National Geographic Islander
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What a fantastic journey I had to the Galapagos Islands where exotic animal species, vibrantly-colored undersea worlds and blazing tropical sunshine made me feel like I had disappeared into an untouched, prehistoric landscape.
For me, the most striking thing about the Galapagos Islands was being surrounded by creatures I had hardly ever even imagined existed. I'll never forget the jewel box fish, blue and white polka-dotted and yellow striped, like something out of a Dr. Seuss book, or the frigate birds with their giant red pouches punctuating the landscape with splashes of bright color. Seeing a giant tortoise up close, in the wild, or swimming and playing while interacting with a family of sea lions was like something out of a dream for me. I look forward to helping other travelers plan their own journey to this truly magical destination.
My adventure began at the Baltra Airport in the Galapagos Islands, one of the two main airports all visitors fly into. Waiting for us nearby at the dock in San Cristobal, was our beautiful ship, the National Geographic Islander, which offered us a very warm welcome. The Islander is a 48-passenger ship with stylish interiors, delicious cuisine and expert service. Our voyage had a National Geographic expert onboard, a Generalist, who helped me to understand exactly how the Galapagos Islands became inhabited with such unusual species and exotic plant life. I became fascinated by the Galapagos Islands' place in the whole of the world's ecology.
Evidently plants and animals from different areas along the coasts of Central and South America, plus from the Amazon region, floated down rivers on plant matter rafts that eventually brought them to the sea. These rafts were then taken up by the Humboldt Current and transported to these volcanic islands off the coast of Ecuador. Forced to survive in unusual conditions, the different species that evolved successful survival strategies learned to thrive in this sometimes harsh, volcanic, tropical place.
The baby sally light foot crabs, for example, remain black like the volcanic rock they're on until they are large enough to fend off predators with their claws. At this time, they then turn to dazzling shades of orange and brilliant blue to attract their mates. Due to this adaptive survival strategy, this crab is the only crab in the Galapagos Islands that remains today.
After a delicious meal and our warm welcome, the Islander set sail to introduce us to his otherworldly land of black lava, bright orange crabs and spiky plant life. Santa Cruz island was our first stop, and as the sun set, our expedition staff took us on a zodiac cruise where I saw my first blue-footed boobies, bright yellow land iguanas, along with the most beautiful and graceful sea turtles.
The next day, the island, Bartholome, offered us an in-depth look at the volcanic processes that formed all of the Galapagos Islands.
The snorkeling trips we made, one at Bartholome and two others at later islands, were probably my favorite parts of my trip. I had snorkeled before in the Caribbean and in Mexico, but I was unprepared for the variety of colors of fish and undersea life right here in the Galapagos. And I'll never forget those sea lions!
Our other island stops included Espanola Island, Isabella and Fernandina. Each island has evolved a very particular set of cohabitating species. Certain birds, plants and animals are only found on one island, like the Floreana mockingbird or the needle-leafed daisy found on Santiago Island.
On what started out as a chilly, misty morning, I opted to take a 12-mile hike with some of my fellow passengers and our National Geographic expert, to Volcan Chico, a giant volcanic rim on Isabela Island. Horses carried our food and water as we climbed up through the cloud forest region to what was one of the most spectacular vistas I've ever seen. Minerals in the lava formed exquisite colors of green, rose, purple and gold in the volcanic rock. At the top, we gathered for a group photo with the blue, brown and green National Geographic flag.
My voyage on the Islander ended in Puerto Baquerizo on San Cristobal island where I then dedicated myself to inspecting ships for my clients. Other passengers on the Islander headed on to Quito, Ecuador where they planned to take in sights in this beautiful colonial city, named a world heritage site.
After my ship inspections, I too explored Quito plus the Otovalo region where expert craftspeople offer their wares at one of the world's most colorful and exciting markets. The views from the Andes Mountains of Ecuador are simply breathtaking. I certainly encourage my clients to be sure and explore Ecuador either before or after visiting the Galapagos.
Though I was sad to return home from the Galapagos Islands, I certainly felt like I had traveled back in time, and then beyond time to a place where unexpected and outrageous forms and colors are commonplace. The Galapagos Islands showed me a face of nature that is alive with variation, color and mystery. This is definitely a trip I will remember for the rest of my life. I do hope you get the opportunity to explore this amazing place for yourself.