A Trip to Ecuador and Peru

(Galápagos Islands, Inca Trail & Nazca Lines)

 

 

Summer 2008 (7 August – 1 September)            

Part 1 – Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands

 

   Version: Version 1.13

   Date issued: 26 January 2009

   Author: Thomas


 

 

Note: For Part 2 of this travelogue, see the following URL:

 

http://travelogues.x10hosting.com/Ecuador-Peru_Trip_Report-Part2.htm

 

 

 

 

Table of Contents

 

1    The Trip Background. 1

1.1    Introduction. 1

1.2    Costs. 2

1.3    Hurray Our Boat Sank! 2

1.4    Trip Summary. 4

2    Ecuador 7

2.1    Introduction. 7

2.2    Quito. 9

2.2.1     Up on the TeleferiQo. 10

2.2.2     Old (Colonial) Quito. 10

2.2.2.1     La Compañía de Jesús. 11

2.2.2.2     Plaza Grande - Changing of the Guard. 12

2.2.2.3     More Churches. 13

2.2.2.4     A Hill Named El Panecillo. 14

2.2.3     Equatorial Monument (La Mitad del Mundo) 15

2.2.4     Otavalo Market 17

2.3    Galápagos Islands. 21

2.3.1     Galápagos Introduction. 21

2.3.2     Darwin, the Galápagos and the Theory of Evolution. 23

2.3.3     Darwin Finches. 25

2.3.4     Our Trip on the Aida Maria. 27

2.3.4.1     Day 1 (Sun, 10 Aug): Baltra, Santa Cruz Island & Las Bachas Beach. 29

2.3.4.2     Day 2 (Mon, 11 Aug): South Plaza Island & Santa Fe Island. 31

2.3.4.3     Day 3 (Tue, 12 Aug): Espanola Island (Suarez Point & Gardner Bay) 35

2.3.4.4     Day 4 (Wed, 13 Aug): Floreana Island (Cormorant Point & Corona del Diablo) 38

2.3.4.5     Day 5 (Thu, 14 Aug): Santa Cruz Island. 41

2.3.4.6     Day 6 (Fri, 15 Aug): Rabida Island, Santiago Island. 46

2.3.4.7     Day 7 (Sat, 16 Aug): Santiago Island, Sullivan Bay & Bartolome Island. 48

2.3.4.8     Day 8 (Sun, 17 Aug): North Seymour Island and Baltra. 51

2.3.4.9     Concluding thoughts on the Aida Maria and Galápagos Recommendations. 53

 

List of Figures

 

Figure 1. Grand lines of our travel to and from Ecuador and Peru. 1

Figure 2. Trains, planes, automobiles and boats around Ecuador and Peru. 6

Figure 3. Air Canada C-FZUH in TCA livery (left), takeoff from Toronto at 5 o’clock (right) 8

Figure 4. Beautiful sunset over Caribbean (left), our Avianca Airbus 319 to Quito (right) 8

Figure 5. Elegant dining at Eugenia Hotel (left), Eugenia Hotel (center), Burger Queen (right) 9

Figure 6. View of Quito from TeleferiQo (left), TeleferiQo (center), church & top of mountain (right) 10

Figure 7. Protest at Palace (left), surveilling protesters (center), Palace guard’s uniform (right) 11

Figure 8. Carondelet Palace guards (left), woman at plaza (center), house courtyard near plaza (right) 11

Figure 9. La Compañía de Jesús (left), gilded transept (center), old & new gilding (right) 12

Figure 10. Taking cellphone call (left), marchers (center), handing over commander’s sword (right) 12

Figure 11. Presidential Palace (left), flag is raised over Palace (center), victory monument in Plaza (right) 13

Figure 12. Iguana gargoyle (left), Iglesia de la Catedral (center), tortoise gargoyle (right) 13

Figure 13. Plaza San Francisco (left), Iglesia de San Francisco (center), Inca sun symbol (right) 14

Figure 14. Plane coming into Quito airport (left), Madonna on El Panecillo (center), crowded hillside (right) 14

Figure 15. Quito In clouds (left), Plaza San Francisco (center), low highrises (right) 14

Figure 16. Astride equator - Equatorial Monument (left), Solar Museum (center), view to monument (right) 15

Figure 17. Jungle Indian (left), kachina-like mask (center), ready for jungle (right) 16

Figure 18. Holding Indian spear (left), design on thatched roof (center), snake attacking (right) 16

Figure 19. Balancing along equator (left), actual equator? (L center), water test (R center), sundial (right) 17

Figure 20. Ornaments from dough (left), Indian vendor on bus (center), general store (right) 17

Figure 21. Begging at mirador (left), flower greenhouses (center), calcium mining (right) 18

Figure 22. New equator sun dial coming soon (left), astride the equator (center), BBQ guinea pig (right) 18

Figure 23. Weaver at Mira Lago (left), firewood collector (center), weaver near Otavalo (right) 19

Figure 24. Corn on the cob (left), knitting at market (center), trying on alpaca cape (right) 19

Figure 25. Buying alpaca sweater (left), spices for sale (center), buying alpaca scarf (right) 19

Figure 26. Church at Cotacachi (left), small women (center), bandage on finger (right) 20

Figure 27. Cotacachi Cathedral (left), Christ on tower (L center), altar (R center), decorated cross (right) 20

Figure 28. Interesting tree in square (left), unusual branch (center), view toward volcano (right) 21

Figure 29. The volcanic hot spot and the formation of the Galápagos Islands. 21

Figure 30. The Galápagos ocean currents and seasons. 22

Figure 31. The Galápagos 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador 23

Figure 32. Map of HMS Beagle’s 5 year circumnavigation of globe (left), HMS Beagle (right) 24

Figure 33. The route of Darwin in the Galápagos Islands (Ref E) 24

Figure 34. Varied shape of Darwin finches’ beaks in Galápagos Islands. 25

Figure 35. My photographs of Darwin Finches that we saw in the Galápagos Islands. 26

Figure 36. Google’s tribute image on the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birthday. 27

Figure 37. Route of the Aida Maria. 28

Figure 38. Our Group of 16 and guide. 29

Figure 39. USAF C-17 at Quito (left), Nescafe plane at Guayaquil (center), yachts at Baltra Harbour (right) 30

Figure 40. Sea lion on bench (left), heading to Aida Maria (center), bunk beds in cabin (right) 30

Figure 41. Las Bachas Beach (left), flamingo (center), marine iguanas (right) 31

Figure 42. Sea turtle nesting area (left), marine iguana tracks (center), marine iguanas swimming (right) 31

Figure 43. Aida Maria off South Plaza (left), Reuben briefing (center), colourful Shoreline Purslane (right) 32

Figure 44. Black-headed gull at ‘bachelor pad’ (left), ‘bachelor pad’ on cliffs (center), horny bachelor (right) 32

Figure 45. Colourful land iguana (left), female lava lizard on cactus tree (center), marine iguana (right) 33

Figure 46. Pink land iguana (left), red-coloured marine iguana (right) 33

Figure 47. View of Santa Fe from our cabin (left), sea lions on beach (center), view of anchorage (right) 34

Figure 48. Galápagos snake (left), yellow land iguana (center), sea lion in shade (right) 34

Figure 49. Thomas snorkelling (left), an approaching sea lion (center), Donna snorkelling (right) 34

Figure 50.Whales breached while some slept 35

Figure 51. Surf at Suarez Point (left), mother with new born sea lion (center), dead new born (right) 36

Figure 52. Blue-footed Boobies (left), Mexican standoff (center), boobies marching (right) 36

Figure 53. Waved albatross courtship (left), damaged egg (center), chick & adult (right) 36

Figure 54. Cliffs (left), red-billed tropicbird offshore (center), blow hole (right) 37

Figure 55. Gaggle of marine iguanas (left), colourful iguana (center), Red-spotted iguanas (right) 37

Figure 56. Lava heron (left), Galápagos hawk leaving nest (center), Nazca/masked booby (right) 38

Figure 57. Gardner Bay (left), big bull sea lion beachmaster (center), hermit crab (right) 38

Figure 58. Sunset off Floreana Island (left), yacht at sunset (center), Devil's Crown crater (right) 39

Figure 59. Post barrel (left), entrance to lava tube (center), passing by abandoned fish plant (right) 39

Figure 60. Underwater tunnel (left), curious sea lion (center), shark underneath us (right) 40

Figure 61. Moorish Idols (left), snorkeling (center), surgeon fish (right) 40

Figure 62. Galápagos shark by boat (left), watching sharks (center), Great Blue Heron (right) 41

Figure 63. Flamingo feeding in lake (left), path to Carolina Beach (center), sand-covered stingray (right) 41

Figure 64. Leaving landing at Cormorant Point (left), busy Puerto Ayora (center), Research Station (right) 41

Figure 65. Batch of tortoises (left), Lonesome George (saddle-backed) (center), dome-shelled (right) 43

Figure 66. No teeth (left), colourful land iguana (center), big scales and suspicious look (right) 43

Figure 67. Nice looking building (left), streetscape (center), retablo shadow boxes (right) 44

Figure 68. Sorting sea cucumbers (left), sea lions & pelicans at fish market (center), Brown Pelican (right) 44

Figure 69. Lush highland vegetation (left), dome-shelled tortoise (center), tortoise track (right) 45

Figure 70. Galápagos Mouse (left), tortoise in water hole (center), ‘Here is it!’ (right) 45

Figure 71. Tortoise eating grass (left), big tortoise (center), under armour & ready for battle (right) 45

Figure 72. Puerto Ayora - resupplying (left), sunrise off Rabida (center), beachmaster patrolling (right) 46

Figure 73. Galápagos Brown Pelican chicks (left), Rabida beach (center), Ghost crab (right) 46

Figure 74. Hawksbill feeding (left), Hawksbill Sea Turtle (center), colourful fish with turtle (right) 47

Figure 75. Donna and penguin (left), Galápagos Penguin (center), young sea lions on beach (right) 47

Figure 76. Sally Lightfoot crab (left), on lava bridge (center), sea turtle under lava bridge (right) 47

Figure 77. Marine iguana threesome (left), fur seal mother and new pup (center), fur seal placenta (right) 48

Figure 78. View inland (left), Polaris at anchor (center), watching for humpback whales (right) 48

Figure 79. Moonrise over Santiago Island (left), relaxing after supper (center), Reuben & Carolina (right) 48

Figure 80. Dinghy ride with captain (left), penguins on Pinnacle Rock (center), rainbow over bay (right) 49

Figure 81. Pinnacle Rock & Sullivan Bay (left), colourful cactus (center), Pinnacle Rock (right) 49

Figure 82. Donna & penguin (left), penguin pooping (center), surgeonfish & Azure parrotfish (right) 50

Figure 83. Lava killed tree (left), big crack in lava flow (center), Naomi & author (right) 50

Figure 84. Author snorkelling (left), frigatebirds over Aida Maria (center), bon voyage cake (right) 51

Figure 85. A goodbye toast from the wonderful crew of the Aida Maria. 51

Figure 86. Male Frigatebird (left), courtship display (center), the result – a Frigatebird chick (right) 52

Figure 87. Dawn over North Seymour (left), Blue-footed Booby & chick (center), marine iguana (right) 52

Figure 88. Big luxury cruise ships (left), our replacements on Aida Maria (center), penguin at airport (right) 52

Figure 89. Shops at airport (left), AeroGal arrives (center), goodbye Fretha (right) 53

 

List of Tables

 

Table 1. Key Vacation Costs per Person. 2

 

References

 

  1. Inca road system, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inca_trail.
  2. Grounding the Nazca Balloon by Katherine Reece, http://www.hallofmaat.com/modules.php?name=Articles&file=article&sid=96.
  3. Nazca Lines, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazca_lines.
  4. Tourist Yacht Sinks, http://www.Galápagos.org.nz/2008/07/04/tourist-yacht-sinks/.
  5. Darwin in the Galápagos Islands, http://www.Galápagosconnection.net/page_darwin.html.
  6. Page xvii, Hawaiian Sculpture by J. Halley Cox, William H. Davenport, University of Hawaii Press, 1988.
  7. The Nazca Drawings Revisited: Creation of a Full-Sized Duplicate (http://www.csicop.org/si/8301/nazca.html), Joe Nickell, Skeptical Inquirer magazine, Spring 1983.
  8. Dr. Maria Reiche and the Nazca Plateau, http://www.nazcamystery.com/nazca_mariareiche.htm.
  9. Summer Solstice Facts, for When "the Sun Stands Still", http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/06/080619-solstice-facts_2.html.
  10. Machu Picchu's Mysteries Continue to Lure Explorers,  http://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/ancient/machu-picchu.html?fs=www3.nationalgeographic.com&fs=plasma.nationalgeographic.com.
  11. Peru Quake Kills Hundreds, But No Tsunami Threat, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/08/070816-peru-quake.html, 16 August 2007.
  12. Peru earthquake 2007, http://www.alertnet.org/db/crisisprofiles/PE_EAR.htm.
  13. Incan lost city looted by German businessman, http://www.newscientist.com/channel/being-human/dn14050-incan-lost-city-looted-by-german-businessman.html?feedId=online-news_rss20, 03 June 2008.
  14. Mystic Places, http://www.world-mysteries.com/mpl_9.htm.
  15. Questions & Answers, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/inca1/qanda.html.
  16. Inca Land Explorations in the Highlands of Peru, Chapter XVII, Hiram Bingham (www.kellscraft.com/IncaLand/incalands11.html), 1911.
  17. Chinese demand drives road-building and deforestation in the Amazon, http://news.mongabay.com/2005/0407-tina_butler.html, 17 April 2005
  18. Reviving Inca Waterways, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,953142-1,00.html, 28 September, 1981.
  19. The High Mummies, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/peru/mummies/high1.html.
  20. “Highway of the Sun: A search for the royal roads of the Incas”, Victor von Hagen.
  21. www.timetravelteam.com/ethno/inka.htm.
  22. http://veimages.gsfc.nasa.gov/17305/nazca_IKO_2005015_lrg.jpg.
  23. Hazardous planes put Nazca tourists at risk, http://www.livinginperu.com/news/8002.
  24. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1106425/The-Darwin-missed--Striking-new-pink-iguana-species-Galapagos.html, 6 January 2009.
  25. The 44 Places to Go in 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2009/01/11/travel/20090111_DESTINATIONS.html, 11 January 2009.

