Galapagos Islands

Galapagos Islands

An amazing journey to an amazing place

SHM_9039Shay Mehalel; coming to you straight out of the Galapago Islands.

“If future generations are to remember us more with gratitude than sorrow, we must achieve more than just the miracles of technology. We must also leave them a glimpse of the world as it was created, not just as it looked when we got through with it.”

Lyndon Baines Johnson

A blue ocean seamlessly becoming turquoise, blue bird skies, a yacht rocking on the small waves gently knocking about its stern, frigates and albatrosses soaring above and us on the upper deck, tropical fruit cocktails in hand, enjoying a pod of dolphins playing catch with some sea lions. Is there anything grander?

At this point anyone might ask themselves where this paradise lies, and who can go somewhere so wonderful?

It exists, and that’s an understatement, on the board of the eight-chambered “Millennium” yacht, featuring a magnificent dining room with terrific meals and a crew working hard to ensure we enjoy every minute.

It took me 38 years to return to this remarkable place, perhaps the greatest place on earth for nature and wildlife enthusiasts. The Galapagos Islands reside in the Pacific Ocean, roughly a thousand kilometers from the shores of Ecuador. This archipelago is a wondrous natural preserve, the habitat of many endemic animals, and the wonder is that they live their lives while we are allowed to visit their home for a short while. On most islands, save the inhabited ones, one can only remain for a few hours and no overnight stays are permitted in order to not disrupt the animals lives. And indeed, the animals enjoy a peaceful life, do not fear humans at all, and even “play” with us tourists, just like those sea lion SHM_9343cubs, who every time I went for a short swim or dive in the crystal clear ocean waters, would jump after me for a game of catch; a phenomenon I remember from my previous visit, and was glad to find out it still exists today.

The history that accompanies the islands is long and varied, but most of the fame comes from Charles Darwin’s observations of the Finches during his second travel aboard the HMS Beagle to South America and the Islands, as part of his  research on Natural Selection and evolution. Of course, they are also famous for the giant Galapagos Tortoises, but that is just a small part of the beauty and intrigue of this magnificent island group.

The flight from Quito, the capital of Ecuador, took 3 hours and landed us in this paradise. Even on the trip from the Airport of San Cristobal Island to the Millennium’s dock, our home for the coming week, we met sea lions basking in the sun and birds soaring over the island. Undoubtedly a great start to a fascinating week.

After meeting the crew and enjoying a lovely lunch, which set a high bar (and met it throughout the voyage), we set sail for an adventure that each and every person owes to themselves at SHM_9209least once.

A two hour sail brought us to “Lobos” Island. We set up to disembark and our first meeting with what I love so much, the wildlife of the Galapagos Islands. The connection to the animals and birds is phenomenal; they do not fear man at all, and just live in the nature that belongs only to them. We the tourists are just visitors, enjoying and not disturbing their day to day lives. The trip to Lobos Island is fascinating. Just as we arrived on the Island, we witnessed a female sea lion after birthing two pups, and the happy mother just lay in the sun nursing her newborns. We stood and watched, and she was not bothered by us, almost as if she were saying “enjoy my hospitality”, which we did.

We toured the captivating island; the massive frigate birds spread their wings, the males puffed up their red chests in their wooing efforts; the Blue Footed Boobies walked about between us and gave us curious looks (which we returned), and all this in peace, quiet and riveting joy.

After the tour we returned aboard our magnificent boat, put on our diving masks and went diving around the island. Colorful fish, massive sea turtles and of course playing with the local sea lions were all a wonderful experience which repeated itself for every dive during that glorious week on the islands.

SHM_8951A gourmet dinner, at the end of which we and our 12 travel companions set sail towards Punta Pitt, our next anchor dropping destination.

The sailing is done by night. A cool sea breeze enters each cabin via its adjacent balcony, the sound of the ship slicing through the ocean, both of which combine with the dinner and drinks to send us into a pleasant sleep until the next morning.

