Existing Member?

Irene's Adventures

Galapagos

ECUADOR | Friday, 3 January 2014 | Views [1537] | Comments [3]

With Thanks to Alex – Our Amazing Guide

 Alex

We came away changed after visiting these islands.

Alex said “It is important to understand the beauty and fragility of these islands. The Galpagos are in a very privileged place. It's good to be a long way from the mainland. We are away from all the chaos in the world.”. Therefore, in thanks for his enthusiasm and knowledge, I have tried to include as much information as I could remember (with some Alex-inspired research as well)

There are notes on the various birds, animals, plants and geology at the end of this blog.

Getting there:

There is a special process for those flying to Galapagos. One could take a boat, but considering it is 1000 km west of the mainland, it would take a few days.

When you get to the airport, there is a special ticket counter that says “Galapagos”. You have to go there to get your $10 transit control card to keep track of who comes and goes from the Islands. We had to supply our name, address and passport number. As thousands of foreigners began flooding to the islands to see its raw beauty and nearly tame animals, suddenly the Galapagos was the place in Ecuador that everyone wanted to be, and people flocked to the islands to make a living in tourism. The quickly growing population needed to be controlled, as the fragile island ecosystems were in peril. No one is allowed to move to the islands from the mainland any more, but many continue to try and get there in order to find work in secret. There are about 25,000 people inhabiting 5 of the islands.

The Galapagos still maintains 95 percent of its original biodiversity, and the Park Service has instituted strict quarantine rules, hoping to slow an influx of foreign plants and animals that are worrisome. This is why you have to go to a special luggage x-ray where they scan your bags for any kind of seeds, plants or anything else that could possibly upset the delicate Eco-balance. They loop a blue zip tie through the zippers to #1 show that it has been checked and #2 so you cannot go back inside your own bag. Then you go to the normal ticket counter to get your boarding pass. The return flight was $500.

Our flight was delayed. While we were waiting, Irene asked another couple what they paid for their 8 day cruise. It turns out they got a last minute (bought it the day before) deal. It was normally $6000 per person, they got it for $2500. We paid $1550. Happy that we got a good deal, we relaxed a bit.

Once on board the plane, we were informed that the fog we saw coming out of the vents was a disinfectant, in an effort to further protect the ecosystem of the archipelago. We first flew to Guayaquil (approximately 30 minutes), where we remained on board while other passengers got off or joined the flight. The plane then continued to the Galapagos Islands (approximately 90 minutes). Towards the end for the flight the cabin was again disinfected.

Once we landed we proceeded to the immigration counter to present the immigration form as well as purchase our $100 National Park entrance fees. Our passports now have a “Galapagos” stamp with a picture of a tortoise and a hammerhead shark.

Wearing our tour stickers, we were spotted by Alex, our guide. As most of the group was there, he escorted us, by bus, to the small port to board the Golondrina – our home for the next 8 days. He went back to the airport to await the remaining three people.

 Golondrina

Some cabins were above deck. Our cabin was below deck. It was small, but adequate. We had bunk beds with 3 drawers below the bottom bunk, a small dresser and a small cabinet. The top bunk had 2 small rectangular port holes. The bathroom was what could be found in a small camper/caravan. The sink was small and immediately in front of you as you used the toilet. The shower had just enough room to turn around. It was also, thankfully, air-conditioned. The outside temperature was usually in the high 30's to low 40's. It had dropped down to 31C in our cabin one night and Irene needed a blanket because she felt cold.

The galley was spaced like you would experience at most restaurants, with bench seating along the large windows and chairs toward the middle. A small buffet counter was at the aft and the bar was at the fore. A coffee/tea service area was on the starboard side and a purified water dispenser was on the port side. There were lots of books about the Galapagos in the galley as well – about the wildlife, sea life, history and even a Lonely Planet guide.

Galley 

There was a large sun deck on top with bench seating on three sides and rubber mats in the center. There was also a clothes line above the seating area, complete with clothes pins. It did not take long for our bathing suits, towels and incidental laundry to dry quickly with the sunshine and the wind of the moving boat. There was also a smaller seating area which was covered but still open on three sides. The sun deck seemed like a good idea, until you began to slowly broil, then mostly everyone used the covered area.

The Zodiac (inflatable boat) at the stern, was either pulled along or hoisted up for longer journeys.

The boat typically moved by night. The engines were a bit noisy; the first night we used earplugs. After that, the sound of the engines and the rock of the boat actually lulled us to sleep.

All landings were either a wet landing, where we had to exit the zodiac in water up to our knees, or a dry landing, where we exited the zodiac onto rocks that were generally wet and slippery. During all excursions, we followed Alex while he pointed out, informed us about and later quizzed us on wildlife, plants and geology. Alex has a Masters Degree in Biology and Eco-tourism. He worked at the Darwin Research Center for 4 years and even spent months on end camping on the islands doing research. The man knows his stuff! He moved at a leisurely pace, but we still had to hurry to catch up with him if we stopped to take too many pictures, which was all the time. Hint: bring a REALLY good camera!! Preferably with a zoom lens.

