June 26th - July 6th, 2003
When Rasa and I first set foot on the panga (the motor powered Zodiaks used
to shuffle passengers from ship to shore in the Galapagos) sent from the
Eclipse to the dock in Baltra, our guide William greeted everyone and said
"welcome to the last paradise on Earth." Over the course of the next seven
days, I would come to realize that truer words were never spoken.
Our trip to the Galapagos Islands has been about two years in the making
and was pretty much entirely Rasa's baby. I've come to realize during our
planning (and since our return) that many people don't really know too
much about these islands, their location, or their significance. Many
people who do know about the islands are under the impression that it's
not open (or at least easily accessible) to visitors. I actually had that
Admitting to being an Animal Planet junky, we've seen numerous programs
about the wildlife of the Galapagos and, with each program, Rasa's desire
to visit grew. Especially when we discovered that visiting the islands was,
The research began and we had actually gone so far as to book the trip
in 2002. Circumstances here at home, however, forced us to cancel. This
year, it was going to happen no matter what. So we booked it. Our itinerary
took us into Quito, Ecuador on Thursday, June 26th. The 27th was spent in
Quito and, on Saturday the 28th, we flew to Baltra and boarded the Eclipse
where we lived for the next seven days. As we usually do, Rasa and I kept
a detailed journal of each day's activities. Using that journal as a guide,
I've put together a condensed write of the trip.
- The Islands
- Thursday, June 26th - Travel
- Friday, June 27th - Quito
- Saturday, June 28th - Baltra, Santa Cruz
- Sunday, June 29th - San Salvador, Bartolome
- Monday, June 30th - Genovesa
- Tuesday, July 1st - Fernandina, Isabela
- Wednesday, July 2nd - Isabela
- Thursday, July 3rd - Santa Cruz
- Friday, July 4th - Espanola
- Saturday, July 5th - Santa Cruz, Baltra, Quito
- Sunday, July 6th - Travel
The Galapagos Islands are best known for being the place that inspired Charles
Darwin to come up with his theory of evolution by natural selection. The
islands lie in the Pacific Ocean about 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador.
Like the Hawaiin Islands, the Galapagos have been formed by hot spots in the
plate they lie on. The oldest islands are about four million years old
making the islands youngsters by geological standards. They continue to
move and change today as evidence by heavy volcanic acivity on the islands
of Fernandina and Isabela all within the last ten years.
The islands were not discovered by man until 1535 when father Tomas Berlanga
found them by accident while sailing from Panama to Peru. He described a
harsh desert-like terrain, giant tortoises, marine iguanas, sea lions, and
the amazing tameness of all the wildlife. The islands were rarely visited
after that but they did become a refuge for pirates and buccanneers. These
visitors, discovering that a tortoise could live for up to a year with no
food or water, would take the tortoises by the thousands from the islands
and keep them stacked upside down on their ships so they could have fresh
meat to eat. The tortoise population was severely depleted during these times
and many are on the endangered species list. Each island in the Galapagos
has it's own unique species of tortoise and the Pinta Island species is
today survived by only a single male named "Lonesome George" who resides
at the Darwin Research Center and is estimated at about 80 years old.
Charles Darwin visited the islands in 1835 for scientific study. Darwin
recognized that since these islands were formed by volcanic activity, the
life on the islands had to come from somewhere else. But since many of the
species found on the islands are not found anywhere else, he concluded that
they must have evolved from South American ancestors.
Today, the islands are owned by the country of Ecuador. About 95% percent
of the land made up by the islands is a national park. The island of Baltra
is owned by the Ecuadorian military. Baltra is home to the only airstrip
in the archipelago which was originally built by the United States during
WWII as a base that could be used to protect the Panama Canal. In addition
to Baltra, there are small human settlements on the islands of Santa Cruz,
San Cristobal, Floreana, and Isabela. This is merely a small dent, however,
and the rest of the islands are unspoiled and heavily protected by the
government of Ecuador. Visiting these islands means traveling by boat. Only
day excursions are permitted and anyone setting foot on the islands (aside
from the settlements) must be accompanied by a guide. The animals of the
Galapagos are still as tame as they were before the islands were discovered
by people and they don't have any fear of human beings. The wildlife is
abundant. To move among them is to move around them. To look at the terrain
of the islands could almost be a look back in time at the evolution of the
continents most of us live on. It's really not like any place else on Earth.
Thursday, June 26th - Travel
We traveled from Detroit to Quito, Ecuador by way of Houston. We arrived
in Quito at about 11:00PM and we were promptly greeted by Bonnie and her
husband. Bonnie worked for Klein Tours and would be responsible for our
transportation to and from the airport both coming and going. At that time
of the evening, the city of Quito was a little eerie as it was pretty much
void of any activity and looked very run down. Bonnie cautioned us against
going out at night after things closed up saying it would be dangerous for
us. Even while driving, her husband only treated red lights as stop signs.
She said that stopping at red lights at that time of night was likely to
get you robbed so it was best to just keep moving.
After a short drive, we arrived at the Hotel Mercure and checked in. The
staff at the hotel were very accomodating. They kept our room stocked with
bottled water and advised against drinking water from the tap. Even brushing
our teeth was to be done with bottled water. Our room was reasonably
comfortable. We didn't need much as we would only be there until Saturday
morning. Shortly after arriving, we retired for the night.
