Fernandina and Isabela: Two of the youngest islands in the Galapagos

Special to AllThingsCruise.com

Each night before dinner one of our two naturalist guides presents a half-hour slide lecture on what we’ll be seeing and doing on the following day.

So last night, Boli explained that we’ll be visiting two of the “youngest” islands in the archipelago, Fernandina and Isabela.Because the Galapagos are identified geologically as one of the earth’s “hot spots,” centers of acutely hot magma rising from inside the earth and producing intense volcanic activity on the surface, and because the tectonic plates of the earth’s crust drift slowly over such spots, there’s a tendency to produce volcanoes of progressive age as they move gradually away from the center of activity.

The iguanas aren't very handsome

The Nazca plate on which the Galapagos rests, is slowly drifting toward the South American coast. The islands closest to the continent are thus the oldest, and as Fernandina and Isabela are the farthest away from the coast, they are, in Boli`s words, the two “baby islands,” each a mere 300,000 years old.

In fact, Isabela has five active volcanoes and the most recent eruption here was in 2008.

Today, though, all is quiet, and we take our pangas for a dry landing, which means we wear our hiking shoes to walk about a mile over a flat rocky trail to see the endemic flightless cormorants, marine iguanas and the Pahoehoe lava.

After lunch we snorkel with the beautifully colored fish, the sea turtles, and for many of us, swim for the first time ever with the special Galapagos penguins.

The surprise for us is the size of these little guys. They`re subtropical, after all, not like our big North American penguins, and barely a foot high. Just as ungainly on the ground as their northern cousins as they wobble over land, they are speed demons in the water and it`s hard to catch a good glimpse of them when they`re moving under and around us. Boli says these penguins “are monogamous…but they play around.”

Author up close to Galapagos wildlife

Later there are choices between hiking — a more difficult two-mile uphill walk along Darwin`s Lake for a great volcanic view, or a panga ride to see more penguins, blue-footed boobies, pelicans, brown noddy terns, marine iguanas, bottlenose dolphins and possibly a whale.

A third option is to take one of the ship`s two kayaks out for a ride. Our two youngest shipmates, preteens Danielle and Isabella, head out as a twosome but return as a threesome; a brown pelican has decided to join them on the edge of their kayak and rides all the way back to the boat with them.

April 7, 2012

Photos by Timothy Leland



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