Monday, April 1, 2013

Island Adventure: Galapagos

Disclaimer: LONG POST
Our route on the Seaman Journey

Our boat: The Seaman Journey
While Johnny's parents and aunt and uncle were visiting us in Ecuador we were lucky enough to be able to take a trip to the Galapagos Islands. We booked an 8 day/7 night tour on the First Class Motor Cruiser called the Seaman Journey. (Unfortunate name, amazing boat, crew and everything else). The Seaman is a 16 passenger catamaran...small enough to make friends and big enough to have privacy. This boat also came with the best guide ever. Our experience would not have been as amazing without the knowledge and charm of Geoffrey.  I highly recommend him and this boat/crew.

We started our cruise on February 15th...

Our upstairs room
Giant land tortoise 
Day 1: We woke early in Quito and made our way to the airport for our Aerogal flight to the Galapagos. Before we could even get our tickets we had to go through a special Galapagos security check point and get a $10 entry card that would allow us to visit the islands. The flight was about 3 hours long (with a stop over in Guayaquil). Once we landed we went through customs, collected our baggage and met our tour guide, Geoffrey.  Geoffrey led us to a bus that took us on a 30 minute ride across the island of Baltra to a ferry that would take us to the island of Santa Cruz. We then climbed on to a nice air conditioned bus and made our way in to the highlands to have lunch at a hacienda called Manzanillo.  (The food was good but they tried to serve me chicken even after the guide told them that I did not eat meat.  Ha, it is common here for people to hear vegetarian and think that chicken is still alright).  After lunch we took a tour of the grounds around the hacienda. All over the wooded landscape were giant land tortoises.  Geoffrey explained how they come to the high land to mate and then return to the lower land for food.  They were super huge and beautiful. After our fill of tortoises we were bussed to the main town (perhaps the only one) on the island: Puerto Ayora. Here we were given some free time. John and I chose to walk around the Charles Darwin Research Station and then around the town. Finally at 6:00 we were able to make our way to the boat.  We took a "panga" ride (dinghy ride) out to the boat that was anchored in the harbor. On board we were welcomed with drinks and shown to our rooms. John's parents surprised us and gave us the upstairs suite instead of the twin state room on the lower level that we were supposed to have. The room was much bigger than I imagined and it was perfect. After settling in we all met down stairs for dinner (buffet style, amazing food) and to hear what the plans were for the next day. Having been up since 4:30am our crew was all tired and ready for bed shortly after dinner. John and I went up to the top deck to relax in the ocean breeze on the giant outdoor beds before officially calling it a night. 

Sea lion posing on the dock
Drinking out of a coconut on the beach
 2: During the night the boat motored over to our first stop off the shore of Isabella Island. John and I were so excited that we woke up early and went to the upper deck to see what we could see. We ended up seeing a shark swim right next to the boat. After a wonderful breakfast (so many choices) we picked out our snorkel gear and set it aside to use later in the morning. Then we were off on a “panga” ride to Isabella Island. Before arriving on the island our guide took us for a short water based tour and we were able to see a blue footed booby, some turtles swimming, iguanas sunning themselves and some other birds. The area of the island that we walked around was covered, and I mean covered, with iguanas. It was the time of year when the females were busy making and guarding nests. It was interesting to see the pregnant mamas kicking sand and rocks all over in an effort to create the best nest. We walked by a place on the path that was crawling with recently hatched iguanas. They were so small and fast.  Right next to the baby iguanas was a canal that had white tipped reef sharks just relaxing along the bottom and some sea turtles swimming over the top. Later in the morning we did our first snorkel. Holy cow! The water was so cold. Also, I have a fear of big rocks under the water and the goal of the snorkel was to swim around the rocks to see the marine life. After hyperventilating for a few minutes and calming me nerves I started to enjoy myself.  At one point I even spotted a shark! (The first of many). After about an hour we returned to the boat for lunch and a quick rest. We finished up the afternoon with a trip to the town on Isabella island. We saw flamingos, a turtle sanctuary and various other birds. Geoffrey took us to the beach and we stopped at a bar to have coconut juice.  We were supposed to watch the sun set from the beach but the weather did not want to cooperate so we just returned to the boat to have dinner. What a busy first full day. 
Iguanas posing in the sun