Friday, June 27th - Quito
We were up early. Quito is parked right on the equator and is also very high
above sea level perched at over 9000 feet. This meant restless sleeping for
us as we're not used to being that high up. After cleaning up, we went down
for the breakfast buffet and set out on the town. Quito looked very different
now. There were people walking around everywhere and heavy traffic. We walked
from our hotel into the old part of town and saw some grand old churches.
With the high elevation, it was tiring for us to walk up and down the steep
narrow cobblestone streets and before long, we found ourselves heading back
for a rest. Just like many countries outside of the US, the streets of Quito
were rolled up at around noon for a siesta so we pretty much laid low until
about 3:00PM when we set out on foot again checking out various little shops
near our hotel. We didn't stay out that long though before heading back
again. Our hearts weren't really into the urban exploration this time around
as that wasn't the reason for this trip.
Later in the evening, we walked over to a restuarant in the Hilton called
Portofino for dinner. Our meals were excellent. This was a first rate
restaurant and the entrees ranged from around $6 to $12. Very cheap for
that kind of food and service. We had a real nice evening and ended up
staying at our table talking for quite some time. When we finally decided
to head back, we stepped out and found that the eerie Quito from the night
before had returned. We were just getting into the time of night that Bonnie
had cautioned us not to go out in. We braved it though and didn't run into
any trouble. Once back in our room, we turned in.
Saturday, June 28th - Baltra, Santa Cruz
We woke at 6:30AM, grabbed some breakfast, and met up with Bonnie at 7:00
who transported us back to the airport. Our flight for the islands left at
9:30AM. We stopped briefly in Quayaquil to pick up more passengers. From
the airplane windows, Quayaquil looked like a nicer and wealthier area than
Quito. Several more people boarded here and by the time we got back into
the air, the plane was full. The flight to the island of Baltra took about
an hour and a half. The descent was gorgeous. Nothing but blue water with
some scattered islands. The airstrip in Baltra wasn't much shorter than the
island itself which made for an interesting landing. The instant we got off
the plane, we were obviously in a different place than the mainland. At
sea level, the temperature was much higher and the sun was blazing. I should
point out here, however, that this being our summer up here in the north,
the weather was milder in the Galapagos than it had been in Detroit the week
We got through the arrival area in the airport fairly quickly showing our
passports and paying our fees to get into the park. Once inside, we were
greeted by some people from our ship and once everyone was there, we boarded
a bus for the dock area. Down at the dock, it was time for what would become
a regular occurrence over the next seven days. We all put on life jackets
and, in groups, boarded pangas that were waiting in the water. Panga is
what they call the Zodiaks that took us from ship to shore every day. Nobody
rides in a panga without a life jacket and, aside from passengers, each panga
has a driver and a guide. Our guide for the first jaunt from dock to ship was
William. Once we were all in the panga and underway, he said hello and then
said "welcome to the last paradise on Earth". We moved out to deeper water and
caught our first site of the Eclipse. This was the ship that would be our home
for the next seven days.
The Eclipse wasn't a huge ship. By cruise standards, it was actually pretty
small. There were roughly 42 passengers sailing that week and about 32 crew
members. When we arrived, our first order of business was to find our
cabins and drop our bags. Rasa and I were assigned to cabin #5 which was one
level down from the main reception area toward the front of the ship on the
port side. From there, we all gathered in the meeting room up front for a
briefing on our trip and to meet our guides and cruise director.
The cruise director was Mario. Mario was a big and very good natured man who
hailed from Columbia. He was the first one up in the morning, the last to go
to sleep, and was always geniunely smiling. He talked a little about the
runnings of the ship and then turned the talk over to Bolivar. Bolivar is
a native of the Galapagos Islands having grown up on Santa Cruz. Boly gave
most of the briefings and led the snorkeling expeditions (as well as guiding
all of the land expeditions with the other guides). The next guide we met
was William (although Rasa and I had met William on the panga ride over).
William was another native from the island of San Cristobal. The next guide
was Leonard who was from Quito. Both William and Leonard seemed very
knowledgeable in the Earch sciences and the geology of the islands. The
last guide we met (who we unfortunately didn't spend a lot of time with)
was Batina. Of all the guides, Batina (or B.T. as she was called by the kids)
seemed to have the best command of the english language (although all of
the guides spoke excellent english). She also seemed to work exceptionally
well with children and so she was always the guide who would take out the
group of "Young Explorers".
Of all the passengers, I'm ashamed to say that we didn't do very well with
names during the week. It seemed to be another one of those formalities that
was dropped as we removed ourselves from the civilized world. Aside from the
two of us, there were two groups of English women traveling together, a
couple from Tuscon Arizona, a couple from Santa Barbara, a family of four
from Portland Oregon, another family of four from Connecticut, and a couple
from Davenport Iowa traveling with their grandson. In addition, the Eclipse
was in the process of being purchase by another travel company and the owner
was traveling with his wife, two daughters, and two grandsons. The daughters
were traveling with boyfriends/spouses who were involved with the business.
The two grandsons were twins. They were very good looking boys with an
equally good command of both the English and Spanish language.
The young kids on the ship were immediately branded by Bolivar as the "Young
Explorers" and, during the week, went on most of the expeditions together
led by Batina with a few other adults along for moral support.
Bachus Beach (Santa Cruz)
Our first official stop once we were underway was the island of Santa Cruz
which was only a short jaunt from Baltra. We anchored off the north end of
the island at Bachus Beach and hopped in the pangas for a trip to shore.
