This longest day of the year proves quite long indeed. We wake at 5:30am to a warm morning – cold never comes to The Galapagos. The boat has brief leave to explore a famous diving spot quite early in the morning before the rush of other tourist dive boats.
From the pangas, we flip off into the ocean with fins and masks into cold water. Cliffs rise on either side of a narrow channel. Below, water descends further than I can see. Julio spots baby sharks. Fear mounts.
We swim slowly through the sheer channel over schools of silver fish. On the far side, I find a much larger shark and then a reassuring group of sea turtles. The turtles will protect me.
After breakfast, we storm the beach Normandy-style in the two pangas. The sand squeaks like powdered sugar, or so my guidebook suggests. Turquoise water, white sand, lava rocks, decorative cacti, red Sally lightfoot crabs, sleeping seals – this indeed is paradise. My thoughts are crowded no more. I take photos of Lee sleeping with the seals. He is wonderfully ebullient.
I don the reassuring wetsuit and wade out from the shore. The water is murky and shallow, but the sea lions are quite playful. One slippery silk sea lion follows me for fun. He stares me in the face as he swims towards my nose. Just before collision, the sea lion dives under me, circles back, and readies for the next of many games of confrontation. From all the snorkeling, I have burnt the lower part of the backs of my legs. What joy in the water to pee in a wetsuit.
Right after lunch, we land on a stone dock. The captain fights a sea-lion family that has taken up residence on the steps. The captain brandishes a raft oar at the perturbed daddy bull sea lion. We walk over treacherous lava boulders in search of blue-footed boobies. All nesting pairs of birds have long-since left for the season. We gather around a solitary young fluffy-white booby who is not yet old enough to fly, but also lacks the distinctive blue feet. Later, we spot one blue-footed booby perched high on a rock wall.
It is El Niño and the animals are dying. The water temperatures have risen, pushing the fish further off shore. The birds fly farther and the sea lions swim farther in search of dwindling food supplies. Julio sees only about one-third of the usual number of animals. I step over many baby seal skeletons. Sad.
We have unexpected shore leave for the afternoon. The crew needs to run into town for mysterious reasons. We speculate that the boat has run out of coffee, or perhaps the crew needs to do laundry, or is there a damsel in distress? We pick up 3 amazing Spaniards, recently relocated to Los Angeles: mother Mercedes, father who works in reverse-osmosis filtration technology, and 8th-grade daughter Corlotta. At the end of her first day on board ship, Mercedes is sunburnt and seasick, but surprisingly still cheery.
We dock illegals at Puerto Baquierzo Moreno on Isla San Cristobal. Sea lions have taken over the dock steps, park benches, docked boats, almost everywhere and anywhere. We are not to mention “Yata Frigata” when in town.
The four of us hit the post office, buying $44 of stamps at $2 each. Afterwards, we drink beer and caipirinhas across the street in Café Calypso. I’m disoriented from landsickness. The restaurant lurches and sways around our coconut fish crepe and chocolate lava volcano.
Folks want snacks for the boat and gifts for back home. We part ways on different missions. Ray and I buy Christmas cookies, chips, and chocolate at a ramshackle supermarket. We pick up 8 bottles of beer for the 8 crew members. We stop at a sushi restaurant for piña coladas and sushi. Always eating. I miss alcohol.
After sunset, after dinner, we’re all tired. By 8 o’clock, it is time for bed. I write some. The boat shall start up soon for its nighttime bounce. I’m growing quite fond of this little life.