Field Trip!

            Work has gotten more interesting the past few weeks. Although I have still been diligently entering checklists, I have also gotten to do a few new things that are more botanical. (Considering the work I do with the checklists botany just because I am working with plant names is a pretty big stretch.) I have already written about mounting and preparing specimens for archival in my last work update; I have continued that work a number of days this month.

One of the more challenging specimens I've had to mount: The fruit of the bromeliad Tillandsia insularis.

            The whole sequence of events leading to getting to go on a field trip and collect specimens started three Mondays ago, just after getting back from Isabela with Kaitlyn. As you recall, the boat broke down and we got back to Puerto Ayora two hours late, just in time for these monthly biodiversity meetings we are supposed to go. (These monthly meetings is always really bizarre since we are the only volunteers that go and we spend the whole time sitting there listening to things that don’t concern our work, though once in a while they are interesting.) After the meeting Patty comes up to me and says (in Spanish), “I need to speak with you.” In any English office setting, these words are ominous. I’m sure the Spanish translation doesn’t have the same connotations, but the worry was there. I showed up two hours late the second week in a row, and I didn’t tell anyone I was going away. Plus, I had already used the “the boat broke down” excuse.

            My fears were unrealized, though. Patty actually just wanted me to help prepare soil samples for Rodolfo. This involved picking tiny bleached and broken snail shells out of the soil so the Galapagos quarantine officials don’t get mad at us, then autoclaving the samples, wrapping them with parafilm and packing them in bins for shipping.

            This task lasted about three days (there were 106 samples) but fortunately I had help from Kaitlyn one day and Eleyna, a volunteer from Spain who is working on a pollen study, two days. All of these soil samples were from Floreana. At the beginning of the year there was a large project to catalogue and inventory the biodiversity on Floreana Island. Rodolfo also took soil samples at various elevations and locations on the island. The goal of the study is to compare the soil chemical composition with the flora that it supports.

            Anyway, Rodolfo and Patty were pleased with my work on this project, and I suspect it built up my reputation as a reliable assistant. Last Tuesday, Patty asked me if I could help with a field trip. Of course, I said, incredibly excited at the prospect of getting to do not only real science, but field science in the Galapagos.

            Rodolfo and I ended up going out in the field and doing a transect of the island, collecting samples approximately every 100m in elevation. The idea was to be able to compare the soil chemistry, the elevation, and the plants growing in the area (i.e. what species the soil can support.) Adding Santa Cruz can allow the comparison of two islands of different age.

            Patty was not able to go because she was busy finishing up other things before she leaves in September for Cambridge. She is attending some sort of training event, but she will also be working at the herbarium there–the herbarium that happens to contain the specimens that Darwin collected while in the islands in 1835. Rodolfo is leaving the Galapagos for good on Saturday (the same day as us), so without me he wouldn’t have been able to do this extra component of the study.

            I had learned how to collect plant specimens in my plant taxonomy class in Ghana, but I had never actually done real collecting before. Patty spent about ten minutes showing me what to do. This gave her only about enough time to go through the motions rather than teach me anything. We got all the supplies ready, and we were ready to go, Rodolfo and I, last Thursday morning.

            I was pretty confident that I knew what to do until I got out into the field. The first day we were planning on driving along the Puerto Ayora/Baltra highway and stopping to collect along the side of the road. (We had to walk a couple dozen meters away from the shoulder to avoid interference for both the soil and plant samples). We got to our first point, just out of town (27 meters above sea level). Rodolfo cut a trail with a machete and I followed close behind. He chose the site and started to work collecting his soil samples, leaving me to gather plants. At this point, I realized I had no idea what to do.

            Do I collect every species I see, or just the ones I can’t identify? Are these specimens just for identification, or are they for identification and accession into the herbarium? If the same species comes up at each site, should I keep collecting it? How big should the specimens be? What about species that I can’t get an ideal specimen for (i.e. with fruits or flowers)? Rodolfo usually finished well before me; should I work quickly so he doesn’t have to wait as long at the risk of missing some species, or should I take as much time as I need to collect and mount the specimens properly? Patty told me to collect every species from a three to five meter radius, but the soil samples were taken from a larger radius than that; should I extend the radius? Should I avoid collecting the cacti because they grow so slowly and cannot regenerate quickly? (A 10 year-old candelabra cactus in Patty’s office is only about as tall as my index finger).

            For all of these questions I eventually got an answer, even if I had to make the answer up myself.  In retrospect, it was shocking that I ended up being the botanist on this trip. I knew at least as many species as Rodolfo, and more about plant collecting. The excitement of getting to put my name on the collections, and eventually getting to see that same name in the database and herbarium was tempered by the shock that I was either going to sink or swim. It was a steep learning curve; the best I had to work with was just imitating what I had seen from other specimens in the herbarium in terms of how to fold the newspaper that goes around each sample, or labeling the newspaper with the collection number. Another difficulty was that we were doing this quickly in the field. Deb commented later about how when she was collecting plants to work on, she would put them in little bags with ice and stick it in a cooler. Then, the plants would stay fresh and turgid until they got back into the lab and could arrange them nicely in the plant press. Instead, I was putting plants into a plastic garbage bag, and then trying to press them in the bed of a pickup truck in the wind (and/or mist) on the side of a highway.

            The first day I collected 64 specimens from six sites. The first few were in the dry zone. Of course, in such a harsh environment many plants have spines, thorns, or prickles (botanically, these three terms refer to different and distinct types of sharp defensive protrusions on plants). Among other things, I got cactus spines in the seat of my pants, got covered in tick trefoil (Desmodium) stickers, learned first-hand how the genus Bastardia got its name, and had the best day of my summer.

            The work was hard, though. I tried to go as fast as I could, but Rodolfo was still always waiting for me and I still felt like the specimens I was pressing could have been prepared better. But Rodolfo was pleased and very appreciative of my work.

 

Collecting in the agricultural region of Santa Cruz.

           The original plan was to drive along the road on Thursday, and then hike even higher on Friday.  This had to be amended when by Thursday night we had only gone halfway down the road. The highway crested about 200 meters higher than Rodolfo had thought, which mean we had to collect from more sites. A third day (which turned out to be last Tuesday) had to be added to our campaign.

            Thursday we worked long and hard. We didn’t get finished until well after 6 p.m. We were convinced that Friday would be a shorter day. Although we had one more site to collect from than the day before, we (mostly me, as Rodolfo was already an expert at his work) had figured out ways to make things run more efficiently. Furthermore, the southern side of the island, where we had started, was almost all agricultural zone along the road. This made it near impossible to find even moderately undisturbed areas. The north side is all National Park, so it should go much faster.

