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My Galapagos Adventure – Day One

May 23, 2014 Luxury Cruises Galapagos, Travel to Ecuador No Comments

Arriving in Paradise

If you’re anything like me you made your Galapagos plans months ago and waited seemingly forever to get here. I found the anticipation to be energizing, but wondered whether reality could possibly meet my expectations.  I needn’t have been concerned.  From the first moment, the experience was even better than I imagined.  (If you read my introduction, you’ll know that this is my third Galapagos trip: my second and this on the Ocean Spray Catamaran and the first on the equally fabulous Cormorant Catamaran.  Each trip was better than the one before.)

Galapagos Islands from Plane

Landing in Galapagos

Wending your way through airport customs, you may feel a little anxious, but the moment you walk out the door and are greeted by your guide, all worries disappear. The staff whisks away your luggage and from that moment on you are treated like royalty. I realized that the guests on the cruise are the center of attention more every day and will point out a few of the signs of individualized treatment along the way. For now, I’ll simply say that the next time you see your luggage, youll be ensconced in your large private cabin on the boat. Speaking of which, if you pick a luxury high-end trip, as I have, think of the boat not as a large impersonal five-star resort, but as a five-star boutique hotel that immerses you in personal lavish service.

It’s at the airport that you get the first glimpse of your fellow passengers. You are likely to have a combination of couples, singles, families and every permutation in between.  I’ve been with passengers ages 8 to about 80. The main thing I have to tell you here is that everyone is excited and filled with anticipation to get the adventure going. The other really important fact is that everyone is happy to be here. Positive energy is in the air.

 

 

 

Blue Footed Boobie Diving

Blue Footed Boobie Diving

From the airport, your guide, in my case Harry Jimenez (of whom you’ll learn more later), escorts you by bus to your panga, the dingy that transports you to and from the ship everywhere that you go. If you are lucky, you’ll see blue footed boobies plunging headfirst into the ocean even before you see your ship. Actually, it’s more than seeing the fabulous boobie for the first time that makes this experience memorable.  Your guide wants you to feel his own enthusiasm and imbue you with a sense of wonder.  So, he doesn’t just quietly point out, “There’s a blue footed boobie.”  Rather, he enthuses, “Blue footed boobie diving, there, over there!  He’s coming in!  One, Two, Three.  There he goes!  Boom!  I never get tired of this. Here he comes again!  And again … Boom!”  Already you are laughing and the group is coming together. I smile just remembering those very first moments when I realized I was about to embark on an amazing journey.

 

 

 

 

 

Ocean Spray Panga

Ocean Spray Panga

Stepping onto the panga for the first time, you see only warm and welcoming smiles and you know you’ve arrived. Though you may have no clue what’s coming next, when you meet your guide and the panga drivers you will relax. Put yourself in their capable hands and enjoy the ride for however long you will be in Galapagos.

And, might I add, you will quite literally be in their hands each and every time you step in and out of the panga. They know how to move you safely by gripping your arm in a particular secure way. Don’t fight it because you will stumble. Follow their lead. I still remember when I didn’t and was the target of some minor outrage. I mean, your safety is in their hands and they take their role very seriously. So, if you don’t let them keep you safe … Well, you get the point. You’ll soon find that rules and regulations are a big part of what makes the Galapagos Islands so incredibly unique and pristine. The rules are easy to follow and doing so will enhance your trip immeasurably.

Next stop: your boat and home for the duration of your journey in my case, 15 incredible days.

 

 

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Ocean Spray Catamaran

We near our catamaran and read “Ocean Spray.”  The Ocean Spray is bigger and more majestic than it looks in photographs. (As an aside, Ive been on the Cormorant as well and except for a slight difference in size, it is completely equivalent in terms of excursions, snorkeling, amenities, service, staff, food, etc.) Just as we think we’re going to get on board, there’s another surprise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Panga Underneath the Ocean Spray

Panga Underneath the Ocean Spray

Duck your heads as the panga takes a quick ride under the boat. I mean you may as well get to know the catamaran inside out! It’s incredibly exhilarating to speed under the catamaran, knowing that the panga drivers are completely secure and trained to give you this little extra “stunt.”

