Monday, December 10, 2007

Day 1

Today, we made the trip from Quito to Baltra in Galapogas. The islands are actually quite a ways off Ecuador - a 2-hour flight or about 600 miles.

When we were landing, I first noticed just how dry this island is. Very much a desert. The two landing strips on Baltra were originally built during WWII by the US Air Force who maintained a base here.

After a very short bus ride, we literally climbed on a Zodiac - an inflatable, roughly 16-passenger raft for the short ride to the Celebrity Xpedition. Basically, the Zodiac pulls up to the back of our cruise ship and we carefully climb onto the ship. This will be our method of transport to and from the various islands this week.

Checking in, receiving a short orientation and getting to our cabin was the quickest we have ever experienced. And, we quickly learn that they intend to get is immersed in the Galapogas experience almost immediately.

After lunch, we learn that we will already be having an excursion this afternoon. The cruise director - who is a naturalist - explains our excursion choices. All excursions are included in the package - so all we do is select between easy, medium and challenging. We pick medium.

So...lickety-split we are back on the Zodiac. Our excursion begins with a short float along the coast of North Seymour Island. Our guide/naturalist Ivan explains that it is call Seymour because we will "see more" than we expected. Sure enough we are almost immediately seeing loads of sea lions (in fact, a beach covered with them) and various birds. After the short float, we landed on the island - by landed I mean that the Zodiac kinda pulled up to a group of rocks and we carefully climbed out.

Once on the island, we were literally visually assaulted by an abundance of wildlife. During the float and hour-long hike, we saw hundreds of sea lions, frigate birds, marine iguanas, lava lizards, lava gulls, blue-footed boobies, an American oyster catcher, a fur seal, and a giant manta ray. We are stunned by how close we get. Many of the animals/birds are literally just a few feet away - and, I mean around 2, 4 and 6 feet away.

As we walked toward what I think was the west side of the island, we begin to see huge waves pounding into the island. As the waves curl into a tube, the throw off spray that looks like white ghosts riding the top of the waves. The waves seem to be at least 15 to 20 feet high but I have nothing to guage their size. To us they appear huge - and they must be because even Ivan seems pretty impressed.

Besides the sheer abundance of wildlife, there are individual amazing experiences along the way. The wave that flew into our raft and took Jill about a foot off her seat. Countless baby sea lions nursing on mom. Blue-footed boonies doing this rather bizarre mating dance. Male great frigate birds inflating the bright red pouch under his throat to attract females. Frigate birds soaring just a few feet overhead with a wingspan around 5 to 6 feet. Large bull sea lions barking loadly to warn if someone is too close. Literally hundreds of bright orange Sally Lightfoot crabs sunning themselves on rocks.

Since there are no large land predators, none of the wildlife seems to have any fear. After all our wildlife sightseeing throughout the world, we are amazed at what we are seeing. And, this is just the first 2-hour excursion on the first day of the trip. At first, we couldn't imagine how quickly they were pushing us through our boarding and checkin. But, after this first experience, it is obvious that there is so much to see. Tonight, they have already outlined our choices for tomorrow and we have, once again, chosen the medium option. It appears that we will end each day worn out from our excursions and that it is unlikely that we will miss the typical evening hoopla and entertainment of the big ships. Here, the entertainment is all-natural and only in front of us to see.

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