Day five of our cruise is drawing to a close, after visiting Post Office Bay on Isla Floreana and snorkeling away the better part of the day. It’s time for our last excursion onto land, this time at Punta Cormorant in search of the American Flamingo. It’s already around 3 pm when we arrive on the shore, removing our shoes for a quick water landing and wading the last few feet to the beach. A trail leads us from this beach inland, past the now familiar Palo Santo trees and dry brush. We walk though the volcanic hills, home to the now familiar lava lizards, finches, mockingbirds, and land iguanas. Then it winds down to the edge of a long, flat marsh, where the flamingos live.
The viewing area is fenced off from the rest of the marsh, and today the flamingos have decided to graze all the way on the other side of the marsh, half a mile away. They’re nothing but pink dots on the horizon, and even with my camera’s zoom I can’t see much detail. Someone in our group was smart and brought birding binoculars, so we pass them around. Using these I can make out the birds, standing on one leg, gracefully dipping their heads along the water’s surface to feed. I try to take a picture with the camera pressed to the binocular lens, but no luck. Sometimes this happens; in the Galapagos and elsewhere, nature does what she pleases and not what we want. But that’s part of the thrill.
After squinting at the flamingos for several minutes, the guide leads us on a continuation of the trail in a pass between the hills. We emerge into a sandy white bay, the kind that we’ve seen all over the Galapagos. Our guide asks us to walk only on the shore, and not on the dry sand or in the surf. The former is a routine request, because sea turtles nest on these beaches and a single misstep could crush a whole nest. But the latter request to stay out of the water is new. Our guide leads us to the water’s edge to show us why: stingrays and skates, dozens of them, cling to the sand under the pounding surf. Occasionally a rough wave will dislodge one, sending it swimming off in search of a calmer part of the beach.
We’re turned loose to explore the beach, and Stoytcho makes a game of burying his feet in the loose wet quicksand at the water’s edge. Then the two of us walk over to the tidepools, where we meet with Sally Lightfoot crabs, anemones, and a sea cucumber. We’ve spent so much time snorkeling and chasing the rare megafauna of the Galapagos that we haven’t had a chance to explore life on the rocky shoreline. Between the animal life and the algae on the rocks, it reminds me of California and many other Pacific Coast beaches.
Finally, it’s time to head back to the cruise ship one last time. Our guide calls to us, and we straggle back along the trail to our boat, stopping often to take pictures of the scenery and the sky. The sun is low now, a brilliantly blazing ball of orange in the sky, overshadowing everything else. In the distance, we can make out old fumaroles and volcanic vents, once molten hot and orange of their own accord, now still and dark against the horizon.
Our feet meet the soft sand of the beach one last time, and just before we board the boat, someone asks if Stoytcho and I want a photo together. So with lifevests donned and and bare feet, we pose for our photo.