You can cruise from one volcanic surface to another and see some of those iconic creatures from the movies, but the colorful abundance seen at the National Geographic channel will not be found.
And although I seem to have in the past found the right mating season during nature trips, this time we missed the blue footed boobies courting dance and settled for a view of birds nesting on eggs.
The sea lions however had their playful young all around them and the fake "harem master" was noisily showing off his command position. The real master, who had the exclusive rights to the ladies, had left the scene as he seems not interested in the aftermath of birthing. He will most likely show up again, when the time is ripe and chase the imposter away.
But lets start at the beginning. The same 3 couples who travelled to Kenya and Tanzania for our safari experience a few years ago and who traveled last year to South Africa, found each other early February at the Quito airport, so we could fly together to Santa Cruz Island, one of the two most populated islands in the archipelago. And by this I mean human population.
A hotel representative took our luggage and directed us to a crowded bus full of screaming youngsters, which gave me the fright of having maybe booked the wrong hotel. Half an hour later after crossing by small passenger ferry to the main island, that scare passed as the crowd dispersed into different vehicles and we found ourselves being shepherded to our own minibus heading for our Finch Bay eco-hotel on the other side of this second largest Galapagos island.
Most visitors are cruising on one of the hundreds of cruise ships with daily shore tours. We were land based with daily guided tours on a bus, or on the hotel yacht. As we were here out of season, the 6 of us were most of the time having our guide and "our yacht" to ourselves, observing, wherever we went, guides with 30 plus tourists, doing what we were doing.
The hotel is affiliated with National Geographic, with nice sized hotel rooms and good food, a swimming pool and a very attentive bartender.
In short we saw, what could be seen in the Galapagos, while being spoilt with all the amenities only cruise ship visitors might have on the larger cruises ships, but with our personal guide and free time to go to town anytime after the tour of the day, as well as a 65ft yacht with 5 person crew including a chef which we had all to our selves most of the time.
The tours went from the cheesy local coffee plantation, with a donkey that stopped and walked at the command of a remote control in the owners hand while crushing sugar cane to the amazing visit viewing the blue footed boobies and everything in between.
Every time we had a yacht day, we had two times snorkeling that day. For me it was an opportunity to test my newly acquired underwater camera shell. The pictures will reveal that I am still learning how to change the settings to get the best underwater pictures with my little Sony camera.
Out of the 15 heralded animal species that call the Galapagos home we never saw the largest bird in the islands, the Galapagos Albatross, because they only live on one island too far away from us, as well as 2 other type of Boobies with red and black feet, and the Galapagos Hawk just because we weren't lucky enough.
That may seem as though we came close to seeing quite a few of the big 15 that are exclusive to the Galapagos, but if one factors in that we only saw one lonely American Flamingo in the distance, you will realize that you need the National Geographic series to get a more satisfactory experience.
It may seem to you my readers as if I am complaining, but that is far from the truth. I think I speak for all in our group, when I say that it was great to have the Darwinian experience and get to feel what he must have felt when getting close to these ancient creatures, especially in watching the Iguanas and the gentle giant tortoises, weighing 550 lbs or up to 250 kg, and can live up to 170 years, who were slaughtered for their meat by 16th century conquistadors, when there were 200,000 of them roaming the uninhabited islands, realizing that now after a lot of breeding programs, we are back at say only 20,000.
All in all this remote island paradise, that may not belong to the most beautiful islands in the world, born out of violent volcanic eruptions that are still ongoing over an area of 53,300 sq miles. (138,000 sq km) is a once in a lifetime experience, where plantlife has found itself some soil creating species not found elsewhere, mixed with crops and domestic animals that humans who settled here brought. A process that the Ecuadorian government nowadays strictly controls.
Bringing and/or taking to and from the islands is strictly forbidden, as one of us experienced when leaving the islands at the airport. One of us (not going to snitch on a fellow traveler) had a piece of lava in the checked luggage.
And was summoned to open the suitcase and hand over the contraband. His laments that he had collected the piece on the mainland before coming here and thus that the lava was not from the islands did not make an impression on the officials he faced. He got away with a warning and they confiscated the item. His wife confessed to us she had left a shell he had collected on the islands in the hotel room to prevent leaving him behind in jail.
One of us while snorkeling with an underwater camera inched in on a half eaten fish only to be confronted by an aggressive sea lion who was not wanting his opponent to get closer to his catch.
I do hope the pictures and will tell the story better than what you just read.