 


1       The Trip Background

1.1      Introduction

Given cost of the flights to and from Peru and Ecuador (Figure 1), we needed to maximize the activities in that part of the world.  Hence we wanted to include both a cruise in the Galápagos Islands and a trek on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.  So the constraints were that we needed to book this trip when permits for the Inca Trail were available and when a cruise around the Galápagos Island was available.  The complication was that the period of July-August is the high season for these two destinations.

 

The decision to commit to hiking the Inca Trail was a difficult one given the physical effort required and my osteoarthritis that means I must baby my knee.

 

Figure 1. Grand lines of our travel to and from Ecuador and Peru

This trip report is written to remind us of the trip that we took, the sights that we saw and why the places that we visited are of general interest.  Without the later understanding, the sights are little more than interesting piles of stones that are unconnected to history.

 

I've tried to illustrate our trip mainly with our pictures, supplemented as required by other photographs freely available on the Internet.  Apart from describing our experience, I've included the history of many of the sights.  I hope that I've given credit to any material taken from the Internet in the list of references.

1.2      Costs

The costs of this vacation are shown by leg in Table 1.  The grand total cost was about C$7700/person or C$2600/person/week which is more than double what we’ve paid in the past for a week at an all inclusive sun destination in the Caribbean.  In short this was a very expensive trip for us.

 

All miscellaneous expenses were paid for in cash.  In Ecuador the US dollar is the currency while in Peru, it is either the Soles or the US dollar – you get a better deal with Soles.  We were lucky that the Canadian dollar was almost at parity with the US dollar when we exchanged our money in Canada.

 

Leg of Trip

Travel

Hotel

Miscellaneous

Remarks

G.A.P Adventures’ trip to the Inca Trail and the Amazon Jungle

C$1195

+ US$250

 

 

US$250 was a “local payment fee” paid in cash at the start of the tour.

8 day cruise in Galápagos on Aida Maria

US$2400

 

 

Price included the US$400 flight from Quito to the Galápagos Islands.

Flight from Ottawa to Quito

C$659

 

 

Expedia.ca: Air Canada to Bogotá & Avianca from Bogotá to Quito

Flight from Quito to Lima

C$573

 

 

Expedia.ca

Flight from Lima to Ottawa

C$817

 

 

Expedia.ca

Car from Lima to Nazca

US$150

 

 

 

Flight over Nazca Lines

US$67

 

 

 

Cash for meals, fees, souvenirs, incidents.

 

 

US$1000

 

Eugenia Hotel, Quito

 

US$120

 

Expedia.ca (5 nights)

Exclusive Hotel, Lima (pre/post tour)

 

US$67

 

Orbitz.com (2 nights)

Table 1. Key Vacation Costs per Person

1.3      Hurray Our Boat Sank!

On 4 July, a month before our scheduled departure, Intrepid Tours phoned me and asked if I had received the following email advising us that our cruise was cancelled:

 

From: Intrepid Travel Emergency

Subject: ***Very Urgent ***Intrepid Travel 275206

Received: Friday, July 4, 2008, 3:58 AM

 

Dear Thomas & Donna,

***An Intrepid staff member will be in contact with you today to ensure
that you have received this email.

We are writing to you regarding your upcoming Intrepid trip:

10 days Galápagos Adventure departing 10 August 2008.

There has been an accident on the Galápagos boat MS Spondylus (chartered
by Intrepid) at Genovesa Island in the early hours of Tuesday 1st July.
The boat started taking on water, resulting in all passengers safely
transferring to another boat.

All passengers, staff and crew are safe, comfortable and being taken
care of by Intrepid staff.

At this stage the exact circumstances of the cause of the accident are
unknown however, we will continue to support local authorities in any
inquiries they have. The latest information we have is that the boat has
not sunk and attempts to salvage the vessel will be made at the safest
and earliest opportunity in order to prevent any negative environmental
impacts. Regardless of the result of the salvage operation the boat
however will not be in service for the remainder of 2008.

Due to the accident involving the chartered boat MS Spondylus and the
unavailability of any immediate replacement charter boats during high
season in the Galápagos, all Intrepid ocean-based trips have been
cancelled, unfortunately including yours.

We have exhausted all options available to us in trying to source
another boat in the short to medium term however we will continue to
update our website (http://www.intrepidtravel.com/ourtrips/safety/#Galápagos)

as developments unfold.

We appreciate that this will come as quite a shock, especially at this
late stage and we sincerely apologise for the inconvenience and
disappointment this may cause.

Due to the trip being cancelled we will be issuing you with a full
refund of your trip price.

 

A little investigation showed that the accident was in fact that the Spondylus sank at 0230 hours on 2 July as the following news release shows:

 

On July 2nd, the motor yacht Spondylus contrived to sink in Darwin Bay on Genovesa in the north of the islands. She had 15 passengers and eight crew aboard at the time and they are all safe, and as far as we know there were no injuries. There is likewise no indication of bad weather or any other factors contributing to the sinking. We have no information on how it happened, though there is a shallow spot at the entrance to the bay and if you are careless, you can hit it. Genovesa is very much an ‘island of birds’ with tens of thousands of red-footed boobies and even larger numbers of Galápagos and Madeiran storm petrels. There are also frigate birds, tropic birds, lava and swallow-tailed gulls and Galápagos shearwaters. There is bound to be some pollution from the accident mainly diesel oil, and this may affect some bird species as well as marine iguanas which may be the species most at risk. The National park has sent a team up to Genovesa to assess the damage.

 

Note: Spondylus is the generic name of a bivalve mollusc found on the coast of Ecuador, it is also known as the spiny or thorny oyster.

 

I then emailed Donna with the discouraging news:

 

-----Original Message-----
From:     Thomas
Sent:     Friday, July 04, 2008 2:45 PM
To:       Donna
Subject:  Our boat sank!!!

 

Donna,

I don't know what to do as it late in the day for alternate arrangements.

Thomas

 

She found the subject of the email amusing but this sinking literally left us high and dry!  The other difficulty was that any alternative cruise had to occur when we would be in Quito, i.e. between 8-18 August.  Fortunately we were able to find an advertisement on the Columbus Travel website from Quito (http://www.columbusecuador.com/) advertising that an eight day cruise on the Aida Maria was available between 10-17 August.  While we were concerned about the mixed reviews of the Aida Maria found on www.tripadvisor.com but there was no realistic alternative that met our time constraints so we jumped on this and contacted Columbus Travel and an agent named Washington contacted us.  He told us that we must send proof of payment via a bank wire transfer with 24 hours.  This was of concern since Columbus Travel is an Ecuadorian company so we would have little recourse if anything went awry.  In any event, I immediately sent a bank wire transfer to Columbus Travel and scanned the receipt and emailed to Columbus Travel since ScotiaBank said that it could take up to two weeks for the transfer to be completed!

 

In the end the sinking of the Spondylus was a blessing in disguise as Columbus Travel came through and both the Aida Maria and our fellow passengers were top notch.

 

When we got to the Galápagos, we were told that the Spondylus was a boat built for inland waters and not suitable for ocean sailing.  As well, our source told us that sleep might have been involved since the incident occurred at 0230 hours when negotiating a tricky entrance to Darwin Bay on Genovesa Island.

1.4      Trip Summary

In preparation for our trip, we saw a travel doctor who gave us prescriptions for Ciprofloxacin (2 x 500mg) for diarrhea; 10 days of Malarone against malaria; four days of Diamox against altitude sickness; yellow fever vaccination (this was for our stay in the Amazon rainforest, although the yellow fever vaccination was apparently available for free at the Puerto Maldonado airport); and a booster dose of Dukoral against traveller's diarrhea and cholera.  We never had to use the Cipro but someone else on our Inca Trail trek needed it.   Donna used her Diamox while I opted not to while we both used Malarone for our jungle stay but forgot to continue taking it after staying up for 36 hours straight at the end of our trip.  We brought good first aid material with us and had to use it to treat Donna’s blisters on the Inca Trail trek.  However we forget to bring a needle to drain the blisters but the saving grace was that I found an old emergency first aid kit with a needle that was stashed away in my belt pack.  Speaking of which, my big Coleman belt pack (right, Figure 17) proved very useful for carrying my camera and money belt although at times it was hot around my waist and a drag to wear.

 

During our three and a half week long trip, we visited many interesting places and met a number of people.  The people were almost invariably helpful and friendly despite the endemic poverty.  Without the help that we received, we wouldn't have had so enjoyable a trip and seen all that we did. 

 

A traveller cannot go wrong visiting the places that we went to and by the different means of transportation that we used (Figure 2).  Particularly memorable are stepping through the Sun Gate near the end of the Inca Trail as the first sunrays struck the ruins of Machu Picchu, and the hair raising van ride from Lima to Nazca and back.

 

During our trip, I took some 4,000 photographs with a Panasonic Lumix DMC- TZ4 (10X optical zoom and 8 megapixels) and filled a 16 GB SDHC digital memory card with 10 GB of photographs and movies.  This works out to approximately 190 per day!  Some of the more interesting of these photographs are found in this document.  In order to take so many photographs, I spent most of my time when traveling along observing the passing scene while the other fellow travellers frequently slept or read.  I rarely got tied of watching the people and the sights going by.

 

The Lumix DMC- TZ4 performance was mediocre with some shots being excellent and some being washed out.  The later is especially true in the mountains on the Inca Trail hike.  The 10X optical zoom was a boon as it allowed me to take close-ups that my old 4X optical zoom simply could not do.  As well since it is a 28mm lens, it has a wide field of view which was very useful at times.

 

In the Galápagos, I also used three inexpensive underwater disposable cameras with each having 24 exposures.  While the resultant pictures are grainy, they hold a record of some great memories including close-ups of a large Hawksbill sea turtle feeding, sea lions swimming by us and a shark passing 20 feet below us.

 

I’d like to go back to Ecuador and Peru but I'd like to dedicate whatever travel opportunities that I have remaining to visiting the South Seas, southern South America, Africa and Asia.

 

Figure 2. Trains, planes, automobiles and boats around Ecuador and Peru


2       Ecuador

2.1      Introduction

Ecuador, officially the Republic of Ecuador, also includes the Galápagos Islands in the Pacific, about 965 kilometres (600 miles) west of the mainland.  Interestingly Ecuador straddles the equator, from which it takes its name, and it has an area of 256,371 square kilometres (98,985 mi²). Its capital city is Quito (1.8 million) while its largest city is Guayaquil (2.1 million).

 

The region of Ecuador became part of the Inca Empire in 1463. Atahualpa, one of the sons of the Inca emperor Huayna Capac, could not receive the crown of the Empire since the emperor had another son, Huascar, born in the Incan capital Cusco. Upon Huayna Capac's death in 1525, the empire was divided in two: Atahualpa received the north, with his capital in Quito; Huascar received the south, with its capital in Cusco. In 1530, Atahualpa defeated Huascar and conquered the entire Empire for the crown of Quito. However soon Atahualpa was fighting the Spanish and he was garrotted by the Spanish in 1533.

 

On May 24, 1822 (the Glorious May Revolution) Ecuador regained its independence from Spain.

 

Disputed control over southern territory has led to a long-lasting dispute between Ecuador and Peru that broke into open conflict in the mid-1990s.  A peace agreement was finally reached in October 1998 to end hostilities.

