Nature overload: eight magical days in the Galapagos

Visiting the Galapagos has always been one of those big bucket list items for me. In fact, our whole trip was built around three must-dos: Rio Carnaval, Machu Picchu and the Galapagos. Suffice to say, expectations were high. Sky high.

I could have set my expectations at the moon, and I still would have been blown away.

Our home for the eight days was the Yate Guantanamera, a tourist-class (read: pretty budget) ship that we booked via Oasis Overland. Most of the other people on board booked last minute in Puerto Ayora (one couple even booked on the day of departure!), so that is a very viable option for anyone looking to do ‘budget’ Galapagos. But we had limited time and wanted a guaranteed sailing date, so we planned ahead!

Even for a budget ship, Guantanamera provided everything we needed: snorkelling equipment and wet suits (it was the “cold” season in Galapagos, so swimming was more comfortable in a short wetsuit), clean (if very cramped) cabins and surprisingly excellent food. Plus, the itinerary was amazing. Over the course of eight days/seven nights, we sailed: Baltra-Bartolome-Genovesa-Isabela-Fernandino-Santiago-Rabida – the North/West islands.

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What surprised me the most about the Galapagos was the variety of landscape. I don’t know what I pictured in my head before, but I wasn’t expecting the mixture of beach paradises, lush forests, ancient calderas and barren lava fields that we came across. Each island is so different, and it makes me wonder what I missed out on from the places we didn’t see! Oh well, an excuse to go back…

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Then, of course, the wildlife. We felt so lucky to see so much, but maybe it wasn’t luck – maybe it’s just the Galapagos? Still, on land, in the air and under the sea, we saw such variety of wildlife that it was pretty overwhelming, and sometimes even easy to get jaded. Oh, swimming with another turtle? Yawn. Was that a reef shark? Who cares. Is that a rare red-foot booby? Yes, but where are the blue foot? Haha, okay, we weren’t quite that bad, but it did feel like we kept upping the ante with every island we visited. For example, on Genovesa, we were told we had the chance to see a short-eared owl – quite rare, and normally only visible through binoculars on the rocky coast. We showed up, and there was one sitting on the bridge, just waiting for us. No big deal.

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A short-eared owl

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A pacific green sea turtle

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A white-tip reef shark

The coolest animals for me were the iguanas – both marine and land. We actually got a chance to swim with the marine iguanas, so that was pretty epic!

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A male land iguana

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Swimming with a marine iguana

But we saw SO much. Galapagos hawks within touching distance. Frigate birds with giant red inflatable pouches under their beaks. Galapagos sharks circling the boat. Hammerhead sharks (these were amazing – we swam with three). Eagle rays. Sting rays. Mobula rays in a school of hundreds. Sea lions lounging on park benches. Common dolphins leaping out of the water. Humpback whales. Giant tortoise. Thousands of varieties of fish – from puffer fish to king angelfish to neon-bright parrot fish. Three different types of boobies. Darwin finches (including the terrifying-sounding vampire finch). Flightless cormorants with useless, stubby wings. Lava lizards. Galapagos racers (snakes). Even penguins!

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A red foot booby

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Blue foot boobies fishing

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Photographing flightless cormorants

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Eagle ray

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Giant tortoise

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Hola! from a sea lion

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A great frigatebird

This was nothing like our Amazon or Pantanal experience, where we were only able to see a few animals. This was a safari on steroids. A feast for our eyes. And what was also amazing was the proximity you could get. Official rules state that you are only allowed to approach the animals at a distance of 2 metres, but the problem wasn’t us approaching the animals – but the animals approaching us!

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Hello mister sea lion

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Hello mister Galapagos hawk

All in all, a week was not enough. Top tip if you did have more time – our boat was offering discount prices if you stayed on board another week, so if you had the budget and the extra week, you could really see a lot.

I think if we went back, we’d try to get some diving in as well. We unfortunately didn’t have the opportunity and I have a feeling the diving would be incredible.

Last photo… A lava lizard perched on top of a smiling marine iguana, lying on a beach in the sunshine. It doesn’t get more Galapagos than that.

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Time for a bit of a change…

Around this time last year, I bought the domain for my married name, amyalward.co.uk, with all the best intentions of transferring my amymcculloch.wordpress.com blog to wordpress.org and setting up a better website and more interesting blog. Well… it took me until now to sort my online self out! Life, house moves, books and other priorities got in the way. But now I’m happy to properly launch http://amyalward.co.uk!

Photo: Michael Thomas Jones, originally published in The Observer

I plan to take this blog in a bit of a different direction from my previous website. There will still be posts about my books, of course, but with a greater focus on my writing process. There will be even more posts on travel – peppered with advice and tips for making travel a priority in your life. There will be more posts, period ;). My new tagline is Author on an Adventure and since, in the New Year, there’s a real adventure on the horizon, I’m excited at the prospect of blogging properly again. So watch this space!

Something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time is combine my old travel posts from my first ever blog into this site. I’ve categorised them all so that you can search my old adventures – from my gap year in 2007-2008, through to the new places I’ve been (just use the ‘Travel’ drop-down menu above).

As I’ve been archiving and categorising old posts, I’ve been drawn back into old, fond memories. Reading those first few posts of setting out on my gap year adventure – arriving wide-eyed in Nairobi, eating fire on Zanzibar, the unsettling arrest in Zimbabwe – I can’t help but compare those times to now. How much has changed since then: I met and married the love of my life, I’ve published three novels (unthinkable back then!), climbed the publishing career ladder… it’s been a madcap eight years.

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Newbie backpackers Sarah & me outside Nairobi Railway Station back in Sept 2007

What also sticks out to me is how open and honest my blog posts were back then. They’re true accounts of that time in my life. Part of that comes from having no expectation of an audience – except for, perhaps, my mum! I didn’t worry about comments or SEO or traffic. I wrote faithfully for nine months, eventually turning all of those posts into actual printed books. They became a wonderful keepsake of my gap year that I can pull down off the bookshelf, share and flip through.

From blogs into books!

But somewhere along the line, I lost that love of blogging and the site turned into just another selling tool for my books – and probably not a very effective one. The blog lost its heart. What I love and return to when I read other blogs are real, honest posts – whether about a person’s writing process, style, travels, or food & book recommendations.  I want to turn this place back into a snapshot of my life and the things I’m passionate about: writing, books, travel, food… and all around adventure. And still, if no one else reads except my Mum (hi Mum!), at least I’ll have an archive of text I can print out and bind into a book. Now that’s special to me!

I want to shout out to Carrie Brighton for recommending pipdig.co for the blog theme. It was so easy to install and customise – I was quite proud of myself for doing it all by myself (my 16-year-old coder self is shaking her head at my incompetence). The transfer from wordpress.com to wordpress.org was relatively painless as well. Hard to know what I was waiting for, really.

Well, I’m here now. I hope you stick around!

 

 

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