Quito & the Galapagos
Nov. 8, 2005 / Dec. 8, 2005

Michael J. Ferguson
Montréal

Les Publications INRS-Télécommunications, Montréal

Journal Index

Contents

1  Introduction
2  Tues. Nov 8/9, Quito
3  Thurs. Nov. 10, Quito
4  Friday, Nov. 12, Quito
5  Saturday, Nov. 13, Quito
6  Sunday, Nov. 13, Quito
7  Monday, Nov. 14, Quito
8  Tuesday, Nov. 15, Quito
9  Wednesday, Nov. 16, Quito
10  Google Earth map of rides around Quito
11  Thursday, Nov. 17, Quito to Puerto Ayora, Galapagos
12  Friday, Nov. 16, Puerto Ayora
13  Saturday Nov. 19, Puerto Ayora
14  Sunday, Nov. 20, Puerto Ayora
15  Monday, Nov. 21, Puerto Ayora to Puerto Villamil
16  Tuesday Nov. 22, Puerto Villamil
17  Wednesday, Nov. 23, Puerto Villamil
18  Thursday Nov. 24, Puerto Villamil
19  Friday, Nov. 25, Puerto Villamil
20  Saturday/Sunday, Nov. 26/27, Puerto Villamil
21  Monday, Nov. 28, Puerto Villamil to Puerto Ayora
22  Tuesday, Nov. 29, Puerto Ayora
23  Wednesday, Nov. 30, Puerto Ayora to Baltra
24  Thursday Dec. 1, Isla Bartolomé and Isla Santiago
25  Friday, Dec. 2, Isla Rabida and Dragon Hill, Santa Cruz
26  Saturday, Dec. 3, Puerto Ayora
27  Sunday, Dec. 4, Isla Floreana
28  Monday, Dec. 5, Isla Española & Isla San Cristobal
29  Tuesday Dec. 6, Isla Santa Fé & Isla South Plaza
30  Wednesday, Dec. 7, Isla North Seymour, Baltra, & Quito
31  Thursday, Dec. 8, Quito to New York City
32  Friday, Dec. 9, New York City to Montreal

1  Introduction

My major objective for this trip is to commune with the ``Galápagos'' (Spanish for ``tortoise'') on the Galápagos Islands. I started in Quito, after an uneventful bus ride from Montreal to New York. The flight from New York was much cheaper than from Montreal and arrived, theoretically, at 6:30pm instead of 8:30pm. I was a little worried about catching my 9:30am flight because I was to arrive at the Port Authority at 6:15am and the bus left at 6:20am. However, the bus arrived 30min early so there was no problem at all. I did, however, contribute to reducing New York City poverty by spending $27 on some fake bus tickets. I caught the 6:20am bus and was completely checked in by 8:00am. In fact, the flight was delayed by an hour and a half because of a zealous inspection of the plane by US customs. Incredibly, I was only 10min late arriving in Quito.

2  Tues. Nov 8/9, Quito

I put my bicycle together to an appreciative audience and started the ride to find El Centro del Mondo, the hostel in which I was staying. It was quite dark, but the airport is essentially right in town so all the roads had lights. Unfortunately, the streets out there did not seem to have visible signs and I became quite lost, but still going the right direction. With some local help, I oriented myself and got ``home''. My single room was waiting, and for me is ideal. The bathroom and shower are just outside the door, as is the outside kitchen, all off a courtyard.

I had been tracking the weather in Quito for 2 months before I came and found only 3 days for which the forecast was not rain. It was raining when I arrived, but was clear and bright the following morning. The next couple of days were sunny in the mornings but started raining at about 3:30pm. The third day started out cloudy, and the rain began in earnest at noon. I was sufficiently pessimistic about the weather that I left my tent at home. It would have been fun to camp in the Galápagos but the area seems to be rather tightly controlled and camping appears rather difficult.

My first day was spent riding around the "new town", finding a graceful way to the airport, since I got lost coming in, and also getting the voucher for my Galápagos cruise, which I organised over the Internet. Early in the morning I lost my tire repair kit while putting air back in bicycle tire at a gas station so I spent much of the day looking for a bicycle shop. Airport security always seem to deflate my tires when they check my bike for explosives. It had just started to rain as I arrived back at the hostel, at about 3:00pm

3  Thurs. Nov. 10, Quito

My second day was spent exploring Quito's Old City". Again it started out sunny, and several people were taking advantage of it with morning dance exercise in Parque Eljido.

The ``Old City'' is a major reason for visiting Quito. Quito is said to have the best colonial heritage in South America. It is indeed well preserved and is continually being repainted and restored.

The balconies and facades are a special delight. The second story "lofts" put those in other cities to shame.

There are basilicas, and ordinary" churches. Some are more elegant than others, and the occasional one is being totally rebuilt inside.

