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Ecuador & Galapagos

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S: Ecuador & The Galapagos Islands April 2010

FC: Ecuador & The Galapagos Islands April 2010

1: Quito, Ecuador

2: Our first morning in Quito took us from an altitude of 2850 meters (9350 feet) above sea level in the old city to 4050 meters (13,300 feet) up Pichincha volcano via the Teleferico Cable Car

3: Stunning vistas all around

4: Our hotel in the historic district was along the route for the Semana Santa (Holy Week) Good Friday procession of Jesus del Gran Poder. A friendly doorman at the hotel arranged for us to view the procession safely from a neighboring balcony where we spent several hours observing the spectacular demonstration of suffering faith and centuries old tradition.

5: "Cucuruchos" (Spanish for cone), walk with their feet in heavy chains, balance huge logs on their shoulders, or flagellate themselves to repent and make amends for their sins

6: The "Veronicas", with their faces covered, represent the woman who cleaned the face of Jesus on his way to the Passion

9: The image of "Jesus del Gran Poder" is carried by 21 volunteers, the same number as the centuries of Christianity | Police hold back the throngs of faithful who want to touch the fingers of Jesus del Gran Poder’s image, a wooden sculpture showing the son of God carrying a heavy cross which he bears with his hands and transports barefooted.

10: The Equatorial Monument in Guachala, just outside Quito, where we stood with one foot in the northern hemisphere and the other foot in the southern hemisphere.

11: Young Andean boy with his llama in Mira Lago at the foothill of the Imbabura Volcano | Three of Ecuador’s many volcanoes - Cotacachi, Imbabura, and Cayambe

12: Ecuador’s largest indigenous market in Otavalo

13: Colorful textiles, handicrafts, fresh produce and jewelry are just some of the items found in the Otavalo Market. These gold beads are worn in layers around the necks of the Andean women.

14: Otavaleños - indigenous people from Otavalo

16: A stop at a small factory with our guide, Raul, to see how the locals dye the wool & alpaca fibers with natural materials (e.g. the cactus is home to a small bug that produces a purple dye when squished) and weave beautiful textiles.

17: Ecuadorian Fare (clockwise from top left): Cuy (Guinea Pig- yes, it was good and it tasted like chicken), Grilled Plantains, Fresh Mango, Roast Pork, Ice Cream that doesn't melt (really, it was more of a whipped topping), Shave Ice, and Coconut Water

18: The Galapagos Islands aboard Celebrity Xpedition

20: We departed Quito on an early morning flight to Baltra in the Galapagos Islands, which lie approximately 1000 kilometers west of continental Ecuador. After a short bus ride to the pier and a ride on a panga (the motorized rubber raft we would use as everyday transportation to and from the ship) we arrived on our ship, the Celebrity Xpedition. With 86 passengers on board, this was the smallest cruise we have been on. After settling in our Galapagos journey began as we cruised to North Seymour, a small arid island north of Baltra. The major attraction on North Seymour is the colony of Frigate birds, the largest in the Galapagos. We followed a 1.5 mile rocky trail which passed very close to the colony. We saw males with their red throat pouches fully extended, which they do in order to attract females. In addition to the Frigate birds, we witnessed the comical courtship dance of the Blue-footed Booby, where the male lifts his feet up and throws his head back. Plenty of sea lions, land iguanas and other seabirds were also observed. | Day 1

22: Frigate Birds - The males puff up their red neck pouch to attract a female

23: Swallowtail Gulls and Galapagos Sea Lions. Approaching animals was easy as they have no fear of humans.

24: Land Iguanas and Male Lava Lizards. The Lava Lizards stake out a prominent spot on top of a boulder and bob their heads up and down to indicate ownership. This so-called 'push-up' behavior becomes pronounced during breeding season.

25: Blue Footed Boobies: The name booby comes from the Spanish term bobo, which means "fool". This is because the Blue-footed Booby is clumsy on land.