Bachus was a wet landing which meant we got as close as we could to shore
and then hopped into the water to walk the rest of the way. Some landings
would be wet, others would be dry. A dry landing meant that we could find
a natural outcropping of rock to use as a dock and get off with our hiking
Anyway ... Bachus was beautiful. It was a nice white sandy beach. Lenny,
our guide, took as along the shore and the sandy beach gave way to black
rock caused by lava flows. There were colorful Sally Lightfoot Crabs all
over the rocks and as we crossed a narrow path from one section to the other,
we caught our first glimpse of a marine iguana right in our way. This one was
small (about 2-3 feet). I was pretty excited about seeing this beast but only
because I hadn't yet realized how plentiful they are. We would see a lot
more over the next seven days.
As we walked along the shore, we saw several holes where giant sea turtles
had laid eggs and even saw tracks in the sand where a turtle had returned
to the water after making a nest. No turtles yet though. We did come to
an inland pond where a group of good sized flamingos where drinking and
filtering algae. We also saw some blue footed boobies out over the ocean
hunting for fish. This was amazing. They would circle high above the water
until they spotted something. Then they would go into a dive, pull their
wings in at the last minute, and torpedo into the water making virtually
no splash and disappearing for a few seconds before coming back up.
After about an hour, we ended up back at our landing sight with time to
kill so we just hung out on the beach. Several members of our party
(including Rasa) took the opportunity to go swimming as well. After a while,
the pangas returned and we headed back to the ship.
We arrived back at the Eclipse to find some snacks waiting for us as well
as some juice. During the entirety of the trip, we would be fed very well
and have access to a huge variety of tropical fruit juices most of which
I couldn't identify. Very tasty though.
At 7:00PM, we had the first of our nightly briefings to go over plans for
the next day followed by a spectacular buffet dinner in the dining room.
After sitting out on the deck until well after sunset, we turned in.
Sunday, June 29th - San Salvador, Bartolome
We were both up by 6:30AM. At about 6:40, some nice piano music started
piping through the intercom. At 6:45, Mario's voice came in over top of
the music saying, in Spanish and then in English "good morning ladies and
gentlemen, it is 6:45 and time to wake up". This would be a daily ritual.
At 7:00AM, a buffet breakfast was served in the dining room. After breakfast,
we had until 8:00 to get ready for the morning excursion.
James Bay (San Salvador)
At about 2:00AM this morning, we pulled up anchor at Bachus Beach and
cruised to San Salvador. Actually, this island was discovered and named
several times so, depending on who you talk to, it is either James, Santiago,
or San Salvador. Most of the maps I've seen show it as Santiago.
After breakfast, we dropped anchor in James Bay and took the pangas in for
another wet landing. The beach was quite different from yesterday. Much more
lava rock and the sandy portions were black. After our landing, we went for
long hike. We saw Galapagos hawks and some more hunting by the Blue Footed
Boobies. We got to a portion that was extremely rocky and saw many sea lions
and fur seals. This area was also littered with many marine iguanas. We even
saw some baby sea lions that were only about a week old. This was the spot
where the tameness of the wildlife here became very apparent. We could get
right on top of everything we saw and they just didn't care. We walked around
the sea lions, the iguanas, and the birds and they just ignored us. It was
amazing and made for many great photo opportunities.
We hiked back to the beach where we landed and changed into our snorkeling
gear. A group of us went off the beach and were led by Bolivar. The water
was very clear and, right away, you could see fish everywhere. We swam
through huge schools of sardines as well as several other species of very
colorful tropical fish of varying sizes. As we came around some rocks into
another section, Bolivar was tugging at my arm and pointing. When I looked
where he was pointing, I saw two huge sea turtles swimming in front of us.
They were actually pretty graceful swimmers and almost looked like they
were moving in slow motion. We swam with them for a while and then turned
to head back. On the way, we came across some sea lions. Just like on the
beach, they didn't seemed bothered by our presence and just went about
their business as if we weren't there.
Back at the beach, we boarded the pangas and headed back to the Eclipse
for lunch. Lunch was served on the back deck every day which meant eating
outside (which was nice). Lunch was followed by siesta time. This lasted
until 3:00PM. As the week went on, we got quite used to this quiet time
and actually started taking short naps. During this time, we pulled up
anchor and moved to the other side of San Salvador to the small island of
Bartolome is a very small island and is mostly rock and lava flows. The
first part of the excursion was another snorkeling trip. This time we would
be going in off the panga along the rocky shore. This was where we caught
our first glimpse of the Galapagos penguins. We continued on and got to a
spot where we all went in. The first thing we saw when we got underwater
was four pretty sizeable white tipped sharks. Bolivar had told us several
times not to get nervous about seeing sharks as they've never bothered
anyone here. We took his word for it and continued swimming. I have to say
that this was really cool. After a while, I was getting tired and climbed
back into the panga. Rasa continued and saw several starfish and some
stingrays. They got by the rocks where the penguins were and some of them
jumped into the water. By all accounts, they moved way to fast to follow
once they were in though.
After the snorkeling, we went back to the Eclipse to change into hiking
clothes and then went to the island of Bartolome proper with William as
our guide. We had a dry landing as a rocky outcrop formed a natural dock.
Bartolome is a volcanic island. There is virtually no wildlife there except
for some lizards and the plant life is sparse. Much of the landscape looked
like Mars with the reddish rock. We hiked to the top of the volcano which
was only about 400 feet and caught a glimpse of one of the most photographed
views in the Galapagos. Looking down the lava landscape to the water and
Hiking back down the volcano, we hopped the panga and headed back. Our
next destination would be a long distance away and would be the only stop
north of the equator so the Eclipse set out right away and would be moving
all night. After our 7:00PM briefing and dinner, we lounged a bit out back
and then turned in.