Although Quito is a safe city, compared to others such as Lima, there are areas where a tourist is not really very safe. El Panecillo, with a wonderful view of Quito, is reputed to be quite dangerous.

Lonely Planet, and my map, cautions that you should not go there except by taxi. Instead, I went up Imabubura street and met an architect and his son at the top. They told me that the streets here were not safe either, and offered to guide me back to the Plaza Grande. The view of the ``Old City'' from here was probably better than from La Panecillo, but the local residents obviously did not believe that this was the safest place in Quito but there was a great view of the Old City.

This was my second cautionary tale of the day. I stopped on a street to take a picture and moved about 10 feet (3m) from my bicycle. A woman came up to me and said "You shouldn't leave your bike like that." She was right.

On my way down to the Plaza Grande, I passed some less and more elegant balconies, and an old man playing his guitar. When he first saw my camera, he put his guitar over his face. I sort of left and he ignored me.

The Plaza Grande or Plaza de la Independencia is the heart of Quito, and Ecuador. It is surrounded by the Catedral, Palacio del Gobernio, and the Palacio Arzobispal (Archbishop's Palace)

On my way through the Plaza Grande, for the first time, I saw an interesting group of children, sitting with their ``nannies'' and took their picture. They were enthralled when I showed it to them and their nannies. As I left they waved ``goodbye''.

When I came back from touring south of the plaza, they encircled me, grabbing my arms and hands as though I were a saint returning. About 10 minutes later I saw a crowd gathering in front of the Palacio Gobernio. It was the beginning of a rally. The several groups of children that were scattered over the Plaza had been assembled for this. This rally was not a protest, but a gathering to thank the President of Ecuador for allocating money for their children's program, but it still seemed that the riot police were required.

The rally appeared to be breaking up and ending, but there was still to be more. The children were being escorted to have an audience with the President. My children waved excitedly to me as they passed.

Although the riot police were there for the whole time, they evidently didn't think there was any imminent danger.

I was allowed to watch the rally unfold from the balcony entrance to the Palacio. This feeling of security on the part of Ecuador was a surprise, given my previous experiences in South America. I was only a few feet away when there was a changing of the guard. I was slightly worried that I might be impaled on their staff.

I left shortly thereafter, and arrived back at my hostel at about 3:00pm just before a rather intense thunderstorm began.

4  Friday, Nov. 12, Quito

Today started out overcast and dreary, with the rain staring in earnest at noon. I spent the morning adding a few more groceries from the Supermaxi supermarket in the huge Mall El Jardin that could have been in large city in the US or Canada. I spent the afternoon organising the pictures I took yesterday, and writing.

5  Saturday, Nov. 13, Quito

After yesterday, it was nice that the day started out sunny, and surprisingly, the rain held off to 5:00pm. I rode back up to the Old City and found that early morning in Parque Eljido was not dedicated to exercise, but setting up a large craft market. There were a lot of stalls but the merchandise appeared to come from the same suppliers.

I continued up the Old City and think that I have found a good way. I spent the rest of the day wandering around areas that I had missed before. There is still much more.

On the way back I was stopping, and still holding my bicycle, at store to look for a small electric water boiler, in case I can't buy butane in the Galápagos, when I was hit by one of the standard distraction/theft ploys. A man came up to me showed me some green stuff that he said was on the back of my shirt. I believed him because I felt the contact. He walked around in front of me, showed me his finger with the green stuff, but before he could say much, I gave him a karate chop across the arm. He seemed more than a little surprised and ran off. I am not certain what he expected to get, other than possibly my bicycle if I put it down. The bicycle pants I was wearing have no pockets and it was clear, at least to me, that I was not going to take off my fanny pack.

6  Sunday, Nov. 13, Quito

It has rained most of the night and still is rather cloudy. It cleared relatively early and was sunny when I arrived at 10:00am for the opening of the Mall El Jardin. I admit some surprise to find a large mall, and all it shops, open on Sunday. I took my ``Quito yoghurt supply'' back to the hostel, and after some dull noodles, began my real day, the ride up to the top of the ridge east of the Mariscal to see the village and sanctuary of Guápulo.

On the way up the hill I was hailed with a ``Hello fellow Canadian.'' It was a girl from Halifax who was here to volunteer in the Children's Hospital I was passing, and to learn Spanish. She told me of the most interesting robbery case that I have ever heard. On her second day, she was walking near the hospital when some guy grabbed her purse. She said that she had only about $20 in it so was not about to struggle. However, it was not over. A passerby pulled out a gun and threatened the robber. He let go of the purse and ran.

Guápulo is built into a deep valley and is seen from a lookout right near the top of the ridge.

I don't know how far down the valley is way down from the village but it looks like a formidable climb.

I continued up, and along the ridge, and eventually down to Quito's largest park, the Parque La Carolina. It is almost 2km long. This was a sunny Sunday in the park and there was much to entertain the Quitanos.

