Isabela Island

Everybody was dancin’ with the Captain
And we all had fun all night long
And the ship sailed on.
Paul Nicholas

We had a lie-in this morning until 8.00am, as we were not due to participate in any activities until 10 o’clock, when we were going on a scenic tour of the inlet by Zodiac.  The day was pleasantly warm but not too hot, and there was a gentle breeze.  The Xpedition was anchored at Elizabeth Bay, one of the most westerly points in the Galápagos.

We enjoyed a light breakfast in the Darwin Restaurant, where we shared a table with Neil and Gail once again; we found out that they were doing the same Zodiac trip as us.  Then, at 9.45am, we assembled at the rear decks ready to embark the Zodiac.  We didn’t need our water shoes this time as we weren’t disembarking the dinghy.

The Zodiac sped across the bay, and we slowed down when we got close to an outcrop of rocks, where we saw many more of the red Sally Lightfoot crabs, pelicans, blue-footed boobies and a couple of Galápagos penguins.  People tend to associate penguins with Antarctica, but the Galápagos penguins are found on the Equator and are the most northerly penguins you’ll find (in the wild).

We also delighted in watching the antics of a couple of sea-lions, frisking nearby.  Really, this is the most amazing and unique place and I still couldn’t quite believe we were here, at the most precious archipelago in the world.

Our Zodiac slowly drifted along into thicker vegetation as we started to explore the rich mangrove ecosystem.  The driver switched off the engine and we all enjoyed the silence, listening to the sounds of the sea and the cries of the birds.  Our guide was able to imitate bird and seal sounds, and several times they would answer him and he’d tell us which type of bird we could hear.

As well as looking up in the trees and rocks, we had also to be sure to look down at the water below us, as there were several green sea-turtles around, as well as more penguins.  We also saw some eagle rays, slowly flapping their large fins as their long, slender tails stretched out behind them.

As we got deeper into the mangrove, everyone fell silent and just enjoyed the sounds of nature.  All of a sudden there was a loud “raaaahhhh” bark and everyone jumped out of their skin!  It was a large male sea-lion who was somehow perched on a branch in one of the mangrove trees.  Neil made everyone laugh by saying he’d discovered a new species, a “tree-lion”.  He was so well hidden it was quite a shock for this noise to shatter the silence, but exciting as well; the variety of wildlife just had to be seen to be believed.

What a lovely ride we had; it lasted about an hour and a half and we returned to the Xpedition for around 11.45am and sat outside enjoyed some freezing cold beer and some light canapés, talking with Jeff and Jan.  Just then, we noticed a slight commotion on the port side of the ship and were delighted to see the tell-tale spouts of whales, as well as the tantalising black fins.  One of them came right out of the water and we identified orcas, or killer whales.  Wow!

At noon the Beagle Grill opened up and we enjoyed a plate of paella, which contained squid, chicken, ham, shrimp and large langoustine.  It was totally delicious.  Once we were all back on board the Xpedition winched all the Zodiac craft aboard, weighed anchor ad we set off for Tagus Cove, another part of Isabela Island.

At 1.45pm there was a showing of the BBC documentary called Galapagos in the Darwin Lounge, and Trevor watched it while I did some of this blog.  Then we took another walk around the ship, going to the topmost deck (deck 6) to see if the whales were still around.  Indeed they were; we kept seeing the spouts and fins but we waited in vain for one of them to body-breach; that is when they jump right out of the water, and they do it to dislodge any barnacles or parasites that attach to them.

We just pottered around the ship until around four o’clock, then returned to our cabin to change into light clothing, socks and stout trainers for our next activity which would be a walk to the top of the volcanic cone.  Historically Tagus Cove provided shelter for wayfarers and was one of the areas visited by Charles Darwin in 1835.