 

To get there we were supposed to catch the following series of flights on Thursday, 7 Aug 2008:

 

  1. Ottawa (YOW) Depart 12:00 pm to Toronto (YYZ) Arrive 1:05 pm  377 km (234 mi) Duration: 1hr 5min on Air Canada Flight: 451 (EMBRAER 190)

 

  1. Toronto (YYZ) Depart 3:10 pm to Bogotá (BOG) Arrive 8:00 pm  4,347 km (2,701 mi) Dur ation: 5hr 50min on Air Canada Flight: 962 (Boeing 767)

 

  1. Bogotá (BOG) Depart 9:36 pm to Quito (UIO) Arrive 11:01 pm  724 km (450 mi) Duration: 1hr 25min on Avianca Flight: 81 (Airbus 319)

 

However, it did not quite work out that way as Air Canada left Toronto at 5 o’clock (right, Figure 3) about two hours late so we knew that we would miss our Avianca connecting flight from Bogotá to Quito.  As our plane was moving back for our gate at the Toronto airport, we saw an Air Canada Airbus A319 that was painted in the retro colour scheme of Trans-Canada Airlines (TCA) (left, Figure 3).  This beautiful colour scheme was to celebrate the 60th anniversary TCA (1937-1997) which was Air Canada's predecessor.

 

Figure 3. Air Canada C-FZUH in TCA livery (left), takeoff from Toronto at 5 o’clock (right)

Flying down to Bogotá, we saw some islands in the Caribbean and a beautiful sunset with Venus in the sky (left, Figure 4).  We were very concerned about how we would get to Quito since I booked our flight through Expedia.ca and not directly with Air Canada so we did not know if they would help us out with our missed connection.

 

Figure 4. Beautiful sunset over Caribbean (left), our Avianca Airbus 319 to Quito (right)

We finally got into Bogotá about 2230 hours and fortunately the local Air Canada representative arranged to put up the group of 10 people in the same boat in the Sheraton in downtown Bogotá.  After the bus ride to the hotel and the check in, we got into our room just before midnight and ordered a good breakfast meal from room service using the chit that we were provided.  After our wake up call at 0530 hours for our departure at 0600 hours, we decided to use a bottle of water and take some snacks from the mini-bar believing that it was covered by Air Canada.  This was a mistake as I had to pay US$25 at checkout (this was the first time that I’d purchased a US$5 chocolate bar).

 

While passing through the security at the Bogotá airport, we heard my name in a Spanish announcement.  Checking with the Avianca representatives at the boarding gate, I was told that my bag had been selected for a search because of a drug-sniffling dog.  So I along with five others was escorted down to an area where there were lots of baggage handlers, security personnel and drug dogs.  I identified my bag and it was opened and hand searched.  The item that triggered the search appeared to be one of Donna’s snacks.  Anyway there were many travellers down there for a search and we all appeared to be cleared to fly.  Finally, our Avianca flight to Quito (right, Figure 4) took off at 0800 hours and we arrived in Quito about 0930 hours.

 

When I booked our flight to Quito on Expedia.ca, I also booked two tours with Gray Line through Expedia.ca: the City Tour & Equatorial Monument ($25) and the Otavalo Market ($45).  To take these trips, we have to print out coupons and notify Gray Line of the date we would take the trip and the location of pickup.  Fortunately the Eugenia Hotel is located just a 5 minute walk from one of Gray Lines’ pick up points, the JW Marriot Hotel.  When we wanted to take one of the trips, we notified Gray Line via email from the Eugenia Hotel and Gray Line dropped off a confirmatory message at our hotel’s reception.  I was impressed by the service provided by Gray Line.

2.2      Quito

Quito, the Capital of Ecuador, at an altitude of 9,252 feet (2820 m) it sits only 25 kilometres from the Equator.  Hence Quito does not suffer through long winters as enjoys mild days and cool nights almost year-round.

 

Quito was the first city in the world to be declared World Heritage Cultural Site by UNESCO in 1978.  However for many years Quito was just a stopover for tourists heading to the Galápagos.  Its Old Town was a maze of litter-strewn streets and dilapidated colonial facades while its New Town was known for raucous partying and muggings.  Things started to turn around in 2001 with the initiation of a revitalization campaign that has poured hundreds of millions of dollars in public and private investment into neglected neighbourhoods.  The restoration of historic buildings and construction of hotels and attractions and a strengthened Policía de Turismo have made Quito more of a tourist destination and a safer one too.

 

We thoroughly enjoyed the Old Town, with its colonial buildings and friendly people.  We did not have enough local experience so we heeded the advice to walk around outside of the main tourist areas only by day and to take a taxi at night.  This included in respecting the advice not to walk up the road to the top of the hill named El Panecillo which overlooks the Old Town due to the threat of muggings.

 

The Quito airport is surrounded by the city which has expanded around it.  In order to increase the air traffic to Quito, the government is building a new airport about a 45 minute cab ride outside of Quito – currently it is only a 10 minute cab ride into the New Town.  The new airport which is under construction was scheduled to open in 2008 but apparently there is a delay until 2012.

 

Figure 5. Elegant dining at Eugenia Hotel (left), Eugenia Hotel (center), Burger Queen (right)

After arriving in Quito from Bogotá on 8 August in the morning, we caught a US$5 cab to check into to the elegant Eugenia Hotel (center, Figure 5).  One evening we dined in the elegant dining room (left, Figure 5) but the fillet mignon was tough and the staff wanted to close up so the experience was not satisfactory which was topped off by a 25% tax and service fee on the US$30 bill.  After this we dined at the neighbouring Burger King (right, Figure 5) on the excellent King de Pollo sandwiches.

 

After dropping off our luggage, we hurried over to the office of Columbus Travel to pick up our Galápagos cruise tickets before 1200 hours in case that there was a closure for siesta.  Happily the travel agency was open and we met our agent Washington who I had exchanged numerous emails with.  He was nice and offered us coffee while we waited for the documents to be prepared.

 

We asked about go to the TeleferiQo and volunteered to arrange a ride for us to it for US$4.  Apparently he knew someone and soon we were off to the base of the TeleferiQo.

2.2.1     Up on the TeleferiQo

In 2005, the TeleferiQo (cable car) was inaugurated.  It starts at 9,680 ft and reaches 13,284 ft in a matter of 8 to 10 minutes.  TeleferiQo is located on Cruz Loma (center, Figure 6), one of the hills on the slopes of the active Pichincha volcano (15,000 ft) that lies West of the city.  From the cabins (capacity of 6 passengers), one gets interesting views of Quito during the 3,600 ft ascent.  At the top of the TeleferiQo, one finds moorlands with a church under construction (right, Figure 6).  On a clear day one is supposed to be able to see the surrounding volcanoes in the distance, including Cotopaxi (19,347 ft).

 

We initially opted to buy the US$4 regular ticket but a quick time estimate indicated that it might take over an hour to get through the line so we upgraded to the US$7 express ticket.  The express ticket entitled one of get in the fast lane and we had only a 10 minute wait to get on the TeleferiQo.  Interestingly on our return back down the mountain, there was no one waiting in line!

 

Figure 6. View of Quito from TeleferiQo (left), TeleferiQo (center), church & top of mountain (right)

After descending the TeleferiQo, we boarded a local minibus taxi with some 6 locals for a trip to the old section of Quito.  The local were charged USD $0.50, while we paid USD $1 – if we spoke Spanish then we’d have probably got the same rate as the locals.

2.2.2     Old (Colonial) Quito

After walking around the Plaza Grande (formally known as Plaza de la Independencia) and viewing the protests in front of the Carondelet Palace (Presidential Palace), we went to the entrance of the Carondelet Palace which has a ceremonial guard (left, Figure 8).  However we were refused entry as there was some event on.  We asked a friendly well dressed official where we could find La Compañía de Jesús and he checked with one of the guards who whispered his answer and then pointed his eyes in the direction of the church.

 

Each day we visited the Plaza Grande, there were protestors out front of the Presidential Palace waving their banners and making loud noise (left, Figure 7).  This protest in Figure 7 was apparently about problems with housing projects in Benalcázar, an urban parish in the northeastern part of the city of Quito.  We saw government official surveilling the protestors (center, Figure 7).  This official was dressed in a grey uniform that reminded me of a Nazi uniform.

 

There was an attractive courtyard just off of the plaza (right, Figure 7).  This courtyard was cool in the heat and provided a private space from the crowds on the street outside.

 

Figure 7. Protest at Palace (left), surveilling protesters (center), Palace guard’s uniform (right)

Figure 8. Carondelet Palace guards (left), woman at plaza (center), house courtyard near plaza (right)

2.2.2.1       La Compañía de Jesús

We walked down the street to visit the Jesuit church known as the La Compañía de Jesús (left, Figure 9).  The church is considered as one of the great baroque masterpieces in South America.  All the work took 160 years to complete (1605-1765).  The church was only just completed before the Jesuit's expulsion from the New World in 1767 - a result of the King of Spain arbitrarily giving his uncle, the King of Portugal, a slice of his lands which the Jesuits refused to leave.

 

The volcanic stone carved facade (left, Figure 9) is rather detailed but it is inside that the magic of this church is found.  Almost every inch of the interior has intricate decorations.  The walls and ceilings of La Compañía are typical of Moorish design with only geometric shapes and no human forms (center, Figure 9). The building has been under renovation for the past several years, and some of the gold leaf on the ceiling and walls has been restored to its original luster (right, Figure 9). Natural sunlight and candlelight really bring out an angelic brilliance.

 

Figure 9. La Compañía de Jesús (left), gilded transept (center), old & new gilding (right)

We visited La Compañía de Jesús twice: once during the day to see the amazing interior (US$2 pp); and again to attend Mass at 1800 hours.  During our Gray Line bus trip

2.2.2.2       Plaza Grande - Changing of the Guard

Fortunately our Gray Line “City & Equatorial Monument” tour was on a Monday and we were in the old part of town near mid-day in time to watch the weekly changing of the guard ceremony at the Presidential Palace and the Plaza Grande.  This ceremony is performed by the Granaderos de Tarqui (Tarqui Grenadiers) who also mount the guard of honour at the Presidential Palace.  The uniforms of the Tarqui Grenadiers are the same ones used by troops at the Battle of Tarqui in February 1829, when 4,000 troops from Gran Colombia (Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela) seized victory from 8,000 Peruvians.  Their motto is: "Loyalty even with sacrifice".

 

Before the ceremony started, we walked by the soldiers preparing and saw a lancer in a period uniform taking a cell phone call (left, Figure 10) – talk about an anachronism!

 

Figure 10. Taking cellphone call (left), marchers (center), handing over commander’s sword (right)

When this ceremony started, the demonstrators in the Plaza Grande in front of the Presidential Palace stopped their noise making until the ceremony was over.  This decorum was higher than that we later saw at a similar ceremony at the Government Palace in Lima where tear gas was used to control a noisy demonstrator (see section on stay in Lima).

 

This ceremony was a great chance to see Ecuadorian military pomp and procession at its best, with mounted and dismounted soldiers, plenty of shiny boots, polished brass, military band and a fanfare of trumpets (click here to see movie clip of ceremony). The climax of the ceremony is when the audience sings the national anthem and the Ecuadorian flag is raised over the Presidential Palace (center, Figure 11).

 

Figure 11. Presidential Palace (left), flag is raised over Palace (center), victory monument in Plaza (right)

2.2.2.3       More Churches

The first stop our Gray Line “City Tour & Equatorial Monument” tour was the Basílica del Voto Nacional or the Iglesia de la Catedral (center, Figure 12).  Its structure and style is compared with two of the great gothic cathedrals worldwide: Saint Patrick's Cathedral, New York and the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris.  

 

It was built to recall the consecration of the Ecuadorian state to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, during the presidency of Gabriel Garcia Moreno in 1873.  It has 115 metres of height and it is conformed by 24 internal chapels that represent the provinces of the country.  Its sanctuary was inaugurated and blessed by the Pope John Paul II during his visit to Ecuador in January of 1985.

 

The Basilica del Voto Nacional is distinguished for the substitution of the classic gargoyles with reptiles and native amphibians of Ecuador such as the gargoyles based on iguanas and tortoise from the Galápagos Islands (left and right, Figure 12).  To be frank though, I thought that this impressive gothic cathedral was out of place in Quito or elsewhere in such a non-European-based setting.

 

Figure 12. Iguana gargoyle (left), Iglesia de la Catedral (center), tortoise gargoyle (right)

The next stop was the Iglesia de San Francisco (center, Figure 13) which was the first church built in Quito. Construction began in 1535, just 1 month after the Spanish arrived, although it took more than 100 years to finish.  The Plaza San Francisco (left, Figure 13) in front of this baroque church is distinctly sloped and for several hundred years, it was assumed that it followed the shape of the earth (click here for movie clip of Plaza San Francisco).  However, a group of archaeologists recently discovered that San Francisco was built over an Inca temple, which is the reason the actual church is much higher than other structures in Quito.

 

In the entryway, are images of the sun, which were used to lure indigenous people to the Christian religion (right, Figure 13).

