Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays


Galápagos Squid

I shot this video one evening from the balcony outside our stateroom. Monica, the senior naturalist on board the Celebrity Xpedition, said that this was squid.


The sound track is a Paganini Variation VIII played by Wen-Sing Yang.

This video was also my first attempt at using iMovie.

How Babycham changed British drinking habits

BBC News – How Babycham changed British drinking habits.

Oh dear, I’m older than Babycham!

How To Become A Master Of Creativity – Attitude!

How To Become A Master Of Creativity – Attitude! | LinkedIn.

Interesting read.


Machu Picchu

When we booked our cruise around the Galápagos Islands, we added the option to visit Machu Picchu (Wikipedia). This meant travelling to Lima from Quito (after our return from  Baltra), an overnight in Lima at the very nice Country Club Hotel and then another flight to Cuzco where we spent three nights in the Monasterio Hotel. We checked into the hotel for a late lunch, and then visited the local cathedral—no photos worth displaying. The following day, the rest of the group took a trip to a local market and the Sacred Valley; unfortunately, I was laid low by tummy trouble, which may have been a symptom of altitude sickness. I stayed in the hotel to give myself the best chance of recovering for Machu Picchu the following day.

Although it was only a day trip to Machu Picchu, we went in luxury on  the Hiram Bingham Orient Express. My tummy was much better at breakfast and completely recovered after a couple of welcome glasses of champagne—the first of which included a dash of Pisco and a small piece of lime. It wasn’t the most successful cocktail; the Pisco really did overpower the champagne (I think it was really South American bubbly).

The train ride was 3+ hours each way; so we ate brunch (really lunch) and dinner on the train. The food was excellent , and the Pisco Sours on the return journey made sure I had no recurrence of my trouble. There was a decent 3-piece band providing entertainment both ways. They were particularly good fun on the return journey with a mixture and Spanish songs and pop/rock that the crowd could sing along to. It was already dark, so no point in looking out the window.

It’s about 25 minutes on a coach long a seriously winding road to reach the entrance to Machu Picchu from the station. Entrance is by personal ticket, so you need a passport to get in. Once inside, keep the passport open because you can get a commemorative stamp.

Although the actual site is quite large, some areas—Temple of the Sun, Guard House—were pretty crowded. There is supposed to be a daily limit of 2,500 visitors, but our guide said that no-one pays it much attention.

Pictures of Machu Picchu are so common that I found no real “wow factor” when seeing it myself: “Oh yeah, it really does look like that”. And I couldn’t help thinking about Tintin. The weather was a mostly overcast with occasional bursts of sunshine, but we didn’t get rained on. I did get seriously bitten, though I didn’t notice at the time, which was unfortunate because we did have insect repellent wipes that remained unused. Still I did take plenty of photos.

Cloud Computing—Stephen Fry

Databarracks – YouTube.

Basically, this is a fancy ad, but it’s interesting and fun.

Galápagos Islands: Part 5

Day 9 Saturday: Santa Cruz

Our last full day in the Galápagos was spent at Santa Cruz. In the morning excursion, we visited the Charles Darwin Research Station in Puerto Ayora. Among many activities the Centre runs breeding programmes for giant tortoises and land iguanas. It was the final home of Lonesome George, the last known Pinta Island tortoise, until he died in June 2012.

On the way back to the quay, we spotted the local fish market, which was very popular with the local pelicans and one sea lion. The local Galápagos lobster was available. This was served on board along with other local produce. I confess that I became rather bored with the lobster by the end of the week.

Afternoon saw us taking a coach trip to the Highlands to see tortoises in the wild. The venue was actually a private ranch, but we were assured that the tortoises were free range. The habitat of the ranch suited their needs and they roamed freely. Some of the tortoises were a little disturbed by our presence and would make a kind of guttural hissing, if anyone got too close.

Other photos from the day are here.

Day 10 Sunday: Moving On

Our voyage on Celebrity Xpedition ended as it had begun with a Zodiac ride. This time in the wrong direction back to the quay, followed by a coach ride to Baltra Airport and a flight to Quito where our cruise group split up: most were going home, but a handful like us were going on to Machu Picchu, and so we transferred to a flight to Lima in Peru.

It was a fantastic week, which I cannot recommend too highly. The food and service on board was first class. And, of course, the visits to the different islands were just magical.

