Archive for the ‘Galapagos’ Category

Almost Over Already?

Posted: December 1, 2012 in Galapagos

Stunning ocean scenery today.

Our last day in the Galápagos Islands dawned sunny, for a change. We had a relatively late breakfast at 7.30am, and a pretty relaxed schedule planned. It was technically a free day, but Veronica offered to lead us on a 15 minute walk to a lagoon usually frequented by flamingoes. We don't have a great deal of confidence in Veronica's time estimates, since the 45 minute volcano hike turned into a 4.5 hour marathon! But this was on flat, dry ground, and we all took up the offer.

It did take longer than 15 minutes, but mostly because we kept stopping for photos. And there were indeed several flamingoes. Nothing like the numbers we saw in Kenya, but much pinker than those were. I find it interesting that such a pretty bird inhabits such an unsavoury environment (brackish water) and feeds in such an unpleasant way (filtering the mud through its beak). We took too many photos (of course) and waited for a while in the hope that one or more of them would fly away, to get the classic running on the water shot. But these flamingoes were much less skittish than the ones in Kenya, so no luck on that score.

Pretty flamingoes & mad photographers.

We walked back from the lagoon along the beach. It was hot, the sky was blue, the ocean sparkling, and the rocks and sand full of sunbaking marine iguanas. You would think we had enough shots of these prehistoric-looking creatures, but apparently not. There is a timber elevated platform on the beach, as a kind of lookout, so we wandered up there to see what we could see. There was nothing particular to see, but it gave us a great view of the beachfront.

No such thing as too many iguana photos, apparently. I like the tongue shot - since it was low tide, there was algae on the rocks and this little fellow didn't need to go into the water to eat.

Views from the lookout.

Iguana crossing - and he did. Iguana having a swim. Iguanas all over the beach (those black bits aren't seaweed, they are iguanas, Iguana battles on the lava rocks.

We spent quite a while at the beach, lingering and enjoying our last day and the sunny weather. When we got too hot and thirsty we headed into a shady cafe for lunch and a cool drink. We stayed there for quite a while, trying to stretch every moment. While we were there it clouded over and actually started to rain.

We had plans for the afternoon to have a rest and then wander down to the little harbour to take some photos. The evening before when we got back from our boat trip there were lots of boobies diving into the water, and there are usually playful sea lions, iguanas, and even penguins. However our rest extended longer than we planned and we missed that opportunity. D'oh! We did however wake up in time for happy hour. We gathered at Bar de Beto, our favourite spot for one last drink. We have been learning several new South American cocktails, but tonight we opted for the special Cuba Libre (rum & Coke) which was 2 for the price of 1, and seemed to go with the atmosphere of the bar and the island.

The pink bar - the Bar de Beto - Iguana Point Bar - Happy Hour

We had to have our last dinner at El Cafetal again. All the meals there have been great, and the same waiter, Edilbert, has served us every meal – he felt like an old friend. The special of the day was a huge platter of grilled seafood. Mmmm. And to thank us for our custom he treated us all to a slice of Tiramisu for dessert. In such a sleepy place a group of 14 turning up for meals every day (we always booked and usually pre-ordered) must have made a bit of a difference, and we really enjoyed the friendly service and great food – a win-win.

After dinner we headed for the beach for one last bit of light painting – this time with a difference. We each took turns with a small coloured LED light “drawing” Galapagos animals in the air to be captured on “film”. Some of us had more success than others, but considering it was something we hadn't done before, I think the results are pretty impressive.

Fun with lights & cameras (and steel wool)

Despite the fact that we would have a ridiculously early start the next day, a few stayers (Chris, Jess, Vicki, Jan, Keith & I) headed to a different beach bar for a nightcap. The Iguana Point Bar sits at the end of a pier, and is an archetypal beach bar, with a palm frond roof and sand floor. We had tried to go a couple of times before but the hours seemed somewhat random. We didn't stay too late but it was nice to stretch the day a little longer, before heading back to our rooms to pack.

The view from the Iguana Point Bar at night.

