Next stop: the Galapagos!
(photos courtesy of my mom - can’t complain about all her picture-taking this time!)
I wasn’t sure I’d make it to the Galapagos this year, as it can get expensive having to fly out to these famous islands. Luckily, my parents decided to include it in our trip, and I’m so thankful I was able to share that experience with them!
We flew into Baltra, a small island with just the airport and a military base. We were all surprised at how dry and desert-like the island was. I had pictured a lush, almost tropical environment. But, while the wildlife is incredible, the islands themselves are still young to have much vegetation. From the airport we took a bus to the other side of the island, where we saw some wild tortoises and explored a cave formed by lava!
After lunch, we took a boat to Santa Cruz, where we took another bus to the harbor, where we took a little water taxi to our hotel. This is how transportation was for the week- boat, bus, boat, bus. It was cool to get to so many places only by water!
Waiting for the water taxi to our hotel, Finch Bay!
We stayed on land, in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz in a wonderful hotel, and took day trips out on the boat to three different islands: Santa Fe, Plaza Sur, and Bartolome.
My parents in front of the harbor on Santa Cruz.
Santa Fe island
Our first day we traveled to Santa Fe island. There we saw sea lions, land iguanas (they never go in the water, and instead wait for their food to drop from the tops of tall cacti. They are very patient, and also very territorial), a rare Galapagos hawk, blue footed boobies, pelicans, and crabs.
It was amazing how close you can get to the animals. One of our guides told us the animals don’t see humans as a threat, because they have never been hunted on the islands, and have always been protected. Because of this, they come right up to you! We were instructed not to touch the sea lions, despite their friendliness, because sea lions recognize each other by smell. If a human touches a baby sea lion, for example, its mother will not recognize it and the baby will be abandoned. So, we were very careful to keep a respectful distance, while at the same time enjoying the playful and extroverted sea lions.
A photo from the water taxi.
On the boat on the way to Santa Fe island.
The famous blue footed boobie!
A land iguana.
Sea lions like to pose for pictures.
The hard-to-find Galapagos hawk.
The sea lions may look lazy - but they rest in between long swims between the islands, and are actually very active creatures!
After a few hours on the island for our tour, we went back to the boat for lunch and snorkeling! The snorkeling was by far our favorite activity each day. Off the coast of Santa Fe, we swam with the sea lions, who come right up close to you before playfully darting away, and I swear, they smile while doing it!
Happy, sleepy, and sun-kissed, we came back to the hotel each day to relax by the pool and clean up before a gourmet dinner. Our waiter, Carlos, was especially kind, and made the experience that much better.
Plaza Sur (South Plaza) island
Our second excursion to Plaza Sur started, again, on land and then brought even more amazing snorkeling. We saw turtles, a variety of beautifully-colored fish, and sharks! I was having so much fun in the water that I didn’t even notice the group get back on the boat, and when I finally looked up, alone in the water, everyone was calling me back. I wish I had brought an under-water camera to capture some of the amazing snorkeling, but I guess you’ll just have to go see for yourself!
Fun in the water.
Sea lions basking in the sun.
The most adorable baby bird, safe from the wind under a rock.
On the land tour of Plaza Sur.
Relaxing poolside at the end of the day.
Bartolome was the most barren of the islands we saw, with no vegetation. You can see the indentations in the volcano from lava flow. We climbed up the hundreds of steps to see amazing views of the surrounding water and volcanic cones.
After the tour of the island, we took the small motor boat around the rocks to see penguins. They were much smaller than I had imagined, but nevertheless impressive to see. At first glance, these islands don’t look like they would support much life, but the variety of animals, mammals, and birds living in the Galapagos is truly incredible.
Despite the barren volcanic rock, some plants, such as this cactus, do manage to grow here.
The pelican landed just as we raised the camera for a picture. They just love the spotlight!
On the boat!
Special dinner set up by Carlos, our waiter, on our last night. We sat between the pool and the ocean.
Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island
Our final day in the Galapagos we visited the Charles Darwin Research Station, and learned about how they are preserving and protecting the giant tortoises that are famous around the islands. So that the babies are not eaten, they live at the Station until they are about 5 years old, at which point they are ready to be released into the wild. The tortoises can live over a hundred years! Though it is impossible for researchers to know the exact age of a tortoise, the size, color, and smoothness of the shell tells them approximately how old they are. Despite their impressive size, tortoises have small brains and are very simplistic. They have no need for socialization, and rarely interact with the other tortoises. They spend their lives moving slowly around the islands, staying near fresh water for bathing, and eating the grass.
Scientists believe the tortoises were once on the mainland before being moved to the islands, and a tour of Incan ruins we saw near Cuenca shows that the natives knew about the tortoises.