Category Archives: Ecuador

Geology in the raw in the Galapagos

This entry is being typed en route to Fiji from L.A.  Mom just joined us in L.A.  With the help of a couple of good sleeping pills, I got a little sleep during the 3 flights yesterday; the kids did not fare so well.  I’m taking advantage of some down time with a little table in front of me to write the final Galapagos blog entry.  My 2nd round of sleeping pills will kick in shortly …
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3 days later … We’ve been in Fiji for 3 days now – we’re staying with friends Rhonda, Henry & Ben on one of the outer islands (Henry is from here).  Absolutely beautiful. Fantastic snorkeling yesterday.  Great fishing today.  Tenting seaside has been idyllic. Very hot but so far we’ve had cooling breezes.  Internet connectivity a challenge here hence the dearth of communication … but we’ll be busy writing in the days to come …
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The Galapagos are remarkable for many reasons.  Jake talked about the amazing “underworld”.  Kaia talked about the wonderful marine iguanas and sea lions.  I wrote earlier about the boobies and other lovely birds.  And Yvonne talked about the story of species decimation and subsequent recovery efforts.  Perhaps what is most obviously remarkable about the Galapagos is the geologic story they tell.  They are a living lab of volcanism, that is so easily explored on a cruise such as ours.

To understand these islands, you have to understand the concept of plate tectonics over a “hot spot”.  A hot spot is a place in the earth’s mantle that has magma welling up to the crust (through convection).  Scientists don’t really understand what creates these hot spots deep in the earth’s core, but the upwelling lava ultimately breaks through the crust and creates volcanoes.  Add to this the reality of plate tectonics – whereby the crust is moving over the magma below – and you get a string of volcanoes as the plate moves over the hotspot.  The most famous of such a string is the archipelago of the Hawaiian Islands.  The island over the hot spot is usually the largest and is “active” (eg. the newest island Hawaii is furthest west) while the oldest island has moved past the hot spot and is now inactive and heavily eroded.

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This is exactly what is going on in the Galapagos.  The plate that the islands are sitting on is moving east, just as the Hawaiian islands are.  So not suprisingly, the eastern islands of San Cristobal and Floreanna are nearly flat and highly eroded, while the western islands of Isabela and Fernandina have high, active volcanoes.  In fact they recently discovered (underwater) “sea mounts” off the east side of the islands (see map below).  These mounts were Galapagos Islands 4 million years ago before they were eroded away.  They also filled in a missing piece of the evolution story for scientists.  The oldest present day island is about 5 million years.  But evolutionary scientists felt like 5 million years was not enough to explain the adaptive changes of present day wildlife species.  But adding in the 4 million years of these previous islands (now sea mounts) apparently completes the evolutionary story.

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I’ll start the photo story on the island of Santiago which lies in the middle of the grouping.  We went ashore on lava that looked like it had cooled just days or years ago.  In fact it was just a little more than 100 years old.

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Santiago Island - an old volcano in the distance with a very new lava flow in the foreground

It was remarkable to walk on this lava – the patterns were fantastic.  You very easily could imagine that a liquid had cooled.

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different colours represent different mineral content - usually presence/absence of iron

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Victor is explaining all things lava. Each time we went ashore he'd remind us to wear good shoes because of the sharp lava. When we pointed out that he was taking his own advice (have a look in picture) he said his shoes were "made in Ecuador" and were up to the task. 🙂
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look carefully ... you can see where lava has cooled around a small log ... and the log has subsequently decomposed
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here's the same "log" formation ... from ground level
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classic "pahoi pahoi" lava - it looks like rope, or the skin of a cooked pudding as it is pulled back
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Victor got caught in this lava flow, but was wearing a heat protective suit so is still smiling. We had to wait till the lava cooled before we could extract him. 😉
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not your average hike!
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The extent of the most recent eruption is so clear here
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lava cactus has taken root ...and is the only living vegetation in sight
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looking back across the lava to Bartholome Island and our Floreana boat

That afternoon we climbed to the top of Bartholome Island. 

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The boardwalk up to the peak of Bartholome was built to prevent erosion caused by foot traffic. Lava cactus in the foreground.
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This plant "Taquilla" is very susceptible to erosion; hence the boardwalk

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Bartholome too was an old volcano.  But in this case, you could clearly see the small “parasitic” cones where small fissures allowed magma to form cones around the main cone.

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note the many "parasitic" cones
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a parastic cone visible from atop Bartholome, with the extensive lava flow across the channel on Santiago (where we'd just hiked earlier that day)
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later afternoon light on the Floreana from atop Bartholome
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From atop Bartholome, we could see our next day's objective - the aptly named "China Hat"

ok … just woke up.  3 more hours to Fiji ..

China Hat was a volcanic “plug” surrounded with slopes of lava.  The main attraction here was a sea lion nursery (that Kaia showed photos of).  However I was enthralled with the power of the surf crashing onto the lava shores.

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Although the islands are generally "stark" in their appearance, we would discover pockets of vivid colour like this.,

Here’s a photo I included in an earlier blog post, showing the tunnels left behind when a volcano subsided and the lava retreated from its lava tube.

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Genovesa Island is a circle - the remains of an eroding volcanic cone. The bay you see here is the crater "lake" (but is open to the sea in one spot)

In the last few days we moved west to the newest (and most active) islands of Isabela and Fernandina.  Isabela has no less than 6 volcanoes on it (its “plate” was moving a little north-south as it also moved east, hence the pattern of volcanoes (see map at start of this entry).  These volcanoes are at about 1400m, and have massive craters in them.  Even though they haven’t spewed lava in the past 30 years, they are still active; a large crater lake disappeared from volcanic activity about 20 years ago.  We went ashore on Isabella and climbed up past a crater lake just inside the island that was part salt and part fresh.

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Note our Floreana boat in the background. It carries max. 16 passengers. Next to us at this point pulled in a cruise ship carrying 100 passengers. They came ashore in waves. Glad we were on the Floreana!
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here is our mildly sunburned family, with Isabela island backdrop
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I liked the pattern formed by these seasonally dormant trees on the side of the crater. The green will come roaring back to life in the rainy season of Dec-Feb.
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looking across at 1400m Darwin volcano from Fernandina Island

Fernandina is the youngest island, and fully erupted in 2010.  Victor was leading a tour at Genovesa Island at the time and received permission to change his itinerary to take his clients to see the eruption.  Now THAT would have been pretty cool!

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Young Fernandina Island. The southern end of the island is directly over the hot spot. Note the parasitic cones (lava traveling through smaller secondary fissures)
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the shore visit to Fernandina Island at Punta Espinola was outstanding for many reasons, including seeing this reassembled whale skeleton that had washed onto the shore

One of our favorite shore visits was on the smaller island if Rabida, known as the “red island”.  I believe it is mostly a high iron content that led to this colouration.

