Day 139 -18 Jul, 2015
“Shark! There’s a SHARK over here!” I lift my masked face out of the water to hear another snorkeler calling the dreaded phrase and try to orient where the shout is coming from. But only in the Galapagos Islands does this warning warrant a horde of swimmers going TOWARD the shouting. Everyone wants to see a shark. It’s the prize like no other. The main sharks to be seen by snorkelers in the Galapagos are the white-tip reef shark and the black-tip reef shark. Our guide, Freddy, says the white-tip are harmless. The black-tip, he claims, are “nasty.” To an untrained eye, they look the same. I actually saw neither. By the time I knew which direction to swim, the shark was long gone, but how could I be disappointed amidst sea lions, penguins, sea turtles, iguanas, blue-footed boobies, and manta rays??
For a budget traveler, Galapagos is usually out of the question. While it’s possible to find “discounted” (this does not mean cheap) airfare and limit your visit to one island with some day excursions, it can still be a costly affair. For all intents and purposes I have followed a loose-ish budget on my travels, but I knew from the start, visiting the Galapagos was a once in a lifetime experience and I wanted to do it right. I have a couple of specific destinations that invite a splurge and this was one of them.
Mom was still with me and we booked a luxury cabin on the catamaran Eco-Galaxy II for a 8 day/7 night cruise. With 2 ports every day, our week on the water promised to be full of coveted wildlife sightings, snorkeling, hiking, and
relaxation. Actually, scratch that last one.
Our itinerary included the Charles Darwin Research Station on Isla Santa Cruz, the only place to reliably witness the Giant Tortoises. Tintoreras Channel (where you are supposed to see sharks, but again, unfortunately, we saw none), a muddy hike to the crater rim of Sierra Negra when the mist parted at the perfect moment to unleash an unparalleled view to the crater floor, Elizabeth Bay for a zodiac ride among untouched mangroves, Urbina Bay where we snorkeled with sea turtles and hiked on the beach to spot the intimidating land iguanas, and Punta Vicente Roca where we did deep water snorkeling with sea turtles, penguins, and marine iguanas (all at the same time!), all on Isabela Island.
We visited Punta Espinoza on Fernandina Island, the westernmost in the archipelago. This area is entirely covered with lava rock and has marine iguanas stacked 3 high and a scattering of Sally Lightfoot crabs, their bright red bodies adding a splash of color to the otherwise black landscape.
The next day included both James Bay’s black sand beach on Santiago Island in the morning and Rabida’s unique red sand beach in the afternoon.
On Santa Cruz Island, Black Turtle Cove, with another zodiac exploration, and the white sands of Bachus Beach for more snorkeling were awaiting us. Bachus Beach has a rather unique decrepit monument marking its coast – a rusted hull of a ship from WWII had run aground and since been abandoned. All that remains are spiky pieces of the frame. While interesting for photographers, this metal is dangerous for the wildlife. Freddy told us that a sea turtle had become caught in the wreckage when trying to reach her nesting site. They tried to rescue her but it was too late.
Our last day at sea was spent hiking on the barren coast of Sullivan Bay on Santiago Island, where uneroded lava flows have created fantastic shapes and patterns, and a snorkel and hike near Pinnacle Rock on Bartolome Island, the most photographed landmark in the archipelago.
We were also given a couple of prime opportunites to jump off the top deck and swim in the aquamarine waters of the Pacific. The water was tolerably cold but swimming in these swells, knowing that most people will only dream of this experience, I had to relish every moment and appreciate the opportunity to be here with sea turtles, sea lions, hundreds of varieties of fish, and possibly even sharks underfoot.
While this journey to the Galapagos was but a dream, there wasn’t much dreaming going on at night. The seas were so rough that furniture in our room was tossed around and the incessant slamming of drawers in furniture in the still-upright position made it nearly impossible to sleep. At least 3 of our 7 nights on board had dangerous swells that slammed into the deck with such force, it’s a wonder we remained afloat. Apparently, this is par for the course and each morning, we awoke in calm seas as if nothing had happened. Somehow, Mom and I survived the whole week without the need to take motion sickness remedies, which incidentally, are passed out by our staff bartender in a candy bowl.
The Eco-Galaxy II was a beautiful backdrop for the week. Freddy was a knowledgable and patient guide – his patience being constantly tested with two of the children who were constantly breaking rules and at least one American woman who always found something to complain about. The food was incredible and even when we made a special request for a chocolate dessert, the kitchen staff made sure we had it. Splurging for this week-long cruise was entirely worth it and given the chance, I would do it all over again! For now, the magic of the Galapagos will remain as one of my fondest memories.