Glorious Galápagos

Carry me on the waves
To the lands I’ve never been
Carry me on the waves
To the lands I’ve never seen.
 – Enya


We got up at 06.45 this morning, filled with a suppressed excitement in anticipation of the day to come.  After a good breakfast once again, we assembled in the hotel foyer at 8.00am and collected our aircraft boarding passes for Avianca flight AV1686 from Quito to Seymour Airport, Baltra in the famed Galápagos Islands.  We were also given a robust, refillable plastic water bottle each; this is to save on all the eco-unfriendly water bottles in our effort to help the environment.  😊

Once the coaches arrived, we all piled on and made our way through the light Sunday morning traffic to the airport; it took about 45 minutes.  As were already checked in as a group, it was just a matter of getting to Gate D4 for our flight at 10.00am.  We could see our aircraft, an Airbus A319, waiting on the tarmac for us, and it wasn’t long before we were walking up the steps and boarding our charter flight.  Shortly afterwards the doors were closed and we taxied to the runway and took to the blue skies.  We were on our way!  😊

The flight only lasted one hour and 50 minutes, during which time the cabin crew came round with more breakfast; this time I declined, as I’d already eaten a good breakfast in the hotel.  I just made do with a Diet Coke and spent the flight doing some of this blog and looking out of the plane window, waiting for our first glimpse of the Galápagos.  As we approached the airport, we spotted the Xpedition at anchor and felt a fresh surge of excitement.

Soon we touched down at Seymour Airport, along the single runway which bisected land that looked arid, rocky and volcanic and was filled with scrubby-looking bushes but no actual trees.  Beyond, the blue Pacific Ocean glittered in the sunlight.  We slowed to a halt and happily went down the steps of the aircraft into the sunshine and cloudless sky; a brisk but refreshing breeze was blowing as we entered the airport terminal.  Inside, we were given a complimentary cold drink; I think mine was passion fruit juice.  There was also tea or coffee if you wanted it, as well as (more!) snacks.

We sat and made small talk with our fellow travellers, including Mike and Mary, with whom we shared our meal last night.  Then it was time for us to board the shuttle bus for the short journey to the landing stage.

On arrival, we were all given life jackets to put on before awaiting the 16-seater Zodiac landing craft.  We were shown the correct and safe way to board the inflatables, then we had to sit on the edge and hold on to the ropes as the small craft sped and bounced over the waves towards the Xpedition.  As we disembarked the Zodiac, we had to hand our carry-on bags to one of the crew so we had both hands free to hold the hands of the crew members helping us onto the ship.  We were then directed to the Discovery Lounge for our welcome briefing, and each given a cold, refreshing glass of Buck’s Fizz.  Sitting down at a table, I held up my glass and said to anyone who was listening “Well, here we are!  Cheers everybody!”.  Everyone said “cheers” and we all clinked glasses.  😊

Once everyone was finished their drinks, we were taken to our cabin, which was only along the corridor from the Discovery Lounge.  Trevor and I have been allocated cabin 416 on deck 4; in fact, there are only six decks on this ship altogether.  It’s the smallest ship we’ve been on at only 2,800 tons and 96 passengers.  No ships with more than 100 passengers are allowed in the Galápagos, so this is actually one of the biggest ships that comes here.

Our ocean-view cabin looked homely and comfortable.  There was a double bed, bedside table, small settee and table, a large dressing table with stool and flat-screen TV, and a couple of wardrobes with shelves and hanging space.  The bathroom wasn’t a bad size, as well as the sink and WC there was a fair-sized shower stall with a glass door.  Bottles of shower gel, shampoo and conditioner were attached to the wall.  We felt sure we would have a very comfortable stay on board the Xpedition.

After getting settled in our cabin, our suitcases had not yet arrived, so we decided to go and sit up on deck and enjoy a cold beer each.  The cruise is all-inclusive, so there is no additional cost for the drinks.  😉

We sat on the rear decks at a parasol-covered table and happily looked around us.  We could see several other smaller islands; some of them just looked like big rocks jutting out of the sea; they were uninhabited so were a veritable haven for wildlife.

We enjoyed a couple of beers along with the company of Jeff and Jan, a couple from Manchester who had arrived on the same KLM flight as us.  Most of the passengers were predictably from the USA and Canada; very few of us are British.  There are also some from New Zealand and some from Australia; they would have had an even longer journey and bigger time difference than us.  We always enjoy meeting and socialising with people from other countries, hearing their stories and learning about their home towns.  Variety is what it is all about!

At three o’clock we returned to the Discovery Lounge to meet our naturalists and guides who would be looking after us for this trip, and get an introduction to the Galápagos, the “dos and don’ts” of how to behave and how to preserve the delicate ecology and balance of nature here.  We were also told about the various activities and excursions available for us to enjoy, to make our memorable trip even more unforgettable.

This took us nicely up to lifeboat drill, where we all had to go to the boat deck in response to the emergency signal (seven short blasts of the ship’s whistle, followed by one long blast).  Afterwards our time was our own, and we used it to enjoy another couple of free drinks; this time my favourite cocktail of caipirinha.  The barman just sloshed the cachaça into the glass without using a measure; boy, was it a strong one!  😉

At 4.30pm we had to go to the topmost deck to get fitted for our wetsuits and fins, as we planned to do some snorkelling while we were here.  I had never worn a wetsuit before, and getting in and out of it was quite a feat!  The wetsuit was the kind with only short arms and legs, rather than the full-length one.  We then had to try on a pair of fins as well as collect masks and tubes, and a big mesh backpack to carry them all in.

At 5.00pm the Xpedition weighed anchor and we set off through the calm Pacific towards one of the islands we could see.  Several large frigate birds swooped and wheeled in the sky above us, following the ship.  We circumnavigated an island called Daphne Major, getting up quite close so we could see the birds and, in some cases, sea lions.  From the air, the large conical top of the island is visible, remind us that all of these islands are volcanic.

It was exhilarating sailing along, and quite a party atmosphere on the rear decks of the Xpedition as the camera-happy passengers made the most of the lovely scenery and waiters wandered among us with their trays of cocktails and other cold drinks.  Dinner was not until 7.30pm so we took some time out for a half-hour power nap, as we were still not over our jetlag and we’d had an exciting day today so far with an early start.

Even though there is no dress code on board Celebrity cruise ships, I made the effort to dress a little more smartly for dinner, with a colourful cotton dress and some silver sandals, and some fresh makeup.  Then off we went to the Darwin Restaurant on Deck 3, where we enjoyed a delicious meal, washed down with (more!) free wine and spent in excellent company, with Brian and Karen, a couple from America.

We finished the evening off by going along to the Discovery Lounge to watch a documentary about Charles Darwin, and how he came to form his famous Theory of Evolution and natural selection, the “survival of the fittest”.  It was an interesting documentary, but I didn’t really do Mr. Darwin justice as I kept dozing off; tiredness (as well as the beer, wine and caipirinha) was catching up with me.

We therefore decided to return to cabin 416 and settle down to sleep, on our first eventful day on board the Xpedition.  We looked forward to what tomorrow would bring. 😊

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