“To travel is to live” – Hans Christian Andersen.
Bucket list: A list, long or short, of things to do before we pass on. We all, to varying degrees, have one. Some lengthy, some short. Meet someone. Go somewhere. Accomplish something.
All are goals we hope to achieve over the course of our lives. One of many on my list was to visit the Galapagos Islands and experience first-hand the beauty and wildlife I have seen on television since I was a child.
Most know the Galapagos in relation to Charles Darwin, the English naturalist, and his research into evolutionary biology culminating in his famous book “On The Origin of Species” published in 1859.
Located approximately 1369 km (850 mi) off the coast of Ecuador, the best way to get to them is by air. It can be a costly adventure, depending on where one is coming from, but some things on a bucket list require taking the leap. I leapt.
I found what turned out to be a fantastic travel website, Intrepid Travel and thoroughly researched what I was getting myself into and booked my adventure over the New Year’s holiday.
First stop: Quito, the capital of Ecuador. 2849m (9350 ft.) above sea level and a beautiful city however, one should be forewarned to prepare for the altitude. It affects some people whether they are in good shape or not, young or old.
I met up with my fellow adventurers from across the globe one day before flying to the islands. A true United Nations, our group of 15 consisted of five Americans, three Canadians, two Brits, two Czechs an Australian and a Pole. Young and old, Galapagos was high on our lists and we were about to experience it first hand in all of its natural beauty.
Now, when I say we were excited, your response is likely, “Well of course you were! It’s a wonderful holiday!” Let me put a fine, yet beautiful point on “excited.” As we boarded our roughly 3 ½ hour flight we were all smiles, to be sure.
When we landed at San Cristobal Airport we were nearly vibrating with anticipation. But to truly describe “excitement” was to watch one my newest friends, Bogusia, from Poland, literally SKIP across the tarmac with an ear-to-ear smile into the customs and baggage area. If that wasn’t excitement, I don’t know what is! And this was just the airport!
After clearing customs and paid our Galapagos National Park entrance fee ($100) we were met by our Intrepid guide Cesar, who gathered and welcomed us. Cesar is a native, third generation Galapagoan and his eagerness to show us his home was evident. Gathering our bags, we were escorted to our hotel, and then the adventure began in earnest.
Walking through town to get our snorkeling gear we are immediately greeted by sea lions and pups on the beach. It is amazing. We were warned in advance that ALL animals that we come across over the coming days, while not afraid of humans, are NOT to be touched. Keep a two meter distance, but also be prepared to be approached and checked out by curious youngsters.
It is very tempting to touch the sea lions, as they are just basking in the sun, but no. Sneaking a touch, as attempted later in the trip by someone, was met with a vociferous “NO! NO! Did you not read the signs??”
Snorkeling gear in tow and not two hours on San Cristobal, we were off to the beach for our first swim and snorkel with sea lions and lots of fish. Nothing can prepare you for putting your face in the water and seeing, nearly face-to-face, a sea lion checking you out!
One of the many highlights (despite what my feet may say) was our hike up, across the rim, and partially down the backside of the large shield volcano Sierra Negra, on Isabela Island. All told the trek, there and back, was approximately 17 km (10.5mi). But the views! Breathtaking!
All told, our tour included four islands: Isla San Cristobal, Isla Floreana, Isla Isabela and Isla Santa Cruz. There is not enough space here to explain the plethora or magnitude beauty seen. The wealth of animals I saw included various finches, flamingos, Blue-footed Boobies, sea lions, Galapagos penguins (yes, there are penguins!), Sally Lightfoot crabs, pelicans and, of course, the Giant Tortoises.
Cesar knows these islands so well and more importantly, his eagerness to tell you about everything was so heartfelt, you just want to stay and learn forever. The man also has amazing vision, pointing at a rock a distance away and saying, “Look! There’s a Lava Lizard!” and it takes you several minutes to figure out which rock and what exactly you are to see.
We were fortunate enough to see these magnificent creatures in three different settings. The first was a Giant tortoise breeding center followed by the Charles Darwin Research Station and lastly, and most enthralling, in the wild. So magnificent. You can get up close (still not touching!) and watch them eat, hear them hiss and retreat into their shells if frightened, and just experience the moment.
We had nine days of adventure and incredible memories. Sadly, all good things must come to an end. We packed our gear and headed back to Quito, Ecuador to say our final goodbyes. Some continued on with other adventures, while others returned home with memories that will last forever.
Bucket list. One more goal checked off. Many still to go.