The Galapagos - A Destination Like No Other
by David Selcon on Dec 12, 2008
A visit to the Galapagos -“The Enchanted Isles”- is truly an exceptional, one of a kind experience. It is an area of the world that we have all heard of and learned about since we were children. The mere mentioning of the word “Galapagos” conjures up thoughts of Charles Darwin, evolutionary theory, scientific exploration, discovery and adventure, pirates, whalers, active volcanoes and deserted islands; not to mention, a variety of strange and exotic animals found no where else on earth, such as giant tortoises weighing over 600 pounds, red and green iguanas that swim underwater, “flightless” birds that hop around on the ground rather than fly, and penguins that prefer the warmth of the sunshine near the equator, as opposed to the frigid temperatures of the Poles. Together, these elements combine to reward adventurous travelers to the Galapagos with an unforgettable, aesthetically beautiful and intellectually stimulating experience.
To my great delight, I had the privilege of traveling to this special destination on an AdventureSmith Explorations 11 day Galapagos cruise package aboard the Eric, Letty & Flamingo. I cruised along with 16 other curious, likeminded travelers from different parts of the world, and I had the time of my life!!
Our trip began with two nights in Quito preceding my 8 day Galapagos cruise. I appreciated the two night stay in Quito for a couple of different reasons: primarily because, anyway you look at it, a trip to Quito requires a pretty significant journey for most arriving guests. Having arrived in Quito late at night, it was reassuring to know that I would be greeted by an AdventureSmith Explorations representative and then transfer to a comfortable hotel for a restful night’s sleep. Staying a second night in Quito enabled me to actually explore this vibrant city and partake in a walking tour through its colorful cultural and historic center – a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site. The walking tour, and the free time afterwards, provided me with the opportunity to immerse myself a bit in the Ecuadorian culture and enjoy the sights, sounds, tastes, smells, colors, and all the other differences that make traveling to a foreign so interesting. In the evening, I took advantage of my free time and sampled some Ecuadorian cuisine at a local restaurant nearby. Afterwards, I returned to my hotel to prepare myself for my early morning departure to the Galapagos the next day.
Immediately upon our arrival to San Cristobal Island, Galapagos, I knew I was in a special place. Ill never forget the moment when we transferred by bus from the airport to the port town of Baquerizo Moreno to board our vessel. As the bus opened its doors to let us out, we were greeted on the sidewalk by a very friendly host – a Galapagos Sea Lion! I was shocked by this animal’s fearlessness, friendliness and by the fact that this wild creature kept advancing towards us, on the sidewalk in the town, a fair distance away from its natural refuge of the sea. We all reached for our cameras and started snapping as many close-up photos as we could, taking advantage of his fearless and friendly nature. After a few minutes, I paused and looked over at our patient Ecuadorian guide Paul who, I noticed, was trying to suppress and conceal a proud smile. “Come on guys, please come along” Paul said. “There will be plenty more opportunities to photograph wildlife in the days to come. Let’s continue to the vessel.” Reluctant to walk away from the sea lion and terminate our photographing, we all followed Paul’s lead, walked to the end of the pier to board our panga, and then ferried out to our vessel to begin the cruise.
The entire voyage aboard the Eric, Letty & Flamingo was everything that the brochures promise, and more. It was excellent! Our trip consisted of active, informative days, peaceful relaxing nights, and delicious meals, all enhanced by the contented camaraderie of a small, friendly group of likeminded travelers. Our daily program normally included 2 (or sometimes 3) excursions away from the vessel each day. These excursions featured both terrestrial and aquatic exploration and included: naturalist guided walks on the islands to view the landscape, search for wildlife, and learn about the geology, natural history, and human history of the area; exploration by smaller water crafts, locally called pangas, used to explore shallow bays, narrow inlets and rocky cliffs where wildlife would often hide; and snorkeling and swimming activities which revealed to us the natural treasures of the underwater world.
These excursions were enjoyed immensely by all and provided us with the opportunity to interact with the environment we were traveling through, rather than merely cruising on by in a passive manner. As a result, I feel that each one of us developed a more personal “connection” with the islands and, consequently, a deeper appreciation for them as well.
