Embarking on our tour with master tour guide Greg Garson, we headed north up the coast to Saint Lucia, and went to the estuary (a world heritage site) where hippos and crocodiles are in abundance.
Then on northward to the Hluhluwe Game Reserve. In an approximation of the Zulu pronunciation, you can get away with shu.SHLU.wee. Tough for foreigners to put the spelling and the sound together! This is the oldest game reserve in South Africa, dating back to the late 1800’s. It is about 370 square miles. It has been instrumental in restoring the greatly endangered (once fewer than 100 animals) white rhino.
In SA you cannot drive off the road to approach animals. In Zimbabwe and Kenya, when an animal is spotted it is often surrounded by Land Rovers. Here you may have to watch from a distance, and thus see scenes like this…
But we were pretty lucky in our “hunting” over two days, so here are some of the trophies…
We visited a place where four species of endangered cats are bred and reintroduced to the wild. In particular the cheetah, which is between a rock and a hard place. They need the game reserves to have protected habitat, but unlike many cats (such as the leopard), they don’t climb trees and thus they cannot escape the reserve. As a result they become inbred with the limited gene pool within the borders. So controlled breeding is important for the survival of this amazing creature.
Back in the wild, we saw just one cat…a lion…
All the big animals are fantastic, but for me the most amazing is this one…out of proportion…yet elegant and graceful…curious about us…and hard for me to believe it exists for real on the same planet I do!
At dawn as we were getting ready to leave San Cristobal, this guy was so comfortably snoring in our dinghy that we waited (a little) before waking him and chasing him off.
We motored the 40 miles from San Cristobal to Santa Cruz (little wind). Some dolphins paid us a short visit.
Instead of staying on Santa Cruz island, I arranged an overnight side trip to Isabela, mostly in hopes of seeing Galapagos penguins. Yes, penguins at the equator! Thanks to the Humboldt current. In addition, I liked the idea of doing something on my own, and staying in a room with a real shower… I left early the morning after arriving in Santa Cruz, before other BPOers got their own Isabela trips in place.
The “ferry” was a challenge. They don’t use tickets. You get your name on a list, and you have an “agent” (associated with the travel agent I used) help you connect to the right boat. In my case the boat had been changed, for I don’t know what reason, so it was useful to have the help of the agent, despite it’s being a little stressful to have to meet someone you don’t know on a dock at 6:30am in order to get you aboard. Then two hours mostly in the sun, packed in with 25 others on a rather small boat with three massive outboards, occasionally pounding over the waves. Thankfully it was a relatively calm day. [The return trip turned out to be full of bone-jarring pounding and sick passengers…]
Another agent meets me at the other end, and gets in a taxi with me to take me to my “hotel,” provide me with a map, and make sure I know how to meet my tour (more to follow about that) and my return to the dock for the ferry back. The hotel is tiny and simple and nice — includes hot water in the shower, should someone want it (actually I did, after snorkeling). I walk around exploring for the morning.
In the afternoon I am picked up for my “Tintoreras” tour, which is likely to include penguins. It does. And I get some wonderful shots of them juxtaposed with cactus plants in the background. Later I find that I had my camera set up wrong, and all my fabulous pictures are blurry. Crap! But first there are sharks and turtles and countless iguanas and some nice snorkeling.
I go to dinner at the “Booby Trap,” run by an expat from Los Angeles. I’m the only customer, despite it being rated #1 in the town by Trip Advisor, and the price being quite reasonable. I have a good time chatting with the owner, and when I tell him of my camera error, he suggests a place where I might see penguins in the morning, if I get there early. I ask what early means, and he says maybe 6am. Hmm, I was planning to sleep late.
But no, I get up early and get there by six. No penguins. I guess the superb penguin cover shot is just not to be. I rent a bike for $2/hour and ride out of town, up to the “wall of tears” – a pointless wall of chunks of volcanic rock built by prisoners in a penal colony in the 1940’s/1950’s. Not much to see, but a nice bike ride, nice views, and some time on the extremely beautiful beach.
So here’s another round of wildlife and scenic photos – probably the last from Galapagos. With apologies for the not-up-to-my-usual-standard shots of penguins…
Rode to the “wall of tears,” which is a completely pointless 30′ high wall of lava blocks built from/to nowhere by prisoners in a penal colony in the 1940’s/1950’s.
It’s known as Kicker Rock. The Spanish name is the Sleeping Lion; I have no idea why the English and Spanish names are unrelated. Tim and I did a day trip there. It’s an amazing place, with cliffs that not only plummet down to the water but continue straight down into the depths below. Exciting just to see the formation and the sea birds on and over it, but the real treat is snorkeling around it. Three ocean currents meet at the Galapagos – a warm one from Panama, that helped us get here quickly, the cold Humbolt current that comes up the coast of South America, and the deep ocean counter-current that flows opposite of the surface current that will push us toward the Marquesas soon. That confluence leads to great abundance of sea life, as nutrient-rich cold waters mix with the warm. In fact, swimming today the water mostly felt cold (we wore wet suits), but there were many pockets of much warmer water along the way.
Snorkeling next to a sheer wall, with the sunlight shining on the many colors of the wall, plus zillions of fish…quite an experience! Sorry I have neither underwater photos nor the poetic abilities to convey it. Tranquil sea turtles amble by below, while sea lions dart by inches away (sometimes scaring the dickens out of you, when they approach from behind and suddenly appear next to your face!), in the depths a few sharks (not people-threatening ones, though one of our group did spot a hammerhead), colorful fish, and if you dive down 10 feet a school of fish so thick it almost seems solid, all while frigate birds are soaring overhead. With minimal supervision (a guide who would point out what he saw, if you could hear him while snorkeling) we swam around the perimeter for an hour until most of us were exhausted as well as awed.
I do have photos of the rock and the birds on/around it…
And surprising in its familiarity, a great blue heron!