Sorry for the delayed post. As it turns out I never really feel like writing, but I will try my best to be better.
Our Galapagos adventure started out as every good adventure does, with me crying at 5am in the airport. Wait, what?
I have never been good at keeping track of things, and my mom always told me growing up that I would lose my head if it wasn’t attached to my body. So I was expecting that I would eventually lose something along the road. However, when I arrived to the airport and realized my backpack filled with my DSLR camera, waterproof camera, snorkel mask, swimsuit, sandals, and laptop was in fact not in my possession I panicked. I realize things can be replaced, but I love nature and outdoor photography and the thought that I wouldn’t get to take any photos in the Galapagos, which has been a nerdy dream destination of mine for a long time I was heartbroken. Fortunately after Gerrod calmed me down and we had a group brainstorm session as to where I could have left my backpack (and called our Uber driver 10 times to see if I left it in his car) we realized I must have left it in our amazing hostel. We messaged the hostel owner, and after about an hour of painful waiting, she responded and told us my backpack was there, and in tact! Score! Although I was still heartbroken I wouldn’t be able to take any photos, my tears quickly turned into excitement as I knew we were about to go to one of the most amazing places on Earth!
As I discussed in my first post, we booked a 5 day cruise on the Golondrina Yacht, one of the yachts belonging to Tierra Verde Tours, and the travel agency, Happy Gringo, booked all of our flights for us. Our departing flight was delayed for about 2 hours, which is apparently very typical for flights to Baltra Island. I spent most of this time awaiting a response from our hostel owner to determine the fate of my possessions. The flight went very smoothly after we finally took off, and we were soon landing on Baltra Island! During the small stop we had in Guayaquil, as other passengers transferred, we actually met a couple who would be joining us on the cruise since they had called the agency to let them know we would be late and they were told to look for two siblings on the same flight as them. This is actually the second time the sibling thing has happened since in South America it is not as common to share your spouse's last name. After we landed and walked across the runway, we had to wait for a very cute dog to smell our checked bags to check for seeds and produce, which you are not allowed to bring onto the island before we could retrieve them.
After grabbing our bags, we exited the airport and there was a guy with a sign, which made me feel very fancy. I went to a small shop outside the airport to purchase a swimsuit since I stupidly forgot my bag, and found a cute one that appeared to fit immediately! We then hopped on a bus and headed to our yacht! After taking a small “dinghy” boat to our yacht, we got a room assignments and had a briefing and introduction to the other people on our cruise. All of the rooms on the yacht had dope bunk beds. There were 11 people total on our cruise, and they are all amazing people. Our group was diverse, with a couple from France, a couple from Australia, a couple from New York City, a couple, whom we had met on the plane earlier, from Massachusetts (but the woman was originally from Argentina), and a woman from Netherlands. I may be biased, but I think we were probably the best group ever. After eating lunch and changing into our swimsuits we began our Day 1 activities!
Day 1: Mosquera Island
We hopped onto dinghy boats and headed towards Mosquera Island! The island was very small with white sand, volcanic rocks, and TONS OF SEA LIONS! Our naturalist guide, Roberto, discussed all the various wildlife we saw and answered all of our questions. I had never seen sea lions before so I was very excited. They are very sociable, and even walk towards you. A rule in the Galapagos is that you must maintain 2 meters distance from the wildlife, and we had to run away from the sea lions at times to avoid them. We then got a chance to snorkel off of the island. Gerrod was very eager to snorkel because he wanted to swim with the sea lions. The water was pretty murky, but there were still lots of fish to see! However, despite seeing many sea lions on shore, we did not see any while snorkeling. After finish up snorkeling, we headed back to the boat to eat dinner and enjoy the evening. Gerrod and I stayed up late and star gazed and all I can say is WOW!
Day 2: Isabela Island and Fernandina Island
After breakfast, we all hopped on the dinghy boats and headed to visit to Vicente Roca Point on Isabela Island. The scenery was absolutely stunning, and we got to take the boats into a cave. Roberto discussed everything we were seeing, including pelicans, Galapagos fur seal, Galapagos penguins, blue-footed boobies, marine iguanas, and flightless cormorants. Oh and TONS OF SEA TURTLES!!! After the dinghy boat ride we suited up for snorkeling and got to swim with the sea turtles and penguins!! The penguins were super fast and if you blinked you wouldn’t have even seen them. It was also cool to see the flightless cormorants swimming next to you. The sea turtles were everywhere!!!! It was almost impossible to not see a sea turtle everywhere you looked and it was even harder to follow the 2 meter rule as they would swim right up next to you all the time! After snorkeling, we had lunch and headed to Espinoza Point on Fernandina Island. There we got to snorkel with the marine iguanas, tons and tons of fish, another penguin, and even more sea turtles. It was so difficult to not bump into the sea turtles there were so many which is like my dream as they are my favorite animal. We didn’t see any sea lions unfortunately and Gerrod was bummed. After the snorkeling excursion, we changed and headed to land. There, we walked across lava flows and saw a huge colony of marine iguanas. They cuddle up in a pile to keep warm, and they blend in with the lava flows so well it is really hard not to step on them! We saw even more sea lions, including babies which were super cute. After the hike we headed back to the boat for dinner and hanging out with the others on our cruise. The top of the boat was our hangout spot, and it ended up being a good location for wildlife viewing as well, as we spotted whales while sailing between islands!
