It was now May 11th and time for us to depart to the Galapagos! I had previously visited in 2008 and was looking forward to getting reacquainted with these magical islands. This portion of the tour was organized through Richard Berry Photography. I was happy to relinquish organizing duties to Richard at this time and knew I would be taken care of and that everything would be managed professionally. We would again sail on the same yacht, the Flamingo I, that we had used previously. The yacht and two tour guides-Orlando and Ivan-came to us through Ecoventura. According to their own press, “for over two decades, Ecoventura has shared the enchantment of the Galapagos Islands, our planets most precious and unique ecosystem, with thousands of travelers and enriched lives with an extraordinary profusion of exotic and often endemic flora and fauna. As a family owned expedition cruise company, we are committed to providing our valued guests an authentic experience in small compatible groups, offering good value, as well as a safe and memorable, mind-expanding voyage. Ecoventura was born out of a desire to offer small groups the most inspiring wildlife experience possible in the Galapagos while offering hands-on exploration of nature with enough varied activities sure to leave a lasting impression in each guest’s life; hiking through trails of volcanic formations or nesting sea birds, on a secluded beach with hundreds of sea lions, snorkeling with penguins and sharks, kayaking in a secluded cove or taking a zodiac ride to explore the shoreline and spot wildlife”. I believe this was the fifth time Richard had used the same expedition cruise company and with good reason. They run a first-class operation! Tour operators act as a conduit between travellers and the area they are traveling in. They can either augment or diminish the experience. In our case, they most definitely augmented it and added elements of education and fun that ensured the memories of this fantastic trip would remain with us forever.
For those of you not familiar with the Galapagos, the Galapagos Islands (official name: Archipiélago de Colón, other Spanish names: Islas Galápagos, Spanish pronunciation: [ɡaˈlapaɣos]) are an archipelago of volcanic islands distributed on either side of the Equator in the Pacific Ocean, 926 km (575 mi) west of continental Ecuador, of which they are a part. The Galapagos Islands and their surrounding waters form an Ecuadorian province, a national park, and a biological marine reserve. The principal language on the islands is Spanish. The islands have a population of slightly over 25,000. The islands are famed for their vast number of endemic species and were studied by Charles Darwin during the voyage of the Beagle. His observations and collections contributed to the inception of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. You may ask what life aboard a luxury yacht is like sailing around the Galapagos? It’s very nice, VERY nice thank you! Ha… I will try to expound. The yacht holds 20 guests not including crew. There are approximately eight crew members and two naturalist guides. Each pair of guests is assigned a cabin on one of three separate decks on the yacht. The cabins are small but very comfortable and include a private bathroom and shower. Meals are provided for you three times a day and are of the highest quality. There is also a well-stocked bar which, of course, is essential for any adventure! Safety is very important and on initial boarding you are given instructions on safety procedures and a mock safety drill is run so you are aware of what to do if the yacht is sinking (thankfully, we were never required to use these skills). There are generally two major excursions to the islands, with the two guides, per day-one in the morning and one in the afternoon- which require you to leave the boat on a “panga” (zodiac) for either a wet or dry landing (this was a theoretical distinction as most times you did end up getting wet). Several activities including kayaking, deep or shallow water snorkelling or just relaxing on board were interspersed amongst these two major excursions. You returned to the yacht for either lunch or dinner after the excursions and immediately upon arrival you were rewarded with “freshly made/baked treats” and fresh fruit juices…… so civilized and appreciated! We really were pampered. The evening generally involved a short educational session on some important topic about the Galapagos and a review of the next days itinerary and activities prior to our first class dinners. Usually after dinner we would retire to the upper “sun deck” to reminisce about the days activities and watch the stars as we generally sailed in the evening to our next destination. Except for the first evening’s dinner, each pair of cabins would share a table with Captain Homero. The crew was extremely friendly and genuinely passionate about their jobs. This was evidenced by the numerous years most of the crew members and guides had worked with this particular expedition cruise company. The visits to the islands were tightly managed because of the sensitivity of the ecosystems. There were well designated trails on the islands that we visited in order to minimize our impact. Both guides were extremely knowledgeable and committed to educating us regarding all aspects of the Galapagos. They were also entertaining, in particular Ivan. The trails were generally quite easy to hike and varied in length from 2-8 km. Humidity was very high and temperatures generally reached 17-23 C. for a high. Rainfall was minimal. Numerous visitors now come to the Galapagos, so the tour companies generally coordinated their schedules to try to minimize the number of parties visiting an island on any particular day. This allowed a quiet and intimate experience on each island.
Our particular itinerary- M/Y Eric-Letty-Flamingo I/ 2014-B was as follows:
Day 1- May 11 2014- San Cristobal
Day 2- May 12 2014- Genovesa
Day 3- May 13 2014- Santa Cruz
Day 4- May 14 2014- Fernandina/Isabela
Day 5- May 15 2014- Isabela
Day 6- May 16 2014- Santiago/Rabida/Santa Cruz
Day 7- May 17 2014- Santa Cruz/San Cristobal
Day 8- May 18 2014- San Cristobal
May 11th, our first day, was spent getting settled on the Flamingo I and then venturing out to the main port city of San Cristobal Island, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, as well as a land turtle sanctuary in the highlands. Ecuadorian biologists are working to maintain and promote the continued existence of these animals that are so emblematic of the Galapagos Islands. We watched a beautiful sunset in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno before boarding our panga to return to the Flamingo I as we would be sailing that evening for Genovesa Island. For the sake of brevity, as hundreds of pictures were taken at each island and so many experiences occurred, in subsequent posts I will only show a small number of my favourite photographs from each island with brief musings of particularly enjoyable experiences that occurred. I hope you understand.