We start the day with a generous breakfast and get ready to head out. Here too do we meet the famous Galapagos Boobies; blue footed, red footed, and masked ones. This is where you can enjoy the magnificent view, and  watch all three SHM_9412kinds of Boobies amongst others species. The giant frigates and seagulls with long beautiful tales, which are unique to the island, can also be found on Punta Pitt.

In the afternoon we head on for a fascinating meeting with a myriad of giant tortoises. These wonder in the natural habitat on “Galapaguera Natural”, within a huge area of trees and various cacti. The tortoises can weigh up to 300kg and slowly proceed throughout their 100-200 year lifespan.

Night time, we sail again. Come morning we arrive at “Cerro Brujo” to meet various birds such as pelicans, frigates, Galapagos seagulls and of course our Boobie buddies. The island is full of cracks and crevices, filled with cooled lava – an appropriate build to islands formed via volcanic eruptions throughout millions of years.

The day is hot and we are grateful for the opportunity to go for another dive in the area and meet some nest sea turtles and the winged Rays, cruising underneath us with their varied colors and types, from grey all the way to spotted leopard ones. This time, however, we’re in for a surprise – sharks. They say that sharks are harmless to humans, but after diving alongside them and witnessing their size, we truly hope they are indeed friendly. Regardless, the sights were breathtaking.

Our next destination is Espanola Island, belonging fully to the birds. Massive colonies of blue footed Boobies, masked Boobies and around 10,000 Albatrosses who come here to nest between April and December, along with seagulls and Darwin’s Finches. Among them roam marine iguanas in their red and black color scheme, getting ready to dive into the water for a tasty fish dinner.

The next morning we head for a dive with the sea lions in “Gardene bay”, and play hide and seek with them. They have fun and we even more so, climbing up to a virgin beach of white sand which is home to the iguanas and mockingbirds, which make a strange laughing sound. Colorful crabs walk along the rocks, as well as three of Darwin’s Finches. In short, heaven on earth.

Dinner was another culinary masterpiece by our chef aboard the Millennium and was accompanied by several beers and a moonlight sail towards Floriana Island. This was the first island to be colonized in 1832 when the first inhabitants arrived to the Galapagos Archipelago. Come morning, the island is revealed in all its splendor and we head down for a tour of the Punta Cormorant lagoon. The lagoon is full of flamingos staring at us, as if asking “tourists again? Well, it’s noting new…” The volcanic island is grooved and covered in once-burning lava, until you reach the beach with its soft white sand and head down for a dive among the Stingrays. Wondrous sights can be found in every direction. The island is known among seafarers since days past as the mailing point. A small barrel was where all sailors would place mail and messages and every ship that arrived at the island would gather all the ones marked for her destination, thus SHM_9486delivering the letters. Granted, a long time later, but delivered nonetheless. We too gathered a few in order to make sure they arrive at their destination.

We return to our mothership, the Millennium, for another night before saying goodbye to our wonderful crew who cared, guided, fed, provided drinks and spoiled us to no end. We sail to the main island of the archipelago, Santa Cruz. The island is inhabited and on it is located the Darwin Research Center, home to a hundred scientists from around the world who work throughout the year, saving endangered species, conduct research and provide explanations as to how to preserve this special place. A tour of the Center opens up another opportunity to witness the giant tortoises and land iguanas before saying goodbye to this truly unique place, a true testament to the beauty of nature.

The end has arrived, and the crew prepares a little party for us. We’re sad that it’s over but rejoice that it has taken place and was such a marvelous week. We thank our crew, our guides and our cooks who made sure we enjoy each and every moment, be it on the ship or during the tours and dives in the clear ocean.

The tour, for those of you interested, is no figment of my imagination. It exists and is highly recommended. The crew and the ship truly give their heart and soul to provide the perfect experience.

contact Gulliver at +972722331536 (Israel)  or visit www.gulliver.com.ec

Email: ricky@gulliver.com.ec

Published: July 10, 2016 || Related to: Destinations | South America | Specials | Top Destinations