Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz
At the end of the wharf just beyond the sleek sea lion sleeping on the wake-washed steps, a turtle slowly descends into the depths — a glimpse; nothing more. A yellow warbler flits a few paces ahead, tantalising, never quite allowing the opportunity for a photograph, and above the bay frigate birds circle incessantly: looking, waiting, patrolling. I know of no other birds that look so pointy — everything, bill, forked tail, wingtips, comes to a long, thin point — and so unstable; the slightest change in the air seems to make them tilt and wobble. Yet in truth they're among the most accomplished fliers. I read once that they have the smallest wing loading of any bird; in other words they have the largest wing area in relation to their weight. Perhaps this is why they appear like paper kites, vulnerable to the whims of the wind.
A blue-footed booby glides in to join the pelicans at the fish-cleaning station, and through the recently rain-washed air the grey silhouette of the island on the horizon is as clear as I've yet seen it. Last night and early this morning rain pounded the roof, wild gusts howled, and I thought maybe the trip to Isabela would be cancelled, but now in the early morning the sea seems, if not calm, then at least not confrontational; the trip might be bumpy but neither frightening nor sickening (I trust). I'm actually looking forward to the journey — going somewhere new, just going somewhere; going somewhere I trust the wildlife will be just as inspiring. Ten days there. Ten days to relax and think and see and write and photograph unhurriedly.
The ride proves anything but smooth — a progression of leaps and lurches with an occasional huge thump as the sea suddenly vanishes from beneath the boat, leaving it momentarily airborne before the impact. I gaze out at the horizon from my lucky seat near the stern and trust the dramamine, and throughout the two-hour journey I'm not troubled in the slightest by any nausea. In fact, I enjoy the ride — the sight of the deep swell rising and falling, Santa Cruz and the island to the east gradually shrinking towards the horizon, small islands appearing, seabirds circling and gliding, and the unvarying, near-deafening growl of the two massive 225 hp Suzuki outboards. The sky darkens and softens, looks ominous. Soon we're surrounded by rain. The world contracts: above and all around, the indistinct grey sky; beneath it the heaving ocean, dull and leaden and churned white in the wake; through it all the strangely meditative roar of the motors. We pass through the rain and emerge into a brighter day. Isla Tortuga appears; we pass close by a spike of guano-plastered rock pounded by waves; Isabela draws closer. Behind the boat the wake sprays white against the dark raincloud, and a rainbow hangs there, motionless and beautiful among all this movement.
The small beach at the Playa del Amor comprises countless shells and broken coral. Mangroves flank one side, a lava tunnel the other, then a long, steep embankment of black boulders, among which rest several of the largest, most colourful marine iguanas I've seen. Two of these beasts flick their heads up and down, apparently at each other in some kind of interaction, punctuating the display with bouts of nose-blowing, snorting salty water violently from their nostrils. A third, close by, looks on like a referee. The surf rolls in, smashes and foams against the boulders but the iguanas take no notice. Evening approaches; a heavy grey sky over an almost-turquoise sea. As far as I know, I'm the only person within at least half an hour's walk, probably more, and except for the information sign saying don't walk on the sand the iguanas nest there, I could have stepped back thousands of years, maybe millions. Before humans arrived, change here must have happened at evolutionary rates — except for the volcanic activity, of course.
1. The tip of the bill actually curves into a sharp hook, but from a distance the pointy effect remains.
1. Galápagos flycatcher
2. Frigatebird (Magnificent frigatebird, I think)
3. Lava lizard. The red on the throat identifies this as a female.
4. One of the combative marine iguanas at the Playa del Amor.
5. Striated heron.