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 »

The day of the trek to the summit of Sierra Negra…Up early for breakfast and then into the van with Julio and our driver Solitario Pinzon (Lonesome Finch – because he has had 5 wives – Ecuadorian logic!). Eagle (hawk) eyed though, as about a mile into our traverse of the arid lava fields Lonesome Finch spotted a (rare) Galapagos hawk riding on the thermals.

We ascended up through the zones of vegetation, getting more dense and verdant as we moved up into the clouds. Julio told us to look out for a red bird and within minutes Amy S had spotted a Vermillion Flycatcher. An absolutely beautiful small, bright red bird with a black Zorro like mask that is unfortunately getting to be rare in the Galapagos. Julio said that some twitchers (enthusiastic bird watchers) often spend hours trekking through this zone and often fail to see one. Within 2 minutes we saw another, this time with his mate (much less brightly coloured). I find it amazing that in most bird species it is the male that invests so much in personal decoration, whereas in humans… 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 »

I’m still on Galapagos time and now apparently the clocks have gone back. I’m very confused.

Still, I must admit I’m glad to be back home. Don’t get me wrong, I would go back to Santa Cruz faster than you can say ‘origin of species’ but I still get a little bit excited everytime I look at the trees starting to change colour. One thing I have noticed about Britain though is that so far I have been staring out of my window for twenty minutes and have not seen one bird. Not even a blackbird. It shows me how isolated from nature we’ve become in Britain, how we’ve distanced ourselves from it. In Galapagos, people need to step over a sea lion to get to their boat. Back here we run screaming if there’s a spider in the bath. If I was still in Galapagos, I would be tripping over finches by now (no harm intended).

We all expected Isabella to be more developed than Santa Cruz, so we were surprised to find that the population of the ‘town’ is only 2,ooo people (nearly a fifth of the population of my home village). Walking around the main area doesn’t take more than an afternoon. It was difficult to adjust to the quieter and slower pace where the only constant sound was the waves crashing against the shore. We did have a few highlights though. Seeing an unusually high number of flamingoes  in one lagoon made us feel privelleged. For the ‘Fact Fans’, there are roughly 435 (correct me if I’m wrong) flamingoes left and we saw around 14 in two days. According to our guide, this is very rare.

Another highlight was climbing the Sierra Negra volcano. Walking up the side of the volcano in the cool, misty morning was exciting as we clambered through different layers of plant life and we all felt a massive sense of achievement when we reached the top. To top it off, we saw not only one but four Galapagos hawks, a species that is said to be close to extinction. We saw two babies included in the total number, which gave us slight hope that maybe they’ll continue for longer than anticipated. Again, our guide said we were very lucky. However, the way back down was not as fun. The sun was directly above us (being on the equator and all) and temperatures reached around 30-35 degrees C. We no longer strode, we trudged. I think it was possibly the most physically challenging thing I’ve done, purely because of the heat. By the end, we didn’t even have the strength to talk to each other because it might take away some of the little energy we had left to plod along. That morning, and this will come as a shock to anyone who knows me well, I was wearing a light beige outfit. When I reached the hotel that afternoon, I was orangey-brown. Not just my clothes but my hair, face, skin, everything. Charlotte started the day with black walking boots; they are now orangey-brown as well.

Sadly, illness from various members of the group, myself included, impeded the last few days on the island. Thankfully, the warriors among us managed to make it out for our final day trip to Tintoreras Bay. Definitely survival of the fittest. It cheered us all up when we saw sea lions playing next to our boat. We were also completely surprised to find the shark canal. I expected it to be a large river with possibly one sharking lurking around. Instead, it was a tiny stream with dozens of white-tipped reef sharks swimming back and forth. Amazing!

It was good to end the week on a high, after so many lows, seeing as we faced the prospect of four plane journeys over the next few days.

Well, four turned into three as the little five-seater plane we were meant to take from Isabella to Baltra broke down before we were due to travel. Thankfully, before not during. Cue a two-and-a-half hour impromptu speed boat journey. As I’ve found out this on this trip, I don’t travel well but that jumpy, jerky, borderline dangerous speed boat journey was probably the best one. Me and Jess had to sit on the floor on a cushion to make the back of the boat lighter which felt quite surreal. The only way we got through it was to laugh.  After many giggles and bruises caused by being tossed around, we reached Baltra airport. Run through check in and off we set. Bye bye, Galapagos.

Eventually, around 30 hours and four different time zones later, we reached Britain. Much rejoicing and excitement as we got the mini bus home, all eager to see our families so we could start the story telling and a shower was desperately needed after nearly three days without one.

Washed, fed and exhausted, the jet lag set in. This is what I had to come home to:

Thanks Family

Thanks Family

Now, as it drizzles outside and Sunday dinner bubbles away inside, it’s hard not to think about ‘this time last week’. Galapagos is the most interesting, amazing, outstanding, beautiful place in the world and nothing will ever compare to some of the experiences I have seen this past fortnight. Even though I’ve been in a sleepy/alert/sleepy/alert cycle for the past few days and am still not completely sure what time I should go by, I wouldn’t change it.

