One of the groovier things about living in Ecuador is you get to humblebrag stuff like: “The first time we went to Galapagos…”.

The humblebrag recipient invariably responds, “You’ve been more than once?” To which we reply, “Yup. It’s a cheap flight from Guayaquil and the park fee is very inexpensive for residents.” Then the humblebrag recipient says something along the lines of: “Wow! You are so cool! Your life in the South Pacific is magical and fascinating. From this moment forward, I will endeavour to model my existence after yours.”

Anyway, the first time we went to Galapagos it was a DIY affair. We travelled with our constant globetrotting companions, Chris and Filiep, in November 2019. Being a DIY adventure, we forsook the come-ons of the last-minute cruise operators in Puerto Ayora and hired a cabbie to take us around Santa Cruz, the most populous of the inhabited islands. Later, we hopped a terror ferry to San Cristóbal, where we did a little reef snorkeling and I electrocuted our guests with a widow-maker shower head. It was a memorable trip. Especially the ferry ride, which Chris still talks about, in much the same way a torture victim might describe being waterboarded.

This February, Chantal and I opted for a cruise of the northern archipelago. No, we didn’t come into a whack of cash, which we threw at a luxury vacation. My uncle Norm paid for it. His way of saying thanks for showing him and his companion Pat around Ecuador for three weeks. It was a very generous gift. We could never say no. Would you?

M/C Alya off the coast of Genovesa

We spent five days aboard the M/C Alya, a 31.5 metre catamaran with eight well-appointed cabins, 16 passengers, 10 crew, and one naturalist guide. Our cruise included stops at Genovesa, which requires a trip across the equator to reach; Santiago and Bartolomé, where Russel Crowe filmed Master and Commander; Sombrero Chino (Chinese Hat) and Mosquera, tiny volcanic cones with no apparent means to support life; and finally Santa Cruz, where we debarked and flew back to the mainland.

I know that I have previously taken a piss on the very notion of the Galapagos luxury cruise. It is, to be honest, an obscene privilege. And yet, there is only one way to experience the farthest-flung islands of the realm. It comes with three gourmet meals a day and a hot tub.

I have no regrets. We photographed red-footed boobies and pirate insignia at Darwin Bay. We swam with penguins in the calm, clear waters off Pinnacle Rock. We hiked black lava flows, scaled lunar-like volcanic surfaces, and sputtered our Zodiacs into hidden mangroves to watch turtles fuck. Yeah, it was that enchanting.

Sombrero Chino (Chinese Hat)

It was also a highly regimented experience, which my uncle found off-putting. When you cruise the Galapagos, your wet or dry landing occurs when the park authorities say it occurs. Only so many fat American asses at a time are permitted to walk these exotic shores. And there is at least a half dozen other vessels waiting to disgorge their charges onto the beach. So you’d best be ready to march when your naturalist barks her orders.

Such rigidly orchestrated touring makes it virtually impossible to capture the true magnificence of the islands. You must take your lighting as it comes to you. Midday on the equator is rarely a good time for landscape photography. Colours wash out and the ocean is a colossal parabolic reflector.

Morning is much better. Which is why National Geographic reserves those landing slots for its $15,000-per-person, all-inclusive, Disney extravaganza. Even among luxury Galapagos cruises, there’s a hierarchy. National Geographic sits at the very apex. M/C Alya is somewhere closer to the middle. At the very bottom are the last-minute cruisers. They get bench seating and last pick at the landing schedule. Which sucks, but that’s what happens when you’re a cheap bastard.

Norm and his ice cream, Puerto Ayora

All to say that I’m not terribly proud of my photo journal for this trip. Same deal as last time, but with the added frustration of a new camera (Fujifilm X100V) and shitty lighting scenarios.

I doubt we’ll return to Galapagos. If we do, it won’t be for some time. We’ve seen the islands we wanted to see, except Isabella. And, to be frank, Puerto Ayora bores me.

How’s that for a humblebrag?