I stayed with a friend overnight who lives in Coventry. This meant I could sleep in until 2.30am (!) before struggling out of an airbed. I dumped caffeine into my system and was ready when a taxi called for me at 3.30am. The only advantage to this early rise was that I had good views of the lunar eclipse.
At 4am I was at Birmingham Airport. My check-in bag was well within the 23kg limit. I was just congratulating myself when one of my nightmares came true. The man at the baggage drop wanted me to put my two carry ons onto the luggage scale. Since my camera backpack contains two camera bodies and five lenses, and the smaller carry on had my laptop, of course this put me well over the carry on limit. With some trepidation I placed the bag of chargers into the check in bag. I was still over. The man at the desk was apologetic but firm. So I opened the backpack and slipped two lenses into my photography waistcoat. This brought the total under the limit. The man put the necessary stickers on the two bags and then told me, ‘You can put the lenses back into the bag again.’
The flight was less than an hour to Amsterdam. I easily made my way to the departure gate for the flight to Quito, particularly as I didn’t have to go through security again (which I’ve faced in several airports when only changing planes). When I checked in for my flight, I had discovered that it would cost me an extra 30 Euros to have an aisle seat. I gritted my teeth and paid this. Which is why I was annoyed, after we’d taken off, to note that there were various empty seats, all aisle ones!
The flight was just under 12 hours. I napped, read on my Kindle, and waited for the time to pass.
We landed at Quito, Ecuador early afternoon their time. I was met at the airport by a rep from Exodus Travel. There is only one other person on the Galapagos trip who booked through Exodus, Richard, and we met at this point. We were warned about the high altitude (9350 feet/2830 metres) but I didn’t feel any effects as we were driven from the airport to the city. I didn’t have any of the punch drunk feeling which landing at Cusco had given me (11,200 feet/3,400 metres).
Our hotel is a lovely establishment. I was grateful that a porter carried my suitcase up the three flights of stairs. I do feel a bit of the altitude when climbing up the stairs—I need to stop for a few quick breaths after two flights. We had our briefing about possible day excursions in Quito and about our flight to the Galapagos Islands.
Richard and I met up later to walk to a local restaurant which serves Ecuadorian dishes. I had fried pork with steamed white corn (very different than the yellow corn kernels I’ve had in the USA or Britain) and potato patties stuffed with cheese. And a local stout, which was very nice.
I dropped into bed at 9pm and hoped I’d be able to sleep past my usual UK wake up time (Ecuador is five hours behind the UK).
Fell asleep quickly, but woke up at 2am (7am UK time). And my head hurt, the dehydration headache I often get after long flights (no matter how much water I drink). I took a couple of ibuprofen but only managed to doze until I got up at 6.30am.
Breakfast was available from 7am. The coffee was like what I’d experienced in Peru. It comes out very thick, you’re meant to dilute it with water to taste. We were given musli with fruit, and a glass of yoghurt to pour on top. I used some of the (warm) milk meant to be used in coffee. Toast was provided, and there was an option of eggs, which I declined. I like eggs, but they don’t always like me.
Richard and I had decided to go on guided city tour, which met outside a nearby hotel at 8.15am. This was in a replica trolley bus. There were only two other people booked on the tour, a couple from Puerto Rico.
Our first stop was the National Cathedral. This is now one of my favourite ever cathedrals. Rather than gargoyles, the stone animals around the outside walls are taken from native Ecuadorian species. The morning light was streaming through the stained glass windows and splashing colour across the stone pillars. The only slight ‘ugh’ moment was a statue of the Virgin Mary which was surrounded by lights which changed colour.
Next stop was Independence Square. Our guide told us about the buildings which line the square, and then we had 30 minutes to wander. The four of us went into a cafe to have a coffee.
When we regrouped our guide took us onto the balcony of the presidential palace. The current president, she told us, only works there. He and his family live elsewhere, because he didn’t want his children to have to grow up in the centre of Quito. However the families’ two Golden retrievers live in the palace, rather than in their home. Yes, we made some jokes about dogs and politicians.
We went into the Church of the Society of Jesus. No photography is allowed inside because gold leaf covers much of the decorations and the authorities fear that photos would be used to plan thefts. I urge everyone to look on-line for images because the place was stunning. I was a bit disturbed that I knew more about the history of Ignatius of Loyola than the guide, but she did say that she wasn’t a Catholic. Yes, I was a good girl and kept my mouth shut.
From there we walked up to another square, this one Santo Domingo. We wandered through a small street market, and I was disturbed by one stall which had two African Land Snails, one obviously dead. Seems that skin products are made from the slime of these large snails. Hmm… Can’t say I’m going to try that.
The bus collected us and we were taken up to the Panecillo viewpoint. A large statue of the Virgin Mary, snake thoroughly subdued under her feet, looks out across the city. We had time to wander and admire the views. Then we were taken back to our start point.
During the morning tour I had decided (and Richard as well) to book the afternoon tour to visit the Equator. We had 90 minutes to eat, collect our passports (you can get them stamped at the Equator), and return to the pick up point. Again only four of us on the tour, Richard, me, and the Puerto Rican couple. By the way, the guides both in the morning and the afternoon thought that Richard and I must be husband and wife! ‘We only met last night,’ I protested.
The bus chugged out of Quito. We stopped first at a rather odd museum which surrounds the (GPS certified) Equator. A guide showed us a traditional house, a rainforest home, and several shrunken heads. I couldn’t see what any of this had to do with the Equator. But I saw two hummingbirds so I was happy. At the Equator we took photos, watched a demonstration of water swirling in different directions down a plug hole (sorry, don’t buy it), and I was thrilled when I was able to balance a raw egg on the head of a nail. I even got a special certificate to celebrate my achievement!
