In our cabin the alarms go off simultaneously at 5.30 am; same ringtone. We are moored off the north coast of Santa Cruz Island, ready for our exit from Baltra airport. Our bags are packed, and we have one last trip in the zodiacs to look for turtles and sharks in the early morning stillness of the Black Turtle Cove mangroves. Even R., who has missed breakfast most mornings, joins us. Almost immediately we interrupt two turtles about to mate. Anthropomorphising the animals, we joke about the the flowers, chocolates and romantic music wasted when the bloody tourists ruined the moment.
The ongoing quest for hammerhead sharks continues – mainly the Canadians; I don’t get it – I prefer the grace of the green turtles. We see several, and B. fulfilled his wish to see another elusive hammerhead shark. There were also white tipped sharks, brown pelicans nesting high in the mangroves, and diving for fish, and our last sightings of Sally Lightfoot crabs and marine iguanas.
Returning for breakfast, we feel the sadness of imminent departure. We offer hospitality when we visit each others’ countries; we promise to keep in touch. When the Captain goes ashore to do secret Captains’ business, we joke about taking over the ship and continuing our trip. But in reality, I am ready to return, albeit slowly, to home and family.
We wait for the boats to take us to shore, then we wait for the bus to take us to the airport. Sea-lions observe us; we watch where we step, in case we tread on their pooh. Then we are at the airport, checking in luggage, buying T-shirts, and on the plane.
R., my roommate for the trip, has decided to stay in the Galapagos a bit longer. I didn’t believe her when she told us, and was surprised she hadn’t mentioned it to me earlier. In the confusion I miss the opportunity for a farewell hug and feel incomplete. In some ways, I feel sadder about not saying goodbye to her, than I do about leaving the Islands.
Our plane has a bird strike between the islands and Guayacanal and we have to disembark. We are told there will be a two-hour delay and are offered sweet juice and crackers. I have no cash, so the coffee and wine at the airport bar remain looked at but unpurchased. To our surprise, we are called to resume our seats in exactly two hours, and after a short flight we arrive in Quito. It is easier to get out of the Galapagos than to get in, and we clear immigration quickly, find our driver and returned to the Hotel Carjuto.
We meet for dinner; choosing from a menu is unfamiliar after a week of buffet meals. I have my first glass of wine since my last dinner in Quito, soon followed by a second. Although the trip officially ends after breakfast, G and L are catching an early flight, so this is our last time together. Those of us who are staying longer make plans to meet for a meal or do a tour together over the next few days. Another round of goodbyes, and this is it. The end of the dream.
Groups form, then break up; it is the way things happen. But the shared experience of the Galapagos – for most of us the dream of a lifetime – link us in some eternal indescribable way.
Writing this some two months later, I remember the magic of snorkelling off Kicker Rock, my first swim – without wetsuit or snorkel gear, sunrises and sunsets, Jose’s enthusiasm and knowledge – his “blah, blah, blah”-, sea lions, turtles, gulls, boobies, rays and parrot fish.
And I am grateful for my family’s encouragement to undertake this fabulous adventure.