16-IMG_0489Herman Melville called them the Enchanted Isles. Charles Darwin, on a five year expedition from England aboard the HMS Beagle, found inspiration in Galápagos for his theory of Natural Selection.

Six hundred miles from the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific, straddling the equator, is Galápagos. The archipelago, an island chain of over eighty identified islands, islets and rocks spans 8500 kilometers, or 5281 miles. Maps often identify thirteen major islands and forty smaller ones.

These “islas que nacen del interior del planeta” (“islands that are born in the interior of the earth”) formed from underwater volcanic eruption. Today, active volcanoes are present in the newer, western regions of Galápagos on Isabela (five) and Fernandina (one), with the last eruption in 2009.

29-IMG_0594FLORA AND FAUNA
The region is known for diversity and abundant wildlife. Soil, droppings, seeds and early lifeforms came via the air or ocean currents. Survival depended upon adaptation. The Galápagos has seen evolution of a multitude of species including Giant Tortoises, Marine Iguanas, the Flightless Cormorant and Finches. These are endemic species, found nowhere else on earth.

15-P1000050HUMAN INHABITANTS
Evidence points to Pre-Columbian visitors in rafts, carried by currents to the unknown, as the first in the Islands in the 16th century. The 17th century brought buccaneers, pirates and whalers. Explorers from England and Spain introduced non-native species and exploitation of Giant Tortoises, Whales and Fur Seals. First settlers were Norwegian. The largest island, Isabela, was home to a penal colony from 1946-59. An American military base was established in Baltra in WWII. 

17-IMG_0414Ecuador claimed Galápagos in 1832, establishing Spanish names. The Galápagos Islands tend to have at least two names on maps and documentation.

Today, the population of the Galápagos includes 20,000 on Santa Cruz, 7,000 on San Cristóbal, 350 on Isabela and 150 people on Floreana, according to our guides. Residence in the region is restricted.

01-IMG_0337

PREPARING FOR THE GALAPAGOS
*Review the comprehensive web site

*Purchase, borrow or download to Kindle or I-Pad books, maps, wildlife pocket guides. Read Melville or Darwin.

*Watch Galápagos DVDs from Netflix, Master and Commander, or The Big Year (not Galápagos; this is an entertaining birder’s perspective).

*Physical readiness: count on 2+ daily outings, from easy strolls to challenging hikes on rocky elevations.

05-IMG_1080*Garb & gear: sunglasses with strap, pants that convert to shorts, quick-dry shirts, several bathing suits, wide-brimmed hat, poncho, waterproof sport/ hiking shoes, backpack, water bottle, snorkel equipment, waterproof bags, camera, underwater camera, binoculars, flashlight; consider earplugs to minimize unfamiliar sounds.

18-P1000089*Sunscreen, aloe, anti-motion sickness medication (prescription scopalamine patch worked well).

* Consider the Pack for a Purpose Program. Bring 5# of medical and/or school supplies to be donated to the clinics and schools in Galápagos, as part of Ecoventura’s community outreach. Further information and labels are available on the web site. Give your donation to the Captain on board.  

51-IMG_1052* Once on board, listen, learn and comply.

 

11-IMG_1118ARRIVAL

The Aerogal flight from Guayaquil landed in San Cristóbal (aka Chatham) in about ninety minutes. This easternmost island of the Galápagos, along with Española, dates three to five million years ago. Our naturalists for the week, Orlando Romero and Ivan Lopez, gave welcome and whisked us to the pier. Sea Lions barked and cajoled on the steps. Life vests on, we stepped awkwardly onto pangas (inflatable boats; aka zodiacs or dinghies), coaxed by our guides. 08-IMG_1099Despite arrival in the warm, wet season, blue skies and 77 degree temperatures greeted us. 