In our cabin an invitation to dine with Marcelo Tufiño, the Chief Engineer, awaited us; we were to present our invitation in the restaurant at 7.30pm to be escorted to his table.  Wow!  😊

We disembarked the Xpedition into the Zodiac once again for the short ride to shore; this time it was a dry landing, which meant you climbed out of the dinghy straight onto some rocks and so kept your feet dry. We handed our life-jacket to one of the waiting guides and set off, complete with sun-hats, water bottles and, of course, cameras.  There was a brisk breeze blowing which afforded a welcome respite from the equatorial sun.  I made sure to liberally coat myself with factor 20 sun lotion.

We climbed higher and higher up the mountain, up a series of approximately 150 wooden steps; it was quite strenuous and I was breathing hard.  Looking back at the views, however, it was totally worth the effort; looking at the Xpedition at anchor far below us, her white paintwork gleaming mellowly in the sun, and the blue Pacific ocean lazily going about its business; it was breathtaking.

After a while, we stopped and stared in wonder at a mountain lake which was (predictably) named Darwin’s Lake.  It was calm and green, and just so picture-perfect.  I wish I had more words to describe the Galápagos; I feel whatever I write or describe just doesn’t do it justice.  It really is the most beautiful, amazing and unique location, and I am glad that most of the islands are uninhabited, because it is far too good for us mere humans.

We continued on our way to the top, watching our footing on the sandy and rocky trail.  Once we got up there, our guide got us altogether for a group photo.  The wind was really strong at the top and you had to be careful not to let dust blow in your eyes.  After a brief rest, we all started to make our way down again, back the way we came, and we arrived back at the Zodiacs around 6.00pm, for the short ride back to the Xpedition.

Once again, on boarding the vessel we were met with the customary cold damp towel, and personally greeted on board by the captain.  Cold beers and bottles of prosecco on ice were available, and we enjoyed a couple of the gratis drinks as well as the company of our fellow passengers, including Jeff and Jan.  We told them about our invitation to dinner and they kept mock-bowing to us.  😉

Much as we were enjoying the conversation, the laughter and the banter, I had to make my excuses at half-six and return to the cabin to get showered, do my hair and get smartened up for dinner.  Then we gathered in the Discovery Lounge to be briefed on tomorrow’s activities and enjoyed a Blue-Footed Booby cocktail before dinner.  There seems to be an awful lot of drinking going on on this voyage.  😊

At 7.30pm we made our way down to the restaurant and were taken to the Chief Engineer’s table.  We were joined by another two couples, both from the USA, as well as Jacqueline Calle, from the Guest Relations Office.  It was a delicious meal in excellent company; Marcelo Tufiño did not speak much English as he explained that had only been promoted to Chief Engineer a couple of months ago and previously worked in the engine room where he didn’t mix with the passengers; it gave me a chance to practise my limited Spanish, and there was also another lady on our table who had previously lived in Mexico, and her Spanish was fluent.  So the Chief Engineer didn’t feel too left out on his own table. 😊

The fine food, wine and Amaretto flowed as the time winged by.  At 9.30pm we adjourned to the already-packed Discovery Lounge as they were holding a “Line Crossing” ceremony, as we had crossed the Equator today (one of several times, in fact).  Trevor and I are already some of King Neptune’s “Trusty Shellbacks” as we’ve previously crossed the Equator on board ship; the first time on the Braemar in 2011 and the second on the Arcadia in 2013.  Sailors who have never crossed the Equator are known as “pollywogs” and are treated with a certain amount of disdain by us Shellbacks.  😊

Everyone was in a party mood as we all got up and danced; even the Captain let his hair down and joined in.  The infectious Latin samba beat dominated the scene and we were all just so much on a high.  On a ship this small (96 passengers) everyone got to know everyone else and new friends were made daily.  We knew this holiday was going to be a one-off, but it has just surpassed my expectations in so many ways.  Absolutely wonderful.

We carried on partying into the wee hours of the morning, while the Xpedition sailed on placidly into the night.  It was well after midnight when we got to bed, where I was out like a light after a very full, very interesting day.

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