Galapagos Islands Cruise Nov 29—Dec 08, 2008

Posted by Barry Lyon

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Barry Lyon

Barry Lyon's passion for the outdoors and birding has its roots in his childhood where he grew up in southern California. He attended several VENT/ABA youth birding camps i...

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Of all destinations to which a person could travel, few carry the emotional impact or provide such a sublime set of experiences like a trip to the Galapagos Islands. Rugged, primitive, and undeniably beautiful, these Enchanted Islands still effuse the essence of nature—wild, unspoiled, and primitive—in the same way they presented it to Darwin when he stepped ashore here so long ago.

Our trip to the Galapagos Islands was everything we could have asked for: face-to-face encounters with the islands' legendary wildlife, an abundance of spectacular scenery, an action-packed itinerary, lengthy inter-island cruises, and a wonderful vessel, the National Geographic Islander, on which to travel. From the time we arrived at the airport on Baltra Island to the time we left, a week later, we never ran out of things to do, new places to visit, or new wildlife to enjoy.

Because a trip to the Galapagos involves far more than birding, a trip here should be considered a full natural history experience, inclusive of geology, botany, and, of course, a luminous human history. But a trip to the Galapagos is also a very personal experience, and, to that end, each of us left with memories that validated our expectations on one level while providing a perspective on the magnitude of a trip here on another.

At each of the seven major islands we visited, we found wildlife in abundance. Walks along sandy beaches and across fantastic fields of ancient lava flows brought us within close proximity of some of the islands' most emblematic and recognizable species. Highlights included "ballooning" Great and Magnificent frigatebirds; Nazca and Blue-footed boobies in courtship display at their nest sites; Waved Albatrosses taking off over the cliffs of Espanola; elegant Red-billed Tropicbirds chasing each other endlessly over the same cliffs; scores of Galapagos Shearwaters and Brown Noddies wheeling around cliff-side nesting colonies; and baby sea lions at our feet at nearly every landing.

But beyond encounters with individual species, the Galapagos are about spectacles, and on that front we certainly witnessed many: our first giant tortoises; piles of marine iguanas clustered on the beaches and lava benches at nearly every landing; seeing the world's only equatorial penguin and its only flightless cormorant; White-vented Storm-Petrels in the ship's wake at nearly all times; hundreds of boobies and frigatebirds filling the sky over tiny Enderby Island; seeking out, and finding, nine of Darwin's finches and three of the Galapagos' mockingbird species; snorkeling with an impressive array of tropical fishes, rays, and other undersea life; Bryde's whales offshore of Isabella Island and hundreds of common dolphins cavorting off Fernandina Island; Zodiac landings on white, green, and black sand beaches; meandering along wild, wave-washed shorelines; and, finally, visiting the islands themselves, where nature's powerful forces of creation and destruction are on bold display at all times.

While experiences like these capture the spirit of the islands, the significance of a trip here is also noted in the reactions of the people who visit. Throughout our trip, conversations about Darwin and evolution were heard frequently, both on and off the ship, suggesting that we were all grappling, or coming to terms, with the supreme biological and historical importance of one of the planet's most incredible destinations.