Following a few days in Quito, it was time for a trip to the Galapagos. After quite some research, I chose a sailing catamaran for an eight-day cruise around the southern islands. I must admit that I used the fact that my dad was joining me for this part of the trip to upgrade to this “first-class” boat. The Nemo II could take twelve passengers along with seven crew members: our naturalist guide, Diego; the captain and snorkel-meister, Henry; Mauricio the first mate; Roberto the engineer; Raul the bartender slash salsa teacher; Ernesto the miniature panga driver, also known as “cheeky monkey”; and Iban the elusive but talented chef.
On arriving at the airport on Isla Baltra, I was thrilled to see the three strapping young men who would be joining me on the boat for eight days; less thrilled to see their respective partners. At dinner on the first night, there were two tables. The first table held the three couples: American, German, and Swiss German. The second table held the misfits: an Asian American who quit his job in NYC and now lives in Nebraska; a 61-year-old man, another Swiss German, who accumulated vacation days for three years in order to be able to take a five-month holiday in South America, his wife and kids back home; a petite French woman and her 11-year-old son; and my 69-year-old dad and me.
I very quickly fell into the routine of the boat. Already by the second day, I had grown accustomed to my time on board being governed by the “ding dingeling” of the bell to indicate the next meal or activity. Every evening at 6.15pm we would have our briefing, when our guide Diego would talk us through the plans for the next day in earnest detail, followed always by: “Any questions about the information, please?” We would have a sit-down meal at breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus a snack in the morning and in the afternoon – the menu was varied, with different local food served at every meal, including all sorts of fruits and vegetables, fresh juices, and dessert every day. Then we’d have an excursion in the morning – a visit to one of the islands to see marine iguanas, crabs, tortoises, sea lions (lots of sea lions!)… – and one in the afternoon – another visit ashore and then a session of deep-water snorkelling.
The day started early, with breakfast at seven; but somehow the early alarm is easier to take when you’re out on a boat in the Pacific Ocean and the most difficult decision you’ll be faced with is whether to wear sandals or trainers – much easier than when you’re in wintry Europe and the day ahead will mean sitting all day at your desk or in meetings. Strange that. Life on board was incredibly relaxed, with everything taken care of, and just the right balance of organised activities and alone time. I’m not really a wildlife person, or an avid bird watcher, so my highlights have been the overall experience of being in the Galapagos, the sailing, the nightly stargazing, and the slow pace of life.
That said, I have enjoyed seeing the tortoises that gave the Galapagos its name, and whose facial features inspired the face of E.T.; the Sally Lightfoot crabs, their bright red and purple colour making them easy to spot against the black lava rocks; the ugly, ancient-looking land iguanas; and the many sea lions frolicking in the bays. The landscape itself has been an experience: the candelabra and prickly pear cactuses, some as tall as trees; the mangroves; the manzanillo poison apple tree; and the black volcanic earth with lava tubes and tunnels. Then there are also the human stories. There is Charles Darwin, of course, and the buccaneers, along with a great Agatha Christie mystery tale of murder and deceit among three European families who came here in the 1930s. At Post Office Bay, I left two unstamped postcards in a barrel to be delivered by hand to their respective destinations in the United Kingdom – a tradition started in the 1700s at the time of the whalers. Let’s see how long it takes for someone to arrive from Norwich or Weybridge…