Seven nights in Paradise
I did a seven-night cruise with Ecoventura and though I was a bit skeptical about how I was to feel about returning to the Islands a second time, after having had such a good time and experienced so much the first time around, I must admit that this second visit was even better then the first one. I thought I’d seen it all the first time around, but that wasn’t even close!
We arrived into Galapagos on the AeroGal flight, landing on San Cristóbal island, the easternmost island of the archipelago, just before lunch. I recall that I was trying to figure out if this was the island I had landed on the last time around, as it looked very familiar. I was certain about the fact that last time around we flew into Baltra and Santa Cruz, but everything more or less looked the same at the airport…
The Galapagos is located about 1,000 km west of Ecuador and the archipelago of Islands were created five million years ago by undersea volcanic eruptions. The islands were first discovered in 1535 by a bishop of Panama. He (Tomás de Berlanga) named it Galapagos after the giant tortoises he witnessed.
In Darwin’s footsteps
The islands was used as a refuge by pirates, where they could hide and bury their stolen treasures and at the end of the 19th century whaling fleets found the place and it became a regular port of call. This was when the wildlife on the islands started to become threatened.
The most well known visitor of the Islands’ was Charles Darwin, who arrived in 1835 and the peculiar encounters he experienced helped him formulate his theory of evolution, which he published in The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.
The Islands became part of Ecuador in 1832 and the fragile ecosystem was declared a part of Ecuador’s national park system in 1959. In 1979 the Galapagos archipelago was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Hammerheads and Rays!
On my previous visit I visited the islands of Santa Cruz, Floreana, Española, Santa Fé, North Seymour, Bartolomé, Santiago and Rabida.
This time we’ve visited San Cristóbal, Genovesa, Santa Cruz, Baltra, Isabela, Fernandina, Santiago, Rabida, Santa Cruz and Santa Fé, which takes my tally to 13 islands visited out of the 19 in total.
I was once again blown away from our first full day, when we snorkeled with a school of Hammerhead sharks, we had a large school of Golden Cownose rays with 50-60 individuals cruising along just underneath us, an East Pacific Green Sea Turtle made us company for a while and of course a whole bunch of other creatures. I realized right away that I hadn’t seen it all and I was to experience a whole lot of new things on this trip, and so I did, as every day was just getting better and better.
Even better this time around
It’s amazing how a place you visited and experienced once before, proves to be even better the second time, and where each day just gets better and better. I can’t really think of any other place that has given me this feeling. I was and I still am blown away by the experience I had.
We went on to have close and very personal encounters with the wildlife of the islands throughout our week. The funny looking and tiny Galapagos Penguins, in fact a whole group of them shot by us under the surface. The snakes came out on this visit, with three Galapagos Snakes coming out all at once, preying on Marine Iguana juveniles right in front of us, and a Spotted Snake Eel mellowed on the ocean floor.
The Sea Lions where more playful than ever as they constantly approached us during our snorkeling sessions, swimming right up to the face to curiously find out who and what you are. Having a curious sea lion swirling up, down and all around you is something that everyone has to experience. The way these clumsy mammals move on land, it’s completely the opposite in the water.
Sharks, Manta Rays and Dolphins
The bigger creatures of the ocean also made us aware of their presence – a huge Galapagos Shark circled our dingy and the yacht one afternoon, majestic Giant Oceanic Manta Rays swam past the yacht as we went between the islands and the same was done by various types of whales and dolphins. Bottlenose Dolphins and Common Dolphins tagged along the yacht at times, showing off some impressive moves and speed, and whales breached in the distance a few times at open sea.
I never got to see the Short-eared Owl on my previous visit, but this time around we bumped into several individuals, where one of them was sitting right next to the path just looking at us. That was a nice treat and the same goes for all the dances performed by the Boobies. All respect to the Red-footed Booby and the funny-looking Nazca Boobies, but my favorite is without doubt the cool and peculiar Blue-footed Booby, with its blue feet and the fantastic courtship of the stamping dance, wing display and high-piping whistle. I just can’t get enough of that display.
Abundance of birds
And how about the Frigatebird with its long wings, tail and bill and the male with its bright red pouch that he inflate to attract a mate? Or the colorful Flamingo with its pink colors? The Galapagos Hawk, endemic to the Islands? And the odd-looking Flightless Cormorant with its tiny wings, it is one of the world’s rarest birds. How about the Brown Pelican that made us company on one of our dingy rides back to the yacht? One shouldn’t fortget to mention the Darwin Finches (Large Ground Finch, Medium Ground Finch, Small Tree Finch and Green Warbler-Finch) of Galapagos, on which Darwin conceived and brought together his theory of natural selection. A story of its own could be written about the not so clever looking Lava Heron or about its relative, the majestic Great Blue Heron, which we got to witness chasing down and swallow a huge 40 cm long Galapagos Centipede.
The amazing staff and guides
All of these sights and experiences were presented to us not only by Nature itself, but also by the fantastic guides of Ecoventura that really made the adventure even better. The knowledge of these passionate guides is something I will never forget. Professional and good with people while still making sure that all the rules and regulations were followed in order to protect the fragile ecosystem. Karina and Mauricio, thank you so much once again!
The same goes to the crew of the Flamingo I. With your service and kindness the experience became even better. You spoiled and pampered us and for this I’m forever grateful.
We’ve seen huge tortoises on land bigger than I’d ever imagined them to be, listened to sea lions brawl as we walk so close we almost step on them, we’ve had dolphins play and putting on a show next to our boat, we’ve snorkeled with large sea turtles that has welcomed us with comforting eyes as they gently go about their business, we’ve had sea lions looping all around us as we snorkel next to their habitats, baked in the sun with prehistoric looking Iguanas, come to adore the Blue-footed Boobies with their peculiar looks and blue feet and not to forget all those lovely and cute sea lion cubs that so curiously and clumsy make their way towards you, to check you out. What else can be said…
There’s so much more that can be said and should be mentioned, but I need to make a stop somewhere. I haven’t even written a single thing about how each island is different from the other, in colors, in layout, in vegetation, in height. Oh, and I should mention something about the horrendous effects of introduced species to this fragile ecosystem…But I will leave that for now and let each and everyone of you find that out yourself during your upcoming visit to this Paradise.
On our last day on the Galapagos Islands, we came ashore at Puerto Baguerizo Moreno on San Cristóbal Island, the same place where the trip started. The last stop before heading for the airport was the Interpretation Center, where the full history of Galapagos is presented, with the past and the present. This is, or was, the home of the famous Lonesome George, or Pinta Island tortoise, as he’s also known. This subspecies of the Galapagos tortoise had been wiped out due to hunting and it was assumed that the species was extinct until a single male was discovered on Pinta Island in 1971. Efforts were made to mate the male, named Lonesome George, with other subspecies, but without much success. Lonesome George died quite recently, on June 24, 2012, exactly 21 days after our visit, when George was up and about. The subspecies is now believed to have become extinct. RIP George…
Three weeks has come to an end and I’d like to thank the wonderful people and staff of Tropic Journeys in Nature, the Huaorani Ecolodge and Ecoventura together with all the amazing people I’ve met in the places I’ve stayed throughout my travel. Waponi!
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