Darwin and the Roaring Pacific
When Charles Darwin stopped in the Galapagos islands he was so inspired he wrote the Origin of the Species and founded his theory of evolution. Following my visit in 2010 I was so inspired I could have stayed! It is truly one of the most unique places on this planet – a must-be-seen if ever there was one.
I wandered into the trip to the Galapagos slightly naively – thinking that we would be staying on a boat that would travel around close to the shores of islands just off from the mainland, in smooth, calm waters. The reality is very different, but it was the best kind of surprise. The 28 islands that make up the Galapagos are more than 600 miles from the shore of Ecuadorian mainland and requires a 2 hour flight to reach, and they’re parked in the middle of the roaring Pacific Ocean. You haven’t seen waves until you’ve seen the mighty Pacific.
I began my trip from Quito in Ecuador, where I awaited the arrival of my mum, Linda. I was at the tail-end of a 6-month trip to South America and she decided to come and join me for the Galapagos experience. Being a wildlife photographer, she was desperately excited to see what the islands had to offer in photo opportunities – and it turns out we weren’t to be disappointed!
We were recommended to buy our tour through a family-owned and -run business that was still controlled locally in the Galapagos – they owned a boat called The Samba. We paid around £1100 for a week aboard the boat, with full meals and tours. This was much less than many other people we met in Ecuador and even people on the same boat, who had booked from back in the UK or other countries. If you can – travel to Ecuador and book your trip locally to save yourself a lot of money – one woman on our boat paid upwards of £7000 for the trip!
To say that this recommendation was a good one is an understatement, and not just because of the money it saved us. From the moment we met our guide Juan at the airport on Santa Cruz island we were bathed in his enthusiasm for geology, animals, birds, climate and history. Point out anything – rock, mammal, mineral – and Juan could tell you a never-ending list of facts about it, with the zest of someone who was telling it for the first time, instead of the 1000th.
Boarding the boat
The Samba was a medium-sized vessel with a quaint air about it. It accommodated 14 guests (2 to a cabin) and housed a further 7 staff members, who cooked, cleaned, served and drove the guests from the boat to the islands on small inflatable dinghies. The boat was furnished with beautiful oak panelling and had a vast deck on the front and an upper deck where you could wander at the views in the day and the stars at night. Our cabin was more than comfortable, with bunk beds and our own private bathroom with hot, fresh-water shower.
The food on-board was incredible – I must have gained half a stone in that week! All meals were at least 3 courses and included platters of the most beautifully cooked and exotic vegetables and fruits, as well as succulent fish and meats, and breads and pastries.
The staff and Juan were genuinely friendly and interacted with each and every guest throughout the trip – even joining us on jumping off the top of the boat in a ‘bombing’ contest. When we sailed across the equator they arranged for us to have a champagne toast as the dials all hit 0. We had a real mixture of ages amongst the guests – from myself as the youngest at 27 to the oldest at 68 – and hailed from countries all over the world, including the USA, Canada, UK, The Netherlands, and Denmark.
Our days were meticulously planned so that we could get the most out of our time on the islands – believe me, a week passes quickly. We rose early for breakfasts around 6am and were on the islands most days by 7am. Some nights the captain navigated to a new island while we were sleeping so that we could start early again the next day in a new location – the longest distance between islands requiring 12 hours of sailing.
Landscape and lizards
All of the islands in the Galapagos are different – from sand, black lava flows, and huge volcanic rocks – having been formed from various volcanic activity. It is incredibly diverse. The vegetation on each island also varies hugely, some being incredibly baron and others having a lush cover of bushland and trees – however almost all are punctuated by huge iguanas and tiny lava lizards. On one island we went to visit the giant land tortoises. who meandered around a field while we sat and watched in awe. They are truly magnificent – as it most of the wildlife on the islands.
Seven days in the Galapagos will literally change your life – one of my favourite memories is Juan leading us on a snorkelling trip into a deep cavern amongst some underwater rock formations. As we floated on the surface, being as still as possible, the cavern below us filled with sea turtles, swimming in glorious, slow circles below us. The guides don’t encourage you to approach the animals but you really don’t need to, as they approach you. Having not become accustomed to human contact, the animals are curious and will come to explore if you sit still and quiet.
A snapshot of the animals we saw includes penguins, reef sharks, turtles, giant tortoises, sea lions, seals, iguanas, lizards, crabs, flamingos, albatross, pelicans and the famous blue footed booby. The colours and vibrancy of these animals will live with me forever.
What are your thoughts on visiting the Galapagos? Are you a wildlife person? Afraid of boats? Let me know your thoughts!
Prices are correct as booked through Carpe DM Travel in Quito, Ecuador (http://www.carpedm.ca/) in November 2010.