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My Galapagos Adventure – Day Two

June 13, 2014 Luxury Cruises Galapagos, Travel to Ecuador No Comments

A Mysterious Journey

Ocean Spray Catamaran

Ocean Spray Catamaran

  This is day two of the tales of my adventures in Galapagos.  Scroll down to see how this amazing trip began.  There are many itinerary options for the Ocean Spray catamaran and I’ve chosen the 15-day tour of both the Eastern and Western sides of Galapagos (you can go for as few as 4 days).  With me are 15 fellow travelers who have come for just six days. I’ll share a few thoughts with you before telling you about this wonderful day.

The National Park Service mandates that a guide may be responsible for no more than 16 guests at a time.  Thus, there is one guide on a cruise ship for 16 guests, 2 on a boat for 20 guests, 4 if there are 50 guests, 7 on a ship for 100 passengers. From the first, I wanted to be limited to a small prestige cruise line with personal attention.  On some of the larger cruises, your guide changes every excursion; you can never be sure who will be leading you or who will be with you on your hike.  You will have to wait for the panga to go back and forth from the boat to the island. Plus, you are often landing in a larger group as you take a hike or snorkel. I like the idea of getting to know my fellow passengers and the guide.  Also, the crew gets to know each one of us and our special needs.

Some people like a larger vessel; that’s another consideration for decision-making.  If you tend to get seasick, a catamaran is a great option.  With its two keels, it provides more stability than some of the other options. I’m told there’s more of a party-like atmosphere on a larger boat with lots more people . I can get that in the Caribbean; it’s not what I want in the Galapagos Islands though.

I also want to mention my personal impression of how long to stay in Galapagos.  Consider, it’s a long trip to get there.  For almost everyone, it’s a two-day journey from airport to airport. My first trip here was for one week to the eastern islands and I thought that would be more than enough.  I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I wanted much more and that’s why I’ve come back again and again. The western and eastern sides are not the same and I wanted the total experience.

Sunrise Vicente Roca

Sunrise Vicente Roca

I never get tired of the “routine.”  I like snorkeling every day.  I love hiking.  The briefings and nature discussions mesmerize me and I learn more every time I go. I like the movement of the boat and never feel the need to get my feet back on the land. I am not an outdoorsy person by nature, but the Galapagos Islands just touch me in a unique and marvelous way.  It’s not that I don’t miss my husband and family, it’s just that I get completely absorbed by this place. (I mean, look at this photo of the sunrise – I smile just remembering looking out my balcony to see that glorious glow.)

So, when you are making your decision how long to stay take a look at yourself.  Ask, “How long can I be with the same 16 strangers?” “How many sea lions can I see before I don’t want to see another one?” “Can I tolerate being away from my phone and internet for days at a time?”

Everyone who has ever been to the Galapagos Islands is thrilled that they have been there.  Still, these are relevant questions for everyone and I can tell you from experience that there ARE those people who love the experience but have enough in four days and don’t want to see another iguana.  That’s just not me.  When you speak to the cruise line and are making your reservation, tell the person about yourself and your needs and expectations.  Let them help you make the decision that is right for you.

 

Isabela Vicente Roca Point IMG_1397

Now – back to the trip.  This day starts at Isle Isabela, in the west and the second youngest and largest island in the archipelago.  The western islands of Isabela and Fernandina are remote and overnight we travel for 10 hours from the old eroded island of Santiago to Punta Vicente Roca, the topmost point of Isabela.

We are anchored at the western-most point of our journey, settled between Isabela and Fernandina islands. Though the day starts out in a haze, the rays of sunlight breaking through over Volcan Darwin are dazzling and mysterious.

 

 

 

 

 

Just as surprising and evocative as you awake is the sheer 1707 meter cliff side of Vicente Roca, the base actually of Vulcan Ecuador.

Cave Entrance with Lobster Boat Vicente Roca

Cave Entrance with Lobster Boat Vicente Roca

From my balcony, I see an inviting cave just off of the ship’s port side, and a little native fishing trawler anchored nearby. My inclination is to grab a cup of coffee, make my way to the upper deck and start shooting photos, which is exactly what I do.

I needn’t have hurried though as the morning is filled with great photo ops. This morning is meant to ease you into your new routine with a panga ride around a beautiful calm cove literally teeming with life.