The sign says ``Helmets & Gloves'' are obligatory. Obviously no one cares.

There was a large sinuous canal/lake with the obligatory paddle boats and a statue just made for climbing.

The park also includes the Quito Botanical Gardens.

I avoided the balloon and shave ice sellers but did have a grilled kebob and some ceviche. The small bowl I had cost only 60 cents but had much more beans than fish. I like the ``ceviche mixte'' in Lima better, but am not about to go back to get some.

After getting some ``Salsa de Aji Los Andes'' to make my noodles edible, I came back to the hostel. Although it looked rather threatening during the day, it did not rain.

7  Monday, Nov. 14, Quito

Today I rode north to the La Mitad del Mondo, monument on the equator that commemorates the place where Charles-Marie de La Condamine made the measurements that proved the earth was an oblate spheroid, bulging on the equator. The monument commemorates this and show the line that La Condamine determined to be the equator.

It is now a favourite spot for tourists to stand with one foot in the Northern Hemisphere and the other in the Southern. For his time, the measurements were very good, but your GPS will reveal that this line is actually about 280m/900' south of the Equator. A little north the road passes the real equator.

La Mitad del Mondo has a craft village, restaurants, and special exhibit halls. All the exhibit halls have separate entry fees. However, the flowers are free.

On the way to La Mitad del Mondo, you pass much new construction. Although Ecuador may be safer than Peru, all these new villages were gated.

Stupidly, I didn't bring enough water, and the sun was ever present and hot. I stopped on the way back in Pomasqui to have some lunch and buy some water.

I got a 1/4 chicken, which at home is usually not very much. Here it almost covered my 12 inch plate that was first heaped with rice and french fries. I should have gotten the 1/8 Personal chicken.

I continued back, in the blazing sun, wishing for clouds and rain. They finally came a couple of hours after I left Pomasqui, but I had made almost all the way back up to Quito. There is about a 400m drop to get to La Mitad. The trip was only about 55km but I was exhausted and sunburnt.

8  Tuesday, Nov. 15, Quito

Today was a lazy day spent riding around, looking, and finding, a slightly larger day pack so I can fly with my minimal stuff to the Galápagos. I also asked the nice people at Galápagos Tours if they new whether you could buy butane camping gas in Puerto Ayora. They didn't know and phoned their office Puerto Ayora. Their people were out to lunch so I will go back tomorrow to find out.

9  Wednesday, Nov. 16, Quito

Unfortunately there is still no information on camping gas in Puerto Ayora. None of the people that were phoned seemed to know if it was available. I will take my stove and look all over town. I may have to forego my early morning coffee. The rest of the day was spent confirming my flight to the Galápagos which appears to have been unnecessary, testing my new backpack, and taking a few more pictures to replace some that did not turn out.

10  Google Earth map of rides around Quito

This is a link to the Google Earth Map of some of my rides around Quito.

11  Thursday, Nov. 17, Quito to Puerto Ayora, Galapagos

I waited only 3 minutes to catch a cab on Reina Vitoria for the airport, and after showing them my passport and credit card, activated my e-ticket. What happens if you lose your credit card? Your new passport gives the number of your old one but not a new credit card.

The flight was uneventful, stopping in Guayaquil, and passing over a rather flat and brown Isla San Cristobal before landing on the completely flat, and cactus covered, Isla Baltra. Evidently, the north side of Isla Santa Cruz is the leeward, desert side. Much to my delight, as we crossed over the highlands it became green, with deciduous trees, and reminded me of some parts of ``up country'' Hawaii. The bus dropped us off at the main bus terminal because we were not on a cruise, and I shared a cab into town with Sylvia, a Spanish girl from the Balearic Islands (Her's is smaller than Isla Santa Cruz). She is to be here for 6+ months, for work/training, and was staying with a local family. I was let off near the harbour, and found that my ``residencial'' of choice's singles (Lonely Planet) were really 4 bedded rooms. My second choice was full, but after a short walk I did find a single at the New Elizabeth Hotel, at $12us near the harbour.

12  Friday, Nov. 16, Puerto Ayora

My first day in the Galapagos, was a day of finches, warblers, lizards, iguanas, tortoises, and beaches with incredibly fine sand. There were clouds, sunshine, and a occasional light drizzle.

I passed by Laguna Ninfa, a small swimming lake,

and through some of the small back streets in Puerto Ayora,

on the way to the trailhead for the 2.5km walking trail to Tortuga Bay.

The trail was surrounded by a Galapagos Prickly Pear cactus forest, and I was apparently visiting the homes of many finches and lava lizards, and the occasional mockingbird.

Tortuga Bay is a huge sand beach with the finest sand I have ever seen. It floated up in to the surface in spirals as the waves went out.

There were also strange yellow bubbles that formed on the surface that looked at first like pollution, but I think were organic.

