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My Galapagos Adventure – Day Four

July 11, 2014 Luxury Cruises Galapagos, Travel to Ecuador No Comments

“A Golden Sunrise; A Morning of Colors”

Sunrise North Seymour IMG_2037If you’re one of those people who thinks having a luxury vacation means sleeping late and having coffee served in bed, you might have to adjust your expectations in Galapagos. Some days the wake up call is as early as 5:30 a.m.  Fight the urge to crawl back under the covers so that you can feel the gentle surf rock you back to sleep. Instead, wake up, pull open your curtains a take a look around. It could be a glorious morning, like the start of our day at Elizabeth Bay.

As I woke up, the sun was just breaking through the clouds, golden rays of light filtering and glistening through the early morning mist.  It was very quiet, except for the sound of the marine birds.  Elizabeth Bay has a special quiet mystique. The ride on the panga is gentle and quiet. The panga itself is capably maneuvered through the hidden mangrove paths. Hopefully you’re with other passengers who also enjoy the quiet and breathing  in the atmosphere.

Mangroves Elizabeth Bay

Mangroves Elizabeth Bay

Mangroves Elizabeth Bay

Mangroves Elizabeth Bay

At 6:00 we began our panga ride.   Elizabeth Bay is a shallow area filled with mangrove trees and teeming with Galapagos wildlife. It is incredibly peaceful.  It’s so different from anywhere you will go in the Galapagos.  You’ll not see a path, but your driver and trust guide will know exactly where to go and, for the most part, how to stay off the rocks.  There are a few times where it gets pretty close though and the panga has to rock itself out of a shallow spot.

We observed sea turtles mating, a flock of penguins, a heron, yellow warblers, Darwin finches, pelicans, sea lions and so much more.   The penguins were swimming around us, bobbing their heads up and shooting through the mangrove waters like torpedoes.

Turtles Mating

Turtles Mating

Heron

Heron

Flock of penguins

Flock of penguins

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Darwin Finch

Darwin Finch

Sea Lions

Sea Lions

Sea Turtle

Pelicans roosted in the trees looking down on us quizzically. “You’re not a fish! What are you?” they seemed to be thinking.

Golden Rays

Golden Rays

When we came upon a school of golden rays we were mesmerized. This was indeed a rare siting. There were dozens of them, undaunted by our presence. As if that wasn’t enough, we quietly maneuvered around the mangroves as the tide went out, showing the bottom rocks more and more where in a short while we could have been grounded. Then, voila, five perfect eagle rays. They were fascinating, in formation, with their black and white tops and long long tails and white under bellies.

Blue Footed Boobie Blue-footedBooby-25We still had one more treat before heading back to the open ocean.  Again the sun spread its glorious light on the mirrored surface of the water while penguins basked in the sun, pelicans preened and blue footed boobies watched from the rocks jutting out of the water.

Avoiding getting beached in the mangroves at low tide, we headed back for breakfast, then two hours of smooth sailing until we hit Punta Moreno for a walk on AA lava and a search for the perfect flamingo.

Treaturous Terrain

Remember – it’s still morning because this day is filled with surprises and it’s really difficult, looking bad, to imagine we saw and did so much in a single day.

Aa lava at Punta Moreno

Aa lava at Punta Moreno

Beautiful Moreno Point

Beautiful Moreno Point

The terrain at Punta Moreno is rough, not for the clumsy or those unsure of their footing. Probably it’s best served by the likes of a mountain goat or something close to the surface, like a snake.  For those who have a little trepidation about the walk, a walking stick is definitely in order. But, it is so very worth the effort.

The walk was lovely and breezy and we went to the tidal pools and our expert guide found us two brightly colored flamingos. That’s actually quite a feat considering the total population in the entire of Galapagos is only 500 individuals. For a while, we were informed by Harry, scientists thought that these regal bird specimens were endangered in Galapagos.  But after studying their behavior and patterns it was concluded that the islands can sustain no more than a small number.  Thus, the population is stable.  That said, flamingos are difficult to find and we were all delighted when we came upon this lonesome one.

Moreno Point Tide Pool

Moreno Point Tide Pool

Moreno Point Tide Pool

Moreno Point Tide Pool

The flamingos here eat very bright pink shrimp, turning their feathers into the most beautiful salmony-pink. That against the blue sky, blue water, black lava, and green of the lava cactus is a painting of the lovely Galápagos Islands.

Herons in pool with flamingos

Herons in pool with flamingos

And there were herons there as well.

It was an exciting walk, an exciting morning, and a time we didn’t want to see end.  But end it did, with another snack, then lunch and we were on our way again.

Flamingo

Say Goodbye to Isabela and Begin the Trek back to Civilization

Now we say goodbye to Isabela and Fernandina, as we leave the remote western Galapagos for “bustling” Santa Cruz. This is a 12-15 hour journey, made shorter by the fact that we always are close to shore and able to view magnificent scenery. For sure the bar will be open and our bartender Xavier is a terrific mixologist. The fact that we have a 12-15 hour trek to complete this day reflects well on the fact that we packed in so much before we started.  We felt sated (to the extent one can ever have enough of this island Paradise) and looked forward to what our next adventure would be.

