BY RHODA HAHN
Within minutes of arriving in the Galapagos Islands, we saw sea lions. They were sleeping in a playground on the beach, oblivious to the twelve of us. We all had our cameras out, not realizing that we’d have many more opportunities to get up close and personal with the wildlife of the Galapagos. While I can’t say that the animals and birds actually pose for pictures, they essentially ignore humans, making life very easy for even the novice photographer.
Our first adventure involved kayaking along the coast to a secluded beach where we camped for a few days. While our guides were getting the kayaks ready, a few young sea lions came to investigate. They jumped on and off the empty boats, entertaining us while we put on life vests and kayak skirts. My daughter and I were the first ones in the water. We were soon joined by a sea lion that had great fun jumping on and off our kayak, destabilizing it in the process. He came up behind me and nibbled on my life vest, trying to get my attention, and prompting the group to proclaim me the “sea lion whisperer”. Little did I know how true this declaration would be.
Several days later, we were snorkeling in a little cove. There were fish and turtles, as well as blue-footed boobies to see. We found a little shark hiding under a rock. Always curious, a sea lion came to investigate and had fun walking in circles around us. The group teased me, telling me the sea lions were looking for me. I kept my distance, and since I was getting cold, I decided to head back to the boat. As I was swimming away from the group, I felt a pinch on the butt. I was ready to chastise whoever was teasing me, but when I whipped around, I was face-to-face with a sea lion! He wanted to play. I offered up my fins and he would nibble on them, then invite me to swim a little. Maybe I really was the “sea lion whisperer”, or this might be a sad commentary on what I look like in a wetsuit.
There were no other close encounters with animals after this, but we had daily delights. The amount and variety of living creatures on the islands were incredible and since they have no fear or interest (with the exception of young sea lions) in people, the access you have to them is jaw dropping. We saw beaches covered with hordes of marine iguanas warming in the sun, punctuated by their periodic squirts of excess salt from their noses. There were blue-footed boobies inches away from us, grooming their babies or engaging in courtship rituals. Giant tortoises lumbered through the brush, chewing away or cooling off in the water. Sea turtles would swim silently by. Bright orange crabs would scuttle away when we approached. We had trouble keeping track of the different finches we saw. Flamingos fished in the early morning sun. Frigate birds and pelicans were everywhere. Perhaps the most spectacular treat occurred when we were traveling by boat to another island. All of a sudden, the boat was surrounded by dolphins, hundreds of them leaping into the air, as if they were racing us. It was like being in the middle of a popcorn popper. Unfortunately, I was so busy being amazed that I forgot to grab my camera. And just as quickly as it began, it was over. Sort of like my vacation. SIGH.