Route map (click on map for a larger version)
Friday, 9/11, afternoon
Before we go any further, let’s consider the name “Galápagos.” The word comes from an old Spanish word meaning “saddle.” The Galápagos Islands have Giant Tortoises whose shells are in 2 basic shapes—dome-shaped and saddle-shaped. Thus, the islands are named for the Giant Tortoises with shells that have the latter shape. You’ll have a lot more information and photos of these tortoises in later pages.
More generally, the archipelago contains 13 main islands, 17 smaller islands, and approximately 40 rocks. Nearly all of the islands were created by volcanic action. (A few islands—e.g., the Plaza Islets, Baltra, and North Seymour—were created by uplifts from the movement of magma below rather than directly by the eruption of volcanoes.) It is thought that perhaps a stationery hot spot of extreme heat exists deep in the ocean floor, where the magma occasionally erupts into a volcano as the Nazca plate moves over it. Due to the movement of the Nazca plate, the islands are slowly (SLOOOWWWLLLYYY—perhaps 1.5 inches per year) drifting to the southeast, eroding, and eventually submerging. Thus, the eastern islands are the oldest (between 2.3 and 6.3 million years old) and most weathered, while the western islands are the youngest (perhaps a youthful 700,000 years old).
Since the islands have never been part of a continent, all of the fauna had to arrive on the islands under some external power. For instance, the iguanas may have floated over on rafts of vegetation; birds may have flown under their own power or arrived on boats. Given the fact that the islands have only recently (geologically speaking) been discovered and few predators exist (especially now that introduced species such as feral cats and goats have been exterminated on many of the islands), the birds and animals have not learned to fear humans. The lack of predatory mammals has resulted in the dominance of reptiles (tortoises, turtles, iguanas, lizards) on the ground in the islands. In fact, the Giant Tortoises have taken the role typically filled by mammals—the dominant grazer on land. As a result, the available browse played a major role in the evolution of the 2 different shapes of the tortoises’ shell mentioned above.
Well, that’s enough background for now—back to the trip. (Note: If you’d like to skip the text and just look at the photos of the wildlife, you can find the photos, and brief descriptions, for this page here. Click on any photo to see a larger version.) We piled into the transport vehicle at the airport and headed to the Baltra dock. Galápagos sea lions were lounging on the benches at the pier—clearly not meant for human use, at least not any more. Brown Noddies were swooping the waters below the pier. First new bird species identified at the Galápagos! (Some black finches that were probably new were zooming around the airport, but I couldn’t tell which species they were.) Here came our next new experience—the pangas. (The photo on the right is from a later adventure, but you can get an idea of what a panga is like.) The origins of the name “panga” are unclear; one meaning for the term in Spanish means “corn husk.” One author theorized that a small dinghy heading toward the black cliff of a Galápagos island might look as fragile as a corn husk. These modern-day motorized, rubberized dinghies provided our passage back and forth between land and the boat. With 16 in our group, we typically split into 2 groups of 8.
When the pangas drew up at the Tip Top II (home, sweet home for 8 days and 7 nights), we clambered on board with the gracious assistance of on-board crew members and found our way to the “lounge.” Cabin assignments were called out; Z & I were in Cabin 4, on the lower deck. Our baggage was already there. Unbelievable. Clearly, they had this transport stuff down to a science.
The cabin looked small, especially as I contemplated getting all of our stuff—and the collapsed duffels—stowed away. However, we dove in and quite quickly realized that we indeed had plenty of storage space. Whew! The beds were approximately twin-sized, with a small bureau between. Z (all 6′ 3″ of him) took the bed by the door, so he could hang his feet out over the end there. (Since the foot of the other bed was flush with the small closet, there was no extra room to be had there.) While we were settling in, the boat motored a short distance to the northern shore of Santa Cruz. (See dotted line on the map above.)
Continued on p. 2; click below.