“Nothing could be less inviting than the first appearance. A broken field of black basaltic lava, thrown into the most rugged waves and crossed by great fissures, is everywhere covered by stunted, sunburnt brushwood, which shows little signs of life” – Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle, 1835
A Galapagos Boat Cruise – Foreword
A cruise in the Galapagos. If you have ever looked into it, you will know that it costs a lot of money. But before you go off thinking that it is way too much money, let me stop you right there.
There are ways of saving a few – thousand – dollars. First, if you have the flexibility, don’t book it from home. Fly in to the Galapagos and get a last minute deal. It helps if you do your research and know which boat or itinerary you fancy. And secondly, you don’t need a luxury or first class boat. Ours, tourist superior, was perfect, maybe even too much. Even with those tricks though, the cost of the trip will be enough to cover a month in Japan. So the question is, will it be worth it?
Well, you won’t know until you actually come here.
The single’s bar
Frigates rule the sky in Genovesa. These guys feed on anything they can get their beaks on, even baby turtles. They can be quite charming too: males inflate their red pouch to attract females. When a few of them are together, it looks like a single’s bar.
As soon as a female flies over, they proudly extend their wings and make an effort to stand out from the crowd. The lucky ones, the better ones, get the price.
Watching this ritual was mesmerising. And there was more.
Get on your dancing shoes
Sharing the mangroves with the frigates, are two species of Red Footed Boobies. Albinos have slightly whiter feather, as you would expect.
The others, are just… normal. If you think a bird with those bright red feet is normal anyway.
When it comes to mating, it all comes down to their dancing shoes. The male will show off his pretty red feet whilst dancing around the female. The redder the feet, the better their chances of success. This one’s future looks particularly promising.
And once the female is convinced, well, you know the rest.
Genovesa is home to a lot more species of birds, like gulls and owls and little finches. And my favourites, the Nazca Boobies.
Are you talking to me?
This being the Galapagos, birds are not afraid of us, humans. And they are everywhere. Especially the Nazca Boobies. You really need to watch your step or you run the risk of stepping on one of these guys. And they don’t look that friendly.
They nest everywhere they see fit, after all, they have no land predators. Two eggs are laid, but purely as a backup mechanism.
The first chick to hatch, will spend its first few weeks trying to kill its sibling, and the parents will do nothing to stop it from happening. It is the only way they can guarantee its survival. The circle of life.
If the land walks blew our minds, the snorkel did not fall behind. Huge spiny lobsters, about twenty white tip sharks resting near the beach, several rays, and a few sea lions.
I got a nasty cut on my shoulder underwater and lost my toe’s nail as I hit a rock whilst watching the birds. I did not care a tiny bit. As far as we were concerned, the cruise was well worth it – and it was only our second day.
A day in the life of…
Each day followed a similar pattern. Early wake up, morning walk, morning snorkel, lunch on board, afternoon walk, afternoon snorkel, dinner, bed. Some days, one of the walks would be replaced by a zodiac ride to look out for what is hidden in the mangroves. It was in one of those days where we saw the popular Blue Footed Boobie.
I must admit I was a bit skeptical about the zodiac rides. Sitting on a boat without being able to wander around? What? Boring! And then, about fifteen golden rays swam by just to remind me that “boring” does not really compute in the Galapagos.
Speaking of swimming, the water is cold, very cold. Visibility sometimes can be poor. But boy, seeing sharks, marbled rays and sea turtles on a daily basis is a joy. Remember Thailand? One turtle in ten dives.
And whilst some of the activities are not that proficient in wildlife, they do offer great views and the chance to walk on old lava flows.
There is no room for any changes in the schedule. The National Park Authorities are very strict on the route and timetable of the boats as well as what you can and can’t visit on each island. For a good reason though, this way they reduce the burden on the wildlife caused by us, tourists. So no complains there.
The big reptiles
No wild mammals other than sea lions have survived here. Man introduced animals, on the other hand, thrived, and their population quickly got out of hand, threatening native species like tortoises and land iguanas.
Sometimes it all looks fake, as if the guides would jump on a boat to prepare the trail half an hour before the walks, getting the animals ready in their position. Other times we get to walk around freely. There are farms which have been turn into Giant Tortoise sanctuaries where you can roam around at your will and if you are lucky, spot the most famous animal around here.
Love, love, love
A visit to the oldest island of the archipelago on our second to last day was the perfect way to finish the trip. Espanola started off as an active volcano, like the rest, but over time it has become a small, mostly flat, island. Still, it was the main reason for us to be in the Galapagos at this time of the year: the Waved Albatross nesting season.
Waved albatross mate for life in what’s potentially the most faithful love relationship in nature and whilst we did not witness their mating ritual, love was indeed in the air.
On the way to our last stop, we saw dolphins swimming alongside the boat and rays leaping out of the water. A fine display.
A lesson about wildlife
We woke up excited, it was 6 am on our last day and, without breakfast, we were going to get in the water with three types of sharks and as many types of rays. Had you told me this a few years ago, I would not have believed you. Kicker Rock, according to many, the best snorkel spot of the islands.
In total, we saw the tail of a shark and that was about it. Sometimes, even in the Galapagos, animals do have other plans. If you don’t like it go to a zoo… on a second thought, don’t go to a zoo. Sharks don’t belong in zoos.
The animal kingdom – literally
The Galapagos are full of wildlife. Wildlife that it is respected and looked after. Over the years, humans, have made terrible mistakes that have put the whole ecosystem at risk, but those have been rectified and we have learnt from them. Today, they rule the islands. Some even control the access to hidden bays.
Once in the water, they will come up to you and check your underwater abilities. Be prepared to make a trick or two.
And the best thing about it? Nearly everywhere you look, there is a love story going on.
Sure, it costs a lot of money to be here. But so does a big TV or a faster car. It is all about priorities.
There is more to Ecuador than the Galapagos islands. Way more.