The terrain varied from island to island. This meant that at times we could not wear our sandals, as the terrain was simply too rugged. There were times we felt like mountain goats, skipping from one boulder to another. Other times the rocks were so uneven they shifted when you walked and ankle support was greatly appreciated.

 trekking

We also snorkeled nearly everyday (equipment supplied on board for $25 for the week).

The wildlife is really what drew us to the Galapagos and we were not disappointed!! Since they have no natural predators, they have no fear of humans. We could walk right up to them before they would let us know to back off. Even animals need personal space.

 

Day 1: Baltra Island:

The very first thing we were told on Baltra Island was to stay behind the markers and DO NOT step in the turtle nests!! We did not see any turtles on any of the islands, but we did see plenty of turtle nests and their tire-like tracks in the sand.

turtle tracks

There were plenty of Sally crabs, bright orange/rust colored with blue highlights. Their colorful bodies contrasted brilliantly on the black lava rock. These crabs seemed to be on every island. We caught our first look at the marine iguana. They drink the seawater. When they get an excess of seawater, they're able to spit it out through the nostrils. Amazing adaptation. We saw the lava gull, which is on the endangered list.

Lava Gull

We saw flamingo in a lagoon with cactus edging in.

Baltra was a short visit as we had an 8 hour boat trip to get to Genovesa for the next morning.

 

Day 2: Genovesa Island:

Genovesa Island

Genovesa is a horseshoe shaped island, as part of the volcanic wall collapsed back into the sea, forming the Great Darwin Bay. We took the zodiac along the crater wall before going to Prince Philip's steps – a steep path that leads to the plateau of the 25 meter cliffs and taking us inland through a palo santo forest (incense trees) and onto a rocky plain. Genovesa is known as the bird island because of the varied birds that nest there, we saw just about every bird listed at the end of this blog, except the albatross.

Prince Philip's Steps

Alex had told us to watch for the very elusive short eared owl. We looked all over the island only to find it a few meters from where we had to get back in the boat.

short eared owl  short eared owl

Standing nearby was the yellow crowned night heron.

yellow crowned night heron

The plant life is not to be ignored. There was an amazing scrub called the muyuyu. Alex rubbed some of the berry on our hand. It was sticky like glue. He then gave us a fuzzy leaf to rub it off with. Lava cactus seem to grow out of solid rock.

We saw two green turtles mating in the water.

green turtles mating

After lunch we went to one of the beaches. A mother sea lion had just given birth to a pup a few hours before. Mother and baby were on the beach with the baby suckling. The juvenile sea lions are very curious and one went right up to a lady on the beach with both looking at each other in awe.

curious sea lion

There was another mother sea lion guarding two pups by keeping them in a small pool sheltered by some large rocks. The little ones were splashing about and riding the waves, very much like human children on a slide at the swimming pool. However, the waves were taking them out to the larger bay, where we had just seen a white tip shark. The mother sea lion was frantically swimming back and forth, like a sheep dog containing her flock, herding them back into the safety of the smaller pool. It was quite amazing and touching to witness.

We went snorkeling here, as well. The sharks are not a problem. They are smaller in size and tended to swim away from us. I guess they would rather eat a tender baby sea lion that a tough old human. We did see lots of fish, despite the poor visibility.

moorish idol

 

Day 3 – Bartolome:

Pinnacle Rock

The distinguishing feature of Bartolome is Pinnacle Rock, which is the distinctive characteristic of this island. During WWII, the Americans used the outcrop for target practice, thus creating the pinnacle. However, it has since become the most representative landmark of the Galapagos. It is also famous for being in the 2003 movie “Master and Commander” with Russel Crowe.

  Pinnacle Rock

Near Pinnacle Rock we spotted a penguin, a cute little thing that could swim as fast as lightening!

We hiked to the top, along a wooden walkway, spotting more lava cactus and lava lizards and a large painted locust. The landscape was quite barren and very moon-like. At the top of the island Alex had us all pose with Pinnacle Rock in the background while he took pictures with everyone's cameras.

the group

It was also from the top of the island that we could see the perfectly circular sunken crater near the shore.

sunken crater

It was also from this vantage point that we could see how the lava had joined some other islands nearby. The new lava was black with the old islands being brown/rust color.

 Lava joined islands

 

Sullivan Bay:

Remember back in school how you studied how the earth was formed and you didn't pay attention because it was so boring? Well, all those boring classes came back in living color while we toured the different islands. The Galapagos are on the Nazca tectonic plate which moves eastward at a rate of about 5 cm per year. The volcanic activity moves with them, creating newer islands to the west and reducing activity of older islands to the east. This explains the relatively "youthful" rocks of the western islands and the geologically older rocks of many eastern islands. The Nazca plate slides under the South American Plate causing the older islands to sink. A view of Sullivan Bay from the top of Bartolme Island testifies to how a volcano can flow can fill the Pacific gap between existing islands to create a new single island.

 lava shield

We started our tour on Genovesa Island, in the north west of the archipelago and made our way to the south east island of Espanola. Islands ranged from the raw lava of Sullivan Bay to the large inhabited island of Santa Cruz, complete with agriculture. Each island was different. We got to see and experience, first hand, how the lava breaks down into large rough boulders, then into smaller smoother rocks, then having tufts of grass growing between the rocks, finally broken down even more allowing small shrubs and trees to take root.

