Tales & images from life as me…

Galavanting in the Galapagos Islands


A honeymoon conjures images of white sand beaches, suntans, sun sets, sundowners – right? No. Think cool days, even cooler water and some pretty unflattering wetsuits! But the term ‘trip of a lifetime’ has never been better applied than here.

When the first explorers discovered Galapagos they didn’t even give it a name – The Bishop of Panama, back in the 1500s referred to the place as ‘hell’ (well, he did nearly die of thirst, and witnessed ‘monstrous’ animals he had never seen before crawling over lava!). Modern naturalists and travellers frequently apply the title ‘Eden’, a slightly ironic opposite referring to astounding concentration of varied landscapes and wildlife and its incredible ‘innocence’ when it comes to man. Either way it is very hard to write about these islands without applying Biblical terms or thinking in Biblical proportions… and I live next door to the Serengeti. As far as I was concerned, it was heaven (especially if you’d just been given a 400mm lens for Christmas!).

It was one heck of a journey (I’ll spare you the details but suffice to say it took almost a week just in days spent getting there and back, and involved going Mwanza-Dar-Zurich-Heathrow-stopping for a week in the UK with family-Birmingham- Amsterdam-Quito-Baltra and then the whole lot in reverse again!) and we nearly didn’t make day one… on the very last leg of our journey, just five minutes from landing our plane was told Baltra had a hole in its landing strip and we were being diverted to Quayaquil! Typical TIA Tale, I think! But all it meant was one more airport and a couple of hours delay, and suddenly there we were, standing at the tiny boat launch spot ready to hop on a Zodiac and be taken to our ship. And we were greeted not only by khaki-clad, smiling, Ecuadorian naturalists, but also by a Sea Lion and her pup! A great start.

So it turns out the main way to see the islands is by boat (well, duh!). There is one hotel on the inhabited island of Santa Cruz, and it is possible to take day trips on smaller boats, but to really get a feel for this extraordinary place, it’s all about the boat…or ship…whatever. Ours was the Xpedition – equipped with a Jacuzzi on top, the Darwin restaurant downstairs, a couple of bars and several small Zodiac boats to take guests over the islands. It was not in the leagues of the giant cruise ships, I am told, but it was certainly very comfortable and manned by a crew who have won ‘best cruise in the world’ for the past 4 years!

There are so many photos of each stage of this trip (I took a total of over 5,000) that I think I’m going to let them do most of the talking for the purposes of this blog (don’t worry, I’ve made a small selection – it’d take me a year to upload 5,000 with this internet speed!). I’m going to be writing more formal articles in a few magazines, so this is more a visual treat with captions. Please note that all these photos are very low resolution for uploading purposes so apologies is the clarity isn’t all that great, but it should give you some idea of our Galavanting in the Galapagos!

The Sea Lions are everywhere!
On our first morning we were taken to a sea lion colony (which thankfully do not smell at all, unlike the seal colonies of South Africa and Namibia which are quite staggering!). We jumped from the Zodiacs onto the shore with groups of them scattered about just meters away and with barely a reaction to our presence – they had not been taught to fear man. There poaching is zero. An extraordinary fact which made it hard to avoid imagining what Africa might have been like. I’m not suggesting leopards would have come over for a cuddle, but without fear things might be very different, and certainly more prolific.

Sea Lion pup splat


but it's important you don't get too close or you could put the little ones at risk...

but it’s important you don’t get too close or you could put the little ones at risk…

In the end it was actually me trying to avoid the animals: Baby seals are frequently left alone for days, and even weeks, at a time on a beach whilst their mothers go fishing. Naturally they get hungry and ask loudly and repeatedly for food from anyone who is passing. Other sea lions have their own ignoring tactics, but when a little tiny sea lion flops up to you uttering groans of hunger it is very hard to turn them down. Of course we had nothing to offer and we quickly learned that we could not risk touching them. If they carried any of our human scent on them when the mother returned they could be rejected and left to starve. We found ourselves actively fleeing from the little pups when they came too close!

Sadly we did witness one sobering moment when our human interference does cause damage (skip this section if you’re a softy).

In fact, our influence has caused problems all over the islands over the years as early attempts at settlement brought dogs, cats, rats, goats and several other species that were not endemic and caused all kinds of complexities amongst the real locals – but the good news is a great deal of this is now being properly managed and several islands have actually been restored to their former balance. In the mean time excellent environmental management is working hard to ensure that we tourists have as little impact as possible.