On all of these excursions our skilled naturalist guide, Paul, was there to provide an informational backdrop that enabled us to further understand and appreciate what we were viewing. Our group benefited greatly from our guide’s expertise in biology, geology, and knowledge of the human and natural history of the area. This educational component was a very important aspect of the trip and it served to bring the islands to life.
Although there were many things I enjoyed about the trip, the most impressive aspect of my Galapagos experience was, without a doubt, the opportunity for up-close encounters with the wildlife found there.
In my career working as an outdoor wilderness guide, I have had the privilege of visiting many of the “premier” wildlife viewing areas of the world: wildlife reserves in Alaska; national parks throughout Costa Rica; wildlife sanctuaries throughout South East Asia; and several marine reserves in the Caribbean. All of these areas are brilliant in their own right, but in terms of up-close encounters with wildlife, the Galapagos is unsurpassed.
Never before have I been to a place where wildlife is so accessible and unafraid of humans. Actually it was quite a bizarre and unfamiliar feeling to be surrounded by so many friendly, fearless and curious animals. It was different than anything I had ever been exposed to before. The experience can best be described as walking through a zoo without fences or cages, inhabited by host of friendly, curious creatures that were equally as interested in me as I was of them. As our lead guide Paul explained to us, the reason for the animal’s relative fearlessness of humans was due to the fact that, in evolutionary time, human beings have had such a short presence on the islands that the animals have not yet evolved to develop an instinctual fear of them.
Some of my most memorable up-close encounters with wildlife during my voyage through the Galapagos Islands include: walking very slowly through the Highlands along side 600 pound giant tortoises; observing Red, Blue and Green Footed Boobies nesting with their young along the trails or in the Santo Palo trees nearby; watching the rare and curious mating ritual of the Frigate Birds as they inflated their red sacs in an attempt to attract a mate; witnessing a Galapagos Hawk as it dived from the sky to hunt a Marine Iguana hiding in a volcanic crevice; snorkeling with white tipped sharks and a Manta Rays as big as our panga; holding my breath underwater as Galapagos penguins playfully dived from their perches in the cliffs into the sea one by one; peacefully snorkeling just feet above a group of nearly 13 tranquil sea turtles; coming within an arms length of a massive Minke whale; and, most impressive and personal to me, swimming with a group of friendly sea lions who playfully engaged me in a manner similar to a that of a family pet.
As mentioned previously, the entire trip was excellent. The captain, crew and naturalist guides were all very professional and personable. The staff was easily accessible and available at all times. The yacht itself was noticeably well cared for and served as a comfortable base from which to explore the Archipelago. I especially enjoyed the spacious sun decks lined with sun loungers and the casual atmosphere on board. The smaller size of the vessel enabled us to maneuver through shallower waters and get closer to the islands and other interesting rock formations. The vessel’s size, in combination with our small number of guests, permitted us to quickly, efficiently and safely board our pangas for transfers to the islands. I feel that my trip was also enhanced by the social atmosphere created by our small group of fellow travelers. I particularly enjoyed our many entertaining discussions around the table while devouring the scrumptious meals served on board. Traveling through such an exotic and remote destination, far removed from the realities of home, created a kind of bond between us that will not easily be forgotten in the years to come.
While looking back and reminiscing about my Galapagos experience, ill always remember how excited we all were upon seeing our first Sea Lion in the town of Puerto Baquerizo on day one of the trip. And, I can’t help but smile when I recall the words of our guide, Paul, as he encouraged us to keep walking to the ship: “Come on guys, please come along… there will be plenty more opportunities to photograph wildlife in the days to come. Let’s continue to the vessel.”
Paul was right. We did have more opportunities to photograph wildlife throughout our journey - many, many more opportunities! I, personally, totaled about 800 pictures during our 8 day voyage. The record on our vessel, however, was nearly 2500!
Needless to say, I had a wonderful vacation and enjoyed the Galapagos enormously. It would be my pleasure to share my experience with you and help you organize a holiday of a lifetime to this unique, one of a kind destination!