 Sullivan Bay    a rock inside a rock  a trail of rocks  Plazas Island

It really all came together for us when we were at Sullivan Bay, walking on the lava that had only been there less than a century. It was still barren nothingness, moon scape like, and eery (and sharp when you fell down, which Irene did....) It felt like we had gone back a million years to the beginning of the Big Bang. We walked to the edge of the lava flow, where it stopped abruptly on an older existing island. There it was - from barren to trees in the span of a few centimeters. The various islands took us from absolutely nothing barrenness, to prehistoric looking marine iguanas, to cactus, to shrubs, to trees with birds and mammals. We had taken a time machine and traversed a million years in 8 days. Suddenly the geology classes made sense.

 where the lava ends

Notes on lava at the end of the blog.

 

We went snorkeling after and saw more penguins. As Irene swam close taking pictures, it jumped into the water right in front of her. Even though she knew it was going to jump and had her underwater camera ready, all she got was a streak, it was moving so fast.

penguin

We also saw lots of huge sea stars.

sea stars

 

Day 4: Plazas Island

 A very small island (.13 km) covered with so much colorful carpetweed that it did look like a carpet. carpet weed  carpet weed

There were small forests of prickly pear cactus. We got our first good look at land iguana. There were also marine iguana, Swallow-tailed gulls and sea lions. When we first saw sea lions we were so excited not we come to expect them everywhere.

 sea lion

The side of the island that we landed on was at sea level. The far side of the island was pushed up, with high cliffs (23 meters) reaching down to the ocean. It was easy to see the layers of volcanic rock on this obviously pushed up side.

pushed up island    sea level land    

 

Sante Fe

Santa Fe hosts a forest of Prickly Pear cactus, which are the largest of the archipelago. The bark is thick and brown and scaly, making them look as old as they are. As Alex was explaining about the cactus, there was a sea lion pup on the rock directly behind him. The little pup would look up once in a while as if to say “I am trying to sleep here!”

prickly pear cactus  prickly pear cactus

We saw lots of land iguana, a snake (only one the entire trip), lots of lava lizards, and a mockingbird picking something out of the cactus flowers. There were also forests of Palo Santo (incense trees).

The beach here was incredible!

 Santa Fe beach

We saw a Wandering Tattler on the shore line.

We went snorkeling again. Ed and Irene decided to go back out for a second round of snorkeling when we 6 eagle rays came 'flying' out of the deep to swim along side of us like a flock of big birds. Wow! What a sight. What an experience.

 eagle ray

 

Day 5: Cathedral Rock

Cathedral rock is really part of San Cristobal Island. We went into an alcove that dwarfed our boat with the caldera jutting up about 100 meters.

the alcove

Further along we went through an arch that the early sailors felt looked like a cathedral inside, as it did. The outside of the cliffs as well as the ceiling inside the arch looked chiseled, looking like a great craftsman had indeed created this – as well He did!

 Cathedral Rock  Cathedral Rock

 

San Cristobal Island

This is the first island in the Galapagos Archipelago Charles Darwin visited during his voyage on the Beagle. We saw marine iguana and blue-footed boobie. We also saw the Galapagos cotton plant.

Galapagos cotton flower

We spent a good deal of time on the pristine beach where we saw a ghost crab, an American oyster-eater and a Galapagos flycatcher.

 ES & IC

 

Kicker Rock

 Kicker Rock

Kicker Rock represents the remains of a lava cone, now split in two. The Spanish name is "León Dormido" (sleeping lion) as the lower end of the rock looks like a sleeping lion's head. We went snorkeling there, starting on one side of the split and coming out on the other side. It was some of the best snorkeling we had ever experienced and Irene wished she could come back to dive. We saw quite a few green turtles.

green turtle

Some saw hammerheads. We were destined to not see one on this trip.

While on the boat, we saw a pod of dolphin nearby and marveled at how they swam up to the boat and at times popping out from under the boat.

dolphins 

We then went to a sheltered bay where we swam with sea lions. They were so curious they swam right up to us. They would show off and blow bubbles in our faces. They would chase each other then zip past us as if to encourage us to play with them. Some of them were huge and it was a bit intimidating and almost frightening, but so wonderful.

swimming with sea lions  swimming with sea lions

 

 Puerto Baquerizo Moreno - The capital of the province of Galápagos

We think the Golondrina needed supplies, because we were dropped at the town for more time than there were things to do. There were sea lions all over the town; sleeping on park benches, in the parking lots (vehicles had to go around them) and on steps and retaining walls. We walked around for a couple of hours and Irene took lots of pictures of the beautiful tropical flowers. In the end we parked ourselves in the Casa Blanca and had possibly the best mojito ever.

 sea lions on park benches  Casa Blanco

 

Day 6: Espanola Island

Due to its remote location, Espanola has a large number of endemic species. It has its own species of lava lizard, mockingbird, and tortoise (we did not see tortoise).