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From this vantage point on Rabida Island we watched sea turtles swimming and huge manta rays surfacing and splashing their "wings"

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Family photo. We tried to adopt these two friendly sea lions but the Park rules have some crazy reason that forbids this.
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sorry .... couldn't resist ...
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interesting formations on Santa Cruz
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Galapagos fur seals were relaxing in the pool created by this natural bridge
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again ... we had to be careful not to step on the marine iguanas

I’ll finish out the blog with some photos that capture a bit of what it’s like to live aboard a Galapagos cruise boat.

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our crew - captain, mate, sailor, steward, engineer. Victor is not in this picture.
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sunrise on our final day at sea
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sunset over Isabela Island
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we would typically get in from our 2nd snorkeling outing by 5PM and would have chance for a relaxed drink before 7PM dinner.

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getting to/from zodiacs is something we did about 8 times/day
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the Floreana
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carrying around a giant tortoise shell is harder than it looks!

We parted company with our crew and cruise companions upon arriving back at Baltra Island.  The cruise had surpassed any of our expectations.  Unfortunately expensive – few folks (well … OK … 60,000/yr) are as fortunate as us to be able to experience this.  But probably just as well for those lovely creatures.

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All good things must come to an end ... 😦
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This logo on the plane pretty much sums up our experience in Ecuador. I now am the proud owner of a similar t-shirt to remind me.

Wow … the Galapagos.  Next entry we’ll be back on mainland.  Until then ….

Cam

  

Up close and personal in the Galapagos

I’m sitting in a coffee shop in La Paz Bolivia. Tomorrow we start the marathon of flights to Fiji at 4 AM, so we head to the airport tonight. La Paz – Bogota. Bogota – Houston. Houston – Los Angeles. 5 hours in Los Angeles then 12 hours overnight to Fiji. I can tell you envy this amazing flight itinerary… But Fiji will be really nice. And we meet our Grandma in LA and she will stay in Fiji with us for a week.  We will be relaxed there so stay tuned for lots of updates! In this entry I’ll talk about two animals in the Galapagos: sea lions and marine iguanas.

Sea Lions
These animals originally came from California, but they were isolated for so long that they evolved into a new species. The Galapagos sea lions are still very similar to their Californian cousins, they even still have the same Latin name. What’s the difference between a sea lion and a seal? Our guide Victor explained that sea lions have external ears, and seals don’t.
I think that sea lions are like the puppies of the ocean. The story of their life: play in the waves for a while, eat some fish (there are more fish than they could ever eat), then sleep on the beach! Sounds good to me. The babies especially are very curious. When I tried to get a picture with one on the beach, respecting the 2 meter rule, the little guy came up to me and tried to touch me! Victor told me not to let him, because mothers and babies only recognize each other by smell, so my smell can’t touch him.

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What's a kiss without a mustache?
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Victor estimated this guy to be two days old!
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This is yoga- sea lion style!
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I guess this is relaxation pose!
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this one took a break from playing to observe the rare gringo
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Being so gorgeous is exhausting...
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On the red beach of Rabida Island

Now for the fun part… underwater pictures! Even the big males got playful one day. I cannot describe the feeling of sea lions surrounding you and doing flips around you in the water… maybe magical works. Keep in mind that these pictures are not zoomed in, they are taken with GoPro.

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I believe I can fly...
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Can you spot the odd one out? Look closely!
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This guy got the honour of becoming my phone's new wallpaper
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Kate got so excited when this happened! We learned after that swimming with sea lions was her number one goal coming to Galapagos.

Here are a few very short videos of these guys playing in the water:


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Here's what we saw in Porta Villamil, Isabela Island! The animals really aren't afraid of people.

Marine Iguanas
Yes, you read that right, marine iguanas! These guys don’t have quite as easy a life as the sea lions. Since there is no food for them on land, they have evolved to eat algae off the rocks, metres below the surface! In the morning, they have to warm up their blood in the sun, because they are coldblooded. Then, they take the plunge! They can hold their breath for up to nine minutes! By the time they come up for air, they must get out of the water fast, or their muscles will tense up in the cold Galapagos water. It’s difficult for them to get in and out of the water, because the waves thrash them around. But the hardest part is that baby sea lions enjoy playing with them. Not killing or hurting, just playing. Just what the Marine Iguana needs when its muscles are tensing up and it’s so tired.
They ingest so much salt water while underwater, that they have a special gland in their head to take out the salt from their body. Then, they sneeze it all out!

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Enlarge this picture to see them better- they blocked off the path so we had to go around them!
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This brave iguana took the plunge! Go! Don't let the sea lions find you little guy!

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Imagine not being able to breathe while eating!
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this guy was eating off Santiago Island
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I really love this picture! Animals live in harmony here in Galapagos.
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It's getting close to mating season, so the males get green colouration on their head and back to look more attractive to the females.

Here is a short video of an iguana eating underwater: http://youtu.be/Z7AymhFdzAU

Kaia

Its all about boobies in the Galapagos

The Galapagos Islands are renowned for their unusual birds.  The Islands’ birds have evolved independently of mainland species, and have evolved to adapt to the unusual geographic conditions.  And like other land and water species, most of these birds have no predators, so they are indifferent to human and other animal proximity.  Scientists are not positive how the evolutionary ancestors of these birds first arrived on the islands.  Perhaps blown way off course from the mainland.  Perhaps floated for weeks on debris washed out in flooding mainland rivers.
The first stop on our cruise was Genovesa Island which is the furthest to the NE in the grouping.  First views when coming up on deck after sleeping during the sailing was that of red-footed boobies dive bombing into the water beak-first for fish … in droves – hundreds at a time.  Our first shore excursion was all about birds.  Birds were EVERYWHERE!  Sitting on the ground, sitting in bushes, sitting on rocks.  They would not even flinch as we walked by.

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aptly named red-footed booby

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red-footed boobies nest in trees, because their feet can wrap on branches. The other two species of booby nest on the ground.

Genovesa Island is also home to thousands of Nasca boobies.  These fishing birds are perhaps less dramatic looking, except for the chicks that appear as big cotton balls.

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immature nasca booby
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nasca booby chick
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Kaia & I spotted this blue-footed booby on Santa Cruz Island

Mixed amongst the boobies were Galapagos lava gulls and night herons –  all equally indifferent to us gawkers.

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Galapagos lava gull

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Galapagos night heron

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After snorkeling in the afternoon, we went by zodiac across the bay (Genovesa Island is a volcanic crater – the crater forms the bay, with an opening to the sea) and scampered up some stairs built into the cliff to explore more bird habitat.

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Even more boobies here.  You literally had to walk around them, and had to be careful not to back up onto one.  We walked from the inner part of the crater to the outside on the open ocean where we saw a Galapagos short-eared owls were hunting Galapagos petrels (you might notice a trend here ….  we realized it is pretty easy to name/identify the birds – just put “Galapagos” in front of whatever … because they are all endemic here)

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I'm having a moment with a nasca booby

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males and females take care of egg-sitting ...and fledgling sitting!
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Victor knows a lot things about a lot of birds. The island appears very grey and "dead" at this time in the dry season. It roars back to green when the rains return.
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looking for the elusive owls ...
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found one! wow, now that's camouflage!

