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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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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 »

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 »

On our last morning in Puerto Ayora, not wanting to trawl the souvenir shops again, I made a second visit to Tortuga Bay and the lagoon. The sky, sea and sand created a brilliant strata of colours, pale yellow, blues, turquoises and white in the bright sunshine. A whimbrel, pelican and larva gulls obliged by posing for close-up shots. Sally lightfoot crabs scuttled across the black larva rocks. I walked the curve of the bay to the area of the lagoon. Unlike my previous visit the tide was low, the sea was not as blue and there were small piles of pale brown and red seaweeds along the shoreline –not quite so appealing. I paddled around looking for life underwater but in vain. Disappointingly the blue-footed booby was elsewhere.

 

Colours at Tortuga Bay

Colours at Tortuga Bay

 

 

Whimbrel

Whimbrel

 

 

 

Lava heron Tortuga Bay

Lava heron Tortuga Bay

 

 

 

Lava gull

 

Sights on my return journey however lifted my spirits – marine iguanas striding out across the wet sand, front leg and diagonally opposite hind leg forward, then the other front and hind leg, head held aloft, dragging their long tail behind them (they leave a very obvious trail); marine iguanas entering the water from a rocky ledge and swimming half-submerged across a large shallow pool to the shore; a lone iguana entering the sea from the sand and surfing the waves.

There were several small fish of various species, some striped and others black with yellow fins, and pencil-spined sea urchins in the pool. At last I was able to use the plastic underwater camera I had brought with me, although I can’t believe that it takes real pictures! (I’ll have to wait to find out because there is still a lot more film to shoot – perhaps in the colder waters of west Wales). Read the rest of this entry »

On a visit to Tortuga Bay I came across a new subspecies of a Galapagos mammal – one that has evolved adaptations for survival in the sea. This sub species has evolved the ability to use a large flat pointed implement as a tool  to take advantage of the power of the waves. Another adaptation it has  is a thick rubbery skin to maintain body temperature. Scientists are predicting if these adaptations will be perfected and what other adaptations may evolve with time.

Return to the sea

Further along the bay literally piles of marine iguana  were to be found flopped in the sand, random individuals periodically spitting out excess salt. There was quite a pungent smell!

Then came what I was waiting for – the opportunity to be close enough to see what is probably the most beautiful pair of blue feet on Earth.

Just look at those feet ......

We have just spent the morning at the recycling centre for Santa Cruz. What to do with waste is obviously a serious issue as the resident population and tourism have increased.

The municipality is working hard to educate the general public about recycling. We smelt the recycling of organic waste, saw the rubbish coming in (general waste is collected daily) and the bales of waste going out which is shipped to the mainland about every three weeks for further processing. Much of the plastic goes on to China and then comes back again (and around the world!)  in the form of various goods! The interpretation centre explained the problems created by waste and what was being done to try and solve them.

We then spent almost two hours helping out. Nick packaged materials into bales, looking happy and contented and very sweaty. Amy Turner, the girls and myself separated waste from a conveyor belt, each having our own resposibility – paper, glossy paper, newspaper, cardboard, different coloured glass, various categories of plastic (which I never quite got the hang of), cans.

There were bursts of frantic activity from Amy when lots of bottles came down – an awful lot of champagne is drunk in the Galapagos! We concluded that everyone in Britain should do ‘national service at a recycling centre – certainly made us think about our waste. The men working at the centre were a cheerful bunch and seemed to enjoy us participating – even if we did make mistakes.

We are off to the beach this afternoon. Nick, yet agin, is soooo excited – he is going to surf (whatever the height of the waves)!

Wednesday – We visited Tomas de Berlanga School , a private school nestling amongst vegetation with pupils ranging from 3 to 16 years old. Not quite what we might imagine a private school to be like in Britain. This school consisted of a few simple single storey buildings with open sides, roughly painted walls, simple wooden furniture, connected by larva ash paths weaving through the dense plant growth. There was a playground with brightly painted wooden swings and slides and a dusty football area. The younger children rushed around in their t-shirts and jeans with beaming smiles. The purpose of this school is to educate the children to be effective communicators in Spanish and English, to be critical thinkers and to have a passion about their environment.