Monday, June 30th - Genovesa
Up at 6:30AM again beating Mario's daily wakeup call. By the time breakfast
was served, we had dropped anchor at Genovesa Island. Another glorious
breakfast served in the dining room.
Darwin Bay (Genovesa)
We docked in Darwin Bay. This was a very interesting bay because you could
tell that it's shape was almost perfectly circular with an opening at one
side for the ship to get in. The bay is actually a giant crater that has
long since filled in with sea water. The only crater larger than this one,
according to our guides, is the Ngorongoro in Africa where Rasa visited
after climbing Kilimanjaro.
We took the pangas in for another wet landing and the beach we landed at
was loaded with sea lions. This was the largest concentration of them we'd
seen yet and they were amazing in that our presence didn't even remotely
disturb them. To walk along the beach meant walking around the snoozing
animals. We could sit right next to them on the beach and they didn't budge.
We set out on foot along the coast line and quickly began rising high
above the water. Once we were away from the beach, the stars of this outing
were the birds. I had never been that interested in bird watching but, at
this place, it was near impossible not to be interested. They were all over
the place. And like the sea lions, they didn't move or fly away when we
walked among them so we stepped carefully. We saw tons of frigates and also
every variety of booby (red footed, blue footed, and masked). The male
frigates were putting on their mating show which we were fortunate enough
to catch. They have a red pouch just under their beaks and, to impress a
female, they fill it with air. Apparently, once they've done this, they
don't deflate for quite a while as it's an expenditure to get it inflated
in the first place. So they'll even fly with the thing inflated and it looks
pretty wierd when they do.
After hiking, we ended up back at the beach where we landed and hung out
with the sea lions for a while before the pangas returned. Our morning
wasn't finished though. The next order of business was to get into our
snorkeling gear and go off the pangas by the cliffs. Bolivar was hoping on
seeing some hammerhead sharks. The water was quite a bit more cloudy in
this area than where we were yesterday largely due to the currents and
waves. We saw a school of a hundred or so manta rays swimming pretty deep.
If you dove down far enough to see them, it looked like the entire ocean
floor was moving. We saw more sharks as well and this was the only time
they made me nervous. I looked down and, fairly deep, I saw a whole school
of white tipped sharks. As I moved above them, I noticed that they were
slowly coming up and getting kind of close. When I looked up to see who
else was around me, I realized that I'd lost my group and was alone. I
didn't panic but I did kick into high gear until I was among people again.
At that point, I'd blown most of my steam so I climbed out. Rasa stayed
in with the group and did manage to see three hammerhead sharks. Bolivar
and another woman head seen one. With all the snorkelers back in the panga,
we headed back to the Eclipse for lunch on the deck.
Prince Philip's Steps (Genovesa)
We remained docked in the bay and, after lunch (and after the daily siesta),
took the pangas for a dry landing at an area called Prince Philip's Steps.
Prince Philip has apparently been a big supporter of the islands and has made
many significant contributions to the conservation of the area. In preparation
for a visit, these steps were built so that Prince Philip could climb up this
area where some amazing views await. I use the term steps pretty loosely
though. There are man made rails to hang onto but the steps themselves are
rock and kind of tricky. Especially when the waves come in and the water makes
The steps don't go on for long and, once we were up on the cliff, the rest
was pretty flat. Again, the stars here were the birds. They were everywhere
and many were nesting. After we passed through the bird colony, we came into
an area that, again, looked like a martian landscape. We were out in an area
that was very large and very flat. You could see for a very long distance
and still there were birds everywhere. Our mission here was to find a short
eared owl. I scanned the landscape with binoculars and was the first to spot
one. After continuing on a bit, we came upon another that was much closer
to us (a couple of feet actually) so we could stop and snap some photos.
From there, we turned and headed back to the steps where we boarded the
pangas and headed back to the Eclipse.
The usual briefing and dinner was again followed by some lounging and then
bed. There was a possibility of an earlier wakeup call the next morning
as we would be passing the equator again and there was the possibility of
spotting whales there.
Tuesday, July 1st - Fernandina, Isabela
No early wakup call so, apparently, there were no whales to be seen. Again
we beat Mario's call and woke at 6:30AM. Breakfast was at 7:00. Just as we
were sitting down with our plates to eat, Bolivar came in and said that there
were a school of dolphins out in the channel. The dining room cleared out in
a matter of seconds. As we cruised through the channel, we could see the
dolphins several yards off the starboard side. They were jumping and moving
along with us. It was almost like a ballet. They were slowly moving away
during all this as well so, after only a few minutes, they had become too
far away to really see anymore so we returned to our meals.
Punta Espinosa (Ferandina)
After breakfast, we made a dry landing on the island of Fernandina. This is
one of the islands that has most recently had volcanic activity (an eruption
in 1995). We landed on black lava rack that stretched out into the water. The
whole landscape was black rock but already, life had come back in abundance
including lots of cactus and some lush mangrove forests. Right away, we were
in the middle of a huge number of marine iguanas as well as tons of birds
and sea lions. It was like Galapagos to excess. They were all over the place
and as tame as ever. The hiking was a bit trickier here as it was all over
rock and there were many crevasses that were very deep. We saw several inland
ponds full of sea water and even saw some big turtles and manta rays swimming
in them. We hiked back beyond our landing site and out onto a peninsula where
we saw a whole family of sea lions and the big male was the largest we'd
seen yet. We also saw a whole bunch of baby iguanas and got a close up look
at a Galapagos hawk that had just caught a baby iguana and was clutching it
in it's talons.