At the end of the beach I saw my first Marine Iguana running, and resting, on the sand and several others on the lava.

There were many Brown Pelicans, that I failed to photograph as they were flying by, or sitting on a sign because I thought that was dull, but I did see some Lava Gulls and Swallow Tailed Gulls.

There were many small, and skittish, shore birds that I have yet to name, and whom were extremely difficult to photograph.

The Ghost Crab was colourful, and left strange sand balls, left over from his scouring the sand for food.

Tortuga Bay Beach is considered too dangerous for swimming, but there is a very nice, shallow, and calm second beach for swimming.

I continued down trail beyond the beach and was treated to, what was almost a cactus swamp.

The trail disappeared and I went back.

In the late afternoon I walked down to the Charles Darwin Research Station to see the Galapagos. I was rewarded on the way with a visit.

The tortoises were from many islands and are distinguished by the shape of their shells.

I must admit that I couldn't identify the origins of the many I saw, but they were moribundly interesting.

My miracle of the day was a ``walking'', or was it ``running'', tortoise.

I had seen several Yellow Warblers but they tended to land only for seconds totally inside a tree. This one was sharing a feeding platform of a tortoise.

13  Saturday Nov. 19, Puerto Ayora

I spent most of the morning labelling my pictures and writing this journal and making the picture portfolios for the ``travel in progress'' report. I also found a new wildlife guide to the Galápagos that is far superior to the one I bought from the South American Explorers (``Wildlife of the Galapagos'', Julian Fitter, Daniel Fitter & David Hosking, C. Collins Safari Guide, 2000, ISBN: 0002201372) and spent the afternoon on the pier, reading it, and watching some baby Marine Iguanas that had climbed the 6 feet (2m) up to side of the pier to sun themselves.

They had to share the wall on the way up and down with some Sally Lightfoot Crabs.

Now with the book, I can tell the difference between a Great Frigate Bird and a Magnificent Frigate Bird in flight. Although there were both, I only managed to photograph the Great Frigate Bird.

On the one side of the pier is Academy Bay and on the other the harbour.

Painstaking hand boat repair was taking place near the fish cleaning station.

After sun set, the square was full of children, racing around, having great fun.

14  Sunday, Nov. 20, Puerto Ayora

Today was another lazy day, wandering around town, discovering that the stores, especially the large Proinsular Supermarket closed at noon, and discovering a new, robin size, Large Ground Finch and some more Galapagos Mockingbirds.

Sunday evening was remarkably quiet with just a few children in the square.

15  Monday, Nov. 21, Puerto Ayora to Puerto Villamil

The boat for Puerto Villamil on Isabela left at 1:45pm (2:00pm actually) so I spent the early morning walking back again to Tortuga Bay. I was overwhelmed by mockingbirds but spent some time examining the Opuntia, the Giant Prickly Pear Cactus which is a species unique to the Galápagos . It begins as a stalk of leaves, changes into a prickly trunk that then turns a smooth deep brown. Inside it remains fibrous, and is useless for wood.

Not everything is cactus. Acacias seem to tolerate the desert lava too.

I went to the far eastern end of Tortuga Bay this time and practically tripped over the marine iguanas.

I also saw a magnificent Brown Pelican and perhaps know why it was so named.

I came back and had my customary two cups of coffee at Hernans.

After my packs were inspected for interisland travel, we left from the harbour for the two and a half hour, bumpy ride, to Puerto Villamil, the major town on Isabela. The waves were only a metre or so but the boat was only about seven metres long. Interesting enough, Santa Cruz is actually visible from just off shore of Isabela. I shared a dollar cab ride to La Balain Azul, my hostel of choice, with a French couple. There were only four paying passengers, with a crew of three on the boat.

Unfortunately, I can stay at the La Balain Azul for only three days. They, much to the owners dismay, are going to be filled with a group of very demanding Germans. I will have to look for another place tomorrow.

16  Tuesday Nov. 22, Puerto Villamil

None of the recommended Lonely Planet hostels have addresses or even streets and there is no map of the town available so finding any of them required asking. I finally settled on Lonely Planet's best budget recommendation, the Hotel San Vincente (GPS: 0° 57.296'S, 90° 57.863'W) which has evidently been upgraded since the guide. They had a beautiful room with private shower and hot water for $10/night. I grabbed it at about 9:00am and as far as I could tell it was full at night. There are three tents in their front yard.

Puerto Villamil is a small town that is expanding to the north on the lava fields.

In some of the new, or renovated areas they a putting in new, natural wooden pole lamp posts. The town consists mainly of back streets, all dust covered,

but the main street and the main square are not much bigger.

It flows along a huge beach, and has not neglected the children.

My major expedition for the day was the short trail to the tortoise hatchery.

Unfortunately the lagoons were almost dry, this being the end of the dry season, but there were a few ducks a flamingos.

