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Galapagos: High Tides and Good Vibes Dude

Updated: Jul 6

Our first and last completely full day in the Galapagos was scheduled for a thrilling coast across the ocean, in hopes of encountering dolphins, sea turtles, and blue-footed boobies. Eager to make the most of our time, we ensured the tour we selected started bright and early. I woke before dawn, though the sun quickly crept up, its light revealing the extended days near the equator. By 7 AM, we hopped in a taxi to reach the meeting point, a nearby hotel, by 7:15.

Hotel meeting spot - January 3, 2023

For seasoned travellers, particularly in this region, the concept of urgency and punctuality often differs from North American norms. Long story short, we didn't reach the dock until 8:30 AM, for our tour to begin. A tad frustrated but realizing our Ecuador and Panama itinerary planner (yours truly) should have allotted more time in the Galapagos, or any destination, to avoid rushing.

Galapagos Pier
Muelle de Los Pescadores - January 3, 2023

Before we embarked on the boat, we observed vibrant Sally Lightfoot crabs crawling across damp rocks. Several members of our group, myself included, paused to capture photos before receiving the signal to board and begin our journey. Departing from the fishing pier area northeast of yesterday's Gus Angermeyer Pier and Ferry Terminal, we slowly glided out. Once it was safe to do so, the engine roared to full throttle, propelling us onward as Santa Cruz Island gradually faded into the distance.

Sally Lightfoot Crabs
Sally Lightfoot Crabs - January 3, 2023
Santa Cruz Island no longer in sight! - January 3, 2023

Pinzón Island Adventure

On our boat, there was a group of nine of us: myself and my partner, a couple from the Netherlands, another from the United States, a pair from Ecuador, and a fellow Canadian (who actually once resided in Ottawa but relocated to Toronto - small world)! We were all in the same age range, filled with enthusiasm for travel and adventure. Interestingly, the Canadian among us was also an avid diver.

Sea Turtles

An hour into our boat journey, we came to a halt and our guide informed us that we had arrived at a spot known for its abundance of sea turtles. Gesturing towards the water, he explained that we would be swimming a short distance to reach them. The crew distributed life jackets, flippers, snorkels, and goggles for everyone to prepare. The Canadian diver, however, arrived equipped with her own gear, including a wetsuit.

Stop 1 - Location near Pinzon known for an abundance of sea turtles - January 3, 2023

As others geared up eagerly, I remained seated, observing the direction they would be heading. That's right - I had no intention of entering the ocean. For someone who grew up travelling to the ocean, swimming in it, and even dreaming of becoming a marine biologist at age six, the anxiety of sharks and the unknown took over in my teen years (the anxiety attack I had jumping into the Bahamas to swim with turtles was my first telltale sign in Grade 9). In the past fourteen years, I can honestly say that my ventures into the ocean have only occurred under the influence of a strong liquor.

The guides and other tourists, looked at me with confused expressions as I insisted I wouldn't be joining them in the water. Despite their persuasive efforts, the fear of missing out didn't faze me. My ocean anxiety was that intense - I was willingly passing up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to swim alongside hundred-year-old sea turtles! Even when I jokingly asked if there was vodka on board, the disappointment in the tour guide's response (a regretful "no") was more palpable than any regret I felt.

One by one, each person donned their gear and followed some of the crew into the water, swimming towards these magnificent sea creatures. Meanwhile, I conversed with a crew member who pointed out the bobbing heads of the sea turtles as they surfaced to feed.

My partner, Ben, doesn't share the same fears of the ocean as me - January 3, 2023

Returning back to the boat, Ben exclaimed that he, "REALLY needed a wetsuit," since the water was FREEZING! It suddenly clicked why the diver had opted to wear hers! After an exhilarating swim with sea turtles, everyone was buzzing with excitement, especially those who had gotten close enough to touch their shells. Although we had a drone, our phones, and video equipment for content creation, one thing missing from our collection was a GoPro with an underwater case. It was then that a wave of disappointment washed over me, realizing I wouldn't have any underwater photos. Fortunately, Antine and Karima, the women from the Netherlands, kindly shared their underwater photos with me! I asked for permission to share on Earthub and was approved :)

DUUDDDEEEE, sea turtles in the Galapagos! - January 3, 2023

Sea Lions

As we journeyed further towards Pinzon Island, we encountered a rock island where sea lions lounged, their distinctive barks echoing across the water. Slowing our pace, we observed these charismatic creatures from a respectful distance, marveling at their unbothered interactions amidst the nearby boat and curious onlookers. It was a memorable moment, witnessing their natural behavior in the wild.