            Even after collecting and pressing all the plants and getting back to the Station after dark, I wasn’t finished with the day’s work. The plants needed to go into the drying oven while still in the press. Before putting them in, though, I had to open up the plant press in order to put a sheet of cardboard between each of the newspaper-wrapped specimens. When in the field, it was okay to put a handful of specimens between the cardboard so as to minimize space, but to properly ventilate and dry they need to be separated by cardboard. Also, I tried to neaten any specimens that may have leaves or twigs sticking out of the edge of the plant press. Although it sounds complicated, it didn’t take all that long. I was determined to do my best, but I took the standard to be on par with the various specimens I had had to mount in the herbarium.

            Rodolfo was so pleased with my help that he offered to take me out to dinner at the kioskos (in addition to buying me a snack at the bakery in Bellavista). We really hit it off. The first impression we (myself, Kaitlyn, and Ashley) had of him was this strange man that came to use our washing machine. We have a washing machine in the back of our house, and Rodolfo would always come over to use it on the weekends. We joke about when one of us had a load in, the machine dinged to signal that our load was complete, and within a minute of that happening, Rodolfo was knocking on our door telling us our laundry was done (so we could remove our clothes to make room for his.)

            As we continued over dinner the conversations we had started in the field, I was excited to hear about his work at the station and background. I even learned that he was leaving the station in order to take a job in Niger, a mere two countries away from Ghana! Apparently in March the station was basically bankrupt, but that’s another story.

            Friday morning we were back out along the main road. It turned out that Friday was a national holiday and we had the day off. For me though, getting to go out in the field was far better a treat than any tourist attraction on Santa Cruz would be. I gladly treated Friday as another work day, and we were off into the field.

More collecting, this time in the Miconia Zone.

            Unfortunately, our expectations of the day being shorter turned out to be wrong. We ended up spending even more time in the field, not getting back until 7 pm. We didn’t even get to sample all of the sites. Instead, we reduced the number of sampling sites on the leeward (north) side of the island while spacing them apart moer to accommodate. The leeward side of the island is much drier. The dry zone started as high as 400m, so our sampling sites turned out to be more homogenous, at least from a climactic standpoing.

            I think the reason it took so long is that  instead of spending time driving and looking for a site, we had to spend more time cutting brush to get a sufficient distance off the road. I wonder if I was becoming more thorough too in my surveys. Species richness in any given site was  higher on the second day compared to the first day, likely due to the fact that the sampling sites on Friday were mainly in undisturbed National Park land, while on Thursday we collected mainly from the agricultural district. In any case, I collected more specimens on the second day.

            After the last site as it was getting dark, Rodolfo decided to stop at one of the two mines on the island to look at soil profiles. I was more interested by the grand view of the island. I had already been to this mine with Sebastian Cruz on my half-day petrel expedition, but this time the view was certainly better. The mine faced north, and from the top you could see all of the horthern part of Santa Cruz, Baltra, North Seymour, and the two Daphne islands. To me, Baltra and North Seymour looked just like the United Kingdom, at least in terms of shape.

To the north of Santa Cruz, Baltra Island, then north Seymour. To the northwest (left) lie the small islets Daphne Major and Minor. Taken from the "Mina Granillo Rojo."

            I’d like to say my plant collecting skills were improving. Unfortunately, on Friday it was windier and I had a good deal of trouble managing the newspaper and plants on the bed of the pickup truck. Another difficulty I came across was rescuing a sad, wilted, specimen I had collected on Thursday but had forgotten to mount. The plant got stuck in a plastic bag. Hopefully when it dries, nobody will be able to tell how careless I was.

            By the end of Friday we had sampled 12 sites, six each day, and Rodolfo again took me out to eat at the kioskos. Our highest sample was at about 620 meters, but the island gets as high as 870. To get the last two or three sample points, it became necessary to add an extra day to the collecting, a day of hiking.

            The plan was to go to Medialuna, a small hill north of Bellavista on the way to Cerro Crocker. I asked Rodolfo why we weren’t climbing Cerro Crocker, and he told me the trails were confusing and that we could get lost. This seemed odd to me. Kaitlyn and I had been to the top of Cerro Crocker, and while there was one confusing fork in the path, the rest of it was straightforward. (Rodolfo finally straightened out the ambiguity over the split in the trail that we encountered on our hike: the left turned out to be the trail to Puntudo, the right to Cerro Crocker; the map at the park entrance was not to scale, and the family we met on the way down was wrong.) Eventually I mentioned that I had been to the top of Cerro Croker. His whole demeanor changed, going from reluctant to go to gung-ho. After all, I could be the tour guide! (I also found out later that he was under the misimpression that you needed a guide to climb the mountain, but this didn’t seem to be the reason why he hadn’t planned on going).

I took plenty of time to enjoy the scenery too, though. This is Commelina diffusa, collected from Cerro Crocker.

            Thanks to me and my prior trip to Cerro Crocker we were able to collect about 200 meters higher than we otherwise would have.  I didn’t speak up sooner because I assumed that since he had lived here longer (over a year) and that he was Spanish-speaking he would know the area better. Although I have packed a lot of traveling into the last three months, I assumed that any Spanish-speaker would have a better knowledge of the area since he or she would better be able to communicate with the locals. I underestimated myself or perhaps over-estimated the generic Spanish-speaker.

            The hiking was not bad, other than the trail being as muddy as it was before. Instead of a box to carry all of our supplies including the plant presses, we carried everything in day packs. I got to carry all the plant specimens in a really cool garment bag-sized pouch that I could put over my shoulder. We made good time getting to the top, where we had lunch. (Well, Rodolfo had lunch–I’d left all of my food back in Santa Cruz. Fortunately I wasn’t hungry anyway).           

            It was quite windy on top of Cerro Crocker. Although the wind made it quite difficult for me to straighten the sheets of newspaper and properly and carefully arrange the plants to be pressed on them, it also blew away the fog, allowing for stunning views of the entire island. To the north, you could see Baltra and North Seymour, even more breathtaking than my previous sighting from the mine. To the east was El Garrapatero, the flamingo lagoon and swimming beach the two girls and I visited in late July. Looking south, back the way we came, various towns and villages formed a connect-the-dots pattern that ended with the ocean.

Looking south from the summit of Cerro Crocker. Puerto Ayora (center), Islote Camaaño.

            Of course as fast as the fog blew away, it came back again. As Rodolfo and I sat there at lunchtime, I would turn around at various intervals and the view would sometimes be clear, sometimes partly-cloudy, and sometimes I could hardly see fifty yards in front of me.

A few moments later, and this is all we can see. The view is still pretty cool-- the landscape is covered by the tree-fern Cyathea weatherbyana.

