We stepped off the plane from chilly Quito into the blazing heat of an equatorial mid-day, and straight into another world. The quick ten-minute coach transfer took us to a landing stage where a heap of lounging sealions dozed beneath the gangway.
One opened a reproachful eye as its lunchtime snooze was interrupted by our arrival, and quickly resumed its slumber as we edged past to clamber onto the waiting zodiacs. Others frolicked around us in the clear waters as we sped towards the lovely Silver Origin, our home for the next seven nights. I've never had such an exciting embarkation!
Once on board, the stylish Silver Origin blew us away all over again: what a magical combination of elegant light-flooded comfort indoors, and pristine wilderness outside.
We quickly adapted to the contours of our adventure-packed days: early breakfast, a hike ashore before the sun gets too hot, exploration along the rocky coastlines by zodiac or kayak, snorkelling off the beach or in deep water, Ecuadorian siesta after lunch as Silver Origin carried us to a new location, and an afternoon hike before the sunset at 6pm.
Each evening featured a fascinating presentation by one of the on board naturalists, a quick run through of the following day's activities by the excellent Expedition Leader, and a leisurely dinner before dropping into bed for the deep sleep of the righteous (or truly exhausted!).
Every action-packed day brought new delights, from bobbing around a rocky outcrop to watch the comical blue footed boobies wave their beautiful feet at us, to catching sight of a turtle lazily raising its head above the water before sinking back down beneath the waves, from witnessing the transformation of the tiny ungainly Galapagos penguins huddled on the rocks before launching themselves into the waves where they turned into elegant torpedo-like speed machines under the water, whilst overhead the frigate birds circled elegantly, riding the currents on the look-out for prey.
Never has snorkelling been more exciting, as we shared the waters with teams of turtles, multicoloured shoals of fish, prehistoric marine iguanas, playful sealions and the occasional shark, whilst on the rocks a garden of sea urchins, seaweeds and - the iguana's favourite - green algae was dotted with multicoloured star fish, corals, barnacles and sponge fish, with the diamond shape of rays lurking on the sandy sea bottom.
If you have never snorkelled - don't despair, this is your chance to add a new skill to your repertoire, even if you are not a confident swimmer. One of the naturalists will show you the ropes and help you build confidence as you explore off the beach. Before you know it, you will be confidently sliding into the sea from the side of your zodiac into a magical world of underwater activity.
Talking over our trip at the end of the week, we each had our own favourite magic moment - and in all cases it was one where we had been able to soak up the timeless and unchanging beauty of the natural world: drifting through the mangroves at high tide and spotting a 'tree sea lion' dozing on a mangrove root; coming across a flamboyance of flamingos peacefully gathered in a brackish lagoon, the water so still that the whole scene was reflected in the water; skirting heaps of sleeping marine iguanas sunning themselves on the lava rocks, next to the beating waves and watched over by a group of flightless cormorants; watching a seething mass of sharks around a zodiac, attracted by the ship's lights at dusk. For each of us it was something different, and we all came away with a new perspective on the natural world.
As for our experience on Silver Origin, that was just the icing on the cake. We loved the fresh Ecuadorian inspired menus, simple but delicious; the excellent service from charming local people; the comfortable and spacious accommodation; and the amazing team of certified naturalist guides, each with his or her own particular passion.
We came away from our Galapagos adventure inspired, delighted - and completely exhausted!