Brian and I did not plan to visit Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands. We’d heard amazing things, of course, but the expense concerned us. We didn’t want to blow our budget at the very beginning of our trip.
But everyone we spoke with in Ecuador, especially Ecuadorians themselves, asked if we were going to the Galapagos. When we’d shake our heads no they would look at us with disappointment. So beautiful, they’d say. Paradise.
Other travelers, as well, told us we should go. It’s worth it, they said. Soon we found ourselves walking the streets of Quito searching for travel agencies. We’re out here to see the world, we reasoned, and Galapagos is one of the most stunning places in it. We decided to shop around.
We’d heard that we could save a lot of money by booking a last-minute trip through a tour agency. We found a great bargain on Monday for a trip beginning Wednesday. It was settled. We would embark on an eight-day, seven-night cruise to eight of the southeastern Galapagos Islands.
Galapagos Day 1- Santa Cruz Island
Our plane lands on Baltra and we meet our guide at the airport. We are introduced to four of our thirteen boat-mates, two girls from Australia and a Dutch couple, who are young and friendly and whom we like immediately. We are shuttled by bus, ferry, van, and dinghy before arriving at our yacht.
Onboard we drop our bags, meet the other passengers: seven Italians and a couple from California, and are shown to our tiny, tidy cabins. Then the lot of us are herded back onto the dinghy, back into the van, and driven to a nature reserve where we can view the giant Galapagos tortoise.
It is a drizzly, overcast afternoon but the drive through the highlands of Santa Cruz is beautiful. We reach the reserve and change into rubber boots for a tromp through the mud to see the tortoises.
As we walk our guide tells us about the amazing creatures. They live up to 200 years, weigh hundreds of pounds, and can go a year without eating or drinking. He continues to speak, but I stop listening, because right there in front of me is the most gigantic tortoise that I’ve ever seen, stretching his ancient, weathered neck in front of himself to eat a tuft of grass.
We see dozens of tortoises at the reserve and each is as magical as the next. It is a thrill to stand near such old creatures and consider how much things change throughout their lifetime. The world zips forward, progression- so we call it, while these magnificent animals scoot slowly along, outlasting us all.
In the evening we sit down for dinner and the food is fantastic- fresh and healthy. We share tables with our boat-mates and begin to know them and this, meeting these people, will become as important to the greatness of our trip as all the rest.
After dinner, there is a quick briefing and our guide informs us that we will sail through the night to Santa Maria, our next destination. We fall asleep soundly around 10 p.m. but awake at midnight as the boat rocks violently back and forth. By 1 a.m. Brian is locked in our tiny bathroom, overtaken by seasickness. It is all I can do to mutter from bed if he needs fresh water or medicine. If I open my eyes or stand up I will be sick too.
Galapagos Day 2- Santa Maria Island
Around 4 a.m. the rough seas die down and Brian and I can get a few hours of sleep before the 7 a.m. breakfast bell rings.
In the morning we compare notes with the others- no one has slept. But our breakfast is delicious and we all feel better with food in our bellies.
After breakfast, we board the dinghy and are deposited onshore to visit the Galapagos post office box. Here, visitors from around the world leave unstamped postcards to be picked up by other travelers and hand-delivered to the addressee. Brian and I sort through the cards and leave with three addressed to people in the Cincinnati area. Some day, when we are back in Ohio, we will bring them to their recipients.
Galapagos post office
Sorting through the Galapagos post office mail
Brian shows off the Galapagos postcards we will hand deliver someday
Later, while walking on the beach, a sea lion swims up to the group and stands staring. Our guide tells us that the sea lion wants to play and that if we swim, he will follow.
A group forms around the playful sea lion
Brian and a few of the Italians dive into the water and the sea lion shoots off after them. Brian tosses a rock into the waves and the sea lion swims for it like a dog chasing a stick. We laugh. I’m mesmerized by how playful and funny this guy is.
Back on the boat we change into our wetsuits and set off to snorkel at a place called Devil’s Crown. The dingy drops us near rocks in a strong current and the waves slam into us. I think about how hyper-safe the U.S. is. In the U.S. you’d need to be a card-carrying swimmer and sign fourteen waivers before getting into the water. Here, they don’t even ask if you can swim. They just help you into your wetsuit and show you where to jump.
The snorkeling at Devil’s Crown is amazing. There are florescent fish, translucent fish, and fish with bumps on their heads. There are starfish the size of basketballs. Two eagle rays glide slowly below us. A sea turtle swims to the right of me and I scream with joy into my snorkel mask.
Back on the boat we shower and climb to the top deck to relax before dinner. We are on the equator and the sun goes down at 6:30 p.m. every night.
Sunset from the top deck of our boat in the Galapagos
The sky dims to faded pinks and grays and then goes dark completely. I get my first glimpse of the stars in the southern hemisphere. It is quiet and peaceful out here and I feel myself relaxing at a slower pace. The dinner bell rings and I head downstairs to feast with my new friends.
To be continued…