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Journals from Galapagos, Ecuador

2010-02-22 Kicker Rock: The Expansion Pack

Hey! So I gave you all the low-down on Cotopaxi last time, and a pretty brief little snippet about our trip to Kicker Rock. That really didn't do it justice, though, so I'm going to provide you with the expanded version. It seems that they like to do trips in threes here, because Kicker Rock was actually only one of our destinations for the day. First, we went to Isla Lobos, a small island just off the coast of San Cristobal where a colony of sea lions lives, hence the name of the island. December is their pupping season, so we got to swim with all of the baby sea lion pups. I'd been in the water barely five minutes when one zoomed right past my face and ducked down into a rock formation - I have no idea where it went. I never saw him surface again - for all I know he followed a tunnel under the island and came out the other side! Everybody swam out past the shelter of the rock bay to try and see some turtles (something I *still* haven't seen yet, though I've tried on multiple occasions. I think I'm the only one in the GAIAS group who hasn't caught sight of at least *one*. D:). The water was so choppy, and it kept trying to push you into the rocks, and even with fins it was difficult to keep your snorkel above water. It was an incredible feeling, though, putting your back to the island and just looking out over unbroken sea, with just the sounds of the waves and the birds in your ears. After Isla Lobos, we climbed back aboard the boat and headed for Kicker Rock. The view as we left the little island behind was beyond description, but I'll try - the water was relatively shallow, and the bottom was made of pure white sand, so the ocean was an intense bright blue color that faded to a turquoise green, and then navy as we motored out. It looked like we'd stumbled into a travel ad for the Caribbean. Having had the delightful experience of sitting down below on our way out to Lobos, I clambered out onto the bow before they got the motor going and got to feel the wind and the spray in my face all the way there. This is probably when I got my worst sunburn yet, but we're going to ignore that little piece of information for now as I didn't have it then and so got to thoroughly enjoy myself. A word to the wise, though: when you come, pack a second suitcase. Fill it with SPF 60. I don't know how much you already know about Kicker Rock, so I hope this isn't too repetitive. It's basically a massive rock formation off the coast of San Cristobal with a large fissure through it. This fissure is what really makes it cool for snorkeling and diving; the shaded interior provides a special habitat for a large number of fish species, and because there are a lot of fish there, there are tons of sharks. No, seriously, I got in the water and it was like SHARKS! Hundreds of them. ranging in size from the length of my forearm to just shorter than my body, and all different types - even hammerheads. It was also really cool because they paid absolutely no attention to us. They just swam around below, and we swam around above, and occasionally we'd dive down to get a closer look and they totally didn't care. We were like furniture to them. If you're lucky when you go out, like we were, you'll also get to see some of the Galapagos fur seals (actually a breed of sea lion) and a couple big rays, which are some of the most graceful looking fish in the ocean, in my humble opinion. After snorkeling at Kicker Rock, we cut over to a little island to have lunch on the boat and play on what amounted to our own private beach. It was a gorgeous end to the day. The sun was low in the sky and cast bright orange streaks across the water. We screwed around trying to get back into the boat by climbing up the anchor chain and some of the guys started pantsing each other in the water. I feel like I'm in the high school I never attended. We do a lot in classes, but every day when we leave it's like an instant return to summer vacation. On our way back to San Cristobal, we actually saw a frigate bird kleptoparasitize a brown pelican - they basically steal food from other birds' mouths while the other bird is trying to fly away. It was really cool to watch, but I think I was the only one rooting for the pelican. Everyone else is shouting "Yeah, get it, just pull a little harder!" and I'm standing up on the prow screaming "I hope you choke you thieving jerk!" I mean, that pelican probably had to expend a lot of energy to get that fish, and now he's gotta turn back around and do it again. Why am I the only person that was rooting for the pelican? We also saw an albatross, which I'm told should just never happen around San Cristobal - they don't have any breeding sites on that island, and it *really* shouldn't happen this time of year. They're supposed to be off the coast of Peru right now. So that was weird. I blame climate change. Anyway, after that, my burn had really started to show so I kind of hunkered down at the prow of the boat all wrapped up in my towel and then just walked straight home once we docked. The weekend pretty much consisted of sleeping and aloe application after that. Luckily, the