Monday, April 5, 2010

ROADTRIP: Galapagos Island, Rabida edition

by Nicolette L. Cagle (written 15 February 2010)

Overlooking a pock-marked landscape dominated by grim volcanic scoria partially covered with a crust of scrubby verdure and rimmed with a thick band of maroon sand, for a moment I felt like a visitor to the strange, red planet that is now prominent in North Carolina’s evening sky. Instead, I stood firmly on Rabida, a tiny island covering less than two square kilometers that sits in heart the Galapagos archipelago.

Rabida Island, Galapagos, Mar 2004

Scoria with crabs on the shore of Rabida Island, Galapagos, Mar 2004

Hiking to the interior of the scorched island, Opuntia cacti and sparse Palo Santo trees provided meager refuge from the mid-morning sun. Lava lizards with coarse, russet scales seemed to meld into the ground. A small and slender brown snake, a type of West Indian racer with pale yellow stripes running its length, attempted to avoid our gaze. Intimidated by the desolate and parched landscape, we walked back to the Red Beach.

Here, Galapagos sea lions (Zalophus wollebaeki) with the thick tan fur of a plush teddy bear and large entrancing brown eyes, welcome visitors to Rabida with agile antics in the sea and intermittent dog-like barking on the beach. Some of the sea lions eschew welcoming altogether, hardly bothering to lift their heads as they lay napping on the warm, brick-red beach.

Galapagos sea lion swimming (Zalophus wollebaeki) off the shore of Rabida Island, Galapagos, Mar 2004

As my family and I first began to explore the iron-dyed beach, my eyes were drawn to a big, hulking specimen baring the thick neck and prominent forehead-bump that characterize his sex. Male Galapagos sea lions, reaching 7 feet long and weighing up to 800 lbs, are designed to intimidate with shear bulk. After taking a step back, I scanned the rest of the beach. Smaller sea lions were laid out along the 30 meter stretch, and some had pups. Sea lions pups are magnetic. Like puppies and kittens, their big dark eyes, short whiskered muzzle and innocent silliness render them irresistible. I found myself drawn to one of the pups, suckling earnestly from her large, dozing mother. I inched closer and closer, aware that I had been granted a rare privilege, while simultaneously knowing that I was an intruder in this intimate moment between mother and pup. I backed away, caught my husband’s eye and wondered if someday I too would experience the easy tenderness between mother and child.

Galapagos sea lions (Zalophus wollebaeki) on Rabida Island, Galapagos, Mar 2004

Check back soon for more from the Galapagos Islands.

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