Cruising in the Galapagos and getting my David Attenborough on has been on my bucket list since I first learnt of these enchanted islands. To visit one of the planets most treasured and unique ecosystems and experience intimate encounters with an extraordinary profusion of exotic wildlife, both on land and in the sea.
Read on to learn about my experiences of nature walks, wildlife encounters, photography, bird watching, snorkelling, kayaking, panga (dingy/zodiac) rides and star gazing.
Sea lions laze on the rocks, snoring gently, soaking in the late morning sun. Young pups chase and tease each other emerging silky smooth and shiny as they slither onto the rocks which camouflage them so well. Vibrant Sally Light Foot crabs the size of a hand span, sling the black volcanic rocks like spiders of the sea. Their colours contrasting so beautifully to turquoise waters. Small marine iguanas are difficult to distinguish on the rocks, but they too are roasting themselves in the beaming rays. A large sea turtle glides past and swirls in circles as we all gasp and snap away with our cameras. It must be at least a metre deep but the visibility is just like looking through glass. Frigate birds flap overhead. Some jet black like soaring bullets, others with brilliant splashes of red. Already my camera is working in overdrive and this is only at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the port on arrival.
As we wait eagerly for our pangas to putt into shore and collect us, we have a few moments to explore the port. It is clear that sea lions rule this town. They a slumped into blobs along park benches, underneath jetties in gutters on the streets and anywhere they can catch a glimpse of the sun’s rays.
We zip out to our vessel where we receive our briefing and perform a safety drill. Following a delicious seafood lunch, we are back in the pangas and whizzed back to shore where we begin a short rocky walk through volcanic landscapes towered by leafless trees with twisted branches creating an eerie almost horror like landscape. Green cacti jut sharply upward between these lifeless trees which in fact are not dead at all. Climbing over crumbled grey lava and pumice, we emerge onto an open beach known colloquially as ‘Lovers Beach’. To our left, we are advised not to touch the stunningly drooping green tree with small buds on it. This is a poisonous apple tree. The only poisonous tree in the Galapagos. The tree is beautiful and has created a canopy with the way its branches bow and fold. Two young rebellious teens sit beneath its curtain of leaves and I can’t help but think of a bit of an Adam and Eve type scenario here.
Spanned in front of us across a chunky sanded beach, littered with tiny shells and sea urchin spines are hundreds of sea lions. Babys, mammas, daddas and everything in between. This beach is crowded. Their dog like bark, the crunch of the sand, click of cameras, squeals of excitement and the crash of the gentle waves make this a buzzing beach. There are a lot of tourists. It is a Sunday and all the locals are here for a dip. Waves rumble and crash on the nearby reef which borders the cove we are in. It is dotted with surfers on the curling waves. The shallow clear waters are teeming with children and enthusiastic snorkellers.
The elder sea lions roll around in the sand and sleep in clusters. The boisterous teenagers antagonise. Chasing and nipping at each other diving beneath the surface, zig zagging and frolicking in the waves. A handful body surf on the lazy rollers like pros, so streamline and sleek before lazing in the shallow waters letting the gentle waves crash over them, providing a gentle massage before rolling and squirming in the sandy shore waters for a fully body exfoliation.
Marine Iguanas hide precariously in the rocks, between the hundreds of sea lions. Easily identifiable on the sand by the trails their tales leave, these Jurassic cuties are just creepily adorable. Pre-historic looking with funky looking mo-hawks, they jut out their little pink tongue and repeatedly nods their heads as if to advise you that yes, of course you can take my picture. A squirt of sea water bursts out of their nose every now and then. These dudes are fascinating to watch.
>Super baby sea lion pups, less than a month old are the main highlight though. Their large innocent round, brown eyes give you that puppy dog look as they chase you waddling up the beach wanting to play.
We spend some time with these stunning animals. Taking photos and watching them in awe at their lack of fear and inquisitiveness of the humans that surround them. A whispering sea breeze floats through, making my skin tingle. I really am here in paradise.
Many of them are covered in the sand giving them a ‘breaded’ look as though they have rolled around in bread crumbs. They are just too cute.
Our proximity to the animals is to keep two metres away at all times. I hunker down in the sand, five metres from a large ‘breaded’ sea lion who is sleeping. As I poise myself to frame the perfect shot, he is up and chasing me. Boy, do they move quick! He’s almost at my ankles by the time I manage to get out of the sand and onto my feet to make a break for it.
Meandering back across the beach, weaving between sea lions and huffing iguanas, we climb back onto our bus and head back into to town to collect any last minute supplies such as sunscreen. The sea lions are still controlling the town.
Back on board the pangas, its time to hit the sun deck and watch the sunset. The sky melts into a swirl of brilliant burnt oranges. The crashing waves over the reef with the silhouette of surfers punctuating the cresting waves, creates the perfect sunset photo opportunity and the end to a brilliant first day.
Crooked Compass travelled with Ecoventura on board MY Eric.
This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.