Galápagos Part 1  Galápagos Part 2 Galápagos Part 3 Galápagos Part 4

Galápagos Islands: Part 4

Day 7 Thursday: Ferdinandina

 Fernandina (Narborough) Island – The name was given in honor of King Ferdinand II of Aragon, who sponsored the voyage of Columbus. Fernandina has an area of 642 square km (248 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 1,494 m (4,902 ft). This is the youngest and westernmost island. On 13 May 2005, a new, very eruptive process began on this island, when an ash and water vapor cloud rose to a height of 7 km (23,000 ft) and lava flows descended the slopes of the volcano on the way to the sea. Punta Espinosa is a narrow stretch of land where hundreds of marine iguanas gather, largely on black lava rocks. The famous Flightless Cormorants inhabit this island, as do Galápagos Penguins, pelicans, Galápagos sea lions and Galápagos fur seals. Different types of lava flows can be compared, and the mangrove forests can be observed.

Photos from Ferdinandina (a lot of marine iguanas) and some more shots of the amazing frigate birds are here.

The afternoon excursion was a zodiac rides near the cliffs at Punta Vicente Roca, Isabela. While the ride was fun and interesting, photographically, it was a bust. The sea was quite choppy and we were sailing mostly in the shadow of the cliffs, so I couldn’t get a fast enough shutter speed or a steady enough camera to take anything worth showing. There could have been some lovely shots of a pair of flightless cormorants doing a mating dance in the water, and some nesting terns and blue-footed boobies, but there weren’t.

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Galápagos Islands: Part 3

Day 5 Tuesday: Floreana

Floreana is one of the four islands visited by Charles Darwin during the voyage of the HMS Beagle. This is how Wikipedia summarises Floreana:

Floreana (Charles or Santa María) Island – It was named after Juan José Flores, the first President of Ecuador, during whose administration the government of Ecuador took possession of the archipelago. It is also called Santa Maria, after one of the caravels of Columbus. It has an area of 173 square km (67 sq mi) and a maximum elevation of 640 m (2,100 ft). It is one of the islands with the most interesting human history, and one of the earliest to be inhabited. Flamingos and green sea turtles nest (December to May) on this island. The patapegada or Galápagos petrel, a sea bird which spends most of its life away from land, is found here. At Post Office Bay, since the 19th century whalers kept a wooden barrel that served as post office so that mail could be picked up and delivered to their destinations, mainly Europe and the United States, by ships on their way home. At the “Devil’s Crown”, and underwater volcanic cone and coral formations are found.

There is a more extensive entry here.

Visitors to the island leave postcards for subsequent travellers to pick up. The idea is to find cards that are addressed to people who live near your own home, so that you can deliver the cards personally.

Floreana was the setting for a true life story that seems like something Agatha Christie might have written.  Read the Amazon blurb for My Evil Paradise Floreana:

German Doctor Frederick Ritter and his mistress Dore Strauch are an idealistic couple living on the remote island of Floreana in the Galapagos Archipelago. When an unconventional and seductive Austrian Baroness arrives, accompanied by her three lovers, their dreams of living a life in a paradise of solitude are shattered. Friedrich’s brave new world is violated by the baroness’s unsettling presence and he finds everyone else on the island struggling to resist the lure of her compelling sexual magnetism. While Dore tries to understand the changes taking place, the Baroness cruelly exploits and humiliates their lovers and all the other inhabitants. Then some new settlers appear: The Wittmer Family! Shortly after their onset the Baroness vanishs. What happened in Floreana remains one of the great murder mysteries of the 20th century. Is Margret Wittmer the murderer?

Wildlife seemed less populous than  other islands, but there were still plenty of photo ops.

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Galápagos Islands: Part 2

Day 3 Sunday: Boarding at Baltra

An early start was required to fly from Quito to Baltra. By now we were some 90-strong, and Celebrity had booked a charter flight for us operated by AeroGal—a shiny Airbus 319—which was quite comfortable. The flight lasted just over two hours. Baltra is very small and dry, and there’s not much there apart from cactus. Taxiing in to the terminal, I looked out of the window and there was a lot of scruffiness with rubbish and rubble lying around. The airport claims to be the first ecological airport in the world with a zero carbon footprint. It does leave a footprint in your wallet, however, as you get stiffed $15.50 in additional to the National Park entrance fee for all the environmental friendliness.

After a short coach transfer to the pier, we boarded Zodiacs to take us to our ship, the Celebrity Xpedition.

After a decent buffet lunch (food on board was excellent all week), the ship cruised around the tiny islands of Daphne Major and Minor for some long distance birdwatching. I had my first chance to take some pictures of the frigate birds that often followed the ship.

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