A Truly WILD Honeymoon – Galápagos 2017

2017 was a big year. I graduated from grad school (Go Bulls!), held down two internships, got married, and TRAVELED TO THE GALÁPAGOS on honeymoon. What. a. whirlwind.

I say “I”, but of course the marriage and honeymoon was actually a “we” thing, and boy oh boy did WE have fun in The Galápagos! We started the trip with a flight to Guayaquil, Ecuador where we crashed for the night before meeting up with our National Geographic/Lindblad Expeditions tour group the next morning. After a quick flight from Guayaquil to The Galápagos Islands, we were in one of the most picturesque places in the world.

Get on Board!

We were quickly whisked away to the National Geographic Islander, the boat that we would call home and provide transportation overnight as we went island hopping for one incredible week.

We visited the islands of: San Cristobol, Española, Floreana, Santa Cruz, South Plaza, Santiago, Genovesa, and Baltra. Each one of them had its own special characteristics that made them unique.

Like most visitors to the Galápagos, I was VERY interested in getting as many photos as possible of the wildlife. From the sea lions, to the boobies, to the marine iguanas…I wanted to see it ALL! And in fact, we did! Even flamingos! (The one animal we didn’t see that was on my list was the flightless cormorant, but that’s because we didn’t visit the islands they are endemic to.)

Back on Land

But wildlife wasn’t the ONLY thing to see in the Galápagos! We visited a coffee farm, “Post Office Point”, and a local school. We also walked through a lava tunnel!

After all of the incredible experiences on the National Geographic Islander, we decided to stay a few extra days on Santa Cruz in the city of Puerto Ayora.

Dive, Dive, Dive

These extra days on Santa Cruz were so we could go DIVING! Where better to dive than the Galápagos, I ask you?!

We went diving with SCUBA Iguana at Gordon Rocks in hopes of finding hammerhead sharks! While we didn’t see any hammerheads, we DID have the most incredible dives. There is nothing that can compare with the feeling of being surrounded by what feels like a wall of fish.

After a day of off-gassing on the island, re-visiting the Charles Darwin Research Station for the—oh, I don’t know—millionth? time, we packed up our gear and started the journey back home.

Time to go Home

Eventually we made our way back to the States. This trip to the Galápagos was one of those that takes your brain a few days to register, but provides a lifetime full of memories. From the barking sound of the sea lions, to the tenacity of the boobies, to the immersive underwater world, I can honestly say that our lives were changed by this trip—in the best possible way.

If you’re looking for more dive stories, be sure to check out this post about the Great Barrier Reef and our trip with Spirit of Freedom.

The Elephant Cafe: A Wildlife Encounter Review

One year ago I had the pleasure of visiting The Elephant Cafe in Livingstone, Zambia. You can watch my YouTube video review or read about my experience here on this blog.

Both the video and the blog post include 5 tips on sourcing out reputable wildlife tourism spots, like The Elephant Cafe. The sixth bonus tip: TRUST YOUR GUT!

As you might expect, The Elephant Cafe is struggling at this time due to COVID-19. You can donate to their cause, for both elephants and the trainers, here.

“Thank you for your donation!”

Clearwater Marine Aquarium & Eco-Tourism

Permanent sea turtle resident at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

According to a YouGov poll, nearly a quarter of Americans became more opposed to zoos and aquariums between 2007 and 2017. I, personally, would have liked to see the results from 2007-2012, as 2013 marks the premier date of Blackfish, the documentary surrounding Seaworld and its relationship with Orcas in human care. But, perhaps another blog on that another time.

Now, if you’ve come here for a Seaworld/animals-in-captivity bashing fest, you’re in the wrong place. I am a firm believer in what AZA-accredited Zoos and Aquariums do to protect & preserve species. I think many others are, too. In fact, the same YouGov poll reports that 79% of people said the main reason Zoos & Aquariums should exist is to either: rescue/rehabilitate/release animals, educate the public, or protect animals from going extinct. Some of the best facilities manage to do all three. One of these facilities is the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, in Clearwater, FL.

While I didn’t mention this in the blog post- this is still SUPER neat. Aquaponics in action at the Aquarium and on display for the public to see. They even feed the lettuce to some of their sea turtles!

I’ve had the opportunity to visit the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) a few times in the last 5 years, and have only seen it continue to grow for the better. What started off as a rescue/rehab/release & education operation soon became bigger than they probably ever imagined with the filming of ‘Dolphin Tale’. If you aren’t familiar with the title of the movie you’re likely still familiar with the story of Winter, the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin with the prosthetic tail (or fluke).

According to WTSP, “The year before the original ‘Dolphin Tale’ came out, attendance at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium was under 78,000. The year after, it was 750,000.” That’s a 862% increase in attendance in ONE YEAR! Not only did the facility have to adapt to hold more people eager to meet Winter and her other animal-celebrity friends, it also had to adapt to hold more animals. Because in the world of rescue, rehab, release, sometimes the last step is harder than we’d hope (no dolphin-celebrity pun intended.)

Often times, rehabilitated animals suffer injuries too severe to be released back into the wild. This holds true with several of the Aquarium’s dolphin, sea turtle, and otter patients. This is what makes this Aquarium different from so many others. Their website itself says “Not Your Typical Aquarium” and they couldn’t be more right. This is still very clearly a rescue/rehab/release facility, first and foremost. They are currently undergoing a huge renovation, which will include tripling the amount of space for rescue dolphins and adding more space for other non-releasable animals. This renovation will also be expanding guest areas for those who want to support their mission by visiting.

A snapshot of just some of the construction going on!

And I do encourage you to visit. You won’t be awe-struck by whale sharks swimming overhead, but you will know that you are supporting a facility who prioritizes the rescue/rehabilitate/release of animals, educating the public, and doing their part to prevent the extinction of critically endangered species like sea turtles. So, if you find yourself in that 25% of people who are more opposed to zoos & aquariums in the last ten years, I encourage you to visit this facility. It epitomizes what other AZA-accredited facilities are also doing to help species.

For another take on sustainable/eco-tourism be sure to read my blog about the Elephant Cafe in Zambia.