The Galapagos Islands- Part Two (with videos!)

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The Angelito I is a 70ft ¨tourist superior¨ Galapagos yacht that hosts 16 passengers in double-bunk rooms (with private bathrooms) and is run by a crew of 8 (Captain, Cook, waiter/barman, mechanic, 2 sailors, cabin boy/cook’s helper, cabin-girl-in-training- all residents of Puerto Ayora). We also had along an excellent bilingual naturalist guide named Efraìn. I was late for the boat. Whereas everyone else flew directly from Quito or Guayaquil to meet Efraín at the airport in Baltra, I was already on the islands and had to get from Puerto Ayora across Santa Cruz Island to meet them. The bus left at 7am. Very late the night before I let some Brits talk me into skipping the bus and taking a taxi with them ($15) at the last possible minute. Bad idea. They were late, then had to get to the super-mercado to pick up some rum for their cruise on a different (very budget) boat, then had to pick up another friend at a hostel. When I finally arrived at the airport, everyone else was already on the ship, and one sort of frantic-looking crew member was walking around the airport calling out “¿Angelito?”

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But I made it onboard, along with 15 other people of all shapes, sizes, and ages from Switzerland, Italy, Canada, Norway, Holland/Greece, the UK, Oakland CA, Long Island, and of course, Minnesota. It comes down to this: by the end of day eight the mother/daughter team from Norway was by far the tannest, followed by the young women from Italy. They worked hard for this, spending many hours lying in the sun atop the forward deck. Amongst the remaining amateurs, the hilarious retired couple from Holland/Greece came next, although a lack of discretion in applying sunscreen lent a decidedly rosy hue to their “tanned” hides. The Brits, Canadians, and Americans fell in last, varying between pasty, crispy, and ¨pretty tan for a bunch of gringos”. I believe that I, being Norwegian by heritage, made a respectable showing and will claim first place amongst the native English speakers. (Those of you who were on the boat may weigh in with your opinion below).

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We also did other things. But really, not a whole lot of other things. Basically it went like this: Wake up, eat, walk on an island, snorkel, eat, sail, walk on another island, snorkel, eat, take seasickness pills, play cards or talk, sleep while we moved to the next island. Same routine on lots of different islands, with some variation in the order or number of snorkels (“snorki” in Spanish. ¡Vamos hacer snorki!) per day, and often a card game or two snuck in between. It was a fun group of folks. We Americans seemed to bond quickly, playing lots of Euchre, and often finding ourselves seated together for meals at the small table, avoiding brussel sprouts, which we passed to the larger “European” table to be quickly devoured. But we did mix it up over all, and everyone got along together quite well. (There are still some unresolved Euchre issues. But we remain friends.)

“What about the damn animals, Nate?”

[flv:BowDolphins.flv 320 240]Yes, the animals. There are lots of them and they are tame. The novelty of their tameness does wear off after about the ten-thousandth iguana. But still the number of creatures we saw and the intimacy with which we were able to observe their natural behavior was astounding. Unfortunately, without an underwater camera I was only able to get pictures of half of what we saw. My favorite time was spent in the water. Highlights included swimming with penguins, sea turtles, white-tipped reef sharks, sea lions, and sting rays. We also saw countless colorful fish, spotted eagle rays, moray eels, starfish, and octopus. From the ship we tracked a humpback whale and came across a group of dozens of dolphins, some of which were gleefully leaping 15-20ft out of the water, others crowding around the bow.

[flv:SeaLions.flv 320 240]The islands themselves are fairly barren, hot and covered with lava, scrubby brush, and cactus. The bigger islands have lush tropical forest in the highlands. They are all built from massive volcanoes rising out the sea, a few still active.There are loads of sea-lions on most shores, and different colors of marine and land iguanas varying with the surrounding terrain. Bright orange crabs run about the rocks, and the ¨disappearing¨sand crabs all vanish into their holes when you get near. [flv:Tortoise.flv 320 240]The giant tortoises are endangered and strictly protected. You mostly will only see them at the Darwin Center or in protected breeding areas, although we did stumble upon a wild one while in the highlands of Santa Cruz.

Birds are everywhere nesting, and courting, and fighting. The male Frigate´s courtship dance is almost comical. They lay there in the bushes with their red pouches puffed out, scanning the sky for females. When one does fly over, they flap their wings and dance about with a kind of gurgled warble. The masked Boobies make humble nests of rock and twigs right on the hard ground. The male whistles and the female quacks like a duck. We watched one male searching for small pebbles for his nest, and then gently dropping them one by one on his mate´s webbed foot. Our great guide Efraìn led each excursion and filled us full of info about the flora and fauna of the islands. He helped us spot the elusive short-eared owl, and just about every other sea and land creature there was to see. (We only missed the hammerhead sharks, which are mostly seen by divers anyway, and the flightless cormorants, which live on an island we didn´t visit).

[flv:Frigate.flv 320 240]All in all it was a brilliant, if costly, trip that I think will become even more fond in memory. The food was good and the staff of the Angelito treated us very well. We got to dive from the top of the ship. We had chocolate-covered bananas. We got nauseous when the sun went down. We laughed and talked about life and stuff. We didn´t drink the $3 beers, but smuggled some of our own aboard. We watched the sun rise and set. I think I´m suited to the sea. I came to love the gentle (or sometimes not gentle at all) rocking of the ship as I slept. I loved to stand out on the bow and scan the horizon, looking for whales. When we got to buildings on dry land it seemed like they were the ones moving, stubbornly resisting the more constant rhythm of the sea.

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