Adventures both on the land & in the sea
02.02.2015 - 02.02.2015 26 °C
Life on board the Xpedition follows a well-organized pattern. Each day we have an off-ship morning expedition with 2 options to select from, one fairly strenuous activity and one less strenuous activity. Everyone selects their choice of activity the night before after the briefing on the following day’s activities. Starting around 8:00 am we all board the Zodiacs and head for our respective activities. Each Zodiac carries fourteen of us plus the driver plus our Naturalist. Each Zodiac must have at least one Naturalist/Guide on board at all times. The Naturalists are all very skilled and all must be certified by the National Parks authority.
Our great group of Naturalists - all of them wonderful guides and hosts
Group headed to shore for another day of exploring
Around noon we all return to the ship for lunch. After lunch we can just relax for an hour or so or one can choose to go to the main lounge and hear a lecture on the area or watch a documentary featuring various Galapagos related topics. Around 3:00 pm we again board the Zodiacs to head off to our previously selected afternoon activities. Again one option is more strenuous and the other less strenuous. Sometimes there is a third optional off-ship activity sandwiched in as well. All options are well described both in written materials delivered to our cabins and at the daily briefings offered each evening just before dinner. They have wisely scheduled the off-ship activities earlier in the morning (8:00-8:30 departures) and the afternoon activities later in the day (3:00 to 3:45 pm departures) in order to avoid the very intense mid-day sun here at the equator. Even with these activity times we are all continuously slathering on the high SPF sunblock. We even noticed one of the Zodiac operators with SPF 100 in his cubby. The Naturalists who lead our shore expeditions and the Zodiac drivers all wear long pants and long sleeved shirts as well as head protection and sometimes a face guard and even light gloves.
Zodiac operator well protected from the sun
The vast majority of passengers participate in the off-ship activities every day. Our day usually starts around 7:00 am with the buffet breakfast in the dining room with all of the usual breakfast options - it is easy to over eat. We then return to our cabins, gather our cameras, towels, sun block and other paraphernalia that we may want to take ashore with us. We then go down to Deck 2 where we assemble to put on our life jackets and gather our snorkel equipment bags if we plan a snorkel excursion while ashore. At 8:00 am they start us boarding the rubber Zodiac boats.
Zodiac loading for a shore trip
Boarding the Zodiacs takes place on Deck 1 at the water level where we step off a very large swim platform at the stern of the ship onto the Zodiacs which are bobbing around in the water as the seas here are fairly active. We board the Zodiac from the front. The boat operators keep the Zodiacs pressed up against the swim platform by keeping steady engine power on the Zodiac. There are two staff standing on the swim platform helping everyone aboard. It is a bit awkward at first but after a few boardings and disembarkings most people get fairly used to the process. This is clearly not a trip for the mobility impaired. They have 5 Zodiacs that ferry us to and from the shore.
Zodiac being lifted off the ship
Zodiacs waiting to be loaded
Zodiac being loaded for a shore trip
Landings on the shore are classified as “wet” landings or “dry” landings and we are told well in advance whether the landing for a particular trip will be wet or dry. If it is wet it means that when you disembark at the shore you are slipping over the side of the Zodiac and stepping into water that is 12”-18” deep. In the case of a dry landing you are disembarking much the same way you do at the ship. The Zodiac operator presses the front (bow) of the Zodiac up against the rocks or a little cliff or even in two cases a marina ashore and keeps the power on the boat so that the Zodiac holds tight against the object and we can just step ashore from the front of the Zodiac. This process can be a little intimidating for people with poor balance especially with the Zodiac rocking around and when one is stepping off onto a notch cut out of a cliff side. However, the crew know all of the good spots to use and no one went overboard all week.
Wet landing on the shore
Wet Landing on beach
The one exception to the wet or dry landing routine is when we go out on the “expert deep water” snorkel runs. This requires that we don our wet suits prior to boarding the Zodiac. Then once at the dive site we get on our snorkel gear and slide over the side of the Zodiac. This should be fairly simple, however, the seas were always fairly rough on these trips so it was often a bit of a trick getting on your gear and getting off the Zodiac into the waves. Getting back on the Zodiac after one of these outings was also a bit ungainly as we had to toss our swim fins up onto the Zodiac while still swimming in the water and then grab the bobbing swim ladder, get your feet braced on the ladder and hoist yourself up over the side of the rubber Zodiac and hopefully step gracefully into the Zodiac. Occasionally a person would flop into the bottom of the Zodiac looking somewhat like the ever present sea lions who slid on and off the rocks in a similar style.
Deep water snorkel expedition swimming from the Zodiac
Sea Lion playing on the rocks, they are everywhere and very friendly
A typical day would see the 4 of us (Roy & Sue Vanderkwaak plus David & Hazel) heading off at 8:00 am for the more active option. Typically this would involve a long hike on one of the many islands through some unique vegetation or land formation or even a long walk over lava flow. After that we might wrap up the morning with a snorkel expedition off the beach. Folks who selected the less strenuous option would have gone on a shorter hike or a zodiac ride and then taken part in the snorkel activity or gone directly back to the ship after their hike. Once back on the ship we would grab lunch and eat on the open deck.
David & Hazel sitting on deck after lunch
Around 3:00 pm we would once again gather on Deck 3 and board the Zodiacs for a trip ashore for another lengthy hike on an island followed by a second snorkel outing. On other days we elected to take an exploratory ride in the Zodiac around some interesting shoreline where we could see the various wildlife up very close and personal. Most of the wildlife has no fear of humans and you could literally pick up a chick from a nest. The sea lions are also very tame and playful but we are cautioned not to get too close particularly to the big males who are quite territorial if you infringe in their space. If you give them some space they never bother you and when swimming the younger ones are very curious and swim very close by they speed around our group. This activity might be followed by a “deep water” snorkel activity where we would jump directly off the Zodiac in our gear to explore deeper waters usually along a rugged coastline. This type of snorkel activity provided some additional challenges as the water was often fairly rough causing some people to feel motion sick. The wave action also had a tendency to wash you up against the rough rocky shore so we had to maintain our distance from the shore.
Everyone Ready for a deep water dive trip