Our second night on board was much more comfortable than the first. The reason – we set sail before sunset, and by late evening were safely anchored off our destination – so no sailing at all during sleep time!
We woke up to find ourselves anchored just offshore from Marchena Island, an island that sees very few visitors.
Snorkeling in the Galapagos
Our morning activity was snorkeling. Setting off in the pangas, we were soon at the jump off point. As we jumped into the water our guide shouted “Hammerheads!” Far below us on the ocean floor I could make out four or five hammerhead sharks swimming lazily along. Gal and I felt fine – we were in a large group, and we had been assured that shark attacks on snorkelers in the Galapagos are extremely rare, though shark sightings are extremely common. There are islands further north where sightings of up to four hundred!! Hammerheads at one time are common. We also saw the ubiquitous white-tipped Galapagos shark. The sharks, if they noticed us, were clearly not interested at all.
The ocean was packed with large schools of fish, and the snorkeling was great. We returned to the panga which motored in much closer to the shore, and we dived in again. The currents were much stronger here and soon Gal was in some trouble – she was swept near a rocky point jutting out of the land and in fact heaved out of the water onto a rock by the waves. Not a terribly dangerous situation as it turned out – she was actually sitting on a rock and she’s tough and a strong swimmer, but she is prone to panic sometimes (rare – mainly seen when skiing a steep run for the first time) and she was close to panic now – so I grabbed her and we quickly pushed off from the rocks – and within a minute or so she was hauling herself back on to the waiting panga about 30 meters away. The pangas always follow the snorkelers just in case they are needed. Our underwater camera did get smashed into the rocks though, but continued to work just fine. Pentax call it “adventure proof” and perhaps it really is!
We made landfall for a quick exploration of the beach – the island seemed basically to be one big lava flow, and has no fresh water. In fact, there are historical accounts of people being stranded and dying there. Certainly the beach was littered with the white bones and skulls of animals that had for whatever reason been washed up and couldn’t escape – we saw sea-lion skulls, dolphin skulls and more.
While walking along the beach I noticed a great shell and took a photo. I walked on, and looking back I saw our whole group standing exactly where I had been moments before, all snapping away. I went back and asked what the big deal was about the shell? “What shell” they said – “we’re checking out the hawk”. About a foot away from where I had been, perched on a bush, was a Galapagos hawk, but I had been looking down, not up. Luckily, the others were more aware than me! Anywhere else in the world, I very much doubt that a bird of prey would let you approach it, never mind let a group of people come to within almost touching distance. This hawk did just that – an incredible moment.
Back on board, life had really settled down. We had all made friends by now, and the food continued to amaze us daily – what the chef produced was simply incredible. Gal was fully part of the team, no matter that she was so much younger than the rest. Our cabin, though small, was now home, and the trip was proving to be more exciting than we could ever have imagined. Our best moments, on Isabela Island, were still to come!