lava lizard  lava lizard

 

Espanola is the only place where the Waved Alabatross nests. We were fortunate that there were still albatross on the island, as they are typically gone by the end of December. We saw them doing their mating dance, which is hilarious. They appear to be fencing with their bills then they stop and throw their mouths wide open; then they chatter their bills like a set of wind up false teeth. They mate for life, so it is a once only dance.

 albatross 

We watched as a mother fed her baby regurgitated food – gross, but interesting.

 albatross feeding baby

Over the cliffs near to where the albatross were nesting was blow hole. As the waves came crashing in, there was a hole in the rocks where the water was forced through, forcing the water to shoot up to a height of about 15 meters. It was incredible to see and hear. It sounded like a massive whale coming up for air.

 There were marine iguanas all over the place, looking like someone had thrown out a bucket full of them, many of them dead. Alex struggled to explain why so many were dead.

marine iguana  marine iguana

We also saw blue-footed boobie, the Galapagos dove, ground finch, a hermit crab, a Nazca boobie making a nest and more sea lions.

 

Garden Bay

On the beach there was a lone fellow lounging on his towel when a sea lion headed straight for him. As the sea lion was obviously trying to make a point, the fellow got up, took his towel and moved away. The sea lion went straight for the indentation where the man was laying. The man decided he had enough lounging and moved to where everyone had left their packs and proceeded to put things away. The sea lion looked up at where he went, then proceeded to roll in the sand and completely cover itself. Then it slowly crept over to where the man was and started snooping in the packs. It honestly looked like the cheeky little fellow was trying to camouflage itself in order to snoop.

 curious sea lion

We were here to snorkel. The highlights were diamond stingray, an eagle ray, a huge school of razor surgeonfish.  Irene was filming the eagleray when it started to come toward her.  The movie is suddenly a blur of rocks as she swam quickly to get out of its way.  Too funny.

 diamond stingray  eagle ray  Razor Surgeonfish

 

 

Day 7: Floreana

It is one of the islands with the most interesting human history, and one of the earliest to be inhabited. Alex encouraged us to read the on-board copy of “The Curse of the Giant Tortoise” by Octavio Latorre to get a brief and colorful history of the islands and particularly of Floreana. We landed on the uninhabited side of the island (Punta Cormorant).

Although we did not go there, the inhabited side (population 100) has Post Office Bay, where since 1793 whalers kept a wooden barrel and called it a post office. They would leave addressed letters in the barrel and hope that the next seamen to come along might be headed in the direction of their letters’ destinations. Today, visitors leave their own postcards and sift through the current pile of cards—if they find one that they can hand-deliver, they take it with them.

What we saw was the raw natural side. Alex pointed out the green sand beach, made green by the presence of olivine crystals.

crystals in the sand

The land did not look fertile enough to sustain inhabitants, which is probably why most early colonists and settlers simply gave up and went back home. We saw a flock of flamingo in a large lagoon ,wading through brackish water, sifting through the mud for shrimp. It is weird to see flamingo in the same scene as cactus.

 flamingo

Alex gave us a botanical lesson on the various mangrove trees, palo verde and longhaired scalesia.

Palo Verde  Longhaired scalesia

The most curious thing was at Flour Beach where we saw hundreds of baby rays, diamond and marbled. They were floating extremely close to shore and were about the size of dinner plates.

baby rays

There were lots of turtle nests, also. Back at the boat landing, we saw lots of shore birds: Sandpiper, oyster-eater and plover.

 

Devil’s Crown is a volcanic crater that has been eroded away by the waves, with a few rocky spikes protruding above the water in a semicircular pattern where we snorkeled inside the crown. Because of the oasis of coral, the fish higher up the food chain were huge. We saw a spot-fin porcupinefish that had to be 60 cm long. The highlight was as Ed was swimming he felt something like whiskers brush against his hand. He turned to find a sea lion only centimeters away from his mask.

 spot-fin porcupinefish  King Angelfish  Giant Hawkfish parrotfish  Mexican Hogfish

 

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz hosts the largest human population (12,000) in the archipelago. There are some small villages, whose inhabitants work in agriculture and cattle raising. It's capital is Puerto Ayora. The Charles Darwin Research Station and the headquarters of the Galapagos National Park Service are located here and operate a tortoise breeding center, where young tortoises are hatched, reared, and prepared to be reintroduced to their natural habitat. Humans have killed these gentle giants to the point of extinction on 2 islands and put the remaining islands to the point of endangered. The baby tortoises are marked with different colores to depict which island they belong to. They are kept for 3 years or until they are 20 cm – their shells are too soft prior to that and can be an easy meal for predators. The success rate is 95% vs 5% if left to nature.

 Darwin Research Station  baby tortoises

Lonesome George died 2 years ago, at over 100 years old, and was the last of his species, despite efforts for him to breed with females of a different subspecies. The babies would not have been purebreds but since there were NO females of George's species, it was at least a hope to retain his genotype. Eggs were laid on three different occasions. All three times the eggs proved to be inviable. The Pinta subspecies is extinct.