Other days took us to other islands that hosted other birds.  “Darwin’s Finches” are well known.  Darwin collected specimens when on the islands in 1835, and while sailing back to England he noted how identical looking brown finches from different islands had markedly different beaks.  Similarly with mockingbirds from different isles. This is one of the things that got him thinking about the concept of “adaptation” and evolution.  Each island had different vegetation and seeds, so beaks were specialized.

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mockingbird on the red sand of Rabida island
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note that this mockingbird from Isabella island has a more straight beak
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in absence of predators, this finch just nests in the sand

Frigate birds also have a significant presence in the Galapagos, but are found elsewhere too.  These birds catch fish, but are unable to swim or take off after being in the water (they die if they end up in the water).  Sailors of years gone by always welcomed the sight of frigate birds because it meant they were getting close to land (the birds have to stay reasonable close to shore).  We saw frigate birds on land, but were most impressed with their inclination to fly with our boat when we were under way.  They would fly about 3 ft off the side of the ship … sometimes 5 or 6 at a time … and were so close that we could actually have touched them if we’d have tried.  It reminds me of dolphins liking to swim just off the bow of a moving boat.

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immature frigate bird
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adult male frigate bird. When courting, the males puff the red pouches out into very large balloons.
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frigate bird on Genovesa Island
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this was a common sight while we sailed
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Jake already talked about the Galapagos penguins. We'd occasionally see them standing on rocks at waters' edge.

Galapagos hawks were the top land predators.  We’d see them circling around above when we went ashore.  They eat mostly lava lizards, snakes and especially marine iguanas.

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Pelicans were also a common sight, and were great fun to watch as they dive bombed for fish

On our second last day we visited Punta Espinosa on Fernadina Island where we encountered the flightless cormorant.  These guys made their way to the Galapagos Islands via flight, but food was so readily available in the water (fish!) that they have evolved to become swimmers, not flyers.  Their wings are now tiny, and useless, though they still like to dry them in the wind like cormorants elsewhere with “real” wings.

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yes, rather sad looking wings ...
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cormorants nest in the open, building nest with sand, seaweed and "guano" (poop)
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sorry ... no cuteness prize for this baby cormorant!
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A rare blue-chested booby was sighted at the Baltra airport, in front of the post box.

Cam

Galapagos History 101

“A hell on earth”.  “A place where God threw rocks at the Earth”.  These were among the first recorded descriptions of the Galapagos Islands.  That was back in 1535 by the Panamanian bishop who, on his way to Peru, was plagued by boat trouble and got carried by the current 1000km to the unknown islands.  It is easy to understand his negative first impression.  Barely any plants grow on the volcanic rock, there is hardly any fresh water, and many of the animals that are able to survive there look like monsters.  The bishop and his men suffered terribly but did manage to fix their boat and eventually made it to their destination.  This, according to our wonderful guide, Victor Hugo Mendia, was the first of many disastrous events that were to affect the Galapagos Islands.  Once the islands were on the map, people started coming and inadvertently upsetting a fragile ecological balance.  Of course, the islands have been there for millennia, being created over a volcanic hotspot and slowly moving on a tectonic conveyor belt, but there are no native people to the islands and no clear information of whether any humans had ever set foot there before the Panamanian bishop and his crew.

Whalers started coming to find the giants of the sea.  Pirates and sailors followed and began visiting the islands in search of water and fresh meat.  They found little water, but delighted in catching animals that had absolutely no fear of humans.  I was really struck by this lack of fear as we visited Genovesa, the first island on our tour.  Victor had told us that a strict national park rule is that visitors must stay 2m away from any wildlife.  However, staying 2m away from one bird meant I would be within 2m of another.  They simply did not care that we were walking past them! 

Pirates enjoyed the relative safety of the Galapagos Islands since the Spaniards believed them to be haunted.  They were able to mount their attacks on the Spanish fleet moving up and down the coast of South America.

The sailors harvested thousands of giant tortoises to fill their ship-board pantries.  Tortoises are immobile when flipped on their backs, require no refrigeration, and can live for up to a year with no food or water (which may explain how they ended up on the islands in the first place — being washed away on floating debris after a violent storm, and floating along at the mercy of the currents, much like the bishop).  Turtle soup became a common form of fresh meat on board ships.  Unfortunately, some populations of giant tortoise were wiped out due to over-harvesting, and the sailors introduced new species to the islands such as goats (purposely — to create another form of fresh meat that could be picked up en route), and rats (inadvertently).  These animals, as well as feral cats, pigs, and dogs, have wreaked havoc on the delicate balance of life on the islands.  Goats have practically wiped out the vegetation that tortoises depend on, and rats, dogs and pigs destroy the nests or eat hatchlings.  It was becoming a very serious problem.  The Galapagos National Park decided to take action through an ambitious eradication program some years ago.  They set out to exterminate all the goats on the unpopulated islands and did this in an  interesting way that Victor described to us:  a handful of female goats were rounded up, sterilized, injected with hormones to make them especially attractive to the males, embedded with a chip that was trackable by GPS, and then had their horns spray-painted fluorescent pink.  These females (the “Judas goats”) were re-released onto their island, where they promptly attracted hordes of males.  From helicopters, snipers shot every single goat around them, but always spared the one one with the pink horns.  She continued to attract more males, which were duly killed until, on a few islands, the goat population has been completely eradicated.  Tortoise populations are stabilizing, growing, and beginning to expand their territory.  A success story for the park.  It is much more difficult to eradicate introduced plant species or insects such as ants.

We were impressed by the level of control that the Galapagos National Park exerts over its tens of thousands of visitors.  No one can enter the park without a certified guide and each guide can only be in charge of a maximum of 16 people.  We could only go ashore at a few very specific locations on each island, and could not step off the trail.  No bathroom breaks allowed on land!  As I mentioned earlier, we were supposed to stay 2m away from the animals, although this was hard to do since the animals, especially the young sea lions, were curious observers of us humans.  

The most famous person to ever visit the islands was Justin Bieber.  Just kidding — it was, of course, Charles Darwin!  He arrived 300 years after the Panamanian bishop and had a somewhat similar first impression.  We saw several of the varieties of finches, each with its own unique beak shape, that inspired Darwin to come up with the theory of evolution.  One type, known as the “vampire finch”, actually sucks blood from the blue-footed boobies to meet its need for hydration when water is scarce!  We didn’t witness that particular event but Victor told us that it doesn’t seem to bother the boobies at all.

So, since being discovered almost 500 years ago, the Galapagos Islands have gone from hellish to haunted to enchanted to endangered.  Now, the Ecuadorian government is working hard to enlist the help of scientists, residents, tourists and tour operators to return the islands to a healthy balance.  A mammoth and worthwhile task.