 

Figure 13. Plaza San Francisco (left), Iglesia de San Francisco (center), Inca sun symbol (right)

2.2.2.4       A Hill Named El Panecillo

Leaving the Plaza San Francisco, we headed by to the top of the hill named El Panecillo (supposedly it looks like a small bread).  El Panecillo overlooks colonial Quito and is topped by a 134½ foot (41 m)-tall aluminium clad statute of a Madonna erected in 1976 (center, Figure 14).  We had wanted to walk up there earlier but the guide books all cautioned against doing so due to the threat of robbery.

 

The hill, the site of a temple to the sun in pre-Spanish times, affords excellent view over Quito’s cityscape (right, Figure 14; left, Figure 15; right, Figure 15) including a good view of the Plaza San Francisco (center, Figure 15).

 

Figure 14. Plane coming into Quito airport (left), Madonna on El Panecillo (center), crowded hillside (right)

Figure 15. Quito In clouds (left), Plaza San Francisco (center), low highrises (right)

2.2.3     Equatorial Monument (La Mitad del Mundo)

 

Departing El Panecillo we drove 15 miles north of Quito to the Equatorial Monument (La Mitad del Mundo).  The area in the north of the Quito has been the object of a number of studies attempting to determine the exact location of the equator, with the first result being obtained in the early 1700s by Charles Marie de La Condamine.  At the end of the 18th century, General Charles Perrier, from the French Academy of Sciences, was sent to lead a mission to verify that result.  In the 1980s, a new and impressive Equatorial Monument was built astride the equator.

 

Figure 16. Astride equator - Equatorial Monument (left), Solar Museum (center), view to monument (right)

The Equatorial Monument is surrounded by buildings that were designed to represent a typical Ecuadorian village having main a square, a church, a cockfight ring, homes and stores.  We walked around the monument and took the requisite photograph while standing on the line supposedly marking the equator (left, Figure 16).  However supposedly GPS measurements have since determined that the actual equator is some 200 metres north of the monument area where the Indian people had located it.

 

I did not find the Equatorial Monument that interesting and as I’d read that there was a small interesting museum located on the actual location of the equator, I asked our Gray Line guide if we could walk over to it.  She checked with the other four folks on our tour and everyone wanted to see this museum so we drove over to the Intiñan Solar Museum (US$3 pp), a museum that also includes displays about the indigenous peoples of Ecuador.  From the outside, this museum is not that impressive (center, Figure 16) but inside it is very well done and quite entertaining.

 

The museum is situated on what they said is the actual equator as confirmed by US Navy GSP (L center, Figure 19).  Across a small swale from the museum we could see the Equatorial Monument (right, Figure 16) so clearly either someone is wrong or they are working together to get the sucker born every minute J

 

After entering we were assigned a guide (R center, Figure 19) who took our group around the museum.  As the other guides that we had in Ecuador and Peru, she went to university for three years to become a tourist guide.  It is quite an effort to become a guide.

 

Most of the museum displays are dedicated to the indigenous peoples of Ecuador including preserved large jungle snakes, a dart blow gun, instructions on how to make a shrunken head and a preserved penis fish.  Our guide explained that the penis fish (Candiru fish) detects the ammonium in urine if one urinates while in a river and locates the source, i.e. the penis, and then enters the body through the penis.  Once inside, it embeds its fin-like spikes into the bladder and grows inside its host.  One of our tour members was very concerned about this fish as he thought that the fish could swim up the urine stream if one was urinating from the river bank into the river – talk about salmon swimming upstream!

 

For S./0.50 we had our photograph taken with a person wearing a kachina-like mask of the type that we saw in both Ecuador and Peru (center, Figure 17) and we got to try on a feathered headdress from the jungles of the Amazon (left & right, Figure 17).

 

Figure 17. Jungle Indian (left), kachina-like mask (center), ready for jungle (right)

We liked the interactive exhibits which included the ability to handle an Amazonian Indian spear (left, Figure 18) and to posed in front of a giant anaconda (right, Figure 18).  A couple of the Indian huts were thatched and had rope-like designs applied onto the thatching (center, Figure 18).

 

Figure 18. Holding Indian spear (left), design on thatched roof (center), snake attacking (right)

On the equator itself, the museum has a number of experiments that visitors can perform that supposedly are only possible only on the equator due to the absence of coreolis effect.  However, most of these experiments are faked.  For instance, our museum guide demonstrated that water flowed down a drain in a counter-clockwise direction in the northern hemisphere, clockwise in the southern and straight down on the equator (R center, Figure 19).  However she provided the initial conditions to start the flow in the desired direction when she removed her hand from the basin (click here to view movie clip of draining basin). 

 

Another experiment was to balance an egg on end on the point of a nail which supposedly can only be done at the equator - however, that is not the case.  As well we were told that it was easier to keep your balance when walking a straight line along the equator (left, Figure 19).  In any event visiting this museum was much more interesting than spending all our time at the Equatorial Monument.

 

Figure 19. Balancing along equator (left), actual equator? (L center), water test (R center), sundial (right)

2.2.4     Otavalo Market

On Saturday, 9 August we went on our Gray Line tour to the Otavalo Market (Saturday is when the market is at its biggest).  We were picked up at the JW Marriot Hotel at 0815 hours and went around to several other hotels until about 18 people were on our mini-bus. 

 

Our first stop was at a handicraft shop just north of Quito.  This shop sold colourful ornaments made of coloured dough.  There was a person in the back of the shop demonstrating how the ornaments were made (left, Figure 20).  Donna bought 20 small clip-on decorations for a class in her school that was scheduled to have a study session on Quito.  Just down the street from the shop was a general store in the true meaning of the name as it sold goods including TVs, kitchen appliances and motorbikes (right, Figure 20).

 

Figure 20. Ornaments from dough (left), Indian vendor on bus (center), general store (right)

A pretty Indian vendor got onboard our bus and sang some songs (center, Figure 20) before selling items such as scarves and knit belts.  I bought a belt for US $4.  She got off the bus after about 20 minutes.

 

Figure 21. Begging at mirador (left), flower greenhouses (center), calcium mining (right)

Our first stop along the way to Otavalo was at a mirador overlooking large flower greenhouses growing roses for export (center, Figure 21).  When our bus stopped an older woman sat down at the bus’ entrance to beg and was soon joined by a small child and their dog (left, Figure 21).  Leaving this unfortunate situation, we resumed our journey and passed by several cliffs where locals had driven mine shafts into veins of calcium limestone (right, Figure 21).  The calcium limestone is processed into calcium carbonate that has a number of uses including glass manufacturing, plastics concrete cement.

 

Our next stop was in a small town on the equator that had a monument on the equator (center, Figure 22) where guinea pig was being BBQed (right, Figure 22).  There was a sign announcing that an equator sun dial coming soon (left, Figure 22).  It looked like it would be interesting to see should it be built.

 

Figure 22. New equator sun dial coming soon (left), astride the equator (center), BBQ guinea pig (right)

Our fourth stop was at the Mira Lago tourist restaurant and shop where we paid 50 cents to have Donna’s picture taken with a weaver (left, Figure 23).

 

Figure 23. Weaver at Mira Lago (left), firewood collector (center), weaver near Otavalo (right)

Unfortunately since we stopped so often (the guide controlled the stops) our guide, Luis, only wanted to give us an hour at the Otavalo Market but this was too short so we agreed to spend 1.5 hours there.  Since Otavalo is a largely indigenous town, its market is a fascinating mix of food and textiles.  The Otavalo Indians are famous for the weaving of textiles, a practice which they have had for 400 years.

 

During our walk through the market, I bought a corn on the cob [it was rather tasteless white corn – (left, Figure 24)] and an alpaca scarf (right, Figure 25) while Donna bought an alpaca sweater (left, Figure 25) and a scarf.

 

Figure 24. Corn on the cob (left), knitting at market (center), trying on alpaca cape (right)

Figure 25. Buying alpaca sweater (left), spices for sale (center), buying alpaca scarf (right)

Leaving Otavalo we stopped at the house of a weaver who showed us his loom and finished goods.

 

Our final stop on our way back was at Cotacachi Village for lunch.  The small villages around Otavalo specialise in a particular craft - Cotacachi specialises in leather goods.  The lunch which was included in our ticket was good and we had time to wander around the town. 

 

Figure 26. Church at Cotacachi (left), small women (center), bandage on finger (right)

We stopped in at the big church as Mass was finishing up (left, Figure 26) and sat down behind a very small women who was perhaps in her 60s or 70s (center & right, Figure 26).  It was heartbreaking as she was obviously poor and only about four feet tall – perhaps the result of malnourishment when she was a child.  At the end of the Mass, as the woman was leaving Donna gave her a donation and a heartfelt big hug.

 

We walked over to see the big cathedral and its pretty square (left, Figure 26).  The cathedral was pretty in the sunlight and had a large figure of Christ on its clock tower (L center, Figure 26).  Inside the cathedral was an ornate altar and at the side was a large cross that was draped in cloth (right, Figure 26) like many cross in Ecuador were.

 

Figure 27. Cotacachi Cathedral (left), Christ on tower (L center), altar (R center), decorated cross (right)

In the square was an interesting tree with unusual branches that looked like a pine branch on steroids (center, Figure 28).  From the square, a tall volcano loomed in the distance (right, Figure 28).

 

Figure 28. Interesting tree in square (left), unusual branch (center), view toward volcano (right)

We left Cotacachi around 1330 hours and at 1800 hours we arrived back at the Eugenia Hotel in Quito and repaired to the Burger King for a King de Pollo followed by an ice cream cone at the Baskin-Robbins.  Afterwards it was time to pack for our 0500 hour departure to the airport to catch our flight to the Galápagos.  In the morning at checkout we left one of our suitcases packed with purchases and items for the Inca Trail in storage at our hotel.

2.3      Galápagos Islands

2.3.1     Galápagos Introduction

Like their northern cousins, the Hawaiian Islands, the Galápagos Islands were formed by a tectonic plate (the Nazca Plate) moving over a volcanic hot spot (Figure 29).  The Nazca Plate is moving eastward towards South America at a rate of 7 cm/yr because of the spreading of the sea floor.  This plate moves over a stationary area of intense heat or "hot spot" which "builds" the islands. Thus, the oldest part of the archipelago is the most eastern of the islands.

 

Figure 29. The volcanic hot spot and the formation of the Galápagos Islands

The Galápagos Islands are pretty well located on the equator (Figure 29).  In addition to their equatorial location, two ocean currents affect the islands (Figure 30).  The cold Humboldt Current dominates during the cool and dry garua season from July to December while the warm Panama Current dominates during the warm and wet season from January to June when the temperatures cool down to an average daily low of about 19ºC (66.2ºF).

 

Figure 30. The Galápagos ocean currents and seasons

The high tourist season runs from June 15 to September 14 and November 1 to April 30.  During these times high demand required bookings well in advance and the prices of flights, accommodation, cruises and restaurants are higher.  Due to Donna’s work schedule, we had no choice but to visit the Galápagos in the high tourist season during the dry season.

 

The Galápagos Islands, part of Ecuador, are situated in the Pacific Ocean some 1,000 km from the South American continent.  The 19 islands of the Galápagos and their surrounding marine reserve have been called a unique living museum and showcase of evolution.  They are threatened by invasive species, growing tourism and immigration.  The number of days spent by passengers of cruise ships has increased by 150 percent over the past 15 years, for example.  This increase has fuelled a growth in immigration and the ensuing inter-island traffic has led to the introduction of more invasive species. In 1978, the Galápagos became the first site to have been placed on the World Heritage List.

 

In June 2007, the World Heritage Committee today inscribed the Galápagos on UNESCO's List of World Heritage in Danger with a view to mobilizing support for their conservation.

 

The human presence in Galápagos has changed tremendously in Galápagos over the past 40 years.  In 1967 when the first ever organized 66 passenger tourist cruise took place, the population in the islands was barely 2,000 people and electricity was provided for a few hours per day.  However, today the number of visitors to the islands has been increasing by well over 10% per year for the past several years, currently standing at nearly 120,000.  Now over 30,000 people live in the islands and have 24 hour electricity, internet cafes and mobile phone service.   Most live directly or indirectly from tourism.  The fishing industry, which peaked in the 1990’s has dropped significantly due to overfishing of lobster and sea cucumbers.  A small number of people live off agriculture. 

 

Figure 31. The Galápagos 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador

To meet the needs of the local population and tourist, several cargo ships visit various ports on the islands on a weekly basis, bringing food and materials from the continent, and there are approximately 30 commercial airline flights a week arriving from the mainland.  

