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The Top 3 Lessons from My Flight Back from Galapagos

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Flight back from Galapagos: Santa Cruz II sailing in Fernandina Island

The aircraft wheels lift off the tarmac, this is my flight back from Galapagos. Through the glass, I see the surrounding ocean’s turquoise blues suddenly giving way to parched terrain and patches of abstract cacti. As we rise even higher, the landforms of Santa Cruz Island and Baltra abruptly emerge and then gradually disappear behind the thick layer of white clouds that covers the sky. I sigh, recline, and fix my gaze on the seat’s headrest in front of me. I gently close my eyes, allowing a mischievous smile to twitch across my sunburned lips. I give it a proud hug, beaming with satisfaction at visiting the beautiful isles. I take a broader view of my previous location as I glance out the window again. Distance has an odd way of achieving that; on some level, it makes it easier to remember where we’ve been and assess the experience more impartially.

I had returned from my time in the Galapagos with a renewed respect for life and the planet. What’s more? Exciting adventures, delicious food, and a comfortable night’s sleep had inexplicably evoked visions of swimming through breathtaking underwater environments as a sea lion—parts of which were perfect duplicates of my snorkeling experiences with sea lions in the Galapagos. In another dream, I was clumsily stumbling across the stage for my high school diploma when I realized that my blue, webbed feet were the cause of my unnatural walk. With a constant expression of amazement, a group of blue-footed boobies watched all of this unfold before me.

My flight back from Galapagos: Playful Galapagos sea lions underwater.
My new spirit animal: the magnificently playful Galapagos sea lion.

Despite my unconscious quirks, I could always awaken from these dreams in the cozy warmth of my bed. I would wake up feeling refreshed and relieved because Paolo, the hotel manager on board, would wake us up at seven every morning. Reflecting on my time aboard the Santa Cruz II, I saw that I had slept like a baby and that every morning had come with the crisp freshness of the equally fresh fruit served for breakfast. In those short few days in the Galapagos, I embraced every day with such passion and enthusiasm that I can’t remember feeling more alive than I did.

The man next to me starts moaning and shifting around in his chair, startling me out of my daydream. He appears in his late 50s, with greying hair and charming wrinkles at the corners of his eyes broken up by these massive bags beneath. He is relatively thin. When he notices I’m staring at him, he becomes calm and lets down his shoulders in an expression that seems to be a total disappointment.

The Man Who Couldn’t Find Peaceful Sleep

I apologize; it’s been about a week since I had a good night’s sleep, and these seats, well, you know? His heavy Australian accent sibilants, “I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say anything positive about airplane seats.” His eyes are pleadingly staring up at me while his body slumps into an uncomfortably awkward configuration of bones from exhaustion. “Please tell me,” he begs, “did you spend your time in the islands sleeping on a boat?”

I tell him about my evenings on the Santa Cruz II with a charming smile. During our daily schedule, I talked to him about the excellent service and the exquisite cleanliness of my comfortable accommodation. During my little speech, his jaw slowly drops to the floor. His jaw drops as he looks at me in utter disbelief, and then he asks me grudgingly, “And… and tell me, what kind of boat were you on?” His jaw falls open again when I tell him I’ve been on a boat with around 80 people.

My flight back from Galapagos: Santa Cruz II Cruise's Explorer Cabin
Don’t sacrifice comfort like this so easily!

It turns out that Jarred had reserved a tour on a much smaller boat, figuring he may as well go “all-out” and enjoy a pleasant, wealthy experience on a more “comfortable” and “individualized” 12-passenger vessel. However, the truth was very different. He had discovered the seriousness of his error even on the first night alone: the boat traveled from island to island in the evenings (as almost all boats in the Galapagos do, considering the distance between them), and the constant roar of the engine and the ship’s unrelenting progress across jagged waters had kept him wide awake on every journey.

Lesson from Hindsight# 1:

Comfort (and all that it involves) is essential when visiting a location as unique and expensive as the Galapagos. However, considering a.) the cost and b.) the marketing associated with every vessel we peruse, it’s also relatively simple to undervalue and ignore. Although it is reasonable to assume that comfort is included in the cost, this isn’t always true. What a shame it was to realize that Jarred had been pushing himself hard on every outing, his fatigue barely able to get him through each morning and afternoon’s visitation site. I sadly worried if he would remember anything from the archipelago except just tiredness.

The Circle of French Companions Who Grew to Despise One Another

Sitting at my gate during my layover in Guayaquil, I saw a group of pals sitting apart from one another, their furious gazes buried deep in their electronic devices, their eyebrows sewn into furrows. Why do they all appear so grumpy? Before they get up and part ways, two of them on either side of the young man in the center mumble something to him over their shoulders. The young man left behind rolls his eyes when he notices me taking in the entire situation.

“Friends, are you aware? Yes, traveling with someone exposes you differently from what you thought you knew about them, he says to me with a French accent that is a little strong. I start by posing a series of questions that gradually reveal the catastrophe of their trip—all because they chose to share a cabin on a medium-sized boat in the Galapagos—and get them talking. Their tiny group’s use of a single bathroom posed the most issue.

 

My flight back from Galapagos: Comfy bathroom aboard Santa Cruz II Cruise
After an exhausting exploration in Galapagos, enjoy a warm shower in your suite.