Yvonne

Galapagos: a hidden underwater world

We arrived back in Cusco last night from our Ausangate trek (starts 2.5 hrs from Cusco). 1st day was great, and we camped at the base of the mountain, in full view of the main glacier. Kaia started feeling bad at dinner though, and was really sick in the morning – she had the symptoms of altitude sickness. I was really so-so. But we camped at 4300m, and were to go to 5200m that day, so we decided to skip the circuit, and instead hiked beside the mountain and came back at the end of day 2. Kaia and my dad are pretty sick today so it’s a good thing we turned back.

now, back to the Galapagos Islands …

When we first arrived at the airport on Baltra Island, I was surprised.  I imagined the Galapagos islands to be lush and green with plenty of animals everywhere.  But what we first saw was practically a desert.  It was flat, dry, the only green vegetation were a few cacti, and there was not an animal in sight.  We took a 10 minute bus across to the channel between Baltra and Santa Cruz islands, took a short ferry across the channel, then a hour-long bus to Porto Ayora on the southern side of Santa Cruz.  About halfway across, the green trees started to reappear, and by the end of the ride we had already seen 3 giant tortoises by the side of the road, but I was surprised that so many tourists from all around the world came to see this.

Then I went SCUBA diving.

We knew that the dive boats left early in the morning and that we had to be well rested, so my mom and I went looking for a company soon after we arrived and found a hostel in Porto Ayora.  We booked one that went to Seymour Norte and Daphne Menor islets, which turn out to be right near Baltra Island, where we came from.  We tried on wetsuits and flippers, and got everything ready for the next day.  The boat left from Porto Ayora, and went around the east side of the island to the first dive site of Seymour Norte.  It took about an hour and a half, but it gave us the chance to learn the hand signals for marine life.  There was one for shark, sea turtle, hammerhead, moray eel and many more.  We also got to meet our fellow divers, including a couple from Australia who would be on the same cruise that we would be boarding the next day.  There were 8 divers and 2 divemasters, but since I’m only 12, I’m only allowed to dive to 12 metres (40 feet), so that’s all my mom got certified for.  And, it was our first dive since getting certified in Costa Rica, so we got our own divemaster because the others were going with the other divemaster down to 18 metres (60 feet).  My mom and I started worrying that we couldn’t remember in what order we had to attach our stuff to other stuff, like the regulator to the BCD, the regulator to the tank, making sure the pressure gauge worked, and so on.  But the divemasters and the helper on the boat got everything ready for us.  I guess it was just for the certification that we had to do everything ready ourselves.  All we had to do this time was sit on the edge of the boat, let them put on your BCD and flippers, put your mask on, regulator in, and fall into the water backwards.

Let me tell you, the underwater part of the Galapagos is completely different from on land.  It really seemed like an underwater jungle.  First, we saw a huge “garden” of Galapagos garden eels.  They get their name because they live in a little hole, with their heads poking out.  We watched the other divers swim over them.  When they got close, the eels stuck their heads in to their holes until they passed by (we couldn’t go deep enough to pass right above them).  We swam along a bit, then found ourselves above a enormous school of manta rays.  There were hundreds, all about a metre long.

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Then, we went to a shallower place, and got to see white-tipped reef sharks up close.  They were between 1 and 2 metres long, but weren’t dangerous at all.

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We swam through schools of colourful fish and saw starfish and stingrays on the bottom.  It was so cool!

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After about 30 minutes, we were getting low on air and had to come up.  The other group finished just before us.  On the boat, we had a snack as we went to the second dive site, the islet of Daphne Menor.  There were blue-footed boobies and sea lions on the rocks, but unfortunately, they didn’t feel like coming swimming with us.

Again, everything was ready for our second dive.  We got new tanks so we could dive for the same amount of time as the first.  On that dive, The thing we wanted to see the most was a sea turtle.  We were seeing lots of fish and starfish and sharks, until we got all excited because our divemaster Byron did the hand gesture for sea turtle.  It was lying on the bottom, then it started swimming.  It did a big circle around us.  Just as we thought it would swim out of sight, it turned a bit and we could see it vaguely.

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We saw many more sea turtles in the next few minutes, a few of them together.  We saw 2 metre long Galapagos sharks swimming near the surface.  A few eagle rays swam right under us at the end of the dive too.  It was such an awesome day!

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I wore a thick wetsuit on the first dive. The water was pretty cold, even on the equator! It's because of the current coming from the south.

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Me getting ready for the second dive.

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A morae eel.
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A spotted eagle ray swimming over garden eels. Note that the eels close to the ray are further into their holes.

So, that was my first dive, Galapagos.  Next up: Fiji……….Vanuatu maybe………….Great barrier reef in Australia………… I think I’m off to a good start!

The next time we explored the underwater world of the Galapagos was on our cruise.  Every day, we’d go snorkeling usually twice.  I liked what we saw on land.  The birds, the giant tortoises, they were all cool.  But I loved what we saw in the water.  There were sharks, small stingrays, and countless types of fish.  I identified many of them from the movie Finding Nemo

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A school of razor surgeonfish.
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A king angelfish.
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A parrotfish, about 50cm long
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A damselfish. They're the most common fish we saw.
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Kinda hard to tell, but this is an octopus, about 20cm long. When they move along the bottom, it looks so weird, like they're walking on 8 legs!
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A hogfish, about 50cm long.
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A little seahorse, only 5cm long!
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Even the vegetation underwater is colourful and beautiful!
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This is actually a shark! Full grown, but less than a metre.

The fish were amazing!  They were so colourful and abundant, and were hardly scared of us.  I could have caught one with my bare hands if I really tried!  But there was much more than fish underwater.  There were the sea turtles.  On the SCUBA dive,  I only saw them for a few seconds.  But at Punta Espinosa, in the Bolivar Strait between Fernandina and Isabela islands, they were everywhere!  I probably saw about 30 that day.  We snorkeled twice that day.  First, on the Fernandina side, I saw about 10.  Some were alone, but I saw a group of 4 at one point.

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This one is a male, because of the long tail.

Then, we went to the Isabela side of the strait.  We went snorkeling again upon arrival in Darwin Bay.  This time, our guide Victor guaranteed we’d see sea turtles.  The visibility was incredible, and it was very shallow.  I think I might have seen more sea turtles than fish that time!

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Kaia and I with a couple of turtles. We liked to dive down as I'm doing in this photo to get a better look at them.

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Sea turtles like to eat the green algae, so stay on the bottom unless they're swimming to better algae, or coming up to breathe.

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Here’s a short video of us swimming with the turtles: http://youtu.be/X2gcJDRzhnw

At a certain point, we wouldn’t even stop to look at them anymore.  Don’t get me wrong, they were really awesome, swimming so slowly and seemed so laid back, but once you’ve seen about 5 in the last 30 seconds, they start getting a bit boring. Who would’ve guessed that sea turtles would ever get boring! I once was swimming along when I saw everyone gathered and looking down at the bottom.  All excited, I came up to the surface and called: “What do you see?”.  Someone called back: “A sea turtle”.  “Oh”, I said, disappointed.  Just a sea turtle.  Same old.  There was more exciting stuff to see than that.

