In Spanish, Galapagos, is related to the word saddle, which describes a certain shell shape covering the land tortoise found on the islands by early Spanish explorers. Saddle could not be a better metaphor for the whole Ecuadorian and Galapagos soft adventure experience. A bucket list favorite for travelers, there’s no better time than now to saddle up for the adventure ride of your life in the Galapagos Islands.
It can not be overstated how important your choice is of a tour company when taking an international trip. The details they know how to handle can make or break your travel experience. Ecoventura (www.ecoventura.com) is heartily recommended for their ease of booking and prolific communication to the myriad of questions and requests I had.
From their extensive web site you gather in most of the preliminary information needed
in planning your bucket list adventure. They also can book pre or post Ecuadorian land tours. We were booked at Quito’s Plaza Grande (plazagrandequito.com” http://www.plazagrandequito.com) and Swissotel (www.swissotel.com/quito) for our pre and post cruise hotels, and both offered upscale amenities desired by international travelers.
Ecoventura is committed to green travel, as exemplified by their newly outfitted 20 guest
yacht the M/Y Eric complete with wind turbines and solar panels to supplement energy needs. . Even the local frigid birds join in, as they fly above the ships wind turbines – an anachronistic sight! In 2006, Ecoventura became the first Carbon Neutral operation in Galapagos and Ecuador. As a modern traveler, complete with electronic gadgets like camera battery chargers and a photo editing computer, 110 electrical outlets in the cabins and public areas are a modern necessity and certainly a luxury not found on many adventure ships. Check out their website for a listing of their eco awards.
The Ecoventura fleet includes the sister ships to the M/Y Eric, of the Letty and the Flamingo I. They also have the M/Y Sky Dancer which is booked exclusively for divers and does not offer land tours. The Eric is the perfect combination of land tours, snorkeling and sea kayaking experiences, flavored with surprisingly delicious and diverse meals, shared with congenial fellow explorers. Our guides of Lola and Orlando were exemplary in there knowledge and tour leadership.
The beverages at the bar were limited (the only deficiency I found aboard the Eric.) Even though I was assured they would have martini glasses and could make such, this was not the case. A young fellow traveler took pity on me and created a mock martini glass out of cardboard, aluminum foil and plastic wrap. The good natured gift made up for a lack of on board bar ware.
Upon investigation for my trip I was surprised to find many thousands of human inhabitants on the endangered world heritage site. Even at 650 miles from South Americas’ Ecuadorian mainland, there is the misconception that these islands are so remote that nothing other than wild life is allowed to inhabit this stunning volcanic Archipelago.
A typical day of a week’s exploration would be a 7 am wake up call, breakfast and then an 8:15 departure for an hour or twos land tour. Back on board for lunch, a brief rest and then back to a different locale for either snorkeling and swimming or another land tour.
The famous wildlife still exists in abundance. It was easy in my January visit to see the Nazca, Red and Blue Footed Boobies, with sea lions and marine iguanas in abundance, frigate birds, oaster catchers, sally crabs, lava lizards, penguins, the flightless cormorant (unique to the Galapagos), land iguanas, a variety of Darwin finches among other birds, and of course the name sake Galapagos Land tortoises. Be aware that the Land Tortoise is usually only visible on Santa Cruz Island and not so much in the wild as in corralled areas. This was enlightening to me at how protected they are and how illusive it might be to see one in the true wild. Only in the Galapagos can you come upon a mother frigid bird feeding its young by letting its offspring feed down its throat.
Back on land in Quitos we took a couple of side tours offered by Ecoventura, and had a sampling of Ecuador’s interior. A day’s tour to the Cloud Forest Preserve was tiring, wet but still illuminating. Our guide was congenial, despite muddy trails, but the misty viewing of a variety of hummingbirds at their feeder was mesmerizing.
More rewarding was a day trip north which included the Otavalo market, the largest in South America. We did not visit on their official weekly market day, but there was still a number of vendors with exceptional prices on woven goods. We wished we had purchased more.
A real treat, besides visiting a cascade (waterfall) in a state park, was the welcome and luxurious atmosphere at lunch at the La Mirage – Relais and Chateaux property in Cotacachi Imbabura, in the Highlands of the Andes. R & C properties are known for their exquisite dining experiences, and this was exemplified by our Amuse Bouch served inside wooden music boxes. The gardens were fun to stroll- enjoying the antics of peacocks and quick sightings of other birds. The Martini I ordered was a perfect top off to this delightful visit.
While this Ecuadorian interior visit held delights, my mind still drifts back to the Galapagos Islands. The memory of an up close panga ride (a small rubber powered dingy) along the Fernandina cliffs packed with wildlife including penguins, and cruising the smooth pacific at sunset with beverage in hand, wind in my hair and 360 degrees of unspoiled natural sea beauty, is an experience that can not be taken away with today’s dour economic issues. A trip to the Galapagos is a priceless mental refreshment in a troubled world.