 

The main threats to Galápagos related to the introduction of non-native species.  Having emerged from the ocean depths 4-5 million years ago, the island ecosystems are made up of only those plants and animals that were able to make it to the islands on their own – either by flying, or floating across.  Over hundreds of thousands of years, these occasional arrivals evolved into distinct species, adapted to the unique Galápagos island environments which are notoriously free of predators and competitors.  However the massive arrival of new species since humans first started colonizing the islands in the early 1800’s has put a great deal of pressure on the native species.  Though some are now extinct, most still survive, but are under increasing pressure from the accelerating introduction of non-natives.  

 

Non-native species introduced either on purpose by island residents (e.g. cats, dogs, livestock, ornamental plants, farm plants) or by accident hidden in ship or aircraft cargo-holds (e.g. rats, cockroaches, mosquitoes, diseases, weeds).  The rapidly increasing traffic of people and goods between Galápagos and the continent has created an ecological bridge to the islands, resulting in growing opportunities for non-native species to come to the islands. 

 

The ship-based tourism of the kind that we participated in has few direct impacts on the Galápagos environment.  These visitors do not intentionally introduce non-native species and their footprint on the islands is rigorously restricted to a small number of visitor sites.  However even this type of tourism does contribute to the growing island economy by creating a vigorous demand for labour and services on the islands (ship crews, guides, mechanics, administrators, along with their families and their needs – teachers, construction workers, food provision etc.).  It is this growing island population, largely via immigration, that is at the root of the challenges – as population grows, so does the volume of traffic of goods from the continent, and the opportunities for the introduction of non-native species and so does political pressure for further development.  

 

Fortunately, ship-based tourism has been relatively well regulated in Galápagos, meaning that there has been only modest growth in the total available ship plying the waters in the past several years.  As job opportunities stabilize, the appeal to would-be immigrants drops and a stable situation can be reached whereby effective management and control measures can be implemented.

2.3.2     Darwin, the Galápagos and the Theory of Evolution

The New York Times rated the Galápagos Islands as the number 3 of 44 Places to Go in 2009 (Ref Y).  Apart from the obvious attraction of the Galápagos, 2009 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of his seminal book "The Origins of Species".  The theory of evolution propounded in this book was inspired by his travels through the Galápagos Islands on HMS Beagle.

 

The voyage of the Beagle brought the survey ship HMS Beagle under Captain Robert FitzRoy to the Galápagos on September 15, 1835 to survey approaches to harbours. The captain and others on board including his companion the young naturalist Charles Darwin made a scientific study of geology and biology on four of the thirteen islands before they left on October 20 to continue on their round-the-world expedition. The governor of the prison colony on Charles Island told Darwin that tortoises differed from island to island, and when specimens of birds were analysed on return to England it was found that many different kinds of birds were species of finches which were also unique to islands. These facts were crucial in Darwin's development of his evolution theory, which was presented in The Origin of Species.

 

Figure 32. Map of HMS Beagle’s 5 year circumnavigation of globe (left), HMS Beagle (right)

So where did Darwin walk in Galápagos and what did he see? When Charles Darwin visited the Galápagos Islands for 5 weeks (15 September -20 October) in 1835, he did not leave an obvious account of where he landed on each island.  While the islands were all named (from the whalers and buccaneers), few of the beaches and volcanoes, bays and hills were named as they are today.  Thus discovery of the exact locations Darwin went ashore on each of the four islands he visited (Chatham (San Cristobal), Charles (Floreana), Albemarle (Isabela) and James (Santiago)), requires some detective work and such work was conducted in 1996 (Ref E).  The results of this work are shown in Figure 33.

Figure 33. The route of Darwin in the Galápagos Islands (Ref E)

 

At 26 years old, Darwin landed on San Cristobal.  During his stay in the Galápagos Islands (Floreana, Isabela, San Cristóbal, and Santiago), the same characteristic struck Darwin that strikes many visitors to date – that the creatures that roam, fly and swim around these islands often were so unique from those elsewhere.  Not only that many Galápagos species were distinct from those on the mainland, but that between islands many species of similar features were so perfectly adapted for their environment.  Among those that struck Darwin so greatly were the finches, with such varying diets as cactus and seeds, fruits and blood that are now named in his honour.  Darwin would later base some of his thought from the supposing that these finches were all descendents of the same lineage.

2.3.3     Darwin Finches

During our cruise in the Galápagos Islands we saw a number of the famous Darwin Finches (Figure 35) whose varied shape of finches’ beaks supported Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.  The shapes are adapted to feeding strategies ranging from crushing, to biting and to probing (Figure 34).

 

Figure 34. Varied shape of Darwin finches’ beaks in Galápagos Islands

 

When the British naturalist Darwin disembarked on the Pacific archipelago of the Galápagos Islands in 1835, he found 14 separate species of finch, which were distinguishable by a key feature — the shape of their beaks.  Although all are descended from a common ancestor, their beaks vary from the long, pointed one of the so-called cactus finch (probing bill), to the ground finch’s deep, wide protuberance (crushing bill).  The different shapes and lengths reflect differences in the species’ diet.  The cactus finch uses its long probing bill to pick out insects hiding in plants, while the ground finch uses its wide crushing bill to scoop morsels from the ground.

 

We saw Darwin Finches in the following places:

 

  1. Floreana (Gardner Bay) – top row, left side of Figure 35.
  2. Floreana (Gardner Bay) – top row, center of Figure 35.
  3. Santa Cruz (Highlands) – top row, right side of Figure 35.
  4. Espanola (Suarez Point) – middle row, left side of Figure 35
  5. Floreana (Cormorant Point) – middle row, center of Figure 35.
  6. Espanola (Suarez Point) – see lower left corner of Figure 35.
  7. Floreana (Gardner Bay) – bottom row, left of Figure 35.
  8. Espanola Island (Suarez Point) – bottom row, center of Figure 35.
  9. South Plaza (cactus ground finch) – bottom row, right of Figure 35.

 

Figure 35. My photographs of Darwin Finches that we saw in the Galápagos Islands

February 12 2009 marked the Darwin's 200th birthday and 2009 is the 150th anniversary of publication of Origin of Species.  On 12 February, Google used the image shown in Figure 36 on their Canadian website (http://www.google.ca/).  The image showed four Darwin finches with Pinnacle Rock in the background.

 

Figure 36. Google’s tribute image on the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birthday

2.3.4     Our Trip on the Aida Maria

This year the Aida Maria follows the route shown in Figure 37.  The routes are set by the park administration to ensure that the tourists from the 90 or so tour boats do not saturate a single area.  Hence there were a group of about 8 yachts that followed our route and we saw them at each anchorage throughout our 8 day cruise.

 

Figure 37. Route of the Aida Maria

In the event, it turned out that our group of fellow passengers was very good and got along well.  The group represented many interesting occupations and several places throughout the world:

 

·        Sabien (a classical harpist) from Belgium/Holland

·        Pat (a nurse) and Mike (an aide to a US Senator) from Washington D.C., USA.

·        Phyllis (a paediatrician) from Washington D.C., USA.

·        Bruno and Astrid from San Francisco, USA.

·        Danielle (a nurse), Sebastian (a doctor) and Gordon (an engineer) from Australia.

·        Chad (a biologist) from Cairns, Australia.

·        Carolina (a singer) an American ex-pat from Mexico.

·        Fretha (a nurse), Natasha (a lawyer) and Naomi (a teacher) from England.

·        Donna (a secretary) and Thomas (an engineer) from Ottawa, Canada.

 

The age range of our group was good as it included some in their twenties to those in their fifties.  Fortunately there were not immature passengers to disrupt the tranquility of our voyage.

 

Figure 38. Our Group of 16 and guide

At the end of our cruise, we took a group photograph with our guide Reuben (Figure 38).  The people in the group photograph are:

 

·   Back row (left to right): Naomi, Chad, Pat.

·   Middle row (left to right): Bruno, Sabien, Astrid, Mike, Phylis, Freytha, Natasha, Donna, Caroline, Diane, Gordon, Sebastian.

·   Front row (left to right): Reuben (guide), Thomas.

2.3.4.1       Day 1 (Sun, 10 Aug): Baltra, Santa Cruz Island & Las Bachas Beach

We were out of our hotel in Quito at 0500 hours to take a taxi to the airport for our TAME Airlines flight to the Galápagos at 0730 hours.  We had to pay a US$10 per person departure tax and then after a 30 minutes flight we landed at the Guayaquil Airport to let off and pick up passengers.  After a 45 minute wait we took off for the 90-minute flight to Baltra airport in the Galápagos.  During WWII, Ecuador authorized the United States to establish a naval base in Baltra Island and it is the airfield built by the Americans that is used by most passenger flights arriving from the mainland.

 

As we prepared to land on Baltra, we could see Baltra Harbour with the waiting yachts (right, Figure 39). As we taxied to air terminal, we saw an iguana scamper off the runway – it was an auspicious omen for our stay in the Galápagos.

 

Figure 39. USAF C-17 at Quito (left), Nescafe plane at Guayaquil (center), yachts at Baltra Harbour (right)

Baltra (South Seymour) is a small flat island located near the center of the Galápagos.  It was created by Geological uplift.  The island is very arid and vegetation consists of salt bushes, prickly pear cactus and palo santo trees.  During World War II, Baltra was established as a US Army Air Force Base where planes patrolled the Pacific for enemy submarines as well as providing protection for the Panama Canal.  After the war the facilities were given to the government of Ecuador and today the island continues as an official Ecuadorian military base.

 

At the airport we had to pay a US$100 park entrance fee and then we pick up our bags and meet our naturalist guide named Reuben and our fellow travellers on the Aida Maria.  He ensured our luggage was sent to our boat and then escorted us in a bus to the dock where we watched a sea lion (left, Figure 40) and marine iguanas until we transferred to the Aida Maria in a small boat eight people at a time (center, Figure 40). In the cabin assignment, we came up trumps as we got a cabin on the main deck as opposed to a cabin either below deck or on the upper deck.  The cabin was small with it own small toilet with shower and bunk beds (right, Figure 40).

 

Figure 40. Sea lion on bench (left), heading to Aida Maria (center), bunk beds in cabin (right)

We pulled up anchor and set out for the short trip to Las Bachas Beach on Santa Cruz Island while we had lunch and an introduction to the islands.  Soon we arrived off Las Bachas Beach (the beach is named with the Spanish word for barge as there are the remains of an old barge buried in the sands) and went ashore.

 

On the sandy white beaches of Las Bachas (left, Figure 41) we will got a close look at a pink flamingo stirring up the bottom of a pond behind the beach to feed (center, Figure 41).  The lava rocks on the beach hosted marine iguanas (right, Figure 41). 

 

Figure 41. Las Bachas Beach (left), flamingo (center), marine iguanas (right)

Las Bachas Beach is host to a sea turtle nesting area.  The activity in the nesting area must have been recent since the turtle tracks looked fresh as did the holes in the sand created when the turtles cover their eggs (left, Figure 42).  The beach also had fresh tracks (center, Figure 42) created by marine iguanas entering the pond behind the beach.  The marine iguanas swimming in the pond created black wakes behind them still their tails were dragging on the bottom and stirring up the sediment (right, Figure 42).  A couple of times during our cruise, I was able to film the marine iguanas swimming (click here to see movie clip).

 

Figure 42. Sea turtle nesting area (left), marine iguana tracks (center), marine iguanas swimming (right)

Las Bachas Beach was our first real encounter with the animals of the Galápagos Islands and it was exciting to see that they did not run away from us but stayed in place to be photographed and studied.

 

After our visit to Las Bachas Beach, we cruised for a couple of hours until we anchored for the night off of with a group of yachts in the Itabaca Channel between Baltra and Santa Cruz Islands.

2.3.4.2       Day 2 (Mon, 11 Aug): South Plaza Island & Santa Fe Island

The schedule for the day was:

 

1.      0700 Breakfast

2.      0730 Guide's Briefing

3.      Visit to South Plaza Island:

·   0800 Land on South Plaza Island (dry landing)

·   1000 Back onboard

4.      Visit to Santa Fe Island

·   1400 Land on Santa Fe Island (dry landing)

·   1530 Back onboard

·   1600 Snorkeling off the dinghy

·   1700 Back onboard

5.      1830 Dinner

2.3.4.2.1.1      South Plaza Island

South Plaza, named in honour of a former president of Ecuador (General Leonidas Plaza), is a small island off the east coast of Santa Cruz with an area of 0.05 miles2 and a maximum altitude of 23 metres.  The island south plaza was formed by lava up streaming from the bottom of the ocean.  Despite its small size it is home to a large number of species and it is famous for its extraordinary flora (Shoreline Purslane).  On the steep cliffs, it is possible to see a great number and variety of birds. Very attractive are the beautiful prickly pear cactus trees and of course the large colony of Galápagos Land Iguanas.

 

Depending on the season, the Shoreline Purslane (Sesuvium portulacastrum) ground vegetation changes its color from intense green in the rainy season to orange and purple in the dry season.  Fortunately we visited during the height of the dry season so the Shoreline Purslane was a riot of colours (left & right, Figure 43) like an Ontario hardwood forest in the fall.

