California Bill\’s Travel \’n Other Stuff

Travels and occassional rantings of an old guy.

Galapagos Islands – A National Geographic film; and we are in it!!!

Grinning Sea LionWe have seen the episodes on the nature channels. So we knew about the islands (we thought), their volcanic origins, barren landscapes, unique flora and fauna. And of course, Charles Darwin’s (or, Chuckie D, as we came to call him) famous visit.  Origin of the species, and all that. So to actually see the nature; to walk among iguanas, sea lions and hundreds of mating birds becomes an incredible experience. Topping that off with a snorkel during which we were besieged by a score of sea lion pups gone wild makes for one wonderous week.  Please view some pictures at http://www.flickr.com/photos/calbillstravnstuff/sets/72157600219089853/.

The islands are 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. Even though they are on the equator, the water, fed by currents from ALand Iguanantarctica, can be cool; in our case, 19 – 21 degrees centigrade. Wetsuits required. Ambient temps were mostly in the 20’s, a little warmer away from the shore on some of the islands. Our home for a week was Linblad’s MS Islander with about 40 other travellers in search of nature. We were ecstatic most of the time, and when gathered, laughed and talked over one another at the wonders that had been seen that day.

This was not a restful or langorious vacation. Lots of work. After a wake up call at about 6, we embarked on our twice a day (sometimes thrice) excursions ashore or snorkeling. Our nature hikes were sometimes strenuous over rocky ground or pahoehoe type lava, that wanted to twist ankles and shread shoes.  Our excursions were in maximum groups of 16. We could not stray from the paths, nor go off on our own. Boats are scheduled so that too many do not arrive at a given sight at once.

We never walked very fast. Too much to see. Every few steps something to gaze at, photo and wonder about. We stepped over sea lions nursing theiSoaring Albatrossr young. Stepped over and around nesting boobies and albatross. We were toe to nose with iguana, both land and marine.  Our guides were excited, extremely knowledgeable and committed, and always very interesting.

One morning, about 0830, all hands were invited to the bridge. We were about to cross the equator, which is a big deal on the ocean. Annalee happened to be standing at the right place, and the captain told her to blow the ship’s horn. We all watched the GPS count down, and when it hit 00 degrees, 00 minutes, amid great cheers and whoops, Annalee pressed the button for a long blast. No one felt the bump as we passed over the line.

In the water, we swam and snorkeled with numerous fish species, but most thrilling were the penquins, sea turtles, flightless cormorants, and oh my, sea lions. On one of our snorkels we founds ourselves amidst 15 or so 6 moMarine Iquananth old sea lion pups “gone wild.” It was like we stumbled into a nursery and the teacher was gone.Blue Footed Booby

They swooped and swirled around us, blowing bubbles and teasing us with headlong rushes, swerving at the last moment. They tugged on our flippers, jumped over us, looked at us up side down, and generally went bananas, to our great delight. It was one of the most incredible snorkeling experiences we have ever had, and will live in our memory forever.

At another site, during a dry landing, we saw several sea lions surfing in the waves. The wave was back lit by the low sun. The panga (zodiak) lingered so we could watch the surfing dudes for a while. The hike itself, through tough lava, was exhilarating. Great numbers of nesting Albatross some close enough to touch (we didn’t).

Soaring frigates, albatross, boobies, Galapagos Hawk, and the beautiful swallow tail gull, among others, continued to chew up memory on  the camera card. Mockingbirds walked and ran along with us on the paths. Lava lizards watched as we almost stepped on them. Boobies and albatross with eggs and some with chicks, were in our path, or within touching distance. They ignored us and we tried not to disturb.  Finches and warblers continued to put the serious birders in gleeful bliss.  A warbler’s nestFrigatebird with feeding chicks was eye level along a path. Frigates with their red pouches inflated trying to attract Ms Right. Boobies and Albatross in their intricate, beautiful courtship dances, bills clicking and clacking.Swallow Tailed Gull

On one of our walks, we crossed a low saddle to a very private beautiful beach. We saw sea turtles and their nests, with the tell tale tracks of tiny turtle foot prints as they scurried to the ocean, probably the previous night. In the nearby surf, swarms of sharks and rays congregated for that night’s anticipated meal. The circle of life, I guess.  The babies hatch at night, people are not allowed there at night.

On a beach we walked amid dozens of sleeping and nursing sea lions. A mother would come out of the surf barking loudly. A small pup would rise up from slumber, yapping wildly. They would hear and run towards each other, where the pup began nursing.

During the week, a fun guy from New Zealand, nick-named Scruffie, filmed our escapades. The DVD was available at the end of the cruise for $50. We have watched it 4 times now, and it is loaded in the DVD player. It is our own National Geographic episode, and we are in it!!

On board the Islander, we enjoyed wonderful food and several educational presentations. But mostly, we enjoyed getting to know many new friends, all of us in wide eyed wonder about the fantastic things we had seen.  A Galapagos trip is not for everyone. No laying around on fine sugary beaches with drinks with little umbrellas in them. It is intensely nature oriented in a fragile area strictly regulated by the Galapagos Park Service. If you love nature, this should be on your list.  You can find a much more detailed report of the week at http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=6&tid=34998911.

May 17, 2007 Posted by | Travel | Leave a comment