Once packing was done, we headed back to the lounge for snacks and to get ready for the first outing—a wet landing on Playa de las Bachas on north Santa Cruz. (“Wet landings” simply meant that we hopped out of the pangas near the shore and waded through shallow water to get to a beach.) The meaning of the name of this beach seems to have several stories. One says it’s named after U.S. barges that were left on the beach after World War II; perhaps “barges” became “bachas” in the local vernacular. Another version says it’s named after the tracks left by the sea turtles heading back and forth between their nesting sites in the dunes and the water; these tracks actually looked a bit like ATV tire tracks in the sand. Since one meaning for “bache” in Spanish is “rut,” that too seems possible. Regardless of the derivation, we first strolled on a white sand beach, noting a variety of birds—a good number of which were familiar old “friends” from the U.S.: Great Blue Heron, Brown Pelican, American Oystercatcher, Whimbrel, Black-necked Stilt. About halfway across the first beach, Zell spotted a shape at the shoreline, calling out to the group: “Hey, here’s something. It’s a sea turtle. It’s TWO sea turtles!” Indeed, a pair of Galápagos Green Turtles were mating in the surf along the sand. Everyone watched and took photos galore; after a few minutes, the turtle couple headed out to sea and we moved on. Well—welcome to the Galápagos, I’d say! What an extraordinary sight to have witnessed—and on our very first outing! (Carlos later commented that another naturalist had a group on the island ahead of us. But Carlos knew that that guide didn’t like to go on that part of that beach. So we were the first ones there. Had the other group gone there first, the sea turtles would have been out to sea a long time before we arrived and we would have missed it all.)
At 2 brackish pools, we spotted 2 Greater Flamingos (the one toward the back of the photo was very gray, probably a juvenile), Semipalmated Plover, White-cheeked Pintail. Several Marine Iguanas lounged on the shore of one pond (below). Referred to by Darwin as “imps of darkness,” this species is the only iguana that is not completely terrestrial. Darwin discovered its aquatic nature by grabbing one by the tail and, first, tossing it into a tidal pool and, after it had crawled back to its rock, hurling it into the ocean. Needless to say, that practice is now very severely frowned on in the islands.
Back on the beach, the species parade continued: Marbled Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone (in non-breeding plumage), frigatebirds (more about the 2 species in later pages), Blue-footed Booby (a LOT more about those in later pages), and Lava Gull. Endemic to the Galápagos, Lava Gulls are said to be the rarest or least numerous gull in the world—perhaps 400 pairs spread throughout the archipelago. However, they are not particularly difficult to spot, since their scavenging habits keep them concentrated around the ports, where tourists are also commonly found. This one is not as dark all over as an adult Lava Gull would be; in fact, it looks a bit like a Swallow-tailed Gull at first glance. However, its dark legs and solid black bill make it clear that it’s a Lava Gull. It is most likely a juvenile just coming into adult plumage.
Carlos spotted an eagle ray lurking on the floor of the shallow water. We also got our first good looks at the brilliant orange Sally Lightfoot crabs, which are found on many islands. These crabs are the scavengers of the coastal areas and will eat just about anything they can get their claws on—including others of their own kind. They are vital in cleaning up all manner of organic detritus reaching the shores. The name refers to a Caribbean dancer known for her quick footwork and her red and orange costumes. Watching these flamboyant crustaceans skitter across the rocks, the connection is clear.
Heading back on the pangas, we had to first rinse off sand from our shoes. (We rinsed our feet and shoes off again under a hose as we boarded the boat. We then left our “landing shoes” on the fantail of the boat.) This procedure was important for 2 reasons: most importantly, we were not to bring any traces of one island to another island; second, we didn’t want to track sand into the boat. As a final aspect of this first day’s adventure, the motor in the panga we were in stalled. In the other panga, David dropped his passengers off and came back to tow our panga to the boat. Over the next few days, we would see Alfredo working on that panga motor at different times. As the week progressed, it seemed to stall less frequently—and Alfredo always got it up and running again.
Upon our return, passengers mingled in the lounge and many purchased beer, wine, or sodas at the bar. Fifteen minutes before dinner, the crew appeared for a “welcome aboard” ceremony. With the crew dressed to the nines, Carlos introduced the other 7 crew members by name and position; and they honored our visit with a champagne toast. A lovely tradition. (And man, did those guys look sharp in their dress whites!) Dinner was served buffet-style, with the chef dishing out the main dish—snapper! Could there be a better omen for Tina, the fish girl? Everything was delicious and we ate it all—including dessert (even Z, who, up until then, hadn’t touched a dessert since “Fudgie the Whale” at his going away party 17+ years ago).
We gathered one last time in the lounge for a video about boat procedures and Carlos’s overview of the next day’s schedule: “Penguins and Volcanoes.” Most folks then headed off to their cabins for the evening and the boat motored to Rábida during the night.
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