Shortly after 10:00AM, we caught the panga back to the Eclipse in preparation
for another snorkeling outing. I opted out this time but Rasa went out. They
went to a shallow area primarily to look for sea turtles. This time the water
was very cold (even by Michigan standards). Rasa had managed to borrow a
wetsuit top but still shivered. Once they were in the water, they did find
a group of sea turtles that they swam with for a while. Then Rasa left the
group a bit to watch some flightless cormorants diving for food. Later, Rasa
and one of the younger boys left the group and found themselves in contact
with a single sea lion. We had seen them before but this one wanted to play.
It would swim circles around them very quickly and would get right in their
face and blow bubbles. They said it was just amazing and they didn't want
to leave. Rasa said she could here the kid laughing under water. This was
also about the time, however, that everyone had become frigid enough to jump
back in the panga so they called it and came in for lunch.
Tagus Cove (Isabela)
During lunch, the Eclipse moved across the channel to Tagus Cove on the
island of Isabela (the largest of all the islands). After the siesta, we
split into two groups. One group went for a long panga ride around the
coast while the other group (our group) went for a hike followed by a short
panga ride. Our hike was a constant ascent up to a peak that was up about
400 feet from the coast. There wasn't a lot of wildlife in this area but
the views were spectacular. At our first stop, we could see Darwin Lake
which is a large inland lake elevated somewhat off the sea and not visible
from the coast. We continued upward and at every turn, we had a somewhat
better view of the lake with the ocean behind it separated by a thin area
of forest. At the top, we could see the highlands of Isabela and a couple
of the volcanos of the island (the most recent eruption on Isabela was
in 1999 on the south end). After hanging out at the top for a while, we
headed back down for our panga ride. We moved along the coast which was
made up of high cliffs and rocks. There was nowhere you could have gotten
out and attempted to get on dry land. There were birds and iguanas around
every turn hanging out or nesting in the rocks as well as a bunch of sea
lions. Shortly into our ride, Bolivar got a call on his radio that another
group had spotted a school of dolphins in the channel. We raced out to try
and catch them but they were gone. We went back and continued our tour of
the coast and passed by several areas where pelicans were nesting. Many of
the eggs had already hatched and there were baby pelicans all over.
After the ride, we were heading back to the Eclipse. As we got close, there
was nobody there to help us pull up and Bolivar radioed up to see what was
going on. Someone came back on the radio speaking Spanish. Bolivar pulled
up to the ladder and said anyone who wanted to get out should move guickly
as a whale had been spotted in the channel and whoever stayed would go out
to see it. Three people got out (why, I can't imagine) and the rest of us
moved at full throttle out into the channel. Like a beacon, we spotted the
blow of a whale. Bolivar somehow could track it's direction (not really
sure how) and each time it surfaced and blew we were closer until finally
we were right on top of it. Amazing! It came up for another blow and Bolivar
identified it as a Brydes Whale. We were close enough to see that this kind
of whale actually had two blow holes side by side. Our afternoon had been
We returned to the panga and cleaned up for dinner. Tonight's dinner would
be out on the back deck and Rasa and I received a letter requesting our
company at the captain's table. We had a great meal and a fun time chatting
with some of the crew. After dinner, the "Young Exlorers" came out donned in
costumes that looked like the various species of birds we'd seen. They put
on some latin music and did a dance that was pretty hilarious. After that,
several members of the crew came out and played some music. It was a lot of
fun and they were quite good actually. We stayed out on the deck listening
to music and talking until about 10:30PM (our latest night so far) and then
Wednesday, July 2nd - Isabela
Up at 6:30AM again. The Eclipse had moved south to Urvina Bay at about the
midway point (from north to south) of Isabela Island. As I said, this island
is the largest so we actually had three stops here. This particular morning
was the most active seas we'd seen to date so the Eclipse was in full
rocking mode during breakfast and our landings were interesting.
Urvina Bay (Isabela)
Again we split into two groups. One group took a short hike and a second
took a long hike. Both groups would end up back on the beach for swimming
or general hanging out. Rasa and I opted for the long hike. Today our guide
was William and, as we walked along the coastal area, he told us that the
area we were on was underwater until 1954 when a major volcanic event pushed
the area upward and gave Urvina Bay a whole new coastline. This was evident
by the amount of coral that you could see above water. We saw many huge
pieces of gray coral that looked like large bushes.
As we headed inland, we saw our first land iguanas. The coloring on these
creatures was very different from their marine counterparts and many of them
were also larger than any marine iguanas we'd seen. The land animals were
also a little more apprehensive of people. We could still get pretty close
to them but after a short spell, they would walk away into the brush. At our
furthest point inland, we cut off the trail to try and find some giant
tortoise but had no luck. We did see several goats. The goats on the Galapagos
were actually introduced here and are considered more a pest than anything
else. They kill wildlife and plantlife and reproduce at a very fast rate.
There is a mission underway to try and rid the islands of goat. On some of
the small islands, they have been successful but on an island the size of
Isabela, it's really a losing battle.
We headed back to the beach and did actually spot one giant tortoise
(although it wasn't that giant). Once we got back, we hung out on the beach
for about a half hour. The surf was pretty rough so nobody went out
snorkeling. Rasa did some swimming until the pangas finally came around
and we went back for lunch.
