Author: Liz Drayer, C’83
Darwin and blue-footed boobies. That’s what I thought when I heard Galapagos, before we signed on for this September adventure. Then our copies of Origin of Species arrived in the mail, courtesy of Penn Alumni Travel. Wow, I thought I’ve never cracked this historic volume. Now’s the time. I made it through Chapter One before resorting to Evolution for Dummies. But no problem – Professor Michael Weisberg filled in the blanks once we arrived.
The fun began when we boarded the National Geographic Endeavor, with its first-rate facilities and staff who catered to our every need. How many times had I tried to win this exact trip on the Jeopardy sweepstakes? With less than seventy guests, we were able to get to know everyone during the course of the week. You can’t help but make friends nestled “cheek to cheek” in the Zodiacs, the motorized rafts deployed daily to ferry us to the islands.
Each morning began with a wakeup from Carlos, the ship’s master of ceremonies and naturalist extraordinaire. Then it was off to explore the island du jour, each with unique topography and endemic species of animals and plants. We practically tripped over iguanas, nursing sea lions and glittering Sally Lightfoot crabs, all oblivious to our comings and goings. The naturalists’ encyclopedic knowledge deepened our appreciation for all we saw, and we marveled at Brian, our videographer/stunt man, who scaled precipices barefoot to nab the perfect shot.
“Scaly” is not a four-letter word.
Our shipmates made the trip special – a diverse group of all ages and backgrounds. The wide-ranging activities offered something for everyone. Snorkeling with sharks and sea turtles. Scaling volcanic formations. Kayaking and glass bottom boats. Magnificent vistas and sugar cane farms. And my personal favorite, the Galapagos Tortoise, those plodding kings that once thrived on the islands, now bred by researchers hoping to restore their prior glory.
America’s next top model.
We wound down each day in the cozy library, sipping cocktails and watching the cottony clouds waft across the horizon. Evenings featured local cuisine and music, barbeques and crossing-the-equator parties. A highlight of the trip was the excellent lecture series featuring Penn’s Professor Weisberg, that left me craving the classrooms of Bennett Hall.
These island getaways are exhausting.
We capped off the week with a day in Guayaquil, fraternizing with reptiles that hang from the trees in Iguana Park. We marveled at yellow-jerseyed fans streaming into the soccer stadium, arriving at ten for a four o’clock game. Ecuadorians take their football seriously….
Huge thanks to Alyssa D’Alconzo, Director of Alumni Education, Travel, and Career Networking, for organizing this fabulous trip. Nothing sums up our nine days like Carlos’ favorite superlative: Fantastic!
*Liz Drayer is an attorney and writer in Clearwater, Florida. Her most recent short story, Crashers, appears in the June 2014 issue of Prick of the Spindle literary magazine. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
[If this blog has inspired you to travel with Penn Alumni Travel, visit our full 2015 schedule here. We will be returning to the Galapagos in 2015 with the tour Machu Picchu to the Galapagos, December 1-15, 2015.]