By: Esilda Buxbaum
I ticked off another destination on my bucket list and, in retrospect, am finding it hard to determine which vacation I loved more: the South African Safari http://singita.com/ or a recent trip to the Galapagos Islands.
I chose the “Islander” boat from National Geographic Expeditions because I figured National Geographic would keep stewardship of this fragile and important ecosystem at the fore and because this particular ship accommodates only 48 people maximum (in 24 cabins), which would feel like a community and not a huge herd. And those were both true. What I did not figure is that a smaller boat would rock more. I have never suffered from sea sickness before, but it seems that with age, that changes. It hit me the first night, but, fortunately, there was a bowl of Dramamine at the reception desk. Once I started taking it, I was fine. (The rest of my family, it should be noted, felt no effects at all and did not take motion sickness medication during the entire trip.)
We had two cabins, one with a queen bed and one with two twin beds; each room also enjoyed a small private glassed-in balcony. Cabins were small, but one did not really spend much time in them. (The bathrooms were also small and might be an issue for someone very tall or large.)
From Guayaquil we took a short flight to Baltra where we boarded the ship. We soon gathered in the boat’s lounge to get the schedule for the day and to meet our guides. The expedition leader was Lynn Fowler, an old hand at this with lots of information. The extremely knowledgeable and friendly certified wildlife naturalists Included: Antonio Adrian – Naturalist and certified photo instructor, Gaby Bohorquez-Naturalist, Gilda Gonzalez-Naturalist, with Steve Ambroe, a National Geographic video chronicler, tagging along to chronicle our journey. The entire trip was well very well organized.
Every day took us to a new island with different rock formations, flora, and fauna. We’d board the Zodiacs (or “pongas,” as they were called by the crew), motorized rubber boats, to embark on a hike, kayak ride, or snorkeling outing. On land, we’d break up into smaller groups each led by a naturalist, who would eloquently describe our surroundings, touching on how various species fit into Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and pointing out ones that are endemic only to the Galapagos.
Blue-footed boobies (and, on one island, red-footed ones) are legendary Galapagos birds, known perhaps as much for their name as for their vibrantly colored feet. We saw frigate birds try to impress mates, inflating their red throats. One island was seemingly overrun by marine iguanas that blended into the volcanic rock. Easier to spot were the land Iguanas, large yellow creatures, and the enormous tortoises, that lived on another island. Snorkeling brought us close to penguins, sea turtles, playful seals, and brilliantly colored fish. We even swam with dolphins in open water and listened to their high-pitched chatter under water.
Every evening, during cocktail hour, we received a brief on the next day’s activities and options, leaving us free to discuss them over dinner. Meals were by and large very good, especially considering the conditions. Breakfast and lunch were served buffet style, with many options for each, and we signed up daily for one of three daily dinner options. Seating was informal so we had the opportunity to sit and eat with different people every time. Between the outings and meals, halfway through the trip we knew almost everyone on the ship.
In a short time, we became quite attached to our guides, the ship crew, our fellow passengers, and our daily excursions, where we tracked the numerous species we had spied. It was difficult to say goodbye at the end of our stay. Fortunately, we have stunning photographs and incredible memories to last us some time.
Lindblad Expeditions National Geographic http://www.expeditions.com
Photos by: Cyrille Allannic