The Panga
Day 3: Woke up early again and went to the top deck. The boat had moved again during the night and we were around the West side of Isabella Island. As we were watching the sun rise we got to see a whale!! It came up for air right next to the boat. It was crazy to see because it is not the time of year that you would typically see a whale in those waters.  After breakfast we took a panga ride of the shore to see the giant iguanas that only lived in that area. Some sea lions swam around the boat and we got to see a PENGUIN for the first time!! We were also to able to see the flightless cormorant. It is a bird that only lives in the Galapagos and it is unable to fly. It is however able to dive down in the water to search for food.  Our morning hike took us to a 1000 year old lava field. The landscape was unreal, just hot black jagged lava formations for as far as we could see. Our morning snorkel found us swimming with some giant sea turtles and colorful fish. During lunch the boat moved to our afternoon location in Elizabeth Bay. Geoffrey surprised us with an extra snorkel session.  We got to see tons of marine and land animals. After the snorkel we took a ride around an island and saw a hawk searching for food. At one point he made a dive for a penguin but the penguin dove into the water. We passed out shortly after dinner.

Snorkel Johnny
Whale bones
Day 4: This morning our hike was on the island called Fernandina. We were able to see more nesting iguanas and the bones of a whale. The hike was hot but the lava landscape was so interesting that it did not matter. Our morning snorkel was off the coast of this island. We were supposed to see the iguanas swimming… we saw only one. During lunch we moved to Tagus cove. We went snorkeling in the cove and it was the best time EVER. Why? Because I was finally able to SWIM WITH A PENGUIN!!! My life is complete. John and I also saw sea turtles, sea stars, a cormorant and we were able to swim with some playful sea lions. About 15 minutes before our time was up a huge manta raw swam within 10 feet of us. It was at least 12 feet wide and it scared the crap out of me. John swam after it for a while and I swam in the opposite direction. It was officially the largest marine animal that I had ever swam with. The afternoon hike took us up a trail on the base of the Darwin Volcano.

Johnny with baby sea lion and mom
Day 5: Last night we crossed the equator, rounded the tip of Isabella, and then crossed the equator again. We woke up early so that we could get to Espumilla Beach in time to see some sea turtles finishing up their nests that they had started the previous night.  We saw some tracks in the sand and we were able to see the last mama turtle make her way back to the ocean. After a short
Sea turtle tracks returning to the sea
hike on the island we went for our morning snorkel off the panga. Since we were on the other side of the island (blocked from the cold current in the west) we had the warmest water so far. It was like bath water. We saw some eagle rays, a jelly fish and a shark. Back on board the boat we had permission to jump off the side and into the water. Johnny and I each had a jump off the second level of the boat (about 15ft to the water). It only hurt a little when we landed but it was fun. Afternoon snorkeling was slightly a bust because the water was murky. The island walk made up for it thought because we were able to see some baby sea lions nursing on the shore.

Rabida Island
Beach on Chinese Hat
Day 6: John and I spent the early morning before breakfast on the upper deck enjoying the silence. This morning’s hike was on Rabida Island. Geoffrey led us around the island and we got some cool views. Then without returning to the big boat we got to snorkel right off the beach. The beach was so pretty and the water was so clear. We swam along the rocky shore and saw lots of fish, sea lions and sharks. At one point a man on our boat named Andre (from Scotland) swam over to me and handed me a sea cucumber. It was orange/yellowish and such a weird kind of squish. My fingers almost sunk into it and when I moved them away from it there were indents (I promise that I was not hurting or squeezing it). After lunch I had another amazing snorkel. You guessed it… it was WITH A PENGUIN. This time the penguin and I swam together for like 5 minutes. He did not even care that I was behind him. I followed so close and I could see his little feet and tummy. I just wanted to reached out and hug him and love him. After a while he swam deep and out of my sight. Oh penguin. Afterward I found a six legged star fish and then a four legged on (five is normal). I swam over some resting sharks and rays and then I said hello to a penguin that was sitting on the coast. Love them! The afternoon hike was on the island known as Chinese Hat. There was some debate on our boat as to whether it really looked like a Chinese Hat. The island had a beautiful beach and a ton of sea lions. The hike was short and we took a panga ride along the shore before returning to the big boat for dinner.  Wonderful day.

