As we all awoke aboard our valiant vessel, National Geographic Quest , we were greeted by something we had not come across in quite some time: the sun! Making our way down the Gulf Island, British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast held true to the name. After finishing our breakfast, we mingled about on the decks, photosynthesizing, when we heard multiple voice yelling, “Blows!” Always quick to investigate, our bridge team safely tucked us toward what turned out to be a pod of Bigg’s (or transient) killer whales. These whales, identifiable by their closed saddle patches, gave us quite the show. Five altogether, they took turns posturing towards us. With a dorsal fin almost six feet tall, a large male broke through the water. This was followed by some smaller females and, at the end, a young calf learning to navigate these waters. The whales swam around us for quite some time, enough that we decided to forgo the intended Zodiac tour and instead spend our time with these magnificent creatures. Full of smiles and rosy cheeks from the sun and wind, we had another treat in store. Our guest speaker, Uncle Jim, engaged us with a talk on the pathways of his life that led to becoming a speech writer for the vice president and how he became friends with the highly regarded actor, Marlon Brando. After lunch, we took a short Zodiac ride to shore on Wallace Island. Home to a resort complex in the 50s, a few buildings and artifacts remain. Now a marine park, local cruises shared the dock with us as we relished the sunshine and the opportunity to explore independently or under the excellent tutelage of our expedition staff. Regardless of the chosen path, the island seemed like paradise with sunshine flirting through the waxy madrona leaves that greeted us with each step we took along the salal-lined path. When things seemed like they couldn’t get better, a surprise was in wait as bartender Miranda patiently waited with snacks and blueberry lemonade to quench our parched throats. Blissed out from another spectacular day, we followed the rays of sunshine back to the ship to fill our minds and bellies as we continue south.
It’s not every day you get to meet a fifth-generation soya sauce master, try vanilla ice cream topped with soya sauce, and be serenaded by the cutest group of Japanese schoolchildren. Today held all these treasures and more! Our day began with a photography presentation from National Geographic photo expert James Whitlow Delano entitled, “Ryuku: Sub Tropical Japan.” He shared a breathtaking collection of images made in the Ryukyu (Okinawa) Islands as an introduction to the beauty we will soon experience. After a delicious lunch, we disembarked on Shodoshima, the second largest island in the Seto Inland Sea, known for olives, soy sauce, and the fact that it is shaped like a cow. We were welcomed to the island by the cutest group of Japanese kindergarten students. For the past three months, they have practiced playing songs on various musical instruments for our arrival. I’ve seen few things in my life that rival the preciousness of their proud faces. On this island, we broke into two groups. Some of us took a strenuous hike to the top of the Kankakei Gorge, and others enjoyed a leisurely gondola ride to the top. Both options ended with a spectacular view of the valley and port below. After these explorations, we visited a Soya Sauce Brewery to learn about soya sauce production from a fifth-generation soya sauce master. He offered us a taste of a famous dessert...vanilla ice cream topped with a special soya sauce! It was delightfully harmonious. We enjoyed an evening of cocktails and our first recap, a colorful plate of sushi and a delicious dessert, and time spent making origami cranes with our local guides to bring with us to Hiroshima tomorrow. Every day has been so full of wonder and awe. Text written by Giulia Ciampini
This morning, we explored the northern side of Santa Cruz Island, and our first outing took us to see the Galapagos dragons. This land iguana inhabits the palo santo dry forest. As soon as we disembarked, marine iguanas greeted us as they sunbathed on the Sesuvium carpetweed found along the shoreline. We walked along the trail and found a brackish water lagoon that is usually visited by birds like white-cheeked pintail ducks, black-necked stilts, and sometimes flamingos. Later, we passed through the dry forest of palo santo and breathed in its fragrant aroma as we headed to observe the eroded volcanic ash on the trail. Land iguanas are endemic to this archipelago and can be found nesting in the area or just relaxing under a prickly pear cactus tree. We saw a spectacular number of iguanas, counting twenty during our walk. The bright colors of the iguanas make them a very exciting sight, which our guests enjoyed very much. Later in the afternoon, our younger explorers took Zodiac driving lessons in the company of their parents and a naturalist guide. It was the highlight of the day for them. The rest of our guests opted between getting some exercise while kayaking along the shoreline of Borrero Bay or simply took it slower and joined a Zodiac tour in the area. During the afternoon, we observed big flocks of blue-footed boobies, which are not often seen in high numbers. We also observed brown pelicans, striated herons, baby blacktip sharks, a small eagle ray, and lava gulls. We ended our day by enjoying a glass of wine while circumnavigating Daphne Major and observing the stunning sunset.
