Santa Cruz
San Cristobal
N. Seymour
Galapagos Islands
Santiago (James or San Salvador)

Just across a narrow channel to the west of Bartolome lies Sullivan Bay and the island of Santiago. This landing offers one of the more astounding volcanic sites in the Galapagos. Just over a century ago, the island gave birth to a field of lava called pahoehoe ("rope-like" in Hawaiian), which gleams like a gigantic obsidian sculpture. It is stirring to imagine the once-molten lava lighting up the earth, flowing into the sea and sending plumes of superheated steam skyrocketing into the air. The flow gave birth to new land as it engulfed vegetation, leaving some plants forever etched into the earth. Today the flow stands as a gallery of abstract shapes resembling braids, curtains and swirling fans. Brightly colored "painted locusts" and "lava lizards" punctuate the black volcanic canvas, as does the occasional finger of lava cactus and spreading carpetweed. Looking back across the bay from a source of the flow, a cinder cone of reddish hues, stands a skyscraper-like view of Pinnacle Rock.

On the northwestern side of the island is South James Bay (Puerto Egas), which offers access to three unique sites. One landing is on a black beach with intriguing eroded rock formations inland. A trail crosses the dry interior eastward and rises to the rim of an extinct volcanic crater; cracks within it allow sea water to seep in, which then dries to form salt deposits that have been mined in the past. Darwin describes his visit to South James Bay in Voyage of the Beagle.

Another path leads south, where we see a series of crystal-clear grottos formed of broken lava tubes. These are home to sea lions and tropical fish, and are the only place in the islands where fur seals can be seen. Further to the north, another landing and path lead to a series of inland lagoons, home to flamingos. Birders coming to James Bay can spot vermillion flycatchers, Galapagos hawks and the tool-wielding woodpecker finch. Puerto Egas is a good spot for taking pictures—the light for photography is perfect at either dawn or sunset. The lava and the black sand seem to catch fire and the animals acquire a surreal and lovely quality.

© Photos copyright Nova Fisher 2008