We left behind the huge shield volcanoes of western Galapagos and headed on to the south, this time to visit Floreana Island, the first island inhabited by humans. An Irishman, Patrick Watkins, was marooned here in the early 1800s, and even though his life was not quite remarkable, he became part of history by showing people that some kind of agriculture could be done in the Archipelago. When the brand new Republic of Ecuador claimed possession of the Islands in 1832, they followed Watkins example and chose Floreana to start the settlement which was located up in the highlands, quite incongruously called “Asilo de la Paz” (Peace Haven).
Today there were plenty of activities from where to choose. I found it difficult to make up my mind because I knew there were all equally good. All of our excursions took place along the northern coast of Floreana. We visited “El Mirador de la Baronesa” (The Baroness’ Look-out Point), Post Office Bay, Champion Islet, and Punta Cormorant -a full day!
Many strange people settled in Floreana between the late 1920s and the mid-1930s. Among them, there was this person that called herself “Baroness”, who used to go to the top of a small hill to look out for any foreign vessel approaching Floreana. Thus, the place is nowadays called “The Baroness’ Look-out Point”. Here, some of our guests went kayaking and others did Zodiac tours amidst lava plateaus used by Galapagos Sea Lions as a rookery. There was a lot of seabird activity, and we saw frigatebirds, Blue-footed Boobies, and pelicans.
We had some time off to relax at the beach of Post Office Bay after stopping briefly at the Post Office Barrel. A historical site linked to the whaling days, Post Office Bay is a place where whalers set up a barrel to drop their mail.
Whaling voyages leaving England and New England took about three years to go around back and forth. The whaling grounds in the late 1700s and throughout the 1800s were located in the northern Pacific, and Galapagos became a very important port-of-call, where they could collect water and fetch tortoises. Due to the fact that Floreana had an easy-to-reach spring, this island was often visited by whalers who decided it was a good place to set up a barrel where ships bound to the northern Pacific could drop their mail to family hoping that crew members of other ships would pick it up and deliver it upon arrival. Started in 1793, this tradition is kept alive by people like us, the visitors of the Galapagos Islands.
After lunch, I joined the Zodiac tour around Champion Islet, home for the very rare Floreana or Charles Island Mockingbird. We sighted a few of these birds, but also many marine birds, such as Nazca Boobies, Swallow-tailed Gulls, and Red-billed Tropicbirds.
This activity was exclusive for non-snorkelers. Snorkelers, on the other hand, went deep-water snorkelling here, my favourite snorkelling site in the Galapagos. You had crystal clear blue water, dozens of Galapagos Sea Lions swirling around you, and a myriad of colourful fish. I heard great reports about this activity.
Around 4 o’clock we landed at Punta Cormorant. We hopped ashore looking for Galapagos (Greater) Flamingos, a bird species whose population is quite small in the Galapagos (less than 500 individuals), and we were lucky and found several of these lovely pink birds.
The trail took us to a white beach of soft sand, the “Flour Beach”, which is a very important nesting site for the only species of sea turtle that breeds in the Islands –the East Pacific Green Sea Turtle.
Our voyage had been building up. We started off with barren cinder cones, moved on to young lava flows decked with Marine Iguanas and Sally Light-foot Crabs, and now that there had been enough time for soil to develop, more plants and land birds were starting to show up. What will we expect for tomorrow?