pacific.
As had most on board, we packed wet suits and later in the trip were glad we did, but this morning we didn't need them. We splashed right into a tropical aquarium. Colorful fish darted under us, starfish were everywhere and this was only the beginning.
Back on board we enjoyed the buffet lunch on the aft deck as we headed for our next stop, Bartolomé Island. Lunches on the Eclipse are casual and delicious - soup or ceviche, vegetable and seafood salads, several hot entrees, cold cuts, cheese and freshly made bread are followed by a selection of the pastry chef's magnificent deserts such as baked Alaska, fresh fruit mousse, cakes and tarts.
After siesta, about mid afternoon, we boarded pangas and headed for the beach on Bartolomé to snorkel around Pinnacle Rock. This time I struggled into my wetsuit on the beach and was glad I did because the water here was chilly. We headed around the point together with several new friends. Soon we were joined by a young sea lion looking for playmates. He rolled and floated among us, swimming to within inches of our outstretched arms (we aren't allowed to touch the animals, but they can touch us). Then he climbed out of the water on to a ledge near a roosting penguin and posed while everyone pointed disposable underwater cameras at him. No rewards, no treats, no fear … no kidding!
Later that afternoon our pangas made a dry landing on a stone dock near the trail to the highest point on Bartolomé. We climbed the 365 steps to the summit and were rewarded with breathtaking views of much photographed Pinnacle Rock. As we descended the sun was setting and birds were soaring. Thanks to the Galapagos National Park's efforts we were able to view the same unspoiled landscape that Charles Darwin explored.
That night we crossed the Equator on our way to Genovesa, or Tower Island. The Galapagos Islands each have several names, usually the original name found on English maps and the later Spanish name. When we woke we were anchored in Darwin Bay.
We made a wet landing on another beautiful beach and ventured out to discover the Galapagos' "bird island." This remote island is a haven for many species of birds. The most notable residents, Frigate birds and red-footed boobies, along with several types of gulls, were everywhere. Their nests on outcropping rocks and in the small bushes on shore were easy to spot and photograph. It was thrilling to catch a glimpse of fluffy young chicks as their mothers repositioned themselves on the nests. The rocky trail passed several clear tidal pools where we watched a marine iguana feeding on algae before the path ascended to a bluff with a spectacular view of Darwin Bay. Swimming and snorkeling topped off the morning.
After lunch and a siesta some of us took the opportunity to snorkel along the collapsed crater wall that surrounds Darwin Bay. I was glad I was wearing a wetsuit when I slipped over the side of the panga into the chilly water. The Brits and Californians were fine in swimsuits, but I'm used to the warmer Atlantic. We swam with dozens of tropical fish and stopped to observe the birds nesting in crevices in the crater walls above. Our guides on several snorkeling opportunities were anxious to lead us to sharks and other big name attractions, but I enjoyed floating above rocks covered with starfish while looking for brightly colored tropical fish.
Later that afternoon we made a dry landing at Genovesa's Prince Philip's Steps and climbed the rough rock stairway to a plateau where boobies, frigates and gulls were nesting. We walked along a rocky trail and spotted many species of nesting birds including a short-eared owl along the rugged cliff.
The next two days we would land at visitor sites on Fernandina and Isabela Islands. On Fernandina we hiked across recently formed lava fields. On Isabella we hiked, snorkeled and explored by panga. We walked on what was the ocean floor until the 1950s when a volcanic eruption pushed it upward and made it part of the island. We saw huge marine iguanas here and found a giant tortoise resting in the shade of a tree. When we snorkeled in the area we saw many penguins and sea lions. We also saw a sea horse, almost perfectly camouflaged by the surrounding coral, and many colorful fish.
Panga rides proved to be a pleasant way to view birds nesting in the nooks and crannies. We saw penguins and sea lions resting and watched boobies dive straight into the bay like dive-bombers. On one late afternoon panga ride our guide noticed dolphins in the distance and we made our way into their midst. Hundreds of bottlenose dolphins were feeding in the area and took little notice of our panga as they frolicked in the sea at sunset. Another panga ride took us into a mangrove area where the motor was turned off and our guides paddled us quietly through narrow canals, pointing out rays, sharks and sea turtles.