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Following the voyage of Charles Darwin: Cruise through the Galapagos

galapagos_tortoise_m_gadd_840x546 Galapagos tortoise

To say I was excited about travelling to the Galapagos would be an understatement. I am certain I could actually feel the blood flowing through my veins as the LATAM Airline descended over a turquoise sea heading towards a flat earthen landing strip on Baltra Island.

Just prior to landing, a National Park video outlined the do's and don't's of visiting the Galapagos Islands came on. This was the first indicator of the commitment to preserve the biological integrity of the islands flora and fauna.

The isolated 20 islands that make up the Galapagos are located 600 miles west of Ecuador. The location and differences in three converging ocean currents are the resulting factor of the unique colonization of plants and animals in this area. It was these differences that helped Charles Darwin formulate his theory of natural selection and advance the study of science. Sometimes referred to as a "living museum and showcase of evolution" the animals of Galapagos differ behaviourally, morphologically and reproductively between their continental ancestors and even differentiate on each island.

I travelled with Go Galapagos on the Coral I along with 35 other passengers - cruising between the islands that make up the Galapagos Archipelago land and marine reserve. During my four days onboard, I was able to visit four of the main islands.

The yacht was big enough that there was always a place to sit and relax, and small enough that by the end of our journey I got to know my fellow travelers. I enjoyed catching rays on the sun deck while watching frigates and other tropical birds fly overhead. The yacht's staff were phenomenal - we were waited on hand and foot and the food was divine. The highlight of the trip was learning from the onboard naturalists.

Most visitors spend a majority of their time on the main island of Santa Cruz. It is one of three islands that are inhabited by humans and offers the most visitor attractions. In the harbour of Puerto Ayora there is a collection of restaurants, souvenir shops and small guest lodgings. Some cruises start or end on this island, making it easy to add a night or two before or after a cruise. It was on this island, that I visited the Charles Darwin Research Centre and got to see giant tortoises, and I mean GIANT! The ones we saw were 80 years old, ONLY 80 years old. I know what you are thinking, 80!? That is old! But in a tortoise's world, 80 is a teenage. Although no one knows the exact lifespan of a tortoise, it is known that they are not fully-grown until the age of 100. You may have heard on the news recently that Jonathon, a Seychelles tortoises, is now considered to the oldest living land animal at 187.

The biologist at the Centre talked about how these pre-historic giant tortoises were almost killed to extinction during the whaling era. Some may remember the efforts to rebuild several of the surviving races made famous by the case of "Lonesome George", the last tortoise of the Pinta species. With his death in 2012, the species is now extinct. This is a sobering reminder of the fragility of the islands, and the disturbing realities of how our own species impact the natural world.  

Moonscape, coral beaches, towering cliffs and underwater formations offer variety and rewards. On a few of the islands we were permitted to swim with penguins, sea lions, reef sharks, sea turtles, white tip sharks, sting rays and copious amounts of fish. Most people think that when they come to the Galapagos they will always see the same animals, however this is not the case. Each month offers something unique and different to see. For instance, when I travelled here in September, sightings of baby sea lions, Galapagos penguins and blue-footed boobies were common.

I would recommend this trip to anyone who is looking for a chance to be in nature, to experience true biodiversity and is looking for a small intimate setting. As you float across the ocean's surface you begin to realize just how small you really are, especially after seeing the natural life in these areas. Each stop allows you to see just how different each of these islands are; not only in their landscape but also in the animals that reside there.

The Islands of Bali - a reflection
Realm of the Ice Bear
 

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