Karly G, one of our intrepid Galapagos Eco Tour participants, writes about her experiences:
“Hello back home!
It’s been such an an incredible week in the Galapagos!
Our Galapgos Eco Tour group arrived on the deserted Baltra Island in the Galapagos. The airport stood alone among the red dust and cacti, attached to the lone road leading to a boat station. We started our trek to Isabela Island, the largest, seahorse-shaped isle on the west side of the archipelago, and passed our two hour speedboat ride by keeping our eyes peeled for sharks or dolphins in the bright blue water.
Finally we reached Isabela Island, and not three steps off the dock, two huge sea turtles floated serenely to the surface of the ocean; almost immediately, five sea lions swoop in and start flipping and frolicking around the turtles, pissing them off entirely but giving us a great show and such a fantastic welcome to the Galapagos.
The following day we hiked up the Sierra Negra volcano, the second largest active volcano on earth. The scenery changes from a humid rainforest, to balmy grasslands, to lush, dense tropical forest, to the scorched apex littered with black lava rocks; one highlight of the hike was seeing the 10km caldera of the volcano spewing sulfur gases against the fantastically blue skies.
The view at the top of the volcano was simply spectacular! On the way, we spotted scaled caterpillars, lava lizards, finches, cacti, giant vent caves, and enormous mango trees big enough to sit on the branches. As we walked down the other side of the volcano, we spotted the very rare Vermillion Flycatcher bird hiding in the dense rainforest flora. After lunch, we saw wild flamingos and visited a turtle & tortoise breeding and rehabilitation centre, with hundreds of residents ranging from eggs to 150yrs and older. The little guys were surprisingly quick and so unafraid of people!
The day ended on the beach, with a sugar cane rum in a coconut in one hand, sandy toes and a glorious sunset lighting up the skies. Paradise.
A group of us got up early to squeeze in one last snorkeling trip before leaving Isabela Island. Past the white sand beach and sleeping sea lions, we found a secluded dock where we suited up and jumped in. Not a minute and a half later, I stumbled upon a huge ray sleeping at the bottom of the ocean floor! The visibility was incredible, and soon we were swimming alongside another sea turtle and watching it munch on the algae covered rocks. Great way to start the day!
Soon it was time to board our incredible catamaran with its eight beautiful staterooms, common dining & lounge areas, TV, bar service, and an entire upper deck with lounge chairs [chill-outs] for sun basking/burning. We were really roughing it out there, clearly…
After settling into to our cabins, we took a dinghy ride to the island of Santa Cruz. We went to a ranch, where the wild giant tortoises roam free. Among the dry foliage, it was easy to pick out the 300+ pound gigantic tortoises making their way (slowly but surely) across the grounds. We even saw one taking a mud bath in the late afternoon sun. Next, we visited the nearby lava tubes, giant underground tunnels made by lava while the island of Santa Cruz was still forming. Some of our group members ended the tube excursion by climbing through this underground gap (about 3 feet high) to the bright fields beyond. Those who crawled through the gap got their faces wiped with muddy war paint.
Our evening ended on the top deck of our catamaran with our tour-mates: listening to music, drinking rum and cokes, and attempting to dance with the rhythmic sway of the rocking boat. I could really get used to this.
Friday began with a ‘Panga’ (dinghy) ride to Floreana Island. Our wet landing onto the soft beach started off an exciting walk past the shore and onto the wooded expanse of land, untouched apart from the small walking path worn by guides and their groups over the years.
Some animals we saw included flycatcher finches, more flamingos, orange grasshoppers, sting rays washing up with the surf, and Floreana lava lizards, the males of which do push-ups and turn their necks a deep red when becoming territorial or trying to attract a mate.
Our group reached another scenic beach, where we saw pelicans swooping into the blue water, frigate birds soaring overhead, Sally Lightfoot crabs and tracks in the sand where turtles have hatched and made their first trek towards the sea.
Our guide Geoff told us that baby turtles often get confused on colder summer days and think it’s time to leave their nest under the sand too early. The circling frigate birds were on patrol today, looking for any confused turtle babies for lunch. Sure enough, Geoff was in the middle of talking about crabs when one of the black birds above dove towards the sand; in a flash, it was airborne again, with something small dangling from its mouth. After fending off another bird trying to steal his prey, this frigate tipped his beak back and swallowed the baby turtle whole before soaring up to the clouds once again. Wow!
It was time to go snorkeling again, in a place we were told was going to be “the best snorkel site of the trip”. I was pretty skeptical- how can you beat following sharks to their resting grounds? We backflipped off the Pangas and almost right away, one of the blue footed boobies circling overhead dive-bombed the waters in front of us. It took off again in a blur of wet feathers with a fish in its bill! We saw parrotfish by the dozens, urchins, yellow tailed surgeon fish and barracudas. These massive schools of silver fish (think Finding Nemo) moved in unison, matching the ebb and flow off the choppy waters and the sudden movements of any prey. We saw yet another boobie dive for his lunch… this one swam at least 50ft to catch a fish in its beak!