            On our descent we began collecting. This was convenient for two reasons. First, we didn’t have to carry the samples up the mountain and then back down again. Second, we could judge the amount of time we had better. We collected at the various sites: 860 meters at nearly the top of the mountain, then 820, 780, and 680. Like the first two days, I was able to intimately see the zonation patterns that are so evident in the Galapagos. And the zonation doesn’t just include the roughest divisions of dry-transition-humid, but at each site I would see some new species that hadn’t been at the last site. I really felt like I was able to understand the Galapagos on a new, much more observant level.

            We got back at a normal time again. On the descent I acted as if I had the most interesting toy in the world. Although it was my last week in a rare, unique ecosystem, my eyes were glued to the GPS screen watching our elevation slowly decrease.

            Once we got back, I had the normal task of loading all the plants into the dryer, as well as the soil samples we had collected. The drying oven at the station is a small chamber acessible from the outside. It was handmade by a previous scientist: two shelves surrounded by heat lights. Rodolfo and I could barely fit all of our plant and soil specimens into the drying oven. Throughout the three days I had collected about 200 plants, and Rodolfo had 48 bags of soil (16 sites times three samples per site).

            This was the last major project of my summer. The next few days were spent tying up loose ends, and inputting the data in my field notebook to a spreadsheet and getting things organized for when I left that Saturday. I was really happy though. Going out in the field to do botany was what I had been hoping to do every since getting to the Station. Although I made sure to keep telling myself that the most important thing is that I was useful, I still made sure to use every oppertunity possible to mention my desire to get my hands dirty. Three months, and three mud and seed-covered clothing days later, I got my wish, and it was the best time I’d had all summer.

In case you were wondering, here is what I did with that bromeliad specimen after nearly three hours of work.

Weekly Musings

  • My last weekend in the Galapagos was a bit anticlimactic. Due to high waves, the navy closed the harbor to everything but cruise ships. No snorkeling, no fastboats, no beaches. The water didn’t seem any worse than a choppy day on the Great Lakes. Where are the civil libertarians here?
  • Since the ocean was closed on my last weekend on the island, I had a day entirely devoid of plans for the first time in eight months. It was great.
  • On Saturday I got short-changed at the grocery store. Practically nobody uses pennies here. It works great, since tax is usually included except at nicer restaurants. I happened to buy some rolls at the store that were 17 cents each, and my bill came to $4.51. Giving the clerk $10, I received only $5.45 back, instead of the $5.49 I was owed. I knew the store used pennies (I had gotten some the other day for buying something that was sold by the pound), but there just weren’t any in that drawer. What bothers me is that she gave me my “change” with absolutely no mention that it was less than it said on the receipt. I understand rounding to the nearest nickel, but the bill shouldn’t always be rounded in the store’s favor. I didn’t say anything though. This is one of those situations where it’s really easy for someone to make you look petty when it’s the principle that counts (“You’re making a big deal over four cents?”)
  • Up until that moment, I felt bad for accidentally breaking an egg and not telling anyone. After that encounter, I figure we’re even.
  • A few weeks ago some people decided to take photos of themselves “riding” the tortoises at the station. I first found out about it via a newspaper clipping on a bulletin board on Isabela Island. Since then, the gates to the tortoise enclosures (which you used to be able to walk around in) have locked. It seems a bit extreme to me. Why let these people ruin it for everyone? Did it really raise the likelihood of anyone else doing it?

Two gates? Is this really necessary?

  • On Wednesday the four of us had to run around with a “departure form” and get signatures from ten different people scattered around the station. For over half of the people, this was my first interaction with them.
  • People don’t read much here. We needed more newspaper for collecting specimens so we went to five different stores looking for newsprint, perhaps from old papers that didn’t sell. No luck.
  • All of the Native American women here wear the same distinctive clothing; you can instantly tell them apart from other Ecuadorans. The women always wear a white blouse with beautiful colored embroidery.
  • While being in the Galapagos is nothing like being in Ghana, from time to time bizarre parallels come up. For example, I was approached by a complete stranger who wanted to take a picture with me. Classic Africa, but 7,000 miles away.
  • Things I am looking forward to: a mother who is a good cook, drinking water out of the tap, using the internet from my room, no ants in the house, longer evenings, no garúa, American English, newspapers, forests, long-lost friends (hopefully they are still there), bike trails, family, telling stories.
  • Things I will miss: walking through a cloud of fluttering finches on the way to work, the ocean, snorkeling, watching the tourists, Galapagos Deli ice cream, choco-bananas, inside jokes with my friends here, doing science.

The Cruise: North Seymour

            Johan rang a wake-up bell at 5:50 last Sunday morning so we could be ready to make our final landing at 6 am. We had to go early so the boat could be back to Baltra with enough time for people to catch outbound flights. Our hiking was even before breakfast. Roll out of bed, put on pants, grab your camera, and stumble your way onto the panga. Two of the people on our cruise didn’t even come with us because it was too early–one of the young boys and his mom. Some people I was with thought this was pretty stupid, but I say, to each his own.

            The island we were at was North Seymour. We had already visited this island on a day trip back at the end of June, but, like Bartolome, it was one of our favorites and we were excited to go back.

            You really can’t say you know a place after being there just a few hours. Even living in Puerto Ayora for three months we can hardly say we know the town. Sure we know good places to get an ice cream, get dinner, or buy fruit. We know when the best times to visit Las Grietas are, and we’ve become regular customers of the bike shop because of all of our repairs, but we are always still finding new things we hadn’t noticed. Even though we had been to North Seymour once, there was no reason we shouldn’t go back.

 

 

These animals always make me laugh: On one hand, you have the male who things that putting his wings in this ridiculous pose inches in front of a female is actually going to make her attracted to him. On the other hand, you have the female that has no clue what is going on.

            In fact, our second experience there differed quite a bit from the first. Of course there were plenty of blue-footed boobies and plenty of frigate birds but this time the blue-footed boobies were a lot more…well let’s just say there was a lot more boobies doing their courtship dance. In fact, the most memorable part of the trip was a part we called the “Soap Opera”. It started out common enough, two males were vying over one female. Among this competition of stick-gathering, dancing, and whistling, the female first seemed attracted to one, and then the other. But then it got interesting.

 

 

            First another male joined so now there were three males and the female. The female seemed pretty satisfied with her choice though, and the male was proud of his status of “the chosen one.” We laughed a little, amused at the popularity of this booby.

            Just then, three other male boobies started walking into the clearing. Like zombies, they all converged at this site. Ashley, who was standing a little bit behind me, reported later that there was a pair of nesting boobies nearby. The male picked up a stick, ostensibly to woo the ultra-popular female, but then his mate freaked out and started yelling at him.

 

 

 

The Soap Opera. "Meerkat Manor" has nothing on this story of love, lust, and betrayal.

            This was definitely the highlight of our morning. In other news, the two eggs that we saw last time still hadn’t hatched. Also, there was a frigatebird nest where both the male and female were sitting in it. Talk about crowded.

