Galapagos Islands: Santa Cruz

Playa Las Bachas

A Panga Ride to Paradise – Las Bachas

Waking before the sun rose, we readied ourselves for an early trip to the serene shores of Las Bachas Beach. Breakfast, water bottles, water shoes, a quick brush of the teeth, ponytail, sunscreen, and it was time to go.

With so much lava rock surrounding Santa Cruz, our home-base boat, the Letty, was anchored pretty far from shore. Aproaching from such a distance gave us the most beautiful “big picture” view of this Galapagos island, as you’ll see below.

What’s a Bacha, anyway?

During World War II, the American army abandoned two barges on the shores of the Galapagos. The locals were unable to pronounce the English word “barge” so they came as close as they phoenetically could, calling the washed up afflictions “las bachas.” 

Steel spires from the barge framework rise menacingly through pristine sands. Depending upon the tidal pull, sometimes more of the structure is revealed. And yet, with such rich rusty oranges, black accents, and symetrical alignment, they introduce a kind of mysterious beauty.

A Pointed Landmark from Afar

A cluster of barge spires may not look like a distinguishing feature, but it truly is a conspicuous patch of debris. When you’re far off shore, you get a better perspective on how massive this framwork is. It absolutely makes a mark upon the landscape. Suddenly, naming a beautiful beach after two foreign objects begins to make sense.

A Perfectly Soft Canvas

The light in this place at this moment was wonderfully calming.  In direct contrast with the sharp barge remnants, soft, silvery clouds blanketed the blue sky above, muting the turquois of the deeper seas while adding textured shadows to the landscape. Gentle clear currents lapped at creamy-white sands. Even the Sally Lightfoot crabs against the sharp black rock couldn’t disrupt this cool pastel pallette atop our long-sleeping volcano.

Flipping Off the Flops

We left our shoes at a patch of lava rock and stuck our toes in the sand. It was pretty warm, even in the soft light of morning. The air was beginning to warm and thicken, but it would have been far less pleasant without the cover of clouds. 

Rays of Joy (and Babes of Fear?)

Walking through the surf, several rays swam past our feet. Not log after, we were graced with the presence of a baby white-tipped reef shark. Being that close to any kind of shark without the barrier of a boat or even a wetsuit was pretty exciting, although the word shark does make you want to curl up your toes just a little. 

Fear, a Foreign Concept

This is now our third day in the Galapagos and I am still utterly amazing by the fearlessness of animals who have never known a human threat. We need not move to encounter these animals. They just do thier usual thing whether we are there or not. Sometimes they did so just feet away in the open air with no cover of rock or tree. 

Spotted from the Open Shore

We saw our first blue-footed boobie launching from the water. Pellicans passed us by, effortlessly gliding over the water in search of fish swimming below. And, on an otherwise empty beach, a sleepy sea lion woke and sat up to take in the sun that momentarily slipped past the clouds. He then laid right back down, gave us a wink, and closed his eyes once more. 

A Salty, Saucy Sea Iguana

After napping on the beach, this marine iguana’s belly must have started to rumble. He dragged his tail through the sand down toward some algea covered lava rocks. Having a little morning soak, a rogue wave crashed over his head. 

While it was funny to see, marine iguanas can dive 30 feet and hold their breath for 10 minutes by design. This little bitty wave didn’t bother him one bit.

What’s for Breakfast?

Marine Iguanas dive underwater in search of green and red algea. As they do, they can lose up to 5 degrees of body heat. Being cold blooded, this exhausts them, so they crawl out of the sea to sun themselves and warm up. Then they head back to the water to do it all again.

Oh, and they’re equipped with salt glands that allow them to sneeze it out. If only I had that super power! I’d eat salted pistachios at every meal. 

Lava Dwellers

In the nooks and crannies of the black lava rock, a variety of little beasties were feeding on algea and small fish trapped within tiny tidepools.

A yellow warbler flitted about the drier rock base. A heron gazed at fish below until he was ready to pounce. Sally Lightfoot crabs scavanged along the wet, black rock. A little lava lizard popped up for a hello and lava gull let ou a hearty laugh.

Perched at the highest points were our friends the frigatebirds, keeping watch over their domain.

The Lava Gull

The Lava Gull is one of the rarest gulls in the world. The entire population is endemic to the Galapagos Islands and is estimated at just 400 pairs. Their laughing call is as delightful as their inner orange beak, as though the joy inside just can’t be contained.

Lava Gulls scavange or steal from nests, but will also catch fish, small crustaceans, and newly-hatched lizards, iguanas and turtles. (Watch out, little lava lizard below!)

While the population is stable, the lava gull is listed as vulnerable by the IUCN Red List due to the population’s small numbers small numbers and numerous threats.

