Galapagos In-Brief

Amelia Tockston

Luxury Expedition Ship
Galapagos Explorer II

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Galapagos In-Brief

Amelia Tockston

Motionless and camouflaged within a web of branches, he peered forward at us, perhaps hoping to elude our attention, or perhaps as curious about us as we were about him. Quietly, we each took turns standing at the best vantage point to admire and snap a quick photo. Just what I had imagined and remembered from photographs, yet better - because here I was standing before the real legendary creature for which the Galapagos was named: the Giant Galapagos Tortoise.

Later in the trip, we would visit the Galapagos Tortoise Breeding Center, just outside of Puerto Villamil on Santa Cruz Island, where hundreds of these endangered reptiles are bred and raised. From tiny hatchlings the size of coffee cups to mid-sized juveniles, to nearly ancient snail-paced adults. My favorite: a 170-year old saddle-back who seemed to be looking for her next yucca root meal!

Daily morning and afternoon excursions with our assigned group of 12-15 passengers were never short of surprises. Throughout our trip, we encountered an incredible array of wildlife. Sea lions were naturally a popular favorite. Found sunbathing on virtually every beach, they are one of the most animated island inhabitants. Recognized as one of the premier birding destinations in the world, the Galapagos could easily inspire one to take up bird watching. The islands are teeming with a fascinating range of feathered friends, from Darwin's finches, cormorants, and frigate birds to Galapagos penguins, masked boobies, waved albatross, and Galapagos flycatchers. The blue-footed boobies appear to have just stepped out of a can of turquoise paint!

A morning hike to the rim of Sierra Negra volcano -- the second largest crater in the world -- brought us to an expansive view across its 10-kilometer diameter! We also hiked to the top of arid and moon-like Bartholomew Island for breathtaking views that carried several islands over. Other excursions included snorkeling with the graceful sea turtles, counting dozens of motionless marine iguanas on the lava, exploring the small town of Puerto Villamil, or simply following a brilliantly red Sally-light foot crab...

Onboard the Explorer II, the day's activities were balanced with the comforts of the ship. The 100-passenger expedition vessel (small, but one of the larger ships in the Galapagos) provides spacious cabins, all of which are suites, and a friendly, energetic, and professional staff. Each evening, we gathered in the lecture hall to view slides and learn of the next day's adventure had in store for us. Evenings were often quiet and relaxing. On the last night, three of us found ourselves on deck, admiring a glowing full moon and singing mariachi music to the first-mate's guitar.

L'amour es la copa de vina...