Vern: The seatbelt-lights lit up, the passengers straightened their chairs and stowed their tables and the crew strapped in. Then the mechanisms whinged as the landing-gear was released. The plane descended through the last cloud belt and the islands were visible and approaching fast. Then suddenly the plane pulled up and accelerated and with its nose in the sky we burst back into the clouds. The pilot said nothing until after a 20 minutes and big circle, the announcement system crackled and the crew were told to prepare for landing again. And with no explanation of the abandoned first attempt, the pilot brought down the plane loudly onto a wet runway and taxied toward the small wooden building.
Millions of rain droplets, smashed against the airfield and thoughtfully airline staff handed us umbrellas as we disembarked into an unexpected downpour. The park officials were lined up to collect the National Park entry fee, as the whole archipelago is a protected area, and our luggage was taken off the plane and piled up on a cement floor for retrieval. Other passengers found their names on sign boards or hopped on the airline bus (which runs from the airport island, Baltra, to the populated island, Santa Cruz) while we stalked up and down looking for a stall with our tour company's name or anything to assure us that we weren't stranded. But the small airport got quieter and quieter and we eventually sat down on our drenched backpacks defeated. Out of the shadows, a man in khaki, with glazed eyes wandered over to us, the only couple left in the airport, mumbling 'Galaven?' Relief and rain washed over us, but only for a second because the man who found us told us to wait a few minutes and then wandered off to hitch a lift for the three of us. He was successful and moments later we threw our bags under the tarpaulin in the back of a truck - no idea what else was under there - and sat in the cab with the truck driver. Our minder, who later introduced himself as our guide, Gino - rode on the back. When Gino whistled the truck stopped, we hopped out and had only seconds to grab our backpacks before the truck bumbled off. Gino whistled again and a dinghy sped over to pick the three of us up from a creaky jetty and ferried us across the deep blue bay to the 'Galapagos Adventurer 1'. We boarded while the rest of the passengers were sitting listening to a post-lunch briefing. We were the only ones joining the cruise at this time. Some passengers had boarded earlier in the day and others were on a longer cruise and had boarded three days earlier.
Gino showed us our cabin - it was larger than we expected with a double bed and a bunk on top of it, a desk, an occasional chair, two water colour paintings and a full bathroom. After dumping our backpacks, we sat down to lunch by ourselves - a hearty plate of meat, rice and vegetables. The other guide finished up briefing the other 18 passengers on the day's schedule, and wandered over to us. "Welcome, I'm Billy. I don't want to rush you but we are going ashore in 5 minutes".
We realised then, and came to appreciate in the following hours and days, that the ship ran a jam-packed schedule, with three or four excursions daily, to introduce the tourists to the magnificent abundance of creatures which inhabit the islands.
The tour group was split into two dinghy-loads and we were taken ashore to Seymour island. The sun was out again and shining bright, though the rain had awoken mosquitos which were a nuisance during several of our shore-visits through out the trip. Two species of frigget (Great and Magnificent) were exclusive to Seymour. The male frigget attracts females with a red pouch under its beak which it inflates into a giant red heart shaped balloon, like the type you might buy a date at a carnival. Drab grey seagulls called 'lava gulls', small black marine iguanas and massive yellow land iguanas were completely unfussed by the humans wandering around the island. Like most of the smaller islands, Seymour was pretty much untouched; black rocks lined up to make a path were the only evidence of human activity.
After the excursion, we enjoyed some fantastic snorkelling. We drifted along a volcanic cliff and several species of angel fish, parrot fish and hundreds of other colourful somethingorothers entertained us until a sea lion plopped into the water and the smarter fish made themselves scarce.
Later, in the early evening, while conducting an in-case-of-emergency safety briefing, Gino kept getting distracted by the sea life. "Your life jackets are located in your cabin in the... Look! A manta ray jumping out of the water!... so put these on and meet me on.. Look! There's another one. They jump to shake off the parasites... So, don't return to your cabins for your belongings, that's what your travel insurance is for and you can always claim for laptop or a guitar or something nice you'd like as 'interest'. There's another ray!.. Okay good, dinner time see you downstairs."
Um, thanks for that. We learnt an interesting new fact about manta rays, and that insurance fraud is the fun side of shipping disasters, but where the @&£! are the life boats?!
The buffet dinner was delicious and after a long day the gentle current rocked us soundly to sleep.