Adventures aboard a Galapagos cruise

Baby waved albatross on Espanola

I did not sleep before setting off for the Galapagos islands. I would set off for a 5-week journey, taking gazillagigabytes of photos and video and writing everything in a dogeared travel diary.  I started my trip with a week-long cruise aboard the Ecoventura M/V Eric with my boyfriend Matt. Over the course of one week, we were about to see nature at its craziest. We saw the harsh realities of survival in an isolated desert environment, where animals starve and birds murder their brothers in order to survive. Being lucky enough to come during nesting season and birthing season for the sea lions, we also saw an amazing plethora of life bursting forth. We saw the baby sea lions looking for mom, frigate birds inflating their giant red pouches to attract a mate, and baby albatrosses already jostling for territory. This is my informal travel diary of the adventures onboard.

Day 1 – Learning life onboard

Walking onto the boat was astonishing. I had never been on a cruise before. The dining room sparkles with wine glasses. I kept thinking they would topple over and checking the bottom for sticky tape, but there was none. We meet the other passsengers and the crew on the boat – an astonishing 11 crew members in total for 18 passengers – a cabin boy, engineer, electrician, captain, first and second mate, two naturalist guides, a chef and a sous chef and a bartender. The passengers are an excited group, from the US and as far as Australia and South Africa. The tour company owns three identical yachts on identical schedules, so they’d separated the group onto the three boats by their secret formula for fun (okay, actually I think it was by language and age).

Dining room on the M/V Eric

Dining room on the M/V Eric

In the afternoon we walk through a dry tangle of incense-scented Palo Santo trees and cactus to Playa Carola. Frigate birds are soaring around in the air. They steal food from other birds, our guide Adrian explains. Baby sea lions had just been born and are playing with eachother around the rocks, cuddling, chasing each other and then calling for mom.

Galapagos sea lion babies are like puppies

Galapagos sea lion babies are like puppies

Later at dinner, we have gourmet Basque style octopus. Matt remembers the survival adaptation of the frigate birds and tries to steal some of my food, but I have adapted lightening-fast reflexes and fend off the attack.

Basque style octopus for dinner

Basque style octopus for dinner

Day 2. Baby Sea Lions and Red Footed Boobies on San Cristobal Island

On our second day we head to Cerro Brujo – a lovely white sand beach populated by sea lions resting. The salty-light footed crabs are a brilliant red color and crawl slowly over the rocks while phantom crabs dart in and out of their holes.  It’s slightly cloudy as we  load into a kayak and paddle out of the bay to a commanding inlet where the rock goes straight up and seems to touch the hot Ecuadorian sun – a narrow channel just lets the kayak through below imposing rock cliffs.

After lunch we arrive at Punta Pitt on northern tip of San Cristobal where we hike up a rocky path. The golden rocky cliffs are barren, but below the hills are colonized by silvery dry bunches, and beautiful spotty red flowers. I just have time to wipe the sweat from my brow when the normal chatter of our group is replaced by silence and camera shutters clicking open and shut. We’ve spotted red-footed boobies – big curious creatures with pearlescent blue beaks and brilliant crimson feet. There seems to be no survival advantage to the colouring – just a bird that one day decided – why not?

Red footed booby on Punta Pitt, San Cristobal Island

Red footed booby on Punta Pitt, San Cristobal Island

 

Day 3. Baby Boobies, Waved Albatross, and Christmas lizards on Española Island

The next day we land on the remote island of Española – one of the best sites in the Galápagos. Stepping off the boat one does not know exactly where to look – at your feet are the brightly coloured Christmas lizards splotched red and Green with prehistoric spines on the crest and crusted salt on their noses- they pile don top of eachother to keep warm and sneezed the excess salt out their noses.  These lizards can only be found on this island, said Adrian.

Christmas lizards on Espanola island

Christmas lizards on Espanola island

Hopping among the lizards are the Hood mockingbirds – a unique and vicious species that pecks open the eggs of other birds – also only found on this island. In the background sea lion pups pile on top of eachother in the marine versión of a dogpile while the alpha male pops his head out of the water to keep an eye on his territory.

Around the corner we find baby waved albatross chicks waddling about in a fur-like suit of juvenile plumage.  They quabble over territory by opening and snapping shut their beaks and staring at eachother.  The adults around the corner are more sedate – sitting on the ground but still looking comical with their cartoonish faces and chalk-white bodies.

Baby waved albatross on Espanola

Baby waved albatross on Espanola

Reaching the cliffs is bird-central, with nesting Nazca boobies everywhere – just inches from the trail an utterly unconcerned with the passing visitors. Red billed tropicbirds speed past, their long elegant tails fluttering, and frigate birds glide in circles like vultures – looking for unwatched eggs to steal.

Nesting Nazca boobies have masks on their faces

Nesting Nazca boobies have masks on their faces

In the afternoon we head to Gardner bay and snorkel in the deep waters where the big guys come out to play. There are schools of tornado-sized tuna fish, a huge school of small silvery fish, shy sea turtles, a small shark, and most majestically golden Eagle rays gliding in circles. We finished the day on lovely white crescent shaped beach, where the turquoise water and long white sand reminded me of a farflung island in the Caribbean.

Galapagos sea lions

Galapagos Sea lions sunbathing on Espanola

I couldn’t believe all the animals we saw that were only inhabiting this one island out of all the archipelago. It amazed me how unique and special each island was, and we were only halfway done with the cruise. Next, in a whirlwind 4 days, we head to Floreana, Santa Cruz, Bartolome, North Seymour and Plazas. Stay tuned, as I will be posting my photos from the rest of the trip!

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