After two last dives at this unique underwater paradise, we have reluctantly headed southeast, back toward the main island archipelago. We will be under power all afternoon and all night, arriving at Bartolomé, a very tiny island just east of the previously visited Santiago, sometime around daybreak. The dives at Cousins Rock near Bartolomé have become famous for playful sea lions, who love to nip at our fins, blow bubbles in our faces, and perform endless underwater acrobatics. We also find beautiful and delicate seahorses, an absolutely huge pregnant stingray on the sandy bottom, a photogenic turtle who followed the underwater photographers around, and too many other things to remember.

An enraptured audience listens to a sea lion aria at the Galapagosian Opera Company

We then spend an afternoon snorkeling at a little bay on Bartolomé, which offers yet another curiosity unique to the Galapagos Islands - equatorial penguins! They scooted and preened and splashed and zoomed and floated, they have a little bit of sea-lion-playfulness about them. A huge school of inch-long fish came by and the penguins ravenously fed for about ten minutes, just zooming though the school picking off as many little ones as they could. They are similar to the sea lions in that they’re both so woefully slow and awkward on land, but once they’re in the water they’re just like lightning.

Bartolome. Our penguin encounter occurred in the shadow of the tilted peak toward the upper right

We had a little party tonight, to celebrate the end of the trip with the boat crew, but we look forward to an exciting encounter with yet one more unique Galapagos animal.

Puerto Ayora is the largest town in the islands, on the island of Santa Cruz. We have actually hit dry land again and everyone wobbles a bit as we disembark and try to leave our “sea legs” behind - I haven’t had anything on my feet (except fins) in nearly a week! We stop today at Charles Darwin Research Station, where we’ll learn about their conservation programs for Galapagos wildlife, especially the famous giant tortoises. There are a number of these gentle land-giants within the preserve, and then we spend the afternoon a few hours out of town, tracking down a few more in the wild!

After a farewell dinner at a restaurant in town, it’s back to the boat for packing and one last night. I can’t believe how quickly it’s gone!

I cannot conceive of a more energizing, exhilarating week. For anyone with a passion for underwater wildlife, and the topside kind too, it’s just simply sensory overload.