Pristine & Born of Fire: Tuesday Departures

PM: LAS BACHAS, Santa Cruz Island

Samba Gardner Bay Galapagos (3)Upon arrival at Baltra Airport, you will be met by the Samba’s naturalist guide, who will accompany you on a short bus ride to the harbor to board Samba.

After a light lunch the Samba will navigate for 25 minutes to Las Bachas. This organic white sand beach located on the northern shore of Santa Cruz Island is the most important nesting site for the green Pacific sea turtles of the Galapagos. Named Las Bachas after the American military occupation on Baltra during the Second World War, the place is a peaceful introduction to the Enchanted Islands. On the shore, you may encounter marine iguanas, sally light foot crabs, blue footed boobies diving and, in a nearby lagoon, we often find grater flamingos, black necked stilts and other shore birds. Visitors are welcome to swim or snorkel from the beach.

Overnight navigation to Genovesa

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Samba Tropic Bird GalapagosAfter 6 to 7 hours of overnight navigation from Santa Cruz you will wake up to the beautiful cacophony of one of the largest tropical sea bird colonies on the planet. The cliff tops of Darwin Bay are decorated with frigate birds, red-footed boobies, Nazca boobies, swallow tailed gulls, tropic birds and many other pelagic animals. Following a wet landing in the early morning light, you may observe red-footed boobies putting on a display for potential mates by collecting nesting material. The great frigate birds inflate their gulag sacks hoping to attract a female while others play their favorite game: piracy. Darwin’s finches, Galapagos doves and mocking birds stroll the ground to find seeds and insects. The red mangroves, cactus and saltbushes contrast with the blue sky and the dark basaltic walls.

Following lunch you will do a dry landing to climb Prince Philip’s Steps. The steep ascend takes you 100 feet above sea level, to be welcomed by the elegant silhouette of red billed tropic birds and the aerobatic Galapagos shearwater as they showcase their agility as they rapidly approach the steep precipice. A rugged lava rock trail takes us through the endemic dwarf incense tree forest where we might find more red footed “lancers” nesting and many of their gannet-like relatives, the Nazcas, loudly claiming the floor as their residence. The Palo Santo forest is dormant most of the year, but awakens in the rainy season, filling the air with a refreshing aroma. As you exit the latent trees, thousands of storm petrels flying erratically beyond the lava flows may take your breath away. This is the perfect scenario for the island predator to make a successful kill. The short-eared owl, known elsewhere around the world as a nocturnal predator, hunts in bright daylight here on Genovesa. More cat than owl, it waits patiently outside lava tunnels and crevasses to capture the stormy petrels as they leave their houses after feeding their young.

A snorkeling opportunity off of Tower island offers a view of a wide variety of tropical fish.

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DCIM100GOPROGOPR0306.All other boats in Galapagos travel back south after sailing to Tower; the Samba is the only one heading west-northwest. The Galapagos National Park Service granted us the exclusive opportunity to use Marchena’s magical shorelines to snorkel, dinghy ride and kayak. The forbidding, endless, and untouched lava flows where only science has reached the land. With no fresh water and very little precious soil, Bindloe’s serenity scenario is only awakened by the murmur and surge of the Pacific swells and musical argument of the castaway sea lions. Punta Mejía is one of the best sites in the Archipelago to snorkel. The calm and clear deep blue water of the north west coast, and the dark hostile topography of the location give the sensation of witnessing the beginning of our planet and its underwater world. Apart from great fish diversity, when we snorkel we often see rays, reef sharks and sea turtles.

Navigating southwest for 45 minutes to Playa Negra is always an exciting experience. More than once in the past we have seen bottle nosed dolphins, other cetaceans or feeding frenzies. After an early afternoon snorkel around a recently formed lava grotto where marine iguanas feed, we will start a 5 to 6 hour sail to the west. As we get further away from the island the sea floor changes dramatically and we enter deep water, an oceanic drop-off. The Cromwell current, which arrives from the west from the very profound waters, brings richness to the surface and generates an superlative upwelling. As a result, there are positive effects throughout the marine food chain and we have a good record of cetaceans and other ocean wanderers on this navigation. Whales or dolphins are never a guarantee, but we will we do our best to find them.

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Galapagos Retreat (70)Human history has left its footprint on this small corner of the Galapagos. Punta Albemarle, the farthest north point of Isabela, was once an important US radar station to prevent any Japanesse attempt to destroy the Panama Canal. A small and deteriorated building serves as a reminder of the boredom and routine that rusted the minds of the juvenile navy officers. The soldiers endured three-week shifts with little to no activity. Nevertheless, the wild life here provides a wonderful example of the constant struggle for survival; a fight from which only the fittest continue. Recent lava flows here are the nesting ground of the only flightless cormorant in the world and the basking terrain of the largest marine iguanas of Galapagos. Because not many boats visit this site, the typically shy cormorants build their bulky seaweed nests with total indifference to our human presence. As the morning advances, the iguanas give a show of adaptation as they wander along the shoreline to feed on green and red algae. With this fantastic setting you are reminded that the only constant of the Islands is change.