 

A Picnic with a Difference

Posted: November 29, 2012 in Galapagos

It wasn't a promising start to the day. We woke to heavy rain, which wasn't what we had ordered for a day out in the boats. We have not had great weather, on the whole, but this was the worst. So when we arrived at breakfast at 7am, all packed and ready to go, we discovered that our outing had been postponed till 9am in the hope of an improvement. By 9 the rain had eased but not stopped but we forged ahead regardless. A few stayed behind, either because of the weather or feeling unwell, so there were only 7 of us, plus Chris & Jess, Veronica, and the boat crew (2 men on each boat – and we had 2 boats). Since we end up wet after snorkelling anyway, we decided the rain was no big deal, and this time I had remembered a jacket so was not as cold as yesterday.

Our first port of call was a small group of islets called The Four Brothers, or Cuatro Hermanos (no doubt there is a story to go with that name) which were sheer rocky cliffs rising to volcanic peaks. We were taken to a cleft in the rock that lead to a cave big enough to take the boat into for a short distance. I'm sure there is some pirate treasure hidden in there somewhere. A few hardy souls went for a quick snorkel there, but the water was very cold. Apparently the water was the clearest of any snorkelling site yet on the trip.

Sea lions find a resting spot wherever they can - a Nazca booby - the cave we ventured into

Travelling at full throttle we powered on until we reached a relatively sheltered area of small mangrove-lined bays and inlets. The crew of each boat threw out a fishing line (they gave Keith a turn with the rod) with the hope of catching some lunch – it took a while but we managed to catch several small fish (which we threw back) and three large ones (bass I believe), with which the crew proceeded to prepare ceviche for our lunch. While they chopped and diced, most of us went snorkelling. I decided not to go in as I had a bit of an earache, and the water didn't look all that clear. By now the rain had cleared and the skies were mostly blue. The sun shone and it was very pleasant relaxing on the boat and staying dry!

Working for our lunch. The fish at the bottom left was one of the ones that were thrown back, the one on the right became lunch.

It turned out to be the right choice. The snorkellers said the visibility was pretty poor, because of the earlier rain – apparently a sea lion swam right beneath Keith and he didn't see it. Back on the boat we were treated to a great display as the frigatebirds soon heard there was fresh fish on our boat and hovered hoping for scraps (and posing beautifully for photos). Eventually the crew threw them the tails and other scraps and they caught them mid-air. The squabbling over the morsels was fun to watch.

Magnificent Frigatebirds and a Pelican

Once everyone was back on board we motored in one boat around to the next bay for a little beach walk, while the chef/boat crew finished the ceviche on the other boat. The sand was volcanic i.e. black, and there was lots of debris on the beach (seaweed, bones, driftwood) but there were sea lions, including 2 males and one very tiny baby. Usually you only find one male in an area, so the presence of a second meant that the old male was soon to be challenged and probably deposed. Which meant both were fairly aggressive and we were very careful not to get too close. Those guys can move when they want to! We took some photos but the boat crew were getting worried and called us back to the boat fairly quickly.

The black sands of Cartego Bay - a couple of favourite sea lion photos

Soon our lunch was ready and it was spectacular! You couldn't get fresher fish, and the flavour of the ceviche was perfect. They served it with plantain chips and a glass of Coke (or water), and there were sandwiches as well. Then fresh watermelon to round off the meal. Sitting on the water, enjoying the view and the sun and great food – this is what holidays are all about.

Ceviche in the making, and our picnic lunch. So delicious.

The trip back to Puerto Villamil was rather bumpy as we sped over the waves, crashing down with bone-jarring thumps. We hugged the coastline fairly closely, and I enjoyed watching the huge waves crashing over the rocky shores. We didn't get back to the little harbour until 5pm, it was a long but very fun day.

Happy hour tonight was at a different beach bar. This one has a beach volleyball net (which seemingly has a permanent game going on), a fireplace on the sand which we sat around, and very cheap drinks. Another fun place to hang out. It is next door to the Bar de Beto, our usual spot, where we ended up for dinner. We had tried to eat there before but you had to pre-order. The menu was lobster, shrimp or beef (that's all we knew). Keith & I chose shrimp, which was very tasty, though I think there was more garlic than shrimp (and there were plenty of shrimps). They served a little banana with chocolate sauce for dessert – mmm. We all loved the atmosphere at the Bar de Beto, it was such a relaxed, holiday-on-the-beach kind of place.

