There was not much to our final morning. We sailed around a big rock (small island?) called Daphne major looking for birds. Before we got to Daphne, I awoke to us pulling up the anchor. I decided to not fall back asleep and got a coffee around 5:30 AM on the deck. None of the other passengers were awake yet. I waved to the captain and one of the other crew but settled into a seat to enjoy the sea.
While I was sitting there, tears started to roll down my face. I am not sure why, but I just felt overwhelmed. I have a lot of mixed up feelings on my earlier time in Ecuador and this brought much of that to the surface. I plan to explore much of that in a post soon.
I needed the vacation. I needed to get out of the city, I needed to unplug, and I needed to reflect. I thought about Cathy and Kim dying. I thought about my friend Carl dying in Ecuador in June of 2009. I thought about the majesty of the islands and my eternal gratefulness to touch them. I was sad that only people with money can explore these islands. I was brokenhearted that climate change will destroy them for future generations.
Will this magical place only exist in memories? I don’t know, but the vessel that keeps these emotions bubbled over that morning. I slipped my sunglasses on before a member of the crew stumbled upon the scene.
By 6:30 AM more passengers started to make their way upstairs. Most of us had packed the night before, so there was little to do but enjoy the sea and coastline of Daphne Major. After breakfast, we said our goodbyes and boarded the dingy one last time. The captain of Nemo III drove the dingy that morning and he shook my hand as I stepped off. It’s hard to explain, but it was a tremendous honor. He was proud of his boat, his crew, and the fact he sails in one of the most incredible places in the world. Once again, I teared up behind those sunglasses.
I cannot recommend a trip to Galápagos Islands enough. They are magical and you feel privileged to be there. I don’t mean economically privileged when I say that (though you are and should recognize that). The Galápagos Islands feel like our earth is revealing a secret to you. If I believed in such things, I’d say that you feel as if you are communing with Pachamama. When you are there, you are definitely aware of your insignificance when confronted by the magnitude of mother nature.
Make a plan right now to go to the Galápagos Islands. Save the money you need and go as soon as you can. They won’t be there forever.
We started the day with a hike at the Egas Port. This used to be a salt mining operation. We went looking for the Galapagos fur seal. We found a family of fur seals, more sea lions, marine iguanas, and a hawk. It was a nice walk. We did not immediately return to the boat and snorkeled off the beach.
At that point, we had snorkeled many times, but this time was special. We ended up swimming with 3 sea lions. I bet that we were with them for 30 minutes. One of them was big (probably a beach master). They would swim around us, break up schools of fish and leap out of the water only to dive back in next to us. We were snorkeling over a crevasse on the ocean floor. The sea lions would swim into it, chase fish out, and then dart out towards us. Others saw a shark, but I missed it. I saw something that looked and moved like an octopus, but it did not have tentacles.
When we returned, Jimmy and Ivan made us a feast. Marcos told us that it was in honor or Pachamama. Pachamama is basically mother nature. It’s a word used in the Andes. The lunch was incredible. There was a big piece of roasted pork, fish & octopus ceviche, mote pillo, and papas tortillas. I appreciated it and actually made me a bit nostalgic for Ecuadorian’s cuisine.
After our final Galapagos based nap, the captain took Nemo III through Buccaneer’s Cove. This area is replete with soaring rock formations and cliffs. We parked the boat for some unstructured fun. Holly and Spencer kayaked. Sam and I went swimming and then went to the jacuzzi. Later we were told that a shark had been swimming near us while we were off swimming.
Next: Daphne Major and Baltra
Today we ended up on Isla Fernandina. Landing on Fernandina was the first time we had access to a pier. We walked along the beach looking at animals. We found hawks that day and discovered a nursery for sea lions. We snorkeled after the hike. This is when Spencer took this great picture of me with a sea turtle. These turtles are angelic in the way they move through the water. That is me in the photo (I always had a yellow pair of fins when snorkeling.)
After lunch, we returned to Isla Isabela. We snorkeled in Caleta Tagus and hiked up some stairs to see a great view of the island and Darwin’s lake. You may be surprised, but there are a lot of things named after Charles Darwin in the Galápagos Islands. We looked for whales in Bolivar channel but came up empty-handed. It was lovely to sit on the deck and enjoy the sea. This was one of the days the captain used the front sail in addition to the motor. It was wonderful and relaxing.
The Nemo III crossed the equator twice that night. I did attempt to floss (the hip new dance, not the crucial dental hygiene treatment) while we crossed the equator. Why? Because I can say I flossed across the equator. Can you?
This is also the day Holly officially declared that she hated the marine iguanas. They are gross and their abunance only exacerbates their grossness.
Next: Isla Santiago
We started on the western side of Isabella and visited a lava field at Moreno Point. This lava field was older than previous lava fields, which meant there was more life on it. This one contained a number of oases. A brilliantly colored pair of flamingos was in one oasis. On our return to the boat, Daniel, our dingy driver, took us near some of the rocks on the coastline. Here we saw a marine iguana fight, which was pretty cool.
Isabella is the largest in the archipelago. We sailed on to Urbina Bay and went to land for a hike. We saw a wonderful tortoise in the wild. He was walking up the hiking path that we were already on. It was amazing. There is no video or photo that can do it justice. We all know that these tortoises are big, but to see one walking around the wild is amazing. It reminded me of the time I saw an elephant in Kruger National Park. There were other tortoises sleeping in the thicket. This is the second and final time we saw land iguanas on the trip.
