The animals and marine life of the Galapagos Islands are everything they are supposed to be – UNIQUE and AMAZING! A tour of these islands and their unique ecosystems should convince even the most die-hard doubters among us to become tree hugging environmentalists. Kudos to Ecuador for doing a wonderful, difficult, and expensive job protecting this unique environment for future generations.
We were originally thinking of heading to the Galapagos for our 60th birthdays, but work / life interceded. So we postponed it until our retirement this year and made sure it was the first thing we did, because you can never predict the future.
There are so many options to consider when planning to visit the Galapagos Islands. Did we want to do a cruise around the islands or do shore based excursions from various ports? If we did a cruise, should it be for 3, 5, 7 or 8 days, on a large or small boat? After some research we opted to go for an eight day cruise, arranged by Eva of Enjoying Ecuador Travel – thank you – on the small ship Golondrina which slept 16 in eight cabins in bunk beds on three decks. Our group had a wonderful international mix, consisting of folks from Belgium, Germany, Italy, Argentina and the U.K., all good friends by the end of the trip. Before being converted to carry tourists the Golondrina served as the scientific research vessel Beagle lll. The ship had lines and character that would have enticed Joseph Conrad or Jack London to step aboard.
Wanting to be away from the potential noise and vibration of the engine room, we chose a cabin on the top deck, right behind the pilothouse. The cabin was small and efficient and the location on the third deck perfect for fair weather sailors like us. In choppy or rough seas every pitch or roll was exaggerated; then you wished were as close to the bottom and back of the boat as possible, were the motion wasn’t felt as much. We had been on large cruise ships many times before and never experienced sea-sickness, but on this small vessel we were not as lucky and I was in the top bunk. We paid a premiun for the priveledge to be tossed, rolled and bounced. Fortunately, two young women from Germany shared their motion sickness medicine and it saved the week for us.
As soon as we were all aboard the yacht it was anchors away and we headed to Mosquera Islet and our first wet landing and snorkeling. A wet landing is as you would expect: the ship’s two pangas (small boats) motor you as close to the beach as possible and drop you off into, hopefully, knee deep water to walk ashore. There are also dry landings where the pangas bring you into a dock or more likely stone outcroppings and you jump ashore ,keeping your feet dry. Then there is the less discussed dry landing with really good potential to become very wet. These are situations where the surf might be a little rough and the boat handler has to keep the bow of the panga pinned to the rocks with engine in full throttle until everyone is off. The boat’s guide is always ashore first to help everyone else ashore safely. “Welcome to my world,” Donna says as she helps me into my wetsuit. “It’s just like putting on Spanx!” I was always the last one to get in or out of their wetsuit.
Mosquera Islet was a narrow sliver of brilliant white sand with bull Fur Seals protecting their harems and on one end, and the sun bleached skeletal remains of a small whale as well as hundreds of red Sally Lightfoot crabs scurrying over the rocks on the other end.
That night as we steamed toward Isabela Island we crossed the equator and encountered some large swells as northern currents clashed against southern ones and had us second guessing our choice of an upper cabin. In the morning we awoke to find ourselves at anchor in the calm waters of Urbina Bay.
After breakfast (which daily consisted of eggs, granola with yogurt, fruit, toast, coffee, tea and incredible fresh juices) it was into the pangas to see what was living in the cliffs that lined the bay. Sea Iguanas shared rocks with penguins, while pelicans squabbled with blue-footed boobies over the same cliff outcropping. Our pangas edged into the black mouth of a sea cave where more birds were roosting high up. After an hour we headed back to our mother ship to prepare for snorkeling along the cliff face where it met the sea. I think my eyes popped when a sea turtle gracefully swam by almost close enough for me to touch. The first of many close encounters during that swim and the subsequent days to follow.
Back aboard it was lunch time and a two hour cruise to stop at Isabella Island’s Tagus Cove. The food aboard our boat was amazing considering the small galley space that these tasty and healthy creations emerged from. So our days followed a wonderful schedule of discovery and adventure with one or two activities between meals and then sailing overnight to the next day’s destination. Each island’s environment was unique in the animals it hosted, as was the sea life in the surrounding waters. The sheer joy of seeing so many animals in their natural habit was awe inspiring.
On Santa Cruz Island we visited the Charles Darwin Research Station for a tour of their tortoise breeding program. Tortoise eggs collected from each island are marked accordingly as are the shells of the hatchlings, so that they can be returned to the right island later. The young tortoises are kept sheltered for 5 years or until their shells harden enough to protect them against predators in the wild when they are released. We also visited a private tortoise reserve in the highlands where from a distance we saw hundreds of small boulders. Walking closer to the boulders we realized that they were actually tortoises in their natural environment, slowing munching away as they inched across the verdant green highland.
Many times in our travels in other countries, we have noticed the highwater mark from a flood or storm by the line of plastic bags left hanging from trees and bushes along the tributaries. We never saw this in the Galapagos; there was absolutely no litter on the Islands. Ecuador takes great pride in preserving its natural resources. Please make an effort to reduce your plastic waste as it is severely polluting our oceans and has a terrible impact on all sea life.