Sitting around the fire, and another delicious dinner

 

After another early breakfast we headed off in the little water taxis for a one hour ride to today's destination. These taxis were slightly different, powered by two sizeable outboard motors, and could reach a fair speed in the open water. It was grey, and raining slightly, there was a 4-5 foot swell, and we were cold and damp in the open boat and wondering if maybe 10 days would have been long enough to spend here. By the end of the day we had all changed our tune as it turned out to be one of the best days so far!

Union Rock, home to Nazcar Boobies, Fur seals and several types of gull.

After pausing briefly as we passed a tiny rocky outcrop, Roca Union, home to dozens of birds, we powered towards our destination, the skippers steering skillfully through the swell. Their skills at the helm are impressive, and they can spot wildlife at a distance, even at full throttle, and slowed down for us to photograph huge manta rays, and mating sea turtles.

Mating sea tuttles, and the fin of a flying manta ray

When we reached the shore we slowed to a crawl as the boats navigated a labyrinth of narrow twisting lava tunnels – the remains of lava tubes which once travelled from the top of the volcanoes to the sea. It was an eerie landscape with mangroves and cacti, rocky canals, arches and caves. I was amazed how far we travelled in our boats (never once touching the sides) until we tied up on a patch of rock and clambered ashore. We were able to wander for a while, exploring the area, avoiding cracks, crevasses and loose rocks. We found a blue-footed booby nest, and spotted white tipped reef sharks (tintoreras) and sea turtles (tortugas) in the water.

The Lava Tunnels.

Tintorera in the crystal clear water, and feeding time for baby boobies

Our guides then took us to a snorkelling site where they hoped we would find the tintoreras and tortugas. It hadn't got any warmer, so we jumped into the water somewhat reluctantly. The water was murky because of the weather, and all we could see were rocks and a few fish. Suddenly the captain called us over to show us some tintoreras he had found in an underwater cave. It seemed pitch black in there and I couldn't see a thing. Next thing one of the guides had swum into the cave to usher the sharks in our direction. We were excitedly filming a couple when he pointed to our feet – we looked down to see a shark swimming directly below us. We managed to get some great photos and video footage (we will share that when we have better internet). Very thrilling.

Stingray - sharks hiding in their underwater cave - a tintorera just below our feet - the flippers of our guide made it easy to follow him.

The captain indicated we should follow him as he looked for tortugas to show us. These guys are so expert – he pointed at a distant patch of vague greenness and suddenly a sea turtle materialised as if emerging from the mist. We got to swim with three huge sea turtles in the end, and watch one feeding on algae, which was just so wonderful. We were all on such a high – we certainly had long forgotten how cold the water was! They are so majestic as they swim, seemingly in slow motion, through the water. Just as I was thinking that the only other sighting I wanted was a stingray, we spotted one and I was able to get out of the water very happy.

Sea turtles. The top left photo was a bonus as the guide took my camera and dived down to get this great close-up shot

Back on the boat there were sandwiches and juice waiting for us, which was a welcome surprise. and we motored back to Port Villamil. Still in our wet cossies, we had to go straight to lunch because we had booked and pre-ordered and were running late. We had a late lunch at around 2.30 – I had the chef's recommendation which was a delicious mixed seafood ceviche.

Lunch - ceviche served with plantain chips & rice, and dinner - we shared the cheesecake!

By the time we ate, showered and uploaded our photos it was time for happy hour. We love the little bar on the beach, and the slightly slower pace of life here on Isabela Island, with afternoons free and time to just enjoy the scenery, the company, and the lifestyle. Our regular restaurant was booked out so we chose another for dinner. We are a group of 14, so we always need to book, and when we arrive there's a long table set up for us, usually in the prime position at the front of the restaurant. I don't know if we are easily pleased, or have low expectations, but virtually all our meals here are inexpensive, plentiful servings and delicious. Tonight I had chicken for a change (garlic chicken with coconut milk rice) and Keith had garlic shrimp. We also shared an piece of Oreo cheesecake (Joel – yours is better).

After such a big day there was no light painting and we collapsed early into bed. Early starts and outdoor activity are catching up with these couch potatoes!

 

There and back again

Posted: November 27, 2012 in Galapagos

Sierra Negra is one of the highest volcanic peaks on Isabela Island. The crater measures 9km across, and is said to be the second largest crater in the world (after Ngorongoro in Tanzania). Veronica told us that is what they tell the tourists, but it is not true, though it is large! It is still active, though the last