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I posted cards in an official yellow post box in the main street on October 24th, after our final lunch in Puerto Ayora and just before we boarded the boat for Isabela. My guide book had stated that post could take between one and four weeks to be delivered, if at all! I decided to check this out at $2.25 (about £1.50) a time for stamps. Well – the one to my husband has just arrived (still faster than the Beagle’s communications with home I suppose) – the rest of the family are still waiting for their cards!

PPS. Tonight I chatted for a few minutes to the great-great-granddaughter of Charles Darwin – Dr Sarah Darwin (and, I found out, an ex-colleague of Karen’s at the NHM) who was giving a lecture at the National Museum in Cardiff (for Cesagen).  She has just returned from a year long trip in a tea clipper in the wake of Darwin’s Beagle voyage, accompanied by her family and all the personnel required to make a documentary series, The Future of Species, for Dutch TV. Sarah, a geneticist who has researched the evolution of the Galapagos tomato, showed a genuine interest in our trip and praised the achievement of Jess, Eleri, Becky and Charlotte.

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…they will come.

After seeing such a different selection of flora and fauna it is easy to forget how wonderful our own native species are.  In response to Becky’s last post about the lack of birdlife on these islands, then I can only refer to “Field of Dreams” – there’s one for your Media Studies!

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We might be lacking in reptiles on this island, but we make up for them with their relatives, the birds.

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The tortoises really were amazing.  It was so surreal to spot our first one just standing in a field as if it were a cow.  I suppose that’s the niche they fill.  No large mammals made it to the Galapagos, so the few reptiles that did evolved to fill that niche.  We had some wonderful up close moments with these lumbering giants.  It was great watching them eat, which they seem to do most of the time, and occasionally making the effort to put one foot in front of another.  We even heard the sound of tortoise love from the woods and found a mating pair, he had even brought a bunch of flowers for the occasion!

We learnt a lot about how the different shell shapes suited the diet available on the different islands and how their populations had been decimated by the earlier visitors to the islands who used them as a source of fresh meat on long boat voyages before refrigeration.  Apparently a large tortoise could survive in a ship’s hold for a year without food or water.  The same adaptation that had allowed their ancestors to survive the long journey on a raft of logs that brought them to the Galapagos led to their near extinction.  Not only were the tortoises and turtles of the islands a source of meat.  The fats that could be extracted from their bodies were used as lamp oil before the discovery of oil fields in the United States of America.

The name Galapagos comes from the Spanish for the saddle shape that the shells of the tortoises from the drier islands have to allow them to reach leaves from shrubs and trees.  We saw a wide range of shapes on the different islands, including the last remaining Galapagos tortoise from the island of Pinta, the world famous Lonesome George.  George had been removed from Pinta in 1971 and taken to Santa Cruz.  A reward of $10,000 was offered for a female from Pinta, but no females have ever been found.  Attempts to breed Lonesome George with related species have failed.  There have been numerous success stories with the populations of tortoises from other islands and we saw lots of young tortoises up to the age of 5.  Then they can be released into the wild; when their shells are hard enough to resist all predators, native – the Galapagos Hawk, and introduced predators like feral pigs and dogs.

It was great to see the symbol of the Islands now in good health, with populations increasing.  A sure sign that the projects and policies in place, as well as the management of the tourist industry are compatible with unique biodiversity of these special islands.

Video of Sea Lions on shore of San Cristobal (very cute!!)

Our last day on the Islands, a short trip to Los Tintoreras. The sickness is sweeping through us today. Very sparse at breakfast. In the end though, the girls pulled together as a team (again) and through mutual support managed to rally round to make the short trip to Los Tintoreras.

Our small boat was the ideal viewing point for numerous sea lions. Including one that was tossing a fish it had caught in the air, like a cat playing with a mouse. In swept a huge frigate bird in an attempt to grab the fish from the sea lion (unfortunately just before I had switched from the video camera to the still camera!). Anyway, I got one of my favourite shots of the trip of the receding frigate bird looking back over its shoulder and filling the photo.  The final footage of the frigate birds flying below us are actually from San Cristobal – near the statue of Charles Darwin.

We also saw a perched blue footed booby (at last, for me) and another galapagos penguin, staying out of the water to avoid getting its moulting plumage wet.

We moored on Los Tintoreras and saw yet more marine iguanas as well as many sea lions, young and old. We discovered that sea lion poo is very similar to dog poo, but paler and that on occasion marine iguanas have been seen eating it – yeuch, dropping points there guys – you might not be my favourite animal if I keep hearing of things like that! Read the rest of this entry »

We can’t believe that it’s nearly a week since we left Guayaquil and said goodbye to Ecuador!

Our minds were full of stories to tell our friends and family when we arrived back home. But that had to be put on hold until our body clocks were back to their usual selves. The clocks going back didn’t help!

So, we’re going to take a leaf out of Mrs B’s book and create our own post of reflection. ^^

Most surprising moment: How beautiful Quito was. We love Quito!

