When we boarded our flight to the Galapagos Islands we noticed something that concerned us. We were surrounded by beige-clad geriatric retirees complaining about everything under the sun. The plane was too hot, the air conditioning too cold, the outside temperature too agreeable. Whatever it was, they were always talking and complaining about something. We began to get nervous that perhaps we shouldn’t have booked a luxury cruise in the Galapagos Islands. We may be stuck with these people for 5 days on a boat…  no escape. Luckily the whole group were together and boarded their boat after arrival, whereas we spent a night in Puerto Ayora.

That afternoon we hired bikes and meandered around the town. We stumbled across the Charles Darwin research station. For some reason I expected to come across religious protests complaining that evolution can’t exist, but we didn’t find anything of the sort. We did find an assortment of iguanas and tortoises though. There is a breeding area at the station, so they had tortoises of all sizes. They gave us a taster for what we were about to see for the next few days, so it filled us with excitement. We then hiked for 30 minutes to Tortuga Bay, the nicest beach I think I have ever laid eyes on. That’s saying a lot considering how nice New Zealand beaches are! It had glowing white sand and crystal clear water.

The next morning we began our cruise. We held our breath as we met our thirteen fellow passengers and were pleasantly surprised to find they were all lovely people from a range of walks of life. However, it did become apparent that we were the paupers of the group. Everyone else seemed to have made millions off their lucrative businesses or they were on their honeymoon. The group were astounded that everything we owned could fit into our backpacks.

We had booked our luxury cruise on the Domenica only a few days before we set off based on some pictures on the internet. It crossed our minds that the photos on the internet may have been exaggerated and we half expected to see a barely floating boat that we had to row ourselves. Luckily for us, this gamble paid off. The boat was the most luxurious thing I have ever seen. As we arrived the housekeeper/barman came out to greet us and offer us arrival drinks. At 140 foot it was the biggest 16 passenger boat in the Galapagos and it was basically a super yacht. It had two jacuzzis on the sky deck (not one, but TWO!), beds to lounge on in the sun, a lounge, a dining room, a bar, and a beautiful room that rivalled any 5-star resort we had previously stayed in. The first thing we did was politely walk into the room, shut the door, and jump up and down like little children.

After we had laid eyes on the floating mansion and realised that we had five blissful days on the boat ahead of us, I doubted that the scenery and animals we were going to see could make me as happy as the boat did. Turned out I had underestimated the Galapagos Islands. We saw land and aquatic iguanas, sea lions, crabs, pelicans, frigate birds, boobies (no we aren’t perverts, they are a type of bird), hawks, an owl, penguins, stingrays, turtles, a whale, dolphins, sharks and lots of fish.

The thing that separates animals in the Galapagos Islands from other places is that Galapagos animals are not afraid of humans. They are curious and may come up and nibble your shoe laces. Because they haven’t been hunted they have never developed a fear of humans. This means you can sit with the animals and watch them closely as they go about their daily chores. It was just incredible and unlike anything I have ever seen before.

Our guide Rissel Cruz was something else. He could literally whisper to the animals and they would come to him. Birds would sing along to him and land on a branch next to him. There wasn’t a noise on the islands he couldn’t imitate. He had grown up in the Galapagos Islands and left to become a qualified environmental engineer. His passion was the islands, so after studying he returned to be a guide. Whenever we saw an animal he would yell his catchphrase: “Oh my God, look at that!”. His excitement was contagious and even if I wasn’t really sure what the little bird we were looking at was, I knew it must be something special.

Seeing a whale whilst watching the sunset from the sky deck and briefly snorkeling with a turtle were my highlights. Both I have wanted to see for a very long time, but both had evaded me until now. Ben’s highlight was swimming with penguins. About ten of them swam all around us, playing with us in the water. We also snorkeled with a sea lion. Sharks were spotted by other swimmers, although thankfully I didn’t see any in the water with me.

On one of the mornings we got up early and rode in the zodiacs to a mangrove. From there we went looking for stingrays. They hang around in groups with their wing-tips out of the water, so are easy to spot. Whilst looking for stingrays we also saw turtles swimming along. On another day we climbed to the top of a hill just as a group of hawks swooped in and around us. We watched as one caught a lizard in front of us and stopped to guzzle down breakfast.

Whilst on the trip we went for walks on the islands, snorkels, rides in the zodiacs, and a paddle in a kayak. If we weren’t doing activities we were eating the decadent food on the boat or on the sky deck watching the islands float by or just having a nap. The five days went far too quickly and soon enough we had to leave and return to our lives as poor backpackers. We checked ourselves into a $10USD a night hostel and I let out a little sob as a mouse ran through the kitchen whilst we were cooking two minute noodles for dinner. Oh how the mighty fall. I was tempted to swim back to the Domenica and plead to let me back on, but unfortunately she was a cruel friend that only wants you around if you give her money. So we ate our noodles and reminisced about a time when we had it all.