After several days of calm, sometimes almost otherworldly conditions – a luxury in East Greenland – we awoke this morning to the ship moving in large, long swells. The entrance to Scoresby Sund is so large that ocean swells can make their way in almost unchecked if they come from the east, and today was one of those days. This did not bode well for our planned landing at Cape Hooker on the northern coast of Scoresby Sund. Fortunately, expedition leader Russ had plan B up his sleeve, and we entered Hurry Inlet, a long, narrow bay nearby with landscape that, while mostly flat, boasts gorgeous tundra vegetation. It was a great spot for a hike, and several options were on offer to make sure there was something for everyone. On the longest walk, we traveled several miles inland over cushiony tundra to overlook the almost Martian landscape of a braided river flowing from a glacier hidden in the low clouds on the horizon. While attempting to circumambulate an inviting-looking lake on the edge of the outwash plain, we encountered an unusual combination of very soft sand and layers of ice forming in the thin layer of water at the surface as well as inside the sand. Our footsteps were exceptionally crunchy, and the ice formations were a filigreed beauty. After the opportunity to stretch our legs, it was time to return to civilization this afternoon with a visit to the only settlement in the region. The town of Ittoqqortoormiit is home to about 400 people, and its name translates to, “The place with the many houses”; in comparison to the rest of the region, the name is certainly accurate. The town offers a fascinating look into the lives of Greenlanders, particularly those living in smaller settlements far from the hustle and bustle of the bigger cities of the west coast. The expedition aspect of our excursion did not disappoint, as increasing swells and surging waves on the beach required us to switch to an alternative landing site around the corner. Eastern Greenland is one of the most spectacular parts of the world, and each day has something new and different to offer. We finished our day in style with a fantastic Filipino buffet feast prepared by executive chef Sara and her team.
Today we woke up in Academy Bay, the main port of Santa Cruz Island. We came all the way to this island to see one of the most amazing creatures found in the Galapagos: giant tortoises. We also came to immerse ourselves in the culture of the Galapagos. After a delicious breakfast, we got ready for our adventure. First, we headed to the Charles Darwin Research Station to visit Fausto Llerena, the breeding center. We observed the saddleback morphotype and saw baby tortoises less than a year old. We learned so many interesting things about these wonderful creatures and about the efforts of the National Park and the Charles Darwin Research Station to preserve the pristine Galapagos Islands. The Galápagos Islands became a National Park over sixty years ago. When this happened, people realized that the giant tortoise population was in critical danger with only around 10,000 remaining. After time spent on breeding and recovering the tortoises’ ecosystems in the wild, those numbers have almost tripled. Next, we headed to different destinations in the highlands, including a hydroponic farm and a sugarcane farm combined with a lava tunnel. At these sites, we were received in the homes of local families. We ended our visit with the best experience on the island, a visit to see our giants (the tortoises) in their natural environment. We went to Rancho El Manzanillo and enjoyed a great lunch where we were surrounded by the tortoises! When we came back on board, guests had the opportunity to meet local artisans, take in a cultural show, and enjoy a delicious dinner. Everyone was thrilled after a day full of cultural and environmental experiences. What a great day!