Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Destination: Galapagos via Celebrity Xpedition - Part III

Celebrity XpeditionUpon arriving on the boat the events of the day were explained, as well as a few simple rules which needed to be followed (for example about getting on and off the boat, and we were taken to our stateroom. We quickly explored the boat, and then went to the hot tub. By the time we got back (20 minutes) our luggage was at the room. We dressed, and unpacked and headed to Darwin's for lunch. By this time the boat was on the move to North Seymour from Baltra.

Blue Footed BoobySoon after we had the obligatory Life Boat drill. At 4:30 that afternoon, we took the high intensity tour of North Seymour Island for about 1.5 hours, 2 KM. Along the boulder strewn trail we saw frigates, land iguanas, sea lions, Blue Footed Boobies and marine iguanas. There was a low intensity zodiac ride available as well. Our hike was more than we could have hoped for. We saw zillions of animals, took lots of photos, and learned a huge amount from the naturalist. The animals are unafraid of people because they haven't been harmed by us in past years. You stand right in the midst of them, even birds. It's actually quite unnerving at first.

That evening there was a Welcome Captain's cocktail party prior to our evening briefing for the next day and our signup for the next day's activities, and followed by an excellent dinner.

By the way the dress code is CASUAL. No bathing suits are allowed in Darwin's or at dinner and some kind of footwear is required at dinner, but that's about it.

Kicker RockOn Monday we took an early morning 7:00am circumnavigation around Kicker Rock after a continental breakfast at the Beagle Grill. It was fantastic. The rock itself is fabulous, with light early morning light coming through the middle where there is a big break in the rock and giving an amazing picture. There we saw sea lions, frigates, Sally Lightfoot crabs, etc.

That morning we went to Puerto Baquero Moreno and the Human History Museum which was quite interesting, followed by shopping in town. We went down to the beach there where there were many sea lions (cubs too) and crabs, as well as marine iguanas. The harbor was lovely. Lunch at the Beagle Grill in particular was great with local grilled fish being the best choice.

After lunch, anyone who wanted to snorkel during the cruise got to obtain, and try-on the equipment, which was then your particular equipment for the duration of the cruise. Wetsuits where then hung in the lockers for you by room number and the rest of the equipment was hung next to the lockers on deck 3 in numbered bags.

American OystercatchersThat afternoon we went to Espanola Island and a High Intensity 3 KM hike over rough terrain. We saw marine iquanas, hawks, sea lions, mocking birds, yellow finches, etc. At the cliffs the scenery was unreal and the blow hole fabulous. We saw a number of Boobies here including nesting ones. There were medium and low intensity activities too.

That night we were entertained by Jacobo on the piano in the Lounge prior to the next day's briefing followed by dinner at Darwin's.

Tuesday morning after breakfast there was an 8:00am medium intensity trip at Cormorant point (wet landing) at Floreana Island. We got to learn and see about the volcanic history of the site. We saw all kinds of plant species unique to the area and visited a large brackish pond where we saw numerous flamingos, stilts, and pintailed ducks. We crossed over to a beach area where we saw numerous sea turtles close to shore. We snorkeled from the beach and saw sea turtles, sharks and barracudas under the sea. The number of fish was staggering here. Advanced snorkeling was available from Champion's island in the late morning, but I didn't go there myself.

It's interesting to note that upon returning to the boat each time from an excursion (land or sea) there was always a snack of a sandwich and some pastry, plus fruit based drinks right at the grill area to tide us over for lunch or dinner, and of course the bars were always open. This was quite tasty and we thought special.

Lunch was in Darwin's or you could go to the sandwich station at the grill.

Hawksbill TurtleAt 2:00pm I went to Mystery Bay for advanced snorkeling. It was great. I saw sea turtles, sea lions, rays, fish of all kinds and colors, and penquins. You have to be a strong swimmer to do the advanced snorkeling or you'll tire rapidly from the currents and the cold (even in the wet suit) and spend almost all your time in the zodiac instead of the water which would be a waste.

At 4:00pm there was the trip to the Baroness Lookout where people saw egrets, herons and plenty of sea turtles upon landing. It was just a short hike for this one, up the hill to the lookout.

Jacobo was at the piano again in the Lounge before the briefing, and after dinner the deck officers took us star gazing from deck 6 to learn about the southern sky.