            After our hike we came back to the boat and ate our last breakfast while we rode the 45-or-so minutes to the cruise ship harbor on Baltra. I scurried around to get everyone’s email addresses since everyone wanted copies of my underwater photos.

            The family and Stan stayed on the boat. The rest of us, back on dry land, rode to the airport where Sean and Luke had flights. The remaining nine of us: Ashley, Kaitlyn and I, Sheila, Vlad, Fergus and Lena, Sonia, and Verena all caravaned back to Santa Cruz together. We were dismayed to find that buses weren’t running at this time and that we would have to take a taxi, which were charging $18 instead of the normal $15. We ended up cramming six of us in a taxi though, so we only had to pay $3 each. This was only a few cents more than the bus.

 

 

This nest is above capacity.

            On Santa Cruz, more of us parted ways. Vlad was heading over to Isabela on the fast boat at 2pm. It was still early morning though, so he decided to go to Tortuga Bay for the morning. Sonia, Fergus, and Lena were all in a different taxi. The rest of us all planned to go over to the Galapagos Deli for some ice cream and/or lunch. For the second time in the trip (the first time being the choco-banana incident on Thursday) we took a bunch of people to a place that turned out to be closed. Some employees were already working inside, and they told us that they would be open at 11 am.

            The three of us dropped our stuff of at home and got cleaned up a little. At 11 we reconvened at the Galapagos Deli and met Sheila, Fergus and Lena. After lunch (which for me was an ice-cream cone) I headed back to take a nap. My grand plans of spending the afternoon at the beach slowly gave way to sitting and watching a movie (not that I’m complaining).   

            Of course, living in a small town on a small island, you run into the same people in a lot of places. After I woke up from my nap, Kaitlyn and Ashley were talking to Verena in our living room. She was looking around the station and had run into Kaitlyn and Ashley who gave a mini-tour and invited her to our house to chat.

            Fast-forward to last Thursday morning. I was walking to work when I saw a group of people leaving the station. It turned out to be the group from the Guantanamera, which included the family of four and Stan. We didn’t have time to do anything but exchange pleasantries, but it was really cool to see them. I also was amused at the looks of confusion and shock among the other members of the cruise as five of their shipmates were grinning and talking to an employee at the Charles Darwin Research Station who was also grinning.  Finally, we saw Stan again that night while we were walking into town for a combined “Happy Birthday Ashley/Welcome Back Deb” dinner.

            Seeing all the great people from our cruise in unexpected places was a great end to a great trip. I was thoroughly impressed by the knowledge and attentiveness of our guide Johan, and the service provided by the crew of the Guantanamera. Though my heart remains cold towards cruises in general, I must say I recommend–even insist on–the sort that took through the Galapagos. Though brief, it was easily one of the highlights of my summer.

 

The Cruise: Genovesa

Prince Phillip's Steps. I'd like to see him climbing these today.

            Genovesa Island is shaped like a giant horseshoe. Low cliffs line the edges of the central bay, named after Darwin (who ironically never visited this island) This protected natural harbor was the logical spot for anchoring our boat. It turns out that this unusual geography is a result of Genovesa’s former life as a volcano. Darwin Bay is really the collapsed crater of the volcano.
It was a gray morning, as they usually are here. Our first activity was a hike up Prince Phillip’s Steps, a rough-hewn path up to the top of the cliffs. It turns out there isn’t some exciting history explaining how the steps got their name, Prince Phillip of the United Kingdom just happened to visit Genovesa on a tour of the islands and use them a number of decades ago.

            Before our hike, we took a dinghy ride along the shore looking for the endemic Galapagos Fur Seal, which is actually a sea lion (among other differences, sea lions have visible, external ears). We saw a few along the shore, including one that had just been attacked by a shark! Johan said that it could even have happened this morning. The wound was still pink and fresh, large slashes of skin taken off the flank of the sea lion. Johan assured us that he would live; the wound, while large, was only superficial. Still, you could see the pain the sea lion was in as it tried to move–or limp–across the rocks.

Why do we sympathize with the sea lion, who survived, more than the shark, who had to go hungry?

            Once we finished our sea lion tour and got to the top of the steps, it was like we had entered a whole different civilization, one created by Nazca Boobies. It was a technically just a breeding colony, but it seemed like a metropolis with birds standing, birds perched, birds nesting. Bodega Bay, anyone?

            I think of the three species of boobies in the Galapagos, the Nazcas are my favorite. The red-footed boobies do have really colorful beaks, and the speckled necks of the blue-footed boobies enhance their frequently hilariously awkward faces, but the Nazca boobies have personality and without a doubt are the best-dressed: the black stripe on the edge of their wing and black face contrast with their overall white plumage. They even have blue feet (though not quite as vibrant as their eponymous cousins.)

New meaning to the phrase "Ruling the Roost)

   

Helpless in everything but murder.

         Being a breeding colony, there were many Nazca booby chicks around too. Young boobies, before they get their primary feathers, only have the fuzzy down. I know all chicks are fuzzy, but these guys are basically dandelions. One of the birds I saw had its nest in among some shrubs and the poor guy was covered in little twigs and leaves. This booby had nothing to complain about, it was lucky to still be alive. Remember that boobies lay two eggs. Blue-footed boobies always feed the older chick first and prioritize its survival, but, if there is plenty of food to go around they both will survive. Nazca boobies on the other hand have two eggs, but if both chicks hatch and neither dies from natural causes, in a week or two the older chick will kill its sibling, by pushing it out of the nest, or pecking it to death. At best, the parents stand around disinterestedly. At worst, they are accomplices. Gangs of frigate birds have also been known to play with booby chicks, tossing them through the air like a game of “Keep Away.” Of course this is traumatic enough to kill a chick

To a Nazca booby, this is really sexy.

even if the frigatebirds don’t drop them. I guarantee that they don’t gently bring the chicks back to their nest, though.

            Chicks come from eggs, and boobies don’t get their eggs at the grocery store. Courtship rituals among the boobies are very entertaining and, in the Galapagos, easy to observe. On Genovesa, it was the Nazca boobies that were the center of attention. To attract a mate, a male Nazca booby will partially open its wings, pull them back, lift up its head and neck, and make a whistling sound.

            In addition to the call, the male has one more strategy that works about as well for him as it does for his human counterpart: gift giving. When a female has shown at least mild interest in the male, the male will woo her with a gift. In the Booby World, utilitarian gifts fare much better than they do in our civilization. Nary a woman would find romance in a man buying her a cinderblock, but for boobies, The Stick is a make-or-break gift. The male booby will search for a stick to offer to the female. The acceptance of the gift, also indicates an acceptance of that male.

 

And you thought your wife was picky.

       I’m no booby, but I can’t figure out what criteria the females use in picking the best male with the best stick. There must be some sort of aesthetic characteristics to it, since if size can’t be the main criterion considering the tiny little twigs they offer.

