The steam has settled since my last post, I went and spoke with the travel agency we booked our tour through and although they appeared to be sincerely concerned about our misfortune and claimed they'll try to refund some of our money, I highly doubt anything will ever happen. You win some and lose some, but what's done is done so we might as well dwell on all of the great aspects of our time in the Galapagos.
First of all, the passengers on board the Princess with us were, for the most part, a lot of fun. Since it was a lower priced tour we were on the same level as everyone else and when we saw the fancy ships docked at ports with older passengers all showered, hair combed, wearing newly purchased zip-off pants, button down safari-style shirts and sun hats and carrying mega telephoto cameras we got a good laugh at what our group looked like. We were a bunch of young, grubby looking, wild-haired, dirty clothed kids who were mostly all out traveling the world. It was fantastic having so many people to share stories of where we'd all been, where we're all going and all of the lessons we've learned along the way. We never would have fit in on any of those fancy boats anyway.
The Princess of the Galapagos
Second was the colors of the water. When we were sailing between islands the ocean was the richest, deepest, fullest shade of navy blue you can imagine, but if you looked at it for more than a few seconds at a time, it appeared to change into a black that was as black and as viscous as oil. It was beautiful. Then as we pulled into ports, we found ourselves floating on water the most brilliant shades of turquoises and teals. It was spectacularly clear and looked so inviting to take a swim, but turned out to be a little deceptive and we froze our tails off every time we jumped in.
We got to snorkel a few times to experience the underwater world of the Galapagos and though I would have liked to swim around for hours on end, it was so cold that 20 minutes was about the max we could handle. We got to swim amongst the schools of brightly colored fish and view some amazing corals. We saw White-tipped Reef Sharks, sting rays and penguins up close. We got within arms length of sea lions, the young ones completely unafraid of humans. Although we didn't see dolphins while snorkeling, we did get an incredible up-close look at hundreds and hundreds of them from the boat. One day we sailed into a pod that stayed with us for a good half hour. In every direction you could see their dorsal fins breaking the surface and watch them playfully jumping about. The most spectacular view, however, came from the bow of the ship. The dolphins were directly in front and under our ship, cruising right along with us, jumping, rolling and putting on a show for their captive audience. But my favorite animal of the ocean was the Green Sea Turtles. The way they looked in the water was so mysterious, mythical and prehistoric. Their motions were slow and gentle as they effortlessly flapped their flippers as if they were flying through the water.
White-tipped Reef Sharks
As expected, the animals on the islands were abundant and fascinating. Massive groups of stinky Sea Lions were present on nearly every island and it was interesting to watch the male bulls patrol their segment of shore. We actually had one who plopped himself on a dock we needed to walk down to get to our boat. He barked at us and leaped towards us a few times while our guide slapped his flip-flops together in attempt to get him to move. We had no luck but the bull eventually laid down and we all hustled past him. The female Sea Lions were fairly inactive, lazing on the shores with their young pups, who were unbelievably adorable. The more we observed the Sea Lions, the more human-like qualities they seemed to show; the pups were active and playful with each other and were constantly bugging their mothers by crawling over them or attempting to run away. They never got far before either the mother scurried in front of them or their uncoordinated movements caused them to trip and nose-dive into the sand. They liked to be close to each other and there were frequently small groups snuggling together on the beach (maybe the group snuggling isn't so human-like but the being in groups is), and anytime there appeared to be an argument between 2 of them, another would simply squeeze in between them and that would end the dispute.
We saw many kinds of birds - various finches and warblers, ducks, herons, hawks, albatross and flamingos. We saw gulls and doves that looked quite different from those we're used to in the U.S. and Frigate birds with their split tails and inflated red chests. Of course we saw Boobies - the Blue Footed Boobies with their most unusual, unnatural seeming feet and beady, creepy little eyes. We also got to see the Masked Boobies who weren't all that unusual looking but had the most blinding white feathers of any bird I've ever seen.
Great Blue Heron
Iguanas were perhaps the most abundant of all animals we saw on the islands. Their spiked bodies, color variations, humorous ways in which they moved, spit and piled up on each other made them intriguing and interesting to watch and photograph. They have adapted very well to their surroundings and there were many occasions in which we'd be walking along and not notice until the last second that there were hundreds laying alongside the path on the rocks or even right in front of our feet.
The Galapagos Giant Tortoises were spectacular and a wonder, living to be 150 years old and weigh up to 250 kilograms! The history of these reptiles on the islands is a grim and sad story, but thankfully the slaughtering of them was halted before they went extinct. They have made great strides in bringing back the population of tortoises, but sadly it's all done on farms due to the number of introduced animal predators still present despite the park's attempt to eradicate them, which would then allow the tortoises to once again reproduce and survive through their first few years in the wild.
We visited a place called Post Office Bay, so named because at the end of the 18th century a barrel was set near the beach and acted as a makeshift mail drop. British whaling ships would leave letters there to be picked up by homeward bound vessels who would then deliver the letters. The post office is still there and in use today. Visitors can leave postcards which can then be picked up later by other visitors who will deliver them to their postmarked addresses. We left a couple of letters that may someday be delivered (we thought it would be a fun experiment) and also found a few from around the Bay Area that we're planning on hauling around the world on our bikes for a while and then delivering when we return home.
Post Office Bay
The landscapes of the Galapagos were also noteworthy. These are small, volcanic islands and therefore the ground is rocky and rough with black lava fields everywhere. It is a magnificent contrast against the white and red sand beaches on the islands, turquoise water and red crabs living in the rock crevices along the shores. The vegetation was sparse and desert-like on most of the islands with cacti and gnarly shrubs everywhere, but on the bigger islands, large, prolific trees were also present. There was also beautiful ground covers on one of the islands. We were there during their dry season and they had turned from their typical shades of green to reds, oranges and yellows and it somewhat felt like we were walking around in a psychodelic Dr. Seuss sort of world.
Overall, I have to say I'm glad we visited the Galapagos. Although I wouldn't recommend a budget trip to anyone, it's a fantastic place worthy of experiencing.