The Galápagos, Ecuador

On Oct 23 we flew two hours from Guayaquil to The Galápagos! We landed on Baltra Island, which was once a military base for the United States when it was established after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. As of today, the small island is an Ecuadorian military base, but the airport is commercial. It is the the world’s first “eco-friendly” airport with three large windmills and many solar panels. 

From the airport, we boarded a bus with our guide, Ruly, and the 10 other passengers on our boat for the next five days. After about a five minute drive, we arrived at the dock and boarded our boat named The Nemo I. 

After a one hour ride, we arrived at Las Bachas beach on the Santa Cruz island. The beach was named mistakenly after the barges that were beached there by the American military after WWII. We took the dingy (which they call a “panga”) to the beach. 

We went snorkeling and saw zebra fish, rainbow fish, and a sea turtle. After our swim, Ruly led us on the path around the beach. We saw many sallylight foot crabs on the rocks near shore, pelicans diving into the water for food, and marine iguanas crawling across the sand. Shockingly, we saw a baby sea turtle slowly making its way from its nesting area to a marsh. Most sea turtles are born in April and May, so this was very rare to see. Also, since it went into a marsh instead of the sea, it will most likely not survive (we learned that about only 1% of sea turtle eggs that are laid each year actually survive). We also saw American oyster catchers, sanderlings, flamingos, and white cheeked ducks.

 

As the sun started to set, we went back on the panga to The Nemo I. We had our first shower (and yes, it was hot!), and relaxed on the boat. We even got to witness a beautiful sunset as we waited for dinner🌅. 

On Oct 24, we woke up at 5:30am to head to Las Tintoreras on Isabela Island to see the white tipped reef sharks! 

The sharks are nocturnal, so the earlier in the morning you go, the more sharks you are able to see. Not only did we see over 100 white tipped reef sharks, but we also saw many marine iguanas and a few green sea turtles. We spent about two hours walking along the path on the island before heading back to the boat via the panga for breakfast. 

After breakfast we went to Puerta Villamil to go snorkeling for a few hours. The water is colder near Isabela Island (since it’s more west than the other Galápagos Islands), and therefore Ruly suggested that we all wear wetsuits. As we walked along the beach and the path to the snorkeling lagoon, there were tons of sea lions and marine iguanas.  Once we were snorkeling in the lagoon, we saw many beautiful fish and two playful sea lions. 

We had a delicious lunch, followed by a siesta. At around 2:30pm, we went back to Isabela Island to the Tortoise Breeding Center. We learned about the five different tortoise species which all live on the island. The breeding center is necessary to sustain the decimated tortoise population that was destroyed when the Spanish first found the island and used it as a whaling area. More recently, invasive animals such as rats, pigs, dogs, and goats threaten the tortoise eggs and therefore it is necessary to have a highly protected breeding center. Once the tortoises turn eight years old and grow to about one foot long, they are re-introduced into the wild where they can survive to be up to 250 years old (however this could be much longer, but humans do not have enough data to know the true answer). 

After our visit at the tortoise breeding center, we went to the wetlands where we saw flamingos and black necked stilts.

At the end of the path in the wetlands, we arrived at a beautiful beach. We walked along the beach and eventually through the small town. We had a drink at a restaurant in town before heading in a “chiva” back to the panga. 

The evening concluded with a 30 minute briefing for the following day and a delicious dinner. 

On Oct 25 we slept in until 7:00am 😜!! After a quick breakfast, we took the panga to Floriana Island. We landed on a beach named “Green Beach” due to the small, green pebbles on the beach that remain from volcanic eruptions. Along the beach we saw many sea lions and a dead blue-footed booby. 

Ruly showed us how the blue-footed boobies have glands under their wings that secrete oil to allow the birds to make their feathers waterproof. He also explained how a blue-footed booby is able to plunge into the water with absolutely no splash. 

We walked around the island for about two hours to see some flamingos and sting rays. The sun was shining and the views were spectacular. 

After our beach visit, we changed into our bathing suits and went to Devil’s Crown to do some snorkeling. The water was cold, but we were able to see many fish, sting rays, reef sharks, and sea turtles. 

After lunch and a siesta, we went back on the panga to explore the waters around Floriana and see what animals we could find. We ended up seeing many sting rays, marine turtles, and even some sharks. We also saw a sea lion that had just given birth to a baby sea lion!! 

After about two hours on the water, we went to Post Office Bay. The ‘post office’ was established by English whalers in the late 18th century for whalers to keep in contact with family using an informal delivery method. Since whaling expeditions lasted longer than five years, whalers would leave letters in a small container on Floriana Island. Floriana Island is one of two islands in The Galápagos with clean drinking water and plentiful tortoises, so whaling vessels would stop there before returning to England. They would also take the container of mail and hand deliver the letter upon return. Today, a modern version of this still occurs. 

Inside the barrel were many ziploc bags filled to the brim with postcards addressed throughout the world! Some postcards were marked “Do Not Send” so that people could possibly reclaim them when they come back to The Galápagos later in life. We found a post card addressed to an apartment in the East Village in Manhattan, so we decided to take it with us so we can hand deliver it when we get back to NYC. 

The rest of the evening was spent in our briefing for the following day’s activities, dinner, and a cozy night’s sleep! 

On Oct 26 we woke up early and went to Punta Suarez. We spent over three hours on the island and saw many different creatures! 

We saw marines iguanas in shades we hadn’t yet seen on the islands. 

We saw many sea lions, some of which were nursing. 

We saw nasca boobies, which have extremely strange looking faces!

And, we even saw waved albatrosses. These birds are spectacular and they are the largest birds in The Galápagos!

After an early lunch, some of the group went snorkeling near the white sand beach while others stayed on the boat to relax. Along the beach, Cody spotted three tortoises eating some vegetation. Ruly flipped out because the tortoise population was only reintroduced 30-40 years ago after the species on this island was near extinction. Evidence of tortoises this far from their breeding area was apparently big news in the conservation community and Cody was declared a national hero (by Ruly). 

We then sailed for about five hours while we read our books and relaxed on the lounge chairs. 

For the evening we anchored close to Santa Cruz.

Sadly, we departed The Nemo I on Oct 27. We took the panga to the shore of Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz. We then took a mini bus about 40 minutes to Rancho Manzanillo to see many tortoises! 

The rest of the day was spent relaxing at our hotel in our big, spacious rooms! 🤣

On Oct 28, Cody and Barry woke up early to spend the day scuba diving. They did two, 50 minute dives at Beagle and Daphne. They saw sea turtles, sting rays, sea lions, and white tipped reef sharks. 

While the boys were diving, Mel and Susan did some land activities! After walking throughout the town to buy some trinkets, they walked to Tortuga Bay. Even though the weather was partially cloudy, the walk was beautiful and the beach was nice and relaxing. 

We all reconvened for dinner. We had the lobster, since Ruly told us it was “a must” on the island. Clearly, wE ordered wayyyy too much…!

On Oct 29, the boys went on two more dives. These dives were deeper than the day before, allowing them to see way more animals! They saw black tipped reef sharks, Galápagos sharks, and manta rays! While the boys were diving, the girls had another beach day and luckily it was sunnier thanthe day before! 🌞

For dinner we went to Charles Binford Street where a bunch of restaurants put tables out in the middle of the street. We had some delicious seafood! 

Sadly, on Oct 30, we said our goodbyes to The Galàpagos 😞. All in all, we were blown away by the islands! The wildlife is breathtaking and the naturalist guides are all so passionate and concerned about the conservation of the islands and the wildlife. The trip was amazing and we would definitely recommend it!

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