 Lonesome George's empty pen

There were other tortoises in enclosures. They were massive. They moved a lot faster than we thought. One has two holes in his shell. A drunken sailor wanted to see how thick its shell was and shot it twice! The bullets did not penetrate the shell and were removed. The sailor was severely disciplined.

 giant tortoise  giant tortoise giant tortoise

There was a large tree with apple-like fruit with a sign on the tree that said “Poison Tree”. It is one of the most poisonous in the world, and the milky sap from the leaves can cause blistering and burning. Interestingly, the giant tortoise can eat the fruit, unharmed. When we arrived on the island we were told not to touch ANYTHING unless approved by the guide – for the safety of the flora and fauna and for our safety as well. Well, I guess not playing by the rules is one of the courses of natural selection....

 poison tree

 

Day 8: North Seymour

North Seymour was created by seismic uplift, rather than being of volcanic origin. The island has a flat profile with cliffs only a few meters from the shoreline.

The Galapagos are known for its weird and wonderful wildlife such as the blue-footed boobie and the magnificent Frigatebird whose coal black males inflate their scarlet throat pouch like a balloon in the breeding season. This island is home to the largest population of both. Boobies and frigates have an interesting relationship. Boobies are excellent hunters and fish in flocks. The frigates by comparison are pirates, they dive bomb the boobies to force them to drop their prey. Then, the aerobatic frigate swoops down and picks up the food before it hits the water.

 Frigatebird

The cactus were re-introduced to this island.

 

TOUR END:

This was the end of our amazing cruise-tour. We were taken back to Baltra where we were loaded unto a bus and taken to the airport. Ed and Irene were staying in Santa Cruz for Irene to go diving in these amazing waters. We took another bus to the ferry. The ferry ride is 80 cents and takes about 5 minutes. We then shared a taxi with Miro and Sandra to take us to the other side of the island and back into Puerto Ayora. On the way, we made a stop to see the two sunken craters. The name is only figurative; not real craters, these formations were created by the collapse of surface material in underground fissures and chambers. The view was breathtaking.

twin crater

Once in Santa Cruz we went our separate ways. We went to the Hotel Espana, where we had made reservations 2 days prior. Irene checked in at Eagle Divers to get her equipment ready for the next day's dive to North Seymour.

Hotel Espana  Hotel Espana

The remainder of the day was spent walking around the town. It is a beautiful town with lots of flowers, covered benches to rest, interesting buildings, and lovely lanes. 

flowers  benches in Santa Cruz  nice buildings  nice buildings lane to the sea

We went back to see the tortoises again and spent a great deal of time just walking around the research center grounds. We poked our heads into several souvenir shops and settled on a little t-shit for our breastfed grandson that says “I Love Boobies”.

We finally parked ourselves at “The Rock” bar and restaurant on the corner from our hotel. They had a large tortoise shell leaning up against the wall. Irene looked up inside it to see that the shell really is overgrown ribs attached to the backbone running along the top of the shell.

 

inside a tortoise shell  inside a tortoise shell

 

Day 9:

Irene went diving and Ed bought a nice hat and t-shirt (who says only women like shopping?). Surprisingly, the diving was not as good as the snorkeling. The water was rough and resulted in poorer visibility down deep. We did see a school of white tip sharks which was a bit scary until you realize they would rather lay along the sand than bother with us. We also saw trumpet fish and an octopus (while snorkeling). Everything else was poor visibility of fish already seen.

trumpetfish & white tip shark

After Irene got back, we went to the fish market. At about 15:00 everyday the fishermen bring in their catch and clean it beside the water's edge. There is a sea lion that shows up everyday, as well. He was so cute laying his head on a particular fish, as if to claim it; but not eating it. He waited patiently for the fishermen to begin the cleaning and throw him scraps. That did not mean that he sat meekly by and waited. No! He had his nose right up as high as he could reach to the counter top, the fisherman had to constantly step over and around him. Every now and then the fisherman would put a scrap for the sea lion, almost out of reach; but the scampy little sea lion would snatch it up, much to the delight of the immense crowd that gathered to watch the show. Pelicans and gulls also gathered in hopes of an easy meal. The pelicans would grab a fish head then work furiously trying to swallow it, even though it was 5 times bigger than its throat. All the while the gulls were waiting in case the pelican should spit it up. But that sea lion could move pretty fast to be in the running should the fish head hit the deck. Frigatebirds would come swooping out of nowhere to snatch a piece of fish scrap that the gulls were fighting over. It was a circus act, quite entertaining and hilarious.

sea lion at fish market  sea lion at fish market 

For dinner we went to a street kiosk and feasted on fresh lobster, grilled over an open fire. It was local cuisine for a fraction of the price of the tourist restaurants near the water.

 

Day 10:

We arose early to catch a taxi back to the ferry. This taxi driver was adamant to stay under the speed limit, maybe because it was Sunday and he was working instead of at church. We got to the ferry late. We caught another ferry (they run every few minutes) but had missed the airport bus connection on the other side. Even though there were buses transporting people away, we think they were airport employees and these were their work buses because they refused to take us. We eventually got to the airport - with plenty of time to spare.

