In early March, Michael and I were in the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean, some 500 miles off the coast of Ecuador. We were staying aboard a small ship with about 60 others, English and French.
The Galapagos are truly extraordinary – most of the islands we saw were barren and volcanic with scrub vegetation. The terrain, cliffs and crags are stark beautiful and atmospheric. But it is the wildlife that is stunning. There are sinister black marine iguanas and huge colourful land iguanas, gentle giant tortoises, and so many birds: blue footed and red beaked boobies, red footed and Nazca boobies, frigate birds with their black wings and red chests, exotic tropicbirds with long trailing tails, albatrosses, lava gulls and pelicans and so many rare birds, endemic to the islands. We saw many sea lion colonies and dolphins in the sea but we encountered no whales.
We were taken ashore in the ship’s Zodiac rubber boats and often had to make wet landings in surf on the beaches, quickly jumping over the sides into the water with our cameras in plastic bags round our necks and holding our shoes, with waves breaking over the bows. On one Islet, the swell and surge were so bad that the guides decided it was too dangerous to land through the surging waves. On another island, we landed on the sand, amid a colony of delightful sea lions lazing in the sun, with the baby ones frolicking in the surf. Some of us did some deep water snorkelling and I swam with sea lions and a huge black manta ray! But sadly no turtles as we were not allowed to visit the beach where the eggs were hatching.
I feel extraordinarily blessed to have been able to visit the islands and there was never any other ship, boat or group of at any place at the same time as us. The guides are careful to keep numbers to a minimum with few visitors at any one time. The wet landings ashore and climbing up from the Zodiacs back aboard the ship in a big rolly swell were entertaining for some and terrifying for others.
My favourite encounters were with the extraordinary Santa Fe iguanas, endemic to the tiny island and found nowhere else on earth. Truly amazing creatures. The Homo sapiens species we met were also friendly and chatty at feeding times. With wine over dinner, we recounted our intrepid adventures hiking around the dry uninhabited islands and being swamped as we arrived or left through the waves, and we named ourselves the fearless Galapagossians. It was fascinating – and fun!