The trees crowded on some parts of the trail and a vine, the Galapagos Passion Flower, sometimes with delicate green flowers? covered others.

The small birds and even lava lizards were very few,

but the lava lizard had brighter red cheeks than any I saw on Santa Cruz, but I don't really know about the finches.

In contrast to the Charles Darwin Research Station, the tortoises here were positively energetic. All of the seemed to come from various volcanoes on Isabella and have evolved with different shells.

I came back on the beach, and found a few marine iguanas, and was able to photograph some Magnificent Frigate Birds

The Blue Footed Boobie is an incredible diver, starting from up to 10m (35') above the water and going in straight down. I don't think they have ever caught anything while I was watching. I spent sometime trying to capture their dives but was only partially successful.

Sunsets on the equator are almost instantaneous, but a few people here have made a habit of going down to the beach to watch.

17  Wednesday, Nov. 23, Puerto Villamil

Today I walked about 20km west of Puerto Villamil to the Wall of Tears.

This wall, about 70m long, 20m high, and 5m thick was a make-work project for the penal colony that was here until 1959 when it was closed and the Galapagos National Park was opened. I guess the authorities felt that a penal colony was bad for the image of the new national park.

The trailhead is a few km west of town with wide, wheel-chair accessible paths. It runs by the shore and eventually up into the hills. The inland parts ran through cactus and small leafless deciduous trees. They apparently put on leaves when the rains come beginning in mid (hopefully) December.

There were some small lakes, all of which looked as though they could do with new rain.

The shore is covered with impenetrable mangroves; impenetrable unless a trail has been cut through.

The beaches were the highlight of the walk - beautiful and full of birds and overrun by marine iguanas.

The marine iguanas here seemed to have longer crests than those on Santa Cruz, but I really don't know.

There were many flocks Blue-footed Boobies on the shore, but usually, as I approached, one flew off, and then they all followed. In some cases I was able to get some pictures of a straggler just before it flew away,

but one time, one stayed and let me get within 1m of it.

Although I did see a coup-le of Large Ground Finches, with what appeared to be much longer tails than the ones I saw on Santa Cruz,

the Galapagos Mockingbirds were everywhere, sometimes calling to each other.

On the way back on the beach, I was finally able to get a picture of a Whimbrel. These are especially skittish birds that tend to fly away if you get within 7m (25') of them. The American Oystercatcher is a little easier, but not much.

It was a good day.

18  Thursday Nov. 24, Puerto Villamil

I spent a lot of the day visiting every store in town looking for some duct tape to repair my shoes. I settled on electrical tape.

Yesterday a girl, bringing in her snorkeling gear, told me of a trail down by the dock where she had been snorkeling. I walked down to the end of the beach,

and down the road to the dock.

This was the Concha de Perla trail, and it cut through mangroves to a small swimming dock at the end.

The water was a little murky, there was no coral, and the fish were small, but there were several small Galapagos Sea Lions. When I got near them they would dive under me, and up and around. This is the first time I have ever been swimming with sea lions.

The other highlight was watching the boobies dive. For the most part, they start at 5m (15') to 15m (50') above the water, make an 60° to 80° power dive, using their wings to adjust the contact point before the assume a bullet shape and hit the water. The lagoon has lots of little fish and this time I saw a catch. I have also seen them start at about 10m (30'), assume a bullet at the top of the dive and go straight in.

It was much fun.

19  Friday, Nov. 25, Puerto Villamil

Today's expedition was to the recently erupting Sierra Negra. The tour was organized by Antonio who owns the Hotel San Vicente and was very convenient. We took the house bus/truck up to the 875m (2900') trailhead where it was possible to either walk or ride horses. I opted to walk so I could stop and take pictures at my whim. Two Swedish girls in the group took the horses and swore ``Never again!''. There were several groups on the mountain, some riding and others walking. Six of the ten of us in Antonio's group chose to walk. It was a great walk, except for some blisters. We did not have a guide, so we could move around with freedom. The six of us split up just wandered, on the trail, of course.

The first part of the trail was a road up to a local ranch and some of the cows chased us uphill. At the gate, the trail really went uphill to over 1000m (3300') through acacia bushes (possibly mesquite) covered with a black spanish moss.

I saw a couple of Vermilion Flycatchers but was not quick enough to photograph them ... perhaps some other time. Occasionally you could see east towards the centre of Isabela.

At the top of the trail there was a small overlook, with too many people, giving a view of the caldera. It was the largest I had ever seen, and is apparently the second largest in the world.

We had come up through the ``humid zone'' and were back into rather dry arid conditions but there were flowers and fruit.

The new eruption surprisingly occurred on the top northern edge of the caldera, and clearly flowed down into it. I would have liked to taken the trail along the edge of the caldera to see it more closely (one of group actually did), but had the misfortune of finding a group of Germans at the junction and their guide said I was supposed to go down the other trail to Volcan Chico.

