The final days of my trip to the Galapagos Islands were bitter sweet. As I write, I’m rejuvenated by reliving the two weeks I spent there… but wistful that the journey had to end.
I started the final leg of my cruise on the Millenium yacht with snorkelling at Los Lobos Island – but we weren’t alone. Beneath us were vibrant fish, a sea turtle and this baby sting ray gliding on the ocean floor alongside a puffer fish. Aw.
Later, we cruised along to San Cristobal Island and landed at the beach of Punta Pitt where we hiked uphill for 20 min. in sweltering heat until we reached the summit. But with magnificent views like this to soak up, it was worth it.
Punta Pitt is unique, even for the Galapagos: it’s the only location in the archipelago where all three species of boobies can be seen. “If you’ve seen one booby, you’ve seen ’em all,” quipped one of my fellow passengers when we observed the festival of blue-footed and Nazca boobies a couple days earlier on another island. But at Punta Pitt, they’re joined by their cousin: the red-footed booby that had been so evasive up until now.
And we were fortunate enough to spot this female with her egg and a fleecy, restless chick anxious to come down from its nest.
Spot the red-footed booby!
That afternoon on our zodiac we sped to Los Galapagos (Galapaguera) for a wet landing and another sweaty trek through a narrow, rugged path of tall grass in search of giant tortoises. An hour into the thick of it, we came face to face with these two, about 40-50 years old, grazing in the wild.
You can read more about the giant tortoises in my first Galapagos post.
My adventure at sea was approaching its end but not without a liberal dose of excitement and adrenaline. The next morning, we drifted on our zodiacs around Kicker Rock, silently marveling at the striking rock formations off the coast of San Cristobal where only the sound of crashing waves could be heard echoing through the underpass.
Then, in the deep, shark-infested waters, we took the plunge with our snorkels, some of us with trepidation. The surface was choppy, but we simply rode the currents that steadily carried us through the channel. Then they appeared. Galapagos sharks. Not just one… but five or six! They eerily swam around us below, their awesome life force alarming me for just a moment before I was engulfed by a surge of utter exhilaration. There are few experiences in my travels that have given me such a thrill… or made me feel this alive.
I needed time to process what had just transpired… and I think the others did too. Hoping to bathe in some R&R, we were later bitten alive by horseflies at the nearby beach. No tranquility here. Gorgeous beach though, huh?
Well that was it. After a whirlwind, fleeting expedition through the South Pacific, I reluctantly said my goodbyes to the friends I made on the yacht and disembarked at the port in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal Island with a pair of Finnish passengers who kept me company during my first night on land after a week at sea. In this town, sea lions stretch out on the pier and park benches without a care in the world.
I spent one night in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and took an early morning ferry ride back to Puerto Ayora, where I suffered a chest infection and cough that put me out for two days but, with the help of some Ecuadorian cough syrup, I bounced back quickly enough to make a day trip to neighbouring Isabela Island where our guide introduced us to this ‘kindergarten’ of marine iguanas.
I’ll be honest here. The day trip was sub-standard after my spectacular week on a live-aboard yacht. Day trips to another island involve uncomfortable speed boat rides of two hours or more each way and I ended up being herded like cattle with 20 others. And my guides? They were just less committed to making the experience truly memorable than my guide on the Millenium was. (You can read my cruise vs. day trips post for more on that.) The visibility in the ocean was ideal but the snorkelling was unfortunately uneventful… until this sea turtle appeared ever so gracefully from behind and I managed to snap this shot.
I was told by my earlier guide that the tortoise breeding centre on Isabela is more impressive than the one on Santa Cruz, and it’s just the cutest nursery of baby tortoises. They’re not giant now… but give them another 40 years and they will be. At the centre, the tortoises are bred, raised, then released into the wild when they’re about 5 years old. By that age, they’re no longer threatened by introduced species (e.g., goats). The arrival of humans to the islands reduced the number of giant tortoises from 250,000 to the current 20,000. Since it began, the breeding program has cared for and repatriated several thousand tortoises to the islands.
Sure, my Galapagos adventure wasn’t perfect… but travel never is, just as life never is. Every day was still extraordinary, a connection to another place, its residents (both human and non-human) and what seemed like another time. It offered up slices of paradise that, until now, I had only seen in nature documentaries and what I thought were hopeless daydreams. Where else can you see so many rare and unique species of wildlife coexist in such natural harmony and where humans are the minority? All I know is that I’ll never find myself in a place quite like this again so my memories, as colourful and diverse as the landscapes and wildlife of the Galapagos themselves, won’t be fading any time soon.