'A spectacular cruise' Tales from the Galapagos

| March 3, 2009

Cox & Kings’  Heather Fitsell recently travelled to the Galapagos Islands.

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In December last year, my colleague Kylie and I arrived on the island of San Cristobal, to heat and sunshine, ready to embark upon a seven-night cruise of the Galapagos Islands.

Our guides Orlando and Alexis, who both have over 15 years of experience guiding in the Galapagos, met us upon arrival. Once gathered together with our luggage, we took a short bus journey to the jetty where two zodiac boats were waiting to take us on board M/Y Flamingo I. Owned by an Ecuadorian-American company, this is a small boat with only ten cabins, catering for a maximum of twenty passengers.

Our cruise took us to the islands of Genovesa, Fernandina and Isabella, North Seymour, Santiago and Bartolome, Santa Cruz and finally Española. The landscape of every island is noticeably different, from the dark volcanic lava of Fernandina to the lush green highlands of Santa Cruz. Equally each island has different wildlife from the last, be it a different bird, reptile, mammal or even different sub-species.

The advantage of travelling on a small cruise boat is that their licence issued by the Galapagos National Park allows them to travel to islands to which the larger ships are denied access. One such island is Genovesa, where red-footed boobies can be seen. Genovesa is the only island that they inhabit and is therefore certainly a treat. Similar highlights are the land iguanas on North Seymour and the albatross on Española, which were a favourite with the more serious photographers amongst us.

There are almost daily opportunities to snorkel and it was on two such occasions that provided me with particular highlights of the trip. The first was on our morning at Genovesa when, as I was about to get out of the water, a white tipped shark swam in front of me. We were lucky enough to swim with more white tipped sharks on our last day. The second great memory was swimming with three graceful turtles off Santiago Island, as they fed on the algae.

Such high points were not limited to snorkelling, or on land, as on two separate occasions, a pod of dolphins joined us as we sailed on to our next destination, with some riding at the bow of the boat, which provided as much fascination for the crew as it did for us passengers. Upon leaving Tagus Cove, the Captain allowed me a go at the controls, and around this time we were joined by at least two whales, who we could see spouting water from their blow holes and just cresting the surface of the water.

Having watched the David Attenborough BBC television series ‘Life in Cold Blood’ earlier this year where he showed, using a thermal imaging camera, how marine iguanas warm themselves in the sunshine and then go to feed on algae underwater, reducing their body temperature, I was excited to see these creatures for myself. Whilst I saw my first marine iguanas at Prince Philip’s Steps on Genovesa, it was on Fernandina Island that I first saw a large group of marine iguanas. Some of the iguanas blended so well with the black lava rock that you really had to watch where you were stepping. Española is home to a different subspecies of marine iguana, which have a green and red tinge to their skin and of course there are the larger land iguanas for reptile aficionados to enjoy.

One animal that you could not avoid seeing was sea lions. Seals are also found on the islands and our guide advised us that sea lions have ears on the outside of their head and are larger than seals, which helped us to differentiate one from the other. Everywhere we went there were baby sea lions of different sizes, from those just born, with the placenta still nearby, to those ready to test the water. All the animals and birds on the islands have no fear of man and it is amazing how close you can get to the wildlife without them moving away, although it is not recommended to get too close to sea lions.

By the nature of their location the Galapagos Islands are a year round breeding centre for mammals, reptiles and birds alike. On a short walk at Prince Phillp’s Steps on Genovesa we initially walked past a mother Nazca boobie with two eggs, then one with two new chicks, followed by a parent with the surviving larger chick (only one chick will be allowed to survive) and finally a chick that was losing it’s downy feathers and embarking upon adulthood. We had a similar experience on North Seymour with the blue-footed boobies However, it is the fluffy white chicks that always catch your attention.

A symbol on the Galapagos National Park logo and one of the main sights of the islands is the giant land tortoise. We saw these both in the wild at Primicias Ranch and in captivity at Charles Darwin Research Centre, home of Lonesome George. In captivity we could get very close to them, but in the wild were advised to stay six feet away so that they did not retract their heads into their shells. However, I was very lucky to have an up-close experience in the wild, when a giant land tortoise came out of the pond in which it had been wallowing and ambled up to me, stopping right in front of my camera lens.

Undoubtedly, the reams of photos I took will help to maintain memories of our week cruising around the Galapagos Islands, an experience that will remain with me for the rest of my life.

Cox & Kings offers a wide variety of cruise options in the Galapagos Islands, including the 14-night Conquistadores, Incas & Islands tour, which combines Peru and the Galapagos, the 11-night Ecuador & Galapagos Discovery, the 10-night Explorer II Cruise, the 10-night Galapagos Legend cruise and a number of tailor-made options, including cruises on the M/C Flamingo, featured in this blog.


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