This past week in Las Islas Galapagos was truly incredible- this World Heritage Site deserves its title and its fame for being a pristine and unique place. After this trip, I have a newfound obsession with the penguins and sea lions of these islands.
Our group of 12 people was split up into two groups of 6 for this visit. For the first half of the week my group stayed with host families on the Island Isabela in the town of Puerto Villamil. I was paired with Christine to live with Tina and Símon in their pretty home. Tina works in town as well as manages homestay guests as a form of a hostel, and Símon used to be a fisherman before heavy regulations were put into place to reduce overfishing in the islands. He is now on hiatus saving up enough money to buy a boat to transport and find his place in Pescando Vivencial, a tourism service to take visitors sport fishing in a more regulated environment. In the past 30 years overfishing of sharks, sea cucumbers, and many other sea creatures has become a massive problem. Not only were population sizes exponentially decreasing, but also the methods used to collect these highly priced items were extremely dangerous to the fisherman’s health with daily reports of fatal accidents. Tourism has taken over as a form of income for many former fishermen. For example, our snorkeling guide and our island guide are former fishermen who now work much safer and more enjoyable jobs in tourism.
During our 4-day stay on Isabela we snorkeled in “Tuneles” a beautiful site of rock formations created by Aa lava. The lava formed small island formations of rock with tunnels going through many of them, so it was common to witness sea turtles or rays swim under the rocks and appear on the other side. In this excursion we swam with a giant Manta Ray (which we also saw leap out of the ocean, SO COOL), sea turtles, white tip reef sharks, endless fish, dozens of adorable sea lions etc.
We also went on a daylong hike to the top of Sierra Negra Volcano, which had its last eruption in 2006. Volcanoes that formed the Galapagos Islands are very wide and not very tall. This volcano has a massive lava field that looks like the moon, surrounded by lush green vegetation. As our walk progressed we saw more ‘parasitic’ volcanoes that arose out of the main one- it was a type of landscape that I have never experienced.
Another highlight was visiting a Giant Turtle rescue and production center- they had baby turtles in incubators, and every age of turtle up to multiple giant turtles that had been rescued from the Sierra Negra eruption who are now living in solitude. We had the opportunity to feed some of these beautiful prehistoric looking creatures. Once the turtles are big enough they are then released into their natural habitats to try and rehabilitate their population throughout the islands.
When we weren’t going on excursions with our Galapagos Island Guide Carlos, we were exploring the community of Puerta Villamil and enjoying sunsets and fancy drinks in coconuts 🙂
After 4 days of fun, we switched with the other group and boarded Nemo II, a 70 ft catamaran! I was not prepared for how shockingly luxurious this leg of the trip would be. When we boarded the 7-man crew and our Galapagos Guide Lenin greeted us, along with a full decadent breakfast prepared by Fabricio, the chef. Before every meal a bell was rung to declare ‘meal time’ and we would venture out to the tables at the stern of the boat and enjoy a buffet-style meal. Some highlights include: ceviche, maduros, many types of fish, and of course Frabricio’s creative desserts. I could talk about food all day, so I’ll move on…
On Nemo II we sailed/motored to many islands including: Plaza Sur, Champion, Santa Fé, Cormorán, Post Office, Bartolomé, y Sombrero Chino. At each island we would take the dingy to shore to explore each island’s unique flora and fauna. Lenin, our guide, was extremely knowledgeable about everything we saw. When visiting the Galapagos it is required to have a guide with you at all times as a way of preventing unwanted erosion, destruction of habitats, and any harm to the many endemic species living there.
Highlights of our excursions include:
-exploring a huge lava tunnel that was 100% pitch-black
-Becoming best friends with Sea Lions
-Paddle boarding and kayaking during down time
-Taking in the beauty of the cliff of Isla Plaza Sur which featured a bachelor colony of Sea Lions, and hundreds of birds below feeding and soaring.
-Snorkeling twice a day and swimming with Penguins who were chasing fish mere feet from us. The biodiversity and abundance of sea life at these snorkel sites amazed me. I saw eagle rays, dozens of species of fish, eels, turtles at every turn, reef sharks, sea stars- any of which would have been a ‘find of the day’ when scuba diving in the BVIs this past summer. It is worth all of the effort that the Galapagos reserve puts into protecting this world treasure.
-Enjoying the stunning sunsets
It was a week I’ll never forget! Now back to reality in Quito…