So we woke up at the lovely hour of 5:30 a.m. for a hike on Sombrero Chino or Chinese Hat, aptly named because the extinct volcano made the island look like a Chinese Hat. Sombrero Chino and its neighbor Santiago Island are separated by a narrow channel and we were going to spend most of the morning in the channel. Now I could see how it looked like a Chinese Hat, but Lexi was not convinced, and it became Harry’s mission to convince Lexi that it did indeed look like a Chinese Hat. However, by the end of the day, I believe Lexi remained unconvinced.
Anyway, we were in the Zodiacs by just after 6:00 a.m. and much to the delight of everyone, we spotted penguins swimming in the water and hanging out on the rocky cliffs of Santiago Island as we made our way up the channel and to our landing spot on Sombrero Chino. Harry had told us to expect penguins later in the day and “maybe” this morning, but Harry is very cautious in his promises so he had really played it down the morning possibility. As a result, everyone was super excited to see penguins for the first time on this trip. (Remember that I had seen them multiple times on the northern tour, but this was the first on the southern tour.). After watching the penguins for a bit, we did a wet landing on Sombrero Chino, dried our feet, pulled on our hiking boots and were off just as the sun began rise over the “hat”.
As we began the walk, we spotted a family of sea lions with two nursing females and one very large alpha male. While we stood and watched the baby sea lions, a young male sea lion tried to enter the beach area only to be chased off by the alpha male. And when I say chased off, I mean that the alpha male turned, barked at the young male and chased it across the channel. None of us could believe how fast the alpha male moved.
After the little show, we continued on our hike walking over crushed coral and lava stones here and there and past red carpetweed plants. It was a pretty flat walk, but the hike took us all the way to the far point of the island where it was far more rocky and where we spotted iguanas hanging out on the cliffs. And these iguanas were much, much smaller than the iguanas we had been seeing on other islands, but they were no less interesting. We saw the male iguanas trying to protect their territory by nodding their heads up and down to ward off any interloapers.
Having reached the end of land, we doubled back to our starting point and were back on the ship by 7:30 for breakfast. After breakfast, most of the folks went snorkeling, but I opted to stay in the boat with Arnie and see what we could spot from the zodiac.
The channel was teeming with fish, which we could very clearly see in the crystal clear waters. At one point we even saw a white tipped shark moving very slowly towards us and then under the zodiac. (Unfortunately, I wasn’t fast enough with my camera.). We also spotted a heron fishing for breakfast along the shore as well as three penguins hanging out on the rocks. We eventually picked up some of the snorkelers and headed back to the boat for a short rest.
Next up was something Harry called “power kayaking”. Fortunately, I did not hear Harry say this otherwise I may have been dissuaded to kayak. Anyway, once we were all in our kayaks, with Manal on the paddle board, we set out along the Santiago Island shoreline towards the end of the channel. I soon learned that Harry’s version of power kayaking was paddling along the Santiago Island shoreline, out of the channel and into open waters where it was a tad rough. Harry was in our escort zodiac boat and yelled at us that we were going to paddle to a massive rock formation In front of us (also known as the Bainbridge islands) where the Samba would meet us. Fortunately, we were paddling with the current, so it wasn’t nearly as tiring as it could have been. However, it didn’t help that the sun was beating down on us making it even that much harder in the hot sun.
As we moved through the waters, I kept trying to see what was below me. Unfortunately, the waters were pretty deep, so it was tough to see the fish below, but we had a number of birds dive bombing for fish all around us so we knew that there was plenty of fish in the waters below.
At some point, Erica and I left the others behind, and I wasn’t even sure if they were still paddling. Periodically, Harry would call out to me that if I was tired I could ride in the zodiac. Is he freakin’ kidding me? Clearly Harry did not know me well. Anyone who knows me well would have realized there wasn’t a shot in hell I was going to get in that zodiac. I was going to finish this kayak trip on my own or die trying.
As we approached the rock, I heard the Samba chugging along behind me. It eventually passed and anchored on the left side of one of the Bainbridge islands.
In the mean time, Erica and I kept paddling towards a tiny cove on the island thinking it would be nice calm waters. Uh nope. There was some sort of wind tunnel effect going on with the little circular cove creating some tough conditions for paddling. At this point we were told to paddle back towards the Samba, which I gladly did. My arms were like jello. Harry figured we paddled two miles. Yikes!
So once back on the Samba, we watched the others come into view as they paddled around the bend of one of the Bainbridge islands. And, amazing as it was, Manal was still upright on the paddle board. Good grief. I have no idea how she made it through those rough waters. Superstar!
Once everyone was on board, we picked up anchor and moved to Bartolome Island where we were going to do a little snorkeling off the beach and then hike up 370 steps to a lookout point with expansive views across the islands.
I decided I was going to just hang out on the beach with the sea lions and watch the others snorkel. So once on the golden sands, I found a shady area under a rock, laid back and relaxed. It was lovely.
Eventually it was time to head back to the boat to get ready for our “power climb”. We all donned hiking shoes and climbed back in the zodiacs for the ride to the stairs that would take us to the giant staircase we were going to climb. On the way, we made a little detour to check out the penguins that hung out around the rocks at the tip of the island. And as our zodiac, driven by Arnie, headed towards the point, four little penguins popped up out of the water and began to swim along with our zodiac. The little guys were hysterical as they dove and popped up along the side of the zodiac.
When we reached the point, the other zodiac had already arrived and the folks had spotted three other penguins on a rocky outcrop. And as we approached, the penguins lined up and dove into the water. It was quite the show.
So after our entertainment interlude, Arnie reversed course and drove to the staircase. We ended up spotting more penguins along the way and also stopped to take pictures in front of the iconic Pinnacle Rock. However, our time of reckoning was upon us and we eventually reached the staircase.
But as luck would have it, a large sea lion was blocking the staircase. Now Harry apparently had a rough encounter with a sea lion on Espanola (the day I was “enjoying” my away time in San Cristobol). A young juvenile sea lion was blocking a path and try as he might, Harry could not move the sea lion who kept charging at Harry. Lexi got a great video of the encounter (see below), which allowed everyone to continue to remind Harry about the encounter. So everyone was expecting a repeat performance and this sea lion did not disappoint. As Harry tried to move the sea lion out of the way, the sea lion kept coming at Harry. Eventually, Jairon joined in and between Harry and Jairon, they finally managed to move the sea lion out of our path.
And once the sea lion was gone, we exited the zodiacs and began our massive climb. The initial part of the climb was a series of pathways with a slight incline, but eventually we met the steps and up we went. Now fortunately there were little lookout breaks on the way to the top, and Harry was very good about letting us take periodic breaks. And as we climbed higher, we got a really good look at the island, and with is reddish coloured rocks, gave off a Mars vibe. It was quite a sight.
Eventually, we reached the last staircase, which was straight up. Now Lexie, Paris and Erica decided it would be fun to run to the top of the stairs. Meanwhile the rest of us were exhausted and just happy to be able to crawl up the last staircase to the top. I was exhausted, but the views were stupendous. We could see all the way to Sombrero Chino, which Lexi still refused to believe looked like a Chinese Hat much to the consternation of Harry. No matter what it looked like, it was absolutely gorgeous scenery and well worth the hike.
After 15 minutes or so at the top, we made our way back down, and oh boy was the climb down rough on the knees. The zodiacs met us at the bottom and we were back on the ship just as the sun was setting. It had been a very long “power” activity kind of day!