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Galapagos, Days 1 and 2 (August 8-9)

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Aerogal, our carrier from Quito to the Galapagos, provided a particular welcome for New Yorkers: given that they are opening a new flight from NYC, everything from the napkins to the posters in the airport were stamped with "I [Aerogal iguana logo] NY." By the way, one great thing about Aerogal: the seats in economy are far enough apart for a 6' 2" man to sit comfortably.

A note for those traveling to the Galapagos: upon arrival you will need to pay $100 for a National Park "passport" and another $10 entry fee, and these have to be paid in cash. Make sure you have money when you leave, as I didn't see a convenient ATM.

We were met by our guide, Juan, who helped us navigate the airport, and a few of our fellow passengers. (Since we didn't ask them if they could be mentioned, we're not naming names, but some of our fellow travelers hailed from Norway, Israel, Spain, and Denmark.) It was then a short bus to the dinghy, from there to the Encantada, and then on to the events of Day 1. We will write a separate entry about the Encantada itself: here I want to focus on the events of the day.

Day 1: Sea Turtle Safari at Black Turtle Cove

Galapagos, Day 1

[Click on the album to see all of its photos]

After a pleasant siesta, Juan took us out on the dinghy, in two groups, to explore Black Turtle Cove and "safari" for the sea turtles (the term for "looking for creatures that might not, but we hope, will be there, so that they can be photographed"). Both groups were fortunate enough to see plenty of the turtles, but most of our pictures were obscured by water. [1]

The safari introduced us to two species that we would see a lot of over the course of the week: the Galapagos pelican, and the Blue Foot Boobie. (By the way, if you are in Galapagos any length of time, you will hear various jokes along the lines of "I love boobies." Comes with the territory.) It was also my first introduction to the numerous crabs that populated almost every beach. While they are beautiful in and of themselves, and I spent a great deal of time trying to get good photos of them, they mostly made me long for Delaware crab shacks and good crab soup.

Day 2

Galapagos, Day 2

Up early and on the beach by 8:30. (The Encantada isn't much for sleeping in. We landed on the red sand beaches of Rabida, where (as Juan promised), sea lions were waiting for us. The pictures are accurate: sea lion babies are cute, the adults are huge, all are playful. The photo is incomplete, however: the smell of sea lion (and "sea lion surprise") always warns you if you're in an area where they are common. The Island walk allowed us to see more birds, including a close-up of a Galapagos hawk, some lizards, and our first sightings of the small, black marine iguana.

Following the hike, we donned snorkel gear and wetsuits and jumped in the water. (The Encantada rents them if you don't have them. Rent a wetsuit, the water's cold). Although we had more than half a dozen snorkeling adventures, this was one of two in which we got a close-up glimpse of something other than tropical fish. [2] In this case, we saw a white-tipped reef shark, about three feet long, swimming ten feet below us. I will admit, I panicked a bit and went back to shore. Sure, our scuba instruction taught us that non-provoked shark attacks were rare, and to enjoy shark sightings. And upon returning to shore, Juan assured us that they were (at least mostly) safe and beautiful. But look, it's a shark, even if it's a small one, and I was a youngster when JAWS came out. I loved looking at reef sharks when I visited the aquarium in Osaka, but I wasn't in the tank.

(Pallavi, to her credit, did not share my concern. I think her theory is that if the creature is smaller than she is, it's probably not able to eat her.)

The second excursion of the day (following an pleasant lunch and relaxing siesta) was a climb up to the highest point of Bartolome Island. I stupidly forgot my sandals and had to make the climb barefoot. For the most part, however, we trekked up a wooden staircase. Unlike the morning, which was filled with lush vegetation, the afternoon walk featured mostly desert-like dry terrain and dust. The marine iguanas still made appearances, but more rarely. On the other hand, this trek had some of the more interesting cactus, and Juan gave us an entertaining lesson in the different kinds of volcanic rock. And of course, the view from the top was magnificent.

(However, this is as good a time as any to mention one key feature of any good Galapagos trip: sunscreen. Bring more than one bottle: you will need it, and replacing it while in town will cost a great deal more than if you bought it back on the continent.)

The afternoon featured another opportunity to snorkel (near the rocky pillar in the last photograph in the album above). Fortunately, no sharks this time.

[1] Our normal travel strategy has been to take relatively inexpensive equipment where possible, so we've been using an older Canon Powershot camera. Galapagos made me question the wisdom of this, and whether we would be better off risking travel with a more expensive, but better performing, camera.

[2] Tropical fish are, of course, quite beautiful, given that they wear all the colors of an acid-trip nightmare and are normally undisturbed by you until you are about two feet away. But they are quite common, and not the most interesting things you can see even in the shallows.

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I think her theory is that if the creature is smaller than she is, it's probably not able to eat her.

That sounds good, but doesn't stand up to much scrutiny. Pirahnas?

I'm glad the shark didn't eat her, though!

One of our cruise-mates had a similar objection (suggesting hyenas as a contrary case), but my understanding is that a single hyena or piranha is unlikely on its own to attack a much larger carnivore; rather, they eat larger animals in packs, at which point the total mass of the attacker is greater than that of the target. (I think piranhas signal each other if any one encounters something edible, at which point they rush in to feed as a group.)

If there had been *two* three-foot-long sharks in view, I probably would have been much more anxious.

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