A rarer thing we saw though were Galapagos penguins.  When you think of penguins, you think of Antarctica, right?  Well guess what?  There are penguins in the Galapagos, which happen to straddle the equator!  The cold current coming north from Chile allows them to live here.  In fact, this is the entire reason why there is so much marine biodiversity in the Galapagos.  The warm current coming south from Central America collides with the cold Chilean current, allowing both warm-water animals like sea turtles and cold-water animals like penguins to live in the same place.  We had seen them from the boat a few times, hopping along the rocky shoreline, and into their little lava cave houses, which were formed many years ago by flowing lava after an eruption. but a few times, a small group of them swam right by us while we were snorkeling. Unlike sea turtles though, penguins eat fish, not algae, so need to be a lot faster, more agile swimmers to catch their food.  When we saw penguins swimming, they were just passing by and were only curious about us for a few seconds before swimming away.  But they were not scared of us at all.  As my dad was filming them with our GoPro camera out on a stick, one of them swam up and tapped the camera with it’s beak!
Here’s a little video of that: http://youtu.be/TkR9k1qVjnM

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Galapagos penguins are only about 30cm long!
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Oops! That's not a fish.
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When penguins swim, it looks like they're flying underwater!

There is so much to see and do in the Galapagos.  It is a one-of-a-kind place on earth where life lies in a perfect balance on land and in water, with very few natural predators.  But if you’re ever in the Galapagos, thinking the experience wasn’t worth the money, you probably haven’t seen the islands from the underwater point of view yet.

Jake

Galapagos – the Enchanted Islands

The Galapagos Islands have a mythic, even iconic reputation.   Growing up, I’d heard stories of bizarre, prehistoric animals that were not afraid of humans, living on stark volcanic islands.  And the significance of the islands in spurring on Darwin’s ideas of evolution are well known.  But beyond that, I really had little idea why these islands drew in so many visitors.  But now I understand.  I am writing this at 6AM on day 6 of our cruise of the islands – then sun just came up, and poured light onto the top of the huge volcano that is Fernandina Island.  Across the channel is the largest of the islands – Isabella – that is home to no less than 5 large volcanoes.  Their peaks soar to 1600m, which is impressive considering the size of the island.  Until this morning, the peaks of volcanoes have been shrouded in cloud, but this morning they are all in full view.  Wow.
There is much to recount of our time here – it is hard to know where to start.  Instead of sharing a day by day account of our activities and discoveries, we will instead share by theme – the land, water creatures, land creatures, birds etc.  We will also describe the challenges faced by the islands in terms of introduced species and growing pressures of tourism.  In this post I will just set the stage by describing our first day on the islands, and a bit of human history here.
We had no troubles convincing Kaia and Jake to get out on the morning of flight departure from coastal city Guayaquil.  The airport is spacious and modern.  The 1st stop, before checking in, is the inspection station, where they x-ray packs and look in anything suspicious for plants/animals/fruit that could be considered “introduced” species.  Next stop was to the ATM, which proceeded to deny us access to cash, but upon inspection of our bank account a few minutes later (thank goodness for airport WiFi!) we learned that the $300 we’d asked for had indeed been deducted from our account!  A flurry of internet/skyping left us virtually no further ahead.  We have our bank working on that one and will have to sort it out later …
The flight was packed … and it appeared that the competing airline flight that landed 30 minutes after us was also packed.  That adds up about right, because the islands receive on average about 160 tourists per day – 60000 a year!!   That doesn’t sound like a lot, until you’ve been on the islands and see the very limited infrastructure for handling that number.  We got some great sneak peaks out the windows, including a tiny island that Jake and Yvonne would dive at the next day.

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we've been looking forward to setting foot on the Galapagos Islands since well before departing Peterborough.
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Daphne menor is the closer of the two islands - Jake and Yvonne SCUBA dove at the base of the cliffs

The first order of business upon arrival at the airport on Baltra Island is to pay US $100 National Park fee.  Pretty steep.  But clearly it is not a deterrent to tourism, and the Park has their hands full in their introduced species eradication and marine monitoring programs, so if the money is being used wisely, no problem.  The largest center in the Galapagos Islands is Puerto Ayora (pop. 12,000) which is at the southern end of Santa Cruz island. 

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The airport is at the northern end of Baltra Island (remember you can enlarge any image by clicking on it).  By the time we drove across Baltra, took the short ferry to Santa Cruz then drove the 50 minute bus to Puerto Ayora, I got to wondering why the airport could not have been located on Santa Cruz, close to Puerto Ayora, because the island is relatively flat near the coast.  But it turns out that the US built a military airport on Baltra to help watch the Pacific during WWII, and this facility morphed into the existing civilian facility.

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short ferry ride across the Itabaca channel between Baltra and Santa Cruz islands.
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Santa Cruz island en route to Puerto Ayora. It appeared flat as we drove, but when my ears started popping, I checked the GPS altimeter and learned that we'd climbed over 600m. This, and all other islands are shield volcanoes means the runny lava flows quickly from the crater, building up a gently sloping cone shape.

Puerto Ayora is basic, with a rapidly expanded population, but the waterfront is nicely developed and tourism planning facilities abound. Yvonne and Jake quickly got to work booking their SCUBA dive the next day, while Kaia and I lined up a double kayak to explore in.
We had a quick introduction to wildlife in the Galapagos when we saw a half dozen sea lions lounging on the town wharf.  Oblivious to gawking tourists.  And not 30ft away a group of equally indifferent marine iguanas.  We would be seeing lots more of these guys in the days to come!

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Yvonne and Jake had 2 great dives on sites just north of Santa Cruz.  This was their very 1st dive (since certifying) so they had their own dive assistant which gave them confidence.  As a 12 yr old Jake is certified to only 40 ft (as opposed to adult 60ft) so they stayed within those bounds.  But still saw tons …. white tip reef sharks, school of manta rays, green sea turtles, and tons of colourful fish.

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Yvonne 40ft down, wearing a single glove to hang on to rocks during the 'drift' dive.
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Jake just before falling backwards in.
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Jake
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White tipped reef shark - about 5 ft long. Not aggressive.
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eagle rays
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green sea turtle

Meanwhile, Kaia and I set out in our kayak with snorkels.

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He had a great laugh as we paddled out of the harbour and saw how crafty the sea lions were in staking out comfortable lounge positions.

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look at ledge on back of boat

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This guy wins the prize. I can't figure out for the life of me how he got up there! (there was netting all across the lower back end of the boat)

Moments later we see our 1st swimming marine iguana.

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We paddled across some bays and through some interesting coves and saw lots of the Galapagos birds, including our first blue footed boobie.  These guys are probably the most famous wildlife of the Galapagos Islands, and you can imagine how much fun the t-shirt and post card designers have with the “boobie” spin-off jokes.

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the very blue feet are so curious looking!

We donned our snorkelling gear and headed out on a reef, seeing some great fish.  Kaia is rather afraid of fish, so she clung pretty tight to my hand.  But as she got used to them, she was able to navigate solo through schools of them.  But nothing could have prepared us for the sight as we turned our heads to see a GIANT (5ft long) green sea turtle swimming right beside us – we could have reached out to touch it.  Actually, we had to swim away from it to prevent bumping into it.  Hard to explain what it’s like swimming next to these gentle giants.  I went ashore to get my GoPro camera (to learn it was out of battery 😦  )   and within another few minutes we either found another turtle or re-found our 1st guy, and swam for 5 minutes with him.  That pretty much made our day, so we headed back to town and felt like we had something to talk about when Jake and Yvonne got back and shared their diving adventure.

