Morning came early and it was time for a quick breakfast before meeting our group. These first meetings always make me a little nervous because I can get terribly shy around new people. Fortunately my traveling companion is fearless so this makes introductions much easier. I really don’t know why I get butterflies. As usual, everyone is super nice and conversation about our upcoming adventure calms my nerves and excites my mind.
We all loaded onto the bus and transferred to the airport for our flight to the Galapagos Islands. The adventure started instantly and we arrived on San Cristóbal Island. We were met at the harbor by not only our crew but by some very lazy sea lions. The striking beauty of the Galapagos islands was all around us. Boats ranging from large passenger vessels to small fishing crafts dotting the deep blue harbor waters. Some of the small boats buzzed with fishermen while others had been pirated by lounging sea lions looking to warm up under the bright equatorial sun. Our new home for the next seven days, The Evolution, sat majestically in the back of the harbor. Its sharp black bow rising out of the blue waters looked almost like a waving hand that was welcoming us to the Galapagos.
There was no time wasted and our adventure began almost instantly. We boarded the ship, briefly checked out our rooms then dashed to the dining room where we were served a hearty lunch. While we ate lunch, the Evolution and its crew carried us to our first destination, Kicker Rock. This giant volcanic remnant sliced upward and out of the deep ocean like a beacon. The deep blue waters of the Pacific framed the majestic rock against the most beautiful blue sky. We circled the rock and learned the story of how it came to be and where it got its name. We learned we were looking at the remains of what used to be a giant volcano that rose from the sea millions of years ago. We also learned that the name, Kicker Rock, came from its resemblance, at certain angles, to a large boot. I have to say the boot theory was a bit of a stretch for me but the beauty of the rock was so striking it did not matter.
After circling Kicker Rock a few times we headed to Cerro Brujo. We landed on a powder-white sandy beach that we learned was close to the exact spot where Darwin first landed in the Galapagos many years ago. To the right of the beach was a large colony of sea lions. Our time on this beach included a walk around the area looking at the wildlife. I saw the first of many blue-footed boobies, more sea lions and scores of the now famous Darwin finches. We also saw iguanas, ghost crabs and my favorite, the Sally Light-Foot crab. When the walk ended we had two options before returning to the ship. We could explore the tidal area or we could go back to the landing spot and take a swim.
Now, I love to explore but I could not pass on the opportunity to go swimming in the beautiful baby blue waters that surrounded the beach. So, my buddy and I left the group and made our way back to “the swimming hole.” On our way back we passed scores of curious sea lions that watched our every step with inquisitive eyes. When we found a good spot to jump in we took our shoes off and plunged into the cold water. It was brisk but very refreshing after walking around under the hot sun. The sand on the bottom was so fine it felt like clouds under my feet.
We swam for a good 15 minutes when I noticed that my friend was looking at me with the strangest expression on his face. It was not fear necessarily but it was not calm either. Then I heard this noise behind me. It sounded like a cross between a snort and a sneeze. My heart jumped into my throat and I yelped like a frightened child. When I spun around I found two big brown eyes staring directly at me. It was a young sea lion and he had come to, well, to play. I let my heart slow some and then I dove back under the water and started swimming.
The rule here is that you cannot touch the wildlife but the wildlife can touch you. So as I swam around, my new found friend swam beside me. He circled me a few times then swam off, no doubt unimpressed with my lack of grace in the water. I don’t think I stopped smiling until I finally fell asleep later that night. I know that I did not stop talking about it until well after dinner. What an experience of a lifetime.
When we got back to the ship the crew greeted us with snacks and fresh juice laid out elegantly for us on the back deck. We had a short break before dinner time so after a few bites we grabbed a beer and headed to the hot tub at the front of the boat. The trip was officially off the hook at this point and it was not even the end of our first day on the boat. Amazing.
Dinner was fantastic and the wine was cold and crisp. We were all quickly becoming new best friends and had begun to share some of our favorite stories. I am not sure I remember my head touching the pillow that night. The excitement and adventure of the day had wiped me out. Best of all, this was just the beginning and I knew it.