Elizabeth Bay (Isabela)
During lunch, the Eclipse continued southward toward Elizabeth Bay which
was another (and our last) stop on Isabela. While we were heading down the
channel, Rasa and I were at the starboard side of the ship talking when
suddenly she yelled out "dolphins". Sure enough, we got to see another
show. There weren't as many as this morning but still very cool.
Later, we docked in Elizabeth Bay. The coastline in the bay was very rocky
and there was no place to land. Our afternoon excursion would be purely
from the panga. There were many tiny rock islands in the bay and we started
with those seeing a lot of birds and several penguins (as well as iguanas
and sea lions). From there we headed toward the coast and through an opening
into a lagoon. Once inside, we cut the motors and paddled. This was great.
The shores were made up purely of mangroves. The roots grew down into the
water so even though it looked like a shore, it was really all still water.
Very lush, calm, and dead quiet. I could have napped here. We saw many sea
lions lounging in the lagoon climbing up onto logs. There is even a species
called a "Tree Sea Lion" that climbs up into the mangrove trees. As we
paddled around, we also saw rays of different types swimming around and
saw a bunch of sea turtles. This was one of the most relaxing places I had
ever been ... ever.
Back at the Eclipse, we had some time to kill before dinner so we sat up
top watching the sunset. As we headed down the channel, we spotted another
whale. We didn't get real close this time but did see it blow a few times
before we lost site. Tonight would be another all night cruise as we left
Isabela to circle around to the south side of Santa Cruz.
We had our usual briefing and dinner. No extra activities were planned for
this evening so we figured we'd be in bed early. We were still pitching
quite a bit. After dinner, I headed out to the rear deck to have a smoke.
When I got back there, I noticed that the crew were lowering one of the
pangas into the water (very unusual for this time of night). When I looked
over the side, I also noticed that we had stopped. Leaning over the back
rail was an english passenger who actually used to work on the Eclipse (so
his Spanish was as fluent as his English) and I asked what was going on.
Straight behind us, he pointed out a light that was flashing an SOS. They
had been watching it for a while and finally stopped and sent a panga to
check it out. The gentleman who now owns the Eclipse came out a short time
later and spoke to Rasa and I (very nice guy). The guys from the panga had
just radioed back that they found two local men on a fishing boat who had
lost power and had been floating around for three days. They used the panga
to tow the fishermen and their boat to the Eclipse where it was tied to the
back and would be towed to Santa Cruz. Considering these guys were probably
severely dehydrated, they actually didn't look too much worse for wear
when they finally climbed on board. The amazing thing about this story
also is that almost the same thing happened onboard the Eclipse about a
year ago to the day. Hmmmmm.
Thursday, July 3rd - Santa Cruz
Very rough seas all night and it was the first time I actually felt
somewhat lousy. I felt ok when I woke though (again at 6:30AM) and was
ready for the day. We had our usual breakfast and dropped anchor off
the southern coast of Santa Cruz at the town of Puerto Ayora (one of
four actual towns in the Galapagos). Several members of our excursion
would be getting off permanently here as they were only taking a five
day excursion. We would also lose a small handful of crew including one
of our guides (Lenny).
Darwin Research Station and Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz)
We took the pangas in at about 8:30AM and docked outside the Darwin Research
Center. They have a breeding facility here for giant tortoise and for land
iguanas. This is where "Lonesome George" lives. The tortoise they have are
separated by ages. We started with the zero to three year olds that were
tiny. From there, we moved up in age and the tortoise got larger. We finally
got to the Lonesome George enclosure and he was huge. The adult pens were
different from the rest in that they were pretty large and open for people
to walk through. The females and males are kept separate. We went through
the female enclosure first and got some real close up looks at several
adult female tortoise. Then we moved over to the male enclosure. These guys
were enormous! When they say "giant", they're not kidding.
After leaving the center, we were all on our own to wander around the town
of Puerto Ayora until lunch. This was nice. It's actually a real town where
people live with shops, cars, etc. It was like our first taste of anything
remotely resembling civilization since we'd left on Saturday. It was kind
of nice. We picked up a few souvenirs and checked out the shops. By the
time we'd made it across town to the main docks, it was time for lunch so
we hopped our panga back to the Eclipse and had lunch on the deck.
The Highlands (Santa Cruz)
Today was a short siesta. At 2:15, we hopped the pangas back to Puerto
Ayora and then hopped a bus up into the highlands. Up at our stop, a farmer
with a very large chunk of land had two attractions that he allows tourists
to come up and see. The first is the lava tunnel.
The lava tunnel was formed by huge lava flows whose exterior cooled and
hardened before their interior leaving a tunnel. At one end, we took steps
down and it was huge. They had hung some lights along the side which made
the whole thing look man made but it wasn't. At one point, the walk became
very rocky and we had to crawl through a very small opening to continue on.
We had been given the option to simply turn back but everyone in our group
voted to push on. This time, Rasa and I opted to travel with the "Young
Explorers". Probably a good move. They had a ton of energy and were not about
to turn back at any point. At the other end of the tunnel, the kids spotted
a barn owl in a nest right above the opening ... something we would have
never spotted if the kids hadn't been there.
After the tunnel, we moved onto attraction number two which was a ton of
giant tortoise roaming his land. We parked and set out on foot and saw
several. Some of them were just huge. Even larger than the ones we'd seen
at the Darwin Research Center. This was where we discovered the one and
only down side to being with the kids. They tended to run ahead and get
pretty active around the tortoise which would pretty much cause them to
pull back into their shells by the time we got there. Not a big deal though.
We had a blast.
