If it was good enough for Darwin…

Notes from San Cristobal, Galapagos:

San Cristobal was the first island Darwin landed on in the archipelago. That almost makes up for not being able to see more penguins, since the penguins live on other islands that are at least a two-hour ride over generally very choppy seas. According to the Rocket Scientist, who has seen the penguins, they’re pretty much like Magellanic penguins. Therefore, I shall not pout.

Because I have seen giant tortoises! We visited the center that is working to preserve them and saw tortoises from huge monsters that a person could ride and that were over a century old down to one-year-old babies the size of a box turtle at the pet store. Birds may be modern day dinosaurs, but giant tortoises look like dinosaurs.

Which brings me to the question… if you are somewhat mobility impaired, is it worth forcing yourself up a steep hillside along a path of lava boulders, so slick that your guide held your arm most of the way so you wouldn’t fall, through two miles of pain, to see baby Galapagos turtles? Damn straight it’s worth it. (We tipped the guide well.)

And the first night we were here I saw frigate birds flying, and a striated heron walked past so close I could have stepped on it. There were also sea lions, who are nature’s equivalent of spoiled teenagers.

We were sitting on a bench looking at the rocks when we noticed a sea lion had hauled itself onto the sidewalk. A man with a camera started taking pictures and that animal posed. There is no other words for it. Head straight ahead, body still? Check. Head up, showing length of neck? Check. Lying on side with one flipper over face? Check.

The photographer didn’t feed it, or reward it with anything other than attention, and this animal stayed put for a good ten minutes until the photographer left. Until he did, it was a bit like watching a sea lion at Sea World.

Speaking of photos, I haven’t yet gotten mine loaded from my phone, so there will not be any wildlife pictures in this post.

In preparation for going around the island, I have been reading up on Galapagos bird life. I have seen a finch already, although Darwin’s finches are not in fact true finches. It was a pretty nondescript bird with a large beak for its size.

I have never been a passerine fancier: my heart belong to seabirds and wading and shorebirds and especially to raptors. So every time someone mentioned the finches I would smile and shrug. But turns out the Galapagos finches include the bad-ass Vampire Finch. When other food supplies get low they peck on boobies (get your mind out of the gutter, people) and drink their blood. (At the other end of the scale is the rather prosaically named Vegetarian Finch. It would be great if the Vampire Finch preyed on the Vegetarian Finch, but alas, life does not always follow a movie script. On the other hand, the Vampire Finches exist on only two islands, which coincidentally do not have Vegetarian Finches. Hmmm…) I am not going to be seeing Vampire Finches; they live on Darwin and Wolf Island, while I am on San Cristobal.

The one thing about San Cristobal finches: they are fearless. At one stop on our “highlands” tour, our taxi driver/tour guide Ricardo ignored the carefully placed sign that explained exactly why it was bad to feed the birds and put out his hand with bread crumbs. He literally had the birds eating out of his hand. And once one had food, a flock came and settled expectantly around his feet. It was like a scene from The Birds except less frightening, since finches don’t look like they’ll peck your eyes out, unlike seagulls or ravens.

Ans then there are the mocking birds. The Galapagos Mockingbird drinks blood from iguanas; the Espanola Mockingbird drinks the blood of sea lions. The San Cristobal Mockingbird is less impressive — it’s diet only includes eggs and carrion. Compared to that, the mockingbirds back home seem pretty boring. I’ve seen several mockingbirds here and… they’re mockingbirds.

On a non-bird note….

I don’t generally post food pictures, but I’ll make an exception for this morning’s coffee:

Yes I know, they probably use a stencil. Whatever. It’s still adorable.

And the pastries were pretty good, too. And the bananas on this island are very small, and very sweet. And the pineapple we bought tasted fantastic.

Tomorrow? A boat tour around the islands, so I won’t be posting. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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