Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Isla Isabela – Mexico's Galapagos

Isla Isabela is a craggy mile long island with a small panguero fishing village in a bay on its south end. The island was made famous for its abundant underwater life and nesting bird colonies in both Jacques Cousteau and National Geographic television specials. On our first morning, we paddled over to visit with Jacob and Julia on Pisces, a Jason 35 sailboat that is quite similar to our Ladybug II. We had met this younger couple a week earlier in La Paz and they were keen to explore the island with us, having not yet been ashore. We joined them and their friends Naomi and John from Campbell River on the beach. In contrast to the usual cruising crowd, Rani and I were the seniors, with everyone else being 41 or under. Both couples have great blogs, Julia and Jacob's is here and Naomi and John's is here.

We chatted with some pangueros, learning that there is a full time fishing community of less than 50 people here. They also told us that regular tourist boats visit from San Blas about 40 or 50 miles away on the mainland. We later found a log book in which cruisers and tourists had signed their names, recognizing several yachts that had preceded us.
Ashore at the panguero village.
The pebbly beach where we landed is lined by colourful fisherman's shanties, painted green with red painted iron roofs. We left our inflatable kayak beside one hut and struck out on a trail that worked its way past a string of composting toilets overlooking a pond. Overhead hundreds of frigrates circled against a deep blue sky. In a forest of short trees that covers about half the island nest thousands of Magnificent Frigates – mainly black with forked tails. The males have red throat pouches they puff out during breeding season, like a heart worn on a sleeve. The females have white throats and the babies start off life as cute and fluffy white cotton balls, quickly developing into less appealing gawky grey adolescents.

Frigate chick and mother.

As we followed the trail toward the north end of the island, we marveled at how close the nests were to the trail and how little our passing appeared to phase the families. We saw both males and females taking turns to guard the nests, each nest containing only one youngster. We passed by a larger pond and then came out of the forest and onto a rocky promontory overlooking the great north rock around which we had sailed last night in the moonlight. Julia shouted back to us that there were whales off the coast. We could see two pairs of humpbacks working their way along the shore, plumes of spray from their breathing making it easy to locate them. As we turned south and walked along the cliffs toward the rock pinnacles known as the Monas, we could see several more spouts in the distance. The sea must indeed be rich here to support such abundant avian and cetacean life.

Naomi, Rani, Julie, and Jacob hiking the cliff trail. The Monas are in the distance.
All along the path we saw yellow and blue footed boobies, some nesting and others courting. They are comical birds, particularly when they walk, and again they showed little fear of us. Most couples were making quite a racket, whistling and clacking at each other We did our best to avoid the nesting birds but managed to take some good videos and still shots. Chris noted that when they look at you face on, the boobies look like anoerexic owls, with their round faces and similar colouration. We also saw several iguanas sunning themselves on the rocks ranging from half a foot to two or more feet long.

Nesting blue footed booby.
Courting boobies.

Another nesting boobie.
We came to a sand beach across form the Monas where there is located the Norwegian Camp. Here, we met a student from Mexico city, who told us that he and other students from universities in Mexico spend from 6 to 10 weeks in this location, camping out, with supplies arriving periodically from the mainland. They study the boobies, tagging them to understand their breeding habits. I'm not sure why it is called Norwegian?

A student explains how he studies the boobie's breeding habits.

Rani walking past a forest of frigate nests.

Daddy and baby frigate.

Frigate family.
Rani with the Monas behind.

Frigates and Monas.

Courting boobies.
We swam in the surf and snorkeled out to the Mona's, but the visibility and life was not a patch on what we were to see later in our own little bay. After a few mis-steps, we found the trail back to the beach and returned to Ladybug. John dropped by before supper and tossed Chris a handful of shrimp from a huge bag that he had bartered a case of beer for with one of the shrimpers anchored in the bay. Chris cleaned them and quickly sauteed them in olive oil and garlic. He has not been a particularly faithful vegetarian of late.

Sunning iguana.

Male frigate with impressive pouch.

Chris faces off with a booby.

The next day, we slept in late, recovering from our lost sleep on the crossing. We woke up in time to see the spouting of whales in the distance. Even though Chris was feeling headachy, we jumped in the kayak and paddled out into the big ocean swells. About ¼ mile off the bay we came upon a pair of whales – one large and one quite a lot smaller (possibly a mother and calf). Chris maneuvered us to get close enough to film and I used Flip to take some movies. At one point we almost kayaked over the tail of the larger whale, which you can see in the video just below the surface of the sea. Being in the kayak sure gets you close to these awe inspiring animals who did not seem to resent our presence so long as we stayed behind them or well off to the side. We will post a video of this in the next blog entry.
Later, despite a big swell rolling into the bay, we managed to go for a snorkel along the nearby reefs, enjoying the warm water and abundant life. Rani saw a sea snake and another cruiser swam over to tell us he had spotted some barracuda off the point. Dozens of parrot fish and schools of surgeon fish swam between the jagged black rocks that had tumbled from the cliffs and all of us were swept back and forth by a strong surge from the swells. We made a cursory attempt to clean some growth off Ladybugs hull and propellor. The prop and shaft were getting quite encrusted after a few weeks in the warm rich water.
We went ashore around supper time and climbed the other trail that winds up a steep hill overlooking the bay to the lighthouse on the south point. The view from the top was stunning – red banded cliffs lining our little bay, the matching roofs of the panguero huts lit up by the lowering sun, and thousands of birds nesting in the rich greenery of the forests. Overhead the frigates whirled and dived, sometimes locked in an embrace with another bird, (presumably courting?). The entire cliff top was lined with booby nests and baby boobies at various stages of maturity. We returned to Ladybug, Chris paddling back to the beach to give the fisherman the last of our butter, so they could cook some shell fish.

Shrimper fleet in the south

Returning to the boats.
At 4 am the next morning we awoke to wind blowing straight into the anchorage from the south east. More about this later...

1 comment:

Donna said...

I've never been in mexico... but some friends told me that it's beautifull. I do know Ecuador, last year I did some Galapagos incentives tours. And it's amazing, like the paradise.. step: MEXICOOOOOOOOO :)