Galapagos, the Enchanted Isles
“This is not a boot camp!” I had to keep reminding the group of 15 Trackers who were expected at breakfast at 7 a.m. and togged and ready with sun hats and life jackets at 8.30 a.m. to board the ‘pangas’ (inflatable dinghies). After a few days such was the enthusiasm to soak up the wonders of the Galapagos that one morning we had disembarked by 6.30 am.
There was so much to squeeze into our seven days cruising from island to island, the week felt like sand disappearing through our fingers and as much as we wanted it to slow down, time and tide waits for no man.
Our launch pad to the Enchanted Isles was Quito, the capital of Ecuador. Once your head stops pulsating at the altitude of 9350 feet above sea level, this beautiful colonial city clings to the lower slopes of the volcano Pichincha, 124 miles south of the Equator. The historical city centre has escaped modernity and the maize of churches such as Church of La Compañía, its interior covered with sheets of 23 carat gold leaf, is just one of the reasons the old town was designated a Unesco World Heritage site in 1978.
The Galapagos Islands were calling and a three and a half hour flight landed us on Baltra Island where we were ferried onto Santa Cruz. Under the flag of the Galapagos Conservation Trust, we knew this trip was offering a unique experience. We were there to learn what needs to be done and needs to be done with urgency. Thus we met Anne Guezou, Giant Tortoise expert and one of the several naturalists that would enthral us with the critical work the GCT is doing. Driven to extinction on some islands and the brink of extinction on others, we would learn how the funds our voyage would help the slow recovery of these ancient giant reptiles.
Our next stop, the island of Floreana, is where we had the insight of how the destruction by rats, cats, pigs and dogs to name a few of the ‘exotics’ that have ravaged the island but with a huge collaboration of NGO’s and the GCT this dramatic situation is being reversed. Again we had a private and fascinating insight into this glorious island that was visited by Darwin in 1835 on HMS Beagle.
However, the the dark cloud of ‘invasive species’ did not linger for long and the sandy beaches and aquamarine sea buzzing with sea life provided some of the best snorkelling of the islands which are now highly regulated.
On Isabela Island the Serra Negra volcano was a highlight – an hours walk but an easy one, took us to the edge of the caldera and a vist of its seven-mile diameter rim surrounding a landscape black as coal.
The flightless cormorant, Galapagos penguin, Galapagos hawk, Galapagos snake, among others are all to found on Fernandina not to overlook the Nasca boobie on Isabela Island.
Four activities a day were on the menu so were the delicious lunches waiting for us each day as were the three- course dinners naturally boosted by early evening cocktails.
A certain highlight was crossing the Equator, the musical repartee provided by our guide and guitarist, Juan Tapia, a man with an encyclopedic knowledge of the Islands. Mojitos slipped down a treat.
James Island and Bartolome Island heralded the end of our stunning seven island cruise but not before we made landfall on North Seymour Island to watch the Blue-footed boobies demonstrate their ridiculous dance. A little like us when we crossed the Equator.