Day Seven: Mysterious Floreana

| January 24, 2011 | 1 Comment
This entry is part 9 of 10 in the series Exploring the Galapagos

December 25: Floreana. Wet landing at Point Cormorant (Floreana). Point Cormorant is home to an olive-crystal beach, a secluded lagoon sometimes inhabited by flamingos and a white-sand beach where sea turtles nest. Afternoon to Post Office Bay. Here, we’ll visit the famous barrel, a do-it-yourself postal service set up by 18th century whalers. Evening to Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz).

After navigating for seven hours overnight, we arrive at Floreana. Due to its relatively flat topography, supply of fresh water, and plants and animals, Floreana was a favourite stop for whalers in the eighteenth century. Floreana, interestingly, has a population today of ~170 permanent residents. There isn’t much to do here if you chose to stay, but the Wittmer family runs a small hotel and restaurant. And the Wiitmers have a very interesting history of their own!


brackish lagoon floreana Day Seven: Mysterious Floreana

The brackish lagoon at Floreana.

In the 1930s, the island of Floreana played host to a great deal intrigue and mystery. A German dentist, his mistress, a young family and a self-styled baroness and her two lovers came to settle on the island. Shortly after her arrival, the eccentric baroness proclaimed herself the island’s ‘empress’ and just as mysteriously as she arrived—she disappeared, leaving a shooting in her wake. Although there’s been a lot of speculation surrounding what happened on Floreana, hard answers have been tough to come by. Both of her lovers would later turn up dead—and nobody would again see the dentist.

Margaret Wittmer has written an interesting firsthand account of her family’s successful attempt to settle the island entitled Floreana: A Woman’s Pilgrimage to the Galapagos. While, at times the entire account borders on unbelievable, Wittmer provides a great deal of intrigue as she writes in a down-to-earth—and often very humorous—fashion about her years on Floreana.

After an earlier-than-usual breakfast, we departed the Millennium for Floreana’s Punta Cormorant. Even from our pangas we could see that this beach—like all else in the Galapagos—would be different than anything else we had yet seen. Cormorant’s beach was green.


punta cormorant Day Seven: Mysterious Floreana

Punta Cormorant.

Consisting of olivine from the volcanic rock that makes up Floreana, the beach’s sand was made up of small, light green, glassy crystals with a sugary texture. We also spot a number of pencil sea urchins on the beach.


pencil urchins punta cormorant Day Seven: Mysterious Floreana

Pencil sea urchins.

A short walk inland and the Punta Cormorant’s trail comes to a brackish lagoon. This lagoon plays host to one of the biggest populations of flamingos in the archipelago. While flamingos are often spotted here, we weren’t fortunate enough to catch them scouring the floor of the lagoon for little shrimp—as they are known to do. We are, however, fortunate enough to catch sight of a number of pintail ducks and stilts and a Great Blue Heron.


floreana trail Day Seven: Mysterious Floreana

Trail passing the brackish lagoon.

The trail crosses a narrow neck of land and comes to a white beach on the eastern side of the island. Ghost crabs inhabit the beach, and rays and turtles can be seen in the sea. Turtle nests dot the beach above the high-tide mark. In the surf, juvenile stingrays frequent the warm shallows close to shore in search of something tasty to eat. They bury themselves in the sand while waiting for a crab or shrimp to appear. As our guide, Mauricio, points out, stepping on a stingray can ruin a perfectly beautiful day at the beach. So he teaches us to coexist peacefully with a little ‘dance’—the stingray shuffle.


stringray bay Day Seven: Mysterious Floreana

Talcum beach—and lots of stingrays!

Without lifting his feet from the sandy bottom, Mauricio shuffles them forward one at a time. He explains that the stingrays feel the vibrations in the sand caused by the shuffling, uncovering themselves and swimming safely away. Of course, they don’t want to be stepped on any more than we want to get stung.

After returning from Punta Cormorant, we snorkel the small crater island of Champion. Off the coast of Floreana, Champion is one of the top snorkeling spots in the Galapagos islands—along with nearby Devil’s Crown. Although landings are not permitted on the island, it provides a fun area for snorkeling. Sea lions rule the area and appear as we entered the water, accompanying us the whole time. Among the coral, we encountered large numbers of sea turtles resting, Pacific sea horses, long nose hawkfish and coral hawkfish.

In the afternoon, we set out for Post Office Bay. Probably one of the most famous sites in Galapagos, the bay is home to a post barrel put into use in the late 18th century by English whaling vessels. The impromptu post office was set up here as this part of Floreana boasted a freshwater spring—and passing ships would take on water and leave off mail as they sailed onward. All visitors are invited to leave a postcard and to pick up any mail from their home. Further inland from the post barrel are the remains of a Norwegian commercial fish drying and canning operation and a lava tube that extends to the sea.


post barrel post office bay Day Seven: Mysterious Floreana

Post Office Bay.

Following a short walk, we returned to the bay to don our snorkeling gear and enjoy our final swim. Along with brown pelicans, we snorkel the bay, framed on both sides by rocky outcrops. Three or four Galapagos penguins swam along with us. Endemic to the Galápagos Islands, these are the only penguins to live north of the equator in the wild where they 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 Floreana!

On entering the bay, Katie dives in right over a Pacific Green Sea Turtle, startling herself more than the staid old fellow, who swam off slowly as she floated above him. Of course, our snorkel concludes all too soon, and we’re taken back to the Millennium for the overnight return to Santa Cruz. While napping, we’re awoken to a few short blasts on the ship’s horn—the captain had spotted a pod of dolphins!

Naturally inquisitive and playful, the dolphins were playing in the wake generated by the Millennium, continuously leaping out of the water and appearing to ‘play’ in the surf. They seemed to be intrigued by the noise, motion and movements—and followed us for a short while. They dove and splashed and were very aware of our presence, eyeing us and carrying on while trying to splash us. Their appearance bookended our last full day in the Galapagos—and a perfect one at that!

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. That being said, 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. Check him out on Google+.

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  1. Tijmen says:

    Do you know where do these 170 residents live off, just tourism and fishing? The Galapagos seems to be a lot more divers then I thought. Did you see any other tourist groups, or just yours?

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