THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS, ECUADOR (Part 1) – October 2008

A Week of Unparalleled Adventure

Our week-long voyage around the Galapagos Islands involved at least two shore excursions each day, at two different locations. We would wake each morning to find ourselves anchored at a new place and, usually after breakfast – but sometimes before – we would take off on one of the zodiac craft for our morning adventure. A zodiac is a flat bottomed boat with inflatable rubber sides propelled by an outboard motor. Each zodiac carries 16 people, plus pilot and guide. Life jackets are mandatory.

After two hours of hiking, climbing or snorkelling – as the case may be – we would return to the mother ship for a buffet lunch on the rear deck. As we ate, Celebrity Xpedition would set sail for a new location.

In the late afternoon, we would line up to board the zodiac again for our second expedition of the day. This was our favourite time. These treks usually ended with the sun setting over the ocean causing the sand, rocks and low shrubbery of the islands to be cast in a heavenly, golden hue.

Whilst on the islands, we were given very little latitude. Our naturalist guide kept us on a very tight leash and prevented us from straying from a narrow, designated track. We were told, very sternly, that we were not to leave any foreign matter on the islands. Even toilet breaks were not permitted. Should an urgent need arise, a zodiac would be summoned to return us to our cruise ship. However, given the privilege we enjoyed in being allowed to visit this extraordinary ecosystem, we were more than happy to comply with these directives.

Two, or more, excursions per day wore us out. Unlike other cruises we have enjoyed, there were no sea days during which one could rest. Each day began at 6.30am, at the latest, and we were typically sound asleep by 10pm. The programme was, however, as exhilarating as it was exhausting. We would not a missed a minute of the adventure.

A Plethora of Sea Lions

One of the more abundant forms of wildlife on the islands was, without doubt, the sea lions. They must have out-numbered the human population by at least ten to one.

On our first afternoon at Galapagos, our adventure began with a zodiac ride along the shoreline of Santa Cruz. At this, innocent, stage we were excited by the sight of a mass of sea lions lying on the beach, 50 or so metres away.

After cruising the shoreline for 45 minutes or so – observing the wildlife – we left the zodiac and walked along the shore, literally dodging sleeping sea lions as we went. We had to be careful where we placed our feet, in case we might step on a sleepy sea lion’s tail!

Some of the sea lions had given birth and their pups where quietly suckling at an available nipple. Some mothers had had enough and tried to flee – lurching at speed in an ungainly fashion – whilst an eager pup chased after her, demanding more food in agitated barks.

Huckleberry B and I, of course, `saw’ our beloved Cavalier King Charles Spaniels in the faces and behaviours of these lovely creatures, particularly when a sea lion would roll over on her back and exposure her stomach or close her eyes tightly shut whilst resting her chin on a rock. Indeed, one of our favourite memories was watching two sea lion pups playing `chasings’ in some shallow water. The magical sight made us yearn to see our beautiful girls.

On a later expedition, we returned to where our zodiac was waiting, only to find that a large male sea lion and his family had taken up residence along our path. The bull sea lion seemed particularly agitated as he lurched forward and barked. Looking to our left we saw that another male had swum to the shore and was encroaching on the first bull’s territory. The master of this particular patch of Galapagos was chasing the intruder away.

Our guide immediately ordered us to stop. We could tell from her tone – and from the look on her face – that this was a serious situation. Our guide later explained that if we got in the bull sea lion’s way, whilst he was defending his territory, he was liable to bite a chunk out of one of our legs. She didn’t want to take any risks.  Thankfully, we made our way to the zodiac in safety.

As awkward as a sea lion may be on land, they are gorgeous creatures in the water. We were able to witness a number of sea lions – sleek and beautiful – torpedoing through the water whilst we stood above them on a lava flow. They frolicked in the water, chasing fish or escaping their pups, before turning upside down, with their snout twitching in the air.

One of my best experiences, however, occurred whilst I was snorkelling – something I had never done before – in some shallow water near some rocks. I was floating above a school of large green fish (which I was later told were Flounder) when I sensed something approaching from my right. I turned my head, expecting to see a fellow tourist, only to find a pretty, female sea lion swimming towards me. As she drew closer, she flipped onto her back, whilst maintaining my eye contact. My first instinct was to swim away, not knowing what to expect. However, I held my nerve and ended up face to face with the beautiful creature. She seemed as curious about me as I was about her. We inspected each other for a moment or two before the sea lion (seemingly) gave me a wink and swam away.

This was an encounter I shall never forget. It was truly exhilarating. So much so, that I quickly swam to shore to tell Huckleberry B – another gorgeous creature – all about it…

Planet of the Iguanas

Should the iguanas that inhabit the Galapagos Islands ever develop human intelligence, the local residents will be in serious trouble. There are thousands of them!

The less populous, but better known, are the land iguanas, which live in bushland areas. These iguanas can be four or five feet long and are yellow or red in colour, with harsh leather skin.

Far more common are the marine iguanas which typically live in the inter-tidal zone. Grey in colour, these iguanas can actually swim. They can dive up to 60 feet below the waves in order to feast on algae and seaweed. To keep themselves warm – which they must do in order to survive – marine iguanas lie on rocks, facing the sun and even lie on top of one another. We saw many nests, each containing 30 to 40 marine iguanas.

Our guide informed us that there were estimated to be as many as 100,000 marine iguanas in the Galapagos Islands. Huck B and I have no difficulty believing that. Indeed, by the end of the week we felt as though we knew most of them on a first name basis.

At the time of our first expedition, we – and our fellow guests – were highly excited to meet our first marine iguanas face-to-face. Pre-historic in appearance, and with evil looking grins, the creatures were fascinating. However, by the end of our trip to the Galapagos Islands, the marine iguanas were so much a permanent part of the landscape that we would only have become excited if one of them suddenly changed colour or addressed us in English.

Moonriver

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