Day two on our beautiful Silver Galapagos floating luxury hotel. The gal immediately learns that this is boot camp where the footwear cannot be Manolo – rubber-soled flats are essential. At 7.30am, breakfast finished and life jackets on, we meet in the Expedition Room – all-purpose meeting room-theatre – to be led out to steps down into a zodiac, in groups of 14 with a guide, in our case Ernesto Vaca, for a ten minute ride to Bahia Darwin, on Genovesa Island. We climb Prince Philip Steps, named for the Duke of Edinburgh when he visited Galapagos in 1965. Up a 50-foot cliff of lava at least half a million years old, we hear about palo santo (Bursera graveolens), anti-bacterial deciduous holy trees related to frankincense. The few flowers are yellow, for daytime pollination, or white, for nocturnal pollination.
Ernesto introduces boobies (Genovesa is often called bird island). There are tens of thousands of them, and lots of down-covered juveniles who await first wing and then other feathers. I am immediately aware that it is not that the wildlife is tame. It is as if humans are invisible. These birds are simply not taking any notice of us. There are green-footed Nazca boobies (3 feet high, 4.9 feet wingspan), red-footed boobies (2.5 feet high, 3.3 feet wingspan) and, thanks to carotenoid pigment from the fish they dive for, hitting the water at 65 miles an hour, blue footed boobies (2.8 feet high, 4.9 feet wingspan). 80 percent of the world’s red-feet, and 75 percent of the total blue-feet count, are here. The blues, we are told, do a pretty spectacular courtship dance, called sky-pointing.
How to tell male from female? The guys whistle and the females honk. Both sexes spend about a third of their time preening, oiling their feathers with preen, produced at the base of their tail. They do not have birds’ usual bald tummy patch, to help incubating eggs warm, so instead parents, one at a time, stand on precious eggs – up to three can be hatched, at slightly different times, but sibling rivalry means only one will survive. We climb back down again, to board the zodiacs.
Tonight is getting to know you, with a welcome led by Captain Marcelo Rojas and the Hotel Manager, Marcelo Affonso, the only non-Ecuadorean crew member (he is Brazilian). How nice to be able to talk to the doctor, and the spa manager, and the chef (in luxury hotels on land, managers’ cocktail parties, now increasingly rare, are just that, top management only). At dinner with Marcelo A, I meet another much-travelled couple, also from UK, who are staying on another week after this.