The next two videos guide you through the beautiful pleasure craft that we were privileged enough to spend a week on. The hosts of the videos are our two rich alter-egos, Biffy and Aarnold Hornblower the II:
Each day on the boat we were greeted by two lovely towel animals of varying types. Pictured above are our favourite towel animals, the chocolate-eyed dogs. Other animals included swans and manta rays.
Aarnold posing in his room.
I'm flying Jack! I'm flying!
During the cruise, we were provided with three buffet meals a day, plus snacks. Above and below are an example of the type of food that we could expect on the cruise (two of our favs).
Sometimes the boat would even do decorative displays with our food. This penguin eggplant chilling by his yuca palm tree was pretty awesome!
The first day of our cruise consisted of boarding the boat, meeting our crew and fellow guests, and visiting Puerto Ayora, which wasn't terribly exciting, since we had just spent a week in the town, and had already seen everything that was on the tour for the day. We then re-boarded the boat and headed for the island of North Seymour.
A typical day on the boat would consist of waking up at around 7am, breakfast at 8am, use the ship's two zodiacs to land on one of the islands, hike for a couple of hours on land to view various critters, snorkeling for an hour or two to view the various sea critters, go back to the boat for lunch at 12, cruise to the next island, do one more land and/or sea critter excursion, back to the boat for dinner at 7, wind down and learn about the next day, to bed (and reading of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) by about 11, and repeat.
North Seymour was interesting for three reasons. First, as usual, there were sea lions galore. Baby sea lions, momma sea lions, and big bad pappy sea lions. It didn't matter how many times we saw them on the cruise, they were always awesome, and warranted several ´aaawwwes´ and countless pictures. The second point of interest on North Seymour were the flies. Never before in my life had I seen (and felt) soooooo many freaking flies! Apparently, the flies are a relatively new addition to the island (as recent as the past 6 years or so), thanks to friendly tourists bringing the flies with them on island visits, but they (the flies, not the tourists) have taken over North Seymour with a vengence! I feel sad for the sea lions of North Seymour, as they all had copious amounts of flies in their eyes, ears, mouths and noses! The flies almost made North Seymour a disappointment for us, but more than making up for it were the nesting friggets pictured above. The male frigget has a big red balloon on his neck that he puffs up when he is trying to show off for the ladies. The one pictured above evidently has a very sexy balloon, as he is shown here getting jiggy with another frigget!
Later that day, we ventured to Bartolome, an island with an impecable view and moonlike terrain (above and below).
The next stop (on day three) was South Plaza, an island full of Sea Lion fun. The sea lions of the Galapagos are either sleeping or playing, with the exception of the big bulls, who spend their time patrolling the beaches, either barking or chasing away any potential invadors.
This is not a big bull sea lion chasing away an invador.... it´s a baby sea lion chasing a bird.... SUUUPER CUUUUUUUTE!
Land iguanas' diets consist of cacti, which is surprising, considering how large they can get (about 2-4 feet long). One of our guests was convinced that the land iguana was the same thing as the deadly Komodo Dragon. When we asked her what she thought of the land iguannas, she told us, and I quote, that "they are vile creatures"!
Something was in the air when we visited the Galapagos, as all the creatures were either having babies or making them. The male land iguanna above is seen here trying to entice the less colourfull female iguanna by slurping up her tail like spaghetti!
The bird picture above is a beautiful tropical bird that I forget the name of. According to our guide, it is "very difficult to capture a photograph of this bird in mid flight"..... hah, take that guide!
Next stop was probably our favourite island of the trip (at least with respect to sea life), Santa Fe. Above is pictured a Galapagos Hawk, the sole raptor of the Galapagos. These guys do quite well, as they have no preditors and a lot of food that has not yet learned how to be afraid of things. These hawks have been known to even take down baby sea lions!
At this point in time in our cruise, I still didn't have enough courage to try our underwater camera bag, but I did still have a couple of clicks left in our underwater disposable camera. Santa Fe had absolutely everything in terms of sea life, and maybe even a little more (some of the Galapagos sharks maybe were a little too big for comfort). I would say that the highlight of the cruise came in the waters of Santa Fe, where we were blessed with our first encounters with the Giant Turtle. A truly magical creature that drifts effortlessly through the ocean without a care in the world, even when giant gringos are floating above them screaming in amazement! Other sea creatures that we encountered in Santa Fe included the Manta Ray.
And the white tipped reef shark. This reef shark was fast asleep when we approached it, which allowed us a good 5 minutes of viewing time before he woke up and realized that he had become quite the snorkeling spectacle, and swam away (right under our feet).
Probably the most dangerous creature in the galapagos is the bull sea lion. These big brutes are tasked with the job of protecting their colonies and beach territories from invadors (other sea lions, sharks, gringos, or in this case, a poor little oyster catcher). What came as a surprise to me was that due to the exhausting nature of this imperitive position, a bull sea lion can only keep the role as colony protector for about 2 or 3 weeks! During this time, they have to constantly patrol the land and sea portions of their protected beaches, bark, chase and fight invadors, and get as much action as they possibly can from the lady sea lions (reward for a hard day's work). Finally, they get so exhausted, that a more rested sea lion comes in and takes over duties, while the old leader settles down for early retirement.
