I found a collapsible hiking stick very helpful. It wasn’t necessary (or even useful) on walks on a beach. But on those that went inland, the paths were occasionally uneven (although nothing extremely challenging) and I found the stick useful in maintaining my balance. Also, I was having lower-back issues, so I leaned on it at every stopping point.
Bring at least a small day pack to carry a water bottle, optical equipment, a field guide, a spare hat—whatever… We had a medium-sized one that we shared between the 2 of us. You don’t need anything big, but I was glad we had something. If you don’t have a day pack, you might need to bring a plastic Zip-lock bag to protect your camera during the panga rides.
Many people travel with snacks. We had numerous small plastic zip-lock-type bags of roasted almonds and cashews. In Quito, our tour guide mentioned that nuts and seeds couldn’t be brought into the Galápagos—the fear focused on anything that might sprout on the islands, take root, and take over. (A number of invasive plant species have done just that in the past.) We figured that we’d just have to kiss these snacks goodbye at the Baltra airport. But we showed them to the woman who was checking our luggage there and she was fine with them. If I understood her correctly (my Spanish is rather lame), the fact that they were roasted meant they weren’t any threat to the island. They were non-viable and wouldn’t sprout. (Raw peanuts or almonds might not have been quite so welcomed.) But a bigger point is that you really don’t need snacks if you’re taking a live-aboard cruise. The food on our boat was plentiful, local, fresh, and delicious. We had 3 great meals a day, plus a mid-morning snack (usually a creamy, yummy fruit drink and a nosh) and a mid-afternoon snack (again, a fruit drink and a nosh). The trip was so active that my husband and I ate every time food appeared—including desserts!–and we didn’t gain any weight at all. Also, keeping food in your cabin on the boat may attract undesirables (i.e., insects, rats, mice). And you’re not allowed to bring any food with you on landings on any of the uninhabited islands. So consider not bringing any snacks with you to the archipelago. You will not go hungry!
Many who had their own snorkel gear brought their masks, although everyone used the flippers the boat provided. I was able to find a mask that worked well for me (and kept my contacts safe and out of harm’s way), although a couple of people had trouble with the seals and had to try several masks. Several people brought their own wet suits (most just half suits or “shorties”); the boat didn’t have them. I would have used one if I had had one (and if I had had the weight to spare in my luggage). I snorkeled while we were around the northern islands; but the water was colder at the southern islands and I opted out of those swims. NOTE: If you wear glasses (and never wear contacts), you won’t be able to use your glasses with a snorkel mask. The mask needs to fit tightly to your face to keep the water out. (Contact lenses with a good-fitting mask work just fine—that’s what I used.) If you absolutely can’t see without your glasses, you might check with a dive shop in your area to see if they either have or can order a mask for you that is ground to your prescription. Be sure to do this sufficiently in advance of your trip, because it might take some time. One person I know of found a mask that was his prescription at his local dive shop and it cost him $100. If you have an unusual prescription, it might run you more. But it will be soooooo worth it to be able to enjoy the amazing marine life.
Binoculars—bring them. Even though most of the wildlife is rather “in your face,” some is not. Our naturalist guide used binos only once—and that was only when he had asked me about a far-distant bird. I thought it was a phalarope, but wasn’t quite sure so I handed mine to him to have him confirm this not-so-common bird. But most of the rest of the group at least shared binoculars among couples. We had worried that they might get wet on the panga transport; however, we put all of the optics in a day pack when heading to the islands; that was enough to protect them.
Bring at least 2 pairs of sunglasses, in case something happens to one of them. If you can, bring ones with polarized lenses. You’ll be able to see the sea turtles, rays, and sharks moving in the water much better if you have polarized lenses. Consider using a neck strap, so you can take them on and off as the clouds and bright sunshine dictate. Also, if it’s windy on the panga, you have a safety net against glasses flying off in the breeze. Our panga driver was able to skillfully rescue someone’s hat that had blown off, but sunglasses might be a challenge. On a related note, I also brought a spare pair of contact lenses. I wasn’t sure if I’d have trouble with an ill-fitting snorkel mask, so I switched into my back-up (older) pair of contacts for snorkeling. I had no problems at all—the mask fit well and never let water leak in. But I was prepared. I also brought 2 pairs of regular glasses. When you’re as myopic as I am, losing or breaking my only pair of glasses hundreds, if not thousands, of miles from somewhere that might be able to replace such a strong prescription was unthinkable. I also brought a small glasses repair kit, with a tiny screwdriver and a number of different-sized screws. You can’t be too careful in the middle of an ocean…
One thing that several folks in our group had was a couple of carabiners. These are metal clips that rock climbers use to link ropes to gear or other ropes or all sorts of other things. The simplest ones open easily on one hinge with a spring catch at the bottom and then securely close. Lots of uses for these handy contraptions. For instance, you can clip your shoes to the straps of your life jacket for a wet landing. (This one was the use I envied the most.) You can clip your water bottle to your belt or the outside of your daypack for easy access. One person clipped a line connected to his waterproof camera to his wet suit, just in case he lost his grip on the camera. The uses are limited only by your imagination. They come in lots of sizes and strengths; you don’t need anything very strong for most of the uses you’d have on a naturalist cruise. You can buy them in any outdoor store, such as REI. Click here to get an idea of what they are, if you’re not sure.
I take several medications and supplements daily; lugging all those bottles around left something to be desired. I looked into pill boxes that mark the days; since I take some in the mornings and some in the evenings, I was looking for a simple way to separate those two sets of pill. Most of the pill boxes I could find were for 7-day periods. Since we were going to be away for 12 days, I would need 2 of those. It sounds like a simple task, doesn’t it? The only ones I could find were very big and bulky. Now really—I didn’t have that many pills to take each day. At our local Rite Aid, I found a package of 50 small zip-type plastic bags that you could write on. Aha! I laid out 12 bags for the morning pills, 12 bags for the evening pills (and a couple of extras, just in case) and filled them up. By keeping the morning-pill bags in one small pouch and the evening-pill bags in a different small pouch, I could just grab a bag from the appropriate pouch and toss ‘em down. Once they were empty, each empty bag took up practically no space and was easily packed home, for reuse on the next adventure. (For the one prescription drug, I did take the bottle with that Rx on it, just in case.)
Since we had been houseboating on Lake Powell before, we knew to bring biodegradable shampoo, conditioner, soap, and detergent (although we didn’t use that last one on the boat). We bought them early and tried them out at home first, to make sure they worked for us. The boat provided biodegradable shampoo and soap in dispensers in the showers. I ended up using the boat’s shampoo, because it lathered better. I used our soap, for the same reason. And I used our conditioner, because the boat didn’t provide that at all.
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