 

As well as the Shoreline Purslane, South Plaza hosts cactus "trees" that grow up to 10 feet tall (left, Figure 43).  The pads of these cacti form the principal diet for both the land iguanas and the cactus finch.

 

As in all our shore visits, except for Puerto Ayora, our guide Reuben (center, Figure 43) led us ashore and accompanied us on our walks.  He had several roles: explain about the flora, fauna and history of the islands; ensure that we kept to our timetable; and to ensure the tourists followed the park rules.  He was good at our job and ensured that we got the most out of our time on the islands.

 

Figure 43. Aida Maria off South Plaza (left), Reuben briefing (center), colourful Shoreline Purslane (right)

Although South Plaza is formed of lava rock, the rocks on the end of the island known as the "bachelor pad" are white in color and polished to a glossy sheen almost like marble (left & right, Figure 44).  It is hard to even imagine the rock was black lava.  The white color came from the sea lion excrement and the sheen from the polishing the sea lions gave it as they move across them.  The rock was so worn that it was actually very slippery with just the slightest bit of moisture. 

 

Figure 44. Black-headed gull at ‘bachelor pad’ (left), ‘bachelor pad’ on cliffs (center), horny bachelor (right)

At our landing site, a large bull sea lion patrolled the area as the beachmaster to keep away other male sea lions from his harem.  The "bachelor pad" is the area at the end of the island on top of the steep cliffs where the non-dominate male sea lions rest up (left & right, Figure 44) and plot how they can replace the dominate bull sea lion, e.g. beachmaster, and so gain breeding control of a harem of female sea lions.  That the sea lions can climb up the steep cliffs to the "bachelor pad" is impressive (center, Figure 44).

 

Depending on the season, the normally gray-black marine iguanas acquire extra pigments from their diet and blotches of vivid red or coppery green appear on their skin (right, Figure 45).

 

Charles Darwin in his book about “The Voyage of the Beagle” described the Galápagos Land Iguana as "ugly animals, of a yellowish orange beneath, and of a brownish-red colour above: from their low facial angle they have a singularly stupid appearance."  I must take issue with the great man as I found the colourful yellow land iguanas of be very interesting to view.

 

Figure 45. Colourful land iguana (left), female lava lizard on cactus tree (center), marine iguana (right)

Besides the iguanas, two other families of lizards inhabit the Galápagos Islands: the geckos and the lava lizards.  We saw a female lava lizard, distinguished from the male by her red throat coloration, perched on the side of large cactus tree.  Unlike the geckos, the lava lizards are active during daylight hours and hence easier to see.

 

Interestingly Italian scientists have recently announced that the pink (rosada) land iguana located on the Volcan Wolf (the highest volcano in the Galapagos) on the island of Isabela is not merely a variant of the ordinary land iguana but a lizard species in its own right (Ref X).  Charles Darwin did not see the pink iguana and it was spotted for the first time by Galapagos park rangers in 1986 but dismissed as a curiosity.  Genetic comparisons of mitochondrial DNA between the pink iguana and other Galapagos land iguanas suggests that it is older and that the other iguana populations evolved away when the archipelago was still forming some five million years ago.  While we did not visit Isabela Island, we did see many predominantly black marine iguanas with lots of reddish-pink on their bodies (right, Figure 46).  The red colour in the black marine iguanas comes from a kind of seaweed that blooms in the summer.  However the pink land iguana is predominantly pink with distinctive black striping (left, Figure 46).

 

Figure 46. Pink land iguana (left), red-coloured marine iguana (right)

2.3.4.2.1.2      Santa Fe Island

After lunch on the yacht, we continued to Santa Fe Island, a sea journey of 2 1/2 hours.  The crossing from South Plaza Island to was one of constant back to front movement which I found to be sickening as I was initially sitting at the dining table looking down to review my photographs.  I felt better once I stopped reviewing my photographs and lay down.  Donna took some Gravol but I opted not to.  Once we got used to the boat’s motion it was no problem although when we went on land, we would continue to feel that we were still on a pitching boat.

 

Upon arrival to the island, we will be treated to a noisy welcome by the local sea lion colony. Following our naturalist guide on the island paths we will come to Santa Fe's main attraction, a towering forest of giant cacti. Scattered around the cacti trees you will see a number of the island's indigenous sun-seekers: marine and land iguanas, the rainbow-streaked lava lizards and, if you are lucky, land tortoises - the namesakes of the islands. After our walk we will plunge into the salty sea and snorkel in the company of sea lions, lion fish and sea turtles. Finally, we will return to the yacht for dinner.

 

Figure 47. View of Santa Fe from our cabin (left), sea lions on beach (center), view of anchorage (right)

On Santa Fe we were lucky to see a Galápagos snake up close (left, Figure 48).  Galápagos snakes can be slightly poisonous to humans, and may use venom to kill its prey. They first catch the prey with their mouths and mainly kill by constriction: wrapping around the victim and squeezing so it cannot breathe.  They hunt for small reptiles, mammals, lava lizards, grasshoppers, geckos and marine iguana hatchlings.

 

Figure 48. Galápagos snake (left), yellow land iguana (center), sea lion in shade (right)

After our walk on Santa Fe Island we returned to the Aida Maria and were taken by the dinghy for snorkelling on the ocean side of the bay that we were anchored in.  We snorkelled (left & right, Figure 49) along the shore and then reentered the bay through a low spot.  As we reentered the bay, we were startled by a sea lion that suddenly shot in front of us.  We continued back to the Aida Maria and then I went over to the area where a couple of sea lions were swimming.  The young sea lions whizzed about me and I got a fairly good photograph of one rapidly approaching me (center, Figure 49).

 

Figure 49. Thomas snorkelling (left), an approaching sea lion (center), Donna snorkelling (right)

The crossing from Santa Fe Island to Espanola Island was one of constant rolling from side to side which Donna felt was comforting as it was like being rocked to sleep.  On the other hand, I found it more annoying than the back to front movement of the crossing from South Plaza Island to Santa Fe Island.

2.3.4.3       Day 3 (Tue, 12 Aug): Espanola Island (Suarez Point & Gardner Bay)

The schedule for the day was:

 

1.      0700 Breakfast

2.      0730 Guide's Briefing

3.      Visit to Suarez Point:

·   0800 Dry landing

·   1040 Back onboard

4.      Visit to Gardner Bay:

·   1400 Snorkeling (from dinghy)

·   1500 Back onboard

·   1540 Land on Gardner Beach (wet landing)

·   1700 Back onboard

 

At 0600 hours as we approached Espanola Island, I was out on the desk while Donna slept and saw a humpback whale breaching in the distance (Figure 50).  I was amazed to see the whale mostly clear the water during a one of the breaches.  Although my camera has a 10X optical zoom, it really was at its limit since I could not use it at that magnification and still find the whale breaching in the distance.

 

Figure 50.Whales breached while some slept

Espanola is one of the most magical of all the islands. It is a place where the animals reign supreme and we humans are merely guests. As your dingy brings you to shore you will see sea lion pups sunbathing with marine iguanas and Blue-footed boobies nesting in between. Nearby may be a Galápagos Hawk. If it is boobie mating season watch the bonded pairs do the infamous boobie dance (if it's not mating season ask your guide to demonstrate - after all it's his job to teach you about the local fauna).

2.3.4.3.1.1      Espanola Island (Suarez Point)

After breakfast we landed at Punta Suarez on the western side of Espanola Island.  There was impressive surf sweeping past Suarez Point (left, Figure 51).

 

Figure 51. Surf at Suarez Point (left), mother with new born sea lion (center), dead new born (right)

The 2-km trail begins at a white-sand beach where sea lions (center & right, Figure 51), marine iguanas and Blue-footed boobies (Figure 52) congregate.  On the beach, there was a mother with new born sea lion (center, Figure 51) and the freshly dead sea lion pup that was starting to be recycled by a lava lizard (right, Figure 51).

 

The Blue-footed boobies were a treat to see as their feet really are blue and look so strange (Figure 52).  Our guide said that the best answer to the question as to why their foot are blue is “Why not?”  Their feathers make it look like they have a streaky black and white dye-job on their head (left, Figure 52).

 

Figure 52. Blue-footed Boobies (left), Mexican standoff (center), boobies marching (right)

Continuing along the trail, we passed by Waved albatross performing their courtship dance (left, Figure 53) and the resultant chick (right, Figure 53).  There were also a couple of abandoned albatross eggs (center, Figure 53) which quite upset our guide who believed that tourists were somehow to blame.  I was of the opinion that ‘things happen’ without tourist intervention and furthermore without tourist, there would be little incentive for the government of Ecuador to preserve the Galápagos.

 

Figure 53. Waved albatross courtship (left), damaged egg (center), chick & adult (right)

The trail continues to the vertiginous coastline with Nazca boobies (right, Figure 56) nesting on the cliffs (left, Figure 54).  Walking along the tops of the cliffs, we saw a blowhole, where waves passing through a slit in the rocky coastline force water to spout into the air (right, Figure 54).  The albatrosses use the cliffs to help them take off by running off them.

 

Figure 54. Cliffs (left), red-billed tropicbird offshore (center), blow hole (right)

We saw a red-billed tropicbird flying offshore. Their plumage is predominantly white, with elongated central tail feathers.  Interestingly the legs of a tropicbird are located far back on their body, making walking impossible, so that they can only move on land by pushing themselves forward with their feet.

 

Surprisingly on the top of these cliffs were some marine iguanas (center & right, Figure 55).  It was a long haul for the iguanas to climb up to the top but there they were.  Again instead of their normal drab grey colouration, they iguanas were spotted with green and red patches due to extra pigments acquired from The red colour in the black marine iguanas comes from a kind of seaweed that blooms in the summer and is incorporated into their diet.  Looking over the cliff, we could see big gaggles of marine iguanas on the rocks as this is a marine iguana nesting site.

 

Figure 55. Gaggle of marine iguanas (left), colourful iguana (center), Red-spotted iguanas (right)

Along the trail, we saw a Galápagos hawk spreading its wings to take off from its nest (center, Figure 56).  It is the only predator in the Galápagos Islands and hawk feeds mainly on insects such as locusts and giant centipedes, as well as small lava lizards, snakes and rodents. However, it is not uncommon for the bird to take young marine and land iguanas, and sea turtle and tortoise hatchlings.

 

Like most other Galápagos animals, the hawk is fearless of man with the young especially being quite curious.  In 1845, Charles Darwin wrote:


"A gun is here almost superfluous; for with the muzzle I pushed a hawk out of the branch of a tree... The juveniles especially are the most curious. Walking along the rim of Alcedo Volcano, I have been shadowed by young hawks for over three kilometres at a time."

 

Figure 56. Lava heron (left), Galápagos hawk leaving nest (center), Nazca/masked booby (right)

We saw a greyish Lava heron which blends in well with the lava (left, Figure 56).  These birds stalk small crabs and fish and spear and eat them.  We also saw a Darwin Finch on a lava rock (Figure 35).

 

We returned to the Aida Maria and then sailed to Gardner Bay also on Espanola Island.  In hindsight, the hike at Suarez Point was one of the best that we made during our trip through the Galápagos Islands due to the variety and number birds that we saw.

2.3.4.3.1.2      Espanola Island (Gardner Bay)

In Garner Bay (left, Figure 57) following lunch we went snorkelling and then visited Gardner Beach where we walked about on our own.  There was a big bull sea lion beachmaster on the beach lording over his harem (center, Figure 57).  The size of this beachmaster was truly impressive.  Apart from the sea lions there were numerous birds including Darwin Finches and beach dwellers such as a cute hermit crab (right, Figure 57).

 

Back aboard, we set sail for Floreana Island.

 

Figure 57. Gardner Bay (left), big bull sea lion beachmaster (center), hermit crab (right)

2.3.4.4       Day 4 (Wed, 13 Aug): Floreana Island (Cormorant Point & Corona del Diablo)

We spent the evening off of Espanola Island where we witnessed a wonderful sunset (left, Figure 58).and the beauty of the yachts illuminated at dusk (center, Figure 58).  Later in the night we sailed to Floreana Island and anchored in Post Office Bay.

 

Figure 58. Sunset off Floreana Island (left), yacht at sunset (center), Devil's Crown crater (right)

The schedule for the day was:

 

1.      0630 Breakfast

2.      0700 Guide's Briefing

3.      Visit to Post Office Bay:

·   0730 Wet landing

·   0900 Back onboard

4.      Snorkeling at Devil's Crown:

·   0930 Snorkeling (from dinghy)

·   1030 Back onboard

·   1100 Lunch

5.      Visit to Cormorant Point:

·   1200 Wet landing

·   1330 Back onboard and cruise to Santa Cruz Island (4.5 hours)

2.3.4.4.1.1      Post Office Bay

After breakfast we went ashore to see the world-famous post barrel and a nearby lava tube.