 

 

 

 

Giant Eagle Ray Vicente Roca

Giant Eagle Ray Vicente Roca

 There is much to see upon waking, but so much more awaits. Sea turtles abound, we chase a gigantic ray around in circles catching a glimpse of its fins here and there. See  how far apart those fins are?  It was enormous; at least six feet across.  And we were so close in the panga.

 

 

 

 

 

Brown Noddies at Vicente Roca

Brown Noddies and Blue Footed Boobies: Vicente Roca

Camouflages Brown Noddies

Camouflaged Brown Noddies

And there are brown noddies and blue footed boobies lining the sheer cliff walls; they are so camouflaged that there was not so much as a hint of them until we got up really close.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We see many tiny Galápagos penguins, flightless cormorants and blue footed boobies.  We catch the eyes of quite a few fur sea lions too, and learn how they are different from other sea lions. (More on this later.)

Isabela Vicente Roca Point Cave IMG_1464

We even ride the panga into the cave and its roof looks just like the surface of the moon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ocean Spray in MIniature

Ocean Spray in Miniature

Oh there’s one more remarkable thing. Our boat, the Ocean Spray, is a 113 foot mega-catamaran, incredibly spacious and large.  But, it sits dwarfed by the massive cliff, converted from a luxury yacht to a tiny miniature toy.

See that little white speck in the middle of the photo – that’s the cruise ship. That’s just a hint of today’s mysteries and treats around every corner.

As I said, we chased a manta ray (strictly for the photo op) no less than six feet across.  The obvious question, “How old is it based on its size” was met with the answer, “It’s a mystery.” It turns out that little is known about quite a few of the animals and fish in Galapagos. Indeed, how do you track a manta, or, for that matter, a baby sea turtle between the time it leaves its nest until years later when it returns all grown up?  If it’s knowable, it seems that Harry knows it.  If he doesn’t know something, there’s a reason.  Much of what we see is unknown anywhere else in the entire world, totally endemic to Galapagos.

 

 

 

 

 

Sea Turtle

Sea Turtle

As if the panga ride were not enough, we were then treated to our first snorkel, introduced to this remarkable and mysterious life from a whole new angle. The same enormous ray made its presence known, penguins swam among us, sea lions put on a show, marine iguanas basked in the sun and fed on algae right before our eyes. Sea turtles abounded. All too soon we returned to the ship to sip on hot chocolate and get ready for lunch. Yes, hot chocolate on the equator seems incongruous but the ocean currents determine the water temperature and the currents coming from the south, we learn, chill the water so for many full wet suits are the best option and a warm drink takes the chill off.

 

 

  

 

 

Sea Horse Sea Horse 1Galapagos sea horses are quite a find for snorkelers, though from reading I understand that scuba divers have a much easier time locating one. I touched on the fact before that the guides love to share their knowledge and their passion for the Galapagos Islands.  Another thing that they pride themselves on is locating the “right” animal or fish at the “right” time.  On another trip, when the water was very cold, the guide spent an hour searching for a sea horse, to no avail.   So, when Harry found not one, but two, we were delighted!  So was he, in fact.

They are the best camouflaged thing I’ve ever seen.  Even when Harry pointed one out, I have to admit I wasn’t so sure I was seeing the sea weed or the sea horse. This is the only spot throughout our journey where sea horses can be found so close to the surface.

After our morning adventures, it was another mystery – just how did we do and see so much in just a few hours? And what mysteries lay ahead?

 
 
 

 

Where Have All the Iguanas Gone?

Catch of the Day - Fresh Lobster

Catch of the Day – Fresh Lobster

Before starting out on our afternoon adventure, I have to take a break in the action to talk more about the food on this boat.  It is not only delicious, but fresh as can be.  If you recall, we saw a little fishing trawler early in the morning.  It turns out their “catch of the day” was giant lobster and the fishermen weren’t random, but there to bring us lunch. We watched the lobster being brought on board in the morning. Here are two of our happy crew members!

Lobster Grilled on Outside Deck

Lobster Grilled on Outside Deck

Hours later, fresh from the sea, they (the lobsters, not the crew members) became our decadent lunch, served outside on the upper deck on a glorious afternoon. There is a large indoor dining room with two tables where we eat most of our meals.  But other days, we eat either lunch or dinner outside where we can see the sunset or just enjoy even more of the Galapagos environment.