Which brings up another important point about getting to know the boat. One day on an earlier trip, I mentioned that I had tried to visit the bridge but the door was closed and I read that to mean “stay out.” I was told in no uncertain terms that I had access to every part of the boat whenever I want. So don’t be shy. The captain, the guide and all the crew want you to appreciate every minute. They are there for you and enjoying the catamaran is an important part of your total experience. Don’t underestimate how badly the captain wants to tell you all about the high technology that keeps you safe and on course. And the chef definitely wants to show you the kitchen where his culinary magic occurs.

 

Another valuable piece of information: if you are lucky enough to have a guide who is from the Galapagos Islands, as I have been, you will learn about and absorb his love and dedication to his home. This is another gift. There is a lot written about guides and their qualifications and certification from the Galapagos National Park Service.  But, for the purpose of choosing the ship you want, bear in mind the the best guides usually are on the best cruises.  It just makes sense.

 

May 2 San Cristobal IMG_1258 (2)

Giant Galapagos Tortoise

What else does the trip provide you? It’s a glimpse into the past, present and future. You will see how ancient land and sea creatures have adapted and remained in their natural unchanged habitats for thousands of years. So each day you will visit these prehistoric sites and then return to your luxurious boat squarely in the 21st century. Likewise, you will learn how our 21st century lives encroach on the past and what is being done in Galapagos for preservation and conservation to sustain Galapagos. And you will learn the impact for the future of not taking care of our environment. Seriously, you will return from Galapagos with a new sense of your place in the world and how you can help maintain our planet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Luxurious Ocean Spray Cabin

Those are a lot of asides when all we’re trying to do now is get onto that boat. So let’s go. We were on the panga under the catamaran. Now let’s get onto the boat where we are greeted by the crew, a lovely little snack, a quick orientation and our spacious cabins. More about that later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

oceanspray-buffet

Lavish Ocean Spray Buffet

In minutes, you hear the clank of the chains lifting the pangas out of the water, the anchor rising and then the sounds of the engine. Now, following a safety and orientation briefing, we’re on the way to our first destination, but not without seeing Daphne Major, Daphne Minor, Santa Cruz and Baltra Islands from our individual balconies.  Then, to fortify us for the afternoon, we are called to our first lunch, always a delicious combination of salads and a hearty main course, followed by dessert. But don’t be daunted by the amount of food and enjoy it all, even dessert twice a day from an amazing chef specializing in French pastries. You’ll be exercising plenty: so indulge!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Journey Begins: Hang Onto Your Hats

 

Approaching China Hat from Boat

Approaching China Hat from Boat

After our first delicious lunch, we were given a few hours to settle and unpack.  This is when I began to appreciate that my cabin would be a respite for me. The cabin is spacious.  You’ll find plenty of drawer and hanging space, comfortable beds, a sofa, a balcony, amenities such as soap, shampoo and hair dryers, and even great water pressure in the shower.

It’s a short jaunt to our first stop, the area called Sombrero Chino, or China Hat, obviously named for its shape. Every day is filled with activity and your first day is no exception. You will have at least one or two activities every morning and every afternoon.  You can do every single thing (as I do) or opt out.  It’s your vacation and if you aren’t in the mood for a snorkel or a hike, you can jacuzzi, sit in the sun, have a drink, tour the boat, improve your Spanish skills by talking to the crew, sit in the lounge and read, or relax on your private balcony.  This trip is designed for you to do what feels good and right to you.

As Harry, filled with enthusiasm, takes to his sound system to announce that it’s time to disembark, you are filled with anticipation. But first a word about the sound system.  You don’t ever have to look at a clock or even remember what your guide tells you, because when it’s time to wake up, go to a meal, disembark on an excursion or go snorkeling, an announcement will be made.  The sound system reaches every corner of the boat.  Speaking for everyone I’ve talked to, we all can’t wait to wake up each morning to, “This is Ocean Spray Radio, broadcasting from Paradise – the Galapagos Islands.”  That is followed by a wide variety of upbeat music – something different each morning and, quite often, the bark of a sea lion – though it sounds like a real one, it’s really Harry’s quite believable sea lion imitation!

This is our first experience getting off the boat onto the pangas, always wearing a life jacket and always taking the arm of one or two staff members to steady us.  The panga ride is fun and exhilarating, the navigators expert at avoiding getting you wet in what can be a wavy ocean.  It does get breezy though, so holding onto your hat, on the way to China Hat, is a good policy.

