There are many days while traveling that seem completely ordinary, routine or even expected. Then there are days or moments even that seem utterly surreal. Stepping onto the tarmac at the Baltra airport in the Galapagos began a string of ‘is this real life?!’ moments.
Well fabled for being isolated, teeming with exotic wildlife and one source of Darwin’s research, the Galapagos Islands have loomed in my head as a unique adventure. For whatever reason I had built them up in my head to be one step below visiting Mars. Little did I know that a short flight from mainland Ecuador, $100 entry ticket and a cushy cruise was all it would take to experience this other world firsthand.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I booked a last minute cruise in Quito that started from Baltra Island and ended in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island. The 5-day cruise was really more like 3.5 once you take away the rigmarole of the first day and consider the last day ended at 8am. The boat was appropriately called The Darwin and held 15 tourists plus the crew. Each day fell into a routine with meals broken up by shore or water excursions. Each island we visited had differences from each other both in landscape and wildlife, leaving me with the desire to make a return trip to visit them all!
In the Galapagos, it was the wildlife that really stole the show. They don’t flee at the site of humans. I was continuously astonished at how close the encounters were. Several beaches we stopped at were full of sea lions and while occasionally a male would try to show its dominance by barking or scooting a little closer, in general they were indifferent. Meanwhile in the water, the sea lions loved to swim along side us. They’ve even picked up the game of ‘chicken’ over the years. On one snorkel excursion along a rock wall, I was merrily swimming along in the icy waters when a sea lion suddenly filled the view outside my mask. Racing full speed towards my face, he only veered off right before impact. During these few seconds I didn’t think to relocate, I only managed to scream out loud underwater (like a wuss) until safe, after which I then proceeded to laugh with pure glee. Sometimes during these snorkel excursions a sea lion would simply hover in the water next to me and lock eyes. Loving animals as I do, to describe these experiences as magical would be an understatement.
While the sea lions stole the show for me, there were plenty of others to compete. There were various rays, turtles/tortoises and schools of fish in the water and on land there were endless marine and land iguanas, crabs, as well as birds such as the albatross and blue-footed boobies. One day while walking along the cliffs of Isla Plaza we even spotted a young humpback whale jumping out of the water over and over again, as if putting on a show just for us. These special moments were fortunately not few and far between, but daily occurrences!
Experiencing nature this in-depth also included witnessing the realities of the circle of life, consequences of human presence and evolution. Throughout these few days I processed seeing a seal lion pup who was either abandoned or orphaned by it’s mother, left to die on the beach and a mother sea lion in mourning, refusing to leave her stillborn pup. There were islands that once were filled with tortoises until sailors discovered them for meat. There were islands that once had no predators until humans brought over goats (no joke, they’ve adapted and are apparently rather wild). There were islands with cactus trees that were taller or shorter depending on the predators that lived there (iguanas vs tortoises) and ate their leaves. It was all quite a privilege to experience personally.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.’ – Charles Darwin
*Click on the images to view full size or check out these imagines and more on my flickr site: Galapagos