S: Our Trip to the Galapagos Islands
FC: The Galapagos Islands
1: The Galapagos Islands | Text and Photos by Jean Parkinson
2: The Galapagos Islands are 600 miles west of Ecuador, South America. Many of the unique creatures we saw can't be found anywhere else on earth. The islands were formed when underwater volcanoes erupted in the Pacific Ocean. Today these sometimes barren islands of frozen lava are a home to rare birds and animals. We visited the islands while aboard the Celebrity Xpedition, a small ship with 100 passengers. We traveled with people from Europe, Australia, Canada, Russia, and the United States. Most of the naturalists on board, who took us on wonderful, informative shore excursions, were born in the Galapagos or Eucador.
3: Our Trip to the Galapagos Islands, November 2011
4: On Sunday, Nov. 13, 2011, we flew to Baltra in the Galapagos Islands. | On board we were greeted with mimosas, and then we were taken to our rooms. | We took a bus ride to the dock, where we loaded onto a zodiac, also called a "panga." | After a boat drill, we went on our first excursion, a zodiac ride and walk on N. Seymour Island. | Our first panga ride was to the Xpedition, the newest ship in the Galapagos. | In the next week we would visit 8 islands, go on hikes, snorkel, and see the stars.
5: North Seymour Above: Bill, C.Jay, Jean and Sheryl on the panga. Left: C.Jay and Jean on North Seymour Island. This is a small, arid island where we saw marine iguanas, land iguanas, sea lions, and frigate birds.
7: Far left: Diving pelicans and blue-footed boobies. Above left: This is one of 13 species of finches found only in the Galapagos Islands. Above right: Male frigate bird with his large red pouch under his throat, inflated to attract the female frigate. Below: Our first sighting of a land iguana.
8: Kicker Rock
9: We got up at dawn to ride out to Kicker Rock. Here we saw blue-footed boobies along with other birds. The views of the rock walls were spectacular.
10: San Cristobal Our visit to San Cristobal Island consisted of what was called a "fitness walk." We did not see any animals. The terrain was dry, as we were there at the beginning of their "winter," when the rain comes. You can see by the pictures that there are cactus and dried shrubs. Yet among all this, a few pretty flowers were growing. The statue is of Charles Darwin who went ashore here in 1835.
12: Espanola Island: Welcome to the land of Marine Iguanas, Sea Lions, Albatross and Blue Footed Boobies
13: Far left and Below: The Galapagos sea lions gather in colonies on the sand and rocks. They feed during the day and spend hours sleeping on beaches. On Espanola Island we found them far from the beach sleeping in the middle of our path on protruding rocks. Left: The sometimes creepy marine iguanas ignored us as we walked around them.
14: Above: These bright red crabs, called "Sally Lightfoot Crabs" were seen everywhere on the black lava rocks. Right: One of the naturalists. These young men were informative, funny, and loved their jobs.
15: As we hiked along a boulder-filled path, we saw a lot of birds. This social Galapagos Mockingbird just wouldn't leave us alone. So I took his picture!
16: Below: This furry young albatross is 4 months old or younger. | Above: We came to a large nesting area for the waved albatross. Right: Two adult albatross engage in a courting ritual where their long bills circle each other and they make loud clicking noises.
17: Left: The waved albatross, with a wingspan of up to eight feet, spends its life at sea, only coming ashore to mate. Espanola Island is the only place in the world it reproduces. | Right: These large cliffs are where the baby albatross take off and fly for the first time.
18: An Island of Contrasts: Colorful flowers, Moonscapes, Ocean cliffs.
19: Jean carefully steps over a couple of sleeping sea lions in the middle of the path. You have to wonder: wouldn't the sandy beaches be more comfortable??
21: The blue-footed booby is the most famous bird in the Galapagos. Because of their silly behavior and blue feet, the Spaniards called them "bobos" (clowns). They can dive steeply into the ocean, hitting the water with tremendous force. As you can see in the pictures, they aren't a bit afraid of you, and you can get very close to them! However, no touching or feeding!
22: Floreana Island is one of the four islands Charles Darwin visited in the Galapagos, aboard the HMS Beagle. We walked to a white sand beach where we could see several sea turtles near shore in the choppy ocean water. The sandy dunes are their nesting area. Right: Jean and Sheryl. Below: A sea lion bull is actively protecting his territory (which can consist of up to 70 feet of shoreline). We were advised to stay away from this guy!
