Thursday, April 15, 2010

Leaving for the Marquesas

We’re scheduled to leave today at 2:00 pm for the Marquesas with four other sailboats: A Capella, Sidewinder, Freedom and Victoria. We’ll have an informal radio net to check in with each other twice a day and help out if needed. It’ll be interesting to see how many days it’ll take us to sail 3000 miles to Fatu Hiva, the first island in the Marquesas. If the wind is right, I predict that we will be at sea for at least 20 days.

Thanks to Silvio, a Galapagueran farmer, Kamaya is stocked with all sorts of interesting local food, including guaba de vejuco a Dr. Seuss green fruit about two- to- three feet long which when opened has black seeds coated with a white cotton candy substance. Maya and Kai like using the guaba to play swords, but others eat the sweet white part.

When we toured Silvio’s farm in the highlands in Isla Isabela earlier this week, we picked our food straight from the source. The various plants and trees were diverse such that one area had coffee, bananas and papayas growing next to each other. We filled our bags with limes, cantaloupes, watermelon, papayas, basil, squash, eggplant and even freshly roasted coffee. Silvio cut down an entire banana tree so that we could have one huge stalk of bananas.

It is hard to say good-bye to the Galapagos which has been our home for almost two months. Our autographo/ permit allowed us to anchor at three different islands: first San Cristobal, then Santa Cruz and now Isla Isabela. Each island has its own charm and challenges. On San Cristobal, the capital, we laughed at the hundreds of sea lions that have taken over the town. It was here where ripples of the Chilean tsunami hit and we spent a memorable morning at Leon Dormido, swimming with sea turtles, sharks, and spotted eagle rays.

Santa Cruz Island is coping with a rapidly increasing population, which has swelled to 16,000 inhabitants. The main town of Puerto Ayora, is not only home to the Charles Darwin Research Station, and Lonesome George, the last tortoise of his kind, but also to artists, restaurants, tour shops and more. We visited twice. The first time was in early March, but we left immediately because the anchorage was horribly rolly and packed with boats.

Last week, we returned to Santa Cruz to provision and go on a decadent three day cruise to the less inhabited islands, like Espanola, South Plazas, Santa Fe, and Floreana. It was on this cruise that we were able to watch the Waved Albatross land and take off from the cliffs, that we saw the Nazca booby chicks, Galapagos doves, land iguanas, colonies of flamingos, and snorkeled at the famous Devil’s Crown outside of Post Office Bay in Floreana.

Also in Puerto Ayora, we treated ourselves to ice cream every day because we won’t have it for the next month or so. It may have been the best ice cream we’ve had during our journey around the Pacific.

Of the three islands we’ve called home, Isla Isabela is my favorite. The anchorage is protected and every morning the penguins, sea lions and sometimes black-tipped reef sharks play by the boat. When I was in the water cleaning our hull yesterday, two penguins came by looking for food. I watched them flap their wings underwater and catch a tiny fish. They seemed so focused in their hunt for food. I can’t imagine how they managed to get to the Galapagos in the first place.

It’s been such a privilege to call the Galapagos our home. For Maya and Kai, the hands on biology and lessons of evolution has been invaluable. When I watch Maya (10) and Kai (8) photograph iguanas and penguins and talk to their friends about the behaviors of land tortoises, I know this experience will always be with them, just like it was for Charles Darwin.

Galapagos Wildlife

In the Galapagos, which is a long net of islands, 600 miles offshore, the wildlife thrives.
There are brilliant birds such as the 13 species of Darwin’s finches, penguins, and the Flamingo.

The mammals, are mainly those who live in the water, The sea lions, whales, and dolphins.

But the reptiles are probably the strangest. The marine iguana, has a body the exact color as the lava rock that it sits on, and a white crown of salt that they get from their long minutes in the water.

And there is the giant tortoise. These giants can be over four feet long. They have a serpentine head which they can pull into their shell, and swivel back and forth.

Of course, there are also the fish. Sharks, damselfish, and even sea horses!
But let’s start with the sea. The regularly seen sea horse in Isabela is this brown one blending into the mangrove branch. See if you can find it.

There are occasional whale sharks here, which are the ones with the white stripes and dotted lines. They have a blue gray body and can grow up to thirty feet but are completely harmless, (unless you are krill.)
The white tipped reef sharks prowl the seas, their fins submerged under the surface.

The Galapagos shark, which as you may have guessed, is endemic to the Galapagos. We saw many of them by Kicker Rock, (leon dormido) which is close to San Cristobal.

Don’t worry, there aren’t any great whites…
There used to be thousands of sperm whales, but the whaling ships took tons of them.
Although there are still a lot of killer whales.
The penguin, has a sleek body and a bit of a chinstrap with a pink underthroat.

This is the Galapagos sea lion. Their ears are small, like all sea lions, but these ones have large eyes. The Galapagos sea lion is a relative of the California sea lion, although the sea lions here are considerably smaller.

Then the fish, the one we have seen most is the yellow tailed damselfish, with their yellow lips.

The sergent major, which you can see just about anywhere.

There are also manta rays, and spotted eagle rays.

But now, for the birds. The greater flamingo, which is a non- native species, is often seen in the swamps and pools. They eat brine shrimp. And that is what makes them pink.

The frigate bird, of which there are two different species. The males can puff their necks up to a bright red balloon, and the females have a plain white throat. They can’t get their feathers wet, so they wait for the other birds to catch a fish and then they steal from that bird.

