Galapagos Day 1: San Cristobal

November 24 (Thurs): Travel Day from San Francisco to Miami, overnight at airport hotel.  No Thanksgiving turkey for me.

November 25 (Fri): Travel Day from Miami to Quito (2PM flight, arrival in Quito ~ 6PM), Quito to Guayaquil (original departure time 9PM, actual departure 10:30PM). Arrival in Guayaquil ~11:30PM, hotel 12:30AM, in bed 1:25AM.

November 26 (Sat): Wakeup call at 6AM, bags outside to be picked up by 6:20AM, breakfast and departure for flight to San Cristobal by 7:30AM.  Flight slightly delayed but departed by 9AM for arrival in San Cristobal ~10:30AM.  Transfer via bus and then zodiac to the National Geographic Endeavour.

Baby sea lion

We took 4 flights (San Francisco to Miami, Miami to Quito, Quito to Guayaquil, Guayaquil to San Cristobal), waited 4.5 hours for a 35 minute flight (Quito to Guayaquil), spent two nights in two different hotels with transfers via buses and zodiacs, all just to reach the Galapagos Islands.  And now I’m sitting up in bed in cabin 110 on board the National Geographic Endeavour, with the faint sounds of the engine below me.  After what felt like an eternity to reach Ecuador, everything ran smoothly as soon as we were met with the National Geographic staff.  I love that on this trip I don’t have to arrange, plan, or organize anything.  It’s all been done for me and all I have to do is sit back and choose from a variety of options offered.

We arrived on San Cristobal (one of four inhabited islands of Galapagos) this morning and were met by Celso and Jason, two of the naturalist for NG Linblad.  They got us on transfer buses and then to zodiacs to get us to the ship.  We saw our first few sea lions on the way to the Endeavour, which finally got me realizing that I really am in the Galapagos…  Once we got on the ship, the first thing we did was to go through a safety drill and receive an orientation briefing about shipboard life.  After relaxing in the lounge with some refreshments we returned to the cabin to unpack, settle, and start the expedition.

Kevin and I are on this week-long trip with Kevin’s college friend Phil and his wife Joy, who are both doctors living and working in Palo Alto, California.  I’d met Phil once before in NYC when he was doing his MD & PhD at Columbia and knew that he specialized in infectious diseases (I had a few questions for him as I’m sure most people do when they come across an infectious diseases specialist).  I met Phil’s wife Joy two days ago on the way to the SF airport but had heard a lot of wonderful things about her.  It was Joy (a psychiatrist at Stanford)’s idea to go to the Galapagos, which Phil researched and then asked if Kevin would like to join.  That invitation was extended to me and so it became the four of us on this once in a lifetime trip.

Rawr!

I’d heard that National Geographic & Lindblad ran an excellent tour of the Galapagos Islands but I was pleasantly surprised to see them at work today.  I loved Willy, the hotel manager of the NG Endeavour who enthusiastically explained their conservation efforts to us.  He said that they use a desalination process to convert sea water to use on the ship (yay, for clean drinking water), they provide sterilized, refillable water bottles for all passengers, we could request half orders for dinner (we would place our orders in the morning), they change sheets and towels on request to save water and power, etc.  LOVE!  What also got me excited, since this is a National Geographic tour, is the fact that there are 6 certified naturalists who guide our small groups on expeditions.  In addition to them are these photo experts…  What I didn’t know until today was that this week and the next are special photo expeditions, and therefore on board with us are a National Geographic photographer and two full time photo instructors who are helping us take better photos.  I just have my point and shoot camera with me, but what the heck!  I’m sure I’ll pick up a few pointers from these pros.

American Oystercatcher

After a great buffet lunch (so happy to eat fresh veggies, tropical fruits, and salads without worrying about getting sick!), we got ready for our first outing.  Paula, a geologist and our expedition leader, gave us a briefing on how the islands were formed, the uniqueness of the Galapagos, and what we could expect to see.  It was fantastic to learn about the different volcanic eruptions, strong currents, and the tectonic movements that created these islands, and then go out on the zodiacs to actually see them in person.  This afternoon we went to Cerro Brujo (Wizard Hill) by San Cristobal and walked along the sandy beach next to dozens of sea lions who were lazily sleeping about.  The naturalists explained to us about endemic (unique, only found in the Galapagos), native (they’re here in the Galapagos as well as in other places), and introduced (brought over by humans) animals and plants on the islands, and pointed them out to us as we came across them.  It was weirdly odd to see birds, lizards, and sea lions without any fear of humans, and simply going about their business.  The birds don’t fly away, the sea lions don’t bark, the iguanas could not care less.  It’s incredible.

Yellow Warblar

After a few hours on the beach we got back in the zodiacs and with the sun setting behind “Lion Rock,” we came back to the boat for the Captain’s Welcome Aboard Cocktail Party.  We were introduced to our captain and the crew, reviewed what we’ll be doing tomorrow, and then headed over to the dining room for dinner.  Sharing the dinner table with us this evening were Paula, our expedition leader, James, the video chronicler, Giancarlo, one of the naturalists, and Amy, who does special projects for National Geographic.  Amy told us she’s here to assist the Phillie Phanatic shoot a segment for his film.  What?  The giant 7 foot tall green bird known as the Phillie Phanatic is with us for the duration of our trip and will be suiting up to film his “origin” piece.  Supposedly Mr. Phanatic was born here in the Galapagos and in the film, he time travels to different periods (when there was no baseball, when he was born, etc).  This is definitely unexpected and I’m already laughing just thinking about it.  I’m excited about snorkeling tomorrow but also to see the Phillie Phanatic in action amongst the sea lions.  What a hoot!  I think this is going to be a memorable trip.

Sunset over Lion Rock

Highlights & animals seen: Sea Lions, Yellow Warblars, American Oystercatchers, Marine Iguanas, gorgeous sunset over Lion Rock, getting a tortoise stamp in my passport when we arrived in the Galapagos

Today’s schedule:

~11:00: Welcome briefing by Expedition Leader Paula Tagle and orientation briefing by Hotel Manager Willy Seitz in the lounge

~12:00: Abandon ship and safety drill

12:30 – 13:30: Lunch

14:30: Introduction to the Galapagos natural history and national park rules

15:30: Disembarkation for a zodiac ride and a short walk along a sandy dune (wet landing)

19:00: Welcome Aboard Cocktail Party in the lounge

19:30: Dinner

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