Where the Wild Things Are

A day of exploration on the island of Espanola, Galapagos with Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Espanola, Galapagos; Sunday, March 11, 2018

I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you’ve never heard of the island of Espanola, Galapagos before. I’ll also assume you’ve never heard of its previous name, Hood Island, either. That’s okay: in some ways, the less you know about the Galapagos Islands, the more wowed you will be by them.

Lindblad Expeditons-National Geographic’s National Geographic Endeavour II sailed through the night at a comfortable speed, buffeted by the occasional swells that seem to be omnipresent here in the Galapagos. On my first outing, I wondered if it was my ship. Now I know that the Galapagos is just a giant swell machine, and that the constant port-to-starboard-to-port motion of your ship is to be expected here. It’s nothing major, but if you’re prone to seasickness, you may wish to take precautions.

Arrival on-shore at Gardner Bay for a morning of fun in the sun. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

The benefit of this swell? I was literally rocked to sleep last night. The beds aboard the National Geographic Endeavour II are super-comfy and rival the mattresses on the likes of Silversea and Seabourn. I had one of the best sleeps I’ve had in the past week, which has been punctuated by three different hotels in three different cities. They say nothing is quite like sleeping in your own bed; the beds aboard this ship sure do come close.

Our Expedition Leader Carlos made the call at 6:30 am over the pubic address system, as he said he would: it was time to get up for an action-packed day that began promptly at 7:00am with a full buffet breakfast served in the ship’s elegant Restaurant. Breakfast and lunch are buffet-style, while dinners are usually plated affairs.

A stroll along the beach of Gardner Bay provides plenty of wildlife sighting opportunities…Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

…both past and present. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

This was followed by a briefing in the main lounge at 9:00am on snorkeling, followed by the distribution of the snorkelling gear. And then, it was off to the beach at Gardner Bay for two hours of snorkeling or strolling on the pristine beach, with its powdery-soft sand.

If Charles Darwin could be transported to 2018, the only thing that would have discernibly changed since 1835 is the ship and our form of dress. “Untouched” is the best word I can use to describe Gardner Bay; not a single item of man-made waste could be found. Even the footprints from the past ships that surely visited have been washed away by the ever-rolling surf.

Of course, evidence of other creatures is more plentiful. A sine-like path carved in the sand points to the snakes that slither along here at some point, while teeny tiny footprints speak to small birds or lizards running across the open sand to seek shelter in the more shaded areas of the shoreline.

Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

I don’t snorkel. I know – it’s unbelievable. But I need glasses, and can’t see much without them, so I really should have invested in a prescription mask before coming here. I hear the snorkelling was tremendous. However, I really enjoyed my 90-minute stroll along the beach before heading back to the ship. Just being here in the Galapagos is such a treat. In many ways, the Galapagos is like the Arctic or Antarctica: nothing else on Earth can quite compare.

After coming back onboard, lunch was served in the main Restaurant on Deck 1. The food onboard is absolutely delicious. A different soup kicks things off each day, and a full service salad bar gives way to a selection of hot dishes and an action station that can serve up fresh pastas or fresh carvings, depending on the day.

Today, a number of local specialties were featured from the Galapagos and Ecuador, along with neighbouring countries like Peru, Colombia and Bolivia. My favorite: a sandwich-like appetizer made with potato, avocado and tomato – absolutely delicious.

This afternoon: adventures in gorgeous Punta Suarez, Espanola, Galapagos. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Lindblad also does an excellent job of looking after dietary requirements. Gluten-free bread is provided, vegetarian options are easy to come by, and everyone has done a great job of looking out for my nut allergy.

On Lindblad ships, non-alcoholic beverages are complimentary, while alcoholic ones are available for a nominal charge. There is even a cooler with self-serve Ecuadorian beer in the main lounge that operates on the honours system; just sign the sheet above it, and the beer is yours. Mainland Ecuadorian beers are $4 each, while craft beers can be had for $7.

Arrival at Punta Suarez…Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

…for an afternoon hike. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Watch out for the locals! Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

For dinner, a nightly red or white wine is offered either by the glass or by the bottle. Most glasses are between $8 and $9, which I find a bit expensive for what is essentially a very modest pour. But, if you buy a bottle, it will be labeled with your stateroom number and duly trotted out each evening.

But that’s for later! This afternoon, the ship repositioned to Punta Suarez, Espanola, where guests were given the choice of an easy stroll or a difficult hike across uneven terrain littered with boulders. So, naturally, I chose the latter.

Disembarking at 3:15pm, our hike led us on a rocky path through a sea of sea lions marine iguanas and their minuscule counterparts, the lava lizards. Seriously: you need to watch your step. I nearly crushed a tiny lava lizard that darted out in front of me, and was surprised more than once on our walk by a massive marine iguana hidden under a boulder I’d cozied up to in order to take a picture.

The wildlife here is as curious about you as you are about it. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Lava Lizard. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Nazca boobies. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Unlike most animals, these things are fearless here on the Galapagos Islands: lizards, sea lions and Nazca boobies just stare back at you. They’re trying to work out what you are as much as you’re trying to figure them out.

In the Galapagos, visitors are expected to stay six feet back from the wildlife, but sometimes that isn’t always possible. Case in point: coming back to the Zodiac landing site, we had to wade through a veritable sea of sea lions, being careful not to step on them as we did so. And they’d just lay there basking in the setting sun, pausing only to let out the occasional grunt, flip some sand on their backs, or adjust their position the way an old man might shuffle around in bed, trying to get comfortable despite his achy joints.

This was a fairly challenging hike over uneven terrain…Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

…but the reward was worth it. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Like the cliffs of Ireland. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

In all, we covered a mere 2.1 kilometres (1.75 miles), but it felt like more due to the uneven terrain that nearly put this hike into the category of “boulder scramble.” Arriving back at the landing site just before 5:30pm, the setting sun really ratcheted up the dial on the humidity, and even my Off! Deep Woods wasn’t enough to keep the pesky little mosquitoes at bay as the time of their feeding frenzy approached.

Once I’d reached the National Geographic Endeavour II, I had a quick shower (at the coldest possible temperature to combat the insane humidity) before Carlos came over the Public Address system to advise guests that a beautiful sunset was playing out off the ship’s stern. Fully dressed for dinner, I went out onto the Sun Deck to find other guests topside, taking photos or watching in silent contemplation.

Returning to the National Geographic Endeavour II…Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

…after a long and rewarding day ashore. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

That this place even exists is nothing short of a miracle. It’s as close to experiencing the untouched lands that Charles Darwin found nearly two centuries ago as one can get these days; a beautiful depiction of pre-contact America, even.

If the trip ended today, I’d walk away happy with what I found here on the island of Espanola. It’s so far removed from the ordinary – the everyday – that you can’t help but be moved by this amazing place, and our extraordinary planet.

Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Our Voyage Report onboard Lindblad-National Geographic’s Endeavour II in the Galapagos Islands continues tomorrow as we explore the island of Floreana. Follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog.

To The Galapagos Islands with Lindblad Expeditions

March 10, 2018San Cristobal, Galapagos; Embarkation
March 11Espanola, Galapagos
March 12Floreana, Galapagos
March 13Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, Galapagos
March 14Santa Cruz, Galapagos
March 15Bartolome, Galapaogs
March 16Genovesa, Galapagos
March 17, 2018Baltra, Galapagos; disembarkation and onward journey home

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