And it wasn’t just the sea lions who were happy to get close. Everywhere we looked animals were simply doing what they do…

Introducing the famous Blue Footed Booby:

And the stunning Sally Light Foot Crab:

These beautiful crabs can be found scattered like jewels over any sea-side rocks.

These beautiful crabs can be found scattered like jewels over any sea-side rocks.

their feathered legs and pop-out eyes make for great photos, especially when they're against the black lava rock

their feathered legs and pop-out eyes make for great photos, especially when they’re against the black lava rock

The Swallow Tailed Gull with it’s striking red eye-rim which is only a feature during mating season – make-up for birds!

captured in flight

captured in flight

preening

preening

Marine Iguanas are everywhere, and they have an oddly endearing habit of snorting salt out of their nostrils at regular intervals to handle the amount of sea water they take in! They’re supremely ugly and yet incredibly attractive with their bright colours and dragon-like crests.
marine iguana

marine iguanas en masse

Then there’s also the Land Iguana…

their camouflage works perfectly amongst the yellow fallen leaves which they search through for juicy morsels

their camouflage works perfectly amongst the yellow fallen leaves which they search through for juicy morsels

Land iguana close up

and the hybrid! A bit of both but can’t swim, can’t reproduce and lives less years – none of the advantages basically!
hybrid iguana

The bird life (I know I’ve mentioned a couple already) is so varied and vibrant it’s impossible not to become a bit of a ‘twitcher’ whilst you there (new term I learned on a safari recently – translation: bird spotting geek… only it’s far less geeky here in Africa and I’m pretty sure it’s not geeky at all in the Galapagos!).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And it’s not just the wildlife that’s spectacular
The geology proved fascinating, particularly as we were literally standing on the evidence… I could literally have published hundreds of landscape images here. These few will just give you a bit of a feel for the broad differences between the islands.

But we didn’t only get to see the Islands from the land, though. Perhaps the most thrilling perspective of this smile-generating environment is seeing it from under the water. Uh huh! We were actually allowed to snorkel with the animals! Sadly the frequently flash by so fast that it’s hard to get the photos – I missed penguins, marine iguanas, puffer fish and massive sword fish, but I did get sea lions and sea turtles:
Sea turtle
sea lion under water

Oh and do you know the story of the Galapagos Post box?
Well the custom is that anyone who visits the Islands can visit Post Office Bay and pop a postcard into the large whiskey barrel box that’s hidden just off the beach. No need for a stamp though! Each visitor is, instead, asked to sift through the pile and find a postcard addressed to someone who lives not too far from them. They must then hand deliver the card and actually meet the person it is addressed to (no cheating by sticking stamps on once you get home!). Of course we had to post a couple just to see if anyone manages to get them back to Mwanza, Tanzania (I’ll be seriously impressed if they do!) and we also took one addressed to a lady in Bath (near my parents’ place – we’ll deliver next time we’re in the UK) so watch this space for follow up stories on that one. I did hear one lovely tale of a guy who delivered to a girl near where he lived, they fell in love and eventually got married at the post box in the Galapagos! Ahhh!

the post box

Sharks off the back of the boat
The entire time we’d been in the Galapagos we’d been looking out for sharks. We’d been told there are several species there and were, understandably nervous about snorkelling the first couple of times – but the Naturalists just laughed it off and assured us they had no interest in eating tourists and we quickly grew used to hopping in and out of the water and stopped worrying. It wasn’t until the very last day, when a shoal of Jack fish came flying along the side of our boat that we really got to see them in action.

The black tipped reef shark's fin cuts the water between the Blue Footed Boobies but they are not concerned - they know it isn't really after them.

The black tipped reef shark’s fin cuts the water between the Blue Footed Boobies but they are not concerned – they know it isn’t really after them.

A reef shark circles below us

A reef shark circles below us

It was a pretty great final scene.

Infrared
One other ‘development’ (sorry that’s photography joke!) since last year’s blogging days is the transformation of my old Canon camera into a fantastic new infrared camera. This is an experiment that I’ve always wanted to try out, but knowing I was off to the Galapagos turned my want into a need – look at the results! And this is before I’ve even learned how to use the colour element! (I’ll get to that!).

A frigate bird assesses his chances against a giant sea turtle

A frigate bird assesses his chances against a giant sea turtle

A  sea lion flops out, perfectly relaxed on the warm lava rock against a backdrop of cactus trees

A sea lion flops out, perfectly relaxed on the warm lava rock against a backdrop of cactus trees

A young albatross stretches his wings, testing them before he attempts to fly for the first time. It is late in the season and he must leave the Islands soon.