One of the most beautiful volcanos you can see from your boat is Cerra Azul, the volcano at the southern tip of Isabela that you round on your way back east. It stands majestically warning you that it is still very much alive.  You can literally see where the lava flowed down the sides of the volcano and ran into the sea, producing heat, smoke and ash. The landscape is barren and black. The surf pounds against sheer cliffs, clearly the bottom of the volcano. Tuff and spatter cones jump out at you and you get a picture perfect understanding of those natural phenomenon. This is the only place we see like this where we get such a great perspective. We’ve seen tuffs and spatters before, like at Darwin Lake, but the view of Cerra Azul is different. You just know that this “little” volcano is going to rise again. You wish that your guide could use his remote control to create an eruption before your eyes. And you know it’s just a matter of time until some lucky tourist – in a moment of serendipity – is in the right place at the right time to see nature’s fury and beauty.

cACHAAAWe did, however, have a wonderfully serendipitous moment and what turned into the highlight of the long ride during what is called “marine navigation” in other words, looking for marine life while we move.  (Our guide tells us that were likely to see more whales and dolphins if we take advantage of the bar I mentioned earlier!) Marine Navigation is what we do during the longer treks between visitor sites. We’ve had “marine navigation” before, to no end. After all, marine life isn’t on a schedule. It’s not going back and forth to work on the same highway at the same time everyday. It has the whole Pacific Ocean as a place to forage and play.  But when human paparazzi and marine superstars do come together it is spectacular. Today was such a day.  As we rounded Cerro Azul volcano, Harry made an excited announcement: “pilot whales, pilot whales.” Everyone bustled to their cabins and to the upper deck with cameras in hand as we were treated to true forces of nature. As the sun went down and we rounded the southern tip of Isabela, we saw whales within two feet of the boat.  They seem to revel in the paparazzi. I guess the common and bottle nosed dolphins didn’t want to be left out either and they showed up in droves to accompany us in the boat’s wake, dancing in and out of the water. Gorgeous! What a thrill! What a perfect ending to the first part of this wondrous journey.

IMG_0020What I want to emphasize about this day is the amount of attention that was paid to the ship’s guests.  I – wrongly – assumed that the long trip to Santa Cruz would provide the crew and Harry with a little downtime.  The opposite was actually true.  Aware that they did not want us to be bored, we got special attention.  Dinner, usually buffet style, was served by the waiter, with a choice of entree.  The tables were beautiful.  And, the crew did not leave the bridge until well after sundown, to make sure that if there was a marine specimen to be observed, they were there to tell us about it.  To me, this proved, once again, that I made the right decision to spend a little extra to pick the best boat and crew available.

Here seems a good place to give you some insight into how I went about selecting my boat.  There are many options.  For me, the most important things to consider are these:

  • What type of boat do you want to take?  Some of the Galapagos boats sail, others are cruisers and still others – the Cormorant and Ocean Spray – are luxury catamarans.  This is very important because catamarans are the most stable crafts.  Remember you are on the Pacific Ocean and the seas can get rough from time to time.  You will have the least likelihood of being subject to sea sickness on a catamaran. The way this difference was described to me made perfect sense: you’re going to be more stable on two legs (rudders) than on one.
  • How many people do you want on your boat?  Some boats carry as many as 100 people.  The Cormorant and Ocean Spray never have more than 16 guests on board.  This means that you get the same guide your entire week, you get personal attention, and you don’t want for anything. And, my experience has been that the guests, who come from all over the world, on either of these boats are terrific traveling companions. During my three trips I’ve observed groups from other cruises on the islands.  More people means more noise, less personal attention and more bureaucracy.  Limiting yourself to a small group guarantees the privilege of personalized service.
  • Do you care whether your guides are the best or just very good?  I can’t say that there is a bad guide in the Galapagos; all are certified, trained and bi-lingual.  But, not all guides are the same and the best most luxurious cruise lines have the most highly regarded and experienced guides.  It does matter when your guide is an encyclopedia of information and shares his love of his country with you.  Your guide on either the Cormorant or Ocean Spray will delight you with his or her sense of humor and wonder as well as his depth and scope of knowledge.  And, he will be a native of the Galapagos. Your guide makes all the difference in the world.
  • Do you want your accommodations to be first class and completely private?  The cabins, balconies and bathrooms on the Cormorant and Ocean Spray are clean, new, spacious and beautifully maintained. There’s as much privacy and quiet time as you want.
  • Do you want a high staff to guest ratio?   There are at least 11 staff for 16 passengers on board the luxury catamarans all the time.
  • Do you want the equipment you use for snorkeling to be fresh and clean?  Because the catamarans are new and because the Cruise Company (Haugan in my case) is very dedicated to maintaining its luxury reputation, cleanliness and safety, it upgrades its facilities and equipment frequently.
  • Do you want delicious food served at every meal?  Haugan Cruises has great chefs and delicious food.  Believe me, when you are hiking and snorkeling every day, food is important.  Snacks are served twice daily as well.  As you return from your hikes, appetizers and cold or hot drinks await you. Small snacks like cookies and nuts always are available in the dining room. Waiter service anticipates your needs.

I didn’t make my decision just by reading the internet and reviews.  I called the cruise company and talked and asked lots of questions.  The answers I was given led me to the Cormorant and the Ocean Spray.

To learn more about the Galapagos Islands and for help planning your luxury cruise, go to Haugan Cruise Lines or call 1-800-769-0869. Personnel are equipped to help answer all of your questions and get your started on a glorious, once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

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