Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Exploring the Galapagos Part 2: By Boat

My second week in the Galapagos was aboard the M/V Grace operated by Quasar and was a much better experience compared to my week on land! The yacht itself is beautiful, having once been the private yacht of Princess Grace of Monaco (she took her honeymoon on it). Now the 18 person boat travels around the Galapagos and is available for group cruises like we did or you can charter the entire boat for yourself, which would be amazing, but a little out of my price range! The boat is very old-fashioned looking compared to some of the flashy yachts you see down there, but it is really beautiful and very comfortable inside. The boat has 2 pangas, which are used to go ashore, go snorkeling and for excursions where the big boat can’t go like into a cool cave and along cliffs to see nesting birds. The crew was nice, but not great service. I thought the food was a little sub-par, but I wasn’t expecting luxury cuisine. The cruise director didn’t understand or speak English very well and we had to ask the naturalist for things that the director should have handled. There were also small service problems like we could never find the bar tender to get drinks (and it wasn’t that big of a boat) and the staff would often chat very loudly to each other in Spanish on the open deck areas, which made it unpleasant to read or relax in the outdoor spaces. However those were small problems and the trip was really over all great!
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The itinerary was wonderful and jam-packed with activity. I thought we were going to have to choose each day between a water or land based activity, but each day we got to explore on land and snorkel in the water. We were told we’d be in two groups of 9 with 1 naturalist per group, but we ended up all going out together with one naturalist leading the way in the front and the other staying behind with the slow ones like me who take a million pictures. A few times the second naturalist got bored with me and wandered off to the rest of the group, which was a little frustrating because technically it’s illegal for me to be alone on these parts of the islands and you have to be very careful where you walk as to not upset any breeding grounds of birds or reptiles and sometimes its not all that easy to find the path. One of the naturalists was very knowledgeable and for the most part gave correct information, but the other was still in school and blatantly gave misinformation countless times. For example while watching the Waved Albatrosses and talking about the banding program I mentioned that they were critically endangered- the most severe level of threatened given by the IUCN and she said no only a few species on the islands are endangered. It is in fact the exact opposite and there are only a few species that aren’t endangered! The head naturalist wrote our itinerary every day on a white board and below is a final picture from the last day. Throughout my posts on the Galapagos if you are wondering where a picture was taken simply click on it and it will show the location in the tags on flickr.
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They naturalists were very accommodating and it was a real lesson in ‘ask and you shall receive.’ I was getting very frustrated from the mid-day light we kept encountering on our excursions, which is horrible for photography so I asked if on our final morning when we were visiting a great spot for viewing blue-footed and nazca boobies as well as breeding grounds for the waved albatross if I could go ashore earlier with one of the naturalists before sunrise to be there for the best light. They said yes and my sister’s boyfriend and I were allowed to go to shore with the naturalist at 5am to photograph the birds in beautiful light and meet up with the rest of the group hours later when they came ashore.

I would recommend going on the Grace, but it’s the only Galapagos cruise I’ve done so I don’t know what else is out there. I would not recommend booking any cruise extension with Quasar because they really messed mine up wasting my time and money. If I were going back I would probably try something else just to see something new and compare. Lindblad National Geographic does a trip there that looks great, but they have much larger boats one with 100 passengers and one with 50 so it makes for a very different trip. Whichever company you book with just make sure that they practice responsible eco-tourism in this very delicate environment so future generations can keep enjoying it!

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