Our 4 girls had the opportunity to interact with many of the teenage pupils. I was able to have a long conservation with the science teacher. She had little in the way of practical equipment and no laboratory but was so keen to encourage a problem solving approach with her pupils. A small group were preparing a project about the brain for a science fair and we attempted some of their brain teasers. I was very pleased to be able to take apart the two intertwined nails before the girls!

Galapagos and Welsh students chatting

Galapagos and Welsh students chatting

Galapagos mocking bird in the school grounds

Galapagos mocking bird in the school grounds

School bags

School bags

The Galapagos mocking bird and finches cracking nuts provided some of the background noise. We ate our packed lunch in the open air school snack bar watching the chickens chase away a cat, presumably waiting for food scraps. Read the rest of this entry »

This morning I shed a tear as I stepped off the ‘plane onto Santa Cruz. I had actually arrived on an island of the Galapagos archipelago. On cue, there were a couple of finches on a small cactus plant showing off at the entrance of  the ‘disembarkation control’, a large low shed. Here we waited (I momentarily felt I was queuing for a ride in a theme park) to show our Galapagos National Park visa, pay a fee for the privilege of visiting this hallowed ground and have our bags checked for ‘illicit goods’ i.e. any foreign organic material, alive or dead, which could affect the ecological balance of the islands. (Another example of the conservation strategies in the airport cloakroom – ‘Please put toilet paper in the bin not down the toilet’.) A frigate bird flew overhead as we left the airport.

It wasn’t long before we were travelling in a small minibus through distinct vegetation zones on our way to the highlands of Santa Cruz. There were many apparently dead grey trees in the arid zone – Palo Santo or Incense trees – stretching their branches proud of the rather scrubby green vegetation. (These trees are .playing dead – they are leafless for much of the year.) As we rose higher the plants became more varied, a spectrum of greens interrupted by the occasional red and yellow flowers. Lichens hung in long strands from branches. In some areas we could see large numbers of cattle egret (– they arrived naturally in the Galapagos in the 1960’s and have increased rapidly).

We stopped in the highlands to see Los Gemelos (the twins) – a pair of craters formed by collapsed caves. Their steep rocky grey walls were draped in greenery. The dominant plant in this zone was the Tree Scalesia with many flowering plants (mostly yellow and purple flowers), ferns and mosses forming the ground cover.

 

One of a pair

One of a pair

 

This morning I shed a tear as I stepped off the ‘plane onto Santa Cruz. I had actually arrived on an island of the Galapagos archipelago. On cue, there were a couple of finches on a small cactus plant showing off at the entrance of  the ‘disembarkation control’, a large low shed. Here we waited (I momentarily felt I was queuing for a ride in a theme park) to show our Galapagos National Park visa, pay a fee for the privilege of visiting this hallowed ground and have our bags checked for ‘illicit goods’ i.e. any foreign organic material, alive or dead, which could affect the ecological balance of the islands. (Another example of the conservation strategies in the airport cloakroom – ‘Please put toilet paper in the bin not down the toilet’.) A frigate bird flew overhead as we left the airport. Read the rest of this entry »

Hi,

I am Sue, the eldest member of the Galapagos party by a large margin (and being of a certain age I have not thought of blogging before)! I cannot imagine a more fitting retirement event for a biology teacher, made possible by 4 delightful students and the current head of biology, Nick …. and, of course, the Wellcome Trust. I shall be eternally grateful.

I have taught biology for a long time and have mentioned Darwin’s name and the Galapagos Islands every year for the past 37. Now I get to see what all the fuss is about!!  Amazing. Seeing the Darwin artifacts behind the scenes at the Natural History Museum was exciting enough.

 

Darwin wrote some of those labels!

 

As for packing … I’ve probably had more time than anyone else but still nowhere near ready! At least I now have a bag to transport my belongings, some dollars to spend and some Immodium!

A scene from the Galapagos - or my front garden?

No -we're not there yet - this is a 'mock up' in my front garden to get me in the mood....

 

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