We wake up on San Cristobal, fifth largest and easternmost island and home to the archipelago’s capital, to what would be our earliest breakfast time yet, 6:20am. As much as I am the antithesis of a “morning person,” I am coming to enjoy the earlier departures. For one, it’s cooler, as some of the hikes in the direct equatorial sun can get quite hot. But also, as we near the larger inhabited islands, we risk running into more people, like the San Cristobal Island day trippers for instance. Fabian and our Beagle crew have moved our itinerary to an earlier departure to avoid a 90 passenger ship that is now in close proximity. So it’s well worth it to get up at the crack of dawn to enjoy having just our small group on the trails.
Today, we are hiking to what Fabian calls, “The Galapagos Grand Canyon.” So understandably, I am quite excited about this hike! We come ashore at Punta Pitt, where we climb about 15 minutes through the “canyon” until we reach a plateau with gorgeous ocean views. The contrast of the jagged rust-colored rocks against the cerulean sea remind me a little of Mexico’s Baja down around Espiritu de Santo in La Paz, one of my favorite places.
I am also filled with anticipation about this hike because it is my one and only chance to see the rare red-footed booby. While the blue-footed booby is more prevalent throughout the archipelago, the red-footed booby is only found in two places, here on Punta Pitt, and on Genovesa Island. Since our cruise does not visit the island of Genovesa, this will be my only chance to see the colorful booby bird with the red feet and the pale blue beak.
The booby birds get their name from the Spanish word, “bobo,” which means clown, due to their clumsy, wobbling walk and mating dance. While blue-footed boobies nest on the ground, red-footed boobies nest on the tops of shrubs or small trees, making them a bit harder to spot, and even harder to photograph. The red-foot boobies are also the smallest of the three booby birds found on the Galapagos Islands.
It doesn’t take long until we spot our first red-footed booby roosting in a tree out over a ledge. We all jockey for position to try to get a photo, but I don’t have the camera lens for it. Their nests are well camouflaged, since they are made from the same sticks of the tree. But as we continue on, we get more opportunities. Finally, it is looking down from a ledge into a nest below that provides an opportunity to see both the red feet and the pale blue beak. They are amusing creatures with their silly looking red webbed feet curled around a branch. I am fascinated, and that is coming from someone who is about as far from a “birder” as they come!
But the real show is compliments of the pair of blue-footed boobies we happen upon during a mating dance. Voyeurs that we are, we stop to watch as the male lifts each foot in hopes of impressing her with his bright blue feet. The blue comes from carotenoid pigments obtained from its diet of fresh fish. The brighter and bluer the feet, the younger and more healthy the mate. Then he does a maneuver called “skypointing” where he points his beak upward while raising his wings and tail to further impress her. It must be working, because next they waddle off to find some place a little more private…okay, okay, we get the message. “Nothing to see here, move along.”
The hike makes a little “lollipop” around to the cliffs overlooking the sea. Here I finally encounter the endemic Galapagos carpet weed which I had hoped to see. It’s most abundant May through December, so I feared I had missed it. A member of the portulaca family, it is brilliant in red color, and makes quite an artist palette with splotched green vegetation alternating with the red carpet weed against a backdrop of russet rocks and deep blue ocean.
Our next activity requires quite a long motor-sail. Since most of our maneuvers thus far have been after dark, this passage is a great time to relax up on top deck and watch the scenery roll by as we make our way to Kicker Rock, a famous snorkeling spot off the coast of San Cristobal Island.
Kicker Rock is a tuff cone left over from ancient volcanic activity. It’s name came from a certain angle of the rock that resembles a shoe, however, the profile changes from every angle, earning it an alternate name, Leon Dormido, or “sleeping lion” from a different angle. I never see either resemblance, but it is still a gorgeous site to see, particularly on approach as it gets taller and taller, rising 500 feet above the ocean surface.
We do a deep water snorkel here, where we will circumnavigate the larger of the two structures. It’s actually one rock with a channel separating the two upper halves. The novelty is to snorkel through the channel to look down on the two opposing walls. We see a few sea turtles here and a Galapagos shark. Unfortunately, the one attraction we had all hoped to see, the hammerhead shark, eludes us.
The Beagle has been summoned to port for an unscheduled government inspection, which means an unexpected detour. This comes as good news to me, because we will be making an otherwise unplanned stop in the capital city of the Galapagos province, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. The second, smaller airport is also located here. Since this is one of only four inhabited islands and one of the primary locations for those choosing to visit the island via land tour (as opposed to cruise,) I am curious to see how it compares to the larger, busier, more crowded Puerto Ayoro.
We have a little over an hour to explore the town, which gives me just enough time for a little shopping, and a quick internet session to check on family back home. In just one hour, I am able to restock my supply of Diet Coke to last to the end of the cruise (only regular “Coke” onboard,) and find a new visor to replace my favorite one that was stolen back in Quito. But my main objective is to find a chart of the Galapagos Islands and a marker so I can copy Fabians idea of charting our course to keep as my Galapagos Islands souvenir. And I enjoy a Los Coqueiros coconut ice cream bar, which is by far the best coconut ice cream I’ve ever tasted, made of all natural ingredients and big chunks of fresh coconut. All this, and a quick internet fix! San Cristobal turns out to be a very fruitful stop!
I find the town on San Cristobal to have a little more laid back feel than that Puerto Ayoro. It’s got more of a scuba diver / surfer vibe, and much smaller and more tranquil than Puerto Ayoro. If one were to chose a land option to visit the Galapagos, I would recommend including this island in the visit.
Back on board, we enjoy a gorgeous sunset while anchored in the harbor of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. Dinner is tuna steaks in red and green pepper sauce, my least favorite dinner thus far. But I’m still high on Diet Coke and coconut ice cream, so I really don’t care.
We won’t set sail for our next destination, the island of Santa Fe until 3:00am, so I look forward to a lovely night of being gently rocked to sleep.
“If everyone were cast in the same mold, there would be no such thing as beauty.” ~ Charles Darwin