Posted on Mar 1, 2019 in Alumni News and News
Trust me, the Galápagos Islands need to be on your bucket list. They offer an experience unlike any other. During the Flying Jayhawks trip to the islands, we were told by our naturalist before leaving Quito, Ecuador: “No place on earth is like any other place. But the Galápagos are less like all the others.” She was absolutely right. Let me start at the beginning…
Day 1-2: Quito, Ecuador
Driving from the airport to Quito, Ecuador, I could tell from the lights across the hillsides that this was going to be a beautiful start to the trip. After a short night, we began our morning meeting and mingled with the rest of our group.
This Flying Jayhawks trip included 13 great folks from across the country—all on their first excursion to the Galápagos. Our first day was spent learning about the history and culture of Quito and South America. We explored historical sites and gorgeous downtown Quito, walking along the colorful paved streets and enjoying the sun.
We ventured to the official Quito market, tasting some of the fresh fruits and vegetables local to the area. Next we visited a local hat maker and learned about the origin of the Panama Hat—which was indeed Ecuador!
We had delicious meals, some free time to shop and then returned to our hotel for a gorgeous sunset and a reception.
Day 3: Baltra/Santa Cruz
Despite the wakeup call in the wee hours of the morning, the first day in the islands was worth it! First we flew from Quito to Baltra. Then we ventured by boat to Santa Cruz to see the infamous giant tortoises for which the islands are named: Galápagos.
We visited the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz and hiked through the island among hundreds of slow-moving, but fascinating, creatures! Hiking down the cool lava caves and tunnels we learned more about the climate and history of this island.
Lunch was at the home of a local family with food directly from their farm. After another bus ride and free time, it was time to embark our home for the bulk of the trip: the Yacht Isabella II. We met for a Captain’s welcome reception followed with delicious dinner on board.
Day 4: Floreana and Post Office Bay
Overnight we sailed away from Santa Cruz and the civilized islands while also sailing away from our connection to WiFi, email and the connection back home. Instead we moved into the most gorgeous, uninhabited, natural beauty among the South Pacific.
We woke up on Floreana Island and set out early on a panga ride to see the creatures of this area. Immediately, among the crystal clear waters (so magnificently colored in turquoise and sapphire), we saw hundreds of sea lions in the distance.
As we got closer to shore, the sea lions danced for us, and we saw the bright red crabs showing off on the dark rocks. We saw beautiful blue-footed boobies and bright red and green “Christmas Iguanas” sunning themselves. Our exploring continued when in the (not too far) distance, we saw a magnificent creature come out of the water and quickly back down—an Orca whale!
Our naturalists (also shocked and excited), chased down the whale and followed him around the ocean, watching him crest and return dozens of times—just yards from our panga! It was absolutely breathtaking and an experience of a lifetime. If the trip had ended right there, I think most of us would have said we got more than we bargained for!
And there was more!
We continued on to land to see the historic Old Post Office Bay, the site where ships would leave postcards and mail for the next ship to stop, pick up the mail, and deliver it to its destination if possible. That tradition continues now with thousands of visitors coming to leave their postcards, hoping that the next wave of tourists collects the mail and delivers it (ideally face to face) to its destination.
After the mail barrel, we snorkeled off the beach to swim with the sea turtles! They were beautiful creatures, and it was amazing to be floating above them.
We returned to ship for an incredible lunch al fresco on the top deck while the ship moved a bit around the island. The afternoon consisted of more snorkeling with unbelievable aquatic wildlife in Technicolor and face-to-face swimming with the sea lions! These playful creatures had no problem coming over to say hello to their new human friends!
After snorkeling, we had the evening to take a guided hike on the island, seeing sea turtles mating and the females coming to land to lay their eggs. We also ended the evening seeing the gorgeous pink flamingos glisten in the sunset.
An Orca whale, sea turtles, crabs, iguanas, blue footed boobies, sea lions nibbling at my fins while snorkeling, flamingos … you would think that is enough for the day, right? Oh no—there was more!
After an incredible dinner and debrief, the captain announced that sharks were behind the boat. As I walked up the stairs, I wondered, “Will I be able to see through the darkness? Will I look in the right direction? What if I miss the sharks?”
