Today we're heading ashore to stroll along the beach at Puerto Egas on Santiago Island, the fourth largest in the Galapagos chain. It's a lovely island and quite different from Fernandina, its black sand beach dominated by cliffs striped with layers of red, gold and copper lava. We stroll along a sandy path bordered by red and green vegetation, stopping to observe the sapphire blue eyes and coral pink feet of a Galapagos dove, who sits calmly in front of us.
Down at the shore, we find jet-black rocks covered in vermilion crabs and marine iguanas feasting on green algae. Bright yellow Galapagos canaries dart above our heads and a bull-headed sea lion patriarch patrols his patch, barking gruffly and keeping the jealous eye on the nursing mothers and pups who lie snuggled up in the sand.
I could spend hours just watching the animals and birdlife, but we need to return to the landing beach while there's time for a snorkel. I hesitate briefly before taking the plunge, as the water feels particularly chilly today (bring on those wetsuits!), but as soon as I start swimming I find the decision to get in was one of the best of my life. Just yards from the beach, I watch two gigantic sea turtles grazing and swim right above one of them as he makes his laborious way to another feeding area. The sea is so dense with brown and silver fish that it seems I am swimming through churning mud; then, suddenly, they part and I see a brown pelican plunging like a spear below the waves to capture his prey. And even that's not all.
Suddenly, a young sea lion darts past me and pauses a couple of yards away. He then circles me three times at terrific speed, pauses again, as if to say "Now that's what I call swimming!" -- then dashes off into the distance.
By this stage, my teeth are starting to chatter, but with parrot and angel fish darting in front of my eyes, I'm reluctant to head back to shore. Mild hypothermia seems a small price to pay, for I know that never again, anywhere in the world, will I see anything as fantastic as this.
And we have only one more day on board, for tomorrow we complete our round trip by returning to Santa Cruz.