Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Logbook: Galapagos II

Galapagosii1My second Galapagos exploration began early Friday morning. I had given myself a little “attitude adjustment” the night before following my first disappointing tour, so I was in good spirits and ready to go. The weather was beautiful and the small boats that were to take us on our three-part circuit of “Isla Lobos, Kicker Rock and Beach” arrived promptly on time at 8:30am. The only problem I noticed at once was that the boat to which I was assigned was set up more as a “water taxi” than as a “viewing” boat. In other words, the 35 foot craft had a large open area in the back that had a long bench on each side facing in. While it would be awkward enough to sit on the seat and try to look out over one’s shoulder, this problem was made worse by the fact that the seating area was enclosed and the “windows” were a hideous blue plexiglas. The only way to really see anything -- let alone take pictures -- would be to stand in the small exposed area right at the back of the boat. The problem with this, of course, is that there were over a dozen of us who would be trying to use this small space that would have accommodated something more like four of us. This was going to be “interesting.”

Anyway, the skipper hit the gas and off we went, pounding through the choppy seas. The naturalist guide assigned to our boat had better English than my guide from the day before, and he gave us the usual review of the rules and a brief itinerary for the day. After about 30 minutes of pounding along -- during which I read my book while many others turned various shades of green -- we arrived at Isla Lobos. For the next 30 minutes we drifted about 50 meters off shore, spotting blue footed boobies, iguana, sea lions, crabs, etc. Most of the group were considerate about sharing time in the open area, but there were -- as always -- a few who took the prime spots and never budged. Using my trusty Canon S2IS on full, 12x optical zoom -- and sometimes on higher power (lower quality) digital zoom -- I battled the effects of boat movement, distance and level of zoom to get some decent photos.

Galapagosii2My favorite is the one you see above which shows three species hanging out in harmony on the rocks with the sea spray behind them. If ever there was a “Galapagos Classic”, this is it. With our time on location used up, we made another pounding hop to Kicker Rock which is basically an ancient volcanic cone that is sticking up out of the water. I asked the naturalist guide a couple of questions like “How old?”, “What kind of rock?”, etc., but didn’t get anywhere so, after a quick cruise around the formation, we headed for our third and last stop. The “Beach” -- as it was billed in the brochure -- was a fitting and surreal ending to our tour. We pulled up to a small island with a clear, light sand beach and disembarked into warm, shallow water and waded ashore. The thing that astounded me is that besides a few small birds -- which the naturalist wasn’t sure but thought might be some species of Darwin Finch -- and some annoying insects, the beach was entirely devoid of animals. No sea lions, no crabs, no nothing. In a land teeming with wildlife, where you have to step around sea lions at the town dock, our tour landed on an empty beach. I gave up, passed the 45 minutes we had on land working on my tan then made the hour long boat ride back to the ship and embarked.

Not wanting what I had experienced so far to be the sum total of my Galapagos exploration, I took a tender into town and checked in with some private tour companies about options I might have for some more “independent” excursions. I’ll spare you the details and just say that logistics, length of time needed to go places and minimum passenger requirements pretty much shut me out. So, once again I visited with my sea lion friends on the town beach and headed back to the ship. On Saturday morning I thought about trying to round up some folks on the ship who might want to do something, but for the first time on The Voyage I wasn’t feeling too well. A scratchy throat and a stuffy nose -- clearly a result of being on a ship with hundreds of people -- convinced me to spend the day hanging out, napping, reading, etc.

On Sunday I felt better, but we only had a few hours before it would be time to set sail so I decided to bag the idea of arranging any more exploration and went into town, got online and did some iLife until it was time to leave the Galapagos. As you can no doubt tell, I was disappointed with my experience in the Islands. Had I especially selected this cruise with the Galapagos in mind, I would have been very dissatisfied -- as many folks on board who did just that were. By the way, I talked with a number of folks who were able to go on the “optional” (i.e. “good”) tours and the review was predominantly disappointing -- too much time in the boats, not enough time on location, too little information, too much hustle, etc. I don’t want to do any more ranting about the “Galapagos Gestalt” here in the Logbook -- though I may post a Musing or two -- so I will leave it all at that.

I have technically “been” to the Galapagos and I have learned a lot -- not so much about the islands or the wildlife, but about how I would “do” the islands another time. Namely, I would find a group of 6-10 people, charter a yacht or catamaran with an experienced captain/guide who has excellent English and good knowledge then do a week or so of island hopping. Other than that, I would consider a very, very small cruise ship that specializes in the Galapagos and check its itinerary carefully. Period. Just to bring you and the Logbook up to date, I will add that yesterday and today have been days at sea en route to a port call in northern Peru. I have spent much of the time struggling to write up these Logbook entries -- my first difficulties doing so on The Voyage -- and updating this website. I have also taken time to get my head straight after my Galapagos experience and am happy to report that I am back in the groove and ready for whatever is next on The Voyage of Macgellan!

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