Candelabra cactus are found -- you guessed it -- only in the Galapagos
Where We Be
Robin tries on life as a Galapagos Tortoise and finds it isn't half bad
Galapagos Cruise (Days 1-3)
This tortoise with his accordion-like neck is half-submerged, mud-caked, leaf-munching, and totally content
The highlight of our first day was seeing big fellas like this one. Galapagos Tortoises are the largest in the world and can live several hundred years.
Here's something you don't see every day -- two Galapagos Tortoises mating
We saw hundreds of marine iguanas in a short period of time on Tintoreras. The colorations on some of them were quite beautiful.
It was a powerful first-hand experience being close enough to this huge tortoise to hear it breathe every thirty seconds or so.
It would literally take a break from eating vegetation to take in a deep draft of air, then go right back to eating again.
Of course one of the best things about the Galapagos is how close you can get to the animals. They have little or no fear of humans.
Here our group gets up close and personal with a giant tortoise  [Photo by]
Our guide Alex pointed out this lovely passion flower
Marine iguanas swim quite well. They latch onto rocks underwater with their formidable claws and tear at the seaweed that is their main food source.
During one of our snorkels we watched a marine iguana eating seaweed underwater for more than ten minutes without coming up for a breath.
Here we see one marine iguana protecting the nest she has just finished digging from another who might try to usurp it
It was mating and egg-laying season for the marine iguanas when we visited in March, so there were lots of territorial disputes like this one
This marine iguana strikes a relaxed pose, showing off his five-fingered "hand"
This one shows us his profile too so we can get a better look at his colorful beaded skin
Just look at those smiles! Quite excited to have our own balcony aboard a luxury yacht!
After wolfing down a delicious lunch of fish with capers, we shuttled to land on zodiacs
and discovered these sea lions making themselves at home on other people's boats!
DAY 1. Board Yacht at Santa Cruz Island; see Galapagos Tortoises
Rancho Primicias on Santa Cruz Island is a great place
to see Galapagos Tortoises in their natural environment
Elephant-like legs support their huge weight
Home sweet home for seven days -- and what a wonderful home! Treasure of Galapagos is a luxury catamaran with powerful
engines, spacious cabins, private balconies, AC, hot showers, gourmet food, and a top-notch crew. Boy, could we get used to this!
The Galapagos Islands more than met our high
expectations. It didn't hurt that we were able to
snag a luxury cruise for half price by booking
last minute in Quito, or that the weather and the
wildlife cooperated so extravagantly in making
each day more memorable than the last.

Of course the Galapagos delivered as expected
when it came to close encounters with giant
tortoises and other land-based reptiles and
birds. But perhaps the biggest surprise for us
was the abundance of
underwater marine life.
We snorkeled nearly every day, sometimes
twice a day, and were blown away by our up-
close encounter with a manta ray with a 20-foot
wingspan, face-to-face meetings with sea lions
and penguins, sedate swims with green sea
turtles, and adrenaline-charged encounters
with Galapagos and white-tipped sharks. If you
only see the surface of the Galapagos you are
really missing out. Plus the water feels so great
after each hot hike!

We've broken the cruise into two webpages
because each day was so jam-packed. Enjoy
this little taste of the Galapagos -- but do go
yourself for the real thing, and bring a snorkel.
DAY 2. Isabela Island: Puerto Villamil Sights (including Tintoreras Islet)
Our cruise took us on an unforgettable jam-packed seven-day journey through the Galapagos Islands
Our next stop was Playa del Amor, a pretty beach with marine iguanas
Whew! Long day! After two hours of beers and coco locos at Beto's, our group stumbled back along the beach in darkness to the zodiac and home.
Risa gives me a little push as I snooze in a hammock at Beto's
Our final stop was Beto's Beach Bar on the outskirts of Puerto Villamil. You gotta love the tree with the colorful bottle "leaves."