But I still haven’t seen a bird.

Early edit of snorkelling off Isabella

Dedicated to Eleri, who’s strength of character got her out and about that day to see the sharks.

Eventually got the underwater footage to upload.  Glad that I managed that as we don’t have wireless on Isabella.  Things will be published from here upon our return to the UK.

Last morning on Santa Cruz a little sad.  We were just getting used to the layout of the town, the pace of life, the people in the shops and restaurants, the marine iguanas, the special Tortuga bay, the wonderful breakfasts of chocolate Scotch pancakes and cheese, followed by fruit, with wonderful Ecuadorian coffee and fresh juices – sounds weird, but do try it if you get the chance.

Spent the morning buying a few last minute presents – very few shops on Isabella, and walking around the town.  In particular went to the CDRS again as well as the fish market where we saw a bill fish – it looked totally out of this world, almost cartoon like. Just 100 yards down the road I came across a poster urging fishermen to throw bill fish back if they caught one. I do eat fish (mainly when eating out) but don’t think I could eat a bill fish steak, not having seen this magnificent beast.

We checked out of the hotel and I managed to spend 20 minutes on a sun lounger by the pool listening to the Doves.  So year 11 – that was my holiday bit of the trip – you can’t begrudge me 20 minutes!

Then it was lunch and down to the harbour.  Our cases were checked to make sure that we weren’t smuggling wildlife or moving fruits, or anything else with seeds etc that could contain invasive species.  Then we were packed onto a speedboat and set off for Isabella.  A bumpy ride, but saw 4 dolphins as we were pulling out of Puerto Ayora harbour – a fitting send off from Santa Cruz.

Arrived at the lovely natural harbour on Isabella.  We were wondering as we went through passport control what the policeman was doing bouncing a ball when there was a dog tied up getting really excited about it.  It was a sniffer dog – trained to look (not the correct verb – sniff, smell?) for smuggled wildlife etc.  Anyway, we had nothing to hide.

Short drive to our hotel.  Right on the beach, I can hear the waves crashing as I am writing this.  Palm trees with hammocks – a wonderful setting.

Our guide, Julio, took us on a quick tour of the town (village really) – a square with restaurants and thats about it.  Finished with the soda lake with flamingos – absolutely beautiful.

Trekking up to the 2nd largest caldera in the world tomorrow.  Sturdy shoes, 1.5 litres of water, sunblock, sunglasses, long sleeves needed.  Apparently it should reach 35 degrees C when we reach the summit.  The view should be amazing…

On his first visit to the Brazilian rainforest, Darwin wrote:

“The delight one experiences in such times bewilders the mind, — if the eye attempts to follow the flight of a gaudy butter-fly, it is arrested by some strange tree or fruit; if watching an insect one forgets it in the stranger flower it is crawling over, — if turning to admire the splendour of the scenery, the individual character of the foreground fixes the attention. The mind is a chaos of delight, out of which a world of future & more quiet pleasure will arise.”

I’ve had this experience several times already here in Galapagos – notably on our first landing on Floreana, when, just off the boat, marine iguanas vied against sea lions and crabs for our immediate attention. I didn’t know where to point my lens, and I’m pretty sure I was grinning like an idiot.

I thought of the passage again yesterday, but in a very different environment: 20 metres underwater on an edge of lava just off Mosquero, a small island just north of Baltra.

While the rest of our group were doing their part for the islands’ delicate environment by volunteering at the recycling center, Amy and I fulfilled a dream by going scuba diving. These islands are so famous for their diversity of plants and animals on land, but the marine environment here boasts even more abundant and unique life forms. It’s just that most people never see it. Read the rest of this entry »

This is just a quick update on the wifi situation in Isabela. There´s a single, slow (we´re talking tortoise speed) internet terminal at our hotel from which I´m posting now, but no wifi. Some of us are tweeting by text, and there might be an occasional blog post from this terminal (I have a couple of drafts waiting to be shared with the world), but that´s going to be about it until we get back to London… or in my case Cocoa Beach, Florida.

For now, I urge you to read the posts below and watch Nick´s underwater video footage of swimming with sea lions and turtles on San Cristobal – it was an amazing day for all of us as I´m sure you´ll see.

Just a very quick post before we head off to Isabela this afternoon. No need for me to repeat what the others have said about yesterday, as I think it is fairly obvious it was a day we will all remember for a long time! Nick’s video is great, and shows just how close the sealions and turtles came, and how unfazed they were by us, and our strange appearance and gadgets!

When we next have some internet access (which might be back in the UK according to reports about Isabela’s connectivity) I will upload photos and my videos from underwater. I think it was an amazing ‘high’ to leave Santa Cruz on, and we are looking forward to what Isabela has in store! hopefully we can continue to blog from there, but if not, there will certainly be more to follow on our return to the UK.

And I think I could definately join a sealion’s harem – lazing in the sun with the occasional banter with the odd (in every sense of the word!) swimmer sounds right up my street!

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