Our expedition is over. The Endeavour II sailed into the harbour on Baltra Island, a small island on the north side of Santa Cruz. During WW2, Baltra was the site of a USA Air Force base which is now the main airport for the Galapagos.
Early that morning, we were treated to a microcosm of Galapagan wildlife by the side of the ship as dozens of blue footed boobies staged a feeding frenzy, diving under the Endeavour II to catch the fish presumably gathered there. Pelicans and sharks joined in the fun.
While the blue-footed boobys engaged in their feeding frenzy, a dozen or so sharks showed great interest too, but they didn't bother the boobys.
Baltra airport has a new terminal (2013) which is touted as the greenest in the world due to its low energy consumption, waste recycling, rainwater recovery etc. There were three huge wind turbines at the airport. It's lucky that coal power loving, climate change denying Australian politicians like Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott have not explained to Ecuador how ugly these turbines are.
That's it for the Galapagos. The entire passenger list on board the Endeavour II took the morning Avianca flight to Guayaquil, some carrying on to Quito.
So what's our takeaway of the Islas Galapagos, and the expedition on the L-NG Endeavour II? Well, most of the achipelago is protected by National Park, and what is most impressive is the manifest focus on restoring the islands to what they used to be, mostly by eradicating introduced species, and then restocking the islands with native species depleted or even lost.
The future impact of man is tightly controlled. Permits have to be issued for visits to amost every island, licensed guides are always required, and the "carrying capacity" of each location is strictly enforced, which is why our expedition often divided up its activities in apparently arbitrary ways. Tourist promotors who don't follow the rules have, apparently, not much future here.
And we liked the Lindblad - National Geographic approach too. NG are significant sponsors of research and restoration projects (and they encouraged us to donate) on many Galapagos Islands. They source as much fresh produce as possible from the archipelago - one of our meals was 80% local produce. And almost all their naturalists were natives of Galapagos, mostly from Santa Cruz. The only exceptions were some photo specialists.
The islands themselves were hot, dry and pretty barren. We were told that this was the wet season and that "this is as green as it gets", but only some islands in some places actually appeared green. The adjective "lush" would never be applied. Very little rain fell in the week we were here. The unique wildlife that we came to see was no disappointment. Just amazing, and much of it you can't see it anywhere else on the planet.
Our co-expeditioners were an interesting bunch, and we were pretty successful at having a meal with almost all of them. Many were quite disturbed at the gentle rocking of the Endeavour II, and we wonder what they were expecting on a ship? The passengers were friendly and knowledgeable, and most interested in us, although we were surprised to hear some apprently unaware of Darwin's theories of evolution and natural selection, and the role played by the Galapagos in their development.
Also, it surprised us that for many passengers the highlight of the expedition was the opprtunities to swim, snorkel, kayak and paddle board. Of course, many were coming from a brutal winter, but as far as we were concerned, the "in-water" activities were mainly a way to get pleasant relief from the equatorial heat.
So, we would recommend Galapagos and Lindblad - National Geographic to anyone interested in seeing and learning about this archpelago's truly unique wildlife. There is just no substitute for seeing these amazing creatures in their natural environment, even if it's sometimes hard work getting near enough to see them. But there are much better places in the world to swim, dive and indulge in water sports, and easier to get to too!