The crossing to Santa Maria was choppy. I woke a few times during the night to find the cabin rolling with the waves. Getting down from the top bunk for a drink was an adventure, and thankfully I wasn't crippled in the process.
We had a 7am start (so much for lay-ins!), but breakfast was plentiful and tasty, so no complaints there.
Our first activity of the day was a 'wet landing' at Santa Maria and to see some of the island wildlife. Mauricio explained how over the years, the sea has been eroding the beach and that's why some of the mangrove trees are on the beach, rather than 20-30 meters inland where they'd usually be found.
An area of the beach had 'ghost crabs' on it. In some locations (other islands) they're transparent, hence the name, but on this beach they were a fetching pink colour. When approached they darted into holes in the sand where they stayed until sure we'd gone. I tried staying very still near one of the holes for a few minutes, but the crab popped out, took one look at me and ran down again.
A short distance from the beach was a lagoon where 5 flamingos were eating krill. The colour of the birds gave away their relative ages: it takes around 2 years of eating krill to get their pink colouring. One of those present was still a grey colour, so was a juvenile.
We continued walking over the dunes until we a beach on the other side of the island. This beach is a breeding ground for turtles, and also the bay where mantas and sharks leave their young.
Unfortunately we didn't see any sharks or turtles, but did spot a couple of small mantas, and a lot of crabs. One surprising visitor was a Portuguese man-o-war. It was tiny, but venomous. You wouldn't want one wrapped around your leg. Reagan got stung by one; he was very manly about it. We had the 'manta walk' explained, where you shuffle your feet in the water rather than taking usual steps; this stops you from treading on a hidden manta, and their painful spikes.
Returning to the first beach to head back to the boat, we saw our first group of sea lions - one small one, and two bigger ones. They are soooo cute. Lots of pictures were taken. Some stupid Americans tried getting too close and were barked at; amusing.
We returned to the boat for our first snorkeling excursion. After being kitted out with fins, goggles and the all important breathing tube, we were loaded onto the dingy and taken towards the rocks to where the most sea life was.
Within ten minutes of going into the water, we were surrounded by sea lions. Sea lions! There were around 20 of them or so, swimming around, coming up to us, flipping away, dancing and playing in the water. As a group we chased them (in a playful way!), twisted in the water so they could follow our bubbles, and loved every moment of it. The pinnacle of the morning was having one swim right up to me, face to face, and blow bubbles at me. It was awesome!
After an hour or so we came back to the boat for lunch, where we had vegetables, potatoes and yellow fin tuna. It was lovely. Tasted like chicken.
We travelled a short way by boat to 'Bahia De Los Correos' aka 'Post Office Bay'. Since 1796, post office bay has been serving as a post office for the islands and around the world but it is unique in that you have no idea when your item will be delivered. Here's how it works: You write a letter/postcard to someone, and put their address on it. You then add that letter to the barrel in the bay. When someone else goes to the bay (another tour boat being the most likely), they'll pick up any postcards which are to be delivered near where they live, and deliver them. Apparently it's quicker doing it this way than via conventional post. Letters put into the barrel average a 1 week delivery time, compared to 2-3 weeks via the traditional postal system. Both Reagan and myself have some letters to deliver.
Before landing we were primed to bring a torch if we wanted to visit a cave which was inhabited for 3 years by an Irishman called Patrick Watkins. Mauricio warned that people have broken their legs getting to this cave as the ground is very slippery, and it's in complete darkness. With a reputation as reckless adventurers, there was no option but to explore!
Six of us started the trip. After going down the stairs, two dropped out. After the first descent two others bottled it and went back to the sunshine, leaving Reagan and yours truly to explore the darkness.
The journey was treacherous; we nearly lost our footing on a couple of occasions, but managed to cling on to our lives. After what seemed like hours, we arrived. My first thought was that it would make an excellent nightclub venue. The roof was high, the acoustics sounded great, and where the sea crept into the back of the cave would make for an awesome natural beer chiller. Pictures were taken and then we started the ascent. I have never been so grateful to see daylight before...
On route back to the beach, as we came over the sand dune, we saw another group of tourists checking out the post office. Quite what they thought of seeing two young guys in sandals and dodgy hats coming from what's a clearly secluded area of the island I don't know :)
We swiftly followed the others into the water for another couple of hours of snorkeling, the highlights of which were swimming with a few turtles and glimpsing an eagle-ray before it swam into the darkness.
Sea turtles are big, but very graceful animals. Pixar got it right in Finding Nemo: they are definitely the surfer dudes of the ocean - very chilled. Swimming within 2 feet of several and watching them eat was a privilege. I regret not purchasing the underwater case for my camera :(.
After coming back to the boat, everyone showered and dozed for an hour or so before dinner. Which was more fish, also yummy. Not long after dinner everyone declared defeat and headed to bed.
Over night we cruised to Espanola.