Prevue September-October 2017 - 71

Galapagos Islands
The birthplace of the theory of evolution inspires teams to evolve, too
[ON LOCATION] JOHNALEE JOHNSTON

L

ike virtually all species before us, we are carried to the
Galapagos Islands by the wind and the sea. Six-hundred
miles off the western coast of Ecuador, the isolated
archipelago, one of the first UNESCO World Heritage
sites, marks the spot where animals have been redefining Mother
Nature's laws for millions of years. Iguanas forage in the sea alongside
penguins, colossal boulders crumble to the touch, and ambling giant
tortoises bring traffic to a halt. It's all very topsy-turvy, which is precisely
the experience that Celebrity Cruises aims to deliver to our group:
encounters with nature that cannot be found anywhere else on earth.

A PLACE TO GROW
Aside from being the living museum that inspired naturalist Charles
Darwin's theory of evolution, the Galapagos is an enchanting
destination for incentive groups that need to break down barriers and
evolve as a team. The bonding happens shortly after landing on Baltra
Island from Quito: we don lifejackets, batten down our carry-ons and
climb onto gently rocking Zodiacs to scale the top of the sea.
"Ninety-seven percent of the islands are Galapagos National
Park," explains naturalist Javier Candos. Our every move, and
the movements of other ships in the area, would be carefully
choreographed to reduce environmental impact. Excitement builds
as we board the Celebrity Xperience and set sail for North Seymour
Island almost immediately (give or take a couple of welcome
cocktails). The largest colony of frigatebirds will not wait for us,
we're told. In fact, we're about to have Christmas in July (red and
green Christmas iguanas included) as "the Humboldt Current brings

70 | prevuemeetings.com

cold water and with it even more biodiversity to the area," Candos
says. "It's perfect for diving and snorkeling."

THE EXPERIENCE
The first in a seven-day whirlwind of excursions, our Zodiac pulls up
slowly to North Seymour's flat, nature-made lava rocks and we are
immediately met by ornate sally lightfoot crabs, swallow-tailed gulls
and snoozing sea lions. Candos guides us along a path edged by
bushy vegetation that camouflages the fuzzy white heads of young
frigatebirds, while the distinct drumming emanating from the puffed
red pouches of adult males indicate that love is in the air. It's here that
we meet our first land iguanas as well; some munching on juicy cacti,
some stretched out lazily in the sun. But it's the frigatebirds that steal
the show as bursts of red pop against the light brown brush and blue
sky. "When it comes to choosing a mate, size matters," Cando says
to giggles. "Females look for the biggest and brightest pouch."
Jaunts around the islands of South Plaza, Santa Fe, San
Cristobal, Isabela and Santa Cruz reveal different variations of a
dream. On South Plaza, dainty yellow warblers and Darwin finches
flitter among whimsical tall prickly pear cactus trees that either bush
out or tower over miles of red carpet plant. A feeding frenzy of bluefooted boobies, frigatebirds, brown noddy birds and nesting redbilled tropicbirds adds chaos to the otherwise calm morning, but
land and marine iguanas (the only seagoing iguanas in the world)
and a harem of snoozing sea lions basking at the cliff's edge seem
not to notice. The big news here is a cacti conservation project that
will help create stability for land iguana populations.


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