Animal sighting moment: Galapagos Hawk

Scariest animal sighting: Huge paper wasps

Cutest moment: Javier ❤  jokes.. All the children at the school

Striking plant life: Passionflowers

Visually beautiful moment: At the top of Sierra Negra volcano

Most frustrating moment: Not being able to skype and all of the plane delays we had

Quietest moment: Looking over the Chico volcano

Most pleasant sound: The Sound of Silence (The band which followed us)

Smelliest moment: Our Bathroom in Isabella

Tastiest moment: The Rock Restaurant, Santa Cruz and Pims, Quito

Most relaxing: Lazing by the pool in Santa Cruz

Most grateful: For the trip itself and kindness of all our guides, staff and of course the Wellcome Trust and Ignite Futures

Funniest moment: Lettuce.

Most heart-wrenching: Eleri being ill and nothing that we could do for her

Now don’t think us odd when you read this; Ecuadorian’s have the best aftershve. No joke.

Since us girls arrived home, it’s popped up in all of our conversatiions. We ourselves are not sure why. It’s just good. Fact. 😀

Once again we would like to thank everyone involved with the trip and all the friends we made along the way! A special thanks to Amy Turner for putting up with our illness’s and Jess’s frequent gun shows which she can have tickets for anytime!

Please keep in touch!

Charlotte and Jess!

Mon Nov 1st

I’m home and back down on Earth, my mind being disconnected from my body  for the last 2 days. I’ve unpacked, filled the washing machine a few times, caught up with family (life-changing events have happened here too!), washed the lava dust from my walking socks, slept and regained my appetite. I’ve eaten the Marmite sandwich I craved for. I’ve hung the woven wall hanging of Galapagos animals bought as a souvenir.

The return journey was quite an adventure in itself – a rapid 2-hour plus speed boat ride between islands; three plane journeys; elevators, an underground train ride and power walking between terminals at Madrid; and finally a remarkably quick and easy minibus ride from Heathrow to home. We had a short stop in Guayaquil, long enough to be taken through the busy traffic to the modern riverfront development where we were able to grab a drink in a fast food outlet. What a contrast to Isabela – Julio, our guide, had told me that young people from the Galapagos migrating to the Equador mainland have problems adjusting and often move back – no wonder.  (In this city, when you park on the roadside, your car is lifted and pushed, nose to tail with the car in front. If the car in front is still there when you wish to leave, the cars ahead are pushed forward until you have room to manoeuvre out.)

So, some moments of reflection: Read the rest of this entry »

A lie in – much appreciated after being awake from 4am to 5am dealing with the new flora of bacteria that are now living in my intestines.  Best just to say that we have had a dodgy introduction!

Unfortunately the local primary school were having their English exam today so couldn’t take us to the tortoise breeding centre.  We did call into their school on our way though to say hello.  The 6 year old students and their teacher were very welcoming, singing us songs and making us feel at home.  The girls had brought some Welsh cuddly toys and the Amys had brought books and colouring pens, which were appreciated.

We then walked along the road and came across the most amazing road sign I have ever seen:

Sure enough there were marine iguanas waiting to cross the road!  Amazingly they have had time to evolve some road sense.  I’m not saying that they looked left and right before crossing or that there was an older one with a lollipop to help the young ones cross!  But when a vehicle did come along they ran away from the road or sped up if already crossing.  I had just switched off the video camera when a dog ran past on the road.  Luckily I managed to get it back on again as they raced back towards the bushes for cover.  Its got to be one of my favourite bits of video footage of the whole trip.  Unfortunately introduced animals are the main predators of marine iguanas, but at least this shows that the native fauna are evolving to be scared of them.

We then walked along a raised platform through the undergrowth and inland lagoons, seeing more marine iguanas, a nest of yellow paper wasps (Charlotte’s favourite), beautiful passion flowers and fruits as well as some Galapagos mocking birds – the species that first gave Charles Darwin the idea that species could change when he noticed that they were different from the mainland mocking birds that he had seen. Karen has worked on extracting the DNA from some of Darwin’s original mocking bird specimens at the Natural History Museum with a view to helping their reintroduction onto Floreana where they are no longer found – possibly due to a major fire on the island. Read the rest of this entry »

After the rather austere start to our visit – seemingly many officials checking us and our luggage after disembarking – I thought I had arrived on paradise island. Our hotel, Sol Isabela, was right on the beach. My ground floor room, decorated with a huge brightly coloured painting of a fish, opened directly onto the fine, pale yellow sand. Less than a hundred metres away the Pacific Ocean waves crashed down. Directly outside my room a hammock was slung between coconut palms. The sky was turning different hues of yellow and red in the setting Sun, reflected on the water.

 

Early evening view through my bedroom window

 

 

Daylight view through my bedroom window

 

 

Sol Isabela

 

Our base on Isabela was Puerto Villamil, where most of the approxiamtely 3,000 isalnd population live. The low, frequently unfinished, buildings extend from the beach to the larva fields. Read the rest of this entry »

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