“Hello, sun in my face.

Hello, you who make the morning

and spread it over the fields…

Watch now, how I start the day

in happiness, in kindness.”

~Mary Oliver, Why I Wake Early

For a moment, it seemed as if we were sailing toward a tropical island. Lucious-looking white sand spilling into turquoise-hued waters came into view as our zodiac approached the landing spot. A hazy sun was casting a warm glow over the balmy morning, creating one of those feelings that you want to grab hold of and soak in for a very long time.

We stepped into the Pacific and onto the shore of Las Bachas Beach, a mile or so stretch of sand and low-lying vegetation along the northern coast of Santa Cruz Island, the second largest in the archipelago. Las Bachas – a local variation of the word barges – was named for the American barges that had been left on the beach at the end of World War II.  Remnants of a floating pier are still visible today.

The zodiac takes passengers back to the ship as our group begins our walk.
Remnants of a WWII pier create a formation along the sand.
Beginning our walk.

Our walking route took us along the water’s edge, its beautiful white sand creating an easy, undefined trail. Lava rocks, prickly pears and patches of green plants dotted the landscape as well as unusual-looking indentations in the sand where sea turtles had been building their nests. Marine iguanas and Sallie Lightfoot crabs were moving along at opposite ends of the speed spectrum, and a new wildlife sighting for us – two Galápagos flamingos – were wading in a lagoon near the end of the trail.

I was intrigued by the tree-topped island in the distance.
Good morning, Sallie Lightfoot!
Water colors.
Sea turtles build their nests in the sand, creating indentations like this one along the beach.
Lovely flamingos…

As I was photographing the flamingos, a marine iguana waddled up from the lagoon.

At the end of the lagoon, we turned back to the beach, retracing our steps along the shore. Las Bachas was a wonderfully peaceful spot, and I would have loved to stay a while longer. But early morning was folding into late, and another island was beckoning.

Heading back along the shore to meet the zodiac.

    *     *     *     *     *

Daphne Major & Daphne Minor

Before our next landing, the Flora cruised by two volcanic tuff cone islands known as The Daphnes. Daphne Major may only be visited by obtaining a special permit from the Galápagos National Park Service; visitation is not permitted on Daphne Minor. Twice a year for six weeks at a time, scientists set up camp near the top of Daphne Major to study Darwin finches. Princeton evolutionary biology professors emeritus Peter and Rosemary Grant began the study in 1973.

Daphne Major, with Daphne Minor in the distance.
Another perspective of Daphne Major.
Approaching Daphne Minor and a closer view of Daphne Major’s rugged, barren landscape.

North Seymour Island

Although it lies just north of Las Bachas Beach, visiting North Seymour Island felt as if we had traveled to a completely different world. Our zodiac driver dropped us off at a boulder-strewn slope of a landing that led to the flat plateau-like top of the island where our hike began. Holy stick trees and smooth gray boulders dotted the sandy trail that wove along the coast past sleeping sea lions and dozens of birds darting overhead. Herb and I joked that we were walking into the Hitchcock movie The Birds!

North Seymour Island. First view.
Groves of holy stick trees – also known as Palo Santo – thrive in the North Seymour soil.
Sea lions sleep on the boulder-filled beach, looking like pages from a” hidden pictures” book.
A rocky pillow.

The Great Frigatebirds

We left the sea lions and headed inland, following the trail past more dusty boulders and bare-branched trees. North Seymour is a paradise for nesting birds, and suddenly the distinctive red pouches of the great frigatebird began to appear amid the branches. Frigatebirds are called “pirates of the air” because they lack waterproof feathers and cannot dive for fish, requiring them to snatch meals from expert fishing birds like blue-footed boobies. Male frigatebirds inflate their bright, balloon-like pouches while making loud squawking sounds when they want to attract a mate, and we happened upon one who was putting on quite a show!

A male great frigatebird soars overhead…
…and a female great frigatebird lies on her nest.
The male frigatebird’s bright red pouch…

This fellow is showing off, pointing his pouch to the sky, attempting to attract the attention of a potential female companion.