 

Heading Inland

There aren’t large flocks of birds here like we saw at Genovesa. Here, the flora rules the day — at least on this side of the island. A solitary weathered prickly pear cactus stands firm in its overlook position. Twiggy trees Palo Santa trees skirt the Island’s lower flanks. The green patch of trees up top are fed by fresh atmosperic water so they have more foliage. 

Santa Cruz hosts the largest human population in the archipelago. With a total of 12,000 residents, many share resources in the close-knit capital of Puerto Ayora on the other side of the island. Small villages also exist near the city, centering around agriculture and cattle.  

Santa Cruz Terrain

Last eruptions of the large, dormant volcano occured  roughly a million and a half years ago. Due to this activity, one distinct island feature includes a gigantic lava tunnel over 2000 meters long. Two twin crators resulting from the collapse of a magma chamber have since become tourist attractions.

While these specific features aren’t visible from Las Bachas, you can see evidence of a different collapse in the upper hillside. A lare red hole gapes open just under one of the green peaks where nothing grows over the hole’s inner rock walls.

A Pop of Pink 

A small, sheltered lagoon rests at the base of the island not far from Las Bachas’ shores. In the distant mangroves lining the lagoon stood a lone pink flamingo. Salty, alkaline, sheltered waters like these are the flamingo’s environment of choice. 

Flamingo Facts

Dragging it’s beak through brackish waters, this beauty was filter-feeding on brine shrimp. Flamingo’s oddly-shaped beaks are uniquely used upside-down and have small inner membranes to spearate mud and silt from their food.

The flamingo’s diet of small crustaceans and water plants is full of substances called carotenoids. Carotenoids are the pigments that turn a flamingo’s feathers pink. The more carotenoids their diet contains, the pinker they become. 

The bird’s feeding process is quite long, given the it’s size. This flamingo feasted for the better part of an hour and was still going when we left.

A Flamingo in Flight 

As a lovely sendoff when we left the lagoon, the flamingo’s yet unseen partner flew directly over our heads. I wasn’t quick enough to snap it up close, but that image will always live on in my memory.

In a dark lagoon, this flamingo dips its beak into the water for food.

Stuck in the Muck 

Marine iguanas slowly lumbered along the lagoon’s edge, just as we did upon departing. Others occasionally swam past. One, fatefully stuck in the mud, wiggled back and forth trying to free himself to no avail.. 

What’ happens when they’re stuck?

Getting trapped like this happens more often that we’d think, according to our guides. And nothing will save the ignaua unless it frees itself. Exhaution and hyporthermia are often culprits of their demise. As a blessing of sorts, hypothermia dulls any deep pain reaction.

Blue-Footed Boobies!

While a single blue-footed boobie flew past upon our arrival, his entire flock put on best the grand finale. Bands of boobies began to hunt near the lava rock. They’d rise into the air in a line, fold their wings, and dive straight under the water, one after another merely seconds apart. It was so much fun to watch them bob back up in a line, too, like bouncing boueys with blue beaks. 

Eat Up, Blue Buttercups!

With suspicions that the Galapagos blue-footed booby population was in decline, a research project completed in April 2014, confirmed the hypothesis and it is feared to be long term. More work is required to gain full understanding, but it is believed that a decline in sardines, an major part of the boobies’ diet, has dessuaded them from breeding.

Watch the Hunt in Action

In this video, shot with my little Canon camcorder, you can see the blue-footed boobies in action. Their coordination is truly poetry in motion. 

Eat Up, Blue Buttercups!

With suspicions that the Galapagos blue-footed booby population was in decline, a research project completed in April 2014, confirmed the hypothesis and it is feared to be long term. More work is required to gain full understanding, but it is believed that a decline in sardines, an major part of the boobies’ diet, has dessuaded them from breeding.

Time to Go

As we tip-toed around a small indentation in the sand, we were told that turtle eggs are tucked safely below. And with that observation, we were also told it was time to go. We had to make the refueling station by 3 nd lunch was waiting for us on the Letty.

Leave No Trace

As we treaded lightly back to the boat, a most gentle wave slid over Las Bachas’ shores, washing any last lingering signs of our presence away. The only evidence that remains now is the imprint in our memories and, thankfully, the pixels locked safely in our camera’s memory cards

Touring Info:

Touring Company: Ecoventura
Boat: The Letty
Our Fabulous Guides: Billy and Ceci
Itinerary: Western Northern Route

Trip Details:

Time of Travel: June 19-26
Duration: 7 Nights
Islands Visited: San Cristobal, Genovesa, Santa Cruz, Fernandina, Isabela & Santiago

Image Info:

My Galapagos images featured on this blog, unfortunately, aren't for sale. This is due to restrictions by the governemnt of Ecuador. 

Be aware. If you travel to the Galapagos Islands and would like to make images to be sold, you must apply and pay for a permit before you arrive in the county.

Don't miss a minute of our Galapagos Islands adventure! 

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