5: The Booby Dance… – Diary of a Single Girl – Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

5: The Booby Dance…

…was fun to watch. It was even funnier when hearing Ruly repeatedly saying “booooby” in his heavily accented English.

I know it’s sophomoric, but after a while we couldn’t help but giggle every time he said boooby. The blue-footed booby birds were in breeding season and to attract a mate, the male does a dance where he rocks side-to-side while lifting his blue feet high because really blue feet are a major turn on for female boobies. After a female approves of her potential mate, parents share the incubation, sitting on the eggs with their feet, which are actually the warmest part of the bird’s bodies. It does you well as a booby to be the first to hatch, as the boobies practice sibling-icide. The first hatchling will eventually push his siblings out of the nest, and displaced booby babies are left to die (puts sibling rivalry into a new perspective).

Another bird with a noteworthy mating ritual is the frigate. This male has a red pouch on its chest, that it puffs up to attract the females as she flies overhead. We watched dozens of mail frigates, perched on the tops of scrubby trees, puffed up like overfilled red balloons trilling as a lone female circled overhead, checking out the action. Ruly said he’s seen birds sitting for weeks, hoping for the opportunity to pass on their genes. It’s not a classic case of bigger is better – it’s mostly about the color. The birds position themselves to best show off their rich red malehood.

As we watched these frigates and boobies puff and dance their little bird brains out, I wondered how in hell the animal kingdom did a turnabout for humans. Here we girls are with our mascara, eyeshadow and push-up bras… I asked Ruly, and his answer was males still do the “dance,” only with cars and nice homes. Hmmm., seems that same misconception crosses international borders. One more time guys: women WORTH attracting AREN’T judging you by your car or bank account. Note the word “WORTH” here!

Besides boobies and frigates, we saw hummingbirds (over 130 varieties in Ecuador), marine iguanas, land iguanas, red iguanas, yellow iguanas, big iguanas, little iguanas (said Sam as he ate green eggs and ham). There were crabs the color of a tasty entree at Shaws (have had a crab leg craving ever since), and we saw the famous Galapagos tortoises. At the world-renown Charles Darwin Center, they are trying to repopulate the tortoises from the 14 that were found about 60 years ago. It’s estimated that hundreds of thousands were slaughtered for food when pirates and Spaniards used the Galapagos as a base. They theorize that the turtles can live up to 400 years! They’ve got a long way to go to prove that theory…

We visited about 8 islands, and the amazing thing is the diversity of the terrain. While a few hours apart, you may as well have travelled continents. One island was a cactus forest, another a bit lush and yet another looked like Mars.

But for me, the highlight of the trip was snorkelling. I did try diving, despite warnings it was not a place for a novice to dive. But that Greek stubbornness was determined.

I failed miserably.

First time in, I completed a backwards roll off the dinghy, came up to give the okay sign, and was knocked in the back of the head by a wave that removed my mask. As I grabbed at it, I was hit from the front by another wave, inhaled seawater and panicked (those of you who know my history with the ocean will understand why).

The second time I tried, I made it down about 10 feet, couldn’t clear and then the mask filled up. After clearing it twice, the third time my contact fell out and I was done. I took it as a sign that I was not meant to dive the Galapagos. I missed out on schools of hammerheads, and white- and black-tip sharks, as well as a manta ray the size of two Ford Explorers.

But snorkelling soon made me forget my diving disaster. I saw tons of varieties of fish, my first eagle ray, sea turtles, penguins shooting around like little well-dressed torpedoes, and the ‘piece de resistance’ – sea lions.

The sea lions have no fear of man, and they swim right up to you to check you out. At one spot, they were barking to each other “Hey, the funny-looking things with the big eyes and tubes in their mouths are back!” More and more kept getting in the water to play until we were surrounded by about 8 or so.

One day three sea lions were playing ‘get the stick’, snatching it from each other. At one point, I got up the nerve to dive below the surface and do twirls. When I stopped, one of the threesome paused his play, looked at me and mimicked my motions. It was a very cool moment in time. I also apparently needed a good grooming that day, as I had to keep brushing off little guppy-like fish that apparently found Greek food appealing.

Sea lions were just about everywhere we went, and we had to keep making them move out of the way when we docked. They would bark and call in protest; the call was similar to a gagging sound – like the one someone would make just before sharing dinner with the fishes.

Unfortunately we also had to experience the full reality of nature – coming across both a sea lion that had just been savagely bitten by a shark, and an abandoned pup that was obviously starving to death. The red raw flesh and fat of the seal lion’s lower right side had had at least four inches deep of flesh chomped away. It was painful just to look at. And the mournful eyes and pitiful cries of the pup were heart-wrenching. Unfortunately, the rule of the islands is no interference, and the pup was doomed to die within days.

Ruly did bend the rules one day though, when we encountered a pup with plastic twine around it’s throat . He and Darren wrestled it into submission and cut off the twine. A gruelling and dangerous thing to do, as sea lions bend like Gumby and have a razor-sharp bite. Luckily Ruly and Darren just got dirty and fishy-smelling, and the little pup bounced off in search of his mom, able to take a full breath once again. And so life goes on in the Galapagos…

What I lost this week: my nerve.