We spent the third morning of our trip to the Galápagos on Tortuga Bay, a beach so beautiful that words can’t describe it. On the beach our guide’s girlfriend led us through a peaceful yoga class. She started the class by saying that we had been blessed with a “gift from the universe.” That phrase stuck with me throughout our week in the Galápagos. I had such an amazing time on the islands. The only way I can think of to describe it succinctly is “a gift from the universe.”
There are 21 students on my program but we split up into two groups for the Galápagos excursion. My group spent the first three nights on a yacht (the catamaran we were supposed to take sunk in February) traveling between islands. The minute we set foot on the first island, North Seymour, I realized that the Galápagos would be an adventure like nothing else I have experienced in my life. First, the animals have few natural predators and most haven’t been hunted. Instead of being afraid of people, they’re curious and like to investigate the strange creatures that walk on two feet. We saw a land iguana waddling down the trail so I crouched down to take a photo. The iguana walked straight towards me, turning at the last second so that its tail just grazed my leg.
Also on North Seymour, we saw two of my new favorite bird species: frigate birds and blue-footed boobies. Frigate birds are large, with a wingspan of up to 7 feet. The males inflate their red gular sac and sing to attract females. Fortunately, we were in the Galápagos during mating season so we got to see many mating displays. Blue-footed boobies are bizarre looking birds with bright blue feet. We got to see blue-footed boobies performing a mating dance, which was also an incredible sight.
The next day we traveled to two more uninhabited islands, where I was again delightfully surprised by the wildlife and sheer beauty of the Galápagos. We saw sea lions, frigate birds, blue-footed boobies, red billed tropic birds, Galápagos sheer waters, iguanas, Opuntia cacti, and many other things. That afternoon we went snorkeling and I realized the peaceful, spiritual nature of the ocean.
After three nights on the boat, we traveled to Isabela Island to spend the rest of the week with a host family. We took a speedboat, which was slightly terrifying. Three friends and I sat on the top of the boat with the captain. The views were incredible, but we felt every bounce of the boat. Imagine the worst airplane turbulence you have experienced, multiply it by five, and then sit through it for an hour and a half. That is what the speedboat felt like to me. I was very glad to reach solid land, and even happier to see Galápagos penguins in the marina!
We spent four nights on Isabela and explored the island. We hiked to the Sierra Negra Volcano, which is one of the active volcanoes in the archipelago. The caldera is one of the largest in the world, approximately 30 square kilometers. It was HUGE. We saw endemic tortoises, marine iguanas, and a beautiful mangrove.
On our last day on the island we took another speedboat to los tuneles, or lava tunnels to go snorkeling. I was under the impression that we were going to be snorkeling through the tunnels, but that wasn’t true. Instead, anytime our guide saw something cool (approximately every two minutes) we hopped out of the boat and went snorkeling. The first two times we did this, we were in open water, nowhere near the shore. It was scary to be snorkeling in the open water, but we saw some incredible marine life, including MANTA RAYS. At one point, I looked down and there was a manta ray about two meters below my flippers. I felt my heart leap into my throat. The sheer size of the manta ray was terrifying, about five meters across, but I reminded myself that the manta ray wasn’t going to eat me. Then I was able to enjoy watching this beautiful creature glide through the ocean.
Earlier in this blog post I mentioned the spiritual nature of the ocean and snorkeling. In the Galápagos, we snorkeled almost every day, some days more than once. Before this trip, I had only snorkeled once before. I was surprised by the connection that I was able to feel with creatures in the water. My favorite snorkeling experience was in a mangrove near los tuneles. In the mangrove, we saw eight green sea turtles. I was able to just watch the turtles eat, swim, and interact with each other. As I floated on top of the water with a turtle a meter below me, I thought about how special the Galápagos are. I firmly believe that the only way to protect the environment and all the creatures that live on this planet is to allow people to form connections with nature. Many people come to the Galápagos to experience an island paradise, but everybody has the opportunity to connect with the unique creatures that inhabit the island.
The last week was truly a gift from the universe. I will always appreciate the experiences that I had in the Galápagos and all the incredible wildlife that we got to see.