Location: The Galapagos Islands

Today was absolutely incredible! It was so extraordinary that it felt like we were living in a movie or a dream, not real life. Words don’t do our experiences justice, but I can certainly try. We rose early to a pale sunrise and the rumbling of the Darwin’s engine. Breakfast, while still at 7am like normal, was unusually good. Our good-humored chef whipped up a hearty meal of chewy French toast, boiled eggs in the first days tomato sauce, crunchy toast with butter and guava jelly, granola with strawberry yogurt, and, of course, the amazing cantaloupe and pineapple that they serve with every meal. All of this we ate while looking out the window at the volcanic grays, rust reds and blacks coloring Bartholomew Island, its vivid, orange beach and the famous Pinnacle Rock. After scarfing down breakfast like usual (we leave the slowing down for our daily naps), we took the dinghy out to the island. We managed a safe dry landing, despite Fabian (our guide) insisting that the rocks were slippery like soap, and took a nice hike up the boardwalk and many flights of wooden stairs that led up to the top of the islands little peak. As we walked up the mountain, marveling at the islands Martian landscape and the vibrant aquamarine of the ocean, we happened upon a young, male Galapagos hawk, a beautiful, dignified bird with plumage of cream streaked with brown and intense, orange eyes. We took more pictures on that hike than anyone could count, both of the bird and of ourselves. We even enjoyed incredible view and wildlife as we waited for Fabians walkie talkie calls of Darwin, Darwin de mobil to go through, getting the privilege of viewing more of the scarlet Sally Lightfoot crabs that you find everywhere in the Galapagos, a sleeping sea lion, a lava heron, and a perfectly camouflaged marine iguana.
Once back on the boat, we grabbed our beach and snorkel gear and made a quick turnaround to head to the orange beach at the base of Pinnacle Rock. Some decided to stay on the soft sands and sunbathe, and the rest of us donned our spring suits, masks and snorkels and went out to explore the waters. This time around, we saw even incredible things while snorkeling. We drifted by huge corals and watched fish of all shapes, sizes and colors weaving around intriguing lava rock sculptures. We saw parrotfish, wrasses and puffers, but the highlight of our journey didn’t come until we rounded Pinnacle Rock and encountered a group of three tiny penguins sitting on the rocky shore. We hovered there, smiling and exclaiming about how cute our black and white friends were for a good five minutes before heading back to the beach to play with the others and our new floaty pretzel and doughnut.
After another nice lunch of noodle and cheese soup that tasted like ravioli filling, ceviche Galapagos style (cooked), cauliflower with cheese sauce, and, of course, rice, cantaloupe, and pineapple, everyone but Devin, Sky, and I passed out on the couches and in their beds. The three of us went with the kindly Captain Augustine in the Zodiac/dinghy to patrol the shores of Bartholomew Island for penguins. We found a little family of three penguins, two adults and one fluffy, endearingly awkward adolescent, almost immediately. We took lots of pictures and then enjoyed a little tour of the lava rock shores of Santiago courtesy of the captain. When we returned, everyone was still out cold (as we usually are after lunch, and activities, and while on any moving vehicle). Our siesta lasted for maybe ten more minutes. Then, the strident chime of the bell followed by disembarkation to the shore that Devin, Sky and I had just explored by boat. The hundred-year-old lava flows of Sullivan Bay are astounding and almost alien. The rock appears to move beneath your feet. The strange folds created when the lava rapidly solidified creates this optical illusion and gives the lava flows the air of a place frozen in time. After setting our guides record for the fastest completion of the Sullivan Bay hiking loop (around 55 minutes), we headed to a nearby beach, donned our snorkeling gear, and plunged into the frigid water. Quinn, Cap, Skylar, Sky, Devin and I worked our way down the rocky coast in search of sharks and turtles. After what felt like ten minutes of constant swimming, we found a stingray and three green sea turtles grazing on algae! They were beautiful and completely calm, allowing us to stare at them and follow them around. We saw two smaller ones with light brown shells and one larger one with a darker, greener shell. We would have stayed out there with the turtles for hours, but the increasing cold eventually forced us to return to the beach and then the boat. We all cleaned up and hung out for a while. I ended up on the top deck watching the sunset and just happened to be there when Sky spotted what looked like a huge pod of dolphins off in the distance. We yelled for Devin so that we could use his zoom lens to see the dolphins more clearly, and then, the boat suddenly turned. Quinn had gone into the captain’s cabin, pointed at the dolphins, said Por favor and gotten the captain to steer our boat right into the dolphins midst. As we approached them, it became clear that this was no ordinary pod of dolphins. This group was over a hundred strong and, as we soon learned, was actually made up of multiple bottlenose dolphin pods migrating through the Galapagos! When the dolphins noticed us, they all turned and fell in line with our boat. At least ten suddenly appeared below the bow of our boat, racing it effortlessly. Everyone, even the crew, heard our screams of Dolphins! and scrambled out to the bow, stunned, smiling like maniacs, and yelling. All around us were these huge, strong beautiful creatures, squeaking, playing, racing our boat and even jumping. It was as if they were showing off to us. Some of the dolphins executed incredible jumps, launching themselves anywhere from a foot to 12 to 15 feet above the water, twisting and falling back into the ocean with gigantic splashes. For twenty minutes, we stood out on deck, absolutely mesmerized and excited out of our minds.
Our incredible day didn’t even end there. At dinner, we told our guide that wed seen dolphins while he was holed up in his cabin, and he threw a small fit, prompting the crew to crack up and then make us crack up during our daily briefing. Fabian couldn’t get us to stop laughing (some of us to the point of crying) for a good five minutes. Then, we had a great final dinner of spaghetti, chop suey (basically shrimp, pork and veggie stir-fry) and pound cake with brightly colored peach sauce. After dinner, the crew started yelling about sharks on the back deck, and we all ran out to see huge (6-7 feet long) Galapagos sharks swimming into and out of the darkness in the water behind our boat. Most people went inside, but a couple of us stayed out on the top decks deck chairs, watching the stars come out while Cap scanned the water endlessly with a Maglite in search of more sharks. The sliver of a moon had already set and there were more stars than I have ever seen in my entire life, all of them unimaginably bright. The entire sky was filled with pinpoints of light and the Milky Way arched overhead, luminous against the dark of space. The stars literally twinkled, and shooting stars streaked across the sky every couple of minutes. To be honest, words just cant do these experiences justice. They were indescribably magical. Now this is the kind of day that you remember for the rest of your life.