At 7:00 a.m. on Day 2 of our trip aboard M/Y Grace yacht, we took a short panga ride to steep cliffs and with the help of “Prince Phillip’s Steps”, scrambled up 90m to the top of the remote Island of Genovesa. There we encountered a vast breeding ground of Nazca (masked) Boobies. These beautiful birds, slightly larger than seagulls, nest on the ground and they don’t mind at all if you get very close and watch them carry out their mating game. There is a “pecking order” of rules – he brings her a small twig and places it at her feet, then a tiny stone, and another twig. If she accepts these gifts, she picks them up and puts them beside her. He knows then that he has made it to the next level (so to speak). An awkward few moments follow – she sits on the ground, he seems shy and carefully walks around her, then tries to climb on board, sometimes slipping off her sleek feathers – and then, it’s over! And off they waddle on their separate ways to get on with the day’s chores.
Rafael (“Rafa”), our guide, naturalist and ornithologist, leads us along a trail over the flat lava top of the island where we see the famous red-footed booby with turquoise beak nesting in dense foliage, and then beyond looking out to sea is a vast barren volcanic stretch swarming with storm petrels (like swallows), gulls, frigate birds, brown noddies, finches and countless other birds. “The first one to see a short-eared owl gets a free drink tonight!” says Rafa. Quick as a flash, out come binoculars as we all scan the nooks and cracks of the black rock looking for this well-camouflaged tiny bird, the only owl in the world that is up during the day. Alas, no free drink tonight.
Back on board, we are fitted with wet suits and snorkels and off we go again in the panga to snorkel with Rafa. We see blue striped Parrotfish, Razor Surgeonfish with bright yellow tails, sea turtles that look you in the eyes. Rafa dives down and brings up a giant red sea star for us to see close up.
Lunch is on the deck under the shade of a canopy, served by Glenda and Caesar, our two attentive waiters and bartender – ceviche fresh and pungent with flavors of lime and cilantro, grilled fish, salad, hot rolls and fresh fruit for dessert.
A short siesta and we are off again by panga to the white sand beach where we are met by sea lions lolling about – mums, dads and babies, some teenagers too who, once again, don’t mind at all if we come near and say hello. A short walk reveals more blue-footed boobies, frigate birds puffing their bright red throats and heron standing patiently on one leg waiting for their next catch. We swim from the beach – the water is as warm as the air.
Back on M/Y Grace, we gather over drinks in the comfortable lounge for a briefing by Rafa, a chance for us to ask questions and hear about the activities planned for tomorrow. Rafa’s knowledge of his native Galapagos is extraordinary, and, as we were to find out, so are his leadership skills – always planning ahead, adjusting our timetable if necessary to make our excursions as private as possible, with adventure and humour – he made us feel safe and happy.
After a sumptuous dinner of grilled shrimp, steak, vegetables, salads and fresh baked sweets, we motored overnight to Isla Isabella. The sea was calm, the night sky revealed constellations most of us had never seen before, the soft drone of the engines (just loud enough to drown out your partner’s snores) lulled us to sleep. “What a perfect day,” I mumbled to my friend.
We had six more of those days. Is it any wonder that a Galapagos luxury cruise on board M/Y Grace is still on my “bucket list”?
– Heather Grant