My visit to the Galapagos Islands was one of the most exciting trips I’ve been privileged to take. There is surely nowhere on Earth with a plant-and-animal ecosystem so completely unique to the planet, showcased on a string of islands with its own striking brand of barren volcanic power and beauty. Los Angeles to Dallas-Fort Worth, DFW to Miami, Miami to Quito, Quito to Guayaquil, and Guayaquil to Baltra (and then the same in reverse) - it’s a bit of an air-travel marathon but worth every moment.

I spent a few days in Quito, the capital of Ecuador and a sprawling metropolis surrounded by majestic volcanic peaks.

One of Quito’s claims to fame is its location on the equator - they’re proud of their monument, although recent advances in GPS technology has revealed that it’s about 100 yards away from the actual line!

We also took a day trip to Otavalo, an indigenous marketplace high in the Andes, which National Geographic magazine hailed as on of the world’s most interesting. Fascinating crafts and lots of exotic foodstuffs, whole hanging pig carcasses dripping blood, next to stalls with never-seen-before vegetables, live chickens and guinea pigs, and huge sacks of grains and rice. Some of the finest woolen tapestries and clothing are still made by hand loom, and pan flutes are fashioned out of jungle bamboo stalks. The people are incredibly hardy-looking, as well they have to be, no doubt….tough, tanned skin, beautiful local costumes with vibrant woolen colors and inches-thick multiple strands of gold and orange colored beads around their necks. Everyone, male and female, wears a hat. Very short, and a bit wary of Yankee city-folk (we kept our cameras hidden for the most part, they tended to make them nervous, at least the older folks).

Up at 4:00a on the final morning in Quito, we hopped to Guayaquil and then Baltra, proceeded through the mini-customs service, and were on the Reina Sylvia within a half an hour. She is outfitted for twenty but will only carry eleven divers this week, so that’s good. A beautiful, immaculate boat. Full dining room, two TV’s for viewing the day’s u/w video, a nice lounge for before-and-after-dinner schmoozing about the day’s diving. Diving will be from small zodiacs or “pangas” at the stern. Our first destination is to be North Seymour Island.

Victor, our personable and knowledgeable divemaster, had us all do an “equipment check-out dive” - ostensibly for the divers to get a quick simple dive under our (weight) belts before heading out for the real thing. But I know that “check-out dives” are actually planned so that divemasters can get a look at us, so they know what they’re dealing with, levels of proficiency, etc. We have virtually all very experienced divers onboard, so there are no real experience-gaps to be particularly concerned about.

After the checkout dive we make an amazing land visit. Never really been crazy about birds, but the blue-footed booby (yeah, yeah, yeah, the jokes flew for a while) is quite an amazing guy. Maybe they are so interesting because they are so loaded with personality, which seems quintessentially un-birdlike. They pick their bright blue feet up and down in a courting dance, the males whistle and the females squawk (not unlike humans). They have “nests” out on the open ground, we step around them as we walk, and they essentially just stare at us with moderate annoyance at our presence.

The first dinner aboard is tasty which is a good sign. Lights out at 9:30p, overnight we make our way to the next stop. Before we’re done, we will have visited North Seymour Island, Rabida, Darwin (with its majestic sea arch to welcome us), Bartolome, Santiago, Cousins Rock, and the main island of the archipelago, Santa Cruz.

Continue to Part 2 of the Diary...