The Galapagos or How I Learned to Believe the Hype
The wake-up call from our Quito hotel came much earlier than I would have preferred, but it was hard to feel groggy or grouchy when you are about to be in a place like the Galapagos. Once again, security was a breeze and after a brief stop in Guayaquil (thankfully no transferring necessary) we were on the islands just 90 minutes later.
Our guide and driver were waiting for us outside the baggage claim, and after a very short van ride we were getting on the dingy to bring us to the Ocean Spray, our home for the next 5 days. We had barely even left the shadow of the airport before our guide started enthusiastically pointing out the wildlife that was already everywhere. Look! A pelican! And over there, a marine iguana! Check out those sea lions! A blue-footed booby! Our cruise had not even started, but the iconic wildlife couldn’t wait to show us that the hype was real.
Aboard the cruise we had a quick briefing, ate a delicious lunch, and then prepared for our first excursion in the Galapagos: snorkeling by Pinnacle Rock, Bartolome! I at first that that my Montana blood was hearty enough to handle the chilly waters of the Humboldt current without a wetsuit, but I was proven wrong very quickly, so finding the right fit was the next step. The first rule of wetsuits is that if they are comfortable, then they likely are too big, so the trick was finding the smallest suit that you could actually still squeeze into.
As we took the panga ride out to Pinnacle Rock, Nico expressed some hesitation about not being a very strong swimmer. However, our guide Harry quickly set her fears aside, proclaiming “No need to worry! We have the Ring of Happiness!”. The ‘Ring of Happiness’, should you be curious to know, is the bright orange life preserver, that our guide brought along for every snorkel stop. Not only do you benefit from the extra buoyancy, but you also have the added bonus of being near Harry’s expert guidance, as he leads you to the best places to see all kinds of marine life.
Upon splashing in the water, I was almost instantly greeted by the view of 100’s of starfish, as well as a sea turtle lazily paddling along! Soon this turtle was joined by another, as I swam above and beside them, as our group slowly made its way along the coast, passing by large schools of fish that I could not even begin to name. Even though the sea was quite choppy and the water was cooler than expected, I still was not ready to get out about an hour later as the rest of the group boarded the panga, excitedly talking about all the cool stuff we saw (octopi, eels, and a shark were among that highlights that I did not personally see).
After getting back to the boat (and having a quick jacuzzi soak!), we did another excursion to Bartolome, but this time on land. Upon landing we were greeted by a group of sea lions sunning themselves on the landing by the shore, who were not especially happy to see us. After awkwardly slinking off into the sea (at which point they became graceful mammalian torpedoes), we took their place greeted by the alien landscape of Bartolome Island.
As with all of the islands in the Galapagos, Bartolome owes its existence to volcanic activity that mostly happened millions of years ago. What these means is that the landscape is made of more than 130 eroded cones, giving it a nearly Martian feel. To add to this otherworldly feeling is the lack of many animals aside from the occasional lava lizard, land iguana, and of course the colony of sea lions spinning around in the surf below. Everyone, of course, knows the Galapagos for its unique endemic wildlife, but it’s just as fascinating to wander around a lunar landscape in a small group, as your guide (Harry in our case), expertly explains nearly every detail you could possibly imagine on this small island.
Perhaps the highlight of landing on Bartolome is the view that rewards you as you summit the hill. Pinnacle Rock is about as iconic of a landscape as you can imagine in the Galapagos, but it’s even more magnificent from above as you see the thinnest part of the island far below flanked by beautiful white sand beaches on both sides.
We still had about 30 minutes until the daily briefing and dinner after this excursion, which seemed like just the right amount of time to get another quick soak in the hot tub on the Sun Deck. Surprisingly, I was the only one with this idea, so my first evening in the Galapagos began as I took in the view of Pinnacle Rock, seemingly close enough to touch, from the Jacuzzi without another soul in sight. As the sun set and the moon began to rise, I couldn’t believe my luck to have such a moment in a place so special.