Ecuador - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 404 (214)

On board NEMO I

Saturday 16th April (2005)

Once again, I was feeling better this morning compared to the previous, although still with a little diarrhoea. In fact, just about everybody on the boat has had a bout of diarrhoea during this voyage. Still, it could have been much worse than it turned out to be and nobody lost more than a half a day out of the packed itinerary as a result. I will continue with the regimen of Cipro antibiotics until the entire five-day course is complete.

With all the early morning activities we’ve been enjoying, everybody’s internal clocks are slowly resetting themselves, as most people were up and about before the bell was rung today. Juan Carlos was conspicuous by his absence and we soon learnt that he was now the next in line to fall foul of what we are now thinking has been amoebic dysentery. Our morning departure of exploration was delayed a couple of times as he tried to get himself together but it seems he was hardly able to stray more than a few inches from his cabin bathroom. I know exactly how he felt. He did eventually show up but looked awful. We all felt sorry for the poor guy but we were also all wondering what would happen now that the only naturalist guide on the vessel was seemingly out of commission. The fact that he was the only one on the boat capable of communicating effectively with the crew was also a little disconcerting. It is illegal for passengers to visit any of the islands without a naturalist guide so this could potentially have meant the end of the trip for everybody. We were due to visit the small island of Bartolome and climb up to the top of one of its volcano crater rims but this was now starting to look very much in jeopardy. Like the trouper his is, and much to everybody’s surprise, he soldiered on and insisted that we all get into the panga to ride out to the island. From the embarkation point, there is an elevated wooden walkway that leads around and up to the volcano peak and it was soon excruciatingly clear that Juan Carlos was in no fit state to climb anywhere. In fact, he barely managed to make it out of the panga. He made it a few steps with us but had to sit down from shear exhaustion. Since there were no other boats at this visitor site and since the path up to the top was pretty much defined by the walkway, we all agreed that he should stay put whilst the rest of us meandered up at our own pace. Quite reluctantly but with no energy either, he agreed to bend the rules on this occasion.

It turned out to be quite an exhaustive climb up to the top. The landscape of this island is nothing short of Martian. It is extremely desolate with almost no vegetation at all and looks just exactly like what I imagined a recently erupted volcano might look like several million years ago. It’s as if the volcanic eruption occurred just yesterday and the lava flows had only just solidified. At just a couple of million years old, Bartolome is the youngest of the Galapagos Islands and is a mere baby in geological terms. We could see almost no weathering of the sharp and jagged rocks that lay still since the lava first cooled. The entire landscape, in fact, looks like it’s been completely frozen in time. We spotted the odd lava lizard scurrying around but other than that, the only movement was the light wind gently blowing fine dust around. This gave the whole place a very eerie feel to it. The views from the crater rim, when we eventually made it that far up, were nothing short of mind-bogglingly spectacular. Directly ahead of us, we could see where two larger island masses were joined together by a concave strip of land between them. A pristine, white sand beach straddled either side of this conjoining strip with some green vegetation in the middle. Those of us that made it to the summit first just sat there in silence watching out over this magnificent early morning scene. It was a truly magical experience and I could think of nothing better that I wanted to do at that moment.

There was in fact another boat that was moored here; a much larger one that had already ferried several panga loads of visitors over to the island and back again. We had all been sitting on the NEMO I cursing the fact that such a large boat was in the area and flooding the visitor sites with boatloads of passengers. There’s nothing that can spoil the scenery quite as quickly as a huge boatload of visitors flooding the area. They were by now visiting the other side of the island where they were apparently snorkelling off one of the beaches from the slither of land that we could see from the top of the volcano.

Down by the panga, we got very close to a very nice lava heron that just stood there posing for the cameras. With this other much larger boat in the area, we convinced Juan Carlos to have the captain radio over to see if they had any of the medication on board that was so successful in curing me of the same problem that he was now suffering. When we were all back safely aboard, this he did and the captain went over there personally to collect it. He brought back enough medicine for both Juan Carlos as well as the one other passenger on board that had also succumbed. Although we’re barely able to communicate with our stout captain, he does seem to be doing his best to take very good care of everyone on-board. I’d call that the sign of a very competent and professional captain. He has the sort of presence about him that exudes authority and compassion.

Since the second excursion of the morning was nothing more than the chance to snorkel off the beach, Juan Carlos retired to his cabin for some much needed rest whilst we all donned our fins and masks to go for a swim. Everywhere we’ve snorkelled, so far, there has been an absolute wealth of things to see at least on a par with what I might expect to see whilst diving. Every single island seems to be absolutely teeming with fish and marine life of all shapes and sizes right in the shallows close to shore. Apparently, there were several penguins flying around underwater at high speed chasing fish at this site but I was unfortunately the only snorkeller not to see it – typical! I did take the underwater camera with me, though, and managed to get some very nice photos.