Wednesday morning we were at Bachas Beach on Santa Cruz Island. Here we took a hike along a beautiful beach and found many Sea Turtle nesting areas. The brackish ponds had mostly dried up, so unfortunately there were no stilts or flamingos there. From the beach we went snorkeling, and this was the best snorkeling of the cruise. The water was crystal clear and the number of fish, sea turtles, parrot fish, sea lions, mantas, barracudas, rays, and sharks was extraordinary. Since the water was so clear, underwater photography was very easy.

This day we had a great Mexican buffet for lunch and in the early afternoon another great lecture, this one on the Human History of the Galapagos.

Galapagos PenquinsThat afternoon at 4:00pm we went to Bartolome Island and a high intensity climb to the top of the bill hill 374 feet up. Buzz Aldrin called the landscape of Bartolome Island the closest to what he saw on the moon, anywhere on Earth. It is outre-worldly. Down at the bottom again, we cruised around the area and saw many many penguins. There were other activities offered here too, including snorkeling and a hike across the island's short isthmus.

I'd like to add something here about the intensity of the different excursions. If you're in decent shape and prepared to take a long hike (3 hours) with good shoes over somewhat rough terrain then the high intensity excursions are for you. You don't have to be a twenty something to do this. Many of us were in our 60's and some in their 70's and one in here 80's (she does lots of walking and working out at home) who did all the high intensity activities. Now my wife and I are in the gym several days a week at home, but active people our age can definitely do these hikes. For those that can't, the low intensity walks and zodiac rides will still give those taking them a chance to see amazing scenery and tons of amazing animals.

After the briefing and dinner we had a hilarious "Crossing the Line" party in the lounge lead by the Naturalists in "pirate and Neptune costume" right as we crossed the Equator into the northern hemisphere. They crowned their queen and we all toasted the queen with champaign and had a great time. We were all give a "Crossing the Line" certificate at the party.

Thursday found us at Isabela and Fernandina Islands. In the morning we zodiacced into Elizabeth Bay and saw tons of sea creatures and Penquins, as well as the flightless Galapagos Cormerant. On the way back we had a real treat. A large number of Boobies and Pelicans had spotted a large school of fish and went into a feeding frenzy around us. We got to see them "dive bomb" into the ocean and go fishing. It was a sight not to believe.

At lunch we were treated to a sumptuous Ecuadorian Lunch Buffet in both Darwin's and the Beagle Grill. Was that lunch every fabulous!

Later we were treated to a wonderful lecture about the History of Conservation in the Galapagos.

That afternoon at 4:00pm we went on a high intensity 2.5 hike on Fernandina Island. The volcanic scenery was amazing. We saw a huge Marine Iquana colony there and more flightless Cormorants, as well as the ever present Sally Lightfoot crabs. The volcanic scenery against the blue ocean presented a scenery unlike any elsewhere on Earth. As usual, there was a low intensity activity in zodiacs available.

That evening we were all outside on decks 4 and 5 for a great barbecue "Under the Stars," after our piano entertainment in the lounge, followed by our nightly briefing for the next day.

Fur SealFriday we were at Santiago and Santa Cruz Islands. In the morning we made a wet landing at James Bay at Santiago Island. We walked along the beach and volcano flows, some of which were still warm after having been formed three years before. We saw marine iguanas, lots of various birds, but the highlight here was the Galapagos Fur Seas, which set up camp in the inter-tidal pools of collapsed lava tubes. The scenery again was unreal here. Each day we normally sea some kind of iguana, and crabs, and usually boobies, but each island has species unto itself and very different land and seascapes. It's just amazing. After the hike we went snorkeling again, and the snorkeling was excellent again with many species on display.

After Italian day for lunch we saw a wonderful IMAX movie about the Galapagos.

Then at 4:00pm we went out to Dragon Hill on Santa Cruz Island. Here we went inland on a high intensity hike in search of land iguanas, which have been rare for us so far. We did come across three large land iguanas and various kinds of cactus on the hike. One was a huge yellow and red male, several feet long. Afterward was our last snorkeling time. Unfortunately the last was not the best. The water was very murky and all of us cut our time in the water short and went back to the boat.

That evening, after our piano entertainment, briefing and dinner, we had our movie night with popcorn and milkshakes while watching Winged Migration.

Go to Destination: Galapagos via Celebrity Xpedition - Part IV

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