The return flight was in reverse of the arrival – disinfectant the plane, stop in Guayaquil to let people off and collect new ones, arrive in Quito and disinfectant again. We had 12 hours to wait for our flight home. This may have been enough time to do something, but Irene had eaten something “off” the previous day and had been up all night with a dodgy stomach that was still unsettled. Quito airport has a mall across the street (the roadway for departure drop-off). We went over there and found a coffee shop that had small couches. Irene lay down on one and fell asleep for a few hours until a security guard told her to get her feet off the couch. It had been enough of a sleep to feel better.

We had another 12 hour lay over in Houston and enjoyed another feed of Huge oysters at Pappdeaux. We landed back in Edmonton to 0 degrees Celsius, having missed some of the coldest nasty weather of minus 42, with wind chill of minus 50. And people wonder why we travel so much......

A bit of history:

The Galapagos consists of 18 main islands, 3 smaller islands, and 107 rocks and islets. Roughly 90 permitted tour vessels currently ply the islands. Most of these vessels are small by cruise-ship standards (the Golondrina carries 16 passengers), and some are as small as six-passenger sailboats. The ships ferry passengers ashore to islands via Zodiac, where tourists might hike, snorkel, or loll about pristine beaches. Not a single landing is unscripted; the Park Service schedules the comings and goings of the tour boats, and it certifies on-board naturalists, whose jobs are to both inform and police - keeping tourists on the trails and preventing uncomfortable scenarios such as having a large male sea lion thinking you are mating material. 97 percent of the Galapagos is national park, but by Park Service decree, tourists are permitted on only 8% of the whole.

Nearly half the archipelago's birds and insects, 32 percent of the plants, and 90 percent of the reptiles exist nowhere else. Most wildlife is endemic to the Galapagos. Endemic species are ones that evolved from something else. Take the marine iguana. Ages ago, some South American iguanas were washed out to Galapagos somehow. South American iguanas generally live in trees, eat plants and do not swim unless they have to. Once on the islands, the iguanas came out of the trees, developed the ability to swim and hold their breath and now eat algae.

Some wildlife was specific to certain islands. The Galapagos Giant Tortoise evolved uniquely to different islands. Charles Darwin’s careful observation of these species led to his renowned Theory of Evolution.

 

BIRDS:

The big birds are graceful flyers, but terrible at take off and landing.

 

Blue-footed Boobies – the stars of the show! They can reach a meter long with a wingspan of 1.5 meters. They have brown wings,white belly and light brown and white streaks on the head, giving it a hedgehog appearance. It has a large gray bill turning more blue closer to the head. And of course its feet are blue! (possibly because it's diet) This is a sexually attractive feature, with the males displaying their wonderful webbed feet to all the girls and bringing her the odd pebble for her nest. Hoping that this show of beauty and generosity will win her heart. The females feet are darker blue. She tosses her head and coyly tucks the pebble under herself and proceeds to “think” about whether this is the one she will spend her monogamous life with.

blue-footed boobie  blue-footed boobie

 

 

Red-Footed Boobies are about 70 cm long and can have a wingspan of 1 meter. It can be white with black flight feathers or overall brown. Its bill is pink and blue and its feet are red (possibly because it's diet). It is a spectacular diver, plunging into the ocean at high speeds. It nests in trees or bushes even though it has webbed feet. The chicks are covered in dense white down. The juveniles are brown.

Red-footed boobie  Red-footed boobie

 

 

The Nazca Boobie is similar in size to the Red-Footed Boobie. It is white with black flight feathers and has a black facial mask. It has green feet. They are known for laying 2 eggs and letting one chick die. No explanation is known for this behavior.

nazca boobie nazca boobie  nazca boobie

 

Frigatebirds are sometimes called Man of War birds or Pirate birds, as they obtain a portion of their food by stealing from other seabirds. They mostly obtain their food on the wing – snatching prey from the ocean surface or beach using their long, hooked bills. They are large; with wingspans reaching over 2 meters they can stay aloft for a week. They are black. The Great Frigatebird has a green tinge on its feathers, has red rings around its eyes and a white chest. The Magnificent Frigatebird has a maroon tinge on its feathers, has a blue ring around its eyes, has a white ”M” on its chest and puffs its scarlet throat pouch out like a big red balloon to attract females during mating season. They were seen daily, hovering above our boat and rarely flapping a wing.

Magnificent Frigatebird  Magnificent Frigatebird

 

 

The Waved albatross are medium sized at about 90 cm long with a wing span of 2.25 meters. They are mostly brown with whitish heads and necks. They have a long yellow bill and blue feet (but not as blue as the blue-footed boobie). They have a funny mating ritual where they appear to be fencing with their bills then they stop and throw their mouths wide open; then they chatter their bills like a set of wind up false teeth. They mate for life, so it is a once only dance. They have a terrible time taking flight and have runways where they get up enough speed then jump off the cliff to catch the wind currents. They fly off to as far as Australia then return 4 months later to begin laying eggs.

albatross  albatross  

 

Swallow-tailed gulls are smaller than Boobies. They are white with black wingtips and gray upper breast and mantle. They have a red rim around their eye. They can see in the dark. We could see them following our boat at night. They have a white spot on their black beak that the chick taps on when he wants to be fed.

swallow tailed gull  swallow tailed gull

 

 

Darwin's finches are very small (10-20 cm) and dull colored. The most important differences between species are in the size and shape of their beaks. The beaks are highly adapted to different food sources. It was these small birds that helped Darwin conceived of his theory of natural selection. A plain little bird that had a huge impact on the world.