             (I hope you aren’t snickering at the unintentional double entente. Male boobies don’t have “sticks” in the crude anatomical sense. Both males and females have a single body opening called a cloaca. In fact, to determine the sex of a bird, you can sometimes use plumage or, less frequently, size, but otherwise you have to cut the bird open and look for gonads. The cloaca is common to all birds, and some other types of animals as well. To mate, they rub their cloacas together. It seems a bit inefficient to me, but who am I to judge? Birds have been on earth for over a hundred million years; hominoids, a piddly four.)

  

Sometimes, though, all the work pays off.

          We admired the Nazca boobies for a while. We admired the mating rituals, the chicks, the sleeping adults, the nests. Nazca boobies nest on the ground. The ground within a certain radius is cleared of debris and a little bowl-shaped nest is made at the center. This is in contrast to red-footed boobies who nest in trees. Incidentally, this is one good way to determine which species the chicks are if their parents aren’t nearby, since the two species look identical as chicks.

             Walking farther inland, we started to see more and more red-footed boobies. The red-footed booby, Sula sula, is the most abundant booby species in the Galapagos, but also the least seen because of its isolated distribution. Close to 40% of the estimated 250,000 breeding pairs (140,000) live on Genovesa, one of the most remote islands. The only two places they are found are on the southeastern shore of Floreana and Punta Pitt, at the far northeast corner of San Cristobal. In contrast, there are only estimated to be 25,000-50,000 Nazca Booby pairs, and a mere 10,000 pairs of the blue-footed Booby, which you can see just about anywhere.

            The red-footed boobies were engaged in much of the same activities as the Nazca boobies, except we didn’t see any courtship dances.

        

At long last, the red-footed booby. The Galapagos booby trifecta is now complete.

    The hike ended on the opposite side of the island where there are sharp cliffs where many storm petrels were swooping and diving. Also there, we saw, through binoculars, the short-eared owl. This species is an interesting example of the competitive exclusion principle, which states that if two species share the same niche, one will outcompete the other. The short-eared owl is one of only three resident raptors. Typically, they are crepuscular, which means that they are active most at dusk and dawn, but also during the day. If the Galapagos Hawk lives in the same area, however, the short-eared-owl becomes much more nocturnal. The realized niche of the owl has to shift because it and the hawk can’t both be dirunal top carnivores. Other birds we saw included the ubiquitous Galapagos Mockingbird and the Galapagos dove.

A Galapagos Mockingbird, angry and jealous at the attention we were giving to the boobies.

            The highlight of the morning snorkeling trip was supposed to be seeing hammerhead sharks. In spite of the fear they instill in some people for their bizarre head shape, they really aren’t that dangerous. Think about it: their giant head and eyes prevent them from taking very big bites head-on. Hammerhead sharks are typically only encountered by scuba divers in deeper water, but there was a spot in Darwin Bay that they typically come closer to the surface. We had to be very careful not to scare them though: swim slowly, no splashing, and no diving.

            Unfortunately, the water was too choppy on Saturday to see them. It was a gray day, and not only did the wave action deter them from coming close to the surface, but it also reduced visibility. Instead all we saw was a small smattering of fish, including the Moorish Idol, a medium-sized yellow and black fish with a long streamer trailing from its dorsal fin. I hadn’t seen this species before; the southern waters are too cold for them.

            After the failed shark-sightings, we went took the pangas over to the opposite side of they bay where there were some sea lions to swim with. It was a bit crowded because there was another group of people snorkeling there too, but I enjoyed it.            As a consolation prize for not seeing hammerheads, Johan let us snorkel around the side of the boat (the Guantanamera) and see the large Galapagos sharks that resided there. The reason the sharks were there (and beneath the boat at the other islands we stopped at) was not because they were waiting for a man overboard. In the past (and to some extent today) the ship’s crew would throw food scraps overboard. Thus, the sharks knew that stuff falling into the water from these giant rectangular shadows on the surface of the water would be good to eat. For this reason, we weren’t allowed to just jump off the side of the boat. Galapagos sharks are not androvorous, but when there is a splash, they might chomp first and then decide if they want to eat it.

            Instead, we would swim up to the boat (and sharks). Johan insisted that at least six people had to go, to make a big enough cluster of people to sufficiently intimidate the sharks.

Galapagos shark, waiting for something to fall off the side of the boat.

            We weren’t snorkeling very long but it was really cool to see these 2+ meter sharks up close. Unfortunately the water was very cloudy and even though they were close it was hard to get a good look. Apparently there were three sharks, though I only saw one at any given time. I think I spent as much of my time swimming in circles trying to find them as actually seeing them.

            When we got out of the water Johan was definitely a little freaked out. “Did you see those? They were huge!” he kept saying with a adrenaline-packed grin on his face. He also remarked to himself (though not in an angry way), “I don’t know why I did that.. Last time I told myself I wouldn’t do it again.” And so on. He was also a little annoyed that most of the group got out of the water, leaving him, me, and another girl alone. Of course people should have followed directions of the guide to all stay together, but I wasn’t the least bit uneasy when snorkeling with the sharks. They didn’t seem to notice us at all, let alone be interested.

 

       The second hike on Genovesa was from Darwin Beach. At first we walked close to sea level for a while. It was low tide at this time, and most of the intertidal rock and beach were exposed. Johan kept telling us how picturesque it is when the tide is

A red-footed booby and its chick. Red-footed boobies come in two color phases. Brown (in this picture), which accounts for 95% of the population in the Galapagos, and white-phase boobies. The white-phase boobies are similar in plumage to the Nazca Booby in that they are all white with some black on the wing, but unlike Nazca Boobies, they have no black mask, and their beaks are blue with a reddish tinge at the base. (All the chicks look the same, though, so don't think the photo is supposed to represent one of each.)

higher and the ocean curls around a ridge of rocks. I thought seeing the few tidepools as we ambled over the rocks was plenty scenic.

 

            Just along the beach we saw many heron, all just standing on the beach napping on one foot. There were night heron, lava heron, and striated herons all clustered together, swallowtail gulls (both mature and juvenile), more boobies with their chicks, and frigatebird chicks. The boobies were mostly the red-footed ones, who stood out against the deep green mangroves. Slightly farther inland, frigatebirds and their chicks dominated, though both species of gulls were still present.

