For four Charleston friends, crossing a trip to the Galapagos Islands off their "bucket list" meant making a lot of other lists first.
Now looking over the glorious photographs they took during their six-day January trip, the friends say it was all worth it — even the 17-hour delayed flight there and the sunburned feet.
"It was the trip of a lifetime," said John Baldwin.
As a couple, he and Jan Flannery have traveled together, as have Dick Hanlon and Liz Hereford. The four of them, who all serve as volunteers for Hospice Care, have never traveled together. All but Flannery are retired; Baldwin and Hanlon worked together for many years at the state Department of Transportation — Baldwin as a geologist and Hanlon as a chemist.
Baldwin said he has been intrigued by the volcano-formed islands since he was in junior high and studying the work of English naturalist Charles Darwin.
The islands were one of the famous stops by Darwin in his five-year voyage on the HMS Beagle that began in 1831.
"This is a pretty pricey trip," said Baldwin, adding it cost more than a trip to China he and Flannery took. Part of it is the cost of getting to Ecuador and then to the islands.
Because the islands are part of a national park and a biological marine preserve, visits are restricted to a certain number at a time.
"Every group has to have a guide who is a certified naturalist," Baldwin said. "We were in some places where you could do no harm and not leave the paths. This was like being there when Darwin was there."
Logistically, the trip meant flying through a few cities, and delays turned an already tiring 13-hour trip into a grueling 17 hours on the way down.
There are small airstrips on the Galapagos, so the foursome was able to fly the more than 500 miles from the coast of Ecuador to the islands, where they boarded a large catamaran that became home for four days.
It held 16 passengers and the crew, and accommodations actually were pretty nice — with great meals, a roomy deck and even a Jacuzzi on board.
Flannery said all the tourists got along great. They included visitors from Australia, Ireland, Canada, Washington State and New York.
"We really developed a tight bond," she said.
Temperatures were in the 80s under clear skies — beautiful for travelers coming from colder climes, but also a bit hazardous. Hereford showed photos of her sunburned feet.
"That was miserable," she said.