 

Sea Lion Pup and Mother

Sea Lion Pup and Mother

Jumping off the panga for a wet landing (meaning directly into the ocean shore line as opposed to at a dock or cliff’s edge), our feet feel the welcoming sand for the first time. But that’s not all. We are greeted by sea lions (real ones this time) with oodles of babies ranging in age from 5 days to a few months. We are transported in a moment out of our comfort zone into a new and exciting adventure.  Here is where your guide first shares with you his knowledge of and love for these Islands.  The guides, like Harry, on the luxury cruises have an incredible scope and depth of knowledge.

 

 

 

 

 

Sea Lion PupEach encounter with a new animal or rock formation provides the guide with an impromptu teaching opportunity.  In this case – it’s all about the sea lions. For example, these little pups are all alone. May we touch them? Why not? What will  happen if we do? Where is the mom? Are they going to starve without her? After all, some look pretty scrawny and who leaves a five-day old baby? It’s explained in a way that makes you feel the babies are just fine, that the mom is out looking for food. Though she may be gone for days at a time, unless she becomes a predator’s dinner herself, she will be back. The proof is there when we see other nursing pups. The evolution and independence of the sea lions begins to make sense. And, by the way – never ever call these animals seals because they are sea lions.  This distinction opens the door to another fascinating explanation of pinnipeds and their descendency from wolves.

 

 

 

 

Eroded China Hat Landscape

Eroded China Hat Landscape

Though we haven’t had enough of the sea lions (trust me – you will NEVER see enough sea lions to satisfy you!), it’s time to move on and we learn that sea lions are ubiquitous.  We left one, only to stumble upon another.

Then we walk on rocky eroded lava.  This can be treacherous going, but it’s a breathtaking accomplishment.  Before going on each excursion, you’ll be told what type of shoes to wear – in this case hiking or good walking shoes are a definite must.  Another aside: since we had a wet landing, we carried our shoes in our backpacks with our cameras, – it’s good to keep them in waterproofing when doing a wet landing – extra water and sunscreen and a small towel and took a moment to change into shoes upon landing. Walking sticks are available for extra stability and we help each other too.  From this vantage point we see Isabela, Santiago, Rabida, No Name Island, Pinzon and Santa Cruz. You might be all turned around with no sense of direction but you know you’re in the middle of something special.

 

 

Marine Iguana Close Up

Marine Iguana Close Up

After that exciting introduction to adorable sea lion moms and babies watched over by their beach master, we get our first glimpse of a marine iguana. They exist nowhere in the world but Galapagos and have evolved to eat algae.  It’s amazing that none of these animals are the least bit afraid of us and we can get within feet of them to take their photographs.  They have no natural land-based predators larger than a hawk so they don’t even acknowledge our presence, let alone worry about it.

 

 

 

 

 

Galapagos Hawk on China Hat

Galapagos Hawk on China Hat

Speaking of which, we next see and photograph a Galapagos hawk, which, in fact, seems to be posing for us cooperatively. A pelican is equally “user friendly” passing overhead no fewer than four times so everyone gets great photos or video. Blue footed boobies and Nazca boobies soar in the background and then there’s a frigate bird. What a panoply.

 

 

 

 

 

Penguins on China Hat

Penguins on China Hat

But we’re not finished. First, we are treated to a gorgeous sunset which we watch from the beach and then, back on the pangas, as if magically, penguins appear. It really doesn’t get any better than this. This is the first of many magical animal appearances and we accuse the guide of having a remote control and using it to conjure up animals in holograms.  But really he has so much experience and just knows the islands and the habitats and hiding places so well, it’s a rare time that he isn’t able to locate an elusive specimen.

 

 

 

 

China Hat at Sunset

China Hat at Sunset

Paradise, day one, ends with a briefing filling us in on tomorrow’s events, introduction to the boat crew and captain in dress whites complete with a champagne cocktail, and finally dinner, just as delicious as lunch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I slept well after this first day of settling in as the boat took a long trek and Ocean Spray Radio woke us up in the shadows of Isle Isabela.

To learn more about the Galapagos Islands and for help planning your 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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