26: At sunrise we took a short cruise around Kicker Rock, a massive, angular, rocky block found off the northwest shore of San Cristobal Island. Its size alone is impressive, but even more interesting is the cliff that splits the rock into a narrow passage. The cliffs are inhabited by a variety of seabirds. Back on board the Xpedition, we sailed to the island of San Cristobal while enjoying breakfast. San Cristobal is the 5th largest and the easternmost island in the Galapagos archipelago and one of the four islands Charles Darwin visited aboard the HMS Beagle. The town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is stretched out along a small harbor, where sea lions bask on rocks in the sun. We visited the Interpretation Center, which offers an educational journey through the history of the islands from the context of man, nature and conservation. In the afternoon we sailed to Española Island, which is the southernmost island, and at approximately 4 million years old, it is by far the oldest island in the archipelago. Suarez Point on the northwest tip of the island is where we landed. The high concentration of wildlife on this island allowed us the opportunity to observe Sea Lions, Galapagos Hawks, Mockingbirds, Blue Footed Boobies, Nazca Boobies and a red variation of the Marine Iguana found only on this island. The trail leads to the edge of the dramatic southern cliffs, where a blow hole gushing water 50 feet into the air is visible below. | Day 2

29: Angles of Kicker Rock

32: The evolutionary tree of Darwin's finches at the Interpretive Center in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. The finches look alike to the untrained eye, but Darwin came to understand the subtle diversity within the species was borne from one mother species that adapted its beak shape and function depending on its surroundings and what it needed to do to survive.

34: Red and green Christmas Marine Iguanas, found only on Española Island. The red pigment comes from a particular seaweed that blooms during the summer months, which also coincides with the iguanas' mating season.

36: Blue-Footed Booby lifting his feet in a display of courtship | Hood Mockingbird, endemic to Española Island | Galapagos Hawk, one of the few predators on the islands | Swallowtail Gull

37: The Waved Albatross is the largest bird in the Galapagos Islands and it spends its life at sea, only coming ashore to mate. Española is the only place in the world it reproduces. The birds mate for life and can live for up to 60 years.

38: Coastal Walk on Española Island and the blow hole

40: Nazca Booby Colony

41: Nazca boobies are known for practicing siblicide. They lay two eggs, several days apart. If both eggs hatch, the elder chick will push its sibling out of the nest area, leaving it to die of thirst or cold. The parent booby will not intervene and the younger chick will inevitably die. It is believed that two eggs are laid so that one remains as insurance in case the other gets destroyed or eaten, or the chick dies soon after hatching.

42: More Christmas Marine Iguanas | Female Lava Lizard (above)

43: Sally Lightfoot Crab | Sea Lion pup

44: Floreana Island is the sixth largest island in the archipelago and one of the four islands that Charles Darwin visited aboard the HMS Beagle. On our morning excursion we made our first “wet landing” on a beach that has a large amount of volcanic Olivine crystals, which give the sand a green color. Continuing into the interior we arrived at a brackish pond, home to Flamingos, Stilts and Lava Herons. Further along the trail we crossed an isthmus arriving at a fine white sand beach. Tracks and depressions on the back dune areas indicated sea turtle nests. After our morning walk we took a 25 minute panga ride to Champion Island, a small satellite island of Floreana, to do some deep water snorkeling. We started at a depth of 40-50 feet (12-15 meters) and eventually ended at a shallow bay where playful Sea Lions greeted us in the water. In addition to the Sea Lions, we also saw a small shark and schools of colorful fish. In the afternoon, the pangas took us through a mangrove area where we observed Pacific Green Sea Turtles, which continually popped their heads up out of the water for air. Several small islands that we navigated around were formed of “pillow” lava, lava flows that are produced underwater making an interesting formation. Along these shores we saw our first Galapagos Penguins. We proceeded to make a wet landing on a beach and from there we climbed a steep switchback trail to a viewing platform. Along the trail grew a “sticky leaf” plant, that clung mercilessly to our shoes, socks, clothing, hats – everything! | Day 3

45: Greater Flamingo

46: Lava Heron

47: Nesting area for the Pacific Green Sea Turtle

48: Sally Lightfoot Crab and a baby Sea Turtle | Brown Pelican | Puffer Fish that was washed ashore

49: Sally Lightfoot Crabs, Sea Urchins, and Shells

50: Deep Water Snorkeling off Champion Island - Sea Lions, White Tipped Reef Shark, Black Striped Salema, and Yellowtailed Surgeonfish

51: Playful Sea Lions would dive and somersault right in front of us

52: Pacific Green Sea Turtle in the Mangrove area of Floreana Island

53: The Galapagos Penguin is the third smallest penguin of the species. It is the only penguin to live north of the equator and can survive due to the cool air temperatures resulting from the Humboldt Current and cool waters from great depths brought up by the Cromwell Current.

