We boarded a LATAM flight in Guayaquil for the 1 hour 55 minute flight to the Galapagos, 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. Excitement grew as we gazed out the window and spotted the islands appearing in the vast Pacific Ocean. We exited on the tarmac on the island of Baltra to enter immigration and go through the strict Galapagos National Park inspection and decontamination protocols, ensuring we were not bringing any products of plant, animal, or microbial origin that could be harmful to the ecosystem. We met our guide, Lourdes Pesante-Aguirre (LuLu) and immediately knew we were in good hands! We boarded a bus to get to the dock where we would be picked up by the pangas to board our home at sea, The Bonita. Crew members of the Bonita 16 passenger yacht welcomed us into the pangas and brought us to the Bonita where we had a tour of the boat, checked into our nicely appointed, air-conditioned cabins, and were introduced to the crew (who would become our trip family) in the lounge.
After learning the ship’s safety protocols and our Covid safety measures, we had a delicious lunch, starting with a hearts of palm ceviche, and then a buffet of amberjack fish, chicken, rice with peas and carrots, steamed broccoli, salad, and a dessert of coconut mousse (vegetarian and vegan selections also). It was evident that we would be well fed on this trip! We finished unpacking and settling in to our cabins, and then we cruised off to our first destination- Santa Cruz. The Pacific Ocean sparkled and we marveled as we passed Daphne Major- the site of Peter and Rosemary Grant’s 25+ years of research on the Galapagos finches which we read about in “The Beak of the Finch.”
We arrived at the northwest coast of Santa Cruz for our first hike- Dragon Hill. We stepped off the pangas on to a beautiful sandy beach with volcanic rock and walked to a lagoon where we saw our first flamingo and opuntia trees (prickly pear cacti with “trunks”).
We were excited to see our first marine iguana and Galapagos land iguana on the trail. Little did we know we would be seeing many of these throughout the trip!
We hiked up the hill where we saw numerous land iguanas and lava lizards. The Galapagos land iguanas look like dragons with their claws and spiky crests! They are so different looking from the iguanas we saw in Guayaquil.
The iguanas and their nests were once ravaged by dogs and are now are plagued by feral goats on the island. Fortunately there are ongoing efforts to remove them and protect the iguanas.
The trail was an uphill climb that passed through stands of opuntia cactus trees and palo santo trees (the incense tree) with a changing vegetative zone- very dry. We were rewarded with a spectacular view from the top- looking through the palo santo trees to our boat, the Bonita, and one other boat. Hiking back down we saw many more iguanas and birds such as the Galapagos flycatcher, Galapagos mockingbird, and the Galapagos finches. Pelicans were flying overhead on the beach. The sun was slowly setting casting a lovely light on the rippled beach. We climbed into the panga and set off for the Bonita- greeted with cold drinks, appetizers, and Steven’s never ending boombox of fun, lively music on the deck. We enjoyed a dinner of corn soup, grouper with coconut sauce (vegetarian and vegan entries as well), veggies, yucca, and a beautiful dessert followed by an evening lecture by LuLu.
With our glasses of wine and cocktails in hand, LuLu pulled up her slides on the large screen flat TV in our lounge and gave us a brief history of the Galapagos Islands and its people. LuLu was born on the island of Santa Cruz and is a lifelong resident. There are actually 136 islands but many of these are just rock jutting out of the sea. The Galapagos Islands and surrounding waters make up the the 3rd largest marine reserve in the world and are highly protected. 91% of the reptiles are endemic species with marine iguanas found no where else in the world. 79% of the mammals, 56% of the insects, and 49% of the birds are endemic. There was so much more to take in- Day one on Galapagos ended with awe, a beautiful sunset, and a gentle rock to sleep as we were lulled by the motion of the boat. What surprises will tomorrow bring?