Great media attention

I helped Diana Wegner book a trip on the Samba earlier this year, along with her friends and family.   She wrote this short article for the Vancouver sun - it appeared on Thursday this past week.  After a careful analysis of the new law  to which Diana refer, passed a few months ago, CNH Tours believes the "easing of protections" is actually not the case.  

Vancouver Sun, 4 September 2015 (click here to see original story on the newspaper's website)

Galapagos: A paradise lost in time

UNESCO World Heritage Site in danger as government eases protections

Prickly pear, the spiky backs of iguanas, lava mosaics, sleek sea snakes, patrolling frigate birds, mating boobies looking like dancing clowns, water cities of sea stars, the Southern Cross with its upside-down Big Dipper, a showy Milky Way, the red glow of a volcano. The magic of the Galapagos.

And I had seven days of it, aboard a 78-foot motor-yacht called the Samba, which sailed us through the “southern” Galapagos, visiting 10 islands.

We were seven couples and our guide Nicolas, each with our own tiny cabin below deck, with a crew of six who slept in a cabin in the bow of the boat. They fed us well, helped us in and out of wetsuits and kayaks, and snorkelled with us through schools of myriad fish species, manta rays, and sea turtles gliding like birds. They invited us to join in the play of sea lions, led us into the quiet world of sharks, and sent us off over a metropolis of starfish of every colour and design thick on the ocean floor. We floated through grottos and tunnels filled with both light and darkness.

We woke at five each morning to be ready for Nicolas’ muster bell that meant we should be dinghy-ready. We sat in the wood-panelled dining room drinking coffee and waiting for the signal, having been prepped the night before for either a wet or dry landing. At six we lowered ourselves into dinghies and set out for a walk on one of the beaches that permitted a landing, each island featuring its own unique Galapagos ecology.

Eerie walks over painterly patterns of lava-flow from a century ago, through colonies of albatrosses, blue-footed boobies, frigatebirds, pelicans, flamingos, lava lizards, iguanas, Galapagos sea lions — and the ever-present Galapagos mockingbird.

We were back on the Samba for breakfast at eight, then into a dinghy at 9:30 a.m. for a snorkelling experience. We splashed into the water with Go-Pro cameras at hand, Nicolas leading the way with his camera attached to a selfie stick. For over an hour we swam, silently mesmerized by the exotic life under the sea, returning reluctantly to the world above for lunch, quiet and spellbound.

By two in the afternoon we were in our kayaks for a shoreline tour of sea lions, boobies, marine iguanas, and maybe a glimpse of the endangered Galapagos penguin.

On board by five, we could opt to rest aboard ship or, as most of us chose, a sunset hike up a beach or over the hump of a small island.

Dinner at 6:30 p.m. was spent recounting the day’s wonders, then drifting out onto the deck under darkening skies.

Overnight the captain would steer us to another island or reef.

We weren’t alone. Other boats were also anchored here, some much larger than the Samba. Huge tour ships hung back just outside tiny harbours, spawning dinghy after dinghy of tourists off to a reef or an island.

A National Geographic tour boat twice anchored beside the Samba, its occupants laden with cameras and diving equipment.

The harbour at Puerto Ayora was swarming with visitors who, like us, loaded up on wine and beer at the general store before embarking. So it shouldn’t have surprised us to see so many of them out in the pristine, protected wilderness of the Galapagos — though, once out there, it did.

It made us acutely aware how embedded the fragile Galapagos archipelago is in a busy tourist industry.

Nicolas, who was born and raised on San Cristobal, the most populous island, structured the tour and provided detailed accounts of how each island developed its own ecology and species of life over successive volcanic eruptions. He answered our endless questions, but also shared his anxieties about the rapid pace of tourism and the new disturbing legislation passed in June that could cancel some of the protections of the Galapagos and its diverse, unique species of life.

The legislation eases regulations and leaves it up to local authorities whether or not to apply said regulations, which could lead to the construction of new highrise hotels, the creation of berths for cruise ships, granting oil tankers passage through the islands, fostering undersea oil exploration, and building new airports.

As an oil-rich country, Ecuador has thrived in recent decades. As the price of oil has plummeted, the government is casting about for alternatives to buoy the economy. Now it has set its eyes on the Galapagos.

The islands are on the UNESCO World Heritage in Danger list. Visitors have left more than footprints — there are about 900 introduced plant species in the Galapagos. Oil barons and developers are lurking in the wings, and the river of tourism is turning into a deluge. In 1980 there was 17,445 visitors to the Galapagos; in 2014 there were 214,691.

We pondered these developments just as we thrilled to our experience of the islands. Then, after seven nights on the Samba, we were spirited away, back to the ferry and the Island of Baltra, where the airport resides.

Still wanting to linger under the spell of the Galapagos, we spent a few days in the capital city of Quito. Our Quito visit gave us a chance to decompress from the heady otherworldliness of the Galapagos. Yet every now and then we would sway on our feet, still partly in thrall to the rocking Samba, and, for a moment, we would wait to hear the muster bell.