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Published: February 22nd 2008
Anchored off of Rabida Island, with Santiago Island in the background
I decided that if I was staying in Ecuador for a couple of months, it would be a shame to miss the Galapagos Islands. While not an inexpensive venture, I rationalized it as being one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Before I started with this idea, I really didn’t know much about the islands or how one goes about seeing them. The travel agency I was dealing with in Cuenca operates out of the same building as the Spanish Language School I have been attending. While I was arranging my course schedule, I had them send me some information on Galapagos tours. As it turned out, I was very lucky in the boat and tour that I chose. There are about 70 boats licensed to give tours of the islands, and prices range from hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on the boat and the length of the tour. I really had no idea on what to look for. The travel agent sent me information on three different boats, and I chose the mid-priced one at about $1800 for 8 days, not including the transportation to and from the mainland. I had no idea on what islands we would visit, or things
we would be seeing.
The government dictates that there must be one guide for every 16 guests, so most boats are designed to accommodate 16 people, as was the “Floreana”, my chosen boat. It had 8 air-conditioned rooms, each with two bunks, a bathroom and shower. As I was travelling solo, I bunked with another solo traveller from Holland. We had a full boat for our trip, with guests from the United States (4), Denmark (6), Holland (4), Germany (1), and me from Canada.
The basic routine of the boat was that we travelled at night, and had two shore expeditions a day, one in the morning, and the other mid-afternoon after lunch and a bit of a siesta. Breakfast was served at 7, and we went ashore around 8. We were usually back on board around 11:30, with lunch at noon. The afternoon shore trip usually started around 2:30, and we would be back on board around 5:30. We would have a daily briefing with the guide at 6:30, and supper at 7. Most days would include one or two snorkelling sessions usually before lunch and/or before the return to the ship in the afternoon.
Our Guide, Rodrigo Flores, is on the right
guide for the trip was Rodrigo Flores. He was a knowledgeable man on most things about the Galapagos, and was a continuous source of interesting things as we went on our daily expeditions. His knowledge didn’t get too deep on most topics, but was certainly adequate for any questions I had.
Being a pilot and a bit of a technology geek, I was interested in the equipment on the yacht: It had a full moving-map GPS navigation system, integrated with sonar and radar. There were actually two radars, one for weather and the other for navigation. There were two VHF radios, one HF radio, and a satellite telephone. The guide had a portable VHF radio to keep in touch with the boat while we were ashore.
The yacht was owned and captained by “Freddie”, who was assisted by a crew of 6 others. Freddie and I had lots of interesting conversations (in Spanish). I was glad to learn that most of the technology had equivalent names in Spanish, so communication was easier than I expected. I was impressed with Freddie as both a captain and a manager. He treated his staff well, and ensured they were learning and
This is where all the great food happened.
assuming responsibilities for running the boat. Two of the crew as well as Freddie were qualified to captain the boat, and they rotated shifts while we were under way. While all the crew pitched in to help with most tasks, there were specific crew responsible for the engine room and maintenance, and a young woman, “Marjory”, who served us our food (there was a cook to prepare it), tended the bar, and cleaned our rooms during the day while we were ashore. My cabin was behind the bridge, so I frequently stuck my head in to see what was going on when we were under way. One night before bed, I discovered that Marjory was at the wheel of the boat, with Freddie there to provide instruction where needed. I was impressed. Freddie is planning to buy another boat, and to eventually convert the Floreana to specialize in scuba diving tours.
The food we were served was very much to my liking. We usually had a selection of 4 vegetable dishes and a salad for lunch and supper, along with a meat dish and desert. The food was always fresh and well-prepared by the cook. I always felt I
was eating too much, but the combination of the healthy food and daily exercise didn’t cause me to gain any weight. We had a few vegetarians on board, so the cook made sure they had proper alternatives as well.
One of the things that I think differentiated the Floreana from other tours was that we travelled to some of the outlying islands that the other boats avoid as being too far away from home base. The first night we travelled for about 9 hours to get to Genovesa Island; then the next night about the same coming back. We were the only boat there. Genovesa Island has many things that visitors to the other islands would probably miss, such as the largest colony of red-footed boobies, masked (Nazca) boobies, huge flocks of storm petrels, and short-eared owls feeding on them. We also circumnavigated the largest island, Isabela, and stopped in at the western-most island, Fernandina. Most of the visitor sites on Isabela are on the western side, so they are not visited as much by the tour boats as it is about a 10 hour trip or more from Santa Cruz. Fernandina is one of the only places where
Crossing the Equator
We crossed the equator 4 times over the week. I got the one picture of the GPS when it happened the third time.
you can see the flightless cormorant, and have a better chance of seeing the Galapagos penguins. Another bit of trivia that was appealing to me was that we crossed the Equator 4 times during our week; to and from Genovesa, and while we went around the north end of Isabela and back.
Being a prairie boy, it took me the first night and day to get my “sea legs”. I was glad I brought along medication for motion-sickness, but should have started taking it the morning of the first day we were at sea. I started taking a pill daily when we returned from our afternoon shore expedition, which was usually a few hours before we were under way for the next day’s destination. This worked out well for the rest of the trip. We had a few rough bits (which would probably be scoffed at by experienced sailors as being nothing) in the evenings, but it usually calmed down as the night progressed.
At the end of my trip to the Galapagos, I found that I had taken nearly 1000 pictures. I guess this is a symptom of the digital age, when it costs nothing extra to press the shutter a few more times. I have many pictures of the same things as I adjusted composition, zoom, focus, and exposure. It’s going to take me a while to get it organized, but I hope to add another chapter to my blog every day or two until it is done.
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Awesome! What an adventure! I think I just want to go more now. I had done a lot of research before and learned that some of the boats were not all safe or well run as your experience. It's great you had a positive experience, so I say that I should use this same boat... I really am looking forward to pictures. How very cool!