The 'rock island' we went by to see the sea lions - January 3, 2023

Sea lions Galapagos
Sea lions across the rocks - January 3, 2023
Galapagos Islands
Map of the Galapagos on the tour boat - January 3, 2023

Sharks and Marine Iguanas

We arrived at our final snorkeling destination, where everyone else eagerly prepared their gear for the chilly waters. As they geared up to plunge in, our tour guide's demeanor turned serious. "I've been leading this tour for over 15 years," he began, his tone grave. "And there are always sharks here - except for yesterday. It was the first time that's ever happened to me which is very strange. So, I'm giving you a warning, but I hope they're back today." Everyone remained hopeful, eager to witness these creatures in their element, but you could be sure as hell I wasn't taking any chances and swimming with sharks.

I sat alone at the front of the boat, scanning the surface for any signs of marine life. Amidst the tranquil scene, I couldn't ignore the agony of a sea lion not far away on the shore. The sound pierced my heart; as if it were filled with sorrow and the sea lion had experienced a significant loss. I tried to remind myself of the circle of life, which I often did every time I got emotional about animals.

Galapagos islands
Gazing at marine life from the boat - January 3, 2023

Glancing over the railing, I spotted one of the Galapagos' most popular fish, the Holacanthus passer, known more commonly as the King Angelfish. I gazed across the horizon at just the right moment because next I saw a manta ray jump straight out of the water, as if it knew I were watching (or just eagerly trying to remove parasites from its' body). Within seconds, I heard light splashing on the left side of the boat. Out popped a fish, retreated back to the water, and popping out again, as if it were the rock in a game of rock skipping.

I was able to see many King Angelfish from the boat - January 3, 2024

Galapagos Fish
Just hopping along - January 3, 2023

Despite staying on the boat, I was treated to an abundance of marine life action! There wasn't a single moment where I felt left out. However, among all the incredible sights I witnessed, nothing prepared me for what came next...

Peering into the water again to admire the King angelfish, suddenly something larger caught my eye... A SHARK! My first reaction was, 'Oh my gosh! I hope they had the chance to see sharks as they had hoped, especially since I had spotted one, although a small one, from the boat. Imagine their disappointment if the person who stayed behind on the boat got to see a shark while they didn't!

Galapagos shark
Baby shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo - Jan 3, 2023
Galapagos shark
Didn't grab my camera fast enough but here's the glimpse I could capture! - January 3, 2024

The Ecuadorian couple returned to the boat ahead of the others to retrieve their large drone. Speaking in Spanish with one of the crew members, their drone took flight and circled around Pinzón Island. It wasn't apparent to me whether they were licensed drone operators or not. Earlier during the tour, there were rumblings amongst the couple and guides, but to me it seemed they were waiting for quieter conditions to avoid nearby traffic. These were just my observations (remember this tidbit for later).

As everyone returned to the boat and settled in, I couldn't wait to ask if they had indeed spotted any sharks. Ben eagerly confirmed that they had encountered sharks, describing them as over 6 feet long (nearly as tall as him) and demonstrating with his hands just how close he had been swimming above them. The mere inches he indicated sent a shiver of fear down my spine.  Once again, the lovely Netherland couple generously offered to share their underwater photos and videos, one of which included the legendary Marine Iguana!

Assortment of marine wildlife from the water by Antine & Karima - January 3, 2023

Galapagos Marine Iguana
Galapagos Marine Iguana

Video clip of the marine iguana, courtesy of Antine & Karima - January 3, 2023

Gathering at the bow of the boat, we exchanged contact details, learned about each other's occupations, and discussed travel itineraries while the crew prepared a lunch from scratch. It was refreshing to find ourselves among peers of similar ages and interests. We captured moments with photos and entertained the idea of meeting later at a local pub. Meeting diverse individuals from various places and backgrounds has always been something I've treasured most while travelling.