Finch

 

 

Galapagos mockingbirds has feathers which are streaked brown and gray. It has a long tail and small black, angled beak. They can be aggressive and get quite close to people, looking for food or water – even recognizing the water bottle and pecking at it. I finally heard a mockingbird sing! I used to sing a lullaby to my kids that went “and if that mockingbird won't sing, Daddy's gonna buy you a diamond ring”. Sorry kids, no diamond rings for you...

Galapagos mockingbird  Galapagos mockingbird 

 

The Red-billed Tropicbird is a white bird with a bright red bill. It is about 45 cm long, with the tail being another 45 cm. The tail seems to float along behind the bird, giving it a very majestic and mystic appearance.

Red-billed Tropicbird

 

 

The Galapagos Penguin is endemic to the islands and only 49 cm long. They are shy and can swim extremely fast – 40 km/hr!

penguin

 

 

Storm petrels are a smaller brown bird with a white band at the rump. They skim along the water's surface and feed on small fish near the surface. The Galapagos is the only place in the world where this bird attend their nesting sites during the day.

Storm Petrel

American oyster-eater: a larger bird of about 45 cm long. It has a black head and white belly and a long, thick, bright orange beak. The eyes are yellow with an orange ring. The legs are pink. Obviously, no one taught this bird the art of color co-ordination. It is a shore bird. They use their thick beak to pry open mollusks.

 American oystercatcher

 

Galapagos flycatcher: small bird, endemic to the islands, has become so used to humans it common for it to fly toward camera lenses thinking its reflection is another bird.

 Galapagos flycatcher

 

Galapagos dove: endemic to the islands, has red feet and a blue ring around its eye

 Galapagos dove

 

Wandering Tattler: a medium sized wading bird

 Wandering tattler

 

 

ANIMALS:

 

Galapagos land iguana – grow 1-1.5 meters long and weigh 11 kg. They are cold blooded and bask on volcanic rock to absorb heat from the sun. They sleep in burrows to conserve body heat. They will pile on top of each other to share body heat. They are Conolophus, meaning spiny plume, referring to the spiny crests along their backs. They have red eyes. The male has more colors. They are herbivores but will eat insects and carrion to supplement their diet. Because there is a scarcity of water on the islands, they obtain most of their moisture from pickly pear cactus, which they also eat as a food source. Feral animals wiped them out on some islands and they have had to be reintroduced through an active campaign.

 land iguana  land iguana  land iguana

 

Galapagos marine iguana – They are mostly black but during mating season acquire red and teal colors, varying from island to island. The can get up to 1.5 meters long and weigh as much as 12 kg, with males being the larger. They are clumsy on land but are graceful swimmers foraging in the sea. It can dive over 9 meters. It suns itself to absorb heat. It also shares body heat with others. It drinks sea water and when it gets an excess of salt can spit it out through their nostrils. They sometimes interbreed with land iguana but the offspring cannot reproduce (like the mule) and usually die within a few months.

 

 marine iguana  marine iguana  marine iguana

 

White Tip Shark: a small shark about 1.6 meters in length. It has tubular skin flaps beside its nostrils that look like teeth. The dorsal fin has a white tip (duh...). They hunt at night and by day they like to rest in caves or lie on the bottom. They can pump water over their gills so does not need to constantly swim, like other sharks, in order to breathe. They are rarely aggressive toward humans but have been known to bite fins and fingers if provoked.

 Galapagos White Tip Shark

 

Galapagos Sea lion: originally from California but has adapted to become a separate species. They are on nearly every island. Juveniles are very curious and often approach humans.

 sea lion  sea lion sea lion

 

Galapagos sally crab: very colorful and contrast beautifully on the black lava

 Sally Crab  Sally Crab

 

PLANTS:

 

Lava Cactus: endemic to the islands. It grows about 60 cm with the new growth being yellow and darkening to brown then to gray with age. Grows exclusively on barren lava fields lying at sea level. Often one of the first plants to colonize fresh lava flow.

lava cactus

 

Red Mangrove: is the most common in the Galapagos & is named for its reddish wood. It has dark green leaves that are shiny and broad. Reddish prop roots arch from the trunk into the water; old individuals may have aerial roots hanging from branches.  They have pods with red tips.

red mangrove

 

 

Black Mangrove : Leaves are thick, leathery, dark green, smooth above, and grayish with a tight felt-like fuzz beneath. Glands on the underside secrete salt.

 black mangrove

White Mangrove: like all mangroves, grows in poor, salty soil. Salty soils make land plants dry out. But the White mangrove is able to excrete or push out the salt from its system through hundreds of pores on its leaves. Salty water is excreted from the tiny pores. The water then evaporates or dries up and the salt is left behind on the leaf surface. This salt then gets washed off the leaf when it rains. The leaves are light green, round at the base and the tip and smooth underneath. Also, they are thick with a leathery feel. The thickness and leathery-ness of the leaves help to keep moisture in the tree.

