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There came a point in the trip where I questioned the wisdom of swimming toward the man yelling “shark!” That point came later than you might expect.

I’d only been snorkeling once before, years before, from the beach in Cozumel. I mostly remembered feeling claustrophobic and sunburned, plus marveling at the colourful fish.

In the Galapagos, our group was swimming with the sharks. And the turtles, jellyfish, sea lions, an octopus, a penguin or two, and even more colourful fish. When one of us would see something exciting we’d yell for the group to come see, but usually it was our guide who spotted them first. Including a lot of sharks. And once, toward the end of that outing, the logical part of my brain started overruling the awe-struck part of my brain and I started to hyperventilate, logically.

That’s when I fell in love with snorkeling. I realized the claustrophobia, the struggle to calm my breath, the healthy fear of sharks, had all disappeared until I felt like a privileged guest in this underwater world.

The Galapagos Islands had been near the top of my travel wish-list forever. I knew of Darwin’s evolution epiphanies, the diversity of animals unique to the volcanic islands – blue footed boobies! giant tortoises! marine iguanas! sea lions as far as the eye can see! – and the remoteness which makes traveling there more difficult (and expensive).

I didn’t realize how many people live in the collection of islands, but meeting locals helped me feel like a privileged guest in their world as well. Except in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz, whose town centre felt like every port of call, tacky tourist shops and all.

I have an aversion to cruises so when the opportunity came up to finally go to the Galapagos, I landed on the Galapagos Unbound trip from ROW Adventures. For a couple of nights we slept in tents on an isolated beach close to sea lions and hermit crab tracks, and the rest of the time in charming hotels (and charming is not code for dilapidated in this case).

It was my first time with that company and it was a mostly positive experience. It helped that I was one of the last people standing amid the gastroenteritis that blazed through our small group.

In the initial kayaking excursion, my friend and I were champions in our first time paddling together. The second excursion … well, we didn’t capsize or get swept out into the open ocean, but not for want of trying. Because we had seemed to know what we were doing the first time, our guides left us behind to fend for ourselves so we finally arrived at the destination exhausted and cranky.

But then we went snorkeling again, and crankiness couldn’t survive in this volcanic landscape inhabited by otherworldly creatures.