 

Post Office Bay on Floreana is world-famous for its post barrel (left, Figure 59).  In 1793, British navigators put a large wooden barrel here in the hope that home-going vessels would take their mail home.  Obviously the barrel has been replaced several times but the tradition continues that visitors can leave a postcard and take one for their home area.  The group looked through postcards in the post barrel and group took some addressed to their country.  There was one for Canada so we took it with us.  Unfortunately this postcard was damaged in a tropical downpour when we were in the Peru jungle but it was still deliverable within an envelope.

 

Figure 59. Post barrel (left), entrance to lava tube (center), passing by abandoned fish plant (right)

A large lava tube is located some several hundred metres up the trail from the barrel.  This lava tube was created in larger lava flows when the exposed surface solidifies and the molten lava inside kept flowing leaving behind an empty tube.  The entrance to the lava tube is via a set of steep stairs (center, Figure 59) to the dark tube so flashlights are required but we do not bring one and relied on the folks who did.  Donna was concerned that she would feel too claustrophobic in the narrow part of the tunnel but she gave it a go and was fine.

 

On the trail back to the beach, we again passed by the rusting remains of an abandoned fish plant (right, Figure 59).

2.3.4.4.1.2      Devil's Crown (La Corona del Diablo)

Back on our yacht, we skirt the island's coast until we arrive at La Corona del Diablo (the Devil's Crown), a sub-marine crater (right, Figure 58) that is reputed to offer some of the most spectacular snorkeling in the Galápagos.  Our guide took us out in the dinghy and let us off some that we could drift through the crater with the current.

 

As we entered the crater, we could see a shark cruising some 20 feet beneath us (right, Figure 60).  Once inside the crater, its walls were alive with fishes including the colourful Moorish Idols (left, Figure 61) and Surgeon fish (right, Figure 61).  There were some underwater caves and tunnels (left, Figure 60) that added to the interest of the underwater terrain.  As we were finishing snorkelling, a curious sea lion (center, Figure 60) came up to take a look at us (center, Figure 61). 

 

Figure 60. Underwater tunnel (left), curious sea lion (center), shark underneath us (right)

Figure 61. Moorish Idols (left), snorkeling (center), surgeon fish (right)

2.3.4.4.1.3      Cormorant Point

When anchored at Punta Cormorant, we could watch sharks swimming around our boat (left & center, Figure 62).  After landing on the beach (left, Figure 64), we saw a Great Blue Heron standing at the end of beach against the cliff (right, Figure 62).

 

We followed a footpath to a lagoon behind the beach that is inhabited by number of pink flamingos who were busy stirring up the mud on the bottom for feeding (left, Figure 63).

 

Figure 62. Galápagos shark by boat (left), watching sharks (center), Great Blue Heron (right)

We followed the trail up around a small hill until we arrived at Carolina Beach (center, Figure 63).  In the water just off the beach there were numerous stingrays covered with sand that were swimming along (right, Figure 63).

 

Figure 63. Flamingo feeding in lake (left), path to Carolina Beach (center), sand-covered stingray (right)

Back aboard, we set sail and made the 4.5 hour crossing to Puerto Ayora where a number of the crew including our guide lived.  Puerto Ayora is a busy harbour (center, Figure 64 and left, Figure 72) due to the number of tourist boats and the resupply vessels from the mainland that frequent it.

 

Figure 64. Leaving landing at Cormorant Point (left), busy Puerto Ayora (center), Research Station (right)

After supper we were taken by dinghy over to the dock and walked around Puerto Ayora for a couple of hours.  During that time, we spent an hour at an Internet provider to send some emails and check Expedia.ca for new changes to our remaining flights.  At the grocery at the dock, I bought a bottle of Amaretto that provided a nice refreshing break over the remainder of our cruise.

2.3.4.5       Day 5 (Thu, 14 Aug): Santa Cruz Island

The schedule for the day was:

 

1.      0600 Breakfast

2.      0700 Dry landing (no Guide's Briefing as Reuben spend night in Puerto Ayora as he lives there)

3.      Visit to Charles Darwin Research Station:

·   1130 Back onboard

4.      Visit to Santa Cruz Highlands:

·   1400 Dry landing

·   1730 Back onboard

2.3.4.5.1.1      Puerto Ayora

Puerto Ayora, located along the shores of Academy Bay, is the most populated town in the Galápagos Islands, with more than 10,000 inhabitants.  It has the best developed infrastructure in the archipelago.  It home to both the Darwin Foundation and the Galápagos National Park. 

2.3.4.5.1.2      Charles Darwin Research Station

After breakfast, we were off on an exciting day as we both wanted to see the giant Galápagos tortoises.  We got into a couple of small mini-vans for the short 5 minute ride to the Charles Darwin Research Station (right, Figure 64). 

 

The Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS), founded in 1959, is a biological research station operated by the Charles Darwin Foundation.  Scientific research and monitoring projects are conducted at the CDRS in conjunction and cooperation its chief partner, the Galápagos National Park Service (GNPS), which functions as the principal government authority in charge of conservation and natural resource issues in the Galápagos.  The Station has a team of over a hundred scientists, educators, volunteers, research students and support staff from all over the world.

 

The most well known of the station’s programs is its breeding program for giant Galápagos tortoises, hence it is an excellent place to see a variety of tortoises up close.  There are pens of tortoises ranging in size from tiny (left, Figure 65) to giant (center, Figure 65).

 

There are 14 described subspecies of the Galápagos tortoise of which 11 still exist but some with only small populations (Lonesome George is the last of his kind – a Pinta Island tortoise).  There are ‘dome-shelled’ and ‘saddle-backed’ Galápagos tortoises.  

 

The shape of the shell and other physical features relate to the habitat of each of the subspecies.  These differences were noted by in 1835 by Captain Porter of the HMS Beagle before Charles Darwin.  On the larger islands with more wet highlands such as Santa Cruz and the Alcedo Volcano on Isabela having lush vegetation near the ground, the tortoises tend to have 'dome-back' shells.  In addition, these tortoises have restricted upward head movement due to shorter necks and they also have shorter limbs.  The 'dome-back' tortoises are the heaviest and largest of the Galápagos tortoises.  On the smaller, drier islands such as Española and Pinta, the tortoises have 'saddle-back' shells which are elevated above the neck and flared above the hind feet.  The shell along with a longer neck and limbs allows them to browse taller vegetation.  In response to the browsing ability of these "saddle-backed" tortoises, the cacti on these drier islands have evolved a taller, tree-like form to lift their pads well clear of the ground (right, Figure 47), i.e. an evolutionary response.   

 

Depending Adult Galápagos tortoises weigh between 100 and 600 pounds and they measure between four and five feet across the curvature of their shell.  They can live more than 150 years which is one of the longest life spans of all vertebrates.  There are some 10,000 to 15,000 Galápagos tortoises in the wild, most of them on Isabella Island.

 

For a long time, people thought that tortoises were deaf.  Darwin observed during his Galápagos sojourn that: "The inhabitants believe that these animals are absolutely deaf; certainly they do not overhear a person walking close behind them. I was always amused, when overtaking one of these great monsters as it was quietly pacing along, to see how suddenly, the instant I passed, it would draw in its head and legs, and uttering a deep hiss fall to the ground with a heavy sound, as if struck dead."  In fact tortoises can hear but mostly at low frequencies and they sense seismic waves associated with things moving and causing the ground to shake.  The tortoises do vocalise in certain circumstances: aggressive encounters; whilst righting themselves if turned upside down; by males during mating ("rhythmic groans").

 

Figure 65. Batch of tortoises (left), Lonesome George (saddle-backed) (center), dome-shelled (right)

Lonesome George [Spanish: Solitario Jorge] (center, Figure 65) is the last known individual of the Pinta Island Tortoise.  He has been labelled the rarest creature in the world and is a symbol for conservation efforts in the Galápagos and internationally.  George was first seen on the island of Pinta in 1971 and since the island's vegetation had been decimated by introduced feral goats, he was relocated to the Charles Darwin Research Station.  George is estimated to be 60-90 years of age and is in good health.  However he did not breed despite years of effort until July 21 2008 when he unexpectedly mated with one of his female companions.  Three eggs were collected and placed in incubators but it will take four months to know if they are viable.  If the eggs hatch successfully they would be intergrades, not purebreds of the Pinta subspecies.

 

Figure 66. No teeth (left), colourful land iguana (center), big scales and suspicious look (right)

After leaving the Charles Darwin Research Station, we walked by into town.  Along the way I stopped into a high end art gallery that carried expensive works of art.  I was attracted to the retablo shadow boxes (right, Figure 67).  The term retablo traditionally applies to a broad variety of religious images which are painted and sculpted over much of Latin America. The word is derived from the Latin retro tabula, which means behind the (altar) table, where devotional images were typically placed.  The boxes form miniature houses or shrines, often with opening doors and a gable above the opening. Typically both the doors and the sides of the box are covered with an ornate, polychrome floral decoration.  The figures and objects are sculpted from a mix of plaster and cooked potato and then painted with vibrant colours.

 

In my case the box that caught my attention contained a scene with figures in a corn field.  My box was signed on its back by Jimenez from a renowned maker of retablos.  It had a US$ 89 price tag which I decided was too much so I left.  After thinking about it, I decided to return and see if they’d accept an offer of US$ 80.  I was surprised when they accepted my offer without hesitation and wondered it I had offered too much.  In the event we saw similar boxes elsewhere in Quito and Peru for about what I’d paid.

 

Figure 67. Nice looking building (left), streetscape (center), retablo shadow boxes (right)

Most of the buildings in the port are pedestrian but there are some very nice ones including one with a Spanish look and plants on it exposed floors (left, Figure 67).  The street to the dock is very touristy (center, Figure 67) with the fish market along the water’s edge.  This fish market was very interesting since sea lions and brown pelicans waited at the table for scraps (right, Figure 67).

 

Figure 68. Sorting sea cucumbers (left), sea lions & pelicans at fish market (center), Brown Pelican (right)

2.3.4.5.1.3      Santa Cruz Highlands

We caught a bus to get to the area of the Highlands National Park Tortoise Reserve in the highlands region ('parte alta') of the island.  As we drove up higher and higher into the highlands, the vegetation became lusher and lusher (left, Figure 69) due to the moisture-rich climate with lots of mist and the fertile volcanic soils.  In fact the highlands area remained me of the area around Hilo, Hawaii. 

We visited a private farm adjoining the Tortoise Reserve that has a large number of the giant tortoises roaming around.  The farms existed before the Tortoise Reserve was established in 1959.

 

The farm provided rubber boots and our guide took us out on a trip to see the giant tortoises in the wild (center, Figure 69).  The most surprising thing about the giant tortoises apart from their size was the wide and distinct track that they make through the tall grass (right, Figure 69).  Since the tortoises are so heavy and their ground clearance is so low, they flatten the vegetation that they pass over.  They reminded me of tanks moving across the terrain.

 

Figure 69. Lush highland vegetation (left), dome-shelled tortoise (center), tortoise track (right)

We saw a Darwin's Galápagos Mouse (Galápagos Rice Rat) sitting on a branch over a water hole (left, Figure 70).  These mammals are endemic to Santa Cruz but are under pressure from introduced rats.  In any event there must be a healthy population given that we saw one without searching for it.

 

Figure 70. Galápagos Mouse (left), tortoise in water hole (center), ‘Here is it!’ (right)

Figure 71. Tortoise eating grass (left), big tortoise (center), under armour & ready for battle (right)

We watched a giant tortoise feeding on the ground cover (left, Figure 71).  The size of these tortoises that can live for up to 200 years is truly impressive (center, Figure 71) especially for those who were familiar with small painted turtles in their youth (click here to view movie clip of giant tortoises). 

 

Back at the farm’s visitor center, there was a pair of old giant tortoise shell that one could try on.  Given my size, I was surprised that I could crawl into one of the shells (right, Figure 71).  The hardest thing when in the shell was to lift up my head due to the lip of the dome-shaped shell.  This convinced me of the wisdom of evolving the saddle-backed shaped shell (see center, Figure 65)!

2.3.4.6       Day 6 (Fri, 15 Aug): Rabida Island, Santiago Island

2.3.4.6.1.1      Rabida Island

Leaving Porto Ayora we cruised towards Rabida Island and arrived in a sheltered bay early in the morning in time for a beautiful sunrise (center, Figure 72).  We had breakfast at 0730 hours and had a dry landing at 0800 hours on the seashell-pink sands of Rabida Island where a large bull sea lion was patrolling as a beachmaster.  The beachmaster is typically the biggest and most aggressive bull who rules the colony and only the beachmaster could breed with all of the females that season.  Since most of the other males aspire to the beachmaster position, the incumbent beachmaster must always be prepared to fight.

