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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 »

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 »

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 »

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…

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!

I think it’s fair to say that yesterday was one of the highlights of my life. At least.

After travelling for two hours by speedboat, we reached San Cristobal island. After a talk on the importance of conservation in the Galapagos and an informative wander round an exhibit detailing parts of the islands history (I found out that the Galapagos islands were the place they sent convicts from America at the early turn of the century) and environmental statistics, we what can only be described as ‘trekked’ up a mount in the midday heat but it was worth it when we reached the top.

We saw the huge statue of Charles Darwin, surrounded by a tortoise and a sea lion. I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t made out of tone but out of some hollow material but I understood when realising the amount of steps and the incline we had walked up. 

If I couldn’t sit on a real giant tortoise, I made sure I sat on a model one!

On the way to lunch we walked past the harbour. It was brilliant watching the sea lions in their natural habitat, lazing on the beach in the sun. However, all of the recent talks about human impact on the Galapagos hit home when, on one side sea lions were lying on a golden beach and splashng in the birght bue ocean, but on the other side they were sunbathing next to rubble and concrete blocks used to make the next building encroaching on the habitat.

After lunch we walked to a beach called ‘Sea Lion Refuge’. Now, sea lions are one of my favourite animals so I thought it was amazing to be able to see them in the water and on beaches.

It was extradordinary to be able to sit less than two metres away from them and copy their lazy, sun worshipping ways! There were about forty, fifty, possibly sixty sea lions all huddled together with at least three babies. Looking to the future, I was quite pleased to see quite a few babies because it means that, hopefully, the population is far from declining. Hearing the barks of them playing in the sea, the baby suckling and the slaps of running flippers, I was actually speechless.

Now, time to pack for Isabella….

A very early start today.  Met by Javier at 7am at the hotel and walked into the harbour to catch our boat “Andy” to the island of San Cristobal. As we were pulling out of the harbour we saw some incredible waves – it looked like the swell has been building.

In a little over 2 hours we pulled into the bay where Charles Darwin first set foot on the Galapagos Islands.  The spot is marked by a statue.  Overhead, frigate birds flew in lazy circles above us.  They nest above the bay in their breeding season.

It was our hottest day on the islands, we disembarked in the harbour and had to avoid tripping over the sea lions.  It seems that the sea lions have chosen San Cristobal, just as the marine iguanas have chosen Floreana to set up home.  We walked to the interpretation centre where we had a talk on the history and conservation of the islands, followed by a look through the exhibition where we saw more of the history. We were all amazed at the amount of development shown by some aerial photos of the islands.

We then walked to view the statue. Like everywhere in the National Park, tourists are only allowed to walk on the paths to prevent damaging the habitat. It reminded me of the Ray Bradbury short story I read at primary school, A Sound of Thunder, in which a hunter travels back in time to shoot a dinosaur. The hunter is only allowed to shoot a Tyrannosaurus rex that is about to die of natural causes. In the panic of the hunt he steps off the path and kills an insect (I think – it was a long time ago!)  Upon his return to the present time the hunter notices that things have subtly changed. I wonder if a modern day tourist stepped off the path and trod on, say a tortoise’s nest, it would affect the future of evolutionary progress. I love the idea of contingency!  What will happen to the tortoises released onto Pinta Island – will they evolve similar body plans to Lonesome George?  Or will conditions have changed to suit a different shaped shell?  Or even if the conditions were exactly the same, would something different happen every time we replayed evolution?  Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Galapagos is also a great exploration of the idea of contingency. Stephen Jay Gould explores the idea more fully in Wonderful Life – The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History.

After a hot trek back into town, we had lunch at a restaurant overlooking the harbour, listening to the honking of the sea lions. Then it was into a taxi and off to the beach. Again some incredible waves. The Galapagos is sure to take off as a world class surfing destination. The path was criss-crossed with lines left by the tails of marine iguanas as they moved from their basking area to the sea to feed on algae. We came to a small reef that the huge waves were breaking against that formed a small lagoon of more sheltered water. On the beach of the lagoon were perhaps 50 sea lions – females and juveniles. In the water was the dominant male, protecting his harem by swimming up and down, honking and occasionally getting out of the water and shaking his head about. He looked impressive with his swollen head – much larger than the females.

The real stars of the show were the young.  On a cuteness scale of 1-10, I reckoned a 15, Charlotte thought much higher!  They were all wrinkled with puppy fat, their eyes were adorable and when they scratched themselves with their flippers…

For lots more pictures have a look at the Flickr set.

Then it was time to get into the water.  Javier showed us the best place to get into the water so that we didn’t disturb the dominant male. The water was quite murky due to all of the sand and seaweed in suspension due to the size of the waves, bringing visibility down to about 3-4 metres. However the animals must have been told that so they made sure they got exceptionally close. Within a minute of getting in the water I found myself practically on top of a large turtle less than 5 metres from the shore. The water was incredibly shallow and I had to avoid bumping in to it. I managed to follow and film the turtle for two and a half minutes – an incredible experience – its flippers moved so gracefully. At one point we made eye contact – awesome!

Then there were the sea lions. They loomed out of the gloom towards us. Once they saw that we had noticed them they charged towards us, blowing bubbles through their nostrils, only veering away at the last moment. It took some getting used to! I don’t think any of us will forget that experience. As time went on the sea lions got even more confident. Coming at me with open mouths and making honking sounds underwater – can just be heard in the latter parts of the video. One then tried to grab one of my fins in its mouth!! It was amazing to see these acrobats of the water, pulling somersaults, changing direction in an instant and most of all having fun! We are definitely not the only species capable of doing that. They reminded us of playful puppies.

I was the first out of the water and was described as, “The most animated we have ever seen you,” by Becky!  I will certainly never forget my time on San Cristobal. Amy Turner was escorted out of the water by the dominant male – he must have seen her as a threat, or maybe a potential addition to his harem!

We caught a catamaran back to Santa Cruz – a slower ride, but made worthwhile when we were buzzed by a pod of dolphins leaping out of the water.  The icing on a wonderful cake! The icing was then decorated with a beautiful sunset.

Thank you San Cristobal – we shall never forget you!

June 2017
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