Travel Journal: The Amazing Galapagos Islands
One of our favorite trips was visiting the Galapagos Islands, far away in the Pacific Ocean, 906 km west of continental Ecuador. Thinking about the islands brings me to a happier state of mind. Galapagos Islands have the most beautiful ocean and scenery, I especially miss the peace and harmony of nature I experienced there.
Brief introduction to the Galapagos Islands: Because the islands are completely isolated from the rest of the world, they developed very unique ecosystem with distinctive animals with tortoises and marine iguanas can only be found in the Galapagos Islands. Charles Darwin collected some of the Galapagos finches, and it is often stated that the finches were key to the development of his theory of evolution. The Galapagos were once only the wonderland for indigenous species. But in the past few hundred years, pirates and other sailors discovered the islands and used tortoises’ meat for food and body oil for candles. Their ships also brought many foreign animals including rats. There are over 18 million rats eating away eggs of tortoises, iguanas and birds. About half a century ago, with the help of the international community, the Ecuador government formed the Galapagos national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site to protect the environment and its unique ecosystem.
It is amazing to see the result of the restoration and preservation efforts, and I hope one day, humans live more harmoniously with nature everywhere, not just in small regions like Galapagos Islands.
A few tips: make sure you book your trip ahead of time with qualified park rangers as your tour guides. You won’t be able to access many places in Galapagos without a licensed tour guide. Also, try to explore a few different islands to experience different views and animals.
Day 1: Fly from Quito to the Galapagos. After the Baltra airport bus, water taxi and regular taxi, we finally arrived at the Solymar hotel located at the Santa Cruz Island. The hotel is right next to the ocean, the regulars are sea lions, birds, crabs and iguanas. We walked about 40 minutes to the Tortuga Bay and swam with the marine iguana for the first time. At dawn, we saw fisherman’s new catches of the day, at the Galapagos, only a few licensed fishermen can fish to protect the marine ecosystem around. We enjoyed our $5 dinner of freshly fried fish. It was delicious.
Day 2: We visited the adult tortoises. When the tortoises reach age 5 and have developed the hard shell to protect themselves from rats, they were released to the wild. Those tortoises can live to 200 years old and 600 lb. They are amazing to look at up close. Our trip was cut shot because we decided to help a young boy from Argentina, who fell from his bike. There is no hospital in the Galapagos only very small clinics. If there is anything serious, people have to fly back to Ecuador. We heard rumors that the Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was travelling here a couple of days before us. He suffered from kidney stone and was rescued by the Ecuador coast guard. Another tip: make sure you purchase travel medical insurance which includes air lift.
In the afternoon, after about two hours and 5000 turbulences, recorded by my Fitbit, we went to the biggest island of the Galapagos Islands, Isabella. It is also one of the youngest islands here with only 3000 residences. We stayed at Iguana Crossing. The hotel has some special design to be more energy efficient and it was pretty comfortable. Living in the remote islands, really make us aware how difficult it is to get basic living supplies as well as how important it is to respect and protect the environment we live in.
Day 3: We hiked 21km, about 30,000 steps and get to the height of the volcano, Sierra Negra. It was unbelievable to see the power of the Mother Nature. The volcano irruption in 2005 has destroyed miles and miles of land. It was also breathtaking to see the after effects. When we were walking in the national park and along the beach, seeing the amazing sunset and being part of nature, it just felt like we were in a different world, a place that I can truly connect and listen to my heart.
Day 4: After the same 5000 bumps on the ocean, my husband and I said goodbye to Isabella and went back to Santa Cruz. Sitting next to us on the boat, there were a couple with kids. The boy had sea sickness and the father used his hand to block the sun for his son for the entire two hours to make him feel better. It was super sweet and make me truly appreciate what home means.
We saw a whole pack of sharks, tea turtles and blue footed boobies in the afternoon. Everything was great except that we saw one of the turtles had a broken shell from a boat propeller. At Galapagos, the impact of human activities on nature were right in my face and really made me re-evaluate some of my everyday behaviors.
