It was the next to last night on a week long cruise of the Galapagos aboard the Lindblad/National Geographic ship, The Endeavour. Unlike a mega-ship tour of the Caribbean, the Endeavour is a fairly small ship, and the exploration of the island chain included rigorous hikes and early mornings. The unintended consequence of this close-quarters cruising were quickly made friendships with the other guests.
We had swam with sea lions, stood inches away from blue-footed boobies and their chicks and scaled the top of Bartolomé Island for incredible views of the sunken caldera below. Our days began around 6am, included nature hikes until lunch and then snorkeling in the afternoon. After five days of NOT sitting in front of a computer all day, I was exhausted but revitalized. My energy level and intellectual curiosity were at all time highs and I was loving life.
Even though the Lindblad ship was small, that’s not to say it was uncomfortable. Lindblad prides itself in providing guests with unique access to some of the most interesting regions of the world, but comfortably. Most modern conveniences were provided, except one – there were no televisions to be found anywhere on board. After the first day of visible CNN withdrawals, we soon found their absence to be liberating. Instead of holing up in one’s cabin, everyone spent their evenings in the common areas, talking, laughing and just enjoying each other’s company.
Even as amazing as the days spent walking around with giant tortoises were, I looked forward to our evening ritual of sitting on the stern deck, playing board games and having some beers. The guests all came from incredibly diverse backgrounds, and it was fascinating to listen to everyone’s stories as the waves gently lapped against the side of the vessel.
On that evening, dangerously close to the end of the cruise, we decided to walk to the bow of the Endeavour, away from the lights on the stern deck. Walking on the front deck was like being in a darkroom. No lights from the ship were on and instead we found ourselves enveloped by a new world. One by one, we looked up, our mouths agape and stood transfixed by the cosmic show overhead.
I thought I had seen the night sky before and I thought I was prepared for the view of the stars from the Southern Hemisphere, but I was woefully mistaken. The sheer enormity of the sky was what hit me first; it seemed to go on forever. Living in the suburbs of a major metropolitan area, the light pollution and the tightly planned communities simply don’t afford scenes like the one I was witnessing.
I was never very good at astronomy, which constellations are which, but it didn’t matter. The dazzling light show was almost beyond comprehension. My eyes kept darting from one grouping of stars to another, unsure which was more brilliant.
Eventually, after twenty minutes or so of silent, mindless admiration of the heavens we all shuffled back inside, almost as if on cue. No words were spoken, none were sufficient to capture the brilliance of the moment.
Even after a week of remarkable displays of nature’s beauty and its tendency to amaze, that simple evening was the single most impressive moment of the trip.