Since I’ve returned to the States I have been able to develop the film from my underwater camera that I took to the Galapagos Islands. Here is what I discovered captured on my roll:
Each of us had to wade in the water to climb back into the zodiac to depart Floreana Island. I could not hide the grimace on my face when my my feet were drowned in the icey water. The sensation implanted itself into my mind and stayed there during breakfast and afterward when Tour Guide George came around telling us to suit up for our snorkeling adventure. I noticed most of the group sucking themselves into their tight wetsuits and grabbing the bags of fins and masks with their room numbers. As I continued to contemplate, I looked everywhere for my friend, whom I found clothed and ready to hit the sun-deck on the third level of the catamaran. She had decided to skip out of snorkeling this time, not because of the cold water but simply because it was not her cup of tea. She asked me whether or not I was going and I explained my fear of the freezing temperatures. Her reply, “I think you’re going.”
Sure enough, my friend was right. I had decided that since I was in THE Galapagos, I could not miss out on any opportunity. Within minutes, my wetsuit was squeezed on and I was sitting on the side of the catamaran bouncing off the water toward our destination. We reached a cove in Champion Islet and immediately noticed the two spunky sea lions darting around each other, popping in and out of the water. Tour Guide George said they were eager to play with us. One by one, people fell overboard and into the water. I was one of the last ones who reluctantly slipped into the arctic water, only to feel like I had just been stabbed in every inch of my body.
However, my body either adjusted or became numb because I put my head on the water’s surface and began flipping around watching the two sea lions frolicking underwater. I could never keep track of them because they were incredibly fast. We would pop up out of water to look around and realize one was right behind us. We would turn around and they would have disappeared underwater again. On a couple of occasions, the sea lion would come head-first straight at you, only to turn away or dive deep down. The group members were inches away from the sea lions, swimming and playing with them in their natural environment. Both the sea lions were twirling and spinning beneath us and it was amazing to watch. One of my friends I had made on the voyage could not stop giggling every time one of the sea lions would swim near her. Eventually, I was cold enough that I wanted to get out and warm up. I sat in the zodiac waiting for the others to slowly join me, hoping that my under-water camera was able to get some good shots of the magnificent animals.
Sadly, Tour Guide George had the idea of heading to a different place known to have more sea lions. The group shivered as the zodiac made its way to the spot. Another tour group was in the area swimming in the freezing water without wetsuits and we couldn’t believe it. Looking at the water we could tell it was a bit rough and by then, most of us had dried a bit and didn’t want to jump back in. the water We decided to head back to the catamaran. We jumped aboard, took off our wetsuits and warmed up with tea that the crew had set out for us. After every snorkeling trip the crew would have some sort of snack and beverage waiting for us on deck and it was always thankfully devoured.
Once we regained feeling in our bodies, Tour Guide George told us that we would be heading to Post Office Bay and said it also offered an opportunity to snorkel with sea turtles. That brightened me up, but sadly, I had already made up my mind that I was done with snorkeling for the day. A few of us sat up on the sun-deck relaxing until departure time. With a view of the bay I was able to see a sea turtle floating around in the water. It was bittersweet to say the least and to make it worse, Post Office Bay was unfortunately another wet-landing.
I braced myself for the cold and raced out of the water as fast as I could. The weather had turned cloudy and the temperatures had dropped to the point that I was layered in clothes. Being from Arizona, we always like to say, anything below 70 is freezing to us. Tour Guide George took us on a little path through the brush to an area that resembled a bonfire setup. This was the Post Office, and the itinerary provided a brief explanation as to its history:
At Post Office Bay, eighteenth century whalers used a barrel as an unofficial mail drop. In those times ships were often away from home for two or more years at a time. Ships on their outward journeys would leave letters and ships returning home would pick them up and bring them to their homeland.
Some of the original wood was still present, whereas others had been added, their surfaces scribbled with the names and messages of previous visitors. The main attraction of the post office is the 200-year-old barrel that looks like a giant birdhouse with stickers plastered all over it. Inside are piles and piles of postcards left by travelers. The traditions has each visitor leave a postcard, which requires no postage stamp. When a new group arrives, such as ours, we open the little door to the barrel, pull out the postcards, divide them amongst ourselves and find ones that are addressed in areas as close to our homes. as possible If we find one, or two, or three – in the case of my friend from New York – we take them back with us and either personally deliver them if they are close enough, or mail them to their final destinations. It is truly an amazing experience to see who stepped on the island before you and read what the have to say.
The group members would shout out countries and states to each other, passing a postcards here and there. It could take weeks, months and even years for them to be delivered, depending on where the travelers are from and where the postcards are addressed. I came across a few that said “Do not take”, which meant that the post-sender wanted it to be picked up by someone else – such as the Navy. Once or twice a year – I forgot what Tour Guide George said – the Navy comes a long and picks up all the cards that have not been taken to mail once they reach port. Overall, it was a lovely tradition that I was happy to continue, even though I didn’t find any postcards to send once I returned home. Hopefully someone from Arizona visits and picks mine up!
We returned back to the beach where we were allowed to rest. Most of us went to go watch the soccer game that was taking place for a few minutes. There was an entire field of men dressed in jerseys and some were recognizable as part of our ship’s crew. Even this far out on a tiny island, the game of soccer – or football – still carried on just like the Post Office tradition. Quite a few of us were getting really cold so Tour Guide George used his walkie-talkie to request that the zodiacs come and take us to the warmth of the catamaran. I could already feel the effects of the the weather and freezing water from snorkeling with sea lions taking its toll on me.
