Galapagos Islands Cruise aboard the M/V Evolution Oct 30—Nov 08, 2015

Posted by Paul Greenfield

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Paul Greenfield

Paul Greenfield grew up near New York City and became interested in birds as a child. He received his B.F.A. from Temple University where he was an art major at the Tyler S...

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What else can I say—these “Enchanted Isles” go far beyond enchanting, and at every level, our weeklong cruise exceeded our expectations in a big way. This strange and captivating destination seems to be on just about everybody’s “bucket-list”—its allure, whether it owes its origins to TV nature documentaries, articles and travel guides, or Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species, is undeniable. But it seems that nothing you’ve heard, read, or imagined can really prepare you for experiencing these very special mid-Pacific Ocean GPS coordinates. 

From moments after our plane landed on the austere and windblown desert at Baltra Island, we began to get the feeling that we were “somewhere else.” A few unpretentious finches met us outside the airport building, but as we pulled up to the main dock at the port, an ochre-yellow and rust Land Iguana lumbered towards us, a Lava Gull rested on the dock’s roof, and Magnificent Frigatebirds soared lazily overhead while Brown Noddies and Brown Pelicans fished the waters along the shore and a few inconspicuous Marine Iguanas and bright red Sally-Lightfoot Crabs clung motionless to the black rocks. Our first cruise activity initiated shortly after settling into our cabins as our ship—the M/S Evolution—circled the small volcanic islet, Daphne Major, before setting off for our long overnight sail. From the deck we observed tremendous shoreline activity with our first views of Galapagos Shearwater, Elliot’s Storm-Petrel, Red-billed Tropicbird, Magnificent Frigatebird (including several ballooning males!), Nazca and Blue-footed boobies, a Lava Heron, Swallow-tailed Gull, and Brown Noddy. As we headed northward, the numbers of shearwaters, storm-petrels, and noddies increased, and we encountered thousands of Red-necked Phalaropes as we advanced.

Espanola Mockingbird

Espanola Mockingbird— Photo: Paul J. Greenfield

We were up on deck at dawn the following morning as we neared our first landing site. This became our daily routine for the remainder of the cruise; whenever our vessel sailed during daylight hours, we would hit the deck to watch for pelagic birds and any sea life we could spot. We located our first Galapagos Petrels and Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrels this morning. What became evident immediately was the warm water temperatures—we were witnessing early signs of the presence of the El Niño phenomenon, which was already beginning to show some impacts. This morning was indeed magical, maybe because it was our first full day, but initiating our activities with Flightless Cormorants and Galapagos Penguins has to be one of those most-memorable lifetime experiences! Little by little, this strange and enigmatic archipelago began to reveal itself—each island we visited, and each outing we embarked on, offered a new and distinct experience, a different look, different vegetation, distinctly colored beaches, lava, and wildlife. There were so many highlights, and with the shadow of Charles Darwin accompanying us wherever we went, our walks, hikes, snorkels, birding, and kayaking took on deeper meaning.

We witnessed nesting Flightless Cormorants at only a couple of yards away; snorkeled with 40 penguins, a pregnant sea horse, sea lions, and Flightless Cormorants along with so many tropical fishes, sea stars, sharks, and rays; walked among piles of Marine Iguanas, wild Galapagos Giant Tortoises at Urvina Bay, and especially in the highlands of Santa Cruz, stood among nesting albatrosses, boobies, and gulls; watched a Waved Albatross as it took flight off Española Island; located 9 species of Darwin’s finches on Santa Cruz; got close looks at Galapagos Martin at Tagus Cove; racked up hours of seabird-watching at sunrise; studied shorebirds with American Flamingos at Dragon Hill; and watched Swallow-tailed Gulls feeding at night alongside our ship. These are just a few experiences that come to mind—each of us has collected our own favorite events and moments: from walking over expanses of twisty pahoehoe lava to “beach-bumming” along quiet beaches strewn with lazy sea lions, finding a Banded Galapagos Snake, coming face-to-face with Green Sea Turtles, or sitting just inches from a curious Española Mockingbird—even just cruising the Pacific Ocean with Magnificent Frigatebirds in our wake created special moments for us all. And that is what the Galapagos experience is all about. It involves an intimate encounter with nature, history, and earth—an intimate encounter with our planet.