“Would you look at that thieving creature!!!” I laugh to my children, as we sit in the sunshine of the Puerto Ayora pier, and a sea lion dashes down into the sea with a mouthful of fresh fish, looted from the fishermen alongside us. But the opportunist sea lion is not the only one, and we watch pelicans swoop down from above and also try and bag a fresh fish lunch, effort free. Before we even get aboard for our own fishy feast lunch, we’ve already seen frigates and brightly colored Sally Lightfoot crabs scampering across the slippery black rocks. The sun is gleaming in the sky, and the sea is crystal clear, a deep, inviting blue.
We’ve opted to spend our Galapagos family vacation with Galapagos Insiders Travel, on the Galapagos Sea Star Yacht, and as we board the boat we are immensely glad that we did. We settle in our cabins, waving goodbye to Puerto Ayora for the best part of the week ahead. After a delicious lunch we receive an exciting briefing on the days ahead, learning the ground rules for our island visits before plopping into the ship’s Jacuzzi, and bask in the sunshine as we sail to our first port of call. Overhead, a frigate bird flies soars overhead, seemingly tracking our route. This is the life.
We arrive at a sandy red bay and are excited to disembark our yacht and board our panga (small motorized rubber boat), whipping across the short stretch of sea to the rocky “pier” where we disembark and await the rest of our group on the second trip from the boat. While our naturalist guide’s back is turned, a large man lumbers across the beach towards two large snoozing sea lions. He lies down a couple of meters behind them and calls to his wife to take what he thinks will be an amusing photo. The laugh is on him, as honking, the largest sea lion, a big, hefty, male chases him 50 meters along the beach. For lazy, flabby looking creatures, they sure can move fast. I am snorting with laughter, but our guide is not amused, muttering something about “Survival of the fittest, and Darwin Awards.” We have learned our lesson, and everyone has a bit more trepidation and deference around these creatures from now on.
Later, the sea lions reward us for our restraint, and our Galapagos family vacation moves up a notch in excitement. We clumsily wobble down the beach in flippers and snorkel, and plunge into the cool waters. Immediately a small sea lion swims up to my face. I gasp and pop my head out of the water, but already she is gone. This happens again and again, with our sea lion-human game of tag lasts half an hour. Each time I think I am going to collide with a sea lion’s face, it darts away at the last second. We’re warned to stay away from the bigger males, but this warning is not needed after our earlier experience, and everyone is respectfully fearful of the dominant male. We also enjoy the treat of a Galapagos penguin diving for fish, watching it maneuver deftly through the water to reach its fishy feast.
We become regimented into our new routine very quickly. Our Galapagos family holiday becomes a series of days, each seemingly more spectacular than the last, where we board our panga in the early morning, sometimes before breakfast, and head for a new island, cove or headland, discovering Darwin’s Enchanted Isles, and learning about finches, albatross, blue footed boobies. Twice a day we walk on the islands and note how each one has different colored beaches, and unusual vegetation, taking short walks, and taking care not to stray from the paths and disturb the wildlife. Not one living thing is scared of people, and we admire the efforts of the Ecuadorian Government, and Galapagos National Park in keeping the islands so clean, and the flora and fauna so preserved, despite the large number of visitors each year. We sail after our morning landing is complete, and again at night, and we swim and snorkel, enjoying delicious food when our activities are done.
Each day of our Galapagos family vacation brings new delights, and we gasp with delight at each afresh. Bright pink flamingos seemingly on stilts, contrasted sharply with the green background. Black volcanic rocks, awash with red and yellow Sally Lightfoot crabs, and marine iguanas changing color from black to glorious red and green. We learn how Darwin developed his ground-breaking theory of evolution from the different finches that live on the islands, and we watch blue-footed boobies do an angry war dance, competing for a mate. We snorkel with hammerhead sharks and spy dolphins jumping and playing in the water ahead of our vessel. Each day our knowledgeable naturalist Galapagos guide delights us with new details of the geology, flora and fauna of the islands.
On our last day we head up into the Santa Cruz Highlands, winding up through the hills and to the lush, fertile, grassy green lands where giant tortoises roam. We visit a family farm and observe these magnificent beasts stamping around, and soaking in unappealing-looking muddy pools. Giant Galapagos Tortoises were almost hunted to extinction, we learn. We also learn they can move along much more quickly than we thought, as one gets up to almost a sprint when it sees us coming. There is something reminiscent of the dinosaur about these ancient, aged-looking beasts, with their wizened, wise looking elderly faces. We wonder at the change they have seen in their lifetimes. We experience the typical damp highland weather, but this does not dampen our spirits one little bit. As we board the airplane for our flight back to the Ecuadorian mainland we all agree that our Galapagos family vacation has truly been unbeatable, and our memories of this trip will surely stay with our children for a lifetime.