Coachlines - February 2024

28.02.24 IPM Julian Leach

The road less travelled: Bucket list holiday – Galapagos ✓

When I was elected Master, I became aware of the number of retiring Masters who went on fantastic holidays soon after they left office, following what can only be described as an intense and exhausting year. So, I thought, why buck the trend? I had wanted to visit Galapagos for a long time and even nearly booked but sadly one of my then potential travel companions fell ill, so it didn’t happen. Anyway, I went in mid-November, and it lived up to every expectation.

Please forgive me but I am no Alan Whicker or Judith Chalmers I but will do my best. The Galapagos is a group of volcanic islands off the coast of Ecuador and are part of Ecuador. To get there I flew with Iberia from Heathrow to Madrid and from there 11 hours to Quito, the capital of Ecuador, which was a lovely city. Set in a valley, surrounded by volcanoes, Quito is 10,000ft above sea level. The first flight was a codeshare British Airways flight, the World’s least favourite airline and in spite of its best efforts to sabotage the whole thing, I made it to Quito at the scheduled time. After a day’s rest we then left first thing in the morning to Galapagos which, although largely uninhabited, does have a proper airport. It takes about three hours to get there.

In order to see the scenery, you board a cruise ship. The local Galapagos government is very protective of the islands and does its best to preserve the unique ecosystem and wildlife. The ships are restricted in size, with licensed routes which they must follow without deviation. The maximum size of ship carries 100 passengers, but most are much smaller. The lovely boat that I was on carried just 20 passengers and had two amazing guides. It was one of three identical Relais & Chateaux boats called Theory. It was luxurious and the food was really great, but I have to reiterate that our two local guides were second to none.

Because of its unique position, Galapagos has little migration, so the gene pool remains relatively uncontaminated. That is why it is so special. Charles Darwin visited in his late 20s for a few weeks, and it was there that he first started to think about evolution and in particular survival of the fittest, although he did not write about it until much later in life.

Every day was a delight. We went ashore to see some of the unique animals, or we went snorkelling to see the amazing fish and other underwater life. Inevitably, we were also swimming with sea lions. There were marine iguanas that are black or black and red, and swim in the sea as well as brightly coloured land-based iguanas.

The bird life was fascinating: We saw blue-footed boobies; frigate birds that are black but have a little bright red flash that they can inflate to attract a mate; a small variety of penguin; flamingos that are extra pink; pelicans filling their beaks.

There were turtles galore and we saw where they had buried their eggs on the beach, and all sorts of different species of giant tortoise. The saddleback is the strangest looking with a shell that looks like a saddle. Poor old Lonesome George died a couple of years ago, aged 109. He was a sub-species of saddleback and was the very last left in the world. He is now stuffed and sits in a glass chamber in a climate-controlled room. I could go on.

I can only give you a taste and I do not know whether anything that I have said attracts you but what I can tell you, there is nowhere else like this, anywhere. Due to the controls that the authorities impose on the boats, during our forays off our boat to walk or snorkel, we rarely saw people from other boats. This peace in the natural world was great after a very busy year in the City of London. I’m so glad I went.