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Kaia liked the name of this cruising catamaran
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so we had to paddle under it

We had time after reassembling to hike the 2.5 km to Tortuga beach.  Beautiful clear water, white sand and great fun in the waves.
We visited the Charles Darwin Research Station and tortoise breeding station the next morning.  Galapagos’s famous giant tortoises are actually under great threat (more on that later), so they’ve resorted to collecting eggs and incubating and hatching them onsite.

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I guess you can guess who this guy is ....

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hard to tell from the photo, but this guy is not even a year old yet (about 10" long). But he already has all his wrinkles!
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This guy is full grown

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Many people know the story of "lonesome George". Each Galapagos Island has their own subspecies of locally-adapted tortoises. "George" was the only one found on northern Pinta Island even after an exhaustive search. He lived out his final (many!) years at the reserve here with a couple of girlfriends from the closest island (they hoped they'd mate, but no luck). He is buried on site and this is his memorial.
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These land iguanas are much more rare than the marine variety.

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I'm not sure whether these finches eating out of Kaia's hand and on Jake's head are doing so because they are fearless of humans (as so much wildlife here is) or whether they've just been tamed by crackers)

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We were excited to leave Puero Ayora before lunch because we were headed to meet our cruise boat – the Floreana.  It was waiting for us in the Itabaca channel (which we’d crossed a couple days back).

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Nice boat!  There are 5 classes of cruise boats for the Galapagos.  We were in the middle “tourist superior” class.  We were told by so many people and guide books that you get what you pay for in the Galapagos, and if you want a good itinerary, a good, English speaking guide (so important!), decent food, ventilated cabins, and not too much bouncing around at sea, you need to avoid the bottom class or two.  Yvonne’s mom Betty had hoped to join us for this part of our trip, but in the end decided that the going from ship to zodiac and ashore from zodiac and rough trails would be too much for her mobility.  But she instead helped us out financially with the Galapagos trip … we otherwise would likely have been in the economy boat.  Thanks, Betty!
Onboard we met our travel mates for the 8 days.  A middle age couple from Switzerland, a father and 20-something daughter from Germany, a couple of younger women also from Switzerland, a young couple from Australia, and a couple of VERY energetic, traveled, fit and game senior traveling companions  from Victoria, BC and Minnesota.  They both reminded me of my own mom.  We were 14 in total.  Ship had capacity of 16.

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here we are on our last day, with guide Victor lying in front of us.

We met our crew of 7 that evening at dinner.  Captain, mate, sailor, engineer, cook, purser/host/cook, and our guide Victor.  Victor had been guiding in the Galapagos for 21 years, spoke fabulous English, was enthusiastic about all our adventures and had a good sense of humour.  Rooms were small, with a bunk bed in each.  But dining area lovely, and great common lounge up top.
First trip outing was back to Santa Cruz island to visit the “El Chatos” Tortoise reserve.  Here you walk among the many many wild tortoises.  You can get as close as 2m to them … beyond which they do a little hiss then retreat into their shell.

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Before arriving here, I'd never paused to wonder how big tortoise poop is. I don't suppose many of you have either. Pretty substantial, thought!

The attraction at this site are the “lava tubes”.  When this part of the island was formed, lava had been running through underground tubes.  When the volcano/lava retreated, it left quite remarkable tunnels.

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Then back to our ship for a celebratory drink and dinner, then set sail for Genovesa Island in the north.  So all these adventures …and we hadn’t even started our cruise!  A good omen for things to come.

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server Luis offers up our first dinner.

Cam

Sidetrip to Salinas

Between Banos and Guyaquil, about 20km north of the road, lies the small community (pop. 1200) of Salinas de Guaranda.  For centuries, the people in this area eked out a living with subsistence agriculture and by mining the salt that naturally comes out of the rocks.  They transported it long distances to trade for other goods.  In 1970, an Italian priest arrived and began a very ambitious process of economic and social restructuring based on cooperatives.  Salinas is now a modestly “thriving” community where teamwork and cooperation are the norm, and unemployment is very low.

Our arrival in Salinas was in the rain, in a taxi from the main road ($1 each).  Our driver explained that the taxi service was run as a cooperative (of course!)  We asked him to suggest a cheap place to stay and he took us to Hostal La Minga, which is located right near the town’s central square.  Cam jumped out of the back seat to check it out, and the kids followed.  The driver started taking our bags out of the back, but I asked him to wait since I wasn’t sure if the place would pass Cam’s initial ‘inspection’.  When Cam said it looked good, I paid the driver, got the bags out, and off went the taxi.  It wasn’t long ntil Cam noticed the wifi password posted in the common area and wanted to log in to the internet.  Where was the tablet?  Where was the black daypack?  Uh oh… in the back seat of the taxi!  From our short conversation with the driver, we knew that his name was Jorge and that he had 2 children, ages 7 and 11.  We explained to our host what had happened and from the snippet of information he was able to track down the cab driver.  Thank goodness this happened in a small community!  Within about an hour, Jorge returned with the pack and all its contents (I don’t even want to admit how many valuables were in it, but suffice it to say that we would not have had any photos, video, nor been able to write this blog had we not gotten it back).  As we met Jorge in the central square (hugged him and gave him a tip), we couldn’t believe it but the rain stopped and there appeared the most amazing rainbow we have ever seen!  Many locals came out with their cellphones or cameras to photograph it as well.

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No colour enhancement necessary!
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Full double rainbow over Salinas.
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Jake is touching the rainbow and we got our "pot of gold"!

OK, so we were getting pretty good vibes about Salinas.  We went to the little shop that sold items from all the cooperatives and got a selection of chocolates (yes, they have a chocolate factory!), some cheese, the kids got Ecuadorian pants, and Cam got a colourful pullover. 

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We ate dinner at a restaurant right across the street from the hostel (a pizzeria — perhaps inspired by that Italian priest?)  When we started looking at the extensive menu, the cook/waiter/owner came over and indicated the 2 items that were available today — calzones and veggie or meat pizza.  That made it simple!  Jake ordered a calzone and the rest of us decided to share a large meat pizza.  However, when the party at the next table got their order (massive veggie pizza) they realized that something was wrong (I think someone was lactose intolerant or couldn’t eat mushrooms or something), so the waiter asked us if we wanted it.  Sure!  We were hungry and it was delicious.
The following morning, we made our own breakfast and then Kaia had a Skype conversation with her class.  The connection was pretty good and she was able to hear the results of some research the class had done about Ecuador and share her own impressions.

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Kaia skyping with her classmates in Peterborough.
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Breakfast in the bright, covered courtyard of Hostal La Minga. Its name means something like "community work bee".

Earlier, Cam had gone to the tourist information office and lined up a guide for the day to take us around the town.  We met Frank at 9:30.  He spoke little English, but kept his Spanish clear and simple.  First, he took us to the chocolate factory where we could see the Swiss-inspired process through windows.  Milk is sourced locally and the chocolates are sold domestically as well as abroad.  Unfortunately, no tasting room!  But we picked up a few more goodies from the shop.

