The Galapagos. It had been the top travel destination on my list for many years. November 2014, our 10th wedding anniversary, was approaching. And every time my sweetheart asked about going there, I gave him the same answer. “We just don’t have the money – maybe in another year or two.” In the meantime, I had been planning the trip itself for almost an entire year, in secret from him. And I had been using every trick I knew, could find and could learn to raise the money, miles and points we would need to get there.
Even my super down-to-earth Rough Guide to Ecuador recommended a cruise over a land tour, and the year round water temperatures made February or March the perfect time for us to go. Egg-cellent, I thought – our anniversary will have passed, so there will be no suspicions. And there were none. I created a guise of Dad and Ann coming to visit; said we would go meet them in Quito, then maybe hang out on the coast together for a week. But this was much, much better.
We left Quito on Sunday March 1st and flew to Santa Cruz, one of the two islands with airports connecting to the mainland. We disembarked the plane via the “Rock Star Stairway,” walked across the tarmac and got all giddy over a small lizard. We were all exhausted from getting up so early but there was no squashing our excitement. It was made all the better by the facts that no one confiscated any of our food (I had read a lot about this online and was convinced they’d take everything), we got a cool Galapagos stamp in our passports, and as Ecuadorian residents, it only cost us $6 each to enter Galapagos National Park! Yes, $6 per person. Everyone else, including Dad and Ann, had to pay a steep $100pp. (Membership does indeed have its privileges.)
We went to collect our luggage, and we could see suitcases, but it was clear we weren’t allowed to collect them yet from the luggage belt. “Why?” Elliott wondered. A few minutes later, a security guard came out with a dog, who climbed, sniffed, and at times skipped all over our luggage, back and forth, checking it out. Once in a while the guard gave him a treat, but the dog never found anything worth stopping for. We all sighed with relief as the guard motioned us to take our bags. And that dog was so darned cute!
Our itinerary consisted of a cruise followed by two nights on one of the islands. The cruise came first; our home for eight nights would be on the Aida Maria, a “Tourist Superior”class boat made for 16 passengers and six crew members. Now if you know us you may be thinking that Tourist Superior doesn’t sound quite like our usual, frugal style, and you’d be right! Two things affected my choice of class. The first was the itinerary, and the itinerary I wanted was not offered at a lower class. The second thing was really just a “supporting addendum”; this was the trip of a lifetime (even our heavily traveled lifetime together), and it just seemed like the right time for an upgrade.
From the airport we took a short bus ride, getting our first glimpses of Santa Cruise. Then we waited on a pier for a zodiac to come take us to our boat. My first impression was how hot and sunny it was, standing on that pier – I wondered if I’d burn without sunscreen on! But for once, I barely cared. We repeated the zodiac ride our luggage had already taken, and climbed onto the Aida Maria. A crew member gave out cabin numbers, and I thought Elliott was joking when he said we had to climb a ladder to get to our cabin. For real? This was gonna be cool.
And cool it was – from our super educated guide who knew more English vocabulary than I do, to the delicious lunch they served us within minutes of boarding, to the fact that we had a hiking and swimming excursion that very afternoon. After lunch we landed near Las Bachas, one of the beaches on Baltra. We quickly learned that although there would be both wet and dry landings, they all involved getting into and out of the zodiac – the only difference would be weather we had to step into water each time we got out, or whether there was some sort of dock for us to keep our toes dry.
We hiked for about an hour, trying to take it all in. But who could do so without being totally, amazingly overwhelmed? On that first hike alone, we saw pelicans (and birds landing on their heads, trying to take their prey out of their mouths), colorful crabs, and marine iguanas (yes they swim!). We saw sand dunes with the tracks of turtles who had climbed ashore the night before to lay their eggs. We saw cacti, the ruins of a shipwreck from World War II era, marine iguanas looking for shade after a long day, and flocks of blue footed boobies flying above our heads. We saw flamingos and other birds – so many we lost track of their names. All in our first hour long excursion.a
As our guide turned us around and instructed us to walk back the way we had come, we all slowly acquiesced. Who wanted to turn around in the midst of all this beauty? We slowly followed him, lagging behind, snapping photo after photo. He offered us some time to swim or snorkel if we preferred, noting that it was not even close to the best snorkeling, alluding to all the incredible underwater experiences still to come. Yes, we thought, we will just swim for now, and try to take in all that we just saw.
It was a wonderful, refreshing swim, cooling us off from the heat of the hike and the day. We swam and played, giggled and introduced ourselves to our boat mates. A little while later the zodiac came to pick us up, and we enjoyed a lovely sunset with new friends before a scrumptious dinner. It was indeed just the beginning of a magical experience.