We then stopped at the monument built for what had been thought to be the Equator. A number of tourist shops, all selling pretty much the same stuff, hugged the slope near the monument. For $2.00 (Ecuador uses the USA dollar for its national currency) I had another two stamps added to my passport. I also paused to photograph a plaque which told me that Bill Clinton had visited the same area.
We had some slow going through rush hour traffic back to our drop off point. Richard and I went back to the same restaurant for dinner (I had the red ale this time). Bed early. We’re being collected at 6.30am for the drive back to the airport.
I managed to stay asleep until 4am, so that’s progress. I had to get up at 5.15am as we were to be collected for the trip to the airport at 6.30am. The hotel put on an early breakfast for us, albeit without milk of any kind on offer! (Flavoured yoghurt seems to be what they expected guests to pour onto cereal.)
On the drive to the airport I was making my carry on plans. The limit, according to the airline’s website, was 7kg for a carry on. And my camera equipment comes to around twice that amount even before I slid a Macbook Air into the backpack. Before check in you have to put your bags through a scanner to ensure that you’re not bringing fresh fruit or other forbidden items into the Galapagos. I put my bags through the scanner, then disappeared to the toilet. In a stall I transferred lenses into my camera waistcoat. Then, with a much lighter backpack, I headed to check in.
Where they didn’t even bother to look at my carry on! So lenses back into backpack before going through security. I had plenty of time to have a coffee and to talk to a couple who are on the same ship.
The flight was around 75% full. Which might explain the lack of interest in the weight of carry ons. Just over three hours later we landed at Baltra. It was good to be out of the altitude, and to have the fresh sea air. We paid US$100 fee to enter, collected bags, and were met by our local guide. We boarded a local bus for the drive to the ferry, and then took the boat for the short crossing to Santa Cruz.
To my delight we were already seeing Frigate birds. Blue footed boobies were formation diving in the distance. As our boat neared Santa Cruz, the boobies decided to fly over us, and then start diving all around the nearby waters. My camera trigger finger itched, but I obediently followed our guide off the boat and listened to his instructions. He set us free for half an hour to admire the diving birds, advising us that this is not a sight we could expect to see every day. The boobies would fly as a group, to and fro, then suddenly dive into the water in a series of small explosions. The nearby pelicans seemed to watch in disdain.
Our group boarded a private bus which took us into the highlands. The weather changed from sunshine to grey and drizzle, the countryside from dry to lush green. Our destination was a ranch which has a large number of tortoises, and as we drew near we had to pause in the road to allow a tortoise to get out of our way. Which took a little while. ‘Believe it or not, he is actually running,’ said our guide as the tortoise crawled along.
Tortoises were eating all around the ranch complex. We had lunch (choices were tuna or chicken, with a rice and bean dish for vegetarians). Afterwards we walked through the meadows, photographing tortoises (we were asked to go no closer than six feet). We also saw various birds which I must try to identify. Our guide took us down to the lake, which was overgrown with a thick plant which is native to the area.
Afterwards we bumped down the road to the town of Puerto Ayora. We walked up to the Charles Darwin Centre, distracted by a number of birds and iguanas along the way. At the Centre various of the rarer Galapagos animals are bred. Sadly we couldn’t visit the tortoise nursery as the Centre was doing some work on the facilities. Then there was time to walk through the town. I bought some presents and enjoyed watching the sea lions and pelicans trying to steal scraps at the small fish market. Frigate birds would fly through without stopping.
Our guide was waiting for us near the harbour. We put on lifeboats and boarded a small rubber dinghy. The crew insisted on me not wearing my backpack. Instead they handed it from pier to dinghy, and I scarcely breathed as all my camera equipment was transferred. Then, of course, it was also handed over from the dinghy to the ship at the other hand. This will be the procedure for the entire holiday, so I’ll have to become accustomed to it!
By now it was past 6pm and the light was fading. We were released to our cabins. I’m sharing with a woman from Switzerland, Angelica. In fact, of the eleven travellers on board, four are British and seven are Swiss. So German is nearly the primary language on board. I can understand most of them quite well. We have a family of four, with two teenage children.
The cabin is small. Angelica and I sorted out how we can store our stuff. I have the bottom bunk, which is nearly the size of a double bed, so I’m using one side of the bed for my stuff. Angelica has the top bunk, which has less room, so she has most of the (limited) shelves. We both had showers, which I at least found a bit of a challenge. The spring tide is in, which is making the ship rock quite a bit. And our cabin is at the front of the ship.
Dinner was tuna with salad, vegetables, and mashed potato. Four of our party were unable to face food. The ship does provide seasickness tablets. So far I have been fine without, something which I hope continues to prove true. I have travelled on small ships before (our vessel, the Cachalote only offers sixteen berths) and not suffered.
We had our safety briefing after celebrating the older teenager’s seventeenth birthday (hmm, chocolate cake). Then I fetched computer and started working on photos.
We set off during the night to our first destination. The sound of the anchor being raised reverberated through our cabin. The ship rocked in the swell, which I always find somehow comforting rather than sickness inducing. I joked to my cabin mate, looking how we’d put all our stuff on our beds, up against the wall, that if the ship really rocked we’d be hit by our possessions. I could be killed by my own camera bag! ‘Well,’ said Angelica, ‘at least they could say that you died from something you loved.’
Woke up around 5am or so. We negotiated use of the bathroom (each cabin has its own, but there is no public facility) and went up to breakfast. We were situated in a natural harbour, which tamed the sea and the ship was rocking only very gently. Breakfast was cereal, toast, eggs fried with a mixture of vegetables and meat, cheeses, cold meat, and fruit. Decent coffee.
At 8am we set off to South Plaza island. A scrubby, desert like place. We had a small landing area, and had to step around a sea lion who had taken up residence. Iguanas eyed us arrogantly as we made our way up the path. At the cliffs we obeyed the sign which told us to ‘Stop’ and we admired the sea birds swirling over the waves below us. Frigate birds, shearwaters, a tern, and some others I need to identify. We also came across numerous seals, lying near the path. Small birds flew around, getting on with life, sometimes posing nicely and other times refusing do to so. We also saw a recently born sea lion pup, who was working out how to nurse.
After a couple of hours we headed back. Other groups were also on the island, so we had to take it in turns to board our dinghies. Anchor was lifted and we set off to our next island, Sante Fe. I got on with downloading the morning’s photographs. Although the passage was choppy I found that my stomach behaved even though my eyes were on the laptop rather than the horizon.
Lunch. Then our first opportunity to snorkel. My only other adult experience with snorkelling was in New Zealand, and I remember fighting against the equipment until the wild dolphins appeared. This time felt far more pleasant. I did bring my own half wetsuit, to give me some extra warmth in the water.
Our first swim was near some sea turtles. Then we were taken closer to the reef, where I was entranced by the fish life and, later on, close encounters with several sea lions. I’m beginning to understand why people snorkel and scuba dive. My new waterproof camera had a full work out.
Time for a quick shower, then we headed out for a late afternoon landing on Santa Fe island. This was a wet landing—onto sand—and my new hiking sandals had their first trip out. We strode into a colony of sea lions. At first we were all entranced by a young pup, only a few days old. Then it slowly dawned on us that the pup had been abandoned by its mother. It was searching in vain for a feed of milk, and will be dead of starvation within a few days. A horrific emotional plunge from wonder to dismay.
We skirted around a sea lion in the throes of giving birth (sounding none to pleased about it) and walked inland. The terrain was rocky, and the sandals gave my feet good support. Our guide walked barefoot, and as we met groups from other boats (going in the opposite direction to us) a number commented on his bare feet. ‘Our guide is stronger than your guide,’ I told them.
We managed (just as the light was fading) to find two of the native Galapagos rat. And two of the type of land iguana which can only be seen on Santa Fe. Then down to a different beach to be collected. My backpack got somewhat wet on the return trip, but as the manufacturer boasted the cover is waterproof.
Dinner, and then a briefing about tomorrow and the week ahead. Sounds like more snorkelling time—hurrah!
7am was the time to be ready for snorkelling near a rock formation called Kicker Rock. I decided to spend the time photographing the formation and the returning snorkelers. After breakfast we headed for a beach on San Cristobal Island. The option was for a walk, followed by swim/snorkelling. I dressed for walk to be followed by swim, so I took only my waterproof camera with me.
We were sidetracked by a pair of Humpback whales which cavorted near the shoreline. I was rather pleased not to have my expensive camera gear with me, as we were soaked in the dinghy as we tried to follow the whales. Several people went into the water to try to catch up with the whales, but with limited success.
We landed on the beach, which was beautiful. The white sand was the finest I’d ever come across. We walked along the beach, admiring the lava rocks, the sleeping sea lions, the scuttling crabs, and a marine iguana who swam away from us. A pelican dived into the surf hoping to catch a meal. The wind made the walk comfortable, but I was also aware of how quickly and badly some of my fellow travellers had become sunburned yesterday. I walked in the surf to try to keep the sun off my bare feet.
The snorkelling was not quite as magical as yesterday. I had a stubborn smear on my right lens, and the water was far less clear. But as I returned to shore I found that a young sea lion was entertaining those of us in the water. He kept coming up to give us a look, then diving down as if trying to teach us how to do it properly. The seventeen year old didn’t want to leave!
Back to the ship. We headed for the main town of San Cristobal, Puerto Moreno, eating lunch along the way. Four more people joined us, an American family from Montana. They had a late lunch, then we all were taken to the town. Bright sunshine greeted us as we boarded a private bus to head into the highlands.
The weather changed dramatically. As we passed by houses in various states of disrepair, with chickens and dogs hurrying off the road at our approach, grey clouds and mist drew in. At the highest point we were in fog. Then we dropped down again towards the coast. The fog lifted but the skies were still grey as we visited a tortoise breeding centre. We saw tortoises at various ages, from just a few years old (could fit onto my palm) to around twenty (large enough to be a footstool). The centre raises them to a certain age and then puts them into the wild. Due to invasive species such as introduced rats, the tortoises have a better chance to survive if they are protected until they reach a certain size.
We had hoped to climb up a local volcano for the views. As our guide pointed out, we’d be climbing in mist for no views. So we returned to the town.
Fishermen were offloading their catch, including a large swordfish, which had attracted an interested crowd of both humans and sea lions. Sea lions were spread all over the town, sleeping under and on benches, and lazing on the piers. I took a number of photos, then located a number from my party having a drink at a bar which offered free wifi. So I quickly put an update onto Facebook to let people know that I was still alive. The seventeen year old had be dragged away when it was time to leave.
Back to the ship. We had our welcome reception (delayed a day until the last four arrived) along with cocktails. We met the captain and crew. Most people departed for their cabins, leaving me to pick through the interesting German spoken by the Swiss who remained in the main area.
An interesting night’s travel. The ship rocked up and down, a motion I quite enjoy as it reminds me of rollercoasters. Others suffered, however.
Our first excursion was a beach landing on Espanola Island. This time we had to share the beach with some other groups. And the usual contingent of sea lions. I was intrigued by two clans of mockingbirds which decided to do battle. I put my camera shutter onto a high speed and managed to capture the action.
Several people tried without luck to swim with the sea lions. A large bull was off shore and not happy about our proximity to the females. There were also Blue footed boobies diving off shore and a Galapagos hawk circled overhead. A number of the group went sea kayaking.
Afterwards we went snorkelling by a nearby island. I fought a bit with the mask, trying to clear the glass on the inside. The water wasn’t as clear this time. We went near a cave of sea lions, and one played with our guide. He dived down and they spun around each other. Another swam past me, and I captured his intrigued face.
After lunch we went for a walk on another part of Espanola Island. I decided to finally take my 150-600mm lens with me. We were greeted by a Galapagos Hawk. Then we stopped in amazement at the sheer number of marine iguanas crowding both the landing platform and the beach. The bushes held a number of sea lion pups—obviously a nursery. The sun had come out and it was a hot stroll into the island and then back to the coast. We saw many Blue-footed boobies, including a chick. Then we climbed up again, and came across a pair of Waved albatross doing their mating ritual. More Waved albatross were scattered across the area. Mockingbirds followed us, begging for water, but our guide told us not to offer them any.
The sun was setting as we returned to our start point. I had packed camera equipment away, so only had my compact camera to hand when we strode only feet away from two American oystercatchers. I’ve never known oystercatchers to remain in place when humans come near.
After dinner our guide gave us the briefing for tomorrow. A possibility of penguins, and the entire ship knows that penguins are a priority for me! Someone asked if last night’s sail had been unusually rough. After the guide had said it had been rather smooth, there was a general charge for seasickness tablets.
The rocking this time was side to side. I hadn’t taken a tablet, and found I was okay so long as I did not try to work on the computer or to read. So I went to bed at 9.30pm, thinking I’d fall asleep and get up early. What I hadn’t been counting on was sliding across the bunk when the ship tipped dramatically. I didn’t really get to sleep until the ship had stopped and anchor dropped.
Coffee required to wake up after such a lack of sleep. At 8am we were out again (as usual), this time a wet landing at Cormorant Point. Our guide had actually told us that it was possible to walk barefoot on the trail. Several tried, and came to regret it. Mixed in with the sand were sharp volcanic stones.
I took photos of a finch who seemed intrigued by the sound of my camera shutter. She came nearer and nearer, then startled me by almost flying into the lens. The flamingoes kept a much calmer distance. We stopped at several viewpoints to admire them feeding and preening. We also saw several brightly coloured grasshoppers.
At a beach at the other side there was the opportunity to walk in the surf near to stingrays. Our guide drew the figure of a stingray into the sand to explain how to do the walk safely. ‘Some people say this looks like a sperm,’ he told us, whereupon a member of our party drew a small tail on the end. ‘Whether stingray or sperm,’ our guide responded, ‘both are dangerous.’ ‘Which is what mothers tell their daughters,’ said another member.
I hunted shorebirds with my big lens and watched others walk amongst stingrays. Then another group joined us and the birds took off. I admired the stingrays from a safe distance. As we headed back up the path we discovered several finch nests. There had been the hope to see penguins back at our starting beach, but no such luck. We did watch two Blue-footed boobies do their mating dance before heading back to the ship.
The snorkelling option was around the sunken caldera of a volcano. I fought a bit more with my mask again before finally getting it smear free. The visibility was very good. Most of us were unable to make our way through the current around the other side, and climbed into one of the dinghies. So eight of us were returned to the ship.
Of course, you can predict what happened. Those who remained out a little longer came back with tales and video of their swim with penguins. When our guide emerged at lunchtime he looked suitably embarrassed. I have been promised penguins, definitely, later in the voyage!
After lunch a very brief stop at Post Office Bay. Back in the days when whalers came to these islands, they would drop off letters at a barrel in this bay, and take away any they thought they could deliver or pass on to be delivered. So people today leave postcards, and also view the postcards already there to see if they can deliver any of them. I found two close enough to me that I should be able to get them to the appropriate addresses.
Back on the ship, three sails were hoisted. However, romantic as this looked, the engine was still used as the wind was not coming in the right direction for us. Several people took turns handling the wheel. We were amused by the Frigate birds getting a free ride on the rigging above us (we were less amused when droppings landed on the deck). Storm petrels flew around us, and we saw a couple of albatrosses. And the briefest glimpse of a dolphin. I enjoyed a beer as I sat on the sundeck.
We anchored, and after dinner went outside with torches to look for wildlife. Seems sharks and sea lions are attracted by the lights of a ship, and indeed we saw a number of sharks gliding under the surface. And we also witnessed a thrilling race between sea lion and flying fish. In the end the sea lion caught the fish near the boat, frightening a pelican who had been doing a quiet bit of fishing himself. Despite the ship’s lights, the Milky Way was easily visible.
Being at anchor in calm waters meant we all had a good night’s sleep. What a relief.
We landed on Cerro Dragon on Santa Cruz Island. A dry landing, we were told. What we hadn’t quite anticipated was coming off onto lava rocks in a swell. I entrusted my backpack (‘My baby’ we’ve started calling it) to our guide to sling up the rocks for me so I could concentrate in leaving the dinghy in safety.
A cloudless day, very warm. I envied my fellow passengers for being able to walk in shorts and t-shirts. Mindful of my first (and, I hope, only) touch of skin cancer I always keep covered up. We walked past a lagoon with several flamingoes, much closer than yesterday’s flock, and then inland. This is the dry season, and the vegetation bore out the name. We saw more ground finches, dragonflies, a flycatcher and, sadly, wasps. Wasps have been brought to the islands by human activity. We were also amused by the bumblebees, which love bright clothing and so were attracted to Paul’s colourful sunhat.
We encountered a couple of land iguanas, who were less keen on having photos taken than on other islands. Some Sulphur butterflies, and I spotted one Monarch butterfly. We walked up to a lovely viewpoint before dropping back down inland and back to our starting point. There we had some time to laze on the beach, watch a marine iguana enter the surf, and avoid a dying sea lion. A small heron posed near the lagoon.
The return was slightly hairy. Off those sharp rocks again, into dinghies which were rising and falling in the swell. I handed over my backpack at both ends of the journey and didn’t breathe properly until it was safely on the ship. Our guide has tried to assure me that my backpack will always be safe in his hands!
We set off to our next destination, the ship rocking and rolling in the waves. Possibly the most ship movement we’ve had yet. Lunch was served after we’d arrived at our destination, Sullivan Bay on Santiago Island. Later in the afternoon we went for a walk on the lava field, formed only 115 years ago when a nearby volcano erupted. As we were going snorkelling straight after the walk, I only took my waterproof camera. The shapes formed by the lava were intriguing, and it was also rather hot on those black rocks. Best of all, we saw a penguin in the water! Our guide was so relieved.
We readied ourselves for snorkelling and left from the beach. The water clarity varied immensely, but I was pleased to have a clear patch when a sea turtle swam beneath me. We also saw stingrays, and a few people saw penguins. Not me…
After dinner people went out on deck to look for sharks. One family has a GoPro camera, and wanted to lower it into the water to try to film the sharks. A high level of invention came to the fore, as a pole was found, rope was produced, and the camera was tied to the end of the pole. Footage of swimming sharks!
A bit of a rocky night. I slept okay, but had strange dreams about shuddering houses and flooded caravan parks.
We woke up to Genovesa Island and rain. Hmph. Our landing was on volcanic rocks with steep steps, so I decided to take just the one camera and lens and to put them into a waterproof carrier. We paused in the dinghies to admire the fur seals (we’ve only seen sea lions thus far). As we climbed up the volcanic steps a seagull complained at us.
We walked past wonderful, and very wet, birdlife. Red-footed boobies rested in the trees, and Nazca boobies on the ground. Many Darwin finches, with their large bills, hopped about. I was worried about protecting my camera, so it only came out for a few quick shots before being dumped back into the carrier. We spotted two Short eared owls, and I risked the camera for a quick photo.
Afterwards we all tried to find space in our showers and cabins for our wet clothes. Only a few people were interested in going snorkelling, even with the temptation of seeing Hammerhead sharks. I decided to stay in the dry (rather than put on wet swimsuit and wet wetsuit). Those who did go were successful in their mission, although the sharks swam away from them rather than vice versa.
The weather cleared by afternoon, and the sun emerged from a nearly cloudless sky. Several people went kayaking. After they came back we landed on a nearby beach. The sand was mixed with coral, the bushes were full of birds, and the photography (when the sun wasn’t glaring) was terrific. I chased a small brown finch and photographed various juvenile birds. For some time I watched a Red-footed boobie go down into the bushes, find a stick, fly in a circle to land with it into the nest—only to be told off by his mate every time. Later on I joined Richard to photograph two gulls attempting (and failing) to mate.
When we came to board our dinghy a Red-footed boobie had decided to land on the engine. Our guide removed him, and the bird decided to come back with us. He transferred readily from person to person, and then finally stayed behind on the dinghy when we boarded the ship. ‘We’ve brought dinner with us!’ we shouted up at the chef when he came out to check out the reason for our laughter.
We had cocktails and the leaving dinner for the thirteen who will leave us tomorrow. Then it was time to sail back. A very rough night. I enjoy the sensation of the ship bouncing against the waves, but sadly a number of our party were ill, despite taking seasickness tablets. Some of us sat outside for awhile, at the back of the ship. Then I went to bed, although I didn’t really sleep until we finally came to rest. The sound of the anchor descending was a wonderful one to hear!
Early rise. At 6am we boarded the dinghies for an hour’s trip through the mangroves. We saw sharks and marine turtles in the clear waters beneath us. Pelicans roosted in the trees and on the rocks. As we returned to the ship we had the thrilling sight of Blue-footed boobies doing their rapid fire group diving. I took many photos trying to capture the spectacle, both from the dinghies and after we boarded the ship. Then we motored away, so I went in for breakfast.
We disembarked. All of us went to the airport, where Richard and I said our goodbyes. Then he and I took the bus and the ferry to the next island. When we had done the crossing a week ago, we’d been treated to the diving Blue-footed boobies. No such luck this time. Plus the plane was delayed, so it was five hours before the new group joined us. We were able to amuse ourselves by taking photos of the local bird life and watching sharks and fish in the clear waters at the harbour.
As per last week, we went to the tortoise farm for lunch. People had fun crawling inside the empty shells. We had a short walk to admire the tortoises. Then a quick stop at some lava tubes, where we saw a Barn owl resting inside. Very dark conditions, of course, so it was more a time to admire the bird than get a good photo.
Down into the town, where I did some gift shopping. I found the Swiss family (who are staying on the island another couple of days) in a cafe, using the wifi and drinking beers. They accompanied us to the embarkation point. Then we went over to the ship. I left my new cabin mate to unpack her stuff. The same safety briefing as last week, and then people went their separate ways for the evening.
Slept well until we set off in the night, and I started sliding across the bunk again. It’s now been several nights since I had my full sleep!
After breakfast we landed at an island called Chinese Hat, so named because of the shape of the volcanic cone on the island. On the way we found a penguin! The dinghies stopped for photos. Wet landing, with a walk over a lava and coral beach, so we all paused to put shoes on. Richard and I are now quite accustomed to sea lions and marine iguanas, so we mostly walked past such sights. Of course, for all the others on board this was one of their first sightings of said creatures, so much stopping for photography.
The beach was covered in pieces of coral. I’ve never walked on anything like it. The wind had picked up and waves were crashing against the lava reefs. We saw a two day old sea lion pup with its mother and others in the water.
Back to the ship. The newcomers were fitted out with snorkelling gear, and out we went. This was the best dive yet. Lots of fish life, mostly clear conditions, and several sightings of White-tipped reef sharks. My underwater camera was keep quite busy.
After lunch the sails were hoisted and we had 90 minutes of sailing to our next destination. Many of us sat on the sun deck to admire the crew at work and to watch the occasional wave break over the prow. There was an opportunity for another snorkel, which about half undertook. I stayed on board and worked on photos. Putting on a wet swimsuit and then a wet wetsuit just didn’t appeal.
Our final landing for the day was at Rabida Island. The sand is red from volcanic activity, and quite coarse. We walked into the interior of the island, admiring the cactus trees. The native giant tortoises and land iguanas are extinct, and so the cacti are actually losing the protection they no longer need from such animals (the spines are getting smaller and softer). We admired views from several points, before stopping at a freshwater lake where we saw White-cheeked pintail ducks. The light was already fading fast at this point.
As we waited on shore for the dinghies a shark fin was spotted in the water. Our guide told us quite confidently that this was from a Hammerhead shark. We decided not to dangle any fingers or toes in the water.
Dinner. We all wore the yellow t-shirts given to us by the crew—yellow with the logo of the ship. The TV in the dining area was on, showing the world cup qualifying match between Ecuador and Argentina. We decided we’d better support Ecuador—we didn’t want the crew to throw us overboard into shark infested waters! When Ecuador scored their first goal, I thought the waiter/bartender was going to burst into tears. In the end they won two-nil.
Cocktail reception with captain and crew. Then some went outside to shine torches into the water to look for sharks. I stayed in to talk and to catch up on photos.
Slept a bit better, despite the rocking and rolling. I am beginning to feel a bit sleep deprived.
Our morning excursion was to Volcano Sierra Negra. We disembarked the dinghies at the pier for the small town, Puerta Villamil, and then squeezed into a small bus to be taken to the start of the trail. There are two options, and our guide decided for the steeper and shorter one. There was a fine mist when we started, but that cleared to give us sunshine.
But there had obviously been much rain, as the trail was very muddy. And therefore slippery. We stopped once for our guide to tell us a bit about the plant life we were seeing, much of it not native to the island. We also met a male Vermillion flycatcher, who posed very willingly for photographs.
The trail reminded me of queuing at Disneyland. Just when you think you’ve got there, you have yet another section to get through. We finally emerged at the top, and the size of the crater was amazing. Even with my 16-35mm wide angle there was no way I could get it all in. We stayed for awhile to admire the views, and two Monarch butterflies who swirled around the green grasses.
As ever, downhill is more difficult than up. As I was carrying quite a bit of camera kit, if I slipped then the backpack would pull me sideways. I had two slips in the mud, but only my pride was damaged. I washed my hands at the facilities at the start of the trail and did my best to take some of the mud off the backpack. The trousers were beyond such easy measures.
We stopped at a lagoon to admire the flamingoes. As we headed for the dinghies, of course this was when the Blue-footed boobies decided to do their diving display. I watched with frustration as we were taken back to the ship for lunch. I changed on the ship, and after lunch I hosed down the trousers and hung them out to dry.
We went back ashore at 3pm. A bus took us to a tortoise breeding centre, where we saw many tortoises at various ages. Our guide showed us an egg, preserved embryos, and then the owner of the centre brought out a five month old tortoise called Donatello. We all fell in love with the little guy and I threatened to sneak him into my backpack.
Afterwards I had a short walk through the town. The place looks to be building for tourist trade, with various wifi cafes and hotels. I made my way back to the beach, and in the fading light took photos of diving pelicans and swimming penguins. The speed of the penguins was amazing, as was their ability (easy to see in the clear water) to turn and dive. Some of our group went into the water but didn’t manage to swim with the penguins.
A rumour went around that there was going to be a storm. Our guide dispelled that, but did suggest that we all consider taking seasickness pills. So even I did so. The ship set off at 8.30pm, so by 9pm I’d gone below, managed to brush my teeth, and get into bed. It was rather a wild night. In fact, a couple of times I think I was even lifted off the bunk. So not much sleep again…
Staggered out of my bunk at 6.30am. Much coffee at breakfast.
Our landing was on the lava fields of Moreno Point, Isabela Island. The broken rocks and lava structures were interesting, and even more intriguing were the lakes which had formed here and there. We saw White-cheeked pin-tailed ducks feeding in one lake, and fish darting around in another. I only took one camera and lens, and was very pleased with my decision. No doubt I would have been unbalanced at some point with a heavy backpack.
Then snorkelling near the shore. The goal was to see marine turtles. There were a good number of them, and in fact a couple of times I was hard pressed not to bump into them. The water was only really clear near the reefs, not further out, but I was conscious of not being washed up against the sharp volcanic rocks.
We travelled to our next destination during lunch. After several hours free time, we boarded the dinghies to ride over to the nearby mangrove forests. We first stopped to admire a solitary penguin and two flightless cormorants. In the still, clear waters we saw a large group of rays. I’ve never seen before how beautifully and gracefully they swim under water. Penguins appeared from time to time, and the heads of a couple of sea turtles broke the surface. The waters offered lovely reflections of the mangroves. We also came across two sea lions sleeping in the trees. ‘Tree lions’ we decided to call them.
As we headed back we came across a Blue-footed boobie. Richard and I saw lots last week, but of course this group hasn’t seen them that close. But we had to wait our turn. Two dinghies from another ship were busy photographing and admiring the bird, and when we took our turn the poor creature looked rather confused at all the attention.
Back to the ship. The sun was setting. A number of us grabbed beers and sat on the sundeck to admire the sunset. And the frigate birds circling overhead. I was asked to take some photos, and found that the pocket of my trousers is large enough to hold a beer bottle. ‘Hey,’ I said, ‘I have a beer pocket!’ ‘Chrys,’ said one of them, ‘you have so many pockets I’m not surprised.’
The welcome news at the evening’s briefing was that the ship wouldn’t lift anchor until 5am. Hurrah! However, another ship was headed for the morning’s landing site, Urbina Bay. We agreed to have breakfast at 6.30am with the idea of landing by 7.30am, thus beating the other group (of which there are fifty).
What bliss, a night of uninterrupted sleep. Well, until 5am, when we set off again. So I got up at 5.30am, and was in the living area when our guide charged in. ‘Dolphins! Dolphins by the ship!’ I charged downstairs, hammering on cabin doors shouting ‘Dolphins!’ while I hurried to collect my camera.
The Bottle-nosed dolphins were swimming beside the ship and around us. We saw them jumping and swimming, and the captain turned the ship several times to keep close to them. Several people had emerged in their pyjamas, but no one was complaining. It was wonderful to see them so close and sad when they left.
We still left the ship around 7.30am. I was in the second dinghy. The first was nearly at our beach landing site when several very large waves swelled past us. We heard yelps from the first dinghy as water splashed over the sides. The dinghy came back into deeper waters, and after a few minutes the huge waves were gone.
Landing was onto sand and some rather sharp volcanic rocks. Sand ground into the deep cut I still have from the scrape of rock inside sandals, and I hobbled painfully to a rock to try to clear the wound before sliding on socks and shoes. We stopped by the shore to look at some recently dug marine turtle nests.
We walked through a very dry area brightened by the yellow flowers of Ecuadorian cotton plants. Bumblebees were in evidence. Sadly, so was a thin black cat. No, it does not belong here and feral cats cause great damage to the native animals. I think that, had he been on his own, our guide would have dealt with the cat. (Yes, he meant permanently.) But aware that this might cause upset, he said he would be contacting the national park authority from the ship, and they would come to deal with it.
We came across a number of land iguanas, so of which posed for us, others scurried away. There were a number of iguana nests dug into the soil, and we disturbed one very pregnant iguana who looked like she was about to go inside to lay her eggs. We quickly moved past so she could return to her nest.
We had landed early because another ship, with fifty passengers, was also planning to visit the same area. They had just disembarked when we were returning to the beach. The intention had been to go snorkelling from the beach, but this was called off due to the wave action. Getting back onto the dinghies was interesting. The dinghy washed up onto the shore, and we tried to get in as quickly as possible. Many wet trousers resulted, but we all got off the beach.
We travelled to Tagus Cove, hoping but failing to see any whales along the way. The amount of graffiti on the cliffs was rather alarming and annoying. We landed and found a juvenile Galapagos hawk waiting to greet us. He posed for a number of photos and showed us how well he could flex his neck. We climbed a set of steps and continued up a dry trail. Views over the volcanic crater, now filled with seawater, became clearer and clearer. We could see our ship, plus the larger one which had followed us earlier in the day. The light was flat and the air very humid. At the top we admired the views both ways.
After returning to the ship we prepared for snorkelling. The fish life near the shore was quite good. Visibility varied. I was thrilled to swim through two different shoals of fish, one of them Puffers! I saw several marine turtles. Others saw penguins and flightless cormorants but, alas, the birds didn’t come near to me.
Once back on board I treated myself to a beer and worked on photos. Dinner was fun. One of my fellow travellers complained that, here we are in a country known for its chocolate, and we’d not had any. Next thing we knew, our waiter had brought out two chocolate bars for us to share around!
Another night of good sleep, uninterrupted by travelling.
Our first landing was Espinoza Point. A dry landing on lava rocks, and we saw a Night heron and a Flightless cormorant nearby. But the main reason for our visit was to see marine iguanas. And we did. Piled up over each other, swimming through the waves, and sometimes being chased by sea lions (who do so for fun—on the sea lions’ side, that is). Our walk alternated between lava rocks and sand, with the mangroves nearby. We watched a young sea lion for awhile, who was playing in a small tidal pool with leaves, sticks, anything he could find. I was pleased to find Lava lizards resting on the heads of marine iguanas—a rather amusing sight, in my opinion. We came across nesting Flightless cormorants. Our guide explained that the male incubates the eggs, while the female goes fishing. Sometimes the female abandons the male for another one, who then also incubates her latest eggs.
We headed back to the ship and changed for snorkelling, with the hope of seeing marine iguanas feeding under water. We did, but we also had to share the dive site with people from another ship. I swam alongside a couple of marine iguanas, and had a quick view of a Flightless cormorant swimming underwater. I was also buzzed by a friendly sea lion, who kept swimming towards me and then zooming away.
We then travelled to Vicente Roca Point. The intention had been for a dinghy ride along the shore and into a cave. But as we motored off we passed the fins of several Sunfish. So we returned to the ship and changed into wetsuits with the hope of swimming with them.
Of course, by the time we headed out again they were hard to spot. And our dinghy had a rather alarming encounter. We suddenly found ourselves alongside a Manta ray which was a large as the dinghy! We stared in wonder at the huge creature as it quickly exited the area. None of us had any desire to enter the water with it.
The guide came over to our dinghy and we tried several times to swim with the Sunfish. We came across one of the fins. ‘Jump, jump now!’ he shouted. I went in, along with one other person, but the rest didn’t. The Sunfish disappeared. ‘People,’ said the guide as we climbed back in, ‘when I say “Jump” you must jump.’ We tried again, found a Sunfish, and jumped in. Again most of us didn’t see the creature. ‘You did it wrong,’ said our guide as we climbed in again. ‘You held your heads above the water. You must put your heads into the water. The Sunfish passed underneath three of you.’ We later teased him about all this. ‘I haven’t been told off that much since I was twelve years old,’ I told him later, ‘and that was by my mother.’
But finally what I had hoped to do all trip long. I swam with a penguin! The little guy appeared, did some feeding around me, then zipped away. I tried to follow, but he was too quick for me.
Back to the ship, and then of course we saw a Sunfish just off the side. We lifted anchor and began a long journey. At 4.15pm we crossed the Equator. We were all invited up to the wheelhouse, where the waiter how somehow managed to carry up glasses for cocktails despite the rocking of the ship. We hit the magical multiple zeros, and then the captain crossed again for us. Afterwards I sat outside, later going down briefly for a beer, which I drank as the sun went down.
The journey became rougher. I find the rocking motion quite soothing, and so after dinner I actually went to bed. Some who stayed up had some fun with the guide’s whiteboard. They wrote up their own version of a briefing, including lots of drinks and dinghy racing.
People emerged slowly for breakfast. This morning we had to pack for a walk and a snorkel from the beach, so lots of various bags dangled from shoulders as we boarded the dinghies.
We landed at Puerto Egas and walked over a mixture of lava rocks (some rather slippery) and sand. This island had once been settled by humans, and we saw remains of fence posts. Our hope was to see Fur seals (also a type of sea lion) and we were not disappointed. One kept us interested for some time as he threw a piece of tuna around inside of a cove, as a method of tearing off chunks of meat. Frigate birds dived in to collect scraps. We also saw Lava herons, and pelicans fishing off shore. Seagulls would harry the pelicans for scraps, even so far as landing on their heads.
A couple of male Lava lizards squared off for a fight. We stayed to watch, but they simply did push ups to try to impress the nearby females. ‘And no one,’ said our guide, ‘is paying any attention to the Galapagos hermit crab by our feet.’ I rather wish I had, as he gave us more action than the lizards.
We changed on the beach for snorkelling, and our possessions were taken back to the ship for us. There was nothing new to see in the reefs, and it was somewhat sad to realise that this would be our last snorkel for the trip.
Back on board and several hours’ travel to Bartolome. Our guide had to chase sea lions off the disembarkation steps. We then started up the many wooden steps up to the viewpoint. The winds were quite fierce, particularly at the top. The area is a volcanic field, very dry and red-black. I tried not to grumble that the light was in the wrong direction! And, just for me, one last penguin flashed past in the sea as we boarded the dinghies.
Back onto the ship, and off we motored. A bit rough, so I sat upstairs and caught up on photos. We had our leaving cocktails before dinner, and after dinner I went down to the cabin to pack. My case seems much lighter than when I came out, which is a bit worrisome. I am leaving my wetsuit on board, as a gift to the crew. I don’t know when I’d use it again.
We anchored overnight, so I had a good night’s sleep. We had our last landing at 6am, on North Seymour. Dawn cast golden light on the Blue-footed boobies which greeted our landing. Overhead were more boobies and Frigate birds. Our goal was to see the mating display of Magnificent frigate birds, and we were not disappointed. Several males were sitting in branches, their red pouches expanded as they waited for passing females to have a look. We also saw the remains of birds which had become entangled in the branches and unable to free themselves.
I was very pleased to finally have a good shot of an American oystercatcher. We also saw a Plover and a Sanderling. Two young sea lions wrestled for a time in front of us. And then, around the corner, a Blue-footed boobie doing his dance, trying to impress the nearby female (who simply looked bored). He lifted one foot, then another, and lifted his head to sound a long reedy sounding whistle.
We passed a nest with two boobie chicks. Very rarely do both make it to maturity. And another male Magnificent frigate bird displaying. Then back to the ship for breakfast, final pack, and we left.
We admired sea lions and marine iguanas before our bus came and took us to the airport. It was a bit of wait before our check-in luggage appeared. I gave the guide my backpack to look after so that the check in desk wouldn’t notice it. My check in bag was well under the weight.
Then we had nearly three hours to spend at the airport. There are a number of souvenir shops, and I bought presents. Finally our plane arrived, and we left on time. The journey did not continue so smoothly. The plane stopped at Guayaquil, as planned, and those of us who were going on to Quito stayed on board as ordered. After 30 minutes we were told to get off. A plastic card with the word ‘Transito’ was handed to us, and we were told to get onto the next, later flight. As we sat in the departure lounge we could see men working on the plane which we were supposed to take. We did wonder whether we would have the same seats, as surely other people had already been booked on the flight we were now taking? We were given priority in boarding, and we took our original seats without any battles.
Richard and I were collected at the airport (the local operator having had to work out that we were on a later plane) and we were very pleased to reach our hotel. We ate in their restaurant and each enjoyed a large beer!
I slept well, although I woke with a bit of a high altitude headache. We weren’t collected for our trip to the airport until noon, so I had a leisurely morning doing some re-packing (easier in a large hotel room than in a small cabin) and working on my last photographs.
The trip to the airport was easy, as was check-in—no one was interested in the weight of my carry on this time (although I had slipped a few lenses into my waistcoat as a precaution). We flew to Guayaquil, and had to get off the ‘plane, go through security, and wait an hour before boarding again. At least I had my two episodes of ‘Doctor Who’ (downloaded from BBC iPlayer) to keep me amused during the twelve hour flight.
I changed flights in Amsterdam, and came home to a grey and cold Birmingham around 5pm. And then drove home, admiring the autumnal colours and missing the bird life of the Galapagos!
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