Jason Heilmann, Expedition Leader - I'm ashamed I don't have a better photo of Jason because he's the one that made everything "work." Among his many duties he oversaw the workings of the ship's naturalists and conducted the briefings each evening to tell us what was going to happen the following day. Anytime you had a question or needed anything, Jason was the man to see. Always cheerful and enthusiastic in his manner, Jason imparted his love for the islands (where he has been a resident for the past 15 years), as well as a passion for their conservation.
Marine Iguanas - The Galapagos marine iguana is the only sea-going lizard in the world. There are seven subspecies that vary greatly in appearance from island to island. Feeding mostly on red and green algae, the iguanas can stay submerged for more than 10 minutes, but generally feed at depths up to about 30 feet. Excess salt consumed through their diet is excreted as a salty brine that they snort out through their nostrils. Their resemblance to Godzilla is unmistakable!
Endemic or Native?
Naturalists on board were quick to point out the difference in these two terms. Endemic species are native to a particular region and can only be found in that one area. The Galapagos are renowned for their large numbers of endemic species. Native species are found naturally in that region (i.e. they were not introduced there) but are also found naturally occurring in other regions around the world
The most famous endemic reptiles include the Giant Tortoise and the three iguana species as well as lava lizards and snakes. Special birds include the Galapagos Penguin, Waved Albatross, Galapagos Hawk and Flightless Cormorant. The most famous endemic mammals in the islands are the Galapagos Sea Lions.
Day 1 - Guayaquil and San Cristobol
The first official day of our expedition dawned early as we received a 5:45 a.m. (yikes!) wake-up call at the Hilton Colon Hotel in Guayaquil. We had arrived only hours before, around midnight to be precise, on the group flight from Miami (AA 933) that had been recommended by Lindblad, and had been met by their representatives at the airport. Operating on very little sleep the following morning, we dutifully had our luggage outside our door at 6 a.m. for pick-up, and shortly thereafter we departed the hotel and Guayaquil for our hour and a half Aerogal flight to the Galapagos.
Met at the San Cristobol airport by Islander staff, we had a 5 minute coach ride to the port for boarding the Islander. Before boarding the pangas (Zodiacs) which would take us to the Islander, we enjoyed watching the sea lions that congregate at the dock, occupying every flat surface available, including some places where they are not welcome!
After being shown to our cabin we met our fellow passengers in the lounge for a briefing on ship operations and the all important safety drill (no argument here: we've all seen the photos of the Costa Concordia). That completed, we settled into lunch and the daily routine of life on board the Islander.
Each day generally offered at least one opportunity to snorkel, kayak, view wildlife from pangas, and hike. Often there were short and long options available for hikes. A thorough briefing was provided before dinner each evening on the visitor sites and activities for the following day.
Throughout the trip there were also lectures on a variety of topics such as Charles Darwin, nature photography, vulcanology, and the human history of the Galapagos. The lectures were delivered in the lounge, but passengers could also listen to the lectures in their cabins on Intercom channel 1 (which could also be silenced, if desired).
Following lunch on this first day, we took a panga ride along the coast line of Cerro Brujo to look for marine iguanas and learn more about the geology of the Galapagos. A refreshing swim in turquoise waters capped off the end of a perfect first day.
Here is a slide show with some of the day's favorite shots:
We fell asleep to the gentle rocking of the boat as it motored overnight to our next stop: Española Island. Read more about that day's adventures at Day 2...