As a lifetime open water devotee, I was intrigued when I stumbled on a advertisement for a SwimTrek holiday back in the early 2000’s. It seemed like such a fantastic idea. I had been on many self-supported bicycle tours, open water events, and competed in local triathlons, but what I really liked was swimming. Each time I’d come across a body of water, the running conversation in my head was “I think I can swim across this.” I kept looking at the SwimTrek website and explaining to all my friends that we really needed to do this. I must have talked about it a lot, even my Mother’s friends starting giving me travel guides to Greece. Finally, in 2009, we had a group formed and scheduled a trip. My first trip was to the Greek Cyclades. It was everything I’d hoped for. Get up, swim, eat, swim, eat…..take a boat ride. It was clearly the best thing I’d ever done. We immediately began planning for the next trip…. this went on for several cycles and it was then clear to me, I really wanted to be part of it. The guides I met were all gracious and accomplished. They wanted us all to succeed in our swimming goals, and managed all the logistics to make this possible. They were both inspiring and comforting. Somehow you wanted to please them, yet they clearly wanted to please you. It was perfect.
I worked toward getting my qualifications and was surprised with an opportunity earlier than I had anticipated…. next thing you know, I’m jetting off to Turkey as a SwimTrek guide. Best month of my life… until my next trip, the next best month of my life. I did as many trips as I could over the following years and was happy to see expansion into the US. I was guiding in Arizona when I received an email from the office… would I be interested in guiding in the Galapagos? It doesn’t take long to say yes to that.
Many of the places we swim provide a nice combination of culture, beautiful landscapes, iconic swims, warm water….in the Galapagos, you get all that, but there is no other place I can imagine where so many things are happening in the water. The density and diversity of wildlife is unmatched. You can hardly swim a stroke without seeing large schools of fish, playful sea lions, friendly sharks, graceful turtles, perky penguins, lazy iguanas, and magnificent manta rays. At the end of my time in the Galapagos, I could only say “this place is ridiculous.” I couldn’t possibly pick a favourite moment, but to be swimming along and have a manta ray with a 7 meter wing span appear below you, and then continue to gracefully swim along with you as if not to notice your head was blowing up. The Galapagos gives, and it’s non-stop giving.
The Galapagos islands are well protected with over 97% of the land in National Park and over 70,000 sq km in the Marine Reserve. Everywhere we went we were accompanied by a Naturalist Guide. This is a requirement to travel in the park, but also extremely valuable to help interpret our trip. The training to become a naturalist guide is strict, including being a Galapaganean. The guides and all our local partners were rightfully proud and protective of their home. There was visible and active conservation all around. The markets, did not provide bags, recycling bins were on every corner. It was rare to see trash in the water. We had days where we did not even see another boat.
Nearly all of the guests on these trips were SwimTrek veterans. It seemed to take a quick commitment to book this trip, as the trips sold out very quickly. Swimming in the Galapagos was an ideal way to discover the area. Swimming was a bit novel here….people took interest in what we were doing. Swimtrekkers were among the first to circumnavigate Daphne Major, a small island north of Santa Cruz. Visitation to Daphne Major is limited to scientific researchers. A 20-year study was conducted on this island investigating the life cycle of finches, supporting Darwin’s theory of evolution and chronicled in the book The Beak of the Finch. This trip was designed to experience the location. It did not disappoint. Each day brought new discoveries and experiences. Just when you thought you had seen the most amazing thing, the next day would bring a new most amazing thing. If it’s on your bucket list I’d recommend checking it off in 2018.