Day 5-7: We started our cruise trip. The land trip at Galapagos has been incredible. We could not imagine how the cruse trip could possibly be even better. But it is the amazing Galapagos. Every day, there is something unbelievably beautiful to be discovered and experienced. In order to protect the environment, we cannot take anything from the islands, all we took were beautiful memories and super tanned skin kissed by the equatorial sun.
We went on a 16 person boat. But if you get sea sickness, I would recommend picking a bigger boat. National Geographic has a 15 day cruise to the Galapagos and I heard good things about it. But it is kind of pricey for our budget. Our boat is called Seaman. The crew was wonderful and extremely helpful. My phone went completely under the sea water on the shore with sea water and bird shit. I was terrified as majority my Galapagos pictures were there and have not been backed up. The crew heard about it and took my phone and put it in dry rice at the engine room for 24 hours. And it worked!!!
In the afternoon, we visited the bird heaven, North Seymour, home of the frigate birds. There were so many baby birds with super fluffy feathers. They were so adorable. Frigate birds cannot touch sea water, they hunt by pulling other birds’ tail and forcing them to throw up?! They then eat other birds’ throw up… Words cannot express how I felt about this behavior. I guess do whatever it makes to survive.
There were a lot of sea lions and none of them were scared of people so we could get very close them. It was unbelievable to watch them up close. They were very curious and love to swim with us. Tip: We just needed to remember not to touch the baby sea lions as our scent may confuse mommy sea lions and cause her to abandon her baby. One cool thing we saw was the Sea Lion kindergarten. In a shallow area along the beach, baby sea lion were playing happily there.
South Plazas Island were equally amazing with those red eye birds. Those birds are lovers and stay together as a couple forever. Nazca boobies and Red footed boobies are players. They change partner every season. We encountered the Galapagos Owls hunt in action and saw the top of the Galapagos food chain, the Galapagos hawk at Santa Fe Island. It is such a circle of life. There were equally amazing world under water. We had some of the best snorkeling experience, swimming with sharks, turtles, sea lions, iguanas and other beautiful sea lives. It was no doubt the home for many wild animals where they can relax, have fun and grow up. Experiencing the beautiful nature this close is unbelievable and unforgettable. Human activities are making those places shrinking each day. I feel that there is something we need to hold ourselves accountable and take actions.
Our last stop of the cruise trip was the San Cristobal Island, the capital island of the Galapagos Island. It was a quiet town with 15 minutes’ walk to the airport. There are 5 schools in this small town. Tip: Many places at the Galapagos provide free Wi-Fi to let you connect with the rest of the world. Thought it was kind of nice to be disconnected from the crazy modern society.
Another random thought: if we can enjoy free Wi-Fi in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, how dare do those giant hotels in America charge us $15 per night for it?
We met many interesting people along the trip. Our tour guides were very helpful. The locals were super friendly. We saw surfers with giant shark bites on their bodies but that did not stop them loving the ocean. A few highlights of the inspirational people we met during the trip:
Steve is from Australia, an environment scientist. He is consulting how to better treat the rats’ problem at the Galapagos. He has visited many natural parks around to the world to help them rebuild the ecosystem. Thank you Steve for rebuilding our environment!
Roger is from England and in his 70s. He was diagnosed with cancer two years ago. But he did not give up. Instead, he decided to fulfill his dream of traveling the world. Best of luck to Roger.
It has been over a year since our trip to the Galapagos. But I often look back into the days we spend on the islands. I learned to respect every rock, flower and animal that form this beautiful planet together.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: YUAN YIN
CEO and co-founder of SuperHealos, a social enterprise dedicated to empowering children and families facing life’s toughest challenges. Through a focus on imagination, SuperHealos provides children with age appropriate stories and products to help them bridge the gap between sickness and recovery, loss and acceptance, fear and courage. I am currently pursuing a graduate degree at Babson College. I have experience in business development, manufacturing, and technology. Besides my passion in creating fun and supportive experience for children, I love traveling and meeting new people. I also enjoy creating happy artwork and food.
Read more about and from Yuan: Yuan’s iLab Profile