Deep blue sea, darlin’ on the deep, deep blue sea. I could not get that Grizzly Bear song out of my head pretty much the entire time I was on my eight day cruise around the Galapagos Islands. Cruising around on a luxury yacht is definitely several steps up from the grimy dorm room hostels I am used to traveling in, but lucky I have a Grandfather who made my voyage aboard ‘The Millenium’ possible. For this I am so grateful, because it really was life changing. Every single day felt like being in a National Geographic documentary, with each day somehow managing to get better than the last.
I took a flight into San Cristobal, and the first thing I noticed was the presence of seal lions everywhere, they are like the stray dogs of the Galapagos, except probably even more friendly. We took a little dingy out to our yacht (I feel so fancy/ pretentious saying yacht, but that’s what it was!), and had a briefing with our tour guide Billy. Billy turned out to be a really cool guy, he has been working as a tour guide for over 25 years, and has all these crazy stories about the environmental activism he participated in on the Galapagos over those years. At one point he even had to flee the country because things got scary with fishermen threatening his family’s lives.
After our briefing we took off to Isla de Lobos, where I was able to get a little taste of everything I would be seeing over the next week. On our walk we saw a few blue footed boobies, marine iguanas, finches, frigate birds, and of course, sea lions. Snorkeling that day I also saw hundreds of different kinds of fish, sting rays, and even a lonely giant sea turtle. Over the course of the week I was able to see more of those animals, as well as giant land tortoises, land iguanas, penguins, flamingos, leopard rays, and sharks.
That first night we got to know the group a bit better over dinner, I was really lucky with the people on board. My favorites were the three Kiwi’s my age who had been traveling around South America for 6 months, they had some great stories, and the group of three from San Diego, who adopted me as a niece for the week. Beatriz, who happened to be my roommate, has been working public health all over the world for over 30 years, and she basically became my life coach on the boat. The crew was also really nice, over our welcome cocktails they introduced themselves, and as a joke Billy picked me to repeat all of their names. To everyone’s surprise, I actually managed to remember them, and after that for the rest of the week they were extra nice to me, making sure to greet me by name whenever they saw me, and bringing me special little presents. My favorite was the bartender, Teo, who would bring out different CDs for me to listen to each day, and Julio, who let me drive the dingy.
Over the course of a week we visited seven main islands, and some of their baby islands: San Cristobal, Española, Floreana, Santa Cruz, Santiago, Bartolome, and Santa Fe. It’s tough to say which was my favorite, because each one was so different from the next, and so picturesque, in its own distinct way… Some would have soft, white sand beaches, while others would have blood red clay. Some would have little more than a few shrubs on the ground, while others would be filled with giant cactus, and others, mangroves. Regardless of the terrain of the island, the view of the ocean was always incredible, with these layers of different shades of blue, almost as if it was being lit from below.
I thought that my favorite animal would be the blue-footed boobie, and while they are adorable and do the funniest little mating dances that show off their blue feet, I actually fell head over heels in love with sea lions. Without fail they made me laugh every time I watched them. They make these sounds to talk to each other that kind of sound like they are yarfing, and overall appear so undignified on land, especially in contrast to how they practically look like they are doing ballet in the water. On land they can hardly manage to lug themselves forward a few feet before collapsing spread eagle and looking exhausted. When snorkeling they love to come play with you, they will swim right up to make eye contact with you, and then swirl around you showing off. I just really love them, a few babies wanted to come back to San Diego with me, but Billy wouldn’t let me.
The days usually consisted of a walk or two around various islands, and of course, snorkeling. Snorkeling was really great, we went at least once every day, sometimes twice. The kinds of fish I saw were creations that even Dr. Seuss couldn’t dream up, and there were just so many. I didn’t think anything could top my diving experience in Thailand, but this came pretty dang close. Aside from playing with the sea lions, my other favorite snorkeling experience was with the giant sea turtles. Off the coast of Floreana I must have seen about 10 of them, they are so big and tranquil in the water, and you can get within inches of them. Our group was also able to see a lot of white tipped reef sharks over the week, they supposedly aren’t dangerous, but they still made me nervous.
Everyone was so well-traveled in our group, and every single person remarked how this was one of the most fascinating places in the world. There is really nothing like it. Where else can you see flamingos and penguins, or mangroves and cactus, all in the same day? Never have I been to a place where nature was so readily at my fingertips. Now I am just working on the difficult post-vacation transition back to real life. How will I know when to eat without Teo ringing a little bell to summon me? What will I do when animals flee from me, instead of posing so I can take a picture? What will my morning and afternoon activities be when there is no ocean to snorkel in? All this is made more difficult by the fact that I still feel like I’m on a boat, swaying side to side. Really, what a great great great vacation. When I win the lottery, I will take you, promise.
^ More photos.