Reflections and images from my travels

Archive for May, 2014

Odds and Ends May 18-20 2014

I won’t have any pictures to post for this entry. Believe it or not, I was done with photography after completing our tour of Santa Cruz Island. We left Santa Cruz Island May 17th and anchored in the bay outside Puerto Baquerizo Moreno that evening.

The next day, May 18th, we regrettably left the Flamingo I and its able crew for Puerto Baquerizo Moreno to visit a newly opened historic museum just outside of town followed by a final walk and coffee in town with most of our tour members. It was a nice quiet way to wrap things up. We were then transported back to the airstrip and bid farewell to both Orlando and Ivan who took care of us right until the end. We boarded our plane and flew back to the mainland with a short stop in Guayaquil to refuel and pick up additional passengers for the flight to Quito. After landing, a bus was waiting and transported us back to our hotel. We said goodbye to Michael, Jennifer, Stephen and Caroline at the airport as they were staying at a different hotel that night and would leave earlier than us the next day. The rest of us decided to have a final Ecuadorian dinner at a nearby restaurant once we arrived at the Mecure. The food was fabulous, stories were recounted as beer and sangria lubricated our tongues. We returned to the hotel to do a final re-pack of our luggage for the next day’s flight home.

The next morning we said goodbye to Richard and his family as they were continuing their travels to the Cloud Forest for an additional four days of enjoyment.

The rest of us stayed around the hotel or went out for a walk at a local Quito park as our flight did not leave until 11:30 PM. We all had a final lunch at a local square that afternoon. Arrangements were made for a bus to take us from the hotel to the international airport at 6:30 PM. We arrived at the airport, checked in and quickly had a meal. Most of us had different flights depending on where we were returning to so we parted with heartfelt goodbyes. Again, the group had been fantastic to travel with. Anna and I were thankful to have such great travel mates for the Galapagos portion of our South American adventure.

Anna and I had an overnight flight (without sleep) and a three-hour layover in Houston, Texas prior to boarding a flight back home to Calgary. We arrived back home May 20th at 12:15 PM. We had no problems going through customs.

Alas, our adventure was over. Despite saying that, I was happy to return to Calgary. I feel blessed to live in Canada and I have not found anywhere else in the world that I would rather live. Even though this appears to be the end of this particular blog, please come back and visit over the next two weeks as I may upload some videos and other data (I didn’t carry around all of this technology for nothing!).

Until we meet again. Did I mention I will be traveling to Scotland this July 2014? Single malt scotch, more adventure and photography beckons! I hope you will join me.

Santa Cruz and San Cristobal Islands May 17 2014

Our final full day in the Galapagos was spent on Santa Cruz Island with a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) which is a biological research station operated by the Charles Darwin Foundation in the morning. It is located on the shore of Academy Bay in the village of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island. During our visit we were able to see Lonesome George’s pen with his two widow tortoises, the new “stud on the block” Diego. We also visited “The Twins” which are two big holes formed by the collapse of a magma chamber. Santa Cruz also contains a gigantic lava tunnel that is over 2000 meters long on the island and was fun for some of our group to walk through. We then visited a land tortoise sanctuary where tourists and photographers frequently get lost. Thankfully, we did not. We finished our tour of the island with a walking and shopping tour (Anna was VERY satisfied with the gift and particularly the jewelry shopping) in Puerto Ayora, the most populated urban centre in the islands. Afterwards, most of us; except for Richard and his family who had dinner in town, returned by panga to the yacht for our final dinner (start the violins). Afterwards, we had to pack as we would be leaving the next day from San Cristobal to the mainland and Quito.

Special moments: learning about the land tortoise preservation strategies; hiking (with a little bit of crawling) through the lava tunnel; photographing the giant land tortoises at the highland sanctuary; relaxing and shopping in Puerto Ayora; and, our final first class meal with our group members on board the Flamingo I. A nice way to end our tour!

Santiago/Rabida/Santa Cruz (again) Islands May 16 2014

Santiago Island is an island of the Galapagos Islands. It is also known as San Salvador, named after the first island discovered by Columbus in the Caribbean Sea, or as James Island. The island, which consists of two overlapping volcanoes, has an area of 585 km² and a maximum altitude of 907 meters, atop the northwestern shield volcano. The volcano in the island’s southwest erupted along a linear fissure, and is much lower. The oldest lava flows on the island date back to 750,000 years ago.

Marine Iguanas, sea lions, fur seals, land and sea turtles, flamingos, crabs, dolphins, and sharks are found here. There are a large number of goats and pigs, animals which were introduced by humans to the islands and have caused great harm to the endemic species. Darwin Finches and Galápagos Hawks are usually seen as well as a colony of Fur Seals. At Sullivan Bay, a recent (1897) pahoehoe lava flow can be observed. Puerto Egas, south of James Bay on the west side of Santiago, is one of the best sites. There is a long, lava shoreline where eroded rock formations house an excellent variety of wildlife. Marine iguanas bask in the sun while land iguanas scatter around feeding on exposed algae. The tide pools contain many Sally Lightfoot crabs, which attract other types of hunters. Following the trail Fur seal lions are found. Puerto Egas is not only a good spot for taking pictures but also perfect for snorkelling and seeing many species of tropical fish.

Rabida Island, is one of the Galapagos Islands. The island has also been known as Jervis Island named in honour of the 18th-century British admiral John Jervis. In Ecuador it is officially known as Isla Rabida. In addition to flamingos and the bachelor sea lion colony, pelicans, white-cheeked pintails, boobies, and nine species of finch have been reported. The rich wildlife attracts a number of tourists cruises.In 1971 the National Park Service successfully eradicated goats from Rábida. This introduced species upset the natural environment and led to the extinction of several native creatures including geckos, land iguanas, and rice rats.

Special moments: early morning hiking along the beautiful lava shoreline of Puerto Egas with numerous photographs of marine animals, interesting rock formations, lava channels and bridges including Darwin’s toilet (Google it), fur seals and the tropical fish seen while snorkelling at Puerto Egas; the beautiful red rock, shoreline, hike and shallow water snorkel (our final snorkel of this trip) of Rabida Island.

Isabela Island May 15 2014

Isabela Island is the largest island of the Galapagos with an area of 4,640 square kilometres (1,790 sq mi), and length of 100 kilometres (62 mi) almost four times larger than Santa Cruz, the second largest of the archipelago. It was named after Queen Isabella of Spain. It was originally named Albemarle after the Duke of Albemarle. The island strides the equator. One of the youngest islands, Isabela is located on the western edge of the archipelago near the Galapagos hotspot. At approximately 1 million years old, the island was formed by the merger of 6 shield volcanoes – Alcedo, Cerro Azul, Darwin, Ecuador, Sierra Negra and Wolf. All of these volcanoes except Ecuador are still active, making it one of the most volcanically active places on earth. Two of the volcanoes, Volcan Ecuador and Volcan Wolf (the island’s highest point with an altitude of 5,600 feet or 1,707 meters), lie directly on the equator. The island is primarily noted for its geology, providing excellent examples of a geologic occurrence that created the Galapagos Islands including uplifts at Urvina Bay and the Bolivar Channel, tuff cones at Tagus Cove, and Pulmace on Alcedo and Sierra Negra, one of the most active volcanoes in the world.

Isabela is also interesting for its flora and fauna. The young island does not follow the vegetation zones of the other islands. The relatively new lava fields and surrounding soils have not developed the sufficient nutrients required to support the varied life zones found on other islands. Another obvious difference occurs on Volcan Wolf and Cerro Azul; these volcanoes loft above the cloud cover and are arid on top.

Isabela’s rich animal, bird, and marine life is beyond compare. Isabela is home to more wild tortoises than all the other islands. Isabela’s large size and notable topography created barriers for the slow-moving tortoises; apparently the creatures were unable to cross lava flows and other obstacles, causing several different sub-species of tortoise to develop. Today, tortoises roam free in the calderas of Alcedo, Wolf, Cerro Azul, Darwin and Sierra Negra.

Introduced goats multiplied to over 100,000 but were eradicated by the Galapagos National Park Service and the Charles Darwin Foundation.

Other noted species include penguins, cormorants, marine iguanas, boobies, pelicans and Sally Lightfoot crabs abound. Galapagos Land Iguanas and Darwin’s finches, Galapagos Hawks, Galapagos Doves and very interesting lowland vegetation. The west coast of Isabela in the Bolivar Channel is the best place in Galapagos for viewing whales and dolphin.

Special moments: Elizabeth Bay panga tour; deep water snorkelling with flightless cormorants, Galapagos penguins and sea turtles; beautiful Tagus Cove hike with views of volcanoes Isabela Island; and, most notably an evening baptism ceremony with King Neptune and his minions awarding each tour group member a special Galapagos name (mine was Frigate Bird)!


Fernandina Island May 14 2014

Fernandina Island (formerly known in English as Narborough Island, after John Narborough) is the third largest, and youngest, island of the Galapagos Islands. Like the others, the island was formed by the Galapagos hotspot. The island is an active shield volcano that has been erupting since April 11, 2009. It is the westernmost of the islands in the archipelago, and was named in honor of King Ferdinand of Spain, who sponsored the voyage of Christopher Columbus.

Fernandina has an area of 642 km² (247.9 miles2) and a height of 1,476 meters (4,842 feet), with a summit caldera about 6.5 km (4.0 mi) wide. The caldera underwent a collapse in 1968, when parts of the caldera floor dropped 350 meters. A small lake has intermittently occupied the northern caldera floor, most recently in 1988. Two types of lava flow can be observed, ʻaʻā and pāhoehoe.

The southern flank of the volcano La Cumbre had a fissure eruption that generated flows, which subsided within hours. Isla Fernandina supports wildlife that could be threatened by the April 2009 burst of volcanic activity, according to rangers at Galapagos National Park. However, no human settlements were endangered, as the island has no human residents. Park rangers and a passing tourist boat initially observed the volcano at 10:00 p.m. local time on April 10, 2009. A sparse human population in the western reaches of the Galapagos Islands means that volcanic activity is not always observed or reported as soon as it starts. The seismic station at Puerto Ayora, on the nearby island of Santa Cruz, recorded no earthquakes associated with this eruption.

Special moments: beautiful expansive landscapes, lava cactus as well as lava flow formations; marine iguana/mammal/Sally Lightfoot crab paradise; and, most notably an impromptu performance by the “Ivan Lopez and the Flamingos” band for our listening pleasure after dinner that evening!

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Santa Cruz Island May 13 2014

Santa Cruz Island is one of the Galapagos Islands with an area of 986 square kilometres (381 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 864 metres (2,835 ft).

Situated in the center of the archipelago, Santa Cruz is the second largest island after Isabela. Its capital is Puerto Ayora, the most populated urban centre in the islands. On Santa Cruz there are some small villages, whose inhabitants work in agriculture and cattle raising. This island is a large dormant volcano. It is estimated that the last eruptions occurred around a million and a half years ago. There is a gigantic lava tunnel that is over 2000 meters long on the island that many tourists visit and walk through.

As a testimony to its volcanic history there are two big holes formed by the collapse of a magma chamber: Los Gemelos, or “The Twins”.

Named after the Holy Cross, its English name (Indefatigable) was given after a British vessel HMS Indefatigable. Santa Cruz hosts the largest human population in the archipelago at the town of Puerto Ayora, with a total of 12,000 residents on the island.

Tortuga Bay is located on the Santa Cruz Island, a short walk from center of Puerto Ayora where you can view marine iguanas, birds, Galapagos crabs and a natural mangrove where you can spot white tip reef sharks and the gigantic Galapagos tortoise.

Special moments: a beautiful morning ocean side hike with the opportunity to see flamingos; beach time and shallow water snorkelling; afternoon hike to Dragon Hill (Cerro Dragon) with the opportunity to see land iguanas; and, a beautiful evening on the yacht sun deck with sunlit frigate birds riding the thermals as we watched under a beautiful full moon overhead. Perfect!


Genovesa Island May 12 2014

Genovesa Island (Tower Island) is a shield volcano in the Galapagos Islands in the eastern Pacific Ocean. The island occupies about 14 square kilometres (5 sq mi), and its maximum elevation is 64 m (210 ft). The horse-shoe shaped island has a volcanic caldera whose wall has collapsed, forming the Great Darwin Bay, surrounded by cliffs. Lake Arcturus, filled with salt water, lies in the centre, and sediment within this crater lake is less than 6,000 years old. Although no historical eruptions are known from Genovesa, there are very young lava flows on the flanks of the volcano.

This island is known as Bird Island, because of the large and varied bird colonies which nest here. There are an abundance of Frigate birds and it is among the best place in the archipelago to see Red-footed Boobies, Nazca Boobies, Swallow-tailed Gulls, storm petrels, tropicbirds, Darwin’s finches, and Galapagos Mockingbirds.

Prince Philip’s Steps is an extraordinary steep path that leads through a seabird colony full of life, up to cliffs that are 25m high. At the top, the trail continues inland, passing more seabird colonies in a thin palo santo forest. The trail also provides overviews of a rocky plain. Storm petrels here are different from any others in the world because they are active during the day. To avoid predators, they only return to their nest holes at night.

The smallest Marine Iguana in the archipelago lives here.

Our inaugural deep water snorkel occurred in the afternoon. I had specially purchased a mask and snorkel for this trip so it was a good opportunity to try out the new equipment. I had a new type of snorkel that automatically has a valve close when you submerge the top of the snorkel in water and then opens up when the top of the snorkel is above water. This is all supposed to work beautifully but when I initially used this snorkel and breathed in while snorkelling the valve closed excessively easily so I could not breathe! This is not generally recommended when your head is underwater! After about 15 minutes, panicked breathing and several gulps of seawater and numerous expletives; it started to work properly and continued to do so for the remainder of the trip, thankfully! Snorkeling is one of the great joys of traveling to the Galapagos. I had never experienced this activity prior to the visit in 2008. I strongly recommend anyone coming to the Galapagos, or to any location where you can snorkel, to try this activity. It is absolutely amazing!. By the way, also bring a small waterproof camera for pictures and video underwater. I did bring an underwater camera I had originally purchased in 2008 for the prior Galapagos trip. Even though the water was very murky at this location, I did take several pictures and a couple of videos. You will not see any examples from this camera because as we were traveling back to the yacht and I was attempting to show Erin (Richard’s oldest daughter) some of my award-winning underwater video, the camera would not turn on. When I got back to the yacht and examined the camera it appeared water was able to get past the seal into the camera battery compartment. Not good! It died a good death (despite my attempts to revive it in “camera ICU” which involves a plastic baggie and dried rice)! It just goes to show you nothing lasts forever and I presume the seal over time simply dried out and cracked. Guy, one of our group members, was good enough to lend me his underwater camera to use and try on subsequent snorkels. It appears another purchase will occur in the near future!


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