The moment I reached the top, I looked down to see hundreds of sharks, so crystal clear they seem to be glowing. It gave me goosebumps (and nearly brought me to tears wishing I could photograph and share this moment!). The naturalists explained that the sharks are following the wake and eating the fish off the back of the boat.
We watched for what seemed like hours as a “flying fish” scurried across the water while a group of sharks dashed to get it. A brave sea lion was willing to get in the fray and steal dinner from the sharks a few times. (Thankfully, the sea lions are so fast, they’re not in danger of becoming the sharks meal. Whew!)
Since we were on the top deck, our naturalists volunteered to lead a conversation on the stars with the clear night’s sky. They turned out the lights and millions of bright stars covered every inch of the sky. The naturalists pointed out constellations and told the stories of the astrological signs. It was a day for the ages.
Day 5: Espanola
We embarked on a hike through Espaneola, on the lava and boulder terrain, where we connected with the blue footed boobies and many other birds at all stages of life.
The beautiful terrain led us to the natural “blowholes” in the lava formations on the other side of the island. It was an incredible sight! We hiked among iguanas and stepped over baby seals sunning themselves. After lunch, more snorkeling (or an optional glass-bottom boat ride). I have to admit, I was a little more skittish to snorkel after last night’s display of sharks! I was so glad I went with another gorgeous display of wildlife and a sea lion playing with an octopus!
The evening consisted of kayaking and a white, sandy beach walk among the Gardner Bay sea lions. We also saw the humpback whale skeleton on the shore. It was an incredibly relaxing and peaceful way to end the day on this gorgeous island.
Day 6: San Cristobal
Our final full day on the island started out with another gorgeous hike. This one took us to new heights, and I felt like we were flying with the island birds! Although the hike was a bit more difficult, the views made it worth every step.
We saw new vegetation and more wildlife up-close and in-person. This is the only island where all of the three types of boobies are found together: red-footed boobies, blue-footed boobies, and Nazca boobies. We saw them dancing together in their mating rituals and learned more about the evolution of wildlife on the island.
After the hike, we had an opportunity to snorkel off the beach one final time. We returned to the ship for lunch followed by another adventure through rock formations and lava cutouts. This was the only day we experienced any real rain, and it was very light and manageable. In fact, it seemed fitting learning about Darwin’s exploration and seeing a glimpse of his view of the islands nearly a century before.
We hiked on the beach—this time barefoot in the rain—and the colors seemed to come alive through the drizzle.
As we got back on board, we witnessed the most magnificent sunset. We watched the sun drop near the blue water as we circled around key hole rock. The captain perfectly lined up the rock, the sun and the opening in the formation to give us a work of art. It was the perfect conclusion to this breathtaking excursion.
Day 7: San Cristobal and Guayaquil
It was finally time to disembark. It was bittersweet to be back on land, and we were welcomed there by the capital city of the islands. We learned a little more history but also had some by free time to purchase our Galápagos souvenirs before heading home.
After flying back to mainland Ecuador, we had a final night to explore Guayaquil, say our farewells and enjoy a traditional Ecuadorian meal.
What are you waiting for?
The trip was an incredible experience. The ship was quaint, 36-passenger boat, allowing us to make new friends of all ages. The food was incredible with many options at each meal. We had buffet style breakfast and lunch and a plated dinner each night. All of the meals and attire were casual and made you feel at home. The staff on the ship could not have been more friendly and personable.
And the naturalists! We had three on our trip, and they exceeded expectations in every way. The weather was as picture-perfect as you would imagine. Even for the “rainy season,” we had sunshine and mild temperatures every day with only an occasional, very light shower.
If the Galápagos Islands are not on your bucket list yet, you are missing out! It was an escape and an intimate look at nature like I’ve never had before. I came back feeling refreshed, amazed and wanting to do it all again.
The Flying Jayhawks trip “The Galápagos Islands” took place Jan. 23-30, 2018. The trip was hosted by Angie Storey, vice president of donor relations. View more photos from the trip; pictures may be downloaded for personal use. Find more information about Flying Jayhawks trips, including a schedule, or sign up for travel emails.