01 Aug The Galapagos
[The traveler] may feel assured, he will meet with no difficulties or dangers, excepting in rare cases, nearly so bad as he beforehand anticipates. In a moral point of view, the effect ought to be, to teach him good-humored patience, freedom from selfishness, the habit of acting for himself, and of making the best of every occurrence. . . Traveling ought also to teach him distrust; but at the same time he will discover, how many truly kind-hearted people there are, with whom he never before had, or ever again will have any further communication, who yet are ready to offer him the most disinterested assistance. ~ Charles Darwin
Eden For Your World does the Galapagos – but, not the blog. Please enjoy the following guest blog post from our dear guest Mrs. Josephine M., who accompanied us, along with her family, to experience the magic of the islands!
I have been fortunate to travel to many places in the world with trips planned by Eden for Your World. They have arranged travels to Asia, Europe, South America, and the South Pacific. I can assure you that as outstanding and memorable each of those trips have been, I have truly never experienced anything like the trip we took to the Galapagos.
It all started about two years ago… John and Kasra, at Eden For Your World, thought, wouldn’t it be fun to gather a small group of people and not just book them on a trip but lead the excursion…to the Galapagos! Along with their partners in Ecuador, they designed a trip of a lifetime! They sent out a feeler email to see if anyone was interested. I saw the email and before a minute had passed my entire family was on board. We responded immediately. Our quick reaction paid off – John and Kasra were inundated with responses. Seems everyone was anxious to explore the world with the two of them. From then on it was in their hands and it was a breeze. We were given details, updates, and payment timelines. They communicated with us via email, phone and social media. They sent pictures and relevant articles to spark our imagination. They sent guidelines on what to pack, how to tip, and local customs to ease our minds. They even arranged a wonderful reception at their home so that we could meet all of our travel companions and had representatives to answer all of our specific questions. You know the pressing questions like: What is the exchange rate? (None – the Ecuadorians use the US dollar), is their WIFI? (only some places). And the ever important question; do you have ice-cream on board? (asked by my daughter and yes, they do).
We started our trip in Quito, the capital and largest city in Ecuador. We stayed at Plaza Grande Hotel in the colonial section of Quito. The hotel is full of old world charm with the benefits of all the modern day conveniences you want. The central, historic, part of the city is quite spectacular. It is a UNESCO World Heritage city, because of it’s well preserved Spanish Colonial architecture.
We enjoyed a personally guided day tour of this enchanting city and the surrounding areas. This is a city of cobblestone streets and breath-taking churches. We started our tour at La Basilica, a Gothic church renowned for its soaring buttresses and rose windows. Unique to Ecuadorian architecture the stained glass windows feature orchids in the designs and instead of gargoyles native animals serve to protect the edifice.
We were then off to the Intinan Museum at the middle of the world. Yes, the EXACT middle of the Earth. This outdoor museum showed how native Ecuadorians lived, which was enough to make it worthwhile but the real excitement came when we stood on the Equator. We were always taught that this is an imaginary line that separates the Northern from the Southern Hemisphere. It is so much more than that. It is the place where the magnetic forces of the poles cancel each other out. Did you know that it is really hard to walk directly on the Equator? The best part of this museum was that it gave everyone in the group a chance to learn and laugh together. It was a great bonding experience that made the rest of our trip even more memorable.
Then it was back into the city with a visit to Capilla de los Milagros, a small 16th century chapel. While this chapel had all of the charm that one would hope for and expect it was what followed that truly took our breath away. We exited the church into a dazzling enclosed courtyard. Whitewashed walls -hand laid stone terraces and a bell tower that reached to an impossibly blue sky. In the shade of a small group of trees a table for 18 was set as traditional music played in the background and women dressed in authentic costumes handed us traditional refreshments. It was like walking onto a movie set. We feasted on four courses of authentic Ecuadorian cuisine while enjoying traditional dances from brightly clothed dancers. And of course Eden For Your World had worked their usual magic and surprised one of our young travelers who is a budding chef with the privilege of cooking along side the chef.
Not to be outdone we were off to another grand church, the Iglesia de la Compania. This one’s interior was entirely covered in gold leaf and is home to a most spectacular altar. We then rounded out the afternoon with a stroll through the quaint plazas that dot the old part of the city to window shop (and souvenir shop) authentic handcrafts for which Ecuador is famous.
That evening EdenFYW gave all of us a spectacular treat. They hosted a dinner at Casa Gangotena for all of us. Casa Gangotena is a spectacular hotel two plazas over from our hotel. So that evening under old-fashioned lamplight we strolled through town to Casa Gangotena. This grand hotel was once home to an old aristocratic family. We walked into the marble hall and made our way to the solarium where we enjoyed a pre-dinner cocktail. Then off to a gilded dining room for dinner. Ecuadorians enjoy colorful, playful food and enjoy a varied palate. This was evidence from the very start. We were served bread. Then out came a platter with eight tiny bowls lined up; eight varied and intriguing dipping sauces for the bread. My favorite was a beet and horseradish combination. The food was glorious, the atmosphere joyous and the conversation, marvelous. It was if the 18 of us had known each other all of our lives and had always traveled together. Then another leisurely stroll back to our hotel and a welcomed night sleep in a very comfortable bed.