A young albatross stretches his wings, testing them before he attempts to fly for the first time. It is late in the season and he must leave the Islands soon.


A male sea lion issues a throaty roar against the surf, establishing his territory.

A male sea lion issues a throaty roar against the surf, establishing his territory.

an inquisitive sea lion approaches the boat before flipping back under the water

an inquisitive sea lion approaches the boat before flipping back under the water

All aboard
The boat and the other guests on board, the staff and all the activities, the food and the cocktails – it really was faultless. We absolutely loved our experience.

this is the main bar area inside the Xpedition - our home for the week.

this is the main bar area inside the Xpedition – our home for the week.

our very comfortable cabin (on day 1 before I'd messed it all up!)

our very comfortable cabin (on day 1 before I’d messed it all up!)


In just a week we had done so much, seen so much and made so many great new friends. We were very sad to leave.

In fact as Darwin wrote: ‘It is the fate of every voyager, when he has just discovered what object in any place is more particularly worthy of his attention, to be hurried from it.’ Too right!

we can’t forget Quito
Of course we were also in Quito before and after the Galapagos tour as it’s the main airport to enter Ecuador through. It perhaps ought to warrant its own blog rather than this little tag on. We were not expecting such a wide variety of things to see and thoroughly enjoyed the markets, the equator, old architecture, potted Histories, volcano views and musical instrument education we ended up experiencing. Here is just a tiny selection of pics from our days there.

Advertisements

14 responses

  1. shane grantham

    Your pictures truly capture the beauty of the Galapagos! Only part I’m missing is the crazy humans that jump back on the boat and carry on like old pirates…Your journal of events are as distinct as youselfl

    January 21, 2013 at 6:01 pm

    • Wow – that was some seriously fast commenting Shane! We miss you guys. I’ll email you through a few shots of you, and us, and you and us and some of the crazy antics. I try not to publish pics of other people on here too much in case they get upset! I’ll be in touch soon. Best wishes to y’all 🙂 xx

      January 21, 2013 at 6:05 pm

  2. Wow, it sounds like you had an amazing time honey……….very envious of those fantastic photo opportunities……..and the new 400mm lens!

    Fantastic account of what seems like a heavenly honeymoon.

    xxx

    January 21, 2013 at 10:37 pm

  3. Cecilia

    What a wonderful experience! I am very happy you chose a place in South America and that you had a very good time there. Thanks for sharing your beautiful photos! xx

    January 22, 2013 at 12:46 pm

  4. Wow, what an amazing trip you had & your photos are breath taking. Makes me want to go. Hope you are enjoying every minute of married life.

    January 22, 2013 at 6:21 pm

  5. Nina Hjortlund

    Looks like an absolutely amazing trip! And great shots – please show me more when I am back in Mwanza 🙂

    January 23, 2013 at 11:09 am

    • Thanks Nina. Good to think of you checking in from all the way over in Tazzy 🙂

      January 29, 2013 at 3:51 pm

  6. lello cremonesi

    bel lavoro complimenti baci e abbracci
    lello

    January 23, 2013 at 5:19 pm

    • thank you! My first Italian comment – love it!

      January 29, 2013 at 3:52 pm

  7. carriepots

    Really STUNNING photos Mel. Your writing is always so vivid … It has made me think about how amazed and excited Darwin must have felt all those years ago … What a truly
    unforgettable honeymoon … Especially as I gather that access to the Galapagos is
    being increasingly restricted for reasons clearly shown in your blog.

    January 26, 2013 at 1:36 pm

  8. Bernadette Keane

    Hi there Melissa
    About a million years ago, in Johannesburg, your mother, Kay and I shared a flat for a year ….since when we have retained an enduring friendship. I’m delighted to see these photos of you and Damien in your exotic honeymoon setting. The local fauna there make our kangaroos and koalas look like poor cousins.
    It remains for me to wish you and your husband all that you would wish for yourselves in the happily-ever-after days ahead.
    As a recently retired nurse teacher I am in a slow slip stream of stress-reduced routines and commitments. Wonderful.
    Press 1 for a friendly hug.
    Bernadette (aka Bernie)
    Melbourne.

    February 23, 2013 at 2:47 am

    • Hi, thanks for reading and taking time to leave a lovely message! Kay is, of course, the reason for my pen name. Yes, our honeymoon was an amazing experience, we really did feel very lucky. Thanks for the happy wishes. Keep reading! Love, Melissa

      February 26, 2013 at 5:57 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s