23: We rode our panga through some shallow bay areas and watched blue-footed boobies dive for fish. Near the shoreline we spotted some sharks in the water (see above.) We also saw several sea turtles.
25: Bartolome Island has volcanic origins that are easy to see. We hiked up a trail with wooden steps (built to prevent erosion due to the many visitors) that lead to a volcanic peak that offers spectacular views of the islands. Along the way you can observe different lava flows frozen in time. We were glad we got in shape for this hike!
26: Right: This view is considered the most famous and most photographed in all the islands. Down below in the bay to the right we snorkeled and saw the Galapagos penguins. | Left: Bill, C.Jay and Jean at the top of Bartolome Island.
27: The picture of the penguins was taken from the panga, but you were allowed to swim over to the rock as long as you didn't disturb them. The sea lion was in the water while I was snorkeling and followed me out, startling me, actually!
28: Fernandina has vast lava fields full of crevices and jagged edges. You have to be careful where you walk to avoid getting hurt and to avoid stepping on the marine iguanas.
29: These dragon-like creatures are the only marine iguanas in the world. They blend in with the volcanic rock where they absorb the heat from the sun. This is their nesting area, and you can see hundreds of them. The creatures have no natural enemies on the island, and pay no attention to the human visitors. They go in the ocean daily, descending to depths of 35 feet.
30: These guys on the right seem to be laughing at us as we walk by. In the middle picture you can see them swimming in the water. Below: We had to walk through a group of iguanas making their way up the hill because we couldn't get around them. Opposite page: One of the naturalists shows us a dolphin skull that was found on the island.
31: Below is a flightless cormorant with small, atrophied wings. This is one of the rarest birds in the world with a population of just 1.000. They are found only in the Galapagos where they have no predators, reducing the need to fly. Instead they have strong legs for swimming and diving. The birds stretch out their wings to dry them.
32: Fernandina Island had some frisky, humorous sea lions that clowned around for us. We also saw many of the Pacific Green marine turtles. They can hold their breath for hours at a time. Females return to the very beach on which they were hatched to nest and lay their eggs. Opposite page: Bill, Sheryl, Jean and C.Jay with our ship in the background.
34: Santiago, Puerto Egas We landed on a black-sand beach and walked a sandy trail to black lava shorelines. Here, tunnels that have collapsed form pools, caves and walkways where you can find marine iguanas and Sally Lightfoot crabs.
37: Santa Cruz, Dragon Hill Land iguanas are yellowish-orange to brown in color and live for more than 60 years. This guy was enjoying a meal of cacti.
38: The Darwin Research Station is located in the town of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island. The Baltra airport is near the town, and the area has been developed as the center of Galapagos tourism. | The Research Center has worked to bring back the tortoises that were threatened to the point of extinction. To the right is "Lonesome George", the last surviving member of his sub species.
39: In 1959 The Ecuadorian government passed legislation to help preserve the Galapagos. All land at that time that was not settled by man was declared a National Park, and strict regulations were put in place.
40: The giant tortoise most symbolizes the Galapagos Islands. They grow up to 550 pounds and can live for 150 years. These pictures were taken in the Highlands of Santa Cruz Island. On the day we went, about 50 tortoises were in the area, which was a very high number.
42: Dinner on the Xpedition: Left, clockwise: Sheryl. Bill, Pat, Jean, C.Jay, and Jeanie.
43: Sunset on North Seymour Island
44: Quito, Ecuador We flew from Atlanta to Quito, which stands at an altitude of 9,350 feet. We stayed at the Marriott Hotel, where we were greeted at midnight with a glass of mango juice and a rose. Roses are one of the main exports of Ecuador, and fresh, beautiful bouquets were throughout the hotel. The next day we went on a city tour and ate lunch at Sucre's Theatrum where an American tenor provided entertainment. Quito is surrounded by volcanoes, some active, and is located in the middle of the Andes. A security guard traveled with our tour group, although we were told the city was "very safe."
45: The Equatorial Line Monument Because we are in the middle of the Andes, this is one of the highest places of the equator. Above, Sheryl and I straddle the line between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. To the right are Bill and Sheryl McKemy, Jean and C.Jay. On the opposite page, we are at the top of the monument.