We headed back to the Eclipse for dinner. Our dinner was out on the rear
deck again. Since we were still docked in Puerto Ayora, they brought over
some musicians from the town to play some traditional music. They were
excellent. After just one tune, they also brought in three women in costume
who did some dancing with the music. After a while, they began pulling
people out to dance with them and almost always started with Rasa and I.
We had fun. At one point, they stopped and the gentleman who appeared to
be the band leader spoke to us in Spanish. Not understanding a word of it,
I turned to Rasa and said "how much do you want to bet he just told us that
they have CDs available for $X up at the bar". Bolivar translated and, sure
enough. Some practices transcend cultures and countries. And ... I bought
a CD. After the festivities, Rasa and I stayed up and talked with William
and Bolivar for quite some time on the rear deck. Then we turned in.
Friday, July 4th - Espanola
I broke my streak on Friday and was actually still in bed when Mario began
piping his music over the intercom. We had sailed from Santa Cruz to Espanola
overnight. We dropped anchor in Gardner Bay and, looking out, all I could see
where incredibly white sandy beaches.
Gardner Bay (Espanola)
We took the pangas in for a wet landing. This place was all beach and was
gorgeous. The plan was that, once we landed, everyone was free to do what
they wanted. Walk along the beach, go swimming, do some snorkeling, or any
combination of the above. The beaches were littered with a huge number of
sea lions. As usual, they lounged and we had to work around them. Rasa and
I went for a walk on the beach. We saw a bunch of marine iguanas. That's not
unusual by now except these were more colorful. They had a red pigmentation
because of the red algae they eat and are sometimes referred to as "Christmas
Iguanans". Eventually we made our way back to our landing point and changed
into snorkeling gear. The water was really nice. After swimming around and
checking out the fish for a while, we came upon a sea lion who was in the
mood to play. He would swim circles around us and make a bee line straight
for my face turning at just the last minute. What a blast! After a while
we went back to the beach and Rasa left with a group to go snorkeling off
some rocks. I stayed on the beach. Mostly, those of us who stayed behind
just relaxed. The kids had some excitement though. Two of the young girls
were playing in the water and were joined by two or three young sea lion
pups. It was amazing. They were all playing. The girls came up on the beach
and one of them even followed. It was adorable.
Meanwhile, Rasa and her group took pangas out to one of the rocky islands
in the bay. She had managed to borrow a full wetsuit from another woman
who wasn't going. Bolivar led the group and was very strict about the group
staying together because of currents. Rasa spotted a shark and followed it
a bit. She had gotten someone elses attention and figured the group would
be following. At one point, the shark came up and started following behind
her right on her fins. At about that point, she realized she had lost the
group and got nervous. Too nervous to even turn and snap a photo. She swam
a little faster and he fell behind. She caught back up with her group and
they saw some more sea turtles and rays. They jumped back in the pangas
after that and went to another spot looking for hammerheads but didn't see
any. Finally, it was time for lunch.
Punta Suarez (Espanola)
During our lunch on the rear deck and the siesta that followed, the Eclipse
moved over to the west side of Espanola. At 3:00PM, we were back on the
pangas heading for another dry landing on the rocks. As we came into the
cove, we could see a bunch of sea lions playing in the water. One even
followed us in. Once we landed, several more sea lions were lounging
around on the shore and we also saw huge concentrations of iguanas. We
moved away from the water and into an area that was, again, populated with
a large number of birds. Today, the main attraction was the mating dance of
the blue footed booby. We came at just the right time and everywhere we
looked, there were males doing there marching steps followed by pointing
their noses and tails straight up in the air, spreading their wings, and
whistling. The whistle was very distinctive and we could here a ton of
whistling from every direction. On top of that, we came across several
females sitting on top of eggs. Some of the eggs had even hatched and we
saw many babies.
We continued to the other side of the peninsula (where we had landed) heading
for a spot called the "blow hole". Once we got there, we were high on the
cliffs. The shoreline on this side was beautiful. Just below us, there
was a spot where cracks and holes in the rocks forced a plume of water
to shoot up several feet whenever large waves crashed in. It looked like
a big geyser. Hence the name "blow hole". We sat up on the cliff and
watched for quite a while. It was really relaxing. There were also many
birds flying overhead including some really large waved albatross.
We started heading back and came upon a whole colony of these waved
albatross. These were huge birds and somewhat strange looking. We were
lucky enough to come upon a male and female doing their mating dance which
was hilarious. They would open their mouths for a second, then start fencing
with their beaks. After that, the female would clack here beak so fast for
a second that it sounded like a woodpecker. This was followed by the two
of them bowing to one another and then pointing their heads straight up in
the air. At that point, they would do the whole thing all over again. We
could have watched pretty much all day but had to continue back to the boat.
When we got back to the dock area, we stopped amidst the group of sea lions.
Rasa sat on a rock and a young sea lion plopped down pretty close to her.
Then he stretched out and started sniffing her legs. After that, he put his
head on her shoe and went to sleep. She sat their staring at him with her
mouth open. I had to snap some pictures of this. We finally had to go and
I had to pry Rasa away from her new friend. We hopped the pangas and as we
headed out of the cove, many sea lions were still in the water and some
followed us out. Cool!
Our last evening on the Eclipse was nice. Our briefing was more of a
de-briefing. Some of the kids had written poems about the islands and read
them out loud. Our crew came back in after that and the captain offered up
a toast to his passengers and also toasted the Americans in recognition
of the fact that it was our July 4th independence day. We applauded the
crew and the guides. We wrapped up with the guides thanking us for the
support and us thanking our guides for such a great week.