Punta Vicente Roca offers an overwhelming diversity of geological formations. Located on the southwest end of Ecuador Volcano, only a few miles south of latitude 0, the area is an outstanding example of how the Islands were formed and how the forces of change have transformed the landscape and shaped the wildlife. Vicente Roca is home to tuff cones and lava dikes and is fertile ground for erosion and the disaster of collapse. We will look at the dramatic structures from our dinghies as we also enjoy watching the Galapagos penguins, brown noddies, blue-footed boobies and other marine life. When the waters are calm enough, we take time for a fascinating snorkel opportunity. The walls of the tuff cones are full of colorful invertebrates and rich algae blooming, giving us a great chance to watch numerous sea turtles feeding.

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AM: PUNTA ESPINOZA, Fernandina Island
PM: URBINA BAY, Isabela Island

Marine Iguanas GalapagosOnly 30,000-100,000 years old, Fernandina is the youngest island of the Archipelago. This immature shield volcano is less than an instant in the geological time scale. Not even your wildest imagination can give you a better setting in which to experience the start of life on an island. Most of the island is covered with hostile, worthless lava. At Punta Espinoza, however, the shoreline is teeming with life. Reptiles, birds and mammals all coexisting, singing and sexing. It is a living museum filled with piles of marine iguanas, playful sea lions, hard working flightless cormorants, dwarf penguins, busy Sally light-foot crabs, and much more. Don’t forget to look around because Galapagos Hawk is always on the hunt. The site is a true cradle of evolution. Snorkeling with turtles, iguanas, cormorants and plenty of fish is the best way to refresh after the lava walk.

The hotspot under the Galapagos generates intense volcanic activity. The west islands are the youngest and most active of the Archipelago. Located in the center of Isabela, Alcedo Volcano is reminder of how volatile these Islands are. On the west shoreline of Alcedo lays Urbina Bay. The landmass of the inlet was uplifted in 1954 creating more than ¾ of a mile of shoreline, and exposing many coral reef extensions to the air. The brand new land became a perfect nesting terrain of the most beautiful land dragon. The land iguanas of Isabela are the largest in the Galapagos and, in Urbina, the colorful population offers a great example of their growing potential. The impressive yellow, orange/brown iguanas roam the low lands looking for flowers, fruits, leaves and shoots of their favorite plants. Also, when the rains arrive, it is possible to see giant tortoises sharing the land with this primitive looking reptile. Urbina is miniature reminder of a Jurassic time.

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Samba Sullivan Bay Galapagos (1)Isabela Island constitutes almost half of the entire surface area of the Archipelago. It is nearly 100 miles long and offers a remarkable diversity of habitats. Shaped like a seahorse and with volcanoes over 5000 feet of altitude, it is also the birth place of vast mangrove extensions. Elizabeth Bay is the only place on Earth where old tropical mangrove forests and penguins can be seen in the same place. The ecosystem is also the residence of spotted eagle rays, sea turtles and a nursery for fish and marine invertebrates. With the outboards off and using only our oars for speed, we will enjoy this serene array of life.

When you land on Punta Moreno you understand why the Spanish Bishop that discovered the Islands said: “It was as if God had decided to rain stones”. When he first set foot on a lava field, he struggled to find fresh water and in desperation was reduced to chew on cactus pats to quench his thirst. More than three centuries later, a young Naturalist saw beyond the lava. Charles Darwin was amazed by the colonization of plants and the start of life over this terrain. He thought this process could easily compare to the origin of life in our planet: The mystery of mysteries. The lone pioneer cactus growing over an ocean of lava is contrasted with stunning oasis. Where lava tunnel roofs collapse, brackish water accumulates to give life to greater flamingos, moorhens, black-necked stilts and Galapagos Martins.

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Galapagos Retreat (54)After breakfast we land on Puerto Velasco Ibarra to ride on a ¨chiva¨(endemic transportation) to visit the highlands of Floreana. On the way to the humid zone we stop to climb Cerro Alieri. A good number of steps will take us to a breathtaking view of a landscape decorated with liquens and epiphytes. The mysteries of this Island are hidden in the pirates cave. At Asilo de Paz we will engage with the fascinating story of the Wittmers, Doctor Ritter and Dora, and the famous Baroness and her three lovers. Charles, Floreana and Santa María are the official names of the Island that holds an overwhelmingly rich human history.

In the afternoon we land to visit la lobería (sea lion rookery) and swim or snorkel off the beach. It is a refreshing end to a wonderful day.

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Yoga Retreat GalapagosIf you are not joining us for the 15 adventure, on your way to the airport you will stop at the Highlands of Santa Cruz. At 1800 feet, the greenery offers the opportunity to admire the remnants of a Galapagos mature forest. The Daisy trees of the genus Scalesia decorate a couple of extraordinary geological formations. Known as “Los Gemelos”, these collapsed craters and their surroundings are home to many Darwin finches, mocking birds, vermillion flycatchers and a wonderful diversity of indigenous plants. It is important to leave the boat early in the morning to have a pleasant visit. Breakfast will be served at 6:00 am.

Guests staying on board for the full 15 day experience will also visit Los Gemelos and continue on to explore more of the Highlands, visiting lava tubes and giant tortoises in their natural habitat. If you remain on board, have lunch on the Samba.