I remember watching National Geographic when I was young, staring wide eyed at all the beauty and wildlife they revealed. I found myself doing the same thing on a recent trip to the Galapagos Islands through Adventure Life. The ecologist who guided us during our 500 mile journey through the park was a native of the islands, and well educated in every aspect of their formation and habitation. We went ashore once or twice a day in our panga, a large dinghy, to hike a wide variety of terrains from beaches to lava tubes. It seemed every island was a little bit different, the creatures all content to have our small group near. Iguanas, sea lions, fur seals, and tortoises all went about their business with no apparent notice of us. The birds were equally serene. We walked through an entire colony of blue footed boobies, and watched them as they called to each other, and as couples took turns caring for their egg. We watched them cool their colorful feet in the shade of their wings, do their lttle dance as they raised their feet side to side, and point to the sky in energetic displays. There were many other birds as well - hawks, frigates, finches - we even saw an albatross. But my favorite daily activity was snorkeling.
I swam with sea lions who came close enough to have been touched. I watched them play with fish and hop onto rocks. I swam with penguins, darting around like black bullets. I swam with sharks, which I never thought I could do. The ones we saw were relatively small white tipped reef sharks, and I was thrilled to know I could be in proximity with them and still keep breathing! We found an eel, a lobster, an octopus, and so much more, but what I could not have imagined before I went was the amount of life that would be present. There were places where the fish were so thick I could not see through the school. Near one outcropping of rock, I floated vertically in the water, turning slowly around, realizing there were nine massive schools of different fish all within twenty feet of me. There was no place to look that was not filled with color and motion. On another day, only a few of us had chosen to get in the water. We took our time and spread out, each enjoying our finds. I found a huge school of small fish that shimmered in the morning light. They were happy to stay near me, all around me, and I felt the privilege of their community.
There was another day ashore when our whole group felt the community of life. We stood on a fairly small spit of land for a very long time, unable to absorb the quantity of life around us, but fully soaking in the harmony of it. There were iguanas draped over rocks and hills so thickly that they appeared to be the rocks and hills. Yellow turtles and bright red crabs shared the beach with sea lions who scratched their backs in the warm sand. More sea lions were playing in the waves, surfing the best ones, while little grottoes held several luxuriating at waters edge. Flightless cormorant couples were directly in front of us, tending their nests. Penguins zipped around the rocks, and blue footed boobies rocketed out of the sky for their fish while frigates glided in big lazy circles. So much life!
Another highlight was the camaraderie that developed among our group. There were a lot of laughs, especially when one of our ladies was encouraged to back into an empty tortoise shell and met the challenge. And of course there was food. The chef on our yacht was amazing, relentless in his efforts to stuff us with colorful, tasty, Ecuadorian delights. The captain and crew were all wonderful in their attentiveness to service. One effort I found particularly thoughtful was a ceremony held for crossing the equator. The captain slowed the boat as we neared the 'line' so that we could capture the moment on film when the GPS latitude read all zeros. Wine was shared and horns were honked as we sailed into a new hemisphere. It was a perfect ending to an evening of watching big groups of dolphins chasing tuna, and following small groups of orca whales as they slowly made their way around us. My friends, old and new, lined the deck watching all of it with such excitement. We even saw a ray with a span of about ten feet pass directly under the boat, while smaller ones jumped out of the water from time to time, some even doing flips!
Adventure Life put together the perfect vacation. Every detail was considered, every need anticipated. There was never a time when we felt confused or stressed from the moment we stepped off the plane in Quito, to the time we retraced those steps to go home. I can only say I am grateful to have been there, and hope to go back again. In the meantime, I plan to do what I can to help protect the islands, as the passionate concern for their care and preservation was an unforeseen, yet pleasant, contagion. Thank you, Adventure Life!