Day four was spent dropping off some of the passengers and picking some new ones up (while visiting the city of San Cristobal).
On day five, it was off to the beautiful island of Española. Another beautiful white sand beach inhabited by countless adorable sea lions.
"No pictures, please!"
"Oh, OK, just one.... Mwa!"
Later that day, we visited Osborn Island. Encouraged by the fact that I no longer had any underwater disposable pictures left, I finally got the courage to try out my underwater camera bag for my digital camera (essentially a very expensive ziplock bag that allows me to take my camera underwater). Am I ever glad I did, because not only did my camera not explode, I got some great photos!
Underwater in the Galapagos is like another planet. The sea comes to life with countless opportunities for animal interaction. Sea lions swim up to you to check out the strange human creatures and to play.Sting rays lurk in the bottom of the sea, waiting to strike their next meal (humans not included in their menu, thankfully).
And best of all, the turtles. In the video below, you can see what I mean by how amazing swimming in the Galapagos can get. I start the video by following a giant turtle feasting on algae in the water. While doing this, a couple of sea lions swim right up to me (out of nowhere), and start doing flips and circles around me to play!
Here's a video of a momma and a baby sea lion together while the papa can be heard in the background barking away.
Still on Española, pictured above is an adolecent albatross. At first, I thought they were just glorified seagulls, but when you actually see them in real life, you instantly gain a large amount of respect for this giant of the sky. It takes several months of dry land training (shown here) before they can gain enough wing strength to fly. You see these birds all over the island of Española flapping their wings on the ground, training to soar the skies above.
The next day we travelled to the island of Floreana, a place of white sand, sea lions, and most notably, a boat load of sting rays!
It's hard to tell, but if you look closely, you can see several dark shadows lining the shore of Floreana. Those shadows just happen to be countless STING RAYS.... Yes, the same creature that took down the Crock Hunter! The shore of Floreana could be likened to a mine field of sting rays. We were told that they wouldn't hurt you unless you directly stepped on one, but considering they lined the entire beach, not stepping on one was easier said than done.
The sting rays were only supposed to line the one side of Floreana, leaving the other side for good snorkeling; however, much to the surprise of our guide, that ended up not being quite the case. We took the ship's dingies to the other side of Floreana, and just as we were about to hit the shore, a group of big waves came in, crashing against the boat, and flooding the motor. While the waves kept coming in, the guide told us to jump out to shore, but then realized that the sting rays had taken over the other side of the island as well. Without an engine, we couldn't do a heck of a lot, other than to jump out anyway, and do our damndest to avoid stepping on sting rays. Luckily, noone was stung, and some of us were even stupid enough to do some snorkeling on the beach (after a lesson from the guide as to how not to step on sting rays).
This was probably the most scared I have been on the trip thus far. After slowly and methodologically stepping into the water to avoid the sting rays, I submerged only to find this guy literally inches from my face. This is not trick photography, and no zoom lense was used. Just me, a camera, and a 3 foot sting ray's tail in my face! Again, mom disclaimer, the guide of many years has never had any problems with sting rays or any other creature hurting people on the Galapagos. It's still F`en scary though!
Another scary moment was had when I followed this fish around for a while to admire his beautiful colours, only to have him turn around on me and show off his bloody big fangs! I decided thereafter to give him some space.
Floreana also has an interesting mail delivery system, whereby tourists and locals alike drop off letters in this makeshift post office and hope that another traveller might stop by and deliver the letter if it happens to be posted in the direction that they are heading. You never know, a Galapagos Express letter may be heading YOUR way sometime soon!
Seriously, "I like turtles"!
On the seventh day, we headed to the Island of Isabela to hike up to Volcan Chico. Due to the length of the hike, only a select few of the cruisers decided to do this activity, which was all the better for us, as we got a more private tour of the outer-wordly volcano.
The Volcano hiking group. In this picture, from right to left are our friends Daniel and Amelia (who we plan to visit in Chile), Tydia, Bigi (who we have been traveling with for the past while in Baños and Cuenca), Vanessa (Bigi's friend who is now in Belize), and our guide, Pato.
... ... ...
OK fine, it doesn't give super human strength, the volcanic rock is just really light :(
The view from the opposite side of the volcano. You can tell by the landscape that this volcano is very, very active. Placing a hand to the land, you can feel the heat of the volcanic activity below.
As pretty as this area was, there was a strong smell of sulfur in the air. Or was it just the guy in the background???
Our last stop on the island of Isabella gave us a chance to see some Galapagos penguins, tuxedos and all!
HINT: El mano de Tyrone es blanco
And with a goodbye cocktail, our Galapagos adventure was over. The Galapagos is a truly remarkable place on this earth that never ceases to amaze. The incredible landscape and curious ancient creatures give visitors of the Galapagos the feeling of being placed in a children's story book or dream, where the creatures and humans work and play together in perfect harmony. It was truly a one chance in a lifetime experience that will forever be a life highlight for us.
The end of one adventure only leads to the start of the next!