54: Baroness Outlook and the views from the top. In the 1930’s a German dentist and his mistress, a young family, and a self proclaimed Baroness with two men came to settle on the island. Shortly after the Baroness and her lovers arrived, chaos began. | They terrorized the other inhabitants while planning to build a luxury hotel. Eventually the Baroness, her two lovers and the dentist all turned up missing or dead. There has been much investigation into what really happened, but there have never been any hard answers. For this reason Floreana is referred to as the “Island of Mystery”. | Large-billed Flycatcher, a very curious bird – each click of the camera brought the little bird closer | Sticky leaf plant - very difficult to remove

55: Back on board the Xpedition, sleepy Sea Lions want to stow away and Brown Pelicans fish in the ship's evening lights

56: Our morning was spent at the beautiful Bachas Beach, located on the northern coast of Santa Cruz Island. Near the beach landing area were two lagoons with Greater Flamingos feeding in the shallows. Along with the flamingos, we saw other shore waders such as the Great Blue Heron and lots of bright orange and yellow Sally Lightfoot Crabs. We had a swim and snorkeled among the colorful fish before heading back to the ship for lunch. Our afternoon visit was to Bartolomé Island. A recent, volcanically active island, Bartolomé is located in the central archipelago and built through submarine fissures. With its characteristic moon-like landscape and volcanic cones, this seemingly desolate island was dry, hot and very different from the other islands we visited. We had a strenuous hike up 379 wooden steps to the top of a volcanic cone (374 feet/113 meters in height), which makes up most of the island. The view from the top is perhaps the most famous in all the Galapagos with an opportunity to view numerous other islands. The twin beaches of Bartolomé and a pinnacle rock formation could be seen below. Upon returning to the beach we had the opportunity to snorkel and came across more penguins and sea lions along the rocks. | Day 4

57: Bachas Beach, Santa Cruz Island

58: Great Blue Herons and Sally Lightfoot Crabs

60: Bartolomé Island

61: Galapagos Penguins | Lightweight Lava and a collapsed Lava Tunnel | Pinnacle Rock - This huge black lava formation is the eroded remains of an old tuff cone.

62: Parrotfish

63: Parrotfish | Mexican Hogfish

64: In the morning we visited Isabella Island, which is by far the largest of the Galapagos Islands. It is composed of five volcanoes that over the years have coalesced into one island, shaped like a seahorse. All of these volcanoes are considered still active, with the last volcanic eruption happening in May 2008. After a wet landing on the beach at Urbina Bay, we proceeded behind the beach area to search for Giant Land Tortoises and Land Iguanas. The afternoon brought us to Fernandina Island, the youngest and most western of all the islands. It is also one of the most volcanically active and is spectacular in terms of geology. As Charles Darwin wrote, it is “covered with immense deluges of black naked lava.” We had a dry landing at Espinoza Point, located at the northeast corner of the island. The trail here took us through fresh lava flow landscapes with small trees of mangroves growing close to the coast and over rippled Pahoehoe lava studded with clumps of Lava Cacti, to a series of tidal pools. It was a great place to observe Sea Lions, the largest colony of Marine Iguanas on the islands, and a colony of Flightless Cormorants. | Day 5

65: The beach at Urbina Bay, Isabella Island | Skulls from feral goats that have been recently eradicated from the islands. The eradication project began in response to the massive destruction of native vegetation and terrain by goats that were introduced to the Galapagos. | Part of a Giant Tortoise shell

66: Land Iguanas

67: Our first sighting of the most famous resident of the Galapagos, the Giant Tortoise

69: Newborn Sea Lion

70: The only Marine Iguana in the world, these creatures gather in herds on the rocks, individuals packed one on top of another, lazily sunning themselves. Their sooty black skin is a camouflage against predators and enables the iguana to absorb more heat from the sun. The iguana feeds on a type of algae and can dive to a depth of 20 meters (over 60 feet) and remain submerged for about an hour. Once back on shore, they frequently eject a salt excess through their nostrils in a big spray.

73: Pacific Green Sea Turtles | Brown Pelican | Beach Surface

74: The Flightless Cormorant is distinguished by small, atrophied wings, a result of having no natural predators in the Galapagos, Like a penguin, it swims underwater and uses its webbed feet to propel it though ocean waters as it seeks its prey. Cormorants are often seen above the tide line, with wings spread out to dry in the wind – this is a useless ancestral habit, since the birds are unable to fly. Found only in the Galapagos, this is one of the rarest birds in the world, with an estimated population of just 1000.

75: The courtship behavior of the Flightless Cormorant begins in the sea; the male and female swim around each other with their necks bent into a snake-like position. They then move onto land. The bulky seaweed nest, located just above the high-tide mark, is augmented with "gifts" including pieces of flotsam such as driftwood, bones, and rope, which are presented to the female by the male.