 

            Only one species of frigatebird is found breeding in great numbers on Genovesa: the great frigatebird (ironically named Fregata minor) This species has a defined breeding season, which had ended a number of months earlier. Thus, we were unable to see these birds with their red pouches inflated. Instead, we saw many chicks. These chicks were decidedly not cute. First of all, they were oversized. Frigate bird chicks are dependent on their parents for food for two full years. Since, you may recall, they survive mostly be stealing food, they have to grow big, strong, and agile enough to be bullies before fending for themselves. I think frigate birds chicks could use some tough love. Secondly, the feathers on their head aren’t the cuddly fuzz you associate with most chicks. Rather, they are a cone of frizzy fuzz like what you see when you look at photos of an old Einstein. Their eyes are little black circles surrounded by a large caramel-colored patch that looks like an old coffee stain. (This is a diagnostic feature; chicks of the other frigate bird species are all white.) A long beak, hooked on the end like the nose of a stereotypical villain protrudes from this mess of animal. It’s amazing that so many of these chicks grow up to be calendar models. After all, the frigatebird with its pouch inflated is an iconic image.

Great frigate bird (Fregata major) chicks. They look like just the type to grow up into a life of crime, don't you think?

 

            Once we hiked to the top of the cliff we turned around and went back down to the beach. From here we started our second session of snorkeling for the day, and unfortunately the last one for our cruise. The water was still a bit murky, and the waves were considerably larger than they had been in the morning, but it was still worth exploring the area.

 

            Near the beach, on your right-hand side looking away from the coast there was a network of rocks where a few parrotfish and other species we had commonly seen swam. Though Johan told us to follow the right hand shore around a small cove for

Who votes that "bananafish" a better name than Guineafowl Puffer?

the best snorkeling, it didn’t seem to get any more exciting. Perhaps a hundred meters from the beach (it’s hard to remember) there was a large submerged rock where there were the most interesting fish of the afternoon: one that was royal blue and covered in white spots, and another that was bright yellow except for a dark black ring around its eye and some smudges around its lips and pectoral fins. This second fish, that looked like a giant banana turned out to be the juvenile of the guineafowl puffer.

 

            The banana-fish was one of two things that made the snorkeling memorable. The second was the juvenile eagle ray that swam by at the very end. According to Johan there was a group of about ten that had swam by, though I must have only seen the

A juvenile Spotted Eagle Ray (Aetobatus narinari)

straggler. This one was significantly smaller than the one that had glided past Ashley and I in Isabela, but that meant that I could get a better look at the whole thing. Johan also saw a couple of white tipped reef sharks, but I was too far away from him to see them.

 

            Back on the boat we were treated to snacks as usual. Unfortunately I didn’t get any because I headed straight to the shower and by the time I came out they were gone. Dinner was somewhat soon after, though. The chef even made a cake for us since it was the last day. It was a little dry, but I had seconds all the same.

 

            The travel time to our final destination, North Seymour, was even longer than the trip from Bartolomé to Genovesa. We arrived at Genovesa less than an hour before breakfast that morning, and being late was even less of an option on Sunday morning: aside from keeping with the rigid schedule assigned by the national park, a number of people had flights to catch. We left Genovesa shortly after dinner, around 7:30.

 

            Recall that the northern waters are the choppiest. The night before, most people were sleeping before we got into the worst of it, but Saturday night the boat was lurching as soon as we left the relative calm of Darwin Bay. I took my first anti-seasickness tablet of my life (I never felt sick, I just wanted to be safe). Some people did feel ill, and many people just went to bed. I sat up a little while in the dining area and worked on organizing photos in between watching snippets of a Galapagos documentary that someone had put on TV. (An especially memorable scene: A Galapagos Hawk swoops down on a land iguana. It grabs the iguana with its powerful talons, but the reptile is too heavy to be scooped up. The iguana starts running and the hawk grabs on, moving with the iguana until it becomes too exhausted and gives up.)

 

            A few people stayed outside in reclining chairs to get fresh air. They were rewarded by a stunning view of the equatorial night sky. Although it had been cloudy all day, the night was clear and the stars were too numerous to comprehend, let alone to count. It was too cold for me though, and when I got tired of looking through the many photos, I retired to my cabin, watched a little of a movie on my computer, and fell asleep. I was so exhausted that in spite of the waves I slept better than I did any other night. I slept through the night, slept through the anchor dropping (and getting stuck in the process), and I didn’t stir until the wake-up bell fifteen minutes before beginning our early morning hike at North Seymour Island.

Church

             Before coming to Ecuador, I looked at the CIA World Factbook to learn about this new country I was coming to visit. I was surprised to see that Ecuador was listed as 99% Catholic. My first thought was one of suspicion. Should I give this number the same credibility I would, say, a statistic saying that a dictator in power won 99% of the vote in national elections? Are people here just as fervent about their religion as they are in Ghana? Is Catholicism here like an ethnic group, like someone can be Jewish without adhering to the Jewish faith? I don’t have straightforward answers to these questions, but let me tell you some things I do know.

  • It would be an understatement to say that the Catholic church is dominant in Latin America; here in the Galapagos, I have only seen a couple houses of worship that are not Catholic Churches: a small Seventh Day Adventist congregation and a Mormon church in Puerto Ayora.
  • Mass is held daily and twice on Sundays at the church I normally go to.
  • In Puerto Ayora, a town of 10,000 people, there are two or three Catholic churches and perhaps more that I haven’t seen.
  • A man still uses a rope attached to a bell in a belfry to signal to the town that church is starting.
  • The larger towns on the islands are called Parroquías; I would not be surprised if the etymology is related to the word parish.
  • Unlike in Ghana, people do not talk about their faith much in the street, though rosaries, crucifixes, or sacred images are common sights on the dashboards of taxis.
  • One time I saw someone mark the sign of the cross as our boat was leaving the shore.
  • So far I have seen three different processions after mass marking one minor festival or another.
  • Some of the songs we’ve sung at church have had different lyrics, but have been to the tune of: “How Great Thou Art”, “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, and… “Hey Jude”.

Parroquia Franciscaría Santa Marianita


            I have been going to church here about every other week at Parroquia Franciscaría Santa Marianita. I really enjoy the services, but I can’t understand all of it, and after a weekend of traveling I am often pretty tired. So I’ve been going every other week. The first few things I noticed, even during my first day, seemed right, like the way religion should be. First, there are no hymnbooks, or even hymns at all. All of the songs during worship are sung only with a guitar accompaniment. The guitarist and a singer lead from a loft in the back of the church. What makes this so good is that it is sincere. People here are singing their own songs with their own instruments, rhythms, and melodies. It isn’t ecclesiastical  cultural imperialism, as is the case all too frequently with religion.

            Secondly, I noticed a strong sense of Spirit, of energy, and enthusiasm during the songs. I’m not saying that Catholic churches elsewhere don’t have these things, but the average age of an American churchgoer goes up every year. Youth bring fresh ideas, different perspectives, and energy to church that rubs off on everyone. People in church here almost always clap along to the songs they sing during worship. At least that gives me a way to participate if I don’t know the words! Even more exciting was being led in a song with dance moves at the very start of the service. Even the priest was jumping to the left and right on cue! People of all ages were moving to the beat, but I bet if the kids weren’t there to lead it, Grandma and Grandpa would still be in their seat. Catholics sometimes get a lot of criticism for being too stuck on rules. Having a group of kids standing in front of the church leading a song and dance with the priest moving along proves that here people know that church is about God, not about rules, that rules constrain for ill just as much as for good.

