Galapagos Islands Day 6: Islas Santiago and Bartolome (a.k.a. the moon and Mars)

Yesterday as I was complaining about the cold that is currently mushing my brain, my co-worker mentioned to me that the last time I had a bad cold was after my trip to the Galapagos Islands. By golly, she was right! I did get a cold in the Galapagos (probably from all the snorkeling and the fact that nothing that got wet ever dried). On Day 6 of our trip I began to get a nasty nasty cold that rendered my ability to process the crazy terrain of Isla Santiago and Isla Bartolome pretty much nil. The best my observational skills could come up with was, “This looks like the moon. I want to run around on it.” or, “This looks like Mars. I want to run around on it.” But still. Recognizing that you are somewhere that looks like it belongs on a different celestial body is pretty bitchin’. No complaints here.

So now, for your viewing pleasure (because I am too sick to write well and because I don’t think I could do justice to the lava field at Sullivan Bay or the view from the top of Isla Bartolome even if I wasn’t), I give you the Islas Santiago and Bartolome! Enjoy the results of volcanic activity and pretend you are looking at a lunarscape or the best real estate on planet Mars.

I’ve always loved clambering around on rocks so the lava field at Sullivan Bay on Isla Santiago (only a hundred years old or so) allowed me to indulge this particular compulsion almost fully. (Really giving in would have meant leaping and bounding away across the lava-y horizon, likely breaking my ankle and screaming until TC managed to find me in that big black expanse, and then TC having to carry me back to shore and he wouldn’t like it, so I just stayed with the group. Phooey.)

The hike to the volcanic summit of Bartolome was a lot more contained and did not allow for reckless clambering over lava, however, it was very educational (I learned about spatter cones!), and pretty effing cool. Huge chunks of red porous rock littered the slopes of the islet. Our guide Pedro called them “lava bombs”–lumps of molten rock that had been spit out by the volcano and had, for the most part, been lying in pretty much the same place since. Basically, the entire landscape, EVERYTHING, came from inside a volcano. If that’s not enough to make a person mildly interested in geology I don’t know what is.

The view from the top of Bartolome is stunning. Pinnacle Rock looms in the distance, leaning precariously over the sea. Wanna know why that pointy shaft of rock is separated so awkwardly from the mainland like that? Before telling us, Pedro checked to make sure that none of us were Americans. We weren’t, so here’s the story: Pinnacle Rock used to just be part of a big rock hill that sloped towards the water. When the US military stationed themselves in the Galapagos during WWII, they decided to shell the hill for practice. Eventually, the structure of the rock weakened and a big chuck broke away. And so that is how the United States of America created one of the most famous land formations in the Galapagos Islands. The end.

So not natural at all. Still makes for a beautiful photo though.

But the day wasn’t all barren lava fields and geology (though that’s all I took photos of). In the morning we sat in a dinghy while a group of 15-20 dolphins jumped and played all around us. I don’t think any dolphin show in any marine park could ever compare to watching pairs and triplets of wild dolphins leaping and diving for the sheer joy of it. Some of them had fish in their mouths. Some of them had babies (BABY DOLPHINS!). A few of our ship mates were taking photos but TC and I knew that if we hid behind a lens, we’d miss something amazing, so we decided that this moment was just for us.

The other moment that was just for me came while I was snorkeling off the beach near Pinnacle Rock. I rounded a point and surfaced. There, standing on the rock just a metre or so away from me, was a Galapagos penguin. There was no dinghy or naturalist guide this time to distance the experience. Just me, and this penguin. He stood on his rock and I floated in the water and though all I wanted to do was reach out and try to somehow own this rare wild creature and my experience with him, there is nothing in this world that could have made me disturb him, or break the strange and incredible trust Galapagos wildlife has in humanity.

It’s enough to break a heart.

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