ON BOARD
Alongside sister vessels Flamingo and Eric, a Coast Guard ship, and fishing vessels was the Letty. In minutes, instructed on proper transfer technique, we boarded our home for the week. Gathered in the Booby Deck conference room, Orlando began,
06-IMG_0265“Open your hearts, open your minds, and enjoy the next seven days with us.”
He and Ivan (aka I-Lo) reviewed boat safety, cabin assignments, and activities for our first day. Snorkel masks and fins and wetsuits were distributed. Following a safety drill, the panga took off. Galápagos beckoned.
photo (5)After activities, beverages and snacks were ready on Dolphin deck, where equipment was rinsed and hung to dry. At the Captain’s welcome cocktail party, introductions were made to our dedicated crew and we toasted each other.

The naturalists provided perspective on history, geography, geology, wildlife and inhabitants of the islands through this first of seven 7PM lectures. On board routines established and dinner served, we tucked in early to prepare for our next day in paradise.
The Letty cruised under a full moon to the northeast tip of San Cristóbal.
Red-footed Booby

The daily ritual began at 7AM. Wake-up featured Iz singing “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” a request for our presence at breakfast in one-half hour, plus a reminder of the timeframe, clothing, footwear and necessary items for our first outing. The sun was just above the horizon and skies were blue.
Banana pancakes were a treat. Our server, Jairo, greeted us with a smile and “Buenos Dias!” When asked how he fared, his response never varied: “siempre bien” (always well).
Our southern Galápagos itinerary covered three hundred and eighty- three nautical miles, according to Captain Pablo Salas.

44-IMG_1037MORE ON BOARD

The three sister ships of Ecoventura, each 83’ in length, were built between 1990-93 for Galápagos cruising. Operating 365 days per year, the Eric, Flamingo and Letty have concurrent itineraries in northern and southern Galapagos which alternate each week. Three decks (from below: Iguana, Booby, Dolphin) and a sky deck accommodate twenty 10-IMG_1116passengers and a crew of eleven. On board, we soon knew everyone. On the sun deck we gathered for daily siesta, impromptu yoga, socialization, sunset and stars.
Touring the Islands on the Letty was a positive experience because of the exceptional crew: Captain Pablo; naturalists Orlando and Ivan; chef: Javier (aka Ricky); chef assistant: Roberto; server/ bartender: Jairo; Steward: Jose; 1st mate: Eugenio; 2nd mate: John; engineer Olver; electrician: Victor.

The naturalists were unparalleled guides for daily activities. The Captain dined with each of us. Each member of the crew had ready smiles and outstretched arms. I-Lo and his band of brothers rocked the boat with endemic music.

23-P1000125We were treated to fresh, tasty food around the clock. Delicious amuses accompanied our briefings. Food sculptures graced the dining room. Each evening dinner service with linens and crystal featured flavorful dishes from soup to dessert, with beer and wine. Special dietary needs were met.

That food quality and service remained constant is significant in that all items are shipped in from the mainland. Organization is paramount. Conservation efforts are essential on board and within Galápagos. Passengers are bound to comply with efforts for the survival of this World Heritage Site.

27-IMG_0929In collaboration with The Galápagos Network, a partner in the U.S., this Ecuadorian- based fleet aims to provide the “Galápagos Experience” for passengers from all over the globe, according to President Santiago Dunn.

Hotel arrangements on mainland Ecuador pre- and post-voyage (the 5-star Oro Verde in Guayaquil), air travel within Ecuador, transfers to and from airports in Quito and Guayaquil, luggage transfers to and from the yacht, escorts, and documentation for access to Galápagos National Park are capably managed.

09-IMG_1112Ecoventura’s fleet also includes Galápagos Sky, a dive boat for seven day expeditions accommodating sixteen passengers.

Plans are underway to create three newly designed streamlined, more efficient vessels over five years, thus reducing footprint and fuel costs in a Green Voyage.

For additional information regarding Ecoventura, operator of Eric, Flamingo & Letty, go to www.ecoventura.co

or contact the U.S. Sales and reservation Office: Galápagos Network, 1-800-633-7972.

Photo credits go to James Richardson.