When packing my things at home I couldn’t quite believe I was going to be stepping foot on these strange and fascinating islands and having a large fear of the sea I was nervous and even a little panicky. However, I decided this was the real trip to face my fears and to go alone and brave the waters to see what would come forward from the depths of the ocean.
28 hours later I arrived late in the night at Quito, I was exhausted and noted no client should ever have to do this journey with two stops in Colombia! In the new boutique hotel ‘Casa Gangotena’ which overlooks the San Francisco square, I woke up to see Quito had cleaned up well and I couldn’t wait to see more of the city.
Having read about Quito for the past year I was very much looking forward to seeing the city and the walk around the cobbled streets didn’t disappoint. It seemed every corner I turned there was a church, cathedral or prominent historic governmental building. Walking into the Compania de Jesus church was like stepping into a Buddhist temple in Thailand as it was dripping from the ceiling with gold leaf. It was very grand and drastically different to the Cathedral just around the corner where I learnt a little more about the Spanish Inquisition’s cunning tricks to convert the indigenous people of Ecuador to Catholicism; one tactic involved painting a guinea pig in the painting of the last supper (Ecuador’s national dish)! All in all, I could have spent a few days walking around the city which is segmented into the old city and modern city, personally I prefer the old part as the character here is so rich.
Up and out of the hotel by 7 am the following morning, I was in that hum of drowsy excitement – I was going to the Galapagos Islands! I still couldn’t quite believe my luck as we were boarding the plane and before I knew it we were at Baltra airport, but I was brought back down to reality and waited for what seemed like an eternity to get through customs, pen and paper still seemed to be the system for this process.
A short bus ride away we climbed aboard the Panga boat (a dingy with a motor!) and reached the Eclipse which is a beautiful boat. Sitting eating lunch and looking through the window seeing the Galapagos Islands, I wondered what I might see in the next five days (trying hard to push the Jaws theme tune out of my head). Later on in the afternoon we reached Las Bachas beach on Santa Cruz island, stepping onto the white sands I took my flip flops off straight away and looked up to see Blue Footed Boobies standing on the rocky black edge. We walked on the black hardened lava ground which was rough and rather painful on my bare feet, I could see why the spiky lava ground was called AA lava!
Bright orangey-red Sally Light-footed crabs suddenly appeared around the corner and against the black ground they looked even more vivid and striking. Our guide walked along with us explaining how these funny looking crabs were actually cannibals. I was starting to see the islands were a hard place to survive on. Approaching a small lagoon we came across a sunbathing Marine Iguana and a Pink Flamingo sifting for tiny crustaceans in the water. The flamingo’s pink colour is caused by eating these little shrimps which are rich in the pigments called carotenoids.
Back onboard I felt ready to collapse into bed, what a great introduction to the islands. There was a snorkelling trip the next day and I was hoping I would have the courage to brave the waters.
We woke up to see Puerto Egas, Santiago Island, and on the panga ride out to the island we passed by a feeding pod of dolphins! I had never seen wild dolphins so close up before, their speed was impressive as they kept up with us. On the island we were greeted by lots of sea lions who were lazing about on the beach. We walked around seeing Galapagos mocking birds and Fur Seals with their pups which were so sweet and playful. Whilst watching the seals a Galapagos Hawk swooped down just in front of us, I had been hoping to see one and then moments later a second hawk joined him. On the way back some people went for a snorkel trip but with the Bull Sealion patrolling the beach I decided to hold back this time.
Later in the afternoon we reached Bartolmé Island, this was my chance to go snorkelling! Writing about it even now still gets my adrenaline going. We boarded the panga boats kitted out in our wetsuits and went out towards the Pinnacle Rock. The guide and driver started to get excited and then I realised it was because there were sharks around us. I was so scared I started feeling sick- what was I doing? Why was I here?! The driver explained calmly that the sharks lived in this bay so I could get off around the corner to join the others if I’d prefer – in my bizarre panic-stricken logic this made sense – yes the sharks would stay in the bay!
So round the corner we went and counting down three, two, one we plunged into the cool waters. Whilst bobbing around in the sea trying to get used to the snorkel mask my guide appeared next to me holding my arm to say, ‘Jen just stay calm… there is a shark underneath you’. Out of sight, out of mind was my immediate reaction – again panic logic! I kept my head above the water and clinging onto my new friend asked how big it was, she replied to say I think you’ll be ok… so with every ounce of courage in me, I lowered my head into the water. A two-metre-long black-tipped reef shark was resting in the shallows, it turned in an almost cat-like elegant motion and swam off into the ocean.
Ha! Haahaa! I did it, but I couldn’t breathe properly, seawater coming into my snorkel and I couldn’t let go of my friend, but I did it! The rest of the snorkelling trip was actually one of the best I had on the trip, I saw shawls of fish pass us by – Parrot Fish, Angel Fish, Puffa Fish and a huge Chocolate Chip Starfish. An hour in the water felt like only minutes and then we were heading back to the boat. I had really surprised myself maybe I liked the water after all, no that was going too far! I did, however, brave the waters every day I was there.
Every island was so different and I could go on for a long time about how amazing it was, but instead, l will just leave you with stories of my last day’s snorkel trip. On Wednesday afternoon we realised this was the last time we may ever see the Galapagos Islands.
Around Punta Vicente Roca off Isabela Island to our amazement, we saw a group of the rare Mola Mola fish (also known as Sun Fish) pass by the boat and quickly getting into our wet suits hoped we might see some in the water! Unfortunately, the water was too murky but we found a spot in the sunlight which was teeming with Pacific Green Turtles, there were so many there I had to be careful to hover in the water so as not to touch them. Some of the braver members of our group went off to explore a nearby cave, I started to swim along but in the shadowy water, I couldn’t see anything so I stayed with the others to watch the turtles and penguins which were zipping passed with effortless speed and flightless cormorants diving down to fish. I was so lucky to be there. We looked up to see our group were quite far away so we decided to catch them up. Swimming close together felt safer in the murky waters, this was the ocean after all – anything could come out of those dark deep waters.
Our guide called us back on the boat and then she called us again a little more forcefully, ‘guys get back on the panga there’s an Orca coming!’ What!?! I practically ran out of the water with my flippers on! We all got back on quickly and turned the panga round and moved a little closer to where the Orca had been spotted, waiting and holding our breath, the Orca broke the water’s surface and brought its head out of the water right next to us in the little Panga boat! It then moved on to the same place we were in moments ago with the turtles. I caught myself repeating ‘this is so amazing…’ as we crept along following the Orca around the rocks.
I can honestly say that I have never been to such an exhilarating place which is brimming over with wildlife both on land and in the waters. I would suggest the Galapagos Islands to everyone and as long as you are fit and steady on your feet there is no reason not to go.
We offer trips on a range of vessels and also hotel and camp options on the islands, so if my trip there inspires you for a holiday to the Galapagos we would be more than happy to discuss different options with you.