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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A Galápagos Islands Adventure with a Machu Picchu Postscript

We have just returned from a fabulous vacation that included a week visiting the Galápagos Islands in Ecuador and a trip to Machu Picchu in Peru. We travelled with Celebrity Cruises. This is the first of a series of posts. Of course, I took lots of pictures, which I’ll post as I process them.

Day 1 Friday: London – Quito  crappiness from Iberia

A dreadfully early start was required: a 2am pickup for a flight from LHR at just past 6am for the first leg to Madrid. This was operated by BA and was perfectly fine. It was a different story on the next leg, Madrid-Quito, which was operated by Iberia. Both companies are now part of IAG, but  based on our experience this holiday, service levels are poles apart.

The trouble began at the boarding gate in Madrid Airport. Iberia have a group approach to boarding: starting with the usual people with young children or needing special assistance, frequent fliers and people sitting in the posh seats. After that lesser mortals board according to a group number printed on their boarding card. None of this was explained ahead of time, so the gate area was a crush of people who surged forward each time one of the gate staff began to announce something. English reserve is no use in such situations, so with our group 1 status we pushed our way to the gate—when the number was announced, of course.

Once on board we discovered that there was no in-seat entertainment system (for a flight of around 11 hours). There were communal screens. Of the two we could see, one was too far away and the other was off to the left, and would have almost certainly resulted in a stiff neck. Since the main feature was The Smurfs movie, the screens didn’t matter much in the end.

Airline food is usually not the best cuisine: Iberia exceeded expectations…  but not in a good way. The food was awful. The service we received was OK, but not very friendly. Subsequently, we spoke to other passengers—about 30-odd from the UK were also on the cruise—who reported rudeness and surly behaviour from the crew.

One final story about the flight: we were surprised to see a cute Boxer puppy waiting at the gate in Madrid—not in a kennel, but on a leash. We were even more surprised to see the same puppy waiting at baggage reclaim in Quito. Apparently, the puppy was seen walking around the plane. This also explained the little puddle that we’d seen walking from the plane to baggage reclaim.

Discomfort ended when we were deposited at the JW Marriott in Quito for the first of two nights. We ate at the sushi bar in the hotel, or rather half-ate their Sushi Kamikaze, which even with one between two was too big to finish. I ignored the advice about going easy on alcohol at altitude and drank beer followed by saké.

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