It was an interesting mix of old flow, with lonely Candelabra Cactii and new tiny fragments blown over from the newest eruption.

After I came back, I indulged with some cold water and cold white wine, and some fresh pastries that I was able to buy in the grocery store. Although I have a water purifier, the water in the Galapagos tastes so bad that I buy it instead.

20  Saturday/Sunday, Nov. 26/27, Puerto Villamil

The highlight of these two days was snorkeling with the seals. They are real showoffs, rolling and spinning under you, dropping down by tour head and up at your feet, sometimes singly or in pairs, and occasionally three at a time. They knew they were un your element, and you weren't in yours. The seals made up for the dull, compared to Hawaii, fish. I also saw large turtle, and a penguin swimming on the bottom, and up a ridge in front of me.

21  Monday, Nov. 28, Puerto Villamil to Puerto Ayora

Two boats were needed this morning for the crowd going back to Puerto Ayora. I had to walk partway because Antonio forgot to phone for a taxi. However, when I got to the main road leading to the dock, a private, fully loaded truck, stopped to take me to the dock.

I got the slower and bigger boat which had the advantage of not having the plastic spray window down so I could see the flocks of birds as we passed. This trip was a little faster than coming, only about two hours and fifteen minutes.

I checked into my hotel, and spent the rest of the day people watching.

22  Tuesday, Nov. 29, Puerto Ayora

This morning I took a 50 cent water taxi to the Finch Bay Eco Hotel dock for the short walk to Las Grietas. Fresh water is in short supply here so a White Cheeked Pintail was taking advantage of the hotel pool.

This was too deep for the Black Necked Stilts so they remained in what was left if their pond.

Some ponds are sufficiently brackish that they can be used for salt extraction.

The trail ended at a small deep gorge that was, apparently, Las Grietas.

This was one of the few times on a trail here that I was not alone. There were three Germans who seemed to like fresh water swimming better than the ocean.

I took the water taxi back and again spent the rest of the day people watching.

23  Wednesday, Nov. 30, Puerto Ayora to Baltra

I caught a taxi at about 7:15am for the ride to the bus terminal, which is well out of town. The driver hailed the bus just as it was leaving and I raced to get it. Unfortunately, I left my favourite, definitive, hat in the back seat.

I arrived at the airport well before the first plane arrived and was worried for the next few hours whether my guide for the Poseidon would ever arrive. I was told that he had not yet arrived but they would tell me when he did. Indeed, Javier, the Poseidon guide was brought over to meet me just before the second flight, which was late as usual arrived. At about 8:30am I started walking down to the dock where the cruise boats anchored while waiting to pick up their new passengers. I didn't see my boat so I decided to go back to the airport and wait.

After the four other new passengers arrived, the five of us, with Javier, took the Muelle (dock) bus down to meet the boat. Lonely Planet says that you should take this bus to get to Puerto Ayora via the boat across the channel separating Baltra and Santa Cruz. This is not right. The correct bus is, in fact, the one labelled Canal.

The Poseidon is a small boat with only 10 passengers, four double cabins, each with their own shower and toilet, and one ``luxury'' double cabin on the main deck. Apparently, if you knew about it, you could reserve it in advance, at no extra charge. It was a little bigger than the ones below and had the advantage of not requiring that the windows be closed while we were sailing. Our portholes were always closed by the crew before we started to sail.

On the first half of the trip, we were nine, a German couple and their 25 year old daughter and her friend who were doing a 6 month volunteer medical internship in Quito, a young Swiss mountain climbing couple from Zurich, my roommate who was a student at ETH in Zurich but was spending 6 months in Quito as an engineering intern, and a Scottish ``outdoor instructor''.

This was 7 night/8 day tour that covered the islands north of Santa Cruz in the first 3 days and those south in the second 4 days. Although some people opt for only the first or second half, there are birds that you see only on one or the other. The only flock of Galapagos Penguins that I saw were on the shores of northerly Isla Bartholomé and Waved Albatrosses are only on southerly Espanola.

Our first afternoon was spent on Bachas Beach, Santa Cruz, just a short sail from the harbour.

That evening we sailed north and spent the night in the channel between Isla Bartolomé and Isla Santiago

24  Thursday Dec. 1, Isla Bartolomé and Isla Santiago

I went up on deck just after dawn and was disappointed to find out there were penguins that had been diving into the sea for about a half hour. We looked at them with binoculars but I was upset that we were so far away and not really seeing them, nor did Javier tell us that there might be penguins here early in the morning.

After breakfast, we took our small Panga to go to Isla Bartolomé. Much to our delight, there was a large flock of penguins that had not yet left and we were able to go right up to them. They are only about a foot high (30cm), the second smallest in the world (after the Blue Penguin in New Zealand).

We had a dry landing and walked up the trail, by a Lava Cactus to the top of the island.

