Day Two: Exploring Chinese Hat and Bartolome

| January 4, 2011 | 2 Comments
This entry is part 4 of 10 in the series Exploring the Galapagos

December 20: Chinese Hat/Bartolome. Wet landing at Chinese Hat. The island is notable for its Galapagos penguins and here you may have a chance to see some mating eagle rays flopping in the water. There’s quite a large sea lion community, as well. Afternoon to Bartolome. Dry landing at Bartolome. One of the most spectacular views of the Archipelago—a must for anyone interested in geology. Penguins are common in the bay area, which is also a perfect place for snorkeling.

In the morning, we visit Chinese Hat—a tiny island just off the southeastern tip of Santiago Island and less than a quarter of 1 sq km in size. It is a fairly recent (in geologic terms) volcanic cone, which accounts for its descriptive name—it has the shape of a down-facing Chinese hat—and the hat shape is best appreciated from the north side. Opposite Chinese Hat, on the rocky shoreline of nearby Santiago, we catch sight of some Galapagos penguins.

Our panga leaves us off on the beach at Chinese Hat. As it’s a wet landing, we go ashore in sandals and spot our first sea lion. A lone female, she’s lounging at the top of the beach, hardly taking notice of us as we gather round for a quick word with Mauricio, our guide. He explains to us the protocol surrounding the inquisitive sea lion pups — don’t touch them but, at the same time, don’t back away as they approach.

galapagos sea lion mother with pup Day Two: Exploring Chinese Hat and Bartolome

Galapagos Sea Lion with pup.

The Galápagos Sea Lion is a species that breeds exclusively on the Galápagos Islands and – in smaller numbers – on Isla de la Plata. Being very social, and one of the most numerous species in the Galápagos archipelago, they are often spotted sunbathing on sandy shores or rock groups or gliding gracefully through the surf. Their loud calls, playful nature and agility in water make them a fixture of the islands. They tend to serve as the ‘welcoming party’ at each of the islands!

We set off down the trail and into some low undergrowth where we happen upon dozens of sea lions and mothers with cubs. Females tend to gather in colonies of ~30—and each colony is dominated by one bull. Although, here he did not make an appearance. Mauricio explained to us that bulls that are not dominating a colony will gather together in a bachelor group.

galapagos sea lion pup Day Two: Exploring Chinese Hat and Bartolome

Yes. This is the cutest thing you've seen today. Maybe this week.

Here and there, amniotic blood paints small swaths of the beach—mating season is generally from July to December, so there is no lack of pups here! Rounding a corner, we spot a Galapagos hawk perched high above the beach on a bluff—a fearsome predator and scavenger with no natural enemies. The Galápagos hawk delights in a number of foods, especially baby iguanas, lizards, small birds, dead goats or sea lions—but will stay steadfast over newly born pups to scavenge sea lion placenta.

It can often be seen flying or perching impatiently near a colony of sea lions nesting area in December, when sea lion pups begin to emerge. According to Mauricio, the hawk is best viewed at Punta Suarez and Gardner Bay (Española), South Plaza, Santa Fé, and Punta Espinosa (Fernandina).


galapagos hawk stands vigil Day Two: Exploring Chinese Hat and Bartolome

A Galapagos Hawk stands vigil.

Exploring further, the beach gives way to black volcanic rocks, among which we discover red crabs. In the Galapagos, crabs have different stunning colors. The young are black or dark brown, colours serving as camouflaging from its predators (like shorebirds such as herons) on the black lava coasts. The common name is ‘Sally Lightfoot Crabs’ but they are also known as ‘Red Rock Crabs’. They are often seen in large numbers on each volcanic Island in Galapagos.

sally lightfoot crab galapagos Day Two: Exploring Chinese Hat and Bartolome

Sally Lightfoot Crab on the rocks at Chinese Hat.

Juxtaposed against the black rock, they are easy to spot as they move or jump from rock to rock. Here, we also catch sight of brown pelicans and the Nazca Booby. After a short hike, we return to the beach on which we just landed to discover a newborn pup and its mother. She’s barking at a Galapagos Hawk, perched just feet away. The hawk is looking hungrily at the sea lion placenta, which is still attached to the pup by its umbilical cord. We’re just feet away, too, watching this very special drama play out.

galapagos hawk sea lion pup Day Two: Exploring Chinese Hat and Bartolome

Just feet away, a Galapagos hawk sizes up a sea lion up.

We return to the pangas in order to suit up for our first snorkel. Planning to explore the rocky outcrop of nearby Santiago. It’s here we spot tuna, flounder, starfish, white-tipped reef sharks and Galapagos penguins.

galapagos penguin santiago Day Two: Exploring Chinese Hat and Bartolome

Galapagos Penguin

Endemic to the Galápagos Islands, the Galapagos penguin is the only penguin that lives north of the equator in the wild where it can survive due to the cool temperatures resulting from the Humboldt Current (cool waters brought up from Antarctica). The Galápagos Penguin occurs primarily on Fernandina Island and the west coast of Isabela Island, but small populations are scattered on other islands in the Galápagos archipelago—including Santiago!

The visibility off of Santiago is incredible—and although it’s been years since Kathryn and I have been snorkeling, it’s a magical experience—and we settle in quickly.

In the afternoon, we head off to Bartolome. With a total land area of just 1.2 km, this island offers some of the most beautiful landscapes in the archipelago.

The island consists of an extinct volcano and a variety of red, orange, green, and glistening black volcanic formations. We landed opposite of Bartolome’s Pinnacle Rock and then proceeded to climb a 600m trail to Bartolome’s 114m high summit. From here we were treated to some truly stunning views of Sullivan Bay, Santiago, Pinnacle Rock and Islas Daphne.

Though a pretty desolate island with mostly dried shrubbery like candelabra cacti and a few lava lizards, what makes this island so special besides Pinnacle Rock is the fact that out here, one can see just how vast its lava fields are! Dotting the landscape are other islands now marooned in the lava fields, their caps reaching upward to the sky.

sullivan bay galapagos Day Two: Exploring Chinese Hat and Bartolome

Sullivan Bay

After descending, we return to the Millenium to suit up for our second snorkel of the day.

bartolome cactus Day Two: Exploring Chinese Hat and Bartolome

From the top of Bartolome

Suiting up at the beach, we’re quickly back in the water, spotting colourful flounder, surgeon fish, white-tip reef sharks and a lone stingray. The snorkeling at Sullivan Bay is incredible—the best yet!

Disclosure: At Two Go Round-The-World, we value the conversation that exists between us and our readers—and the trust on which that relationship is based. Here we’re committed to creating an environment informed by that trust. In the interests of full disclosure, we travelled with Gap Adventures, with whom Daniel works. However, his opinions should not be construed as representing those of his employer. For more information on disclosures and relationships, please check our ‘About Us‘ page.

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For nearly ten years now, Daniel of Two Go Round-The-World has explored how travel captures our imagination and engages our deepest emotions. One half of the duo that maintains the widely read Two Go Round-The-World blog, Daniel treats his subjects not only as works of art but also as symbols of the cultural and political forces that inspire them. His latest book, The Physics of Flocking, gathers his favourite writing featured over the past two years on Two Go Round-The-World in columns like 'Looking Back' and 'The Whole Picture'—along with new reflections.

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  1. Candice says:

    This whole post is unreal! Wow! Love the photos.

  2. Rebecca says:

    The photos are amazing. The pups are too gorgeous!

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