Thursday, 28 August 2014

The Galapagos - Floreana Island

Three hours on a speed boat later, and via Endersby Island, we arrived at Floreana Island. One of only four inhabited islands in the island chain, it has the smallest population, with fewer than 150 residents, and many haunting tales to accompany it. At the small harbor we were greeted by enormous and colourful marine iguanas, much larger than on San Cristobal. Once our bags had been inspected, we were deposited in a hotel called 'Lave Lodge'; a series of small wooden cabins, one per pair. This was the most rustic accommodation we had been in so far, and we were sharing ours with at least three small geckos... which at least meant that it was mosquito free.

Travelling in style on Floreana...
After lunch with some very inquisitive Galapagos finches, and a rest, we were taken, via a rather interesting mode of transport (seen picture, left), to the highlands of Floreana. On our way up, we saw our first cattle and farmland of the trip. There were huge orange farms, as well as many other fruit farms. As we ascended, the air became noticeable cooler and the vegetation became greener and more lush.

Yellow warbler, mid snack
On our walk through the trail, we spotted yellow warblers, Galapagos flycatchers and Galapagos finches. But, most impressively, we came across our first giant tortoises. These were not necessarily wild, but were in a large enclosure surrounded by huge boulders to prevent them going into 'town'. These tortoises were also hybrids, so were not supposed to breed, so as not to dilute the 'pure' native populations. We had been warned several times that we were not allowed to get closer than 2 m to any of the animals, but even so, when we took photographs of the tortoises from this distance, some did not take too kindly to it, and began to hiss quite loudly. If you can imagine what Darth Vader wheezing with a bad cold might sound like, it is not too dissimilar from the noise these tortoises could make. Our guide explained that this is what they would do if they felt threatened; the purpose was not to scare away intruders, but to expel air from their lungs in order to make room for them to retreat their heads into their shells if necessary.

Galapagos flycatcher
Galapagos giant tortoise
We did see tortoises even bigger than these on Santa Cruz, but that is a different story. Beyond the tortoises, we came to a natural spring. Floreana is one of only two islands with a source of freshwater. The other is Santa Cruz, and everywhere else must have their water imported. This meant that Floreana was the first island to become inhabited, and our guide told us many of the strange tales of what became of the first inhabitants of this island...

Brown pelican
After our excursion, we had the option of snorkeling next to one of the small black sand beeches. My husband snorkeled, seeing Galapagos green turtles nibbling away and many fish. I sat on the beech with the others who came along, trying to take photos of the bird life that had come to join us. One was a huge pelican who settled nearby on a rock, creating a beautiful silhouette against the almost setting sun. The others were squabbling striated herons, who I accidentally got into the middle of before they could resume their argument.

Brown pelican against the dusky beech

Battling striated herons
Having the full attention of a striated heron can be a little disconcerting...

Floreana sunset

We started our next and final morning on Floreana in possibly the best way to start a morning. Straight after breakfast, we went snorkeling in a sheltered cove not far from the lava lodge. Our guide said that he knew where the turtles slept, so we would be guaranteed of seeing them. He wasn't wrong. We saw maybe 20 or more Galapagos green turtles, all either resting on the sea floor, eating breakfast off the rocks, or beginning to surface for air. At one stage, with three of us in a rough circle, one turtle slowly drifted up from the floor and gently surfaced to take a breath right in the middle of us. An absolutely magical experience, and certainly the best way to start the day.

Straight afterwards, we had to prepare for our speed boat ride to our next island; Isabela. But more on that in my next post!

(Only after we had been seen off by the marine iguanas though...)

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