Darwin once said “A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life”.
When I arrived on South Seymour Island, I was filled with excitement. Having long been interested in evolution and the theory of natural selection, I was thrilled to be embarking on a cruise around the places that Darwin himself travelled to, and helped him develop what is the most important theory in science. It felt pretty surreal.
Once aboard the San José boat, we set sail for Bachas beach, on Isla Santa Cruz. A beautiful place of white sand, mangrove trees and tar-black volcanic rocks lay before me, and covered in sunbathing iguanas. Already I could see that the wildlife there was unlike any I’d seen before. Bold brown pelicans strutted about a small green lagoon, whilst pink flamingoes soared overhead and turtles mated in the sea, oblivious to their new audience.
It took a turbulent overnight cruise to reach Tintoreras (meaning ‘white-tipped’ due to the patches of white lichen and green algae that covered the tops of the rocks there). Our exploration took us to a beach where sea lion pups were happily gambolling around, with their parents patrolling the beach in the water, barking to ward off any predators. I was amazed at the fact they just didn’t seem to care about us at all!
Later that day we went snorkelling. I have never seen such unusual fish! They swarmed around me, keeping me company until I saw an enormous green sea turtle less than a metre from me; he looked so wise and serene. The highlight, however, was when two Galapagos penguins joined us, darting about with ease and enjoyment. I felt so at peace; that’s the best thing about being underwater. There’s no noise, no mess- just the gentle bubbling and swirling of the water around you, and 100 different species as your companions.
After, we had Coco Locos (rum + coconut milk = death) on the beach, watching the sunset. Pure heaven.
The next day brought about more discoveries. A natural lagoon filled with pink flamingoes and poison apple trees sat next to the 2nd most active volcano in the world (V. Cerra Azul). Snorkelling that afternoon brought some more discoveries: a catshark lurking on the seabed and tiny neon-pink jellyfish that got a couple of stings in…also, chocolate drop starfish lay in clusters on all the rocks, whilst spotted octopi lurked beneath us in the shadows.
We were all in shock and awe when 2 flightless cormorants (one of the world’s rarest seabirds) started fishing by us, diving in and out of the water with grace. I felt truly honoured to have had such a rare experience.
We made anchor at Caleta Tagus, where the Beagle landed on September 30th, 1853, and hiked up a rock path to the Darwin Volcano and lagoon. The landscape there was beautifully barren, with dead looking trees which produce a stinky sap telling like a cross between Samba and Citronella that can be used a a natural insect repellant! The wonders of nature! The sun began to set over the volcano, streaked with lava trails from past eruptions, and I felt so happy- I was exactly where I had always dreamed I would go.
That evening, we decided to ‘celebrate Christmas’ a few days early, so we cracked open a few bottle of 3-year-old Cuban rum and sang corny old christmas songs under the twinkling stars. Salsa music then followed with some fast and furious Merengue dancing until we all stumbled to bed, tired but happy.
Blue-footed boobies (no, they’re birds) were scattered all over the beaches of Isla Fernandina, along with a sea lion giving birth and fur seals. After landing at Playa Espumilla on Isla Isabella, we saw 3 Galapagos Hawks circling above us- honestly, you really couldn’t look anywhere without seeing some strange creature or fantastic sight. In the water, sting rays floated eerily about and a whole shoal of golden cow-rays passed me!
After making some more amazing stops at Islas Rábida and Santiago, we returned to Isla Santa Cruz and hiked up to Los Gemelos (the twins) which were 2 enormous sinkholes with rocky edges and draped in green flora, created by lava sinkholes many years ago. We found enormous Galapagos tortoises wallowing in lagoons of green algae, then followed a lava tunnel back to our jeep.
Our last expedition took us to North Seymour Island where we saw countless blue-fitted boobies and both the Magnificent and the Great frigate birds (distinguishable by their feather tints- either purple or green) puffing themselves up to impress their strange visitors.
We toasted our trip with multicoloured and pretty lethal cocktails that evening. I was pretty dazed by the events of the trip- never have I seen such incredibly beautiful places teeming with such amazing creatures. I felt truly blessed.