After dinner, we went to the common room and watched a movie called The Galapagos Affair. It’s a movie about a few of the crazy people that ended up on the islands, but this tale ends with murder. It’s about 2 European families who moved to the islands to flee civilization. A third neighbor, Eloise von Wagner Bosquet, shows up with her lovers and eventually disappears. Most think Eloise von Wagner Bosquet was murdered.
Want my speculation? I think one of her lovers, Rudolf Lorenz, killed her. He thought he was cool with an open relationship, but he became jealous and mad. The others on the island looked the other way because they found her to be a bit too libertine for the ascetic lives they were hunting.
Next: Isla Fernandina
We woke up in the Puerto Ayora harbor. This is the largest town in The Galápagos archipelago. The crew, but the barman Jimmy, slept in town that night. After breakfast, we boarded the dingy to meet Marcos at the dock.
Our bus took us to Los Gemelos. These are a pair of spectacular craters that were completely obfuscated by the fog. On our way back, we stopped by Rancho Manzanillo to visit out first giant tortoises. The tortoises are not owned by anyone and roam between the different farms. This farm gave up on typical agriculture. In the past, farmers fight tourists plodding through their crops looking for tortoises. Now, you pay them a few bucks and they let you go find the tortoises that wandered on their property.
Afterward, we headed back to the boat for lunch and a nap. This was unnecessary. Many of us would have preferred to stay in town to shop, have a drink, and take advantage of the wifi. The family from Georgia left Nemo III to do their own thing and two new groups arrived. There was a couple from Canada and a Chinese family who are now based in Brazil. The family brought a 15 months baby named Iris with them who was an instant celebrity. Everyone loved her.
In the afternoon, we went to Darwin Research Center. We spent too much time there. We saw the body of Lonesome George (half mast is too high) and some super horny tortoise named Diego. His offspring number almost 3000! Afterward, we went into town for mojitos, wifi, and Zofran. The order in which we hunted for these was probably not the greatest. Three mojitos for $12 did not make the search for Zofran very easy.
After dinner, we started a twelve-hour ride to the western side of Isla Isabela. We said goodbye to civilization and hit the seas.
Next: Isla Isabela
We woke up in Sullivan’s bay to visit a relatively new lava field on Isla Santiago. Friends that visited Galapagos told me that the lava fields are incredible. That review holds up. The fields were a brand new experience for me. Have you ever heated milk and that weird wrinkly skin forms on the top of the milk? Now, imagine that with rock. It’s a wild thing to look at and walk on. There is almost no life in the field. You may see a struggling plant, a lost lizard or a crab at the shoreline, but nothing else. It’s a beautiful and otherworldly landscape.
Photo Credit: Joshua Ferris
While we were boarding our dingy and group of people were snorkeling next to us. Two Galapagos penguins showed up to swim with those people! Our dingy driver took us across the bay to skirt Bartolome Island in search for more penguins. We only spotted one more.
Next, we went snorkeling along the coast of Sullivan’s Bay. Our guide dropped us off a bit prematurely and we fought the current for a few minutes. A group of us reboarded the dingy and jumped in at a better spot. In addition to many fantastic schools of brightly colored fish, twice I saw a shark, and once I saw a sea turtle.
After lunch and a nap, we returned to the island of Santa Cruz. On our way, I started writing this very entry, but fell asleep sitting up, pen in hand, in the common area of the boat! I was exhausted. At Santa Cruz, we hiked around Dragon’s Hill. When we landed, we met a number of lazy marine iguanas. The land iguana population is small, but is slowly growing. We saw 3 land iguanas and many birds.
We returned to the boat, took a quick swim and started sailing to Puerto Ayora. Sam was seasick again, but I made it through the night with no problems.
Next: Puerto Ayora
We sailed through the night to get to Genovesa Island. During breakfast, I learned that many of the islands have 2 names. One official name, and another name that pirates and buccaneers used in the past. Genovesa was called Tower Island. Personally, I think it is weird to continue to mark the old names on the map. Do I have a reader that can explain that to me?
The Nemo III anchored in Darwin Bay and we took the dingy (also known as the panga) to Prince Phillip’s steps. This is a steep path on the side of a cliff that leads to an enormous bird colony. On our way to the steps, our dingy stalled in the middle of the bay. No one seemed nervous and the dingy driver (captain?) had it working within minutes. Oh Ecuador, somethings never change. I do miss that tranquillo attitude sometimes.
When we got to the steps the tide was not acting as expected. Every 5 – 10 seconds the ocean level would change by 10 feet. It was a precarious situation. The dingy would push forward on the rock and we’d offload 2 people each time. More than once it looked like we were going to lose a passenger, but in time we all made it to land.
Genovesa is an island ruled by birds. The nazca and red-footed boobies reign supreme on this island. We hiked through the bird colony looking for the short-eared owl, which we eventually found hiding in a small cave. The red-footed booby is my favorite Galápagos bird. The return to the boat was much less eventful.
Later that day we went snorkeling. I loved it. There were many schools of beautifully colored fish. I cannot remember any of their names, but one type is called a bumphead. That name makes me laugh and I started calling my cat “bumphead”, because she is always headbutting into things.
At the end of the day, we had a long haul sail back toward the center of the archipelago against the current. This made for a pretty rough go of it for everyone. Sam, Holly, and I all vomited. Most of the other passengers had sleepless nights. Even our guide considered it a very long night.
At breakfast the next day, the neighbors next to Sam and I mentioned: “It seemed like a violent night in your cabin.” It really felt like that from our perspective as well.
Next: Isla Santiago