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Galapagos

Our seven days aboard Nemo II was one of the most amazing experiences we’ve had.

It exceeded all my expectations and rates an equal first along with safari in Africa.

There are twelve guests on board; four Americans from Texas who are celebrating birthdays beginning with a 3! They are Tabitha & John Charles, Kirby & John.

Sharing a cabin are two solo travelers: Traci from New York and Annu, who is Finnish. David and Su are Ecuadorians, both speak English and David has lived in the States.

We also hear the familiar twang of an Aussie and Kiwi accent from Elly and Milton.

Nemo II is the middle child in a fleet of three catamarans. She is just under 22 meters (71 feet) in length and is comfortably fitted out with sun-lounges on the upper deck, outdoor dining and indoor lounge area.

Of course we’ve got the worst cabin on the boat, but you get what you pay for and this isn’t a luxury cruise liner. We have the essentials; air-conditioning and our own bathroom.

The first night we have a rough eight-hour passage and I’m sleeping on the top bunk, so narrow I need to hold on to avoid falling out.

Everyone struggles that night to get their sea legs, some more than others. I was surprised I wasn’t queasy, whilst Don spent a few hours that night getting fresh air on the upper deck.

Selecting a Galápagos cruise is all about what type of boat, number of passengers and which route. We wanted a small number of passengers and a catamaran was preferable; the dual hull supposedly provides a smoother ride.

As for the sailing route, we really didn’t care. The wildlife on our ‘must-see’ list were sea lions, turtles and blue-footed boobies. All three feature on every itinerary.

Each day we generally have two snorkelling expeditions and two walks on land; the latter is easier said than done when you’re now rocking from the boat.

wpid-wp-1438847084153.jpegWe spend a day at Puerto Ayora visiting a tortoise farm up in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island.

As you can see, we discovered a new and very unique tortoise this day.

The difference between a tortoise and a turtle? A tortoise lives on land, turtles in the water.

In the afternoon we walk through the Charles Darwin Research Station. The station has been operating since 1959, preserving the environment and biodiversity of this unique archipelago.

It’s a bit like visiting a zoo, the enclosures are home to at-risk giant tortoises and iguanas. The station is conducting a comprehensive breeding program on these species.

The baby tortoises are clumsy and adorable as they clamber over each other is search of food and water.

wpid-wp-1438846970705.jpegOur first snorkel expedition is at one of the Galápagos landmarks, Kicker Rock. Where we swim the channel between the two volcanic rock outcrops, rising over 140 meters out of the sea.

We see our first sea turtle and shark, along with an amazing array of colourful fish. It’s an incredible introduction to the life living in the ocean.

Sea Lions are everywhere and the young pups are very inquisitive. On the beach they’ll come-up and sniff you. We are warned to be careful not to touch them, as a mother will reject her pup if it carries human scent.

The brooding male is the one to watch out for, he’s usually the largest and crankiest sea lion. You’ll find him lolling around on the pristine beaches, warning you to back-off with its raspy bark.

wpid-wp-1439114635996.jpegIn the water, which by-the-way is a magnificent turquoise blue, the sea lions are playful and will swim right up to you, as if to give you a kiss, darting away at the last second. We have many encounters with them during our week.

On land a turtle is lumbering and slow, in the water they are graceful and fast. We swim with three one afternoon who are feeding not far off shore, ignoring us as they munch on sea grass and plankton.

On land the tortoise can live over 100 years, its close relative can only expect to make it for about half as long.

We are not birders by any stretch of the imagination, but the bird life on the Galápagos Islands would spark anyone’s interest. We are lucky to have a budding birder on board – Traci is quick to identify for us the birds we encounter.

Cormorants, albatross, frigates, hawks and lots of pelicans of course, but the most adorable is the Blue-footed Booby – easily identifiable with its bright blue feet.

When mating, the male does a strutting dance, showing off his big blue webbed feet to attract his mate. He will later use these to cover their young and keep them warm.

You can never see enough boobies – as you’d expect there are lots of booby one-liners all week!

Mostly black in colour, the marine iguanas are plentiful and sometimes we see hundreds piled on top of each other on the volcanic rock, soaking up the sun, or swimming out to munch on algae.

The land iguana is bigger and more cumbersome ranging in colours from black to yellow/green. It’s like being in a prehistoric landscape with land iguanas poking up their heads all over the island.

Everyday is different, every island is different. The landscapes change from barren volcanic moonscape, pristine beaches of white sand and crystal-clear water, to lush mangrove swamps.  And each has their own combination of birds, animals and reptiles.

Neither of us were sure we’d survive 7 nights on a boat; I would say that it was just the right amount of time.  We were also lucky to have spent it with 10 other great people and we all had a lot of fun together.

The Galápagos is truly a remarkable and unique experience, well worth the effort (& expense).

PS: Lots of photos and I have plenty more!

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