 

Figure 72. Puerto Ayora - resupplying (left), sunrise off Rabida (center), beachmaster patrolling (right)

We walked along the beach and closely observed a pair of Galápagos Brown Pelican chicks with big, hunger mouths (left, Figure 73) and saw a Ghost crab that did not run into its hole in the sand but rather defiantly stayed on the surface (right, Figure 73).  We then walked a short path that looped around and pasted over a hill that afforded a Kodak-worthy viewpoint of the beach (center, Figure 73).

 

Figure 73. Galápagos Brown Pelican chicks (left), Rabida beach (center), Ghost crab (right)

Off of Rabida Island we saw Blue-footed boobies spectacularly diving for fish (click here to see movie).

2.3.4.6.1.2      Santiago Island (James Bay)

After lunch, two hours of sailing brought us to our second stop for the day - Egas Port on James Bay of Santiago Island.  The landing site is called Puerto Egas because of the people who tried to establish themselves in this area during the 1930’s and 60’s.  Ecuadorians and even some Norwegian families attempted to settle here, mostly to mine salt from a coastal crater where salt water seepage makes this easy, but without a source of drinking water or a good agricultural area, it was impossible to accomplish.  While Santiago Island is now protected, the effects of the animals that people brought and released include the extinction of the once plentiful land iguana.

 

We made a wet landing at 1340 hours for an hour’s worth of snorkelling before the 80-passenger National Geographic Polaris arrived to disgorge its masses.  While snorkelling along the beach, Donna suddenly pointed to a beautiful big Hawksbill Sea Turtle that was feeding on the algae on the rocks (Figure 74).  We watch it to about ten minutes during which it surfaced for a breath and then submerged to carry on feeding.  Interestingly there were colourful fish around where the turtle was feeding (right, Figure 74), probably because they could eat the scraps from the turtle’s feeding.

 

Figure 74. Hawksbill feeding (left), Hawksbill Sea Turtle (center), colourful fish with turtle (right)

After snorkelling, we walked along the beach to our first Galápagos Penguin up close (left & center, Figure 75).  The Galápagos Penguin is endemic to the Galápagos Islands and it is one of the smaller penguins.  It is the only penguin to live on the equator and can survive due to the cool temperatures resulting from the Humboldt Current and cool waters from great depths brought up by the Cromwell Current.

 

Figure 75. Donna and penguin (left), Galápagos Penguin (center), young sea lions on beach (right)

Figure 76. Sally Lightfoot crab (left), on lava bridge (center), sea turtle under lava bridge (right)

After an hour on the beach and following the arrival of the hoards from Polaris, we set off on our walk along a footpath across the island and crossed over to the lava coast line (center, Figure 76).  Walking along this coast we saw a sea turtle pass under the lava bridge (right, Figure 76); the endangered fur seals cooling off in the shade formed by the seashore grottos in the lava flows; more colourful Sally Lightfoot crabs (left, Figure 76); marine iguanas who stack themselves together for warmth (left, Figure 77); a mother with her newborn sea lion (center, Figure 77) and the placenta along side them with a lizard preparing to feast on it (left, Figure 77).

 

The endemic Galápagos fur seal, a species of sea lion, was hunted almost to extinction during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

 

Figure 77. Marine iguana threesome (left), fur seal mother and new pup (center), fur seal placenta (right)

The inland view around James Bay was quite unlike the barren lava flow along the coast due to it vegetation (left, Figure 78).  As the big Polaris was at anchor in the bay (center, Figure 78) it was time to reboard the Aida Maria and leave for Sullivan Bay on Santiago Island.  As we sailed along, humpback whales were sighted and Captain Carlos obligingly steer the boat towards the whales so that we could see them better (left, Figure 78). 

 

Figure 78. View inland (left), Polaris at anchor (center), watching for humpback whales (right)

Though the evening as we cruised to Sullivan Bay on Santa Cruz Island, the passengers relaxed as the voyage wound down (center & right, Figure 79).  Late in the evening, we finally dropped anchor in Sullivan Bay with Santa Cruz Island in front of us and Bartholomew Island on our left.

 

Figure 79. Moonrise over Santiago Island (left), relaxing after supper (center), Reuben & Carolina (right)

2.3.4.7       Day 7 (Sat, 16 Aug): Santiago Island, Sullivan Bay & Bartolome Island

The schedule for the day was:

 

1.      0700 Breakfast

2.      0730 Briefing

3.      Visit to Bartolome Island:

·   0800 Dry landing

·   1030 Back onboard

4.      Snorkelling off beach beside Bartolome Island:

·   1045 Dry landing

·   1200 Back onboard

5.      Visit to Santiago Island (Sullivan Bay):

·   1400 Dry landing

·   1500 Snorkelling off beach

·   1600 Back onboard

 

At about 0600 hours every morning, Captain Carlos took the dinghy and any passengers who were up, for a ride to check out the area (left, Figure 80).  This morning we went around the base of Pinnacle Rock and saw a group of penguins at its base (center, Figure 80).  Later after breakfast, a rainbow appeared over Sullivan Bay and Santiago Island (right, Figure 80).

 

Figure 80. Dinghy ride with captain (left), penguins on Pinnacle Rock (center), rainbow over bay (right)

2.3.4.7.1.1      Bartolome Island

We went ashore on Bartolome Island to climb up some 360 steps to its highest point (114m) which has one of the most photographed vistas in the Galápagos archipelago.  This island is quite young and quite volcanic. Therefore, it's relatively unpopulated; only a small handful of die-hard plant (center, Figure 81) and animal species have survived long enough to call this otherworldly lava-land.

 

At the top of Bartolome Island there is the spectacular view Pinnacle Rock and Sullivan Bay (left & right, Figure 81).  Pinnacle Rock's fingerlike shape was formed when US pilots in World War II used the volcanic feature for bombing practice.  The resultant shape of Pinnacle Rock is very attractive!

 

Figure 81. Pinnacle Rock & Sullivan Bay (left), colourful cactus (center), Pinnacle Rock (right)

We landed on the crescent beach near the base of Pinnacle Rock (right, Figure 81) for our penultimate snorkel.  We snorkelled around the base of Pinnacle Rock and saw the penguins on the rock (left & center, Figure 82) and the colourful fish including surgeonfish and Azure parrotfish (right, Figure 82).

 

Figure 82. Donna & penguin (left), penguin pooping (center), surgeonfish & Azure parrotfish (right)

2.3.4.7.1.2      Santiago Island (lava flow at Sullivan Bay)

We went by dinghy to recent lava flow into Sullivan Bay.  At the turn of the 20th century a huge lava flow spilled forth and right down to the sea, creating some 10 square kilometres of new land.  This flow was consisted of pahoehoe lava (smooth with a twisted or ropy texture that is easy to walk on) as opposed to aa lava (sharp and blocky that is difficult to walk on).  The terms pahoehoe and aa for lava come for Hawaii.

 

Figure 83. Lava killed tree (left), big crack in lava flow (center), Naomi & author (right)

The flow apparently killed some rather large trees and witnessed by the bleached tree stumps (left, Figure 83).  There are some impressive cracks in the surface of the flow (center, Figure 83).

 

Donna opted out of the final snorkel along with several others who decided to rest on the beach.  The snorkel (left, Figure 84) was somewhat anticlimactic as the site was wanting for interesting fishes and animals to see.  This was the last time that I had to wear my sock to prevent the flipper from cutting my toes (right, Figure 83).

 

As we sailed towards North Seymour Island, the frigatebirds flew in magnificent formation overtop of the Aida Maria.  They would vary their formations and so kept it interesting for the viewer.

 

Figure 84. Author snorkelling (left), frigatebirds over Aida Maria (center), bon voyage cake (right)

At supper that night, the cook made a cake that was decorated with “Feliz Viaje mis Amigos 2008” (Happy trip my friends).  The complete crew showed up and gave us a goodbye toast (Figure 85).

 

After supper that night we put our tip money into an envelope for the crew and another one for the guide.  We tipped US $250 for both of us.  Afterwards, the crew seemed happy with the tips that they received.

 

Figure 85. A goodbye toast from the wonderful crew of the Aida Maria

2.3.4.8       Day 8 (Sun, 17 Aug): North Seymour Island and Baltra

2.3.4.8.1.1      North Seymour Island

After an early breakfast at 0530 hours, we disembarked for an hour on North Seymour Island, our last stop before returning to Balta.  Here we saw the iconic male frigatebirds puff up their inflatable red-coloured throat pouches called "gula pouches" (left, Figure 86), which they inflate to attract females during the mating season (click here to view movie clip of mating display).  There was obviously mating going on as there were courtship displays (center, Figure 86) and frigatebird chicks (right, Figure 86). 

 

Frigatebirds do not have oily feathers so they do not alight on the water and hence obtain most of their food on the wing.  We frequently saw them hovering just above the surface of the ocean to grab food items.  As well we would see them flying in spectacular formations over top of our boat (right, Figure 83).  Apparently they find the air currents over the moving boat to be helpful.

 

Figure 86. Male Frigatebird (left), courtship display (center), the result – a Frigatebird chick (right)

As well there were other birds including the Blue-footed Booby with its chick (center, Figure 87) and the ubiquitous sea lions.

 

Figure 87. Dawn over North Seymour (left), Blue-footed Booby & chick (center), marine iguana (right)

2.3.4.8.1.2      Baltra

After our visit to North Seymour, we made the final voyage to Baltra Island to catch our plane back to the mainland and Quito.  Entering we harbour we passed by the other two big cruise ships that ply the Galápagos waters (left, Figure 88): the Celebrity Xpedition (a 90-passenger luxury ship operated by Celebrity Cruises); and the Galápagos Legend (a 100-passenger luxury ship).  The size of these ships left me cold as I felt that going ashore would be like migrating in a herd.

 

Figure 88. Big luxury cruise ships (left), our replacements on Aida Maria (center), penguin at airport (right)

At Baltra’s landing dock we saw a marine iguana swimming (right, Figure 87) and the reside sea lion (left, Figure 40).  We took a group photograph (Figure 38) and watched with great envy as our places on the Aida Maria were filled with replacements (center, Figure 88).

 

At the airport, we visited the resident penguin (right, Figure 88) and the airport shops (left, Figure 89) where Donna bought a polo shirt with a Galápagos monogram for US$10.  Finally at the departure lounge, Donna said goodbye to Fretha (right, Figure 89) and we boarded our TAME flight back to Quito via Guayaquil.

 

Figure 89. Shops at airport (left), AeroGal arrives (center), goodbye Fretha (right)

We arrive back on 17 August which gave us another full day there until our flight to Lima on 19 August.  Back at the Eugenia Hotel we retrieved our suitcase from storage and repacked for Lima.  On 18 August we took our Gray Line “City and Equatorial Monument” tour.

2.3.4.9       Concluding thoughts on the Aida Maria and Galápagos Recommendations

The night sky of the Galápagos Islands is stunning when cloudless since we were away from the lights of the big city.  It was amazing to see the Milky Way in its fullness stretched across the skies.  We saw the same wonderful sky views at night during our Inca Trail trek.  Unfortunately we could not take any suitable photographs of these night skies.

 

The only complaint about the Aida Maria was that the mattresses are too thin hence I was sore when getting up in the morning. 

 

While the price of a trip to and cruise around the Galápagos Islands is steep (at least $4000 per person), if it was possible, I would return to the Galápagos and go on a two week cruise with visits to islands such as Fernandina, Isabella and Genovesa and the outer islands.

 

There are a number of recommendations that follow from our Galápagos cruise experience.  The most important recommendation is to take the 7N/8D cruise and not the shorter 3 or 4 day ones. We enjoyed every moment of our 7N/8D cruise and a shorter one would have been too short in the wonderful Galapagos.  My other recommendations are:

 

  1. Spend a couple of days before and after the cruise in Quito and visit the sights – Gray Line Tours was very good for us (We enjoyed seeing Old Colonial Quito, the ride up the Teleferiqo and a Saturday trip to the Indian market at Otavalo).

 

  1. Have a shortie wetsuit available for use (we brought our own but could have rented one on the Aida Maria for $40).

 

  1. Bring lots of digital storage for you camera (we had a 16GB card which was fine).

 

  1. When in Puerto Ayora stop at the grocery store at the pier if you are looking to buy some snacks and alcohol.

 

  1. You might want to bring a few snacks but not much is required as the food is good and plentiful.

 

  1. The currency in use in Ecuador is the US dollar.

 

  1. Be prepared to tip at least US $125 at the end of the trip (in our case the crew earned the tip as they made our cruise very nice).

 

  1. Bring an underwater camera (we used three disposable ones and regretted not having one more).

 

Overall we have nothing but positive memories of our trip on the Aida Maria and would do it again. In the final analysis what made the cruise on the Aida Maria excellent was high standard of the food; the cleanliness of the boat; the reasonable price; the knowledge of our guide; the interesting itinerary; the positive attitude of the crew; and the bonhomie of our fellow passengers.

 

 

 

Note: For Part 2 of this travelogue, see the following URL:

 

http://travelogues.x10hosting.com/Ecuador-Peru_Trip_Report-Part2.htm

 

 

 


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