Admittedly, it was fun watching the tortoises climb all over each other
We were all feeling pretty bushed by this point but that didn’t stop Alex from making another
stop at the Giant Tortoise Breeding Center (he told us we could all sleep after the Galapagos)
Next up was this lake dotted with half a dozen flamingos
Tintoreras is a major breeeding ground for marine iguanas -- the world's only seagoing lizard
We happened upon these tortoises as we walked to the Wall of Tears -- our guide Alex said it was unusual to find them here
Alex asked our bus driver to make a number of bonus stops after the Wall of Tears. The first was to an estuary reached via this tangled mangrove swamp.
While we slept, our yacht navigated to our next destination -- Puerto Villamil on Isabela Island. Our first tour in the morning was
to Tintoreras, a small islet just off Puerto Villamil. As you can see from this photo, it consists mostly of sharp "aa" lava rock.
This is the infamous Wall of Tears, a make-work project for prisoners in the 1940s-50s that involved cutting and stacking blocks of lava for no real purpose
This is one of Darwin's famous finches -- there are 13 distinct
species, all of which descended from a single common ancestor
This extravagantly colored creature is a Sally lightfoot crab, another common marine denizen of the Galapagos
After a quick lunch we headed out again. From the zodiac we saw this Galapagos
penguin -- the second smallest species in the world and the only one living in the tropics.
Our first sighting of a blue-footed booby -- one of the "poster children" for the Galapagos since it is only found here
DAY 3. Isabela Island (Western Side): Punta Moreno & Elizabeth Bay
The western side of Isabela is remote and is only reachable if you are on a week-long cruise or longer  [photo by]
At Elizabeth Bay we took the zodiacs and made a loop around two or three small islands just off the coast of Isabela Island,
including this one with steep sides. The most memorable part of the day was seeing a sea lion holding onto the tail of a marine
iguana to keep him from getting to land! Alex said sea lions are playful like this – they sometimes even "play volleyball” with the iguanas!
Pink flamingos seem out of place in such a remote place as the Galapagos -- but here they are
Punta Moreno is a strange mix of black lava rock, candelabra cactus, and the occasional oasis -- like this one with two flamingos
Our first stop on Day 3 was Punta Moreno, a volcanic moonscape with limited animal sightings  [photo by]
A green oasis of grass makes a startling contrast with the black lava rock
Every adventure began with piling into one of the two zodiacs to get to where we were going
The booby in the background really does look a bit daft
. We saw a huge number of blue footed boobies, penguins, marine iguanas, and sea lions on and around the rocks of these remote islands.
The photo (right) shows a flightless cormorant whose wings have atrophied to the point it can no longer fly -- but it is a consummate swimmer and diver.
Another highlight was getting to see this sea lion pup nursing
We got up close and personal with these blue-footed boobies during the zodiac ride
After lunch we got to relax as the yacht made its way to Elizabeth Bay
Several sea lions also swam around the zodiac, curious about us
Day 3 was a bit more relaxing, and it ended perfectly with us sipping wine and enjoying the sunset from our own private balcony
Remko and Nicole get attacked by a mangrove!
We entered a beautiful mangrove swamp. Inside all was green and peaceful. We turned the motor off and just drifted among the green sea turtles.
A frigate bird soars overhead -- a common sight in the Galapagos
The "pahoehoe" lava was interesting to walk on
An unexpected bonus was getting to
walk inside this lava tube, formed
by the solidifying of the outer
skin of a molten lava flow
I was struck by the variety of facial features, body types, and colors from one marine iguana to the next.
The one on the left looks cruel (like The Joker), while the one on the right seems a happy-go-lucky sort.
After getting our fill of marine iguanas at Las Tintoreras, we returned to the yacht, donned our snorkeling gear, and came back to the same place.
The highlight of the day was snorkeling with multiple white-tipped sharks, marble rays, and golden rays.  [White-tipped shark -- not my photo]