A week-long adventure in the Galápagos Islands capped our 2004 South America tour. We would cruise on a small vessel, the Deep Blue, and explore a number of the small Ecuadorian islands. This was the part that Judy was most excited to experience.
Landing on the Island of San Cristobal in the Galápagos Islands, about 600 miles west of the mainland of Ecuador, we met our knowledgeable, self-described “world famous” Galápagos guide, Maria. A naturalist with the National Park, she and Juan our South America tour guide, would escort us throughout our Galápagos week.
On the way from the airport, our leaders took a poll to see who spoke the most Spanish. After I was volunteered as our best Spanish speaker, we learned that the group was being divided into three subgroups for home-hosted lunches. Juan and Maria could only translate at two homes. Guess who would be the group's spokesperson at the third home.
I quickly rifled through my backpack to find my Lonely Planet Latin American Spanish phrasebook and tried to cram during the 10-minute ride to the home of fisherman Julio Villacis and his wife Lourdes. Her mother and their toddler son lived there, too. Mama had prepared the food. Lourdes could speak a little English and had a dictionary. We all survived the lunch conversation and had a great traditional home-cooked meal while learning about each others’ cultures.
Each island we explored was home to a variety of wildlife; some were only found on that particular island. The Isla Genovesa is noted for its red-footed boobies. North Seymour is the home to the blue-footed booby, and the morning we landed, right on the trail, we witnessed the booby courting ritual.
Another interesting bird was the frigate. The male has a bright red pouch down the length of his throat that he puffs up and stretches into a very large grapefruit-sized balloon during the mating season. Then he just sits on a branch, looking for a female to fly by and notice him.
On Santa Cruz, the largest inhabited island, we boarded a rickety blue tourist bus that transported us to a ranch that had become a tourist attraction. Before too long, our ranch employee guide had us on trails that led to marshy ponds where we got to see huge dome-shelled tortoises.
While on Santa Cruz we spent part of the afternoon at the Charles Darwin Station, which is a facility for the research and preservation of the giant tortoises. They take tortoise eggs from the wild, carefully noting which island the eggs belong to for later return, and put them in an incubator to hatch. When the tortoises are about 5 years old, they are big enough, and their shells are hard enough, that they can be returned to the wild on their home islands and not fall victim to predators.
One of our favorite parts was our excursion to the island of Floreana, the location of legendary Post Office Bay. The island is uninhabited, but tourists place written and addressed, unstamped post cards into “postal boxes”. They then browse through the post cards left by other travelers and pick up a few cards to mail or deliver. We chose two that were written to addresses in Portland, OR. The following summer, we hand-delivered those cards. I will always remember the surprise and delight on the faces of the folks who opened their doors to find us standing there holding a message to them from their loved ones.
There was much to be learned on this trip. Not only did we appreciate the diversity and beauty of the Galápagos Islands, but we got to experience life at sea and to know our travel mates in a close and intimate environment. People who had been strangers became special friends.
~ xoA ~