I was as fascinated by the frigatebird’s sounds almost as much as his inflated pouch and wingspan. Herb captured this brief video:

Blue-Footed Boobies

Blue-footed boobies build their nests on North Seymour as well. We had seen quite a few along the path, but our naturalist Orlando stopped us in our tracks when we came upon a “changing of the guard” between two parents taking turns sitting on a nest. As the male stood up and stepped away from the nest, the female replaced him and began poking at a small hole in the egg.

Heading further inland on North Seymour.
An overload of cuteness…

The female takes over nesting duties as she carefully watches over her egg.

The changing of parental egg-sitting duties was a thoughtful choreography, and with our serendipitous timing of happening upon this pair, Herb was able to video the entire ceremony.

Galápagos Land Iguanas

North Seymour Island is home to about 2,500 land iguanas. Although they are not native to the island, they have thrived in this habitat since the early 1930s, when 70 land iguanas were moved here from Baltra Island to provide better conditions for their survival. This species feeds on cactus and other vegetation and seamlessly blends in with the environment.

Blending in.
Snack time.
Well, hello there!
This guy completely captured my heart, and I couldn’t decide which view I liked better: his profile…
…or his camera-ready smile.

Our hike on North Seymour had been so engrossing that the Las Bachas Beach walk seemed as if it has happened on another day instead of a few hours earlier. And when it was time to leave, I felt the same way I did when we had circled back to the landing spot on Las Bachas.

It was much too soon to say goodbye.

10 Comments

  • Such wonderful pristine places … your words and photos bring back so many great memories of our Galapagos trip. My solo wander on Las Bachas while Mui enjoyed a dip was one of the highlights amongst many … as were the delightful blue footed boobies and the countless other birds and animals we encountered everywhere.

    • Erin, I was just reading about your Frida Kahlo experience when your lovely comment came through! Thank you! I’m delighted to have sparked some wonderful memories of your travels in the Galápagos. Las Bachas is a dreamy place to have had some quiet time to wander. You are so right about these islands being one highlight after another 🙂

  • Just Wow! Your words and photos are lovely, but I cannot get enough of your journey. How wonderful to see so many gorgeous creatures in their natural habitat!
    Thank you for sharing!

    • Suzy, that’s so kind of you to say…many thanks! This was a favorite day to be sure and such a treat to walk among the extraordinary wildlife. I especially treasure the memory of watching the blue-footed boobies changing nest-sitting duties!

  • Oh heck…I’ve been asleep at the switch!! (Not really, a few busy days mean that I’m lagging behind a little…gotta catch up!)

    Fabulous photographs Mary – what an amazing day you had. Perfect weather too, no?

    • Haha, Gill…it’s great to have busy days!
      Yes, it was quite the place for photography. The weather was lovely every day, ranging from the low to high 70s (F). Because the islands straddle the equator, the temperature doesn’t vary too much. Late May was the end of the rainy season, and we had dry days all week. Lots of sun, interesting clouds and wind!

  • So nice to know the blue-footed boobies are seen on many islands. I had thought they were rare but not to your lens. Again, stunning wildlife photos. This will be different for me – I usually spend time photographing the landscape.

    • Thanks, Eileen! You will have wonderful opportunities for both wildlife and landscape photography no matter which islands you visit. We saw blue-footed boobies on several islands, but it felt like winning the boobie-sighting jackpot at the nesting area on North Seymour!

  • Tell me you opinion about Prince Phillip’s stairs …. Is that on Bartolome island before the climb to the top? If not, will we see it on the Northern Loop? The photos make it look challenging…….

    • Prince Phillip’s stairs were not on our itinerary, so I didn’t do any research on that area. I would ask one of the naturalists about it when you board the ship. There is also a briefing meeting every evening when the cruise director goes over each excursion for the following day and explains the levels of difficulty. It’s always subjective when an activity is involved, but they do a good job of describing what each excursion entails.

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