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Dancing with Darwin: an unforgettable week in the Galapagos

In this article, our guest author, Kate Convissor, shares an unforgettable week in the Galapagos, with pristine beaches, aquamarine seas and of course the birds, seals and other wildlife.

Most people travel through Quito in Ecuador, heading for the Galapagos Islands as their main destination. My experience was the opposite. I was already traveling through Ecuador and planned to spend several days in lovely Quito. The city was UNESCO’s first cultural World Heritage Site, so it’s very historic and photogenic. Since I was already so close, my trip had to include the Galapagos and when my sister learned of my plans, she decided to join me.

Galapagos 6

Mating sign of the Magnificent Frigatebird

Still, my expectations were, well, non-existent. Other than cute sea lions and birds with funny names, I had no idea what to expect from an 8-day cruise through one of the most precious and unique places on the planet.

I must say, my first sight of the Galapagos through the windows of the tiny Baltra airport was underwhelming. It looked like a dry, shrubby, rocky moonscape with heat that would melt your eyeballs.

Galapagos Cactus Photo: Kate Convissor

Galapagos cactus

On board the San Jose

But things improved once onboard the breezy deck of the San Jose, the ship that would be our home for the next eight days. Once we found our cabin, which was more comfortable and spacious than I had expected, with twin beds (not bunks) and a nice-sized bathroom and a big window (not to mention blessed air-conditioning for those blistering afternoons), I began to feel the excitement build and the tension drain away.

A ship at sea! What could be more delightful?

And indeed, once we were underway, slicing through an impossibly blue ocean with a far horizon melting into a similarly blue sky and the wind rushing off the bow of the ship, I began to catch the magic of the Galapagos.

View of Pinnacle Rock from atop Bartolomé Island Photo: Kate Convissor

View of Pinnacle Rock from atop Bartolomé Island, Galapagos Islands

 The amazing animal culture

Our first landing that afternoon was on the tiny islet of Mosquera, which was little more than a lump of sand with sea lions lazily scattered about and a handful of other creatures I’d read about, like Sally-lightfoot crabs and tiny lava lizards. At this point, I was completely smitten.

This would be a great week.

Sea lions and Sally Lightfoot crabs in the Galapagos Islands Photo: Kate Convissor

Sea lions and Sally Lightfoot crabs in the Galapagos Islands

Almost every day we woke to sun, sea, maybe another boat or two at anchor, a satisfying breakfast, and new wonders to explore. Days were filled with activity, which usually involved one or two hikes and/or one or two snorkeling adventures, and maybe a panga ride to some interesting cove. We usually visited two different sites each day, but the boat motored during mealtimes or at night, so we weren’t twiddling our thumbs en route to the next place.

The hikes, while sometimes very hot, were always interesting and sometimes entrancing. And, of course, there was always the blue ocean to cool off in.

Pristine beaches and aquamarine waters in the Galapagos Islands Photo: Kate Convissor

Pristine beaches and aquamarine waters in the Galapagos Islands

Snorkeling is almost de rigueur in the Galapagos since the water is teeming with all sorts of life, from sea turtles to small sharks to schools of colorful fish. The color and variety is fascinating.

I am not an avid swimmer, but I was determined not to miss this opportunity, so I grit my teeth and wore a life jacket for the first snorkel. It was fantastic! The water was warm and so bouyant that staying afloat was effortless and all that aquatic life under the surface of the ocean was worth enduring any momentary discomfort.

Remnants of volcanic activity in the Galapagos Islands Photo: Kate Convissor

Remnants of volcanic activity in the Galapagos Islands

One of the more delightful hikes was at Punta Suarez on Espanola Island. Since it was high tide with waves crashing against the rock, our “dry” landing was a little tricky. (This is where you want experienced guys driving your panga – the little boats that takes you from your cruise ship to the shore.) We walked across a tide-flooded inlet guarded by a big bull sea lion who was jealous of his girls. (This is where you want an experienced naturalist-guide who knows the ways of macho sea lions.)

Birds, birds, birds

Espanola is a nesting condo for Nazca boobies and other birds I’ve forgotten the names of. The rocks are dripping with whitewash, and fluffy juveniles are waiting patiently (or not) for a snack, while their beleaguered parents are trying to oblige (by regurgitating the fish they’ve worked hard to find). Bird families were strewn haphazardly across the relatively flat and somewhat rocky clifftop. An occasional blue-footed booby broke the monotony.

