Thursday morning found us at the small volcanic islet called Bartolome, just off the east coast of Santiago Island. There, we began with an early morning dry landing, stepping into a volcanic, moonscape world where little plant life can be found because of the drought conditions—one more reminder of the incredible diversity of the Galapagos themselves.
But it wasn’t all that colorless, because there were several gold beaches bordered by mangroves that lend life to the starkness, and in the early morning, it was breathtaking. What was also breathtaking—literally—was a series of steps, 376 to be exact, built by the Galapagos National Park Service that take visitors up a long staircase to the summit of the island where the view is positively mind-boggling.
Later, we returned to the ship for breakfast, after which it was time to head back into the Zodiacs for another run to the beach—this time for more snorkeling or a last chance at taking advantage of the glass-bottom boat ride. We transferred from the Zodiacs to the glass-bottom boat drifting near the shore for a dry look at the busy underwater world below. It was fun really, watching the colorful reef fish and catching a glimpse of a sea turtle gliding through his underwater world.
Back aboard, the Endeavour headed off again along the southeast coast of Santiago to the small islets—volcanoes, really—Sombrero Chino and the Bainbridge islets, where more time was given for snorkeling and a visit to a beautiful but tiny little beach. There was also time for Zodiac rides along the fascinating rock formations near the coast, where sea lions perch precariously along the rocks and small groups of penguins gather to pose for photos from the enthusiastic photographers aboard the Zodiac.
The next day, Friday, was our last full day aboard the Endeavour, and the last chance to enjoy what was about to be an incredible show of sea birds during hikes through Genovesa Island, with the opportunity to go ashore at two different sites and in two separate groups from our anchorage in Darwin Bay.
We chose as our first landing Prince Philip’s Steps, which aren’t really steps but a narrow fissure which you clamber up for about 90 ft. until you reach the clifftop, where the hike begins. The island itself is absolutely rich with birdlife and we hiked through what the naturalist called a palo santo forest, composed mainly of small shrubs, many sheltering nesting sea birds. Here we found a storm petrol colony, numerous boobies and frigate birds.
The frigates are fascinating because there are a number of male frigates perched on branches with their chests and plumage puffed out nearly as large as a volleyball with rich red colors, all for the benefit of passing females willing to acknowledge their handsome male attributes, apparently a kind of meet market for frigates.
There, too, you could see the term “natural selection” in action. There were a huge number of nesting birds sitting on their eggs—both male and female birds tending to the nesting responsibilities—and each female laid only a couple of eggs. When the eggs hatch, the strongest of the fledglings will push the weaker one out of the nest and the mother will ignore it and leave it to fend for itself—which, of course, it can’t do—and it’ll be left to die or be taken by predators, such as a hunting owl.
We came across one of these hunting owls, which are incredibly beautiful birds and one of the deadliest predators in the Galapagos. This particular owl also became one of the most photographed birds in the Galapagos as the Endeavour hikers snapped photo after photo of the animal.
Just before lunch we headed off in the Zodiacs again for one last visit to the Darwin Bay beach area—a fitting ending for a last-chance visit to the wildlife of the Galapagos—where we made a wet landing on a shell-filled beach. We hiked beyond the beach over the lava-filled ground where even more sea birds looked out from under the brushy vegetation to the top of a cliff over the bay with its jaw-dropping views.