The following day we set off for the Galapagos Islands. The organized transfer, flights and VIP arrival at the Baltra airport could not have been easier…
Then we saw her. The M/Y Grace (I refer to her as the Grace. M/Y is her official title as she is a motor yacht. At the time she was commissioned motor yachts were not as common as they are today. )
She had all of the style, glamour and old world grace we had hoped for (pun intended). The furnishings are classic yet comfortable. This was a yacht that was designed for the comfort of her guests without a lot of the trappings and space conserving mis-steps you see in more modern vessels. The outdoor space is designed to allow cooling breezes and warm sun when you want them and shade and respite from the wind when you need it.
There were 18 of us on board and a staff of 15. I could go on for pages on the virtues of the staff, individually and as a group, but suffice to say that they take their jobs very seriously and our comfort and safety were of paramount importance to them. They were warm and kind and very knowledgeable.
What many people do not know about the Galapagos is that tourism is very well controlled and restricted. The Ecuadorians want tourists to enjoy this natural wonder but respect it enough to keep numbers of people in check so that we do not disturb the natural order of the islands. Because of this the schedule that we had was dictated by the National Park. We were given windows of times to be at certain islands then we were required to pull up anchor and move on. Here lies the biggest benefit for traveling with Eden For Your World and the Quasar Group (which owns the Grace). Because there were only 18 of us we had the flexibility to make changes within our set time frames to take full advantage of opportunities as they arose. I will get to that in a bit.
We spent 8 days on the boat. The days started with a wake-up call and either a hike on an island or a snorkel. Then back to the boat for breakfast. After breakfast we would head out for another hike or snorkel followed by lunch and an afternoon hike or snorkel and or cruise to a new island. Follow that by wrap of the day’s events and with slide show of the highlights of the day (another of John’s many talents) and finally dinner under the stars.
Let me take a minute to tell you that the food on board was ridiculously good. They joked that the chef was going to try to put weight on us while the guides would try to work it off of us. I think the chef won. Every meal featured fresh fruits and vegetables, soups and salads main dishes and dessert. Yes, we had dessert twice a day every day. Correction, we had fabulous, decadent, handmade desserts, twice a day, every day.
Now, onto the good stuff. What you’ve been waiting to hear. Is the Galapagos as good as you hear? No, it is so much better. It is truly better than you can imagine. On our first day, our first excursion we landed on a beach with 30+ sea lions that were basking in the sand. Was it roped off? NO! We were there within feet (sometimes inches) of these animals. Now, they do have rules. You may not touch the wild life – and they are serious about that. But if the wildlife touches you, that is okay. One sea lion walked up to a member of our party and brushed its whiskers against her leg (that is how they explore).
The two naturalists we had with us knew absolutely EVERYTHING about everything that had to do with the islands. They knew each animal, plant, rock, bird, and all of the history of these wonderful islands and they were funny and interesting to boot. They made sure that all of us no matter our age or ability truly enjoyed our experience. They were able to custom tailor each experience because there were two of them.
I will now list for you all of the animals we saw – up close.
- Sea lions (they love to swim with people)
- White tipped sharks (yes, we did swim with them too)
- Land iguanas
- Sea iguanas (little known fact that they are the only ones that swim in the world. They are black prehistoric looking and a little disconcerting when they slither through the water using only their tails
- Sea turtles (we swam with them too)
- Sea stars, sea anemones, huge schools of fish
- Hammer head sharks
- Jelly fish
- Sea horses
- Dozens of species of birds, including of course the famous blue footed boobies
- Crabs – lots and lots of crabs
- Giant tortoise
Wow! That is amazing. Is that all you saw? Why no, it’s not. Remember I told you about the ability of this group to take advantage of opportunities when they arose. One day before the morning snorkel, someone spotted a killer whale off the bow. Yes that is right, a killer whale. Down went to pangas (little boats that shuttle you from ship to shore), and off everyone went. Now, it would be dangerous to swim with them but the pangas got within 20 feet of the whale that breached several times. The next day, a pod of dolphins was sited – down went the pangas filled with passengers/snorkelers (kids still in the PJs). It was thrilling and wonderful.
The days were filled with so many wonderful, astonishing, memorable moments. It was truly a life changing experience. What a great “family” we had become over our week on board together.
Upon our return some of us headed back to the States, while others headed out to Mashpi Lodge, and eco-resort in the Ecuadorian cloud forest. [Please see next blog post]
If this trip sounds like a trip of a lifetime and I assure it was. The thing is every trip that EdenFYW has planned for us is a trip of a lifetime. The thought that they put into every detail is unsurpassed in the industry. They leave nothing to chance. They are always just a phone call away if you ever need them. But to have John and Kasra actually with us made the trip all the more special.
Here is our Galapagos travel video, so you can see a why you must go: The Galapagos