“I would end up making us late to our expedition, delaying the sights and wonders that, nous attendant… waited for us outside every morning, before or after every meal, or worse, before each excursion,” he says, feeling guilty and ashamed of his extreme hygiene practices. “The anxiety of quickly doing whatever in the bathroom didn’t help either.” You see, I like to have a very tidy home. He continues by telling me that he enjoys taking long showers and enumerating the organic soaps and unique loofa he uses for everyday grooming.

After that, for seven days now! Can you imagine? I’m dirty, and they detest me! What went wrong, though, I mean? I thought to myself, maybe nothing. Maybe everyone should have realized the importance of having several restrooms on a vacation like this.

Lesson from Hindsight #2:

Distribution is essential. Spending less on a hotel in the Galapagos is a two-edged sword: while it may save you money, using the restroom is ultimately the worst waste of time while traveling by ship. Because you’re always behind or in front of friends or family who need to use it too, sharing something so essential means you can’t begin your day how you’d like. Time is a precious commodity in the Galapagos, so spending it playing bathroom roulette in a single cabin with your loved ones is wrong.

The Woman Who Couldn’t Seize a Moment for Herself to Pen Her Memoirs

Sitting next to me on my trip return to Houston is an older woman whose long blonde hair is done up in a showy bun at the back of her head. When I sit beside her, she smiles warmly and wears silver-rimmed glasses. She then quickly returns to work, jotting down notes in her notebook as if trying to compile a list of everything she needs to buy before the grocery store closes.

The flight attendants soon arrived to remind us to place our seatbacks upright and raise our trays. She sighed deeply and shut her notebook, a relieved expression on her face, and then I wondered if she was a writer. It turns out that she was, but there were restrictions on writing in the Galapagos.

 

My flight back from Galapagos: Santa Cruz cruise´s solarium
Larger Vessels: Where you can enjoy the ocean, sun, and breeze, almost completely to yourself.

People like myself depend on the world to serve as our inspiration. I, therefore, came here in search of inspiration. “I found myself utterly shocked when I discovered little to no time on the boat to myself,” she murmurs, pausing to close her eyes.

Even though she had a little cabin on her lone-guided yacht, Eleanor wanted the sea and breeze to spark her creativity. Movement was essential, but so was time spent alone. Thinking it would be more “intimate,” she had chosen a smaller boat, but her 16-passenger yacht didn’t have what she wanted. “It looks like it was badly advertised. “As a moderate introvert? They make it seem as though you’ll get this highly personalized and luxurious experience when all you get is a shoulder-to-shoulder trip throughout the archipelago,” she screams, raising her arms in the air and letting them fall into her lap with a loud slap. Thank you, but no!”

My flight back from Galapagos: Bar and lounge aboard Santa Cruz II Galapagos Cruise
No rubbing shoulders on a ship like Santa Cruz II in Galapagos.

I got lucky by using the Guest-Space Ratio—which I had heard about while researching expedition ships in the Galapagos—as a benchmark when selecting the Santa Cruz II as my ship for the journey. This “guideline” for the cruise industry states that any vessel with a guest-space ratio above 25 provides more comfort and room for unwinding, but most significantly, it allows for introspection and alone time.

Eleanor struggled to find quiet time to sit down and collect her thoughts and experiences, even with the lovely people she was traveling with. She had intended to use the Galapagos as the preface to her own memoir, which she was almost done writing. But she had only scribbled down a few ideas and thoughts before boarding this same plane to travel to Houston. I was surprised and shocked by it at the same time.

She taps the tiny sea lion-shaped hair clip holding her bun together and says, “Don’t get me wrong, I loved the wildlife and the beautiful beaches we saw. That goes without saying.” It seemed so… claustrophobic, though, which was unexpected. It makes sense that a smaller ship carrying fewer people would provide for a less congested trip. But believe me, their marketing strategy is what makes the difference! I was about ready to be abandoned as a castaway on one of the islands after the third day of listening to my fellow travelers bicker nonstop about politics!

Lesson from Hindsight #3:

It matters how big anything is. Although one might assume that a ship carrying 80 passengers would be overcrowded, the opposite is true. Larger boats have more excellent space and common areas than smaller, single-guided yachts. If you want to spend as much time as possible alone outside your cabin, never choose a smaller ship.

After Everything Has Been Concluded

While some argue that hindsight is 20/20 vision, I argue that it’s wisdom for anyone else who finds themselves in a similar situation and heading down the same route. In light of these three encounters, I’m incredibly happy that I decided to reserve a spot on the Santa Cruz II Galapagos cruise for my journey to the islands.

Choosing the appropriate vessel for myself was a fortunate decision I feel lucky to have made. In retrospect, though, it wasn’t even purely coincidental—instead, it was wise discernment and a thorough assessment of the available options. Thus, I now frequently advise my friends to make sensible decisions while visiting a location as breathtaking and fascinating as the Galapagos: don’t second-guess yourself!

My flight back from Galapagos: North Seymour, Galapagos Islands
Beauty and magic await in the Galapagos, just make sure you experience it the right way!

Updated:June 6, 2024

Published:July 20, 2017

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