After an early evening flight from Miami to Guayaquil, Ecuador with a late-night sleepover at the Guayaquil Hilton, we start off early Saturday morning to the Galapagos island of San Cristobel, the port of entry to this fabulous archipelago.
It’s here the adventure begins as we gather up our luggage and wait patiently through the somewhat lengthy immigrations and customs process. Like most Latin countries, for bureaucrats—top to bottom—efficiency is as foreign as the slowly moving line of tourists they’re processing. But no matter, once through there’s plenty of interesting and simple little shops and a cafe to while away the time and browse as you await your fellow travelers. The fact that Ecuadorean currency is the U.S. dollar makes it that much easier without having to decipher currency exchange rates.
A great opportunity, in fact, to store up on souvenirs and the necessities we always forget—sunscreen, lotion, hats and whatever. In our own case, we, of course forgot a hat—which is why the hat inventory in our house rivals the most sophisticated haberdasheries of Europe. As a newly converted bird lover—mainly because of the hat—we couldn’t resist the round brimmed cloth hat with the patch that reads, “I Love Boobies.” That’s a bird people, a bird!!!
Finally, it’s off to the ship docked at the town of Puerto Banqueries Morelo, a picturesque little enclave of 7,000 people, almost 85 percent of whom work for one element or another of the Ecuadorean government, most of which are departments and ministries that overlook the myriad rules, regulations and enforcement, that relate to the protection and the special conservation requirements of the Galapagos Islands—truly one of Ecuador’s most treasured resources. There’s also one bank with one ATM machine, which, the guide assures us, is a magical little box where you put in a card and free money comes out. Unfortunately, they drove right by it through both of the town’s traffic lights.
It really is amazing though because you no sooner exit the airport bus and head for the gangway to climb aboard the Zodiacs for the transfer to Lindblad Expedition’s National Geographic Endeavour anchored out in the harbor, you get your first taste of the abundant wildlife you’re going to experience as you gape at the numerous sea lions cavorting among the rocks in the inlet and plunging playfully into the water not more than a few feet from the gangway, almost as if they’re welcoming these lumbering newcomers to come and enjoy their home.
For anyone who’s ever done any cruising, you’ll love the embarkation procedures, as smooth and efficient as you can get. Your luggage is taken over after customs and is taken to the ships, arriving long before you do and waiting for you in your cabin. Check-in consists of just that—the hotel manager checking off your name and directing you to your cabin. No muss, no fuss, no lines, no confusion. Just welcome aboard and let’s get to it.
The ship itself reflects that same sense of quiet efficiency, but at the same time exudes the kind of intimacy that encourages social mixing early on with no fixed seating, almost nonstop group activities with multiple daily excursions to the various islands we’re about to visit and the warmest, friendliest staff and group of naturalists you’ve ever met. There’s nothing stuffy about this shipboard environment and it’s about as casual and as laid back as you can imagine, with plain yet roomy and comfortable cabins which you never have the opportunity to spend much time in anyway, except for sleeping and changing clothes.
There’s a spacious and well-appointed library on the third floor for quiet getaways and a collection of books that can help inform you on virtually every aspect of Galapagos wildlife, conservation efforts and history. In addition, there’s a small gym and a wellness area where guests can enjoy various massage therapies including a unique massage experience where you lay face down on a floating massage station in the ocean with a glass bottom where you can enjoy a real world underwater show while your masseuse massages away tired muscles. In addition to the onboard naturalists, there’s also a resident photographer who can help with the intricacies of digital photography.