On the night we sailed across the Equator the sun set fire to the sea and sky, creating a dramatic setting for the shadowy dormant volcanoes lining the horizon around us. It was a memorable moment celebrated over a glass of champagne on the bridge deck of National Geographic Endeavour.
We were roughly midway through our 10-day Lindblad/National Geographic Expedition around the iconic Galapagos islands, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean 600 miles west of Ecuador, South America. The spectacular sunset reminded us that the Endeavour was as much part of a unique experience as the islands themselves.
From the ship we had made forays by Zodiacs to beaches and ledges of lava to get up close to sea lions, giant tortoises, marine iguanas, and colonies of sea birds. But also from on board the ship we had watched whales, been met by pelicans, boobies and frigate birds, circumnavigated islets, and moored in waters rich in tropical fish of every kind. The Endeavour was our luxury hotel, transporter, and platform for exploration.
In this fifth post of my Galapagos Expedition Journal, I share some of the highlights of life on board the National Geographic Endeavour. I was on the ship as the National Geographic Expert, sharing experiences as a journalist for the Society and learning about the islands and species I have featured in our news stories.
In my earlier posts about the expedition, I described our arrival on the island of San Cristobal and our first visit to a Galapagos beach, what it was like to swim with sea lions, how we followed Charles Darwin’s footsteps to Floreana Island, and what it was like coming face to face with giant tortoises. You can also find the entire series of posts for the Galapagos Expedition Journal here.
Named after HMS Endeavour, the ship Captain James Cook used to explore Australia and New Zealand in the late 1770s, our National Geographic Endeavour was built in Germany in 1966 as a fishing trawler. Refitted and renamed for cruising in polar waters, the ship is full of photos of the Antarctic. For the last few years she has been based in the Galapagos, sailing under the Lindblad/National Geographic colors. Other Lindblad/National Geographic ships explore the Arctic, Antarctic, Alaska and Baja California.
As befits a National Geographic ship flying the Society’s famous expedition flag, Endeavour has the look and feel of a vessel built and equipped for exploration. Very comfortable exploration for those who want to experience the Galapagos as curious travelers. But also a floating exploration platform for National Geographic’s scientists and journalists who use the ship regularly for field research and reporting.
My favorite place on board Endeavour is the library, which from the uppermost deck has wonderful views of ocean and islands through large picture windows. It is crammed with books about adventure, exploration and discovery, including a large National Geographic Atlas of the World on a reading stand.
The lounge is where much of the social activity takes place. Each evening we would gather for cocktails and hot pre-dinner snacks to share photos and video, recap adventures, and compare notes of what we had seen and learned during the day. It was also where we would meet to go over the next day’s program, hear presentations by the naturalists, and watch videos about the Galapagos. On some evenings there would be after-dinner live entertainment by local artists.
Perhaps the most popular part of the Endeavour is the dining room. Three lavish meals presented each day by a talented kitchen staff provided great opportunities to meet and mingle with other travelers. Endeavour takes up to 96 passengers (plus 90 crew), a number small enough to provide a good measure of intimacy, but just large enough to find many new friends.
Lindblad/National Geographic Expeditions is fastidious about minimizing the tourism impact on the Galapagos. Great care is taken to make sure that all fresh produce taken on board Endeavour is free of soil and organisms that might introduce new species to the islands. Trash is meticulously sorted and recycled. Water is processed by desalination and made available to passengers in reusable bottles. Detergents are ecofriendly and used in minimal amounts.
While the focus of the expedition is on visiting the islands, snorkeling, kayaking, and walking, there are plenty of things to do on board. The library is certainly an option to relax and read, or use the ship’s satellite wireless connection to check email or surf the Web. But there is also a small gym, swimming pool, sauna, and several decks to sunbathe.
In this video I interviewed our Expedition Leader, Paula Tagle, about her job and her passion for the Galapagos. Paula is also a storyteller, having written a book about the islands. The book and several handicrafts made by residents of the islands, are available in the Endeavour’s small shop.
Next time on my Galapagos Expedition Journal: Underwater Exploration with Prize-Winning Photographer Terry Goss
David Braun is director of outreach with the digital and social media team illuminating the National Geographic Society’s explorer, science, and education programs.
He edits National Geographic Voices, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society’s mission and major initiatives. Contributors include grantees and Society partners, as well as universities, foundations, interest groups, and individuals dedicated to a sustainable world. More than 50,000 readers have participated in 10,000 conversations.
Braun also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship.