Galapagos Islands

Arriving in Quito was the first sign of clouds, and a little rain since we left Canada!Danny, met us at the Quito airport and whisked us outdoors into the rain, and the waiting van.  The trip into town was the same as in as in Lima – weaving in and out jostling for position, and ALWAYS  the need of horns.  I swear they must have to change vehicle horns like we change our oil, every 5000 km!  He dropped us at the Dann Carlton hotel with the promise to be back at  5:50a.m. As promised we headed for the airport at 10 to 6 in the morning.  Traffic was much less congested at that hour, and only a few horns were heard throughout the 40 minute ride.  Once at the airport, a little Ecuadorian came and drug me through the crowds with our suit cases, while Gary stayed with Danny to pay the park (Galapagos) fees. This little guy had us weaving in and out of people, and right up to the VIP section for boarding passes, with only two other people ahead of me, I went through very quickly, beating the line up of at least 100 people.  I waited for Gary on the other side, and soon Gary came through “security” where they didn’t even check his carry on.   Then with a “SafeTrip” said, The little guy was running again to find more people to herd through the airport!  The flight to Galápagos Islands was just over 2.5 hrs. with a quick stop in  Guayaquil, Ecuador.  Next landing was Baltra Island, Galapagos!   Once off the plane, we met Hanzel, who was our guide for the duration on the Islands.  We first traveled by bus for about 15 minutes, and after crossing a channel in a small boat we boarded another bus on Santa Cruz which took us to the other side of the island where our “Boat”,  Galapagos Grand Odyssey, was waiting at Puerto Ayora. Before boarding, , we had a tour of the Charles Darwin Research Centre. Scientific research and monitoring projects are conducted at the centre in conjunction and cooperation with the Galapagos National Park Service . We spent some time with the guide, and then were left on our own to explore the centre ourselves.  It was a nice walk around the centre, and the tortoise nursery was pretty interesting, a lot of work has gone in to preserving the tortoise population on the islands (we never did see any tortoises in the wild).  Then off for a cerveza in a cute little restaurant next to the pier, watching sea lions as they sun themselves on the piers in the sun.IMG_4601

What a beautiful boat. We were on the top floor, with a king bed, which after speaking to those that went before us, was a pleasant surprise! The boat has 8 cabins, but there were only 11 passengers, so a smaller number, and a very nice mix of age, and nationalities.  Mama “paparazzi” (so named as she ALWAYS had a camera, video and still, in her hand)  was from Switzerland, and her daughter Michelle from Germany. Susan was by herself, from London, and an Australian couple which have been in living in Moscow for some time now, and England for 13 years before that. The youngest couple on the boat, Jason and Chloe were from Hong Kong, and on their honeymoon. (Jason was our underwater photographer, and shared his spectacular photos with us  all)  And one couple from Idaho, USA.  Every day was the same yet so different, and we all lost track of days.  So not sure of the order of all the events, but I know we did it all!
 Meals on the boat were fabulous,  always with a choice of two lunch entrees, Fish was always on the menu. We left the port that night, having dinner at 7:00 pm  which was followed by an orientation for the next day.  We had an orientation at 6:30 PM every night to go over the next day itinerary, and dinner followed.  The first night was a little rough, but I made it through without having any gravol!  Was all fine and dandy when we docked at Isabella Island the next morning for a walk on the volcanic rock, and views of White tip Sharks swimming around in a canal. As they are night eaters, they do a lot of laying around at the bottom of the ocean during the day, however, it was shallow, and VERY clear waters, it was pretty impressive, and glad I was on the ground.
We were not allowed to go snorkeling that morning as the Navy had denied it,  something about sea cucumbers, so instead we went in to another “farm” where they raise tortoises.  They showed different stages of the tortoise growth by bringing out an egg, and different developmental stages of the tortoises in bottles, then brought a live “baby” for us all to see. IMG_4101 IMG_4099We of course saw some “Tortoise Love”  as well, so do not feel left out from the views our Travel Partners had!  🙂    In the afternoon we were back on the boat, and heading to the area of the Sierra Negra Volcano,  located at the South eastern end of Isabela Island with an altitude of 1124 m.   It is one of the most active of the Galapagos volcanoes with the last eruption in October 2005. We did visit  Punta Moreno as well. We walked over jagged black lava rock which had created craters and crystal blue tide pools.  We saw flamingos and different species of ducks in the pools, and never were far away from the sound of the ocean waves, and the sea lion barks!   Another spot we visited was  Elizabeth Bay which is located on the east coast of Isabela Island. Penguins and blue-footed boobies were everywhere. IMG_4562
There were literally thousands of different types of shore birds, of which we have pictures of most!  However, the Oyster Catchers had to be one of my favorites with their bright red eyes and beaks.
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We did some snorkeling here too  and I have to admit, I knew it wasn’t the warm water season, but it did take my breath away to start!  The Incredibly clear waters were perfect for watching fish, and although we were told we “may” see turtles, I really didn’t expect to see them so close! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA At one point, having my head up, and adjusting my mask, I was totally shocked to put my face back in the water to have not one, but TWO Giant sea turtles swimming under me!  I panicked, took in a mouth full of water, coughed and sputtered as I tried to swim away and not hit them with my arms, or legs!!! Incredible!  But then I saw the sharks.  Yes, they were white tips, and there are no reports that they actually attack people, but the way I look at it, someone was going to be the first, it wasn’t going to be me. I had enough of snorkeling that day, and climbed aboard the dingy!
The next snorkel day, I was not feeling up to it, and stayed on the boat and washed some cloths, and hung out on the deck.  Unfortunately, I missed the “sea Lions”.  Although, I was still shaking over the tortoises, probably just as well I didn’t have a bunch of seals swimming in close proximity to me!
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Gary really enjoyed it, and everyone told me what a wonderful experience I missed out on.  Of course every stop to shore we had to shoe the Sea Lions so we could get to shore, so its not like I didn’t experience them at all!  Amazing to watch them as waddle their way up rocks, and “jump” into boats and off cliffs!
I did go snorkeling with the crew the next day, and it was a great experience as well.  There was flashes of colorful fish everywhere!  There were some appearances from Sea Turtles, but this time the water was deep enough, I could keep MY distance, although they do not really seem to care we were there.  When we swam around a large rock that day, Gary started pointing wildly, and there on the bottom were four White tip sharks, sleeping, and one swimming around lazily.
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Again, they could care less that we were there, and we watched them for several minutes before moving on to explore.
One night after our briefing and dinner we ALL went up onto the deck and did some star gazing!  Incredible.  I know its “illegal” and not safe to operate a vessel with no lights, but the only light we had was the glow from the stars!  I didn’t realize how spectacular the milky ways is, three times brighter than I’ve ever seen in my life! And as this was our last night on the boat, and I had not been able to view it yet, it was the last chance I would get to see the Southern Cross! Just so happen our Australian friend Brian was there to point  it out to me!  Not only that, but he and Jason had apps for their phones, and when pointed at the sky would show you the star, constellation, planet, or satellite names!  Pretty cool.
Did I mention the marine iguanas? IMG_3374
This is Jason Posing with some iguanas
Oh My God, what peculiar creatures they are!  But so incredible how they have evolved to live here.  There camouflage is so good, you sometimes do not see them until there is movement. Although you can generally smell them long before you arrive at a large colony of them.   They eat kelp, and dive to the depths of 40 feet to retrieve it.  They have adapted to the ocean by having sacks inside  that collect the salt water, and then once they are on land again, they spend the afternoon spitting the salt water out.   They let crabs, which there is an over abundance of, and lizards crawl on them to eat dead skin (they shed like a snake does) and any flies, tics, etc.
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Nature does work in mysterious, and beautiful ways!
We did hike up to Dawin Lake one afternoon, spectacular views from the top, and photographs of several species of finches were easy to get.
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Frigates were everywhere, but one particular island, Lobos the males were clearly in the mating mood, displaying their beautiful red sacks to attract a female.
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We truly feel lucky to have had this experience, and would someday like to go back, as there is so much more to see, and experience. Six days was just not enough to see all the islands, and everything these islands offer.
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Next stop, Quito Ecuador.  Last stop before returning to Canada.
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