Matthew, Alison, Heather and Laura
After a round of golf at Banbridge in the company of a very talented golfer, the TakeTime watch headed from Northern Ireland across the Atlantic to Colombia where I collected it over a pint and a catch up in our local Bogotá Beer Company (BBC) pub.
After breakfast we headed to colourful Usaquen market on a mission to buy a hammock. Colombia were playing so every bar and cafe was a sea of yellow. The whole city erupts every time they score a goal.
Today our world was packed into 162 crates and loaded onto an airport lorry ready for another move. The packers have a habit of boxing up anything not nailed down so the TakeTime watch was safely on my wrist throughout!
An early start to fly via Guayaquil to Seymour Airport on Baltra island in the Galápagos. We then headed to Puerto Ayora to get our bearings. Although not that far it’s a convoluted route to get here involving a car, two planes, a bus, a ferry and a pickup truck. We whiled away the afternoon spotting sea lions incongruously kipping on park benches and iguanas strolling along the main shopping street.
We joined the Galápagos Odyssey yacht and got to know our 11 travelling companions, who seem a pleasant bunch. It’s nice that there are five children amongst them of similar ages to ours. After a briefing by Jaime, our sociable and knowledgeable naturalist guide, and a splendid buffet lunch we sailed around the coast of Santa Cruz for an amazing encounter swimming with sea lions. This was followed by a hike up Dragon Hill spotting numerous huge marine and land iguanas and indigenous birds. Animals here have little fear of humans so although we are told not to approach them too closely there’s nothing to stop them from coming right up to you, and they do. During the evening a dozen or so large sharks congregated around the rear of the boat hoping for some scraps from the galley.
We had moved to Rabida island overnight which has splendid red beaches and a large sea lion population. After exploring cacti forests and dodging swooping pelicans we returned to the yacht for more underwater encounters with sea lions and myriads of tropical fish. Moving on during the afternoon to the very aptly named Chinese Hat we got up close and personal with huge shoals of fish before hiking on the volcanic cone to watch the sunset.
It was a long overnight cruise to the little visited Genovesa Island with Poseidon lifting the equator line for us to pass on the way. Anchoring in the flooded caldera offered spectacular views of the inside of a sunken volcano and this morning’s hike took us amongst the most incredible selection of bird life including cheeky red-footed boobies, large frigatebirds, yellow warblers, Darwin’s Finches, Galapagos mockingbirds, tropicbirds, Nazca boobies, storm petrels and lava- and swallow-tailed gulls. Later, whilst snorkelling, we spotted a school of hammerhead sharks swim a metre or so below us quite unconcerned by our presence. After lunch we took to kayaks, a peaceful way to take in the spectacular surroundings and spot fur seals amongst the rocks. Another beach landing in the evening allowed us to watch magnificent frigatebirds inflating their huge red throat pouches whilst sea lions played in the pools by our feet.
Another long overnight cruise took us to the volcanic islet of Bartolome. After climbing to the summit to take in the spectacular views and a very entertaining talk on plate tectonics with the children playing the parts of various plates and geological features we took to the dinghies to spot Galápagos penguins and blue-footed boobies. Whilst snorkelling in the same area later, an agile penguin joined us which is a very rare treat in such warm waters. In the afternoon we landed at the moon-scape of Sullivan Bay on Santiago Island where lava flows have solidified into amazing and unique formations that stretch far into the distance. Walking amongst the hills of black rippling liquid-like rock is an absolutely unforgettable experience.
Heading ashore from the Galápagos Odyssey for the final time, we drove into the centre of Santa Cruz Island to find Galápagos giant tortoises which fully live up to their name. We bade a fond farewell to Jaime and the other families and returned to Puerto Ayora to a poolside cottage for the remainder of our adventure. Suitably recharged we strolled to the Charles Darwin Research Station where we learned more about the theories of the great man, the work of the institute and the sad story of Lonesome George.
A short water taxi journey and hike took us to Finch Bay and Las Grietas, popular local swimming spots. Later we were entertained by pelicans and a sea lion trying to cadge scraps at the fish market. In the afternoon we strolled to Tortuga Bay, dodging marine iguanas on the way, and were lucky to have a couple of small sharks swimming around our ankles whilst we were having a paddle in the clear water.
We had time to watch England beat Sweden before heading to Baltra island to catch the flight home. It has been a brilliant experience, made all the more special by the presence of the TakeTime watch.