Nazca booby in the Galapagos Islands Photo: Kate Convissor

Nazca booby in the Galapagos Islands

We clambered over rocks snapping photos like crazed tourists, while the birds couldn’t have cared less. The trail wound among the nesting birds and along a cliff edge until we all settled cliff-side to watch the waves crash on the black volcanic rock and send plumes of mist and water through a blowhole. All of which formed a dramatic foreground as the sun slowly rode down the western sky.

Blow hole on Suarez Point on Espanola in the Galapagos Islands Photo: Kate Convissor

Blow hole on Suarez Point on Espanola in the Galapagos Islands

Now, I ask you, where else in the world can you sit with 16 people with this kind of natural wonder playing out around you? (Okay, there was another small tour group waiting to take our place on the rocks, but that doesn’t change the overall picture.)

Small luxuries combine with pleasant company

After every activity, our long-suffering steward, Jackson, met us with his broad smile and a juice drink and snacks. Every evening we passengers gathered for a beer to chat and swap notes about the birds or fish we’d seen. And every night we fell asleep to the gentle rocking of the boat as it steamed toward our next magical destination.

Red-footed booby in the Galapagos Islands Photo: Kate Convissor

Red-footed booby in the Galapagos Islands

Our naturalist-guide, Carlos, was an energetic, informed and personable 26-year-old. He, like many other guides, had grown up on the islands and that native knowledge was honed by the compulsory training all the guides receive.

My sister and I were also lucky in that all the passengers on our small boat were wonderful to travel with for a week, from the 86-year-old lawyer and his wife (Please, God, may I be like them when I am old) to the young brother and sister who came with their mom.

Pinnacle Rock on Bartolomé Island in the Galapagos Islands Photo: Kate Convissor

Pinnacle Rock on Bartolomé Island in the Galapagos Islands

I think our group was so compatible, in part, because we all opted for a small, less luxurious boat (but make no mistake, the San Jose was very clean and comfortable) so that we could focus on experiencing the islands and not staying comfy and entertained on board the ship. Some of the luxury cruise liners carry 100 passengers and can’t get to as many islands as the smaller boats.

“If you want a bigger cabin and more amenities, you should choose a luxury cruise. If you want to really experience the islands, you can have a very good time on a smaller boat,” said Evelyn, my agent at Happy Gringo, through whom I booked our cruise.

True in every way. Cruising in the Galapagos Islands was a fantastic experience, and a longer cruise on a smaller boat like the San Jose was, for me, the best way to do it.

Sleepy sea lion in the Galapagos Islands Photo: Kate Convissor

Sleepy sea lion in the Galapagos Islands

About our guest author: Manykconvissor bio photo thanks for this story to Kate Convissor who has been traveling more or less continually since she sold her house in 2010 and trailered around North America. Kate blogs semi-regularly at Wandering Not Lost. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter

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Read about Dancing with Darwin - a week in the Galapagos

For more Ecuadorian delights:

Ecuador and the Amazon Rainforest
Take a Hot Bath in Banos, Ecuador
Beyond the Galapagos Islands – Ecuador’s Forgotten Treasures

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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7 Comments

  • Reply
    Margery Guest
    April 10, 2015 at 11:45 am

    I know Kate and I loved reading this. It sounds like a fantastic trip and I would love to go some day. The islands themselves look gorgeous.

    • Reply
      Heather Cowper
      April 10, 2015 at 8:51 pm

      @Margery is love to go too – seems like an unspoiled paradise

  • Reply
    Susan - ofeverymoment
    April 10, 2015 at 7:18 pm

    I am so envious! This is a trip I would love to do, and you have peeked my interest even further!
    Susan – ofeverymoment´s last blog post ..A Vacation Hold for Newspapers – and Social Media?

    • Reply
      Heather Cowper
      April 10, 2015 at 8:49 pm

      @Susan yes the Galapagos is definitely one of those bucket list destinations!

  • Reply
    Aijika
    April 25, 2015 at 8:11 am

    In fairness you have a skill in photography.
    And Well Very Nice post. Thanks for this sharing informative post like this.anyway Keep it Great ! Have a nice day 😉

  • Reply
    Shannon
    September 19, 2015 at 5:45 pm

    Great write up on your Galapagos trip! We recently got back from a visit, too, and spent 4 days/5 nights on a 14 passenger catamaran. I’m with you – small boat over big was definitely the way to go! You can check out our journey here 🙂 > http://wp.me/p3UGiL-1oi

    • Reply
      Heather Cowper
      September 22, 2015 at 8:59 pm

      @Shannon – thanks for the tip, I’ll take a look at your trip

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