Galapagos Diaries 2. Christmas Eve – in the late morning we boat round Santiago Island to Bartolome. The seas are rough, and we sit grimly on deck most of the way, clinging on for dear life amid tumbled chairs and tables. Everyone suffers from sea-sickness. Lunch is served in calmer waters, and we are allowed a siesta before taking a short trip to an idyllic sandy beach, dominated by Pinnacle rock.
Only two other groups are with us. Some of us rest on the sand, and some wander while others snorkel among the penguins and sea lions. Then Billie takes us to a dry landing for a trail of wooden planks and steps over dusty crumbly lava, to the summit on the eastern part of the island. The view from the top is panoramic, looking down over the waist of Bartolome for a different angle on the Pinnacle, and other islands are visible in the distance.
We stop halfway down for another of Billie’s talks, sitting on the sharp edged rocks while he explains the different types of lava in vivid fashion. He points out the distinctive “hornitos” cones, like miniature volcanoes caused by gas trapped in the lava flow. A former boat boy and fisherman, he taught himself English, and the guides here get less than a year’s training, so under the circumstances he is doing a remarkable job.
Back to the boat for showers and a change, then champagne and a roast turkey Christmas Eve dinner. Six boats gather in the bay, and a dinghy load of revellers does the rounds, singing carols in exchange for sweets. At 10.30 pm our engines start up again and we are warned it will be rough, so we retire early. I find it a bit easier getting up onto the top bunk this time, but I have to keep myself near the wall, as there are no rails to prevent me from falling off as the boat rocks and bucks over the waves.
At 6 o’clock on Christmas morning we anchor off the lava cliffs of Genovesa, and an hour later we are herded into dinghies for an exploration round the cliffs. Frigate birds whirl overhead; red-billed tropicbirds trail their slender white tails; stormy petrels keep pace with the dinghy, dancing on the water. Beautiful swallow tailed gulls sit high up on the rocks, and cosy fur seals nestle into the ledges. Some masked boobies fly in, and I spot a yellow crested night heron in all the excitement. We have a “dry landing”; up the slippery Prince Philip steps into another world.
Young masked boobies are dotted all over the place, patiently left behind on their nests while the parents go foraging. We can approach within feet of them, and they don’t turn a feather. I take far too many photos. We trudge along a lava ridge, searching in vain for the rare Short Eared Owl, but hundreds of petrels swirl overhead and small lizards scurry into crevices. We retrace our steps along the ridge to the boat for quick refreshments before changing into swimming costumes in preparation for a “wet landing” on Darwin beach. This means putting on trainers or sandals and riding in the dinghy as far as the waves will allow, then sitting in pairs on each side of the boat, swinging our legs over and into the sea and making our way onto the beach. Then we have to doff the trainers and don our walking boots for a short walk on crusty lava past red-footed boobies this time, and more frigate birds. Billie shows us some very smart boobies in the rare pied stage. It is here that I discover my memory stick is full, and I have left the spare behind in Guayaquil. No problem: I merely delete dozens of mediocre photos and carry on. It is now mid-morning, and extremely hot. The other groups dont follow us on this second landing. We have a peaceful dip in the sea, side-stepping a couple of sea lions, before embarking again for lunch followed by another long ride to Seymour Island.