Friday, January 3, 2014

The Galapagos Islands - Exploring a Unique World

Off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean lies a unique place in the world.  The Galapagos Islands! Here you find a series of 18 volcanic islands renowned for the endemic species that call it home.

As you probably know, this is where Charles Darwin visited to form the basis of his Natural Selection theories.  Right or wrong, these pristine islands are a treat for nature and animal lovers.

To see this for ourselves we embarked on an 8 day southern island live-aboard cruise, which is the best way to see the diversity the islands have to offer.  On our cruise we would take in Baltra, Santa Cruz, Genovesa, Bartholomew, Santiago, South Plaza, Santa Fe, San Cristobal, Española, Floreana and North Seymour Islands.  From the reviews, this was a very good selection of islands.

The Galapagos has a population of about 25,000 people spread over 5 populated islands, 2 with airports. They are actually one of only a handful of places in the world without an indigenous population.  However the population has been steadily growing after 1500 people called it home in the mid 1950s.

There are 2 ways to visit the islands. The first option is a land based trip where you stay in one of the populated islands and day trip to other islands.  The second option is a water based tour where you live aboard a ship and cruise throughout the islands.  We choose the latter because it allowed us to see more far reaching islands you can't visit on a day trip.

As you might expect there is a constant struggle with conservation.  The islands are such a unique eco-system that even the smallest outside influence has an impact.  95% of the islands are a national park and have strict regulations to help control outside influence.  The 2 biggest threats to the islands are introduced species (e.g., goats, cats, dogs, insects, plants) and tourism.  Creatures like the Nazca (masked) Booby above, don't have natural predators and do not have any fear of other creatures. However, the good news is that both are in our control and various programs are in place to try and constrain the impact.

Now before I get to the islands I wanted give a little background on the planning and experience as a whole because throughout our 8 days the days happily melded into a routine.

Everything in the Galapagos National Park is controlled.  All of the many boats are all on a pre-determined schedule.  What islands they visit, exact time schedules, landing sites, snorkeling slots, ect.  Plus all of the boats must have a certified guide who leads all of the tours and activities making sure the visitors follow the rules while on land.  Our guide was named Efrain. He was born on Santa Cruz and was our source of information throughout the trip.

Each morning we were up for sunrise just before 6:00am fully rested and ready for what the day had in store. A morning coffee welcomed in the day before the first mate on the boat rang the bell signaling the 6:30am breakfast in preparations for our 7am departure for a shore landing. After breakfast there were usually a excitement filled frantic few minutes as douse yourself in sunscreen, decide on your footwear (wet or dry landing), gather your things, hat and camera, then head to the back of the boat to hop in a dingy for the ride to the drop off point.

A couple hours later were were back on the boat for lunch and siesta in one of the shaded spots on the boat.  The afternoon wasn't always the same.  Some days you'd have time to do some swimming or snorkeling off the back of the boat.  Around 3 or 4 the bell would ring again and it was time for another shore landing.  As sunset approached, it was time to head back to shower up and enjoy the splendid views as the sun dropped below the horizon.

The final bell of the day signaled the evening briefing.  We'd start by recapping the days amazing sights and sounds before Efrain would tell us the plan for the next day that stoke our adventure fire.

Finally, dinner was served before we all retired to bed.  If we made it to 9:30pm it was a surprise. However there here was no need to fret though, all the days were rewarding and hitting the sack that early was a luxury. So, let's begin with the wonders of the Galapagos...

Day 1: Baltra And Santa Cruzs Bachas Beach.html

Day 2: Genovesa Island - El Barranco, Climbing Prince Phillip's Steps for Bird Watching AND
Genovesa Island, Darwin Bay - Say Hello to Sea Lions

Day 3: Bartolome & Santiago - Monster Views, Snorkeling and Lava

Day 4: Land Iguanas and Bachelor Sea Lions of South Plaza Island AND
Carpets of Sting Rays and Following Turtles on Santa Fe Island

Day 5: Morning Stop at San Cristobal, Kicker Rock - Snorkeling Surprise and An Afternoon at Lobos Island to Meet Blue-footed Boobies

Day 6: Beautiful and Colorful Española Island

Day 7: Floreana Island Flamingos and A visit to the Charles Darwin Station

Day 8: North Seymour Island

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