Our last island in the Galapagos

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Sunset over Isla Floreana

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.

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The moon rising early over the Palo Santo trees and brush

 

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.

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Fickle flamingos favor feeding far from us

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.

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A ray swims off after a particularly rough wave

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.

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A sally lightfoot crab; alright, they do have brighter colors than the Californai variety
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Sand-snowed anomenes wait for relief as the tied comes in.

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.

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Extinct volcanic vents and fumaroles at sunset

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.

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Bidding farewell to the Galapagos

Be the Galapagos Postman

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A sea lion barks out good mornings
After four days on the cruise, we’ve grown used to the routine of waking, eating breakfast, and then hopping onto a boat bound for our next activity. The beach today at Post Office Bay is whiteboard and unassuming, resembling many other beaches in the Galapagos. Likewise, there isn’t much new flora and fauna here; marine iguanas lounge on the rocky seashore, while sea lions frolick in the surf and waddle about on land. After a brief walk, we’re greeted by an unassuming barrel perches on a pole in a small clearing. “Welcome to the first post office in the Galapagos,” says our guide.
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Sea lions on the beach, and yes, I did forget to take a picture of the actual post office barrel
Back before there was any kind of official government support on the Galapagos, homesick whalers and voyaging vessels (who were mostly British) set up a barrel here in the Galapagos where they could drop their mail. Homebound vessels would then stop by and pick up all of the accumulated mail, and individual captains and sailors would deliver it by hand once they arrived back in England. There were no postage fees, and delivery relied entirely on the kindness of strangers. The practice was so beloved that even today, the mail barrel still sits in Post Office Bay, now collecting the post cards of tourists and travelers who visit the island. And now it’s the tourists and travelers who deliver them. Post Office Bay makes you the guardian of mail bound all around the world.
Grinning, our guide begins pulling stacks of postcards out of the barrel, handing them to us and asking us to read the destination off of each postcard. We begin shouting off locations: “OSLO, NORWAY??” “Anyone going to MINNESOTA?” “How about WASHINGTON, D.C.?” “PERTH, AUSTRALIA or TAIPEI, TAIWAN?” There’s a postcard going to Auckland, New Zealand, so we grab that one to deliver when we arrive in January. There are also postcards that aren’t going anywhere: messages to lost lovers, deceased friends, and future children abound in the collection. Many messages say “This was for you,” or “Finally made it,” or “Hope you come here, one day.” So the Post Office barrel doesn’t just serve as a mailbox, but as a point of catharsis and conclusion for a lot of people. It’s a way to leave something here in the Galapagos, to say sorry, to give thanks, to express hope, on what is the trip of a lifetime for many.
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A postcard to the future
We also have a chance to leave our own postcards; because everything about this cruise is absolutely perfect, the guides have brought postcards and pens for everyone. I scrawl out a quick note to my lab at Yale, though I’m unsure any visitor would even be able to make it past the security gate with this story. “Who would you like to see here on West Campus?” “The Isaacs Lab. I’m here to deliver a postcard, from the Galapagos.” But who knows? Buoyed on the kindness of strangers, maybe it will get there.
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Today’s sky