Route map (click on map for a larger version)
Bartolomé (click on map for a larger version)
(Note: To skip the text, you can see the photos and brief descriptions of the wildlife on Rábida (1st 2 photos) and Bartolomé here; click on any photo to see a larger version.)
Saturday, 9/12, afternoon
Named for Lieutenant Bartholomew Sulivan (that is not a misspelling), the principal surveyor of the voyage of the HMS Beagle, Bartolomé is a rather desolate extinct volcano, yet it is one of the most visited and photographed islands of the archipelago. We had the option of snorkeling around Bartolomé and Pinnacle Rock (a jagged, eroded remnant of an old tuff cone) or riding around the shore in the panga. I was pretty worn out from my courageous efforts in the morning, so I opted for the panga ride, carrying the camera. Z went snorkeling again. The snorkelers headed out in one panga and entered the water directly from the pangas.
The 2nd panga followed to the same spot, where we all saw several little Galápagos Penguins in the water. These birds are small—perhaps 18″ tall when standing—and are related to the Jackass Penguins. (The photo to right shows 3 penguins on the rocky cliff. It almost looks “Photoshopped,” but honest—it’s not.) Their coloring really provides terrific camouflage on the dark volcanic rocks, especially when they turn to face the rocks or lie down, covering their bright white chests and bellies (as the little fellow on the far right is doing). They are the only penguins to breed entirely within the tropics and the only species ever found in the northern hemisphere—albeit, only a degree or 2 above the equator. The snorkelers were actually able to snorkel with these little sprites. We in the 2nd panga were challenged with taking photos of them from the bobbing dinghy—around heads, between wind gusts, and dodging waves. David, our panga pilot, was terrific at trying to get good views for us photographers.
Shortly after this, we left the snorkelers and moved around Pinnacle Rock and along the rocky shoreline. We soon spotted a Lava Heron blending in beautifully with the cliffs, reminding me of the Green Heron of the U.S. (which shouldn’t be a surprise, since they are both of the Butorides genus). Since the bill of this bird is so dark, it is likely that it’s a male; females tend to have lighter, more silvery-gray bills. They are often seen stalking the “everywhere you want to be” Sally Lightfoot crabs.
Next, we motored past an odd-looking, large bird, stretched out vertically on a flat rock with its back to us. The group puzzled what it could be—a pelican, maybe? David, our panga pilot, said something that made us think he recognized the bird. But it was really windy and the motor was loud; we couldn’t quite hear him. “Parrot?” someone in the boat guessed. I was QUITE sure it wasn’t a parrot. Just as I was about to hand David the book to show us (as if running the panga in the wind and the waves weren’t enough for him to do), I realized he had said “Fragata”—frigatebird. Well, sure—a juvenile frigatebird in a completely prone position, an atypical posture that it had adopted due to the wind. Thank you, David!
We didn’t see much else new from the panga, so we headed back to the boat to get ready for the afternoon’s adventure—an assault on the summit of Bartolomé. Aided by 372 stairs, we slowly made our way up ~350′ to the top of the volcano. At the left is a photo of the “pahoehoe” (pronounce “pa-ho-ay-ho-ay—Hawaiian for “ropy”) lava. It is created when molten lava in contact with the air begins to cool and solidify; if lava below continues to flow under it, these rope-like structures emerge. In similar situations, if the outer lava begins to solidify and the lava flow below decreases, lava tubes can be formed. (Several lava tubes can be seen in the left photo as well; they look a bit like vertical tracks coming down the slope.) A second kind of lava can be found in the Galápagos; called “a’a” and pronounced “ah-ah,” it’s very sharp lava and extremely difficult to walk on. (Given this, few visitor landings go to such spots.) The photo on the right shows the scattering of silvery Tiquila—about the only plant that can survive such dry, ashy soil. Although it initially looks like a dead plant, closer inspection reveals that the leaves are covered with gray hairs that help to slow down evaporation and reflect the brutal sun. (You can tell that more water collects at the bottom of this slope than at the top—the Tiquila is much more dense at the bottom than at the top.)
Bartolomé also hosts the smallest of the islands’ cacti—the Lava Cactus. True to its name, the Lava Cactus lives only on barren lava fields and is typically among the first species of plant to grow on a new lava flow. It grows to a height of approximately 2 feet. The younger stems emerge as yellowish-green; as they age, they turn dark.
At the top (the red star on the Google Earth map at the top of this page), we had great views of Pinnacle Rock (right)—a tuff cone created when volcanic ash is ejected from vents during an eruption. As the ash cools and consolidates, it forms a tuff cone. Looking rather like a sailboat, it is one of the most photographed landmarks in the Galápagos. You can see the two half-moon bays; the snorkelers had cavorted with the penguins in the smaller bay on the right and we in the panga had photographed them along the rocky coast of this bay. We could also see a submerged caldera (a basin-like depression caused by the collapse of a volcano, the photo on the left), looking rather like a smiley face in the water. (Both Pinnacle Rock and the caldera are shown on the Google Earth map at the top of the page.)
As we headed back down the last of the stairs, just by the landing, we came upon a cluster of marine iguanas. Although they live primarily on land, the Galapagos marine iguanas are the only sea-going lizards, feeding in the ocean. Their long toes aid in climbing up the cliff faces, so they can move to and from their feeding waters (where they eat mostly red and green algae). This diet is high in salt, so they expel brine through their nostrils in a snort—pretty much the only sound they make. Since they are cold-blooded—and yet feeding in the cold currents—they spend a good amount of time basking in the sun on the dark volcanic rocks to warm themselves. When the air cools, as it had when Z took this photo late in the day, they gather in groups that looked like puppy piles to me, to stay warm.
The crew let us know that we might have a lively ride overnight, as we made our way to Genovesa. (If you have a tendency toward motion sickness, you might want to avoid this trip in September. The Humboldt Current is at its strongest during this month and therefore, the seas tend to be more choppy than at other times.) (just our luck…) The trip would probably take 6 hours (roughly 11 p.m. – 5 a.m.). We would be crossing much more open water than we had done so far, so the ride could be considerably rougher. We secured the loose items in the cabin, to avoid being unexpectedly showered by flying belongings. Fasten your seatbelts—it’s going to be a bumpy night…
Click here to continue to the next segment.