That night was gruesome for me. As soon as I got back on the ship I took a hot shower and crawled into bed. I missed the briefing for that evening, as well as dinner. To spare the gritty details, the toilet became my friend throughout the dark hours about three times. When I finally let my head hit the pillow, the question of whether or not I would be taking part in the next day’s adventure was still up in the air.
The Nina sailed onto Gardner Bay after completion of our early morning exploration of Española Island. We were eating lunch and I believe it was during this quick intermission between adventures that a smile was permanently sewn into my face for the remainder of the voyage (minus one unfortunate evening//night that you’ll read about in an upcoming chapter) because my expectations of the Galapagos Islands had already been surpassed. In just one morning – not even a full day – I had seen the rest of the animals that I wanted to see while island hopping. The landscapes reminded me of home, as well as my favorite t.v. show Xena: Warrior Princess. In other words, I could have left after this day and been a happy camper. I didn’t know how much better it could get – or even if it was possible – but it was.
Tour Guide George came to the dining room and told us to get prepared for a wet landing on the beach of Gardner Bay. We could bring our snorkeling gear if we wanted or our towels to sun-bathe for a bit. It was early enough in the afternoon that we would have time to relax on the soft, white-sand beach. After putting on our swimming suits and layering our bodies with sunscreen, we boarded the zodiacs once more, but this time with no shoes. One by one we properly swung our legs over the side of the zodiac, letting our feet touch the cool water for the first time on our voyage, and walked ashore. Instantly, we were greeted with the sight of crowds and crowds of sea lions.
After the group had gathered ashore, tour guide George told us we had free time to sun-bathe with the sea lions, swim with the sea lions in the bay, snorkel with the sea turtles and explore the bay area as far as the group of rocks down the shoreline. My friend and I placed our bags near some logs and took off walking to get some shots with the sea lions that were just cuddled up in the sand, letting the sum warm them. A few were swimming along the beach, playing with each other – mainly mums and their babies. It amused me that they let the waves just roll them around as they crashed upon the sand. It was as if they preferred that area, letting their bodies swirl with the current.
Once our stroll along the bay’s beach ended at the rocky point, we turned around and met up with our Norwegian friend who decided to smooth out her towel on the soft, white sand and take out her book. I went over to my backpack leaning against the log and pulled out my towel to join her. My friend shared half the towel with me after stripping down to her bathing suit to sun-tan. It wasn’t long before I got distracted by the sea lions and decided to go play with them.
At first, it was merely a picture-taking opportunity. I wanted to see how close I could get to posing with them and ended up being snorted at by a playful sea lion. It scared me a bit, because we had been almost nose-to-nose but then it started to wander away. I followed along, pretending to be a sea lion to amuse my friends before going back to the yellow towel to relax a bit. I still can’t get over the fact that we were sun-bathing with sea lions in the Galapaos Islands. These were animals that I’ve only seen as cartoons in movies or performance shows at Sea World, and yet, here they were in their natural environment lounging right beside us.
Within a few short minutes, tour guide George came and said that we should go back to the ship so we could get ready to snorkel. Once on board, we started squeezing into our wetsuits and putting on our fins that had been tried on and put aside in our snorkel bags with our room numbers on them. They would be ours for the duration of the voyage, keeping it organized and allowing us not to waste time trying every wetsuit on before each snorkeling opportunity. While we were getting prepared, the boat sailed to one of the 107 rocks and islets that are also apart of the Galapagos. Once stopped, we loaded the zodiacs again with our fins and goggles in hands and headed to the launch point.
We spit and squirted shampoo into the goggles to ensure clear vision, put on our fins and slowly, one by one, fell into the cold water. Tour guide George led us along the wall of the islet, where we could see underwater plants that grew on the rock. The water was incredibly deep and murky, making me a bit hesitant because I knew sharks also roamed this ocean. I could barely see any fishes or plants deep down and so I stayed as close to the islet’s wall as possible. However, the bare visibility made my Norwegian-expat friend extremely nervous, and she asked to hold hands with me as we snorkeled.
The group was slowly making its way around the islet, and my friend and I were in the middle hoping no shark would mistake us for a tasty sea lion. Not too long afterward, we were flapping our flippers and moving along with our eyes dashing back-and-forth when a GiANT sea lion popped right out of a murky underwater cloud. It was looking right at us as he swam past underneath of us. My Norwegian-expat friend and I let out a surprised scream. We popped our heads out of the water and looked at each other with large eyes. We eventually began laughing and smiling, looking around to see if anyone else in the group had noticed before we put our mouth pieces back in and placed our heads back on the water’s surface.
I regretfully did not have an under-water digital camera to shoot videos or pictures with during the voyage. I simply had a Kodak under-water film camera, which has not been developed yet. I apologize for the lack of under-water pictures.
We reached a small cove in the islet where we were allowed to snorkel around a bit. The zodiacs were always close by in case we raised our hands, which was the signal that we were done and ready to get out of the water. The cove had much better visibility and was not as deep. I could actually see white sand on the bottom and a variety of ocean plants. I was shocked once more, but this time it was because my Norwegian-expat friend had tugged at my arm. I looked at her and she pointed not too far ahead to a sea turtle gracefully swimming through the water. Immediately, I detached from her and swam closer to the sea turtle, watching it right below me. I followed it for as long as I could, not getting too far away from the group, until it disappeared into a murky cloud. After that, I felt like it had been a successful snorkel adventure and swam back to the zodiac where I climbed the mini-ladder and collapsed onto the side, shivering but still with that smile sewn into my face.