Galapagos islands
Happiest when travelling - January 3, 2023

Although I predominantly follow a plant-based diet, I am a strong advocate for eating locally sourced food, prioritizing products that haven't travelled far to reach my plate. When I travel, especially near the ocean, seafood often becomes a significant part of my meals. During my tour of Ecuador, shrimp and fish ceviche became a staple for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I also developed a newfound appreciation for locally made plantain chips. Lucky for me, the crew made a lovely shrimp and fish ceviche.

Shrimp and fish ceviche - January 3, 2023

Following a satisfying lunch, we returned to the bow of the boat and cruised across the ocean, heading back to Santa Cruz. As we passed by small rocky islands, our tour guide suddenly pointed out the creature I had been eager to see all along - the blue-footed booby! Though they were a bit distant, we edged as close as possible to the rocky shoreline to catch a glimpse of them. Despite the distance limiting my camera's capabilities, Antine and Karima once again came to my rescue, sharing their best shot of a blue-footed booby.

Blue-footed booby
Blue-footed booby photo by Antine & Karima - January 3, 2023

The action-packed day left us all exhausted. Gradually, we moved from the bow of the boat to the benches inside, and one by one, we drifted off to sleep. I tried to stay awake to soak in every last bit of the Galapagos scenery, but eventually, sleep overtook me too. When we returned to the dock, we expressed heartfelt gratitude to the crew for providing us with an unforgettable experience (each leaving a tip). With warm goodbyes, we all parted ways, making plans to reconnect later in the evening.

Galapagos islands
Drifting off riding back to mainland - January 3, 2023

Our last night in the Galapagos

Ben and I returned to our hotel to freshen up, and before long, we were back in the city center. We couldn't stop reminiscing about the day, but we were struck by the realization that we didn't get Jefferson's contact information when saying goodbye just the day before. We strolled past several restaurants, glancing at menus (though I knew I'd be having ceviche again), when suddenly, a loud voice rang out from inside one of them: "MY FRIENDS, MY FRIENDS!" We looked up to see Jefferson waving enthusiastically for us to join him. With excitement, we hurried over, greeted him with a warm hug that felt like reuniting with an old friend, and settled down for drinks and dinner together. Over the course of the evening, we shared stories of our day and expressed our gratitude to him for arranging such a wonderful experience. Fate granted us another opportunity to exchange contact information with our newfound Galapagos friend (who I still have on IG)!

Drinks and dinner at La Regata - January 3, 2023

Our next stop was the Santa Cruz Brewery, where we enjoyed drinks with our new acquaintances from the Netherlands, Antine and Karima. During our conversation, we learned that they had recently come from Peru, a destination we had to cancel from our trip due to ongoing protests. They described how they spent most of their time holed up in their Airbnb, feeling bored but safe, amidst an eerie atmosphere with many shops and tours closed down. The disappointment of cancelling our plans on December 13th, just days before our scheduled departure, weighed heavily on us, especially considering the situation unfolding in Peru at the time. Hearing their experience firsthand, it was clear that we had made the right decision.

Santa Cruz Brewery
Santa Cruz Brewery - January 3, 2023

We reminisced about the adventurous day we had shared, while listening to live music, and discussed the drone used by the Ecuadorian couple earlier. Also uncertain if they were licensed to fly, the girls expressed their agitation about the potential impact of the drone on marine wildlife. They noted how the fish reacted by swimming away from the vibrations caused by the drone, despite it flying high above the water's surface.

After bidding our friends farewell and wishing them a great remainder of their trip, we opted for a taxi ride back to our hotel. It had been a long but incredible day, and we were very sad this was our last sleep in the Galapagos before our 10 AM departure from Santa Cruz Island. Going to the Galapagos Islands was a dream come true but surely, not long enough! :)

Bike paths throughout Santa Cruz Island - January 3, 2023

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