 White mangrove

Button Mangrove: is not a true mangrove, yet usually found in the higher mangrove elevations. They have dark gray bark and leaves which are either oval, leathery and smooth green or sharply pointed with salt glands at the base. Buttons have green flowers that mature into a round purple fruit.

 button mangrove

Prickly Pear Cactus: is the most common cacti in the islands. It grows like a shrub, except on islands where herbivores are threat then trunks can grow almost 2 meters tall. It is the staple of the Land Iguanas & Tortoises' diet, the flat spine-covered pads do not seem to hinder their meal. However, on Genovesa Island, with no browsing animals, the spines are soft like cat whiskers. The yellow flowers develop into an orange-red thorn covered fruit.

 prickly pear cactus  prickly pear cactus  prickly pear cactus

 

FISH: 

Barberfish, Black-striped Salema, Blenny, Blue & Gold snapper, Bullseye Puffer, Burrito grunt, Cortez Rainbow Wrass, Creolefish, Flag Cabrilla, Garden Eel, Green turtle, Giant Damselfish, Giant Hawkfish, Guineafowl puffer, King Angelfish, Mexican Hogfish, Milkfish, Moorish Idol, Octopus, Orangeside Triggerfish, Parrotfish, Rays (diamond, marbled, eagle), Razor Surgeonfish, Sabertooth blenny, Scrawled Leatherjacket, Sea stars, cushions & Urchins (blue, green, yellow, red), Sergeant Major, Spot-fin Burrfish, Spot-fin Porcupinefish, Three banded Butterflyfish, Trevally, Trumpetfish, White tip shark. I only saw the hammerhead shark from above the water and could not make out his hammerhead.

 

Lava:

 There is a lot of iron in the lava and it sounds like a manhole cover when it shifts; however, it is amazingly light weight.

lava

 

Pahoehoe (ropy) is smooth, with a twisted, or ropy texture while aa is sharp and blocky (it hurts to walk on it). During a pahoehoe flow the outer skin of lava cools and becomes viscous. The underlying lava, however, is insulated and remains quite liquid. As it flows, it carries the cooler skin along with it, causing it to crumple and fold into twisted shapes. Early in the flow, when the lava is hotter, these twists have the appearance of ropes, but later, as it cools and becomes more viscous, the twists are shaped more like entrails. Underneath the solidifying surface, the liquid lava continues to flow, often draining out and leaving hollow cavities which later collapse. This type of lava was at Sullivan Bay.

Pahoehoe lava

 

 

 Aa (hurts) lava in general is more viscous. The outer skin tends to form a rubbly, sharp-edged surface. As the flow moves along, the surface rubble at the edge of the flow falls off of the front edge and is over-ridden. Thus, a cross-section of an aa flow reveals a rubbly surface, a solid inner layer of slowly-cooled magma, and finally a narrow zone of over-ridden rubble. The differences between pahoehoe and aa lavas are subtle, but one important aspect is the speed of flow. Flows over steeper terrain move more rapidly and tend to be of the aa type while slower flows tend to form pahoehoe.  It is sometimes called clinker lava because of the sound it makes.

A'a lava

 

 

 Driblet cone: Merriam-webster definition: a miniature lava cone formed by the accretion of drops of lava projected from gas vents or blowholes and falling on one spot. Translated: the lave burped and the lava bubble hardened in place.

driblet cone

 

 

IN CONCLUSION:

 

The best holiday EVER taken. We hope/plan to go again. Next time we would like to take the 15 day tour. We will keep in contact with Alex so that he can guide again.

 

Comments

1

How did you manage to get an even better price than a "last minute"
fare?

  David Jul 7, 2015 6:01 AM

2

David: We booked through http://www.carpedm.ca
I'm not sure why we got such a good deal. We booked it only a week previous, and it was Christmas time. Maybe they were in a holiday mood...??? The price quoted was per person.

  Irene Jul 7, 2015 7:36 AM

3

We are trying to decide whether to book a trip on the Golondrina for me, my husband, and our 3 sons, ages 24, 24, and 22. It looks like you had a good experience on the boat and with the guide. We would need to do a 5 day/4 night (itinerary B) due to the boys' work schedules. Any other thoughts about the boat?

  Barbara Cargill Oct 17, 2015 2:24 PM

Add your comments

(If you have a travel question, get your Answers here)

In order to avoid spam on these blogs, please enter the code you see in the image. Comments identified as spam will be deleted.


About irenecabay

Irene Cabay

Follow Me

Where I've been

Photo Galleries

Highlights

My trip journals



 

 

Travel Answers about Ecuador

Do you have a travel question? Ask other World Nomads.