Day 3: Isabela Island (Urbina Bay)
After breakfast, we headed to Urbina Bay for a hike and more snorkeling. There, we saw land iguanas (which are different from the marine iguanas) and some giant tortoises! The land iguanas were everywhere! The giant tortoises were…giant and didn’t move very much. Roberto gave us tons of information on the iguanas, tortoises, plants, hawks, finches, rocks, etc… He was incredibly knowledgeable which was something that was important to me when booking the cruise so WOOHOO! After the hike, some of us snorkeled along the shoreline. The water was COLD, but we had seen sea lions swimming in the water on our dinghy boat ride and we had yet to swim with the sea lions. Gerrod and I, and two of the other people on our cruise were peaking above the water to see the sea lion pop out, and then swimming directly towards it. After what seemed like forever, it swam right towards us and zoomed past!!! YAY!! After that we explored the coastline and saw EVEN MORE SEA TURTLES! We then headed back to the boat for lunch and headed towards Tagus Cove on Isabela Island for a hike to Darwin Lake. Darwin Lake is a round salt water crater surrounded by Palo Santo trees which smell just like Catholic church incense. The views were beautiful, but it was very sunny and I am very pale so I did my best to cover up and not burn up into a crisp. After the hike we did yet again more snorkeling and saw more penguins, flightless cormorants, crabs, puffer fish, crabs. After snorkeling we had dinner and some of us hung out on the top of the boat for some star-gazing and group bonding.
Day 4: Santiago Island: Egas Port and Chinese Hat
After breakfast we headed to Egas Port on Santiago Island. Right after we landed, our guide noticed that there was a sea lion that had just given birth!!! The placenta was still hanging out of the mommy sea lion and the baby was crying. There were hawks sitting above the sea lions and we thought that they were trying to eat the pup. Roberto informed us that the hawks eat the placenta and were NOT trying to eat the baby. WHEW! The walk was beautiful and we all went at a very casual pace, taking time to take lots of photos and having fun together. We saw even more sea lions, crabs, hawks, fur seals, finches, marine iguanas… seems like we may get sick of seeing the same things but it was fun getting so close to the animals and observing them in their natural habitats. We noticed some interesting looking “shells”. I asked Roberto about them and he said they were bits of dead sea urchins, but they looked a bit like titties. Of course I showed everyone else in our group, and without even me saying, everyone also thought they looked like tits. After our hike, we did more snorkeling off of the beach. It seemed like every day the snorkeling was getting better and better, and oddly enough the water was getting colder and colder as well. Immediately after I hopped in the water I saw a huge shark! Awesome! Our guide Roberto was very good at free diving and would dive down to check for sharks in caves. We saw many whitetip reef sharks, an eagle ray, so many fish, an eel, and got to swim with the sea lions again! Gerrod and I and the couple from France were some of the last people out of the water, and one of the sea lions swam right up next to us in the shallow water! It was so amazing seeing it swim so up close. After lunch, we headed to Sombrero Chino (Chinese Hat) for a quick hike and got to see even more animals and lava tunnels. We then did some snorkeling around Chinese Hat, and they definitely saved the best for last. We saw a cave full of sleeping whitetip reef sharks, got to go right up next to a penguin, and swam in a lava cave. Just wow. I am stunned at the beauty of the Galapagos.
Day 5: Goodbyes and the Charles Darwin Research Center
On the last day we were all a little bummed as we had grown close over the last 5 days. In the morning we packed up our gear, ate breakfast, and headed to Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island. We all walked together to the Charles Darwin Research Center to learn about the Galapagos giant tortoise breeding program. We got to see the remains of Lonesome George who had passed only a few years ago who we learned was originally not breeding, hence the name, as he was being overfed and therefore too heavy to get it on! There was one saddleback giant tortoise originally from the San Diego Zoo that had fathered over 800 babies earning him the name Super Diego, and he looked very content. The research center was very interesting and had a lot of interesting displays on the fauna and flora of the Galapagos. After our visit, we all said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. Some of our group members were hopping on another boat to continue cruising, many of us were staying in Puerto Ayora, and one couple were headed to Baltra Island for the airport. I think one of the hardest parts of traveling is meeting such amazing people and constantly having to part ways with them. But I think in the end both Gerrod and I feel lucky to meet so many people to begin with, and experience such amazing places with them. The Galapagos Islands are truly a sight to see.
To be continued...
Lauren (and Gerrod)