We sat down to dinner in the dining room after that. During our meal,
Bolivar introduced us to the rest of the crew who had done so much behind
the scenes all week. After that, a couple members of the crew performed
some more music in the dining room. It was a very festive dinner indeed.
Our last order of business was to square up all finances with Mario for
items purchase on the ship. After that, we turned in.
Saturday, July 5th - Santa Cruz, Baltra, Quito
We were up extra early (6:00AM). We had an extra wavy ride over night
back to the north end of Santa Cruz. I slept pretty bad. There was one
last optional panga ride and we opted to take it (hence the early rise).
Black Turtle Cove (Santa Cruz)
Before breakfast, some of us hopped pangas into Black Turtle Cove. The
cove was very similar to the panga ride into the lagoon in Elizabeth Bay
on Isabela. It was very quiet and calm and surrounded by lush mangrove
forests. The first area we explored was said to be a nesting ground for
black tipped sharks. Sure enough, we saw some young sharks in the shallows.
They would hang around in there for quite some time before venturing out
into the ocean. In another area, we also saw two adult white tipped sharks
just sitting on the bottom. As we continued rowing around the lagoon, we
also spotted several rays and several sea turtles.
After about an hour, we headed back for breakfast. I had a pretty light
breakfast as I wasn't feeling well. We had until 10:00AM before we would
depart so breakfast was followed by last minute packing and lounging around.
We moved everything out of our cabin and ended up napping a bit up on the
top deck. This was probably a mistake as neither of us had put on sun screen
and got burned a little. At 10:00AM, we were off.
We took the pangas back to the dock on Baltra. As we gathered our things
and waited for the bus, we saw a very funny sight. Out in the water was
a small motor boat. The motor wasn't running and the only passenger inside
was a rather large sea lion just sitting on the seat. I guess he was trying
to find the starter. We took the bus back to the airstrip and waited for a
bit before our flight started boarding. We said our goodbyes to our guides
and got on the plane. After that, we were off.
After about a half hour stop in Guayaquil, we continued on to Quito. Rasa
and I didn't really get any kind of a chance to say goodbye to anyone. Once
we were off the plane, the first two bags onto the carousel were ours
and I was still not feeling well so I grabbed them and headed straight for
the exit. Bonnie was there waiting and we were on the road quickly. When
we began this trip in Quito, Rasa and I happened into the Marriot and were
amazed at how beautiful a hotel it was. When we inquired about cost, it
was only about $14 more a night than where we were staying. We had asked
Bonnie to look into changing our last night to the Marriot. She said she
tried and couldn't. We told her just to take us there and that we would
eat the cost, she made some calls and they did end up covering some of it.
Wow! We should have gone there right when we got in. For only $14 more a
night, this hotel was paradise. The room was huge. A king sized bed in a
large room with a gorgeous bathroom and large walk-in marble shower.
Unfortunately, I was really feeling bad at this point so I just climbed
into bed. Rasa went down to enjoy the pool and she said it was amazing.
A three teired pool with waterfulls flowing into the next tiers along with
glass walls and ceilings. She came back up and we spent the entire night in
our room watching movies and eating room service. I was feeling a little
better later on and actually managed to eat.
Sunday, July 6th - Travel
On Sunday, We were up at about 3:45AM (gads). Bonnie met us at 4:15AM and
it was off to the airport. We had a 7:00AM flight and had to get there way
early. Getting in and on our flight went without a hitch. The first leg of
our journey was from Quito to Bogota, Columbia. The area around Bogota
looked beautiful as we flew in. Very lush and green. We never got off the
plane but security came onto the plane. This was strange. They checked the
carry on bags in the overheads and even had people getting out of their
seats one row at a time so they could check the seats and seat pockets.
After about an hour, we were back in the air. We continued on to Newark,
New Jersey which seemed to take forever. Again, the Bogota flight seemed to
be treated special. After we landed, while all the other carousels moved
pretty quickly, the one from Bogota moved at a snail's pace and it became
apparent that security was checking each bag before they went on the carousel.
Suddenly, our 2 hour window was not looking so long anymore. We finally got
our bags after about an hour. We went through customs and then re-checked
them. The next order of business was finding our gate which took a while.
Once we finally got there, we discovered our flight to Detroit had been
delayed an hour because of a problem with the cabin door (later we found out
that the problem was that it wouldn't stay propped open ... who cares).
After the hour delay, we were off. We landed in Detroit at about 9:30PM and
only one of our checked bags came out. We went to the baggage office and
found that security re-checked bags from our Bogota flight that were going
back onto a plane and only one of ours made it. The other would have to be
delivered on Monday. One last jab! We took the shuttle to my car and headed
home. It was nice to drive. It was nice to sleep in my own bed. It was nice
to see Dakota who my sister in-law had been so kind as to pick up for us
This was like no other trip we've ever taken and possibly like no other
we'll ever take. The country of Ecuador really needs to be applauded for
their efforts in the conservation of the Galapagos Islands and for keeping
them mostly unspoiled. It was also a trip that, to my surprise, worked
equally well for people of all ages.
To all our fellow passengers, it was a great pleasure spending the week
with you. To Bolivar, William, Lenny, and Batina, your work was incredible
and your never ending knowledge of the islands was impressive. To Mario
and the rest of the Eclipse crew, you made it a wonderful place to call
home for seven days.
To anyone else, if you've ever even remotely considered visiting this very
special place and you have the means ... DO IT! You won't be disappointed.