Today was to be one of the days that diving was on the agenda but with Juan Carlos clearly in no fit state to stand, much less get into his kit and go diving, it was starting to look very doubtful that we would get to submerge. Avrum, the only other diver passenger on board suggested that he and I go down on our own but the captain would not allow this. Just before he disappeared into his cabin, Juan Carlos told us that we would actually go diving since one of the crewmembers was a certified dive master. The captain sailed the NEMO I the hour or so over to the dive site but just as soon as we arrived, he told Avrum and myself that we would not be allowed to go diving. Apparently, he and Juan Carlos had not communicated with each other and it turned out that the crewmember in question was not a dive master after all. He was extremely apologetic but insisted that there would be no diving without a competent dive master. I had no problems with this at all. Sure, it would be a shame that I would miss the opportunity to get into the water but I would not want to put my own life at risk just to get that chance and bowed to the captain’s wishes on this one.

Just as we were starting to sail away from the dive site, someone spotted the unmistakable shape of a couple of fins sticking out of the water. This shark was no more than about fifteen metres off our starboard side and the captain told me he thought it might be a Galapagos shark. It got everybody’s blood pumping. I would like to have gotten close to it under the water. Oh well.

With some free time to suddenly kill, everybody just chilled out around the boat and I took the opportunity to catch up on some much backlogged journal writing. Sandy mentioned that she was starting to feel queasy and I was worried that she might be the next to fall but it turned out to be little more than a mild bout of seasickness. I wouldn’t call three out of fourteen people on board falling ill an epidemic but it does seem likely that something on the boat might be causing the illnesses. NEMO I has its own desalinator for the generation of fresh water for the showers and so on. There is fresh drinking water on board from a water dispenser but with people showering and brushing their teeth with the desalinated water, this is one potential source of the problem. We’ll probably never find out.

With the aid of the main sails, we reached our afternoon destination around the island of Santiago. This is another volcanic island and the beach is a jet-black ash sand beach quite unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It’s extremely striking and makes for a rather odd looking beach. Several other small boatloads of visitors were already there enjoying themselves either sitting on the beach or snorkelling. Having taken his anti parasite tablets, Juan Carlos was starting to feel better already by the time we reached this unlikely looking beach and embarked with us to explore a short circuit around the landscape. He was much less voluble still but managed to provide us with at least an abbreviated running commentary. It has become clear that wildlife was the main theme for the first half of the cruise. We are now exploring more landscapes and geology than anything else. It’s no less fascinating as every single visitor site that we’ve explored has been completely different to the last and it absolutely amazes me that there can be so much geological diversity within the confines of this one archipelago. This island, too, looked like the lava had only just stopped flowing yesterday and was completely pristine outside of the staked walkways. We walked slowly around the circuit and just marvelled at the surroundings. Being ill, Juan Carlos had something to do with our slower than normal progress but with the sun beating down so intensely, I doubt any of us would have been able to move any faster even if we wanted to.

When the lava flows were starting to originally solidify, they buckled and formed small arches, under which the effects of coastal erosion have allowed the tides to come through and create crevices and blowholes. We walked gingerly over these natural bridges but all the cracks and crevices made them all appear to be on the very verge of collapsing. In reality, the entire landscape has probably looked exactly the way it currently does for the past several thousand years or more. We were quite expecting to see marine iguanas all over the place but couldn’t seem to find any. As we moved around the rocky coastal area, someone spotted a huge gathering of probably upwards of a hundred or more of them all huddled together. After noticing this initial huddle, we looked around a bit more closely and found several such groupings of the prehistoric beasts. Dotted around the black lava rocks and iguanas were dozens of the now very familiar and extremely colourful Sally Lightfoot crabs. Their brilliantly striking, yellow, red and speckled blue shells were contrasted beautifully against the jet-black lava rock. So much so, in fact, that you have to wonder just what the evolutionary necessity must have been that caused such brilliant colouration to begin with. By and large, the animals here in the Galapagos Islands are fearless because they have evolved here without any natural predators to worry about but we’ve seen both herons and sea lions eating the crabs so that’s at least two natural predators for them yet they are by far the most obvious creature around.

We saw plenty of the little lava lizards scurrying around. They were mostly slightly further inland where the moisture from the crashing waves didn’t reach. Juan Carlos happened upon a very small scorpion and laid it down near a female lava lizard. She noticed the scorpion and pounced on it pretty much in a flash and proceeded to devour it. Apparently, the lava lizards and the larger scorpions often go at each other with varying outcomes as to who is the victor.

Another uniqueness to this island is all the broken and dried coral all over the coastal areas. There are no coral reefs here in the Galapagos Islands to speak of so it’s a bit of a mystery as to why there is so much dead coral everywhere. One theory that Juan Carlos was telling us about was that there might have been a coral reef at the time some of the volcanoes erupted many millions of years ago. The broken pieces of white coral that we can see everywhere might be the remnants from the disruption to the reef in the past from these eruptions.

All the ornithologists amongst us were thrilled to see several species of heron, oystercatchers and other wading and seabirds as we walked around the coast. We saw a few species that we’d not yet seen and that always gets our blood pumping.

The panga arrived to take us back to the NEMO I, where dinner was followed by the now customary slideshow of the day’s photos and the briefing for tomorrow’s activities. Fortunately, Juan Carlos was now very much on the mend and starting to feel very much better.