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chocolate truffles being formed by hand
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From the back of the chocolate factory, we had a view of the salt extrusions.
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Salt is still collected on a small scale and used for animal licks (from what I could understand).

Next, Frank took us a few blocks away to a tiny upstairs workshop (that we never would have found without him) that was a soccer ball factory!  One room, one guy (at least when we were there), making soccer balls from start to finish!

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orange soccer ball bladders
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Frank showing a ball that has been wrapped in string and dipped in a type of glue.
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molds for "cooking" the soccer balls in once the coloured patches have been put in place
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Final product with the Salinas insignia. Too bad we don't have room in our packs for one!

Next (brief) stop was the sausage manufacturing plant.  Frank, as a vegetarian and Rastafarian, does not like to walk inside of it!  On this particular day, they were processing pork.  We bought some of the cured sausage which was very good and lasted us several days.

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Kaia and Jake found Bob Marley style hats in one of the shops and posed with Frank!

We then went to the wool manufacturing plant (I was pretty excited about seeing this one as I don’t travel without my knitting needles and didn’t currently have a project on the go!)  In Salinas, they process both sheep and alpaca wool from local farms in a very mechanized process (originally it was done by hand, but they have expanded and updated).  The plant operates 7 days a week and employs dozens of people.

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fleece comes in by the truckload
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Each cooperative has this type of mosaic indicating what is produced.
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it is washed in hot water
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after being dried and carded it continues along the process
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Kaia agrees that alpaca wool is very soft
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large bales of yarn are ready for transport
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they also make some with varied colours

I only bought one ball of alpaca wool and have started making a pair of mittens in preparation for the highlands of Peru.

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This graphic, painted on the wall at the wool factory, shows the different products that are produced at different altitudes in the Salinas parish

Our final stop was the cheese factory which had pretty much finished production for the day.  However, we saw many local people arriving with donkeys or llamas and large empty containers.  The cheese factory gives away their by-product (whey?) for free, and Frank explained that it is used as pig feed.

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a llama is loaded up

That concluded our visit.  Apparently the Italian priest is still living in the community, but is quite frail.  Frank believes that his legacy will continue for a long time since the people of Salinas have embraced the idea of teamwork and are reaping its benefits.  He, himself (Frank) grew up in Salinas, went away to study graphic design at college, but has returned to live permanently in the community.  I don’t think there are too many other Rastafarians in town, but he has found a comfortable niche as a tour guide, musician, and freelance graphic designer.  His parents are retired from the cheese cooperative and maintain a small farm with some cows.

Salinas is a friendly, productive place.  We’re glad we made the sidetrip!

Yvonne

Banos and the waterfall road

Just got off our little Galapagos boat an hour ago and are awaiting our flight back to mainland Guayaquil.   The Galapagos Islands were FABULOUS … as everyone told us they’d be.   This photo from GoPro camera snorkeling a couple days back – its our new screen saver.  Lots to share with you in coming blogs, but for now we’ll catch up on our adventures before heading to Galapagos.
Jake just posted a blog about the same adventures as below, but his is in French.

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This guy actually tapped the GoPro camera with his beak!

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I’m writing this from the dining room of the Floreana, our boat on the Galapagos. After two days we’ve seen many kinds of birds and fish, and two sea lions have come up to me and sniffed my face. We love it here. But in this blog, I’m going to talk about two days we spent last week in Banos, in the Andes mountains of Ecuador.

After some great days of hiking in Chugchilan, we decided to go to the town of Banos. The bus schedule was a little unclear… then a pickup truck/taxi offered to take the four of us plus our packs to Zumbahua (about 45 minutes away) for 20 bucks. We chose the latter option. Even though it was a bit windy, we got some great views from the back of the pickup truck.

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From Zumbahua (say “zoom-BA-wa”) we took a bus to San Filipe bridge in Latacunga. We got off there so that we could catch a second bus that would go to Banos. A lot of busses went past us (and the many other people waiting for busses there), they don’t stop, but the driver-helpers would lean out the door and yell out the destination, “Quito Quito Quito!” or “Ambato Ambato Ambato Ambaaatooooh…”. If he yelled out your destination, you wave your hands in the air and run to get on. When finally a bus to Banos came (about a half hour later) we got on, and so did some other people who were very anxious to get on before us and take our bags from us and put the in the compartment behind our seats, not the one directly above us. They were so insistent that they took the bag from my dads lap while he was drinking! the water spilt all over him. We think that they were trying to rob us.
When we arrived in Banos, (say “BA-nios”, I don’t know how to type the “n” with a squiggly on it) we found a hostel, then we went to see the natural hot bath. I don’t think it had changed much since 1950. My mom pointed out that the most modern thing was the neon light highlighting the sign that said “1950”! The town was quite nice – cobblestone streets, lots of craft shops – but the cool thing about it was that 90% of the tourists were Ecuadorians coming for the weekend. We had pizza for dinner and some people came to the pizzeria to play live, traditional Andean music! The three of them played drums or mini-guitar, plus panpipes, and they all sang! We liked it so much that we bought their CD.
The next morning, we woke up at 6:00 am to go into the hot spring. We were the only non-Ecuadorians there! It was really hot (no kidding, Kaia) and we cooled off in the freezing shower. After that we rented some bikes to ride the famous “Waterfall road”, downhill from Banos. There are four awesome waterfalls along the way. At the first one, we took the $1 cable-car across the valley.

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Trying not to drop the camera...
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Pretty awesome view!

  In between the waterfalls, the riding was really cool, too. The main road goes into a lot of tunnels, but the cyclists can ride around the tunnels on the old road.

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Riding on the main road
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Riding on the old road
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At the first waterfall

At the second waterfall, there was a zipline. The guy trying to convince us into it was quite drunk and told us that Jake, my dad and I could go there and back on the zipline, all for 20 bucks. We just couldn’t refuse an offer that good. At least the drunk guy wasn’t the one running the zipline!

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About to go!
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Here is where the first zipline goes. My dad took this with the GoPro

Here is a clip from his GoPro video: http://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=JC1bgM0NRRo

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Here's where the second zipline goes

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Wheeeeeeeeee!

Here is the video of the 1st part of my and Jake’s 2nd ziplines:

Jake: http://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=DUNFu9rfr2k

Kaia: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=HZLT3QeDv0w&feature=youtu.be

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Slowing down...

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I didn't make it all the way to the end, so this guy had to come out and rescue me to pull me the rest of the way

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Happy zipliners!

We like to visit waterfalls in the order of climax, so here goes waterfall #3.
You have to walk a couple of kilometers and pay a bit to get there. Only the pictures can explain the pure awesomeness.

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See the steps on the other side of the falls? We got really excited because we thought we could walk right behind the waterfall! But we couldn’t find the place to get to the other side. Turns out that two different people bought either side of the falls. Two different companies, two different entrances. Many people trying to make money off the same thing does seem quite Ecuadorian.
Anyway, we walked back up to the top, then went to the second entrance and back down again. We paid the second fee there, then went to see the falls again. The engineering of the trails on both sides is amazing- they are built right into the cliff, all done by hand, while the water pounds down around you. It’s really unbelievable! At one point, you need to climb through a tunnel in the cliff, then through a small opening above you. Can you imagine carrying rocks and cement through all that?!