But the real highlight of this snorkel excursion were the sea lions. There were at least 50 of these creatures on the surrounding rocks or in the water, barking or flipping their way under the ocean and around us bumbling snorkellers. They were so curious and fearless of us- at the end of the dive, one alpha male started to bite on the end of my fins, while his harem swooped and flipped around us. What a morning!
After lunch, we went to Post Office Bay. There’s an old barrel where whalers 300 years ago would leave letters for family and loved ones for anyone passing by the same spot who might visit their town. The tradition in still continued today, and we left our letter after looking for any Vancouver addresses that we could hand-deliver, once back home.
After some beach bumming, snorkeling (I’m getting addicted), and a crew vs passenger game of soccer/futball, we ended the day by jumping off the side of catamaran for a swim in the cool water below.
Saturday started with a trip to Lobos Island. What I thought were at first hundreds of rocks scattered along the white sandy beach in the distance became an enormous colony of sea lions, once we got a bit closer and I put my glasses on! We were one of the only groups there in the late morning sun, and we spent over an hour with these massive creatures: walking amongst the sea lions and watching them bask in the heat of the sun, bark at one another, roll around on the bright white sand, snap at each other and sleep.
About a million photos later we were back on the boat and ready for a few more rounds of snorkeling. We spotted a baby black tipped reef shark swimming in the open water before we drifted between two rocky walls filled with sea stars, schools of yellow tailed surgeon fish and blue-green parrot fish. A second snorkeling site offered a barracuda sighting and a bit of cave snorkeling.
Next we visited the incredible Espanola Island and were greeted by jumping sea lions as we approached the tiny wooden dock. The lava rocks were dripping with ink-black marine iguanas (the only sea-going reptile in the world), either soaking up some rays or crawling out of the chilly blue water. Sea lions were, of course, there too: swatting away pesky flies and twitching in their sleep, as if dreaming about catching a particularly delicious fish. Away from the shore, we passed nesting albatrosses, shielding their eggs from the hot sun, and we came across what our guide called the ‘albatross airport’, where these beautiful creatures soared and dipped in the sky, trying to find the perfect gust of wind with which to land. We also got a glimpse of an albatross couple doing their mating dance, a unique ritual between birds that mate for life. The setting sun was the perfect ‘mood lighting’ for two mating blue footed boobies on the path back to the boat!
With Sangria that night helping to sooth my sunburned skin, we listened to another lecture on the Galapagos marine reserve and some unique marine life that the Galapagos waters have to offer.
Tomorrow will be our last full day together on the Galapagos Eco Tour… time flies!
Our last day started before dawn, as our group decided to fit an extra hike into our already packed agenda. This hike would take us to a very deserted place where herds of wild tortoises roam! Not needing much more persuading, we disembarked from our Pangas on another pristine beach and found the trail head. The sun had just barely risen so the temperature was mild, and we made good time hiking through the dry forest, past bleached white goat bones and turtle shells and prickly shrubs.
As we got closer to the end of the hike, we began to pass more and more tortoises; we spotted at least 40 in view from the path! Some of us decided to push ahead and we were soon rewarded with an astounding view of a lava rock field, with tortoises EVERYWHERE, in every direction we looked. We even saw two mating tortoises among the rocks, and another sticking its long neck out to reach the bright yellow flowers growing along the rock wall. The space was silent and serene, a truly incredible place to observe the beauty of nature!
Next it was time to snorkel! Around Hedgehog rock we saw thousands of swooping birds of all types and battled crashing waves to see some pretty spectacular marine life- I saw the rare lemon yellow pufferfish hiding in a rocky crevice on the ocean floor.
After lunch and a bit of down time, we went beach bumming near Sleeping Lion Rock. We were just playing some sand Pictionary with our tour group when we got some breaking news: a school of hammerheads was spotted near Sleeping Lion Rock, and if we went fast, we might see them! In a flash, we were back on the boat, wrestling into wet suits and getting our gear together. Racing the sun set (we had to be out of the water before nightfall, no exceptions), we were able to squeeze in about 25mins of the most amazing snorkeling yet. We swam right next to a beautiful eagle ray and spotted 7…8…9 Galapagos sharks mixing with at least 5 giant sea turtles around the channel between the two giant rock faces. We climbed back on our Pangas (very reluctantly) just as the clock chimed 6 and the sun set in a flourish of reds and golds. What a fantastic way to end the day!!
Monday morning -my last day with my Galapagos EcoTour group- and what a time we’ve had! We ended our tour with a morning boat ride to watch the red breasted frigate birds entice female frigates flying overhead in the cloudy skies. Watching these males puff out their red chests and flap their wings impressively each and every time a female swooped past gave us all a laugh and reminded me a little bit of the Granville strip in downtown Vancouver…
Soon we were docked on the beautiful island of San Cristobal, with its quaint shops lining the boardwalk where sea lions lounged on benches and on playground equipment. I checked into my hotel and said goodbye to one of the best travel buddies anyone could ask for- I’m going to miss you a lot!
But I guess it’s time to move on to my next adventure.”