Adventures in Ecuador: Feeling Blissful in Floreana

Some 200,000 people arrive on the shores of the Galapagos Islands each year and now close to half of those visitors choose a land-based tour instead of the typical cruise. The advantage of staying on the islands over taking a cruise is that you’re not traveling everywhere with a large group of people and you’re meeting locals, many of whom have spent their entire lives on the islands. The disadvantage is that you have to stomach high-speed motorboat rides between islands and you won’t be able to see every wildlife encounter, like albatross congregating on a remote rock. 
Whether you choose a cruise or a land-based tour, a trip to the Galapagos is magical. On the boat ride over to Floreana, dolphins were jumping in the wake. Sea lions were snoozing at the dock upon arrival. Our lodging for the next two nights was the Floreana Lava Lodge, simple wooden cabins on the beach with the sound of pounding waves to lull you to sleep. The owners, a brother and sister team of Claudio and Aura, were two of 12 siblings that were brought up on the island. Their father and mother moved to Floreana in 1939 and today there are only 150 full-time residents on the quiet isle. 
The following day was my favorite of the entire Ecuador trip. Claudio and our guide Carlos drove us high into the hills to see giant tortoises, many over 100 years old. We walked through caves that housed early German settlers, picked juicy oranges from a tree, took a short hike to an overlook with exquisite views of the island, and then had a glorious lunch of grilled beef and chicken with a delicious chimichurri sauce, salads, and fresh fruit juice at the former estate of Claudio and Aura’s parents. We felt privileged to see where their father was buried on the grounds under the 12 fruit trees he planted for the birth of each of his children. 
In the afternoon, we snorkeled by ourselves with huge sea turtles. Afterwards, a sea lion swam up to our beach, rolled in the sand in front of us and went to sleep. When the night sky grew dark, we could see all the glittering stars of the southern hemisphere, including the Southern Cross. That’s what I call a special day.