Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Like Nowhere on Earth

The most basic of co-habitation
Where on earth can you observe and play with sea lions, giant tortoises, marine iguanas, penguins, sharks (!!), and blue-footed boobies? All of these creatures, and others, co-exist in the Galápagos Islands in Ecuador.  Just south of the equator, this archipelago serves as a habitat for wildlife that fly, swim, and crawl and that are found nowhere else on earth.

Many visitors find the most practical way to see this diverse life is from a boat, and there are cruise ships that accommodate from 10 -100 passengers.  Our trip, however, was a land-based trip, meaning that we slept on land but spent most of our days on or in the water.  We traveled with Row Adventures (Remote Odysseys Worldwide) who provided us with a simultaneously rugged and comfortable trip with a small group of 6 adults and our very able guide, Henry. We departed from the city of Guayaquil, and then stayed for two nights at a Galápagos National Park campsite on San Cristóbal Island, three nights at the lovely Casa Marita on Isabela Island, and two more nights at the Angermeyer Waterfront Inn on Santa Cruz Island.

The first few nights were spent here!
Activities included snorkeling, kayaking, hiking, and bicycling, all in the name of spotting wildlife. The snorkeling was my favorite part since it provided me with the rare opportunity to swim twice with very large sea turtles who were easily 5 feet wide at Los Tuneles and Bahia Ballena (Whale Bay), and even rarer opportunity to swim with sharks (yes, you read that right!) at León Dormido (Kicker Rock), a majestic formation that jumps out of the sea and can be seen from miles around.  Cue up the "Jaws" music, take a look at these videos, and you'll pardon the understandable profanity!





Those reef sharks were about 10 feet below us but didn't frighten me.  If our trusted guide, Henry, felt we were safe there, that was good enough for me.  It was a thrill, for sure, but I enjoyed swimming with these huge sea turtles just as much! Watch carefully as our guide gets a high-five.





On land, we were repeatedly accompanied by sea lions, large and small.  They are apparently friendly, seem to have no fear of humans, and are all over the place!  They came in large numbers and in all sizes on every beach.  'Some sleeping, some playful, and some nursing.  We learned that sea lions reproduce annually for about 25 years and have a gestation period similar to humans, so imagine those mama sea lions busy with every stage of parenting for that length of time!

My new friend!
We need that line to our anchor -- no chewing!















We watched them swim, as well, and Clay even snorkeled with sea lions at Isla Lobos.



There were fascinating creatures on land, too, that included areas filled with marine iguanas, making it appear as if we had entered one of Dante's circles of Hell, but in truth they wanted nothing to do with us. They seemed perfectly content to sunbathe, and occasionally sneeze out salt which proved they were awake!

And, of course, there are the famous giant tortoises, distinct from sea turtles in that they live on land. Yes, there were gigantic tortoises in the wild who seemed to enjoy climbing over each other and simply appreciate some peace and quiet. I was inspired by their calm demeanor, and their slow and quiet lifestyle: something to aspire to!


Last, but not least, there were the flying species who were too numerous to count.  We saw birds in all sizes and colors: herons, egrets, warblers, flamingoes, and Darwin's famous finches (of course!), and the most famous Galápagos bird of all, the blue-footed boobie.


Look carefully at the photo to the right and you will not only see blue feet, but a parent booby protecting its newly-hatched chicks.  We saw him protecting two babies who our guide said had been born within days of our sighting, and this was perhaps the greatest highlight of my trip.  Every once in awhile, this Daddy booby (identified as male by the size of its pupils) would stand up to stretch, and we would see two little chicks adjusting to life "on the outside."  We were standing a mere 4 feet away and stayed quiet as if we were in a nursery, but one surrounded by lava lizards and iguanas.  Words cannot do justice.

It was an amazing and challenging vacation.  With so much to do and so much to see, we could not waste a moment.  We returned to Guayaquil to fly home, and now I can spend some time like my buddy below, dreaming of the lives of creatures that can only be found in this rarest of places like nowhere else on earth!


4 comments:

  1. We certainly have come a long way from generic picture postcards that arrived weeks after they were written and sent. Thanks so much for posting!!!

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  2. Love those blue-footed boobies. Unlike you, I would aged 10 years seeing sharks that close. Looks like a marvelous adventure. Between your photos and Laura's I feel like I've gotten a very good sense of that amazing place.

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