            In general, the order of worship is traditionally Catholic, which means it is quite familiar to me, a traditional liturgical Lutheran. The hour-long services feel like a breeze after the minimum two-hour services in Ghana. Two opening songs (which usually involve the priest leading us in clapping along) are followed by the are followed by confession, prayers, and the reading of an Old Testament lesson, a responsive psalm, an epistle, and the gospel. The sermons seem to be relatively short, and many times they are replaced with other things. One Sunday the sermon was replaced by a Colombian youth missionary giving a “faith pep talk,” another week the sermon was the testimony of two people that used to take part in many immoral activities followed by a little message encouraging us to go to some sort of bi-weekly program at the church. After the sermon is always communion and dismissal, and on the average of every other week there is some sort of optional additional activity after worship (being sprinkled with holy water, a procession, etc. that most people take part in.

A typical Sunday evening mass.

            In spite of being right in the middle of the tourist strip though, this congregation is decidedly local. In spite of the nice building, clearly built with money brought to the community through foreign tourism, Kaitlyn and I are consistently the only foreigners.

            Overall, what I enjoy most about these services is the energy that people have, being able to clap along to the music even if I don’t know the words, reading the scripture passages in English and Spanish and comparing and contrasting the translations, comparing and contrasting the Catholic and Protestant versions of familiar prayers (…communion of saints in the forgiveness of sins… vs. …communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins…) and scripture (the Psalm numbers just don’t line up!), and not having to worry about the worship service descending into frenzied chaos as people start speaking in tongues, twitching, and sometimes running through the room carrying their chair over their head like I’ve had to for the previous five months.

Weekly Musings

  • Add seasickness prevention to the list of things that Benedryl can do. The active ingredient in Benedryl is the same as the active ingredient in the most common seasickness pill here: Mareol
  • It is becoming more likely than not for me to get to work, have the building and herbarium locked up, and have to wait 20 minutes for someone to come open the door. I don’t know why they don’t give me a key.
  • Another thing I don’t understand: If the washing machine is in use, there is no hot water. Without fail. Apparently its irrelevant that the washing machine doesn’t even use hot water, and there are completely separate pipes.
  • This makes me laugh every time I walk past it on the way to Town from the Station:

The Cruise: Rábida and Bartolomé

            It was cloudy and misty on Friday morning. No surprise, but still not our ideal weather for sightseeing. We started the day with a hike along the red-sand beach and a very short way inland to a lagoon. The red sand beach was really cool. It was littered with starfish skeletons and sea lions, but it was the texture and color of the sand itself that was most strange. Looking at it, it looked exactly like mud–dirty, gritty, and smelly– but then as you walked on it you found that it was only sand.

            Our guide, Johan, was very talkative when it came to discussing all the different animals. At first I was worried that the trip would be all talk and not any exploration. Learning about things is good, but I can do that from a book. Later that night, Johan told us about the larger cruise ships that come here with 40 to 100 people. These tend to attract older people who don’t have enough energy for three hours of hiking and three hours of snorkeling each day. Working on these ships is the premier job

Sea lions: lazy on land, frisky in the water.

for naturalist guides in the Galapagos (and being a guide is the best job to have overall), but they have to have really good English and talk a lot to compensate for the activities. My fears were unrealized, though. In fact, there was a lot of talking and a lot of exploring.

           The geography of Rábida Island was mildly interesting, but it wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen before. A red sand beach played host to lazy sea lions. Behind the beach was a salt-water lagoon where you could see a range of birds. The rest of the island wasn’t accessible by hiking trails. The terrain was hilly and covered with dry-zone vegetation.

In case you forgot...

          Although the hike was somewhat short, there was a lot to see. Aside from the sea lions, we saw the typical smattering of pelicans, marine iguanas, and blue-footed boobies, especially a little ways down the beach where there were some low cliffs. Also trolling the beach were the American Oystercatchers with their bright reddish-orange beaks. Although these birds are not all that common here, we saw four or five of them throughout the trip, usually in pairs. When we cut slightly inland to the lagoon, we saw a male Vermillion Fly Catcher, which surprised me because they usually inhabit the highlands, not the dry zone. The most exciting spotting I had that morning, though, was the Galapagos hawk. Even in a place like the Galapagos, with wildlife in abundance, I expected raptors to be well hidden, or at

The Galapagos Hawk: a little wobbly on land, but a killer in the air.

least far away from footpaths–perhaps in a tall tree. No, this hawk was walking along the ground just a few meters from us. The typical image of a hawk is either something perching in a branch looking for prey, or swooping down to scoop it up with its sharp talons. This one was waddling along the ground.

            The next activity was snorkeling. Johan downplayed the snorkeling at Rabida, “”It’s not the best but it’s still good”) but I thought it was pretty good. My favorite part of the snorkeling was all of the starfish. Not only where there four or five species, all in different colors and shapes, but even within one species they showed brilliant variation. During our afternoon snorkel at Bartolome we also saw many starfish, more than I’d remembered in the past, including the Panamic cushion star (Pentaceraster cummingi) at Bartolome. These starfish have so many different color phases I mistook them for separate species at first. Most of them have some sort of lattice pattern of dots on the dorsal side that can range from bright orange to red, to a deep blue. Usually the tips of the five arms are tinted differently than the rest of the body, sometimes brighter and sometimes darker.

Blue Sea Star (Phataria unifascialis)

            Other starfish species we saw hardly had a central core at all, just five tubular arms radiating from a point. I saw one that was bright lime green, and another that had bands in three different shades of blue. 

            And then there are the chocolate-chip starfish. These are slightly smaller overall, with shorter arms and larger discs than the others. They are yellow, or sometimes greenish and are covered in little pointed black lumps that look like chocolate chips.

Ho-hum, just another shark.

         All of these starfish weren’t the only things to see, though they were the most colorful, complemented by small beds of anemones and coral: a pair of white-tipped reef sharks patrolled the area. We had nothing to fear though, these are friendly bottom-feeding sharks. In fact only about 10 percent of the world’s shark species are potentially dangerous, and only about 7 percent have been known to attack humans.

            Everyone except me saw a giant manta ray swim by. I was too busy taking my time, or perhaps investigating a little glowing speck of plankton I found. Have you ever heard of the certain species of tiny planktons than glow when they are disturbed by waves, or perhaps a boat or swimmer. I think I found one of these that had been separated from the rest of its kind. If I swished my hand through the water I could make it glow.