77: The skeleton of a Minke Whale | Lava Cactus | Pahoehoe Lava Flows

78: Santiago Island, also called James or San Salvador was our destination this morning. Our wet landing was on a black sand beach at Puerto Egas/James Bay, where there are remains of a salt mining operation that existed up until the 1960’s. We walked along a beautiful coastal area where we had the opportunity to observe shore birds, such as Oystercatchers, Herons and Sandpipers; and inter-tidal species such as Sally Lightfoot Crabs and more Marine Iguanas. At the end of the coastal walk we came upon lava tunnels that have collapsed, allowing us to view crystalline pools that have become a resting area for Galapagos Fur Seals. We continued through the dry interior where we found Galapagos Hawks and large cacti. Back at the landing site we experienced some of the best snorkeling of the trip, where we swam with sea turtles, saw pelicans diving for fish in front of us, and of course, saw lots of colorful fish. A brief sail back to Santa Cruz Island during the early afternoon brought us to Cerro Dragon, “Dragon Hill” located on the northern coast of the island. This site takes its name from the population of Land Iguanas living in the area, but to us it could have easily taken its name from the overwhelming heat - like the breath of a Dragon. During the hike inland we passed a small brackish pond that had some White Cheek Pintail Ducks and other waders. Gavin continued on to search for Land Iguanas, Darwin Finches and arid zone vegetation, while I stayed close to the shore. | Day 6

79: Black sand beach at Puerto Egas | Pan De Azúcar Volcano, Santiago Island | James Bay, Santiago Island

80: Oystercatcher | Great Blue Heron | Ruddy Turnstone | Sally Lightfoot Crab with Sea Lion placenta

81: The Grottos – eroded lava tunnels coming from the sea provide spectacular pools that rise and fall with the tide. These natural pools are a favorite swimming and frolicking spot for Sea Lions and Fur Seals.

82: Fur Seals are smaller than Sea Lions and are distinguished by their pointed noses and big, round sad eyes, with a glossy glare. Most of the time they lie under rocks or in lava cracks, hiding from the sun. Unlike Sea Lions, they feed at night, moistly on squid and small fish.

84: Mockingbird | Male Lava Lizard | Galapagos Hawk | Female Lava Lizard

85: Snorkeling off Santiago Island

86: Cerro Dragon, Santa Cruz Island | Blue Footed Booby in flight | Sanderling at the lagoon | Sally Lightfoot Crab

87: The fragrant Incense Tree | To conserve their body heat at night, the Land Iguana sleeps in burrows dug in the ground

89: Cacti on Santa Cruz Island

90: During the previous evening we sailed to the southern part of Santa Cruz Island and anchored just off shore from Puerto Ayora, the second largest town in the Galapagos. Located in Puerto Ayora are the Charles Darwin Research Station and the offices of the National Park Services. In 1959, the centenary year of Darwin’s publication of “The Origin of Species”, the Ecuadorian government declared all the islands, except areas already colonized, as a national park. At the Charles Darwin Research Station we visited tortoise rearing and observation areas and had the opportunity to meet Lonesome George, the last of the Pinta Giant Tortoises. He is estimated to be between 60 and 90 years old, and efforts to find him a mate have been unsuccessful. Back on the ship we were treated to a local group of musicians and dancers who performed several traditional Ecuadorian and Galapagos dances for our entertainment. In the afternoon, a visit to the Highlands of Santa Cruz and the Tortoise Reserve provided us with the opportunity to witness Giant Tortoises in their natural habitat. We also stopped to visit a lava tunnel formation before returning to stroll around town and do some souvenir shopping. That evening, our final on board the Xpedition, we enjoyed a fantastic outdoor barbecue under the stars on the deck of the ship. Later that evening, illuminated by our ship's lights, we saw Sharks, Sea Lions and Pelicans dining on a buffet of Flying Fish in the water below. | Day 7

91: "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change." Charles Darwin | Entrance to the Charles Darwin Research Station | Two male Tortoises sparring

92: "Lonesome George", the last remaining Pinta Giant Tortoise on earth | Young Tortoises from the breeding program

94: The word "Galapagos" may have been given to the tortoises because in Spain, a "Galapagos" meant a horse saddle, shaped like the shells of some of the first tortoises encountered in the region.

95: Puerto Ayora

96: Ecuadorian Entertainment

97: Giant Tortoise carapaces and leg bone | Tortoise Reserve in the Santa Cruz Highlands

98: Lava Tunnels

99: Over 7 days we visited 9 islands and covered 611 nautical miles. This was an amazing and unique cruise around the enchanted islands of the Galapagos - truly a trip of a lifetime!

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Ria Waugh
  • By: Ria W.
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  • Title: Ecuador & Galapagos
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