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Seeing the falls from the other side was even better!

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This picture was taken from behind the waterfall!

Then we went onto the suspension bridge…

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By the time we had climbed back to the top, It was raining. We were soaked and decided to skip the last falls and catch a pickup truck back to town.

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That night, my dad, Jake and I decided to check out the town square. There was a band playing, and people letting off fireworks and huge Chinese lanterns. It was really lively! Apparently, during the month of October, this happens every night, to celebrate “La Virgen de Santa Agua“, the virgin of the holy water.

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The next morning, we ate at the central market. We also met up with Erica, Chris and Carl who we met at the Black Sheep Inn in Chugchilan.

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It was a super busy market with all the locals. We met Chris and Erica at Black Sheep for a few days, saw them about six times in Banos, then saw them on the airplane to Galapagos, and again a few times in Porto Ayora!
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Yummy blender drinks!!

We had some time before our bus left that morning (we were headed for Guayaquil), so we spent the usual half-hour searching for a bank machine that worked, then went to the San Fransisco bridge at the edge of town.

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view from the bridge

Jake saw that there was bridge jumping for 20 bucks, and remembered that his Uncle Craig had given him money for the trip, and thought about it for a while, then decided to do it. He was nervous, but only when he got to the platform did he realize that it wasn’t going to happen.

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Here's how high the bridge is
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Jake is looking a little nervous .... understandably!

We left Banos late morning for Salinas de Guaranda en route to Guayaquil.

Kaia

Banos et notre petite aventure de bicyclettes

Vendredi, le 17 octobre, nous sommes partis de Chugchilan pour aller a la petite ville de Banos (c’est dit “Bagnos”, mais je n’ai pas l’accent sur ce clavier).  C’est une ville tres fameuse a cause des bains chaudes naturelles causees par l’activite geothermique a cet endroit.  Nous avons pris 2 autobus pour plusieurs heures, et par le temps qu’on est arrive, il faisait deja noir.  On a rapidement trouve un hostal, et on a trouve une pizzeria.  C’etait la premiere fois qu’on a soupe a un restaurant depuis Quito.  Pendant le souper, des musiciens sont venus, et ont joue de la musique traditionnelle de l’Ecuador.  Deux jouaient une petite guitare, l’autre jouait un tambour, et chacun jouait une flute en meme temps.  Apres un bon souper, on est alle se baigner aux bains thermiques, mais quand on est arrive, on a appri que c’etait ferme.  Donc, le matin suivant, nous nous sommes reveilles tot pour aller aux bains.  Ils etaient ouverts cette fois ci, mais il y avait tellement de personnes!  Ca sentait bon et relaxant de changer de bains chauds a la piscine froide, et encore au bains chauds.  On est reste la pour quelques heures.  Ensuite,  on a decide de louer des bicyclettes, et on a cycle 22 kilometres a cote d’une grande gorge.  Les premiers kilometres etaient dans la ville, mais on est bientot arrive a une montagne qui descendait si raide dans la gorge qu’on devait passer a travers un tunnel tres etroit en meme temps qu’un grand camion qui transportait du petrol!  C’etait un peu epeurant, mais heureusement les prochains tunnels avaient un detour a cote pour les bicyclettes.  On a vu une place ou il y avait des chutes d’eau qui tombaient de l’autre cote de la gorge.  Il y avait une telepherique qu’on a pris pour la croiser.

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Voici ce qu'on pouvait voir du téléphérique.

Pour croiser la gorge, cette place ci avait aussi un zipline genre “superman”, mais c’etait un peu cher, alors on ne l’a pas fait.  Mais un peu plus loin sur la route, il y avait un endoit semblable, avec des grandes chutes jumelles qui tombaient de l’autre bord de la gorge, et des ziplines superman.  L’homme qui essayait de nous convaincre avait bu un peu trop, mais il nous a donne un tres bon prix.  Moi, mon pere et Kaia pouvaient aller et retourner pour un total de 20$.  On a verifie que les femmes qui allaient nous attacher n’etaient pas inebriees comme le promoteur!

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Mon père est allé en tenant le GoPro
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Moi et Kaia sommes allés un a cote de l'autre sur le premier zipline
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Le gars m'attache au poulie...
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Il pend mes pieds a une autre poulie...
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Et il me lâche!

C’était tellement excitant!
Après ça, on a continuer sur nos bicyclettes jusqu’au Pilon del diablo, le chaudron du diable.  C’est une chute d’eau très haute et puissante.  On pouvait marcher directement a côté sur des escaliers de roche incroyables sur le bord de la falaise.  On pouvait meme aller derriere les chutes!

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On se demandait comment ces escaliers ont ete consruits!

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Ce que tu peux voir derriere les chutes!

Les proprietaires des 2 cotes des chutes ont chacun une marche construit sur la falaise, et ils chargent de l’argent pour entrer.  Il est evident qu’ils competitonnent pour que les personnes aillent a leur cote au lieu que celui de leur voisin.  On est alle au cote plus proche, mais de la, on pouvait voir que l’autre cote allait beaucoup plus proche des chutes.  Alors, on a remonte a la route, croise le pont et on est entre l’autre.  C’est seulement ce bord qui a des escaliers qui vont derrière les chutes.  Quand qu’on était fatigues et extrêmement mouilles, on a trouve un taxi pour retourner a notre hostal.  Il y a tellement de personnes qui font ce qu’on a fait, donc presque tous les taxis sont des camions avec le derrière couvert, et une place pour mettre des bicyclettes.  Après qu’on a retourne nos bicyclettes, on a eu une bonne douche chaude après d’être mouillé par l’eau froide pour si longtemps.  J’ai oublié de mentionner plus tôt qu’en plus d’être derrière des chutes, il pleuvait!  On a bien dormi ce soir la.

Le prochain matin, nous nous sommes préparés pour partir. On voulait voir une autre chose, le pont San Francisco. On est allé juste avant d’aller au station de bus.  Sur le pont, il y avait un “saut de pont”, ou tu te fait attache a une corde forte, tu sautes du pont, tu tombes a peu près 25 mètres, et tu balances quand ils te descendent lentement a quelqu’un qui te détache.  Mon père nous a dit que si on voulait payer notre argent de poche pour le faire quelque part sur le voyage, ceci serait probablement le moins cher, 20$.  Après un long débat mental, j’ai décidé de le faire.  Ils m’ont attache et je grimpais la clôture pour me rendre au petit plateforme de ou je sauterais, mais quand je pouvais voir directement ou j’allais sauter, je devais retourner.  Au lieu, j’ai décidé de regarder quelqu’un d’autre sauter.

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Tu peux voir que je suis un peu nerveux!

Ensuite, on est allé prendre un autobus a Salinas, que ma mère écrira un blog a propos.  Banos était très amusant et excitant!

Jake