Awakening one last time to the smooth motion of gentle waves, Diane and I reflected on four amazing days visiting various locations in The Galapagos Islands where time appeared to stand still. Unlike any place we’d experienced before, the islands are one of a handful of places on the planet where animals coexist with tourists while totally oblivious to human presence. Observing the most northerly penguins on earth, treeless boobies that sit on the ground protecting their young, several endemic bird species, iguanas that swim and colorful ones that prefer land, prehistoric looking giant tortoises and sea turtles that come up to you, the islands proved well worth the hefty price tag.
Clearly everyone’s favorite creatures are the Galapagos Sea Lions, and although we saw them almost every day, the crew saved the best for last with a trip to Mosquera Island, a small sandy island in the channel between Baltra and North Seymour Islands and home to a large colony of sea lions. Completing the recreational part of our annual Expat Destination Research Vacation to Ecuador, we’d visited Sacha Lodge, an awesome Amazonian rainforest lodge and spent the last four days on board the Ocean Spray, a luxury catamaran offering Galapagos cruises from five to fifteen days long. Unaware I’d be writing my blog exactly two years later as an unemployed house husband thanks to an unexpected layoff, visiting Ecuador was an exceptional trip and we both highly recommend it even though we’re choosing Southeast Asia for our early retirement.
Formed by a geological uplift, Mosquera Island is nothing more than a flat elongated stretch of beautiful white sand beach with tide pools and rocks. Literally the only part of the Galapagos where visitors can simply roam around with no trail restrictions, the joy we felt hanging out with adorably cute and friendly sea lions is hard to describe in words. Traveling by zodiac with all our shipmates but the Swiss bankers, we caught our first glimpse of the sea lions as we approached the island and could tell the last visit to an island would be memorable.
Sea lions are the largest animals in the Galapagos and full-grown adults can weigh up to 550 pounds. Larger than females, males are identifiable by a large bump on their foreheads and have extremely thick necks that provide protection. As we went ashore, everyone went their own way seeking out their own sea lions, each with a different personality. With more than enough to pick from, we didn’t know where to start. Amazed how docile they are, first we found a large male willing to spend some quality time with us.
Finding it hard to move on, I knew we better keep walking because it’s so easy to fall in love with just one and with so many to see, we wanted to see as much as possible. Moving on a few feet, we found a mom and her pup. Diane shot this short video of the pup following and you can hear their funny little noises.
Thinking it couldn’t get more adorable, it did as the pup soon muzzled over to mom and they both decided to plop down and relax for a while
Eventually we walked to the end of the island and saw some Sally Lightfoot Crabs hiding under the rocks. Hilariously, two pups were playing nearby and the backdrop of the crabs with the pups made a great picture.
Unlike animal parks, it feels radically different when you get to hang out with the animals in their real and natural environment. Possibly the most enjoyable part of the trip was briefly knowing what it feels like to work in the wild every day with animals as a career and I briefly regretted sitting in that asshole cubicle for thirty years when I could have been out in the field working with animals that always appreciate you. Sea lions like to congregate in groups and sometimes they practically begged for us to come over,often making long bellowing noises.
Not really expecting to see any more marine iguanas, we spotted this guy not to far from a group of seals. I find it fascinating how they all co-exist and remain indifferent to humans even after 40 years of being peaked at.
One of the things I regretted was not getting enough pictures of the beautiful little yellow warblers found throughout the islands. Unexpectedly and out of nowhere, we saw one just kind of hanging out on the sand by a mom and her pup. Being faster and more observant than me, Diane was sharp enough to grab the camera and capture a quick video of the warbler. Reminding us of the birds that can fly but choose not to, he kind of just walks along the beach oblivious to everything although I guess he was probably searching the sand for food.
Checking our watches, we knew one hour passed like nothing and we had about a half hour left until it was time to go. Honestly, all we did was just walk, watch, photograph and enjoy being among such large groups of sea lions. Javier told us females give birth once a year to single pups and then rear them for one to three years. Baby seas lions often gather in nurseries by shallow water, watched by one female. After about five days, most of the moms go back out to sea and fish and sometimes the bulls defend the pups from hungry sharks (Fortunately we didn’t see any sharks).
Returning to the zodiac wasn’t easy and Javier practically had to find all of us individually since nobody wanted to leave. Having packed all our stuff the night before, the boat ventured back to its starting point and dropped us off while the crew already prepared the ship for a new group of visitors arriving the same day.
Reiterating, if you are lucky enough to plan a trip to the Galapagos Islands and can afford five-star service, the top of the line is Haugen Crusies and the Ocean Spray is one of its flagship vessels. Avoid tour companies based in North America or Europe because they have to charge more for the same exact itinerary you can book with Galapagosislands.com. Ecuadorian owned and based in Quito, our contact was Salome Prieto, whose hard work and diligence assured us an incredible 21 day jaunt around Ecuador with no glitches. Ironically, she now lives in Canada with her Canadian husband who apparently did not like Quito and she asked me to plug her co-worker so please do contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in visiting.
Saying a tearful goodbye to the great people we spent time with on our trip, Diane and I departed the plane in Guayaquil, the first stop on the way back to Quito where nobody ever gets off. Planning our trip around visiting Cuenca, a renowned expat haven, Salo arranged for a driver to pick us up and transport us by van on one of the world’s most beautiful paved roads. Climbing almost 6,000 feet, the temperature decreased almost 30 degrees by the time we pulled into the bar-b-q cuy stand just outside of Cuenca and sampled our first meal enjoyed only by the aboriginal people of the Andes Mountains.
We hope you enjoyed our five-part series on The Galapagos Islands. If you missed any, here are the links:
Day One – A preview of Spectacular
Day Two – Binocular Free Birding
Day Three – Swimming with Sea Turtles
Day Four – Wildlife from The Flintstones
Comments, questions and opinions are always welcome. If you’ve been to The Galapagos and have posted about it, we’d love to read it. Please share !!
Coming in December:
Guinea Pigs for Dinner in Cuenca
Our travels to cold Canada for our last cold holiday season with family before the move to Southeast Asia