            Usually I get extremely cold while snorkeling. I still got a little cold during the snorkeling trips on the cruise but

The Chocolate Chip starfish: (Nidorellia armata). Hungry yet?

not nearly as much. Part of this is because the farther north you go, the warmer the water gets because you get farther away from the cold Humboldt current. Mostly though, it was because I paid $10 to rent a wetsuit. It was one of my best ideas.

            Soon after we finished the snorkeling the clouds, which had graciously dissipated for our water activity came back. It was okay, though, because it was time for lunch, and a two hour journey to the next island: Bartolome.

            On the way there, we had time to relax and warm up with hot chocolate and snacks. Some people took a nap, others sat out on the deck. The second half of the trip to Bartolome was quite scenic because we followed the southern coast of Santiago Island,

This was the typical sight above our boat.

which had many volcanic formations and lava flows visible from its last eruption at the beginning of the 20th century. These eruptions actually led to the island increasing in size quite noticeably. On the way to Bartolome we were also followed by a troupe of frigate birds. They hovered over our boat, and sometimes fought eachother in the air, only a few meters above our heads.

            The first activity of the afternoon was snorkeling again. We couldn’t go until mid-afternoon due to permit constraints, but in the meantime we got to relax on the beach. Techincally it was optional, but our entire group decided to go. Ashley, Kaitlyn, Luke, and I ended up playing Euchre until it was time to get in the water.

            We went snorkeling at the same place as during my first visit to Bartolome–right along the shore around Pinnacle Rock (a large pillar towering out of the ocean)–but for about twice as far. The pangas took us out a ways, and we snorkeled back to the beach.

No, I didn't stage this photo, there really were this many. And nothing else.

The snorkeling wasn’t as amazing as I had remembered it being the first time I went to Bartolome, but there was still plenty to see.

            I already mentioned all the colorful starfish. That was the most of what there was to see for animals during the first part of the snorkeling. Some people who were swimming a bit farther from the shore saw a Galapagos shark, and were able to call the rest of us over to see it. There were some interesting lava tunnels that snaked down from the shore, looking like giant buttress roots, or perhaps the ancient Gothic architecture of Atlantis.   

Now where are the mermaids?

         

            As we approached Pinnacle Rock, the animals began to get a bit more diverse. A couple of penguins were swimming along, as well as a large stingray, rippling its body to smoothly glide across the bottom. When I am snorkeling, I always make sure to look above the water from time to time. Part of this is to help keep myself oriented so I can stay with the group and not get too close or too far from shore. Another part, though, is that there can be a lot to see on land. Many birds will let you get closer to them when you are swimming than you could on dry land, but you won’t see them if you keep your head down all the time.

They may look chubby, but they could probably outswim a torpedo if they wanted to.

            On one of the times I’d surfaced I was right by Pinnacle Rock, and I heard a loud splash not too far from me. I wondered if something had fallen off the cliff. I didn’t see anything until I went back to snorkeling when I saw a giant column of bubbles slicing into the water three or four meters deep. It turns out a blue footed booby had seen something it wanted to eat and dove into the water right near me. I wish I had realized what had happened earlier so I could have had my camera ready. Not so much for the dive–that would have been impossible– but for the bubble contrail the booby left in its wake.

 

Anemonies. These were common around Rabida Island.

            We finished the snorkeling back at the beach. We were snorkeling around low tide, and it was surprising how much had changed compared to snorkeling at high-tide during my first trip. Rocks that we could easily swim over were now two feet out of the water.

            The last activity of the day was to take a hike up Bartolome to look at the landscape, but before doing that we took a little panga ride to see the penguins perched on the rocks. This would be the first and only time we would see penguins, since they stay away from the warmer waters in the north. Johan wasn’t too talkative on the hike. He admitted later that geology doesn’t really interest him–not like the animals do. The biggest animals on Bartolome are lava lizards not much bigger than your finger.

            I enjoyed the hike though, especially the way down when the evening sun bathed the barren landscape in the warm orange light that is only possible an hour or two before sunset. The cruse was going by so fast, but we were so glad to be there.

One last look at Bartolome.

            That evening was the most social evening of the trip. The first evening nobody really knew eachother, and the third evening we had to leave early which meant the boat was rocking too much to sit and relax. Even though it was the halfway point of our trip, there was a “Welcome Party” scheduled for the early evening. I’m not exactly sure what was planned for this party. Sean told us that during the welcome party for the southern island cruise they all got free piña coladas. This time, it seemed to be the passengers that threw the welcome party. We all sat on the deck into the evening chatting and drinking rum and coke that various people had provided. It was great fellowship. Sean and I bonded over traveling in Africa, I tried my best to explain the story of Darwin to Fergus and Lena. Even some of the crew members came and sat with us, though they pretty much talked amongst themselves.

            I think this is mostly because of the language barrier. Although pretty much everyone on the boat knew some words of Spanish, and some of the passengers were quite fluent, English was clearly the lingua franca. It was so strange to go three days without using Spanish at all. It was easy to forget I was in Ecuador at all!

            This was also the only night that Johan really interacted with us in the evening. It was really interesting to hear him talk about some local history, what it takes to become a guide in the Galapagos, and other questions. He was also curious to know what sorts of things the three of us did at the station. (He found out we worked there on the first day. As we were on the bus to the highlands on Santa Cruz, he asked us if we had visited the Charles Darwin Station. “We live there,” Kaitlyn blurted out. It took Johan a couple seconds, and a drink of water, to recover from that unexpected answer. I wonder what sorts of first impressions it made with the other people on the cruise.) Aside from the sightseeing, this was the highlight of the cruise.

            I stayed up until the boat started moving. At this point, Kaitlyn was still pretty much sleeping constantly as a combined side effect of anti-seasickness medication and avoidance of being awake on a boat. Luke and Ashley were virtually glued together the entire trip, and they both went to bed a little earlier too. We left around 10 pm, since it takes eight hours for the boat to travel from Bartolome to the next island, Genovesa. I didn’t have any trouble falling asleep, though I did wake up a few times during the night. The first time I woke up was around midnight. This one was planned, though. Johan told us that right around midnight we would be crossing the equator and that there was a decent chance of seeing and hearing dolphins jumping. When he told us this, we started joking around that as the dolphins jumped there would be rainbows coming out of their tails, and flying unicorns and every other magical thing as we cross the center of the world right at midnight.

            It didn’t live up to the hype though. I got up at 12:06, walked around, saw nothing and went back to bed. I think Sean and Vlad had already gone back to bed by the time I got up. Even before I got out of bed, I realized that we had left an hour late, so we probably wouldn’t be crossing the equator for another hour anyhow. Oh well. At this point the seas were starting to get rougher, to the point that it wasn’t any fun to try to stand up on the boat. I went back to bed and didn’t leave it until we had dropped anchor in Darwin Bay on Genovesa Island.


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