Viva la evolution!

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Sunday, October 20, 2013

We weren't completely idle whilst lounging in our hammocks and managed to book a relatively last minute deal for an 8 day boat cruise around the Galapagos going from West to East. 
The first day we figured we would just get settled in and relax but our guide had different ideas. We were met at the airport by our boat crew. Darwin famously said that his first impressions of the islands were that they are the most uninviting islands he had seen - I think he would have said the same if he had landed at San Cristobal airport too. From there we were taken to the boat where we meet our boat buddies for the trip (initial impressions from the flight were we might be joining an American saga holiday group, but we had a great mix of ages and nationalities - phew).
After lunch it was straight off to spot blue footed boobies, sea lions and sally light-foot crabs on Isla Lobos. This was swiftly followed by a snorkel with the playful sea lions biting our fins and generally out- swimming us (all the while watching out for the massive alpha males protecting the cubs). We had been told by our guide, Gus, that we were not allowed any closer than 2 metres to the animals, a rule we quickly found out the animals do not follow! Sea lions swimming right up to you under water, boobies nesting everywhere and iguanas all piled on top of each other refusing to move out of our way made it a pretty tough rule to follow.  It was as much as we could do to avoid stepping on them.
The pace of the following 7 days matched that of the first and we were bombarded with some of the most incredible wildlife and scenery either of us has ever seen. The animals are so well protected here and have no fear of humans so they just sit boldly where they are whilst you make your way around them. We watched as frigate birds and hawks fought over the placentas of newly born sea lion cubs, we visited giant tortoise breeding centres, walked through 10ft high lava tunnels left from the most recent lava flows, watched land iguanas fight over mates and all with Gus teaching us all that he knows (and later testing us - Tracie won a beer for being top student!). 
And all of that was just on land! We snorkeled from the boat almost daily and each time we swam with turtles more interested in their lunch than us. We were lucky enough to see beautiful parrot fish and puffer fish, boobies dive bomb fishing in front of us, shy little penguins and on one snorkel 7 white tipped reef sharks. Incredible.
Of course we also came across hundreds of Darwin finches, trying to spot the differences in their beaks which famously led to Darwin's eureka moment in forming his theory of evolution. Let's just say we aren't as observant as he was.
We were so lucky with the people on our boat that Tracie almost cried when we had to say goodbye. We stayed up playing poker and drinking whiskey with Joanna, Fabian, Cath and Graham, heard all about how Jim actually set up the science curriculum for the entirety of Indonesia (!) and the crazy things his wife Anne experienced all over the world whilst working for the American embassy in the 70s. On one evening we even all dressed up as pirates to dance the night away to the cheese provided by the 4 lovely ladies traveling together Amy, Leanne, Emma and Alisa.
Spending a week on a boat on choppy seas was exciting, at times we felt like we were still on the boat whilst on land, but we got used to it quickly and actually settled in nicely in our tiny cabin. A highlight of the trip was waking up to excited screams during one navigation to witness a school of about 8 pilot whales casually swimming right alongside the boat. Awesome.
When the boat tour was over we started for 3 more days on Santa Cruz island to scuba dive. Not the best diving ever, low visibility and a very bad dive leader, but Bob did see a hammer head shark (cool) and nearly put his hand on a highly poisonous scorpion fish so it was dramatic at least! 
During these last couple of days we hung out in the evenings with another lovely couple from our boat, Anto and Ellie and a German couple, Andrea and Raphael that we really clicked with and had been on the same tour as us but traveled on a sister boat.  Rum cocktails on the pier under the glare of dozing sea lions and pelicans = fabulous.
We even found the time for some relaxation on the perfect Tortuga beach, before reluctantly packing our bags and heading for Quito.  An unforgettable week. We left with the impression that whilst touristy and at times expensive this place is really being well looked after, with a real commitment to conservation rather than the fast buck. Our only disappointment being how few ecuadorians will ever get to experience this amazing part of their country.
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