Amazing day. That’s how my journal starts out, and that’s how it was every day.
After spending the night in a calm channel between Baltra and Santa Cruz islands, I woke when the engines started right on schedule at 5 a.m. and tried to doze as we rode up and down the waves for an hour to our first destination, Las Plazas.
The daily 7 a.m. breakfast was a bit tough, having to be reasonably polite at least, if not perky, in front of all the other guests, but it was always worth it. Although I never eat jam at home, I felt obliged to have at least one piece of toasted homemade bread and guava jelly made by the captain’s family. That was on top of fresh fruit, fresh juice, sausage and eggs. It’s okay to eat three large meals and snacks every day, another guest told me, because we’re being active. True, although not cardiovascular-type active, I thought, and my tight clothes are proof of this.
Every evening, Camilo, our guide, would use his considerable artistic talent and extensive knowledge as a trained naturalist to brief us on the next day’s expedition.
I took a photo of the briefing board each day to keep track of my photos. The night before I left, I sat next to some people at an Internet cafe who realized they couldn’t remember which island they’d taken which photos on. Some islands have distinctive wild life; others are similar. Sure, lava lizards on one island do five push ups to demonstrate their prowess instead of seven, like they do on another island, but that’s hard to keep track of unless you’re a professional. I used Camilo’s drawings.
Amazing, beautiful island. We started along a slope of cactus forest with prickly pears the size of trees and orange-tinted iguanas that matched the succulent foliage. Sea lions basked along the beach or in the shade of the giant cacti.
There were many nursing mothers and more than once we saw juveniles still suckling from their mothers. Camilo says they’re greedy, or perhaps their mothers just spoil them here. I did see one juvenile pestering its mother who was barking back at him, probably to go get his own food.
This island is known for its bachelor sea lion colony. This is where all the guys hang out who couldn’t find a mate this year, sort of like Friday night at a frat house without the beer. Some lay around nursing wounds inflicted when they challenged larger sea lions. Perhaps others just wallow in their misery.
They have a spectacular view though - not a bad place to be if you’re feeling like a loser.
The rocky cliffs are an ideal home for many sea birds, including the red-billed tropicbirds that have slender white tails that elegantly trail about a foot beyond their bodies. No photos of them. They are not common and not close. But I was able to get a photo of the beautiful dark-grey sea gulls with red-rimmed eyes that Camilo says help them see at night.
Here nature is left as it is as much as possible, so nothing is sanitized either. Carcasses are left where they expire, a reminder that this habitat is not here just for human visitors to enjoy. It is first and foremost a natural habitat.
Santa Fe Island
Before lunch we navigated for an hour or so to Santa Fe Island, where I experienced the Galapagos underwater for the first time. Sea lions really do check out divers, and the marine life is incredibly abundant, with enormous schools of fish glittering along in waves.
But the highlight was the marine turtles. I was the last one in the dinghy at the end of the snorkel because I was watching a two-and-a-half foot wide turtle swim by. Once we were all aboard, we took a short ride to the middle of the cove where three huge turtles were clearly visible against the white sandy bottom. We all jumped back in to have a look. Marine turtles are very shy, but here not as much as other places. In any other dive/snorkel trip, seeing just one turtle would be amazing - the highlight of the trip.
After a quick shower to wash off the salt, it was time for another land adventure, this time a wet landing. Our skilled dinghy driver, Luis, backed the boat onto the beach and we all hopped off into the surf. More giant prickly pears which, Camilo says, are in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the largest in the world.
But this island was a forest of “holy trees”, called such because they bloom at Christmas, apparently. Their white bark reminded me of a birch forest in winter, and the island is filled with them, as are many others in the area.
This evening was more exciting than the previous one. We had several hours navigation to our next destination, but I made the mistake of waiting to shower and get organized for the next day until after the boat started moving. Big mistake. Although I’d been wearing pressure-point wristbands to ward off motion sickness, this was too much.
I took a Dramamine, but still felt nauseated. I know fresh air is the cure, so I climbed back on deck after nearly everyone had gone to bed and found the most incredible moon over the horizon I’d ever seen. Refreshed a bit, I stumbled back down to my bunk and tried to sleep as I and my stomach sloshed along until 3 a.m. when we finally reached Española Island.