Since Charles Darwin’s visit in 1835 and his monumental “Origin of Species” describing the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection, Galapágos has excited man’s imagination and been a living laboratory for . On this isolated group of islands the flora and fauna, adapting to diverse conditions, have evolved into species found nowhere else in the world. Their uniqueness can be clearly witnessed, making Darwin’s theory obvious even to the amateur. To keep the Galapágos in as natural a state as possible, the Ecuadorian Government declared the archipelago a National Park in 1959. The Charles Darwin Research Station was inaugurated five years later. Today, the National Park Service supervises and strictly controls all activities within the Galapágos National Park.
The waters surrounding the islands are now a 133,000 square kilometer Marine Reserve, created in 1998 and managed by the Galapágos National Park Service. This reserve has an extraordinary range of habitats and species, such as, sea lions, fur seals, green turtles, marine iguanas, dolphins, free swimming moray eels, the smallest penguins in the world and the popular whale shark (in the season). The Galapágos Islands and the Marine Reserve are a much sought after destination by naturalists and anybody who is interested in seeing this amazing land and water full of animals who know no fear of humans. For divers it is a chance to come up close with schools of hammerheads just like in Cocos and Malpelo and also see the rare penguin and the only marine iguanas in the world.
For a week, we were the pampered guests.
Initial contact with the liveaboard was made by emailing her owner, Rolf Dieter Sievers. He and his family moved to the Galapágos islands back in the 40’s and were among the first pioneers of the islands and organizers of cruises in the archipelago. The business is now mostly run by his son Dirk but Rolf D. is still involved with sales. You couldn’t imagine a better person to organize your trip to the Galapágos as the care involved from beginning to end is flawless.
After a comfortable flight from Houston, we were picked up at Guayaquil airport and transferred to our hotel. Normally you would fly into Quito but our flight was re-directed to Guayaquil due to the recent volcano eruption near the capital. We spent a restful night and woke up early to catch our flight to Baltra, gateway to the Galapágos.
In Baltra we were met by our guide for the week; Victor Mendia. Victor is a very experienced naturalist and scuba instructor who was born on the island of San Cristobal and loves teaching people about the wonders of his home islands. He took us on the bus to the harbor where we were swiftly transferred to the Reina Siliva. She sure looked nice on photos but we weren’t quite ready for the luxurious accommodations awaiting us when we stepped onboard.
The liveaboard accommodates her guests in eight double cabins, all furnished with oversized upper and lower beds, WC, shower, wash basin and a vanity. On charter cruises, the big owner’s cabin (with king-size bed) on the upper deck is also available. The yacht is fully air-conditioned and features up-to-date security, navigational and communications equipment, including satellite telephone. From the well-equipped galley an excellent cuisine is offered in the spacious dining room. There is a comfortable lounge where you can read a book, watch a video or simply relax.
With a highly trained crew of eight and an English and Spanish speaking naturalist guide/dive master, the liveaboard visits the most interesting places on the island and the best dive sites during a one-week cruise.
The crew was at our beck and call at all all times. We woke up every morning between 6 or 7 am for a busy schedule of diving and land excursions. We did an average of three dives a day depending on whether there would be a land visit that day or not.
First thing you notice in the Galapágos is the critters everywhere. Blue footed boobies on the bow of the ship, sea lions in the water, and no animal seems to be alarmed by human beings. By the hundreds, pods of dolphins would greet the boat and swim along side on every crossings
All meals and excursions are announced by ringing a bell and our daily alarm clock was the popular local salsa music. Quite a cheery way to wake up! All meals are extremely nutritious starting with a large breakfast buffet and your order of eggs, pancakes, french toast, fresh juices and fruit. You name it and it would miraculously appear out of the kitchen. Lunch and dinner were also an elaborate three course affair, one even more delicious than the other including lobster, shrimp, ceviche, lasagna, tasty salads and much more, served by the ever friendly steward Elvis.
Not only would Elvis serve us breakfast, lunch and dinner he would also be waiting for us coming out of the dinghy with refreshing cold towelettes, what a five start treatment!
After settling into our cabins and having lunch we geared up for our check-out dive at North Seymour. The water was cold and the visibility wasn’t the best but then we only used this dive to check our buoyancy.
Gear tested, we got out of the water and prepared for our first land excursion at the same island. We were overwhelmed by the large numbers of sea lions, of which many mothers with their young pups. They are not afraid by humans but you are instructed to stay on the path and not touch them. Touching a pup might alter their smell, resulting in the mother abandoning her pup and her certain death because of it.