Home > Galápagos Islands > Exploring San Cristobal Island, Galapagos

Exploring San Cristobal Island, Galapagos

San Cristobal is the easternmost of the Galapagos Islands, and, geographically, the closest one to continental Ecuador, 600 miles away.  This is an island rich in human history as it was one of the first to be colonized by early human settlers.  Since decades ago, it has been, and continues to be, the administrative and political capital of the Archipelago, a maritime province of Ecuador.

We disembark from our vessel and instantly marvel at the colorful mosaic of homes at the end of the rather narrow bay…. The sun is spreading its light in all directions over Wreck Bay, the location along which Puerto Baquerizo, the capital city is situated.  Green hills frame the small and picturesque town , sort of crushing it against the coastline. As our small dinghy makes its way towards the pier, there is an amusing surprise waiting for us to see: dozens of young and adult sea lions snooze comfortably on the bows and decks of almost every one of the myriad of small boats which ply the bay…. They have made the boats their homes, as secure and pleasant resting sites, to the displeasure of boat owners and crew members, and much to the fun of tourists and visitors who cannot refrain from smiling at such an unusual sight and delight in photographing the scene.

We land on the town’s cement and rock main pier, bustling with people: tourists, local residents, fishermen, merchants and voyagers departing on the inter-island service boats.  Jose, our guide, leads us through the attractive Waterfront, nicely gardened and supplied with benches to watch the beautiful bay, teeming with small fibers and “pangas”, the local name for small dinghy’s, as well as fishing boats of all sizes and several tourist vessels, equally of varied sizes and types. Across the street, a host of souvenir shops, sidewalk cafés, restaurants and bars (the later only open at night, of course), tell us of a tourism-oriented town.  We will have a chance to stroll the town later. Now we are headed for the highlands of San Cristobal, and, together with Ana Maria,  Javier and Jose, we board a local double-cabin pick-up, especially hired for our trip.

Leaving the village, we go past the Naval installations, where a monument to Charles Darwin honors his memory and reminds locals and visitors the importance of his five week voyage through the Archipelago, in 1835. As we ride the paved and later gravel road, we begin to get, from higher vantage lookout points, more splendid views of the village and the dark blue, boat-filled Wreck Bay, providing superb photo ops….  Passing by some rock and sand quarries, we soon enter the rich and fertile highlands, and we can see the amazing changes in vegetation….. Leaving back the more arid lowland and coastal zones, with their “palo santo” , white-barked trees, scrubs and cacti, we now start seeing a combination of green pastures and farmlands, alongside with natural forests of the native Scalessia trees and moss-covered larger trees, typical of the higher and more humid areas.  We are headed directly to our first stop: El Junco Lake, the only fresh water lake on the entire Archipelago.  We must disembark from our vehicle and walk uphill to reach the lagoon, which actually fills the inside of an almost perfectly circular ancient crater. As we climb up a wooden staircase trail, especially built by the Galapagos National Park, we see our first San Cristobal Island Mockingbirds, an endemic species, exclusive to this island, notoriously distinct in coloration, streaks and bill shape and size, from their cousin species, found on other islands.  They put on their own show of songs, mocking sounds and harassing other birds, mainly Darwin’s finches, while Jose makes his best efforts to explain to us the differences in the beak sizes and shapes as well as color tones of the finches, adapted each one to their respective feeding niches, a perfect example of evolution, a fact which fascinated Darwin on his historic visit to the islands..

We reach the summit of the sloping hill, aided by the man-made stairway, and there unfolds before our eyes, the magnificence of El Junco, a geological mystery in itself, the sole fresh water body on the archipelago, filling a rocky crater.  The sight is impressive, the surrounding vegetation unique and the lake shines with a metallic-blue color under the morning sun…. Darwin’s finches chirp nosily while mockingbirds to their share and us, human visitors, click our cameras.  Above us, an unusual sight, not commonly seen in the rest of the islands, a beautiful white and black osprey (a fish-eating, falcon-type of land bird), hovers over the lake…. A new surprise is still to come…out of nowhere, far from the coastline and the sea, two male frigate birds appear and start making acrobatic sky dives to the lake’s surface.  We learn from Jose that this is a technique used by these sea birds, to cleanse their feathers from the salinity they collect on their sea-bound life. And that is how things go in Galapagos, unique situations, a living laboratory of nature and magic moments for the visitors…. The story will continue next week, with a second part…..

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