A Journey Through the Galapagos
During a weeklong visit that’s as spectacular as it is educational, CW’s editor learns from naturalists about the evolution of both the islands of the Galápagos and their flora and fauna. From our December 2012 issue.
Sue Pillsbury settles in for her first encounter with a sea lion.
Sue and I are here as guests of Van Perry, the president of International Expeditions, which organizes tours of the Galápagos and runs expeditions here some 20 times a year. (Scroll down to learn about Cruising World’s Voyage to the Galápagos) Our travels to the islands last June took us first to Miami, then to Guayaquil, Ecuador, where we joined the rest of our group at a downtown hotel before boarding a flight at the crack of dawn Saturday for the 90-minute jump across the Pacific to Isla San Cristóbal.
Once aboard Evolution Saturday afternoon, we get quickly down to business with a briefing in the saloon, a spacious area amidships with rows of chairs in the center and comfortable couches outboard. Besides being a shady, air-conditioned place to hang out during the day, the saloon is the gathering place each evening for a lecture before dinner and also the scene of wild and entertaining revelry on Tuesday night when we steam north, across the equator, to Isla Genovesa. Long after we’re home, I remember this nighttime voyage because of the birds that soared alongside the ship for miles at a time. In the morning, we wake up in Darwin Bay. Later we’ll kayak along the shore, but for now, we don snorkels, and go off in search of hammerhead sharks. Instead, we find stinging jellyfish, but no matter, it’s all an adventure. And one that gets better by the day. Wednesday evening, we climb steps set into the cliff and walk through forested highlands filled with nesting frigates, Galápagos doves, and three species of boobies: red-footed, blue-footed, and Nazca. Chicks are everywhere, and we spot one that’s just climbed out of an egg we’d seen incubating just half an hour earlier.
After six days on our own in the islands, on Friday morning we steam into Puerto Ayora, or Academy Bay, at Isla Santa Cruz, and Boli leads us ashore for a tour of the Charles Darwin Foundation campus. Here, researchers run a tortoise-breeding program to return these giant creatures to the six islands where they once roamed in great numbers. Researchers also consult with Ecuadorian lawmakers on policies to closely regulate visitors and otherwise temper human impact on the archipelago. It turns out we’re one of the last groups to see Lonesome George, the sole remaining tortoise from Isla Pinta and a symbol of environmental efforts worldwide. He died just a week later, marking the end of yet another subspecies on our planet. Later in the morning, we ride buses up into the lush green mountains to visit a sustainable coffee and sugar-cane plantation and stop at a woodlands retreat for lunch. After, we walk through forest groves and see tortoises in the wild.
My favorite part of our expedition, though, came a day earlier, when Evolution anchored near a rock formation called Devil’s Crown and we donned snorkels and masks for a final swim. The water was rough where we bailed out of our pangas and began to follow the shore, watching the fish below. And then, as we rounded a rocky outcropping, we were surrounded by sea lions swooping and diving around us. They soared up from below, stopped inches away, and blew bubbles at our masks. In groups of two or three, they spun and played tag with each other as they darted first away and then quickly back toward us, not tame, but not wary, either. Show-offs. I could’ve watched them forever, and I would, in a heartbeat, rush back to do it all again.
Cruising World’s Voyage to the Galápagos
In June 2013, you can join Cruising World and International Expeditions for a 10-day visit to the Galápagos. On this voyage, you and other sailors aboard the 32-guest expedition yacht Evolution will enjoy an in-depth island adventure led by professional naturalists. An add-on visit to Machu Picchu is also possible. Evolution is one of about 80 vessels licensed for tours in the archipelago and is unique in both size and styling, which is reminiscent of the modest tour ships of yesteryear. The staff of 18 includes expedition leaders as well as a full complement of ships officers and hospitality workers. Prices for the tour, which departs June 28, start at $5,098. To reserve a cabin, visit the International Expeditions website or call 800-633-4734; refer to the code CRUISING-13 when booking a cabin.