 
 
 

 

 

 

Sea Lion Floating IMG_2169One day from the boat during lunch this is what I saw.  This guy basked in the sun for hours!  This is the life!

Lobster for Lunch

Lobster for Lunch

As at every meal, there were several choices, many vegetable side dishes, the freshest fruit imaginable (serious, pineapple like candy) and dessert.  But, I haven’t mentioned the service.  While breakfasts and lunches are all buffet style, at each and every meal there is waiter service to bring you anything and everything you need. You are waited on hand and foot – or at least as much or as little as you want. It’s entirely up to you.

After that lunch, as we do every afternoon, we have time for a little siesta before our afternoon activity.  Often, this is a good time to sort through your photos, recharge your camera, or just sit outside and read a book. You are never out on an excursion during the middle of the day because of the heat of the equatorial sun.  In addition to regular reminders to use sunscreen, caution is taken to keep you out of the sun during midday.

  
 

 

  

Espinosa Point

Espinosa Point

During our down time, the boat moved to Fernandina island, the western-most visitor spot in all of Galapagos, and also the youngest. Volcan la Cumbre, which is the volcano that created the island, remains active and erupted in 2009. We asked our guide Harry, who tries to be more accommodating than any one person can be, to arrange for an eruption today, but he was unable to come through!  Espinosa Point is stunningly beautiful and filled with wildlife.  This post could be made very long indeed by all the great photos from the site.  But, I will regale you with just a few.

Nursing Sea Lion

Nursing Sea Lion and Iguanas

 

 

  

 

 Even minus the eruption, Espinosa Point on Fernandina was a time for constant declarations of awe: “Sea lion baby!” “The shapes made by this lava are unbelievable!” “The whole hill is made of iguanas!” “Take a picture of this flightless cormorant. No, I’m taking this one.”  The iguanas piled on top of each other in droves.  We think we have a pretty good idea where the iguanas have gone – to Espinosa Pont.

Truly, Fernandina proved to be another wonderland. The walk on a combination of Pahoehoe and Aa lave was challenging enough to make you appreciate that you needed to be careful every step of the way.  We learn about volcanic formations, hot spots and lava flows in a way that makes me really want to learn more.  Once again, you’ll be made aware of the knowledge your guide has and how much gratification he gets from sharing it with you.

 

AA lava

AA lava

Pahoeho lava

Pahoeho lava

Aa lava is sharp and dangerous – the word pronounced as though you are hurting your feet as you walk.  Pahoeho, on the other hand, is rounded and undulating, making fascinating patterns.

Along the way, iguanas placed themselves quite strategically in our paths so avoiding them was an entertaining game. “Don’t step on the iguana,” became a familiar refrain throughout the journey.

At the small lagoons, a juvenile blue heron preened and sea lions played.

 Two sea turtles, stranded by the low tide, found themselves a place to stay cool and wait out the next high tide to take them on their way.

  
 

 

  

Espinosa Point landscape with iguanas

Espinosa Point landscape with iguanas piled up

Espinosa Point Landscape

Espinosa Point Landscape

Heron at Espinosa Point

Heron at Espinosa Point

Stranded Sea Turtle

Stranded Sea Turtle

Stranded Sea Turtle

Stranded Sea Turtle

 

Flightless Cormorant Sillouette

Flightless Cormorant silhouette

Iguana sillouette

Iguana silhouette

 

 

 

 

 

 

Having reached the end of the lava road, we retraced our steps until we’re back on the beach. The cutest baby sea lions begged for their pictures to be taken. And, with the sun low in the sky we were taught by Harry, who also is an expert photographer, how to get the light just right to take photo of flightless cormorants silhouetted against a sunlit background.  Another lesson to be learned:  You can’t be a bad photographer in the Galapagos Islands.

The photos of both the cormorants and iguanas as the sun sets are remarkable. This was a visit not to be forgotten.

This day was gorgeous from sunrise to sunset.  We went back to the boat after this adventure where a snack awaited and took another luxurious shower.  Dinner was delicious, the night was relaxing and I couldn’t wait for the next day to start all over again.

To learn more about the Galapagos Islands and for help planning your cruise, go to Haugan Cruise Lines or call 1-800-769-0869. The 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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