Bartholomew Island
Day 7: Our last full day in the Galapagos. Sad. Early wake up call today (5:45am). Johnny and I actually slept on the upper deck for the whole night.  We took the comforter off the bed in our room and enjoyed the fresh air all night long. We were caught coming down in the morning by the captain, but I do not think that he cared. We were up early because our morning walk was on a hot lava field and we wanted to be done before the sun was strong and hot. Geoffrey explained that there were two types of lava that we were walking on: Aa (pronounced Ahh-ahh) and Pahoyhoy. Aa lava is called such because it is sharp and hurt to walk on it. Pahoyhoy means “rope” and the lava looks like coils of rope when it cools. The morning snorkel was along the coast of Santiago Island. There were a ton of fish, some sting rays and a PENGUIN! Lunch today was on the open air second deck because the crew made us a BBQ. I could not have the meat but they made corn and it was delicious (other food too). After a short rest we went for our last snorkel along Bartholomew Island. The underwater rock formations were crazy and slightly scary. I made friends with a penguin who was sitting on a rock observing all the people. I even got my picture taken with him.  It was only about a foot tall and again I had to refrain from reaching out and taking it in for a hug. The afternoon hike took us up to the top of Bartholomew Island. From there we could see the most photographed spot in the Galapagos. It is the view from the looked out down on to Pinnacle Rock and two crescent beaches. So pretty. After a group picture we headed back to the boat for our final dinner. Before dinner though John and I made our way to the bridge and the captain let us take the wheel and then get a picture with him. I am going to miss the food on the boat.

Happy travelers

Day 8: Final day in the Galapagos and another early morning. We took a panga ride to Santa Cruz Island and walked along the coast being careful to avoid going near newly dug sea turtle nests. At one point along the beach we saw a bunch of metal sticking out the sand and it turns out that it is the remnants of a barge that ended up there. Creepy. Right before heading back to the boat we saw seven baby black tipped reef sharks swimming in shallow water. They were only about a foot long. As we were packing up our things and getting ready for a final goodbye a giant full rainbow appeared in the sky. A nice way to end this visit to the Galapagos.

Geoffrey... BEST guide ever!

This is definitely a trip that we will remember for our whole lives. We are so lucky and thankful to have been able to have this opportunity. We owe our awesome experience to John’s wonderful parents. Thank you again and again Jeannie and Bob for this once in a lifetime adventure. It was truly amazing.  Thank you also to John’s Aunt Diane and Uncle Steve for taking the time to come down to Ecuador and share in this experience. We had a wonderful time : )

Interesting fact: Bringing pretty much anything into the Galapagos (such as soil, bugs, animals, etc.) is prohibited. The same would go for bringing anything out. I mean anything. Not a shell, a cup of sand, a dried star fish or even….  iguanas. But guess what? A German man thought that he could sneak multiple iguanas past security and back to the main land. The man actually caught the iguanas, wrapped them in aluminum foil, stuck them in his bag and went through security in the airport. Security personnel were inspecting his bag closely because they thought the X-ray showed he was trying to take back tree branches.  What they were actually seeing were the tips of the iguana’s tails that were not covered in foil. According to our native guide the man was fined $15,000 per iguana and will serve 4 years in jail. Point of the story: They are serious when they tell you not to take ANYTHING from the islands. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Amber, for this wonderful account of an extraordinary adventure.

    We did intend for the trip to be a sort of delayed honeymoon for Johnny & Amber. But while Amber makes it sound like a magnanimous gesture on our part (giving them the "matrimonial suite"), it actually worked out to our benefit -- we didn't need to climb up & down the ladder numerous times a day!