Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Don't step on the Albatross

I can't imagine there will be too many opportunities in life when you get to shriek 'dont step on the albatross!' and mean it but in the Galapagos Islands this opportunity was betowed on Jason who saw it fit to warn Ed in this manner before he put his boot on a nesting albatross while fiddling with his camera. In the Galapagos you can forget creeping throught the undergrowth in the hope of a glimpse of a rare spotted something or other - here the wildlife is just so tame you are in more danger of stepping on it.

I had a few moments myself with a marine iguana, a sealion and a blue footed booby all of whom were just lazing casually at my feet as I blundered along the rocky paths. It is crazy but also quite wonderful.

We had 8 glorious days on these most strange and spooky of islands. The trip there was an adventure in itself, the main airport on the islands of Baltra had been closed so we had to fly to an outlying island (San Cristobal) and then get a boat over to our sailing boat. When we arrived we were told we would be taking a speedboat over and I had glamorous visions of a quick trip accross the azure blue sea that would be done and dusted in 20 minutes or so. It was not to be - in the worlds smallest (but fastest) boat we travelled across open seas for TWO hours bumping and crashing along all the way. I think most of us were ready for a chiropractic appointment at the other end. But I should be grateful, another girl was on a similar boat with a woman spewing into a clear plastic bag the whole way.....

However I should cut to the chase, we arrived at our most impressive sailling ship the Sulidae. The Sulidae is over 100 years old and looked so much like a pirate ship it was almost embarassing. We're talking black wood, fancy cabin windows, big faded red sails and wooden decks. I half expected Captain Hook to pop out and take the wheel. But dont get me wrong, it was gorgeous, the best looking and oldest vessel in the islands.

As for the islands they are a strange collection of unearthly and uninhabitable looking places. Some just all dark red sand and earth covered in spiky white trees. Others were all black rock and lava, some dark green and scrubby with white beaches straight out of a bounty ad. And the animals......within ten minutes of getting off the plane I spied huge black teradactor like birds wheeling in the sky and big fat sea lions lazing about on the shoreline or cheekily heaving themselves into boats moored the harbour and having a sunbake. One big lobo (sea lion) had even wriggled up onto the main road and was having kip underneath a local bus. Noone seemed suprised or the least bit concerened, it was like being on another planet.

Everyday aboard the boat went like this, huge breakfast then leap in the little boat to chug out to a new island - once there we would walk on the beach or the rocks checking out the local wildlife which could range from the ever present belching and burping lobos and their adorable little babies to boobies (big whitish brown sea birds who have huge bright blue feet) to pale green sea turtles, fluro pink flamningos (its truly weird walking along a beach over a small hill and coming accross a flamingo standing in a pond,) and even weirder still Penguins. The penguins look completely out of place here particularly the one we spied sitting in front of a huge catctus on a white sandy beach...all wrong, I felt like pointing it in the direction of Antarctica pronto. If we were lucky we would then snorkel with great balls of coloured fish, turtles and other interesting sea creatures and usually we would be accompanied by a couple of young and very curious sea lions. Generally the lobos would be content to swim around with us, bust a couple of cool manouveres and have a good stare at us but not one particular lobo who we nicknamed 'bitey'.

Jonathon compared Bitey to a child that you find really cute and appealing at first but who quickly becomes a total pain in the arse. We were at the Isla St Bartolome, famous for having both pinguinos and white tipped sharks. We hopped in to snorkel in the hope of spotting a penguin in action in the water but suddenly up popped this cute little sea lion. She ducked and dived and showed off, taking turns to zoom towards us all very close like she was blowing kisses - we loved her. After about ten minutes we spotted a sea turtle and swam off, well she didnt like that at all. She followed us and kept swimming in front of us doing tricks, flipping onto her back and blowing bubbles as if to say 'look at me not the turtle!' when that didnt work she resorted to more desperate tactics, zooming towards Jason opening her mouth and snapping at him, then me, Ed, Jonathon and everyone else. (she had big teeth).

Id had enough so I started to swim accross the bay but oh no, every few seconds Bitey would appear and zoom towards me going 'snap snap snap' I'm shrieking 'bugger off' but to no avail she carried on like this all the way accross the bay. When we arrived she seemed to calm down and was being nice until we spotted a penguin in the water - just fantastic as they look like they are flying under water, but before you know if bloody bitey has popped up and starts in to chase the poor penguin acrross the bay - it was like a cartoon with the penguin jumping accross the water with bitey doing the same in hot persuit. I almost drowned from laughing so much. Finally we had all had enough and swam back to the beach but oh no here comes Bitey once again, she heaves herself out of the water and follows us - it was a nightmare, I had visions of her sitting next to me on the plane home, I would never be rid of her. Plus she was being quite rude belching and barking at us all. Ed flicked some sand at her and she was furious, barking and hissing at him loudly. Then suddenly like she'd had a change of heart she rolled over onto her back and pulled some cute faces as if to say 'i'm really very nice' before finally leaving us and rolling back into the sea. I bet she just loves to do this every day to unsuspecting tourists.

Other excitement included Ed jumping off the boat one day only to look down and spot a shark sitting two feet below him, he levitated back into the boat at such a speed - amazing what adrenalin can do. I got charged by a cranky adult sea lion on a beach one day and Jason seemed to enchant the male boobies who all started doing their rather charming mating dance for him (this involves picking up their big blue feet slowly, pointing at the sky, wing spreading and whistling)- obviously Jason looked like a good sturdy nest builder or something.

The major lowlight, being left on a desert island for two hours with no water, no shade and just the company of Bitey and ten thousand mosquitos while our dinghy went awol. Finally Jonathon put his hat to good use and managed to wave down another boat in the distance who came to rescue us. For a moment there it was like an episode of Lost, maybe they should introduce a Sea Lion character to spice up the plot - I know one who would be perfect.


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