After a couple exciting afternoons of birding in Panama, Samantha and I rejoined the ship and were at sea just one day before arriving at the northern tip of South America. Destination: Manta, Ecuador. Surprising revelation: only my second time in South America. Ever. And you guys think I have been everywhere. Psshaw.
Now, I have been to every country in Central America, many of them twice or more, but Brazil aside, South America is completely uncharted territory for me. Ecuador is a pretty large country, and transportation on land isn’t that efficient—buses take a loooong time and all flights route through Quito—so I initially had planned to stay close to the ship and log some much-needed beach time during our three days at port. That is, until my boss at Enrichment Voyages asked if I’d like to go along to the Galapagos Islands (for free) and serve as the trip leader. As if there were any answer other than the obvious: “YES!”
So, I found myself not only in Ecuador for the first time, but also the Mother Goose of 69 travelers of all age and origin—a group which included our voyage’s two keynote speakers Valerie Biden Owens (Joe’s sister/campaign manager and executive vice president of Joe Slade White Communications) and Marjorie Margolies (former Congresswoman, women’s activist and long-time supporter of the program), among other notable VIPs—who were off on a chartered jet to explore Santa Cruz Island for three days. I’ve had worse assignments. (Also, can we just talk about how ISE does everything in true jetsetter style? A chartered plane?! We so fancy.)
Lucky for me, my co-worker Cindy—who is not only one of the loveliest, sweetest people I have ever met in my life, but also was my sister’s dean when she sailed on Semester at Sea two years ago!—had signed up, as well, so I wasn’t flying completely solo. And several of my young ship friends—six recent SAS alums, actually—were on the trip, too, so it was as if I had hand-picked my travel dream team (minus Samantha and our field office friend Chris, who chose to stick around Manta instead).
What I will tell you is that even though the Galapagos Islands are just 600 miles from Manta, it wasn’t the quickest of trips. We left the ship around 8am, took a bus to the local airport, an hour-and-a-half flight to the islands, a bus to a barge, a barge across a waterway and then another bus a little more than an hour to our hotel in Puerto Aroya, arriving around 3pm. Yes, it was a bit of a trek!
Our hotel was the Grand Hotel Lobo de Mar, a modest mid-range option with views of the ocean. It was a very Mediterranean-style lodging option with an open, airy floor plan, and I shared a triple with Katie—who, again, coincidentally was my sister’s friend from Spring 2010; even in the Galapagos Islands, I can’t escape from beneath my little sister’s shadow!—and Sue, a college professor from Florida.
We only stuck around the hotel long enough to get checked in and drop off our bags before reloading the buses and heading out to the Charles Darwin Research Station. After all, the entire purpose of coming to the Galapagos Islands is to mingle with the wildlife, right? And mingle we did.
One thing I wasn’t expecting to find on the islands was a desert landscape. But in parts, I could have sworn I’d teleported to Arizona. Of course, there was one iconic creature we encountered who convinced me that we were, indeed, in the Galapagos Islands. Can you guess who it was? Stay tuned for the answer….
PSA: If you’re looking to replicate our trip, the December 2012 Enrichment Voyage will also return to Manta, and although the field trip schedule has yet to be published, I have a sneaking suspicion the Galapagos Islands will be an option once more.