“We almost died, in paradise”, Quito, June 24th, 2011

Galapagos Islands – the sound of these two words alone make people dream, whether they know where and what it is or not. It sounds like paradise, like holidays, like white beaches. Those who paid attention in school know the name Charles Darwin, connect to Galapagos, to incredible species and untouched underwater nature. And now it was Thomas and me going there, wow.

Visiting the Galapagos Islands is a decision you need to take. Its far out in the pacific ocean off the Ecuadorian coast, its expensive and you need to like boat tours, for 5 days at least. We took that decision but against most advices we did not book anything in advance. Check in for the flight was a bit complicated but that’s fine if you end up in first class, nice surprise. Against all expectations it rained upon arrival and the small town of Puerto Ayora was nice but nothing special at all. We wondered around from agency to agency and finally closed a deal on what we believe was a bargain. Seven days on a small cruise ship covering many islands, leaving the next noon. Let me explain how Galapagos tourism works. Its all one big national park with strict regulations like limited number of boats and so on. To see what you came for boat trips are essential. Only very few decide to take day trips from a fixed base (hotel). 99% of the people go on cruises between 4 and 14 days. Usually the distance is made at night while during the day snorkeling, walking; swimming and so on is on the agenda. The differences are usually in the size of boat (10 to 200 people), the quality of guides, cabins, food and the islands they visit. On the photo below you see where we went on our little vessel called “Flamingo 2”. This boat rather serves the backpackers who can effort to come here but only take 4 day trips. That is why we were in 2 groups throughout our 7 day journey. Prices range dramatically also for the very same trip. We met people pay more for 4 days than we for 7 but they were happy and that counts.

To reach our boat (which already took off the day before) we needed to take a “taxi” boat, lets rather talk about a speed, oh my god what’s going on, boat. What a start, hitting high waves at 70km/h.

As we entered our small home for the coming week we had to leave again. Snorkeling and a land trip with the group was on the list. Our first encounter with sea lions, at sun set. Galapagos started to live up to its image.

That we are in the middle of the Pacific Ocean we understood quickly after dinner. Our captain took off for the night trip to Espana Island. Despite being against pre medication we did take our sea pill, the only reason why we kept our dinner inside. Others were not so lucky…………..I am not joking when I say that we had the crawl on the floor to get anywhere on this boat, the waves were incredible high. Nobody could stay at their bed, we all met on deck to survive the ride.

The reward was spectacular and even though the entire trip was just one dream, day 2 sticks out. Marine Iguanas, Albatross, sea lions, blue footed boobies (my favorite) and so many more birds and animals on an island that showed its heritage as volcano. Simply WOW. During our short ride to the afternoon island dolphins played with our Flamingo, what can I say? Then what you call a perfect beach where we enjoyed the sun set, together with our new friends, sea lions and all sorts of birds. No words.

As it would not be enough already it got even better on day 3. It was my time to catch dreams, swimming with giant turtles. They are as majestic as I thought, it was as incredible as I expected but it touched far beyond and for the rest of my life.

We also visited a natural cave and an island with flamingos. The night was much calmer so that we played some poker and talked into the night.

Then it was time to say good bye and welcome the new guests on board. Thomas and I used the switch over to sneak into a slightly bigger cabin. YES. A visit to the Charles Darwin garden and a giant turtle reservation was more on the education than exciting part, but just as important. We also got to know our new friends, especially Jessica from Australia………….

On day 5 we encountered penguins, partly swam with them. Sorry guys, you would be the highlight of that day but the sharks took that spot from you. Three big ones circled the boat waiting for food. What an impressive sight.

Another 2 snorkeling events gave another 2 stories to tell. One is cool because nothing happed, swimming with sharks, the other is only “cool” because we survived. One of the riffs had an underwater path. Short and relatively wide but under rocks, about 4m deep. Thomas and I of course want to do it. Thomas gets blocked by our guide and hits his had. I made it all the way but the current pushes me back under the rocks. Somehow I made it. Hard to describe, just simple believe it was dangerous.

The last day brought us to a volcanic island and as the creatures of Galapagos wanted to say good bye, these big birds followed our boat throughout the sun set and beyond.

Our week here was a dream come true. Let me finish with a couple remarks on the environmental discussion which I already started with Gabor within the comments section. The pictures below fitting in, lonesome George (a 105 year old turtle, the last of its kind) and an American tourist, without words……..

Yes, visiting these islands is not as good as not touching this nature reserve at all. But the way tourism is managed here we felt good. The entire area is a National Park with strict rules applied (no fishing allowed) and followed. No waste, no big hotels, expensive prices to generate money for conservation and well educated, local guides bringing nature closer and emphasizing on the critical aspects as well. We believed it was honest and given the fact that “leaving it untouched” is not an option in today’s world, society we also believe that soft, eco tourism is by far the better option versus fishing, oil explorations or what ever humans can think of. For my part, this trip made me even more sensitive to nature wanting to preserve it beyond my time…………………………………

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