Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

Latitude 0.48378°S Longitude 90.26348°W

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

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Against insurmountable odds, today we embarked on what would be one of our most memorable adventures together - an eight day trip to the "Enchanted Islands" (aka Galápagos) on board the motor sailing vessel "Cachalote I", complete with the new digital camera FedExed from Japan which was delivered to us at the airport just moments before we flew.

We flew from Quito to the airport on the Galápagos island of Baltra via a short stop at Guayaquil on the mainland. The islands lay approximately 1000km west of the Ecuadorean coast and the flight took several hours to reach them. After landing at Isla Baltra we met our level III Naturalist Guide, Maurico Garcia Stael, and our nine fellow passengers for this voyage: Adam, Esther, Martin and Anna from England; Ted and Juli from San Francisco; and Laurence, Yohann and Ursula from Switzerland. Our luggage was retrieved and before long we were shuttled to a pier where zodiacs ferried us to our waiting ship, the Cachalote.

I may as well say from the start that everything about this trip exceeded our expectations. The trip was booked and arranged by Enchanted Expeditions in Quito (Thanks for the company referral, Chuck & Marita, and also for recommending a good itinerary). Our guide Mauricio's extensive knowledge of the flora, fauna and geology of the islands, not to mention his buring passion for his work, I think made all the difference between what would have been simply a great trip to what became a deeply educational and unforgettable experience. And finally, the captain and crew of the Cachalote all executed their stations perfectly to ensure the trip ran with clockwork precision. I cannot recommend Exchanted Expeditions, Mauricio, and the Cachalote and her crew highly enough.

Our eight day itinerary, with an attempt to document the flora and fauna we saw at each location, was as follows:

  • Day 1: Islas Plaza. Sea lions, land iguanas, marine iguanas, one of 3 living specimens of hybrid iguanas, prickly pear and candelabra cactus, yellow warblers, frigate birds and tropic birds.
  • Day 2: Isla Santa Cruz. Morning: Highlands. Giant Galápagos tortoises. Afternoon: Charles Darwin Research Station. Captive iguanas, mixed species of Giant tortoises, gained an understanding of the research performed at Galápagos and the various programs to eradicate introduced species on the islands.
  • Day 3: Isla Española. Morning: Bahia Gardner. Sea lions on white sand turquoise water beach. Snorkeling off the beach and at Turtle Rock saw sea turtles and swam with many playful sea lions. Afternoon: Navigated to Punta Suárez. Hiked a three and half hour circuit and saw sea lions, lots of marine iguanas, blue footed boobies, galápagos doves, nesting nazca boobies with babies, red billed tropic birds, waved albatroses with chicks, galápagos hawks soaring over rugged coastline.
  • Day 4: Isla Floreana. Morning: Punta Cormorant. Sea lions, stilts, sand pipers, ducks, nesting sea turtles, courting flamingos. Snorkeling at Devil's Crown saw white tip sharks, sea lions, eagle rays and sea turtles. Navigated to Post Office Bay to post postcards. Afternoon: Started thirteen hour navigation to Punta Moreno, Isla Isabela.
  • Day 5: Isla Isabela. Morning: Punta Moreno. Pahoehoe lava fields, lava cactus, yellow warblers, flamingos, flightless cormorants. Snorkeling saw lots of sea turtles, a few rays, a few penguins. Afternoon: Bahia Urbina. A dry, dusty place. Land iguanas, giant dome tortoises, wild goats, but very few specimens spotted.
  • Day 6: Isla Fernandina. Morning: Punta Espinosa. Black pahoehoe lava fields, hundreds of marine iguanas, sally lightfoot crabs, american oystercatchers. Snorkeling saw countless sea turtles feeding on under water algae, marine iguanas feeding under water, flightless cormorants. Afteroon: Started thirteen hour navigation to Puerto Egas, Isla Santiago.
  • Day 7: Isla Santiago. Morning: Port Egas. Marine iguanas, oystercatchers, sea herons, Galápagos fur seals, sea lions, Galápagos scorpions. Afternoon: Bartolome. Climb to volcanic peak in other-worldly landscape, penguins. Snorkeling at dusk at Pinnacle Rock saw penguins, white tip sharks, orange cup and other gorgeous soft corals.
  • Day 8: Isla Seymore Norte. Morning: Caleta Tortuga Negra. Saw lots of sea turtles getting intimate, baby eagle rays, blue footed boobies in feeding frenzy, beautiful red mangrove swamps.

No doubt Mauricio would find many errors and ommisions in my list above (and would also not be shy to correct me!), but it suffices to say the wildlife on the islands is simply too spectacular in its diversity, quantity and above all tameness and indifference to humans, to convey accurately or realistically in such a small space. The islands that were absolutely exceptional for us were Islas Española, Santiago and Fernandina, and the highlands of Santa Cruz. Snorkeling up close with sea lions, penguins, sea turtles, marine iguanas, eagle rays and white tip sharks was also an unforgettable experience. We will most likely return to the Galápagos one day on a scuba diving trip to further explore the undersea life here.

If you love Nature, you simply must visit the Galápagos Islands for yourself. There is really no other place on our planet like it.

Photos: (click on images to see full size)

Our boat, the Cachalote IThe bleak landscape of Plazas IslandLand iguana soaks up the sunFlowering prickly pear cactus on Plazas IslandKeiko meets giant tortoise in the wet highlands of Santa Cruz IslandGiant tortoise rear view
Two more of the 42 giant tortoises we counted that dayNico and marine iguana, Charles Darwin Research StationSea lion paradise Isla EspañolaUrsula strolls by basking sea lionsSea lion strikes a pose on the beachKeiko and other playful life forms
Expecting Nazca boobie femaleNazca boobie with tiny hatchlingLava lizardRed billed tropic birdMother waved albatrossAnd her oversized ugly-duckling chick!
Mother waved albatross feeding babyPink flamingos on Isla FloreanaOur group at Post Office BayOnce the sails went up it was time for seasickness pills to go down!Cactus on Isla Isabela's pahoehoe lava fieldsWait! Isn't that Steve the Crocodile Hunter?
No - it's just another crazy Aussie wannabe
Giant dome tortoise on the move on Isla IsabelaMarine iguanas guard their turf on Isla FernandinaMarine iguana male sports bright female-attracting coloursAnother splendid male preens for the femalesSally lightfoot crabsLife's a beach for the marine iguanas on Fernandina
The tough life at sea: Richard serves up a lunch of
fresh slipper lobsters roasted with garlicFearless Mauricio handles a tiny Galápagos scorpionThe gorgeous scenery on Isla SantiagoAmerican oystercatcher keeps her eggs warmThe other-worldly landscape of Isla BartolomeBlue footed boobies in red mangrove swamp at Black Turtle Cove

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