This is probably the prettiest island in the Galápagos , and apparently, one of the most photographed.

After our climb, we went back to the boat and sailed to James Bay, on Isla Santiago. This was to be our introduction to Galapagos Sea Lions, which are a subspecies of California Sea Lions and the only place we would see Galapagos Fur Seals.

The Galapagos Fur Seals have a flatter nose than the Galapagos Sea Lions, are smaller and slightly chubbier when they are the same length.

We spent quite a while watching the seals, and for the whole time, a Yellow-crowned Night Heron sat on a ledge, less than 1m (3 feet) away and ignored us. The Lava Heron was similarly unconcerned when we passed it earlier.

There were, of course, Marine Iguanas, with the surprise here, that I saw one munching dinner.

Finally we were treated to a sunset, just before we left.

We sailed after supper and anchored just off Isla Rabida, where we awoke the following morning.

25  Friday, Dec. 2, Isla Rabida and Dragon Hill, Santa Cruz

Isla Rabida is famous for its red sand beach, and cliff views.

It, like most of the other islands are covered with Palo Santo trees, and are known for their fragrant bark which is apparently sold in Quito for incense. During the dry season, they look very dead, but apparently they burst into leaf during the rainy season that is about to start.

The sea lions were cavorting in the shallow water, mostly ignoring the snorkelers staring at them, but a small one swam over to me, and bit my sock covered foot. I guess he thought this foot was quite strange and wanted to examine it more closely. Leana, the Scottish girl did not wear any socks, and she became our local Red-footed Booby.

In the early afternoon, we sailed across to Dragon Hill on Santa Cruz to see our first Land Iguanas. Since Santa Cruz is inhabited, Feral Goats are a real problem, and there is an determined effort to wipe them out before they wipe out the Land Iguanas and turtles.

The Land Iguanas love yellow flowers, especially the Prickly Pear. Here they were in bloom, and we were able to lure them out the underbrush to eat.

They always would eat the first one we gave them, but then they always beat the second one to death and tried to bury it.

It is clear that the park service keeps track of the inhabitants.

These guys do a very good job of capturing the tourists.

On the way back from the Hill, we passed the lagoon, and this time a Flamingo was right up close.

After a short walk along the beach, we went back to the boat for supper. At midnight we started sail for Puerto Ayora, arriving there at about 7:00am.

26  Saturday, Dec. 3, Puerto Ayora

After breakfast, the German family and Leona left us, and the rest of the people went to Tortuga Bay and the Charles Darwin Research Station. Since I had been both places, I spent the day looking for stuff to repair my boots, and something to stop the fogging of my swim goggles. I was successful in both cases, and instead of fogging in 5 min, my goggles did not fog at all during the hour we were snorkeling the following day at Devil's Crown.

27  Sunday, Dec. 4, Isla Floreana

We sailed overnight again reached Isla Floreana early in the morning. Our first stop was the curious Post Office Bay where letters were left, originally by early sailors, hoping that future visitors may be going back to where that were to be delivered. Now they are left by tourists, some of whom don't want them delivered anywhere. They want to pick them up again when they get back.

We continued up the hill to a lava tube cave, that ran back to the sea, and apparently exited underwater. Since we were not a dive boat, we quit in water up to our ankles.

The highlight of the day was an hour long snorkel at Devil's Crown. Here the currents were strong, and the fish the most colourful I saw in the Galápagos . I didn't use fins, and was being swept out to Santa Cruz when I was picked up by the panga, and we headed back.

We landed later at Punta Cormorant, passed the sea lions, and flamingos (too far away to photograph) in the lagoon, and found a hermit crab, on the trail, at least 100m from the nearest water.

As we left, the sun set behind the lagoon.

28  Monday, Dec. 5, Isla Española & Isla San Cristobal

Again we sailed overnight, and were scheduled for a very early 6:15am departure for Isla Española. There were two other big boats in the bay, and our early departure meant that we had the island to ourselves. They arrived just as we were leaving.

Isla Española is an incredible place. We were first greeted by extremely curious Hood Mockingbirds. Since we left so early, and before breakfast, I brought my coffee with me. They really wanted the liquid in that cup.

Then there was the baby sea lion that was using a clutch of marine iguanas as a jungle gym. The Marine Iguanas here are red. You are what you eat.

Isla Española is a (the?) major nesting area for Nazca (Masked) Boobies and they had eggs, downy young, and in one case still preparing by gathering twigs.

My most amazing encounter was with a Galapagos Hawk. It was sitting in a large shrub, and didn't move as I walked up to it, came around in front, and took a couple of pictures with a fill-in flash. While I was doing this, the seven other people from our boat gathered round, and still it didn't move. It was still there when we left. I have never been that close to an untethered raptor before.

This is the only nesting area for the Waved Albatross. The first ones we saw were almost 15m away from us and it is very difficult to appreciate their size from that distance. However, as we approached the launching cliff we were able to come within a few feet of several, including one family group. It is hard to believe that a baby albatross would make the Ugly Duckling look beautiful.

Swallow-tailed Gulls are big gulls, but they looked small beside the albatross. I was sure that the ones that I saw by themselves on Isla South Plaza were twice the size of these.

On the way back, I saw a Galapagos Dove. They are reluctant fliers, and I tried to get a better picture of this one. I poked it with a small stick and it came out of its slot, but then immediately went back in. Apparently Darwin caught one for dinner by throwing his hat over it.

After breakfast, we sailed to Isla San Cristóbal, arriving there at about noon. Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is the provincial capital, but is quieter a bit smaller than Puerto Ayora. The interpretation center is very good, and has a nice description of the Finch beaks.

We can definitely thank Darwin for saving these islands for us. In addition to visiting the information centre, we took a short ride to El Junco lagoon, an old crater lake and the only freshwater lake on any island. It was clouded in and they did not part long enough to get a decent picture. As one might expect, there are no fish in the lake, and the Frigatebirds there were apparently washing themselves, not fishing.

We gathered just after sunset on the pier, and took the panga back to boat. After dinner, we sailed to Isla Santa Fé

29  Tuesday Dec. 6, Isla Santa Fé & Isla South Plaza

This time we had the Barrington Bay on Isla Santa Fé to ourselves.

and went ashore, amongst the Sea Lions, Land Iguanas, which are a unique sub-species on Santa Fé, White-tipped Sharks and a small Yellow Warbler.

The varied, and curious Scalesia plants give their name to a vegetation zone on all the higher islands.

On our way back, we had a delegation of eight White-tipped Sharks, all in a row, waiting in the shallows as we got back into the panga.

Barrington Bay is a recommended snorkeling spot. The fish were not as interesting as a Devil's Crown but there were many sting rays half buried on the sandy bottom. One was being circled by a Parrotfish. I have no idea why.

After we had finished, we set sail for Isla South Plaza

to commune with the Land Iguanas,

the ``large'' Swallow-tailed Gulls,

and be amazed by some sea lions that had climbed to the top of a 40 foot cliff. One had, in the distant past, decided not to leave.

This was a ``dry''landing and a huge male sea lion felt that it was his territory.

We waited for him to get back in the water before we ventured back.

30  Wednesday, Dec. 7, Isla North Seymour, Baltra, & Quito

Again, just after supper, we sailed for the channel between Baltra (formerly South Seymour) and North Seymour. We anchored on the Baltra side of the channel, and were delighted to find in the morning that the huge boats on the north side had disappeared during the night. I was up early and saw my first sunrise.

Just after breakfast, the panga took us across the channel for a dry landing and a walk through a Frigatebird nesting area. They were young, courting, incubating, and generally ignoring us as we got close.

It was much fun to see the males display, and to see them later, on the nest with a deflated, rumply, throat. We left at about 9:30am and arrived in the Baltra harbour at about 10:00am. This late arrival was why I didn't see the boat a week ago.

The Poseidon was about to get a whole new batch of passengers - all of us left to fly back to Quito. The plane was late, as usual, but I was not going home until tomorrow, and my bicycle was stored in my hostel, so I didn't have to worry about being able to retrieve it late in the afternoon, as I would have, if I had stored it a the South American Explorers, Quito Clubhouse.

It was an easy flight back, with clouds obscuring the volcanos. I shared a taxi into town, and arrived safely, to find that all was well with my bicycle.

31  Thursday, Dec. 8, Quito to New York City

I rode up to the airport in the morning, took my bicycle into the terminal to get it ready to fly and was immediately harassed by a plain clothes security guard. As soon as they found out that I was flying in a few hours, there was no problem, and I had a group of five or so watching in fascination as I folded up everything.

I had plenty of time to check my bags, visit the duty-free stores, and wait. However, about 3/4 hour before departure, I, and another man, were called out of the waiting room to have our baggage examined. I was first, and while I watched, the police took everything out of my trailer, opened things up, peered down my snorkel, and smelled all of it. Then it was time for my bicycle. It was similarly examined and he deflated the tires. I don't know whether they were looking for bombs, drugs, or both, but they were thorough. The other man had shrink-wrapped his over-stuffed bag and had to take out everything.

My major worry about the operation was that they would take so long that my bags would not make the plane. I didn't really want to spend the night in New York and have to hassle Lan Ecuador. It turned out they both made it, and I was easily able to get to the Port Authority Terminal for the midnight bus.

32  Friday, Dec. 9, New York City to Montreal

The bus ride was essentially uneventful, and I arrived home, in the snow, unscathed.

It was an amazing trip and everyone should go at least once.




File translated from TEX by TTH, version 3.02.
On 12 Nov 2008, 12:15.