sunburn was gone by the middle of the next week, as Tuesday afternoon rolled around and Carlos, our professor, suddenly told us that we were going to Puerto Chino and the Galapaguera bright and early Wednesday morning. The trip totally screwed up the entire schedule for the class, but it was great. Puerto Chino beach is on the other side of the island, and it normally takes $40 to $50 to get there by cab, so the trip saved me an $80 day. It's got some of the best waves and there are almost no lava rocks at the entrance to the water, so it's a pretty popular weekend destination. It was fun getting to play in real waves for a change, since Playa Mann is pretty flat. That makes it fun for snorkeling, of course, but there's always something a little sad about a beach without waves. Anyway, we played at Puerto Chino for a little bit. The guys in the group had a pathetic little boogie board they were trying to ride, but it was totally made out of styrofoam so it actually snapped in half after about fifteen minutes, after which I'm guessing it was a little more difficult to use. After hanging at Puerto Chino, we headed out to the Galapaguera - the captive breeding park for Galapagos Giant Tortoises on San Cristobal. It was so cool - captive breeding center makes it sound like some kind of awful zoo, but there are no enclosures, just a low rock wall that borders the whole area of the park, so the tortoises don't wander into town or something. I got to see so many tortoises! The batteries on my camera gave out after the first one, of course, so I'm going to have to steal people's pictures, but it's not a big deal. We came across a big group of them chilling around a sort of mud-wallow and the guides started talking to us about their mating habits. I guess these guys can really get some speed when they want to. Basically, male sees female, male chases down female, male mates with female, female lays eggs. UNLESS two males have spotted the same female, at which point they'll start pushing each other around and one might end up getting stuck on his back. I, personally, found this really interesting because all the tortoise species have differently shaped shells, and I started asking the guides and my professor if there were any evolutionary advantages to a particular shape of shell when it comes to being able to right yourself after you've been inverted. Oddly enough, no one has done any research into this. I see a grant in my future. I can be the tortoise-flipping expert of modern field biologists. My professor found this idea *very* funny and took it upon himself to remind me that the Galapagos park authorities will probably not take kindly to the idea of me running around and flipping tortoises on their backs just to see if they're able to get back on all four feet again, and that I'll have to wait for naturally-occurring instances in which to collect my data. My response to this was "boo-hoo, I'll have to stay on the Galapagos Islands for 20 years. Poor me." So, since then I haven't been up to too much. I took point last weekend on organizing scuba classes for a group of 10 of us that wanted to get certified, as it was becoming quickly apparent that no one else was going to do it. It turned out being really good, though; once we were done with our confined-water (read: pool) dives, we got a bunch of open-water (read: ocean) dives at different locations around the Galapagos, including a deep dive and a wreck dive. Normally you don't dive a wreck until after you've gotten your open water, and I'm not sure how legit that whole deal was, but I'm not going to look into it too closely because I got to dive a WRECK. Say it with me: "sunken ship." That dive was pretty extreme; we descended along a line through clear waters until we could see the bottom below, and at first I though we were still going to have to swim out to the ship, but then I realized that the bottom I was hovering over was actually one of the lower decks, covered in sand and sea anemones. Shapes had a way of creeping out at you like that. You'd be swimming alongside a rock formation, turn the corner, the current would catapult you out past the other side, and you'd suddenly realize that the great hulking cliff you've been working your way along was actually the side of the ship, curving towards the bow. I could be completely content if I never dove anything but wrecks ever again for the rest of my life. I'm also going to start surfing with a friend out here. The spring is the rainy season here, but it's also the surf season, so we're trying to find a way to go out most days. Surf boards are possible to come by here, if you don't mind searching around for a bit and haggling with the locals. And it's not too hard a purchase when you consider that you can always sell it back to a new Gringo, a surf shop, or a local again at the end of the season. The school's only a ten-minute walk (if that) out to Punto Corola, where there's decent surf, though a lot of rocks. If you're a beginner, make sure your board comes with a leash. If you're not a beginner, I don't have to tell you why that's necessary. I think that's it for now. Catch you all after my next big adventure!

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