There are so many swallow tailed gulls, they have these red rings around there eyes, and the rest of their body is patterns of gray, white, and black. They are the only nocturnal gulls and eat squid, which they see through infrared light.

The blue footed booby, that I am sure you are familiar with. There is the famous sky pointing.

They have their mating dance and their lovely and amusing bright blue feet.

The yellow warbler, with their pretty call.

And there is the albatross. They appear to be a giant sea gull, with a white head and neck. The albatross male has a pale yellow color on the back of their heads.

Then, there is the reptiles.
The lava lizards. The males are sometimes spotted or at least brightly colored. Yet the females have a brown body with a red neck.

The marine iguana’s, which you have read about in the story ‘ugly iguana?’ are frequently spotted almost anywhere. Usually they are black, but in mating season the males turn different colors.

Sometimes they turn red.

or blue and green.

The land iguana, has a pretty yellow head that grows brighter during mating season. They eat cactus leaf, but they have to wait until one of the leaves falls to the ground, the cactuses are pretty big around here and they don’t climb.

Here is a land iguana eating a cactus leaf.

Of course, I must mention the Galapagos tortoise. There is a different sub- species of Galapagos tortoise for each island. There used to be 15 sub- species but four went extinct due to man. There are dome shaped tortoises, saddleback shaped tortoise, and intermediate, which is domed at first but at the neck part it goes up, like Miguelito’s. here is a tortoise from san cristobal island.
Here is another tortoise from Santa Cruz island.

And in Isla Isabella, there are 5 sub- species, here are two.

Notice how this Isabella tortoise has a flat shell. This is a different sub- species.
the end.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Eating Upsidedown

I’m Flo Flamingo and I come from the genus and species, Phoenicopterus ruber. Try saying that three times in a row. I like to stand on one foot and balance for hours on end. When I walk, you might think I’ve dislocated my thin legs, but it’s more effective and of course more graceful. I think I’m the most beautiful bird in the world, especially with my pleasing pink colors.

Painters from Europe have tried to paint me, but really it’s best to watch me with your own eyes. If you are lucky, you’ll have the opportunity to see me fly. That’s when I’ll show you my black feathers. I look so exquisite in the air that often the ancient Inca Gods emerge from the clouds to catch a glimpse of me.

My family and friends used to congregate in the salty lagoons near the town of Puerto Villamil in Isla Isabela, the largest island in the Galapagos. A few years ago there were hundreds of frogs who also lived in the ponds and they started eating all of our food. You see, the tasty shrimp helps keep our pink color and there isn’t enough in the lagoon. So the scientists tried to do something to help us out, but they messed up. They put caffeine in the water to eradicate the frogs. But we didn’t like the taste of caffeine either. Yuck! I don’t understand why anyone would like caffeine – I guess those human coffee addicts don’t know any better.

Many of my friends and family flew away to another home because of the caffeine. I decided to stick around for a number of reasons. First, I was born here in a little muddy nest near that mangrove right over there . And second, I don’t want to leave because of this little girl named Isla who comes to visit me every day. We don’t talk but I like to look at her large green eyes and she can look into my piercing white and black eyes.

Isla always laughs when I eat. You see, I eat with my head upside down. First, I stomp my feet to stir up the mud and then I filter the food in my mouth. Isla tried to eat her cheese empanada that way, but she couldn’t swallow very well and pieces of bread trickled out of her mouth. She lacks a special beak like mine. My beak is specially designed to filter the shrimp and other small shelled fish from the mud and silt at the bottom of the lagoon. This only works if I submerge my head beneath the water such that it is under my belly. Oh I think I feel something good to eat. Come back and visit me, but don’t try eating upside down.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Ugly Iguanas?

Snorkeling in the Galapagos, I see a strange sight. A big lizard is swimming around underwater. Wait, that’s not a lizard, it’s an iguana. What’s it doing in the water? It clings to the rocks with his claws, fighting the current while munching on seaweed!

This is the amazing Marine Iguana endemic to the Galapagos. It may have arrived floating on driftwood from the mainland, but since then it has evolved into a vegetarian creature that eats seaweed. But the problem with this theory is that the species is older than the islands. The iguana dives into the cool waters of the Galapagos to eat the plentiful seaweed and returns to land spending much of its time warming up its body in the hot equatorial sun before its next feeding dive.

They have a reputation for being ugly. Charles Darwin called them "hideous-looking" and "disgusting". Personally I think their look grows on you...I certainly wouldn't call them cute and cuddly, but they do have a dignified and fearless look about them. Most of the year they are black or gray in color, which allows them to blend in with the rocks. Several times we’ve almost stepped on them while walking to or from the dinghy dock. They’ll lumber away in time, often with a snort of salt water out of their noses. Watch out, don’t get sprayed with iguana snot! Perhaps it's this habit that led to Darwin to label them "disgusting", though I've seen many a human jogger with similar habits. During mating season, January to March, the males turn different colors on some of the islands. Here they’ll turn a greenish brownish color, while on Floreana they’ll turn red, green, and blue. They all get white markings on their heads which are actually salt from the excess salt water they snort out of their noses.

During mating season the males will stake out a desirable section of beach, fighting off any other males and mating with any females that choose to enter their domain. This is an exhausting time for the males as they will often go long periods without eating in order to hold onto their turf.

The females dig holes in the sand to lay their eggs. We see this all happening on the rocky islands of the barrier reef where we are anchored. We’re at the end of their nesting season and there are many young iguanas running around the beach and rocks.

Looking Back

It took me more than seven years to turn our blog into a hard covered bound book. At first, I was leery of wrapping up our adventure because...