I've listened to countless stories about expedition-style travel and the Galapagos Islands since joining ExpeditionTrips in 2010. It was during the second night onboard the Eclipse that I thought, "Ah, I get it now." We were enjoying dessert after a delicious dinner when a member of the crew came into the dining room and said, "Come outside to see the sharks!" The phrase "dinner and a show" took on a whole new meaning, as we abandoned our dessert plates in the dining room. I peered out into the ocean for the next few hours in awe of the sight of sharks which leapt, swam, and spun about beneath the ship's lights. Occasionally, a jumping fish would dart above the water, quickly followed by an all-out-frenzy of sharks hoping to have an evening snack.
The time I spent exploring in the Galapagos Islands aboard the Eclipse helped me fully realize the definition of expedition travel. The up-close experiences with wildlife and guides were extraordinary.
Life in the Galapagos Islands
My Galapagos journey began with the stunning views seen from the window seat during the flight from Quito to Guayaquil to Baltra Island. My face was glued to the airplane window with rolling footage, from incredible views of the Andes Mountains to turquoise waters dotted with ships sailing between the Islands. This was one flight where I'd likely arm wrestle my husband for the window seat!
All guests were transported by Zodiac from Baltra Island to the Eclipse. After getting settled into our cabins and eating the first of many tasty meals, we were welcomed by the guides, crew, and cruise director. Then, it was time to kick off the exploring with Bachas Beach on Santa Cruz Island!
It was during the first excursion that I had what may have been my biggest surprise of the trip. I'd seen countless photos of marine iguanas and had sided with Charles Darwin's descriptions of marine iguanas when he referred to them as, "large, disgusting clumsy lizards" and said, "I call them "imps of darkness." Few would argue the adorability quotient of a baby sea lion, but I didn't think marine iguanas would register on anyone's cute scale. My opinion transformed when I saw a marine iguana going for a sunset stroll along Bachas Beach. It was love at first sight. From that moment on, my favorite resident of the Galapagos Islands was the one I least expected--the marine iguana.
Al fresco dining was one of the tremendous highlights of life onboard the Eclipse. I'd classify myself as a non-morning person, but I could rise at 6 a.m. for breakfast in a refreshing breeze with views of the Galapagos Islands, and an assortment of foods, including a build-your-own omelet station, cereal and fresh fruit bar, a table brimming with eggs, sausage, bacon, and breads from croissants to toast, and friendly crew serving coffee, tea, and juice. On average, two out of three meals were enjoyed al fresco each day.
Each day was a new adventure with options, such as kayaking, snorkeling, hiking, island walks, and Zodiac excursions. The naturalist guides expertly-led each excursion, one such example being a Zodiac ride into the Elizabeth Bay mangroves where guide, David Páez, ensured each sea turtle, blue-footed booby, and eagle ray was spotted.
Life onboard the Eclipse included activities, such as a fish ceviche demonstration on the fourth day, nightly educational lectures and briefings, movie showings like the BBC special "Born from Fire," a library stocked with games, books, and movies, and a Jacuzzi and sun chairs perfect for relaxing with the Galapagos Islands scenery. My trip included two nights of impromptu salsa dancing, too! It's hard to beat a dance party with views of sea lions playing in the distance.
One of my favorite onboard events was the equator crossing. We crossed the equator on the afternoon of the fifth day. Guests were welcomed to the bridge to see the official location at zero degrees latitude. The celebration continued in the al fresco dining area with champagne and an array of sushi rolls. It felt a bit like a New Year's Eve bash with people toasting champagne glasses.
The Galapagos Islands gave me the feeling that I was in a place unlike anywhere else on earth. This feeling came from the viewpoint in my kayak: along the coast of red-sanded Rábida Island, as a baby sea lion played; and in Tagus Cove, when blue-footed boobies dove vigorously in the water and penguins greeted me from the shoreline. A walk to the top of Bartolomé Island for a sunset view of the famous Pinnacle Rock was surreal. There was a moment snorkeling with sea turtles and marine iguanas, when a shark swam directly below me. I looked above water and there were blue-footed boobies relaxing on a rock, as penguins plunged in the water to join the Galapagos pool party. An added bonus along the journey was the company onboard the Eclipse. I won the cabin-share lottery with a fabulous roommate and made lasting friends from the fellow travelers to the exceptional guides and crew. It's nice to have a friend whom I can reminisce with and say, "hey, remember that time we snorkeled with sea lions in the Galapagos?"
On the morning of the sixth day, I disembarked on Santa Cruz Island and said farewell to the Eclipse team. I was sad to say farewell and understood why an eight-day itinerary is the recommended trip length. Six days gave me an incredible taste of the Galapagos Islands, but I would have loved to spend two more days on the Eclipse.
The Athala II Preview
Before officially saying farewell to the Galapagos Islands, I boarded a Zodiac to see the newly-refurbished Athala II. The Athala II's layout and design reminded me of the Eclipse featuring clean lines with bright, modern details. It has a spacious sun deck with Jacuzzi, al fresco dining area, comfortable lounge for lectures, briefings, or simply relaxing; kayaks and Zodiacs ready to take to the seas, and an emphasis on a high level of service provided by expert guides and crew. The Athala II has eight cabins, making it an ideal size for a group to charter.
Award-winning travel writer and actor Andrew McCarthy said, "I'm a better version of myself when I travel..." McCarthy's words were in my head throughout my journey from Seattle to mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. As I thought of wise words from travelers like McCarthy, I realized if I had one travel quote to describe how travel impacts me, it'd be a revised version of McCarthy's words: "Travel makes me want to be a better version of myself."
When I strolled through Quito's Old Town and heard lively conversations in Spanish, I thought, "when I get home, I'll finally pursue that goal I've had (for, ahem, over 10 years now) to learn Spanish. When I snorkeled amidst a scene of sea turtles, penguins, sea lions, and marine iguanas, I focused hard to freeze the snapshot in my memory and simultaneously thought, "I want to take a photography class and invest in an underwater camera." When I saw the Eclipse guides salsa dance to Latin music, I envisioned practicing to attempt their effortless movements.
I've been home from Ecuador for about a month and am proud to say I'm a few weeks into Spanish classes. While I'm thousands of miles from the sounds of playful sea lions in the Galapagos Islands, the memories continue to impart inspiration. Next up: Registering for a photography class and salsa dancing lessons!
How has travel inspired you?