Galápagos: Tour Through Time
My wife, Rachel Balaban, and I joined some CW readers on an Adventure Charter in the Galápagos last March, sailing aboard the 120-foot motorsailer Alta. In many ways, the seven-day tour was a fast-forward passage through time.
Each day, Alta anchored off at least one new island, and our guide, Jorge Garcia, took us hiking and snorkeling. We suffered from sensory and information overload, but took notes, photos, and video as fast as we could, trying to keep the boobies straight-male, female, juvenile, and nasca, red-footed and blue-footed. Sleep came easily each night, as Alta powered through the dark and mostly calm seas to the next island; by 0600, most of us were on deck drinking strong coffee and ready for another wide-eyed day of personal exploration.
Our CW Adventure Charter trip, hosted by Quasar Nautica, one of the better tour companies serving the islands, began with a flight from Miami to Guayaquil, Ecuador; then we took a Quasar charter flight 600 miles west to Isla San Cristóbal, one of the oldest islands among the Galápagos. We loaded aboard Alta right away in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, one of two developed ports in the islands, and were soon watching frigate birds soaring above Kicker Rock. We then hit a nearby beach to test our snorkel gear. Thirty-six hours later, we'd circumnavigated halfway 'round the islands and found ourselves hiking on the black lava rock of Isla Fernandina, one of the newest islands-about 500,000 years old. Still a work in progress, Fernandina erupted in 1998, 2000, 2002, and 2005 and has little vegetation. The rocks by the shore teemed with sea lions, flightless cormorants, brightly colored Sallie Lightfoot crabs, and marine iguanas (which swim at low tide to feed on algae and seaweed, then spend the rest of the day warming up again in the sun).
In the week that followed, we visited progressively older islands, such as neighboring Isabela, the million-year-old home to five volcanoes, and Isla Bartolomé, which is an older, collapsed volcano bearing a passing resemblance to a moonscape. Eventually, on Santa Cruz, Española, and San Cristóbal, the hard edges of the landscape softened, we found much more vegetation and precipitation, and more giant tortoises and land iguanas. Ironically, while the land is more hospitable to the animals on these older islands, they find more competition, too, from both animals and plants introduced to the islands over the last 300 to 400 years, as well as from the humans who have settled there.