Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Iguanas and seabirds

As I stand atop the cliffs of South Plaza Island the Shearwaters are darting in packs along the foaming waves, shifting direction in unison. The red-beaked tropic bird soar past on the updraft from the cliff their extraordinarily elongated tail feathers, like birds of paradise, trailing behind them. Flashes of black and red juxtapose against the purest white of their underbelly as the tuck their wings in to swoop lower into the breeze. To my left a large male sealion is basking on the basalt rock outcrop of the bachelor colony seemingly oblivious to the carcass of another being pick over by the sally light foot crabs. As I cast my gaze over to the other side of the cove I can see the black masked Nazca boobies cheek by jowl with dusk marine iguanas, warming themselves in the sun.

South Plaza is covered in prickly pear cactuses, the older ones visible by the fact tat they have bark covered trunks rather than needles. All of the cacti appear to be in flower, cadmium yellow and the diameter of an espresso cup. Finches flash from one flower to the next feasting on the nectar and inadvertently taking deposits of pollen from one to the next. The brightly coloured land iguanas move slowly from cactus to cactus looking for low hanging flowers to nibble. As we make our way down the path small lava lizards, the size of a pencil stop in their tracks, cock their head back and pump their legs. We stop to allow them to make their way and they oblige with a sharp scurry into the undergrowth.

Over the two hours to lunch we cruise our way around to Santa Fe and find ourselves in small lagoon, sheltered from the oceanic swell that rolls in from the east. This small sandy lagoon plays host to a colony of sealions and an abundant array of tropical fish. After lunch we are dropped off close to the shoreline to make our way around the lagoon. Sarah and I paddle our way around, urgently pointing out dazzling fish as the pass in schools. Yellow tailed surgeon fish, the size of a small dinner plate, congregate in schools of fifty to a hundred. Every now and then we see the hulking body of a mexican hogfish with long tendrils trailing from their dorsal fins. As we cross the lagoon towards the opening to the open ocean we pass over a pair of black turtles lazily paddling their way from vegetation to vegetation grazing. The excitement of seeing the turtles is punctuated by a brown flash passing underneath us and contorting to change direction. This effortless flash is a sealion, toying with us, inspecting us to see whether we are worthy of attention. Food is obviously on its mind as it accelerates through the gap into the open ocean in search of some tasty morsels. As we make our way back to the boat we pass over a couple of ghostly rays fluently beating its wings, kicking up small vortices of sand from the bottom.

Tomorrow we are off to EspaƱola for more of the same. We are being deduced by the abundance of wildlife and the lazy pace of life onboard. Gorging ourselves on a diet of sunshine and wildlife is intoxicating and a real privilege.

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