During the next 8 days, we hopped from island to island, sampling the mysterious and beautiful landscapes and encountering fascinating animals, like a tasting of fine wines. Guided by the knowledgeable, humorous and energetic Mauricio, the journey was active and diverse - each day might include a hike along beach or hills, a dinghy ride along mangrove rimmed coastline hiding wildlife only our guide could spot, and a snorkeling stop or two with underwater treasures. We learned the difference between endemic species, found only here; native, those that arrived on their own; and introduced, human-brought species that were usually detrimental to the fragile balance of the natural ecology. Mauricio knew where different creatures congregated, and promised that each day would be better than the last. Certainly there were new discoveries daily that stretched our understanding and appreciation of these remote islands of Ecuador.
On land, huge helmeted Galapagos tortoises filled a small green pond. Yellow crested land iguanas stood motionless as we walked by under prickly pear cactus trees. There was often a jumble of so many animals mingling together, an unlikely scene: black marine iguanas in piles over lava rock, neon yellow and orange crabs scuttling under the rocks, sea lions romping in the water or snuggling up alongside family members on the shore, a variety of birds hopping and perched amidst the mix of wildlife.
Hiking over volcanic black lava or skirting white beach sand, it was imperative to stay on marked trails - nesting grounds of various birds were scattered everywhere. Flightless cormorant couples take turns sitting on their eggs, carefully shifting their bodies into place. The waved albatross rolls a single egg from place to place to keep its contents from settling. A clacking noise led us to two waved albatross in a dramatic mating dance, with bright yellow beaks clattering. The dinosaur like silhouettes of frigate birds soared above. Spacey looking blue footed boobies dotted sculptured cliffs. Diving boobies dropped into the waves from high in the air, and bobbed up gobbling a fish.
There was some well needed downtime on the boat sitting out on deck as we motored between sites. The children played hide and seek, getting to know every corner of the ship. Time to get to know my yacht mates and share stories about our lives and travels, or scribble in a little notebook while watching for birds and whales to the rhythm of the waves. And at night, quiet moments staring out at the constellations in the southern sky packed with brilliant unfamiliar stars.
Having just moved out of my apartment in Guatemala the day before I left for this trip, with three years worth of accumulated stuff to organize and pack, I didn't apply my usual diligence in preparing my travel gear. I discovered on ship that I had brought the wrong battery charger, and had no way to charge my camera battery. I turned off the digital viewer and tried to be more selective in choosing what images to capture, however the battery failed after the third day out. I had checked with everyone on board to try to find a usable battery charger, when our intrepid, problem solving guide found that his camera would accept my memory cards, and let me use it for the remainder of the trip. What a relief! I sent him a cd of photos upon my return.
The most wonderful mystery and surprise of all lay under the sea. The Samba crew equipped us with wetsuits to be able to snorkel longer in the cold Pacific waters. A joyous swim with playful sea lions - a lion would make unmistakable eye contact, then brush past me blowing bubbles, flip upside down, curl sideways, and suddenly appear back again to peer into my snorkel mask. You must love and respect these animals after looking into their eyes and laughing with them. A deep round natural pool revealed at least ten sea turtles winging their way in circles like an underwater ballet - I joined them, matching their strokes with my arms, swimming round and round, feeling like I had been accepted into some spiritual inner circle. A solitary penguin flitted by, shot up to break the surface and disappeared. A brief, cautious visit to a shark nesting area in turbulent waters, their long dark bodies fled from us in all directions.
An outing the last morning in the dinghy, as the sky lightened, brought us to an open area between canals of mangroves. Above us, hundreds of boobies circled. Suddenly spotting a school of fish in the waters, the birds dived straight down, dropping and splashing, falling like rain, and then bobbed up to circle again in their morning ritual.
After so many days at sea, my equilibrium had finally adjusted to the rhythmic movement of the Samba. Once on land, I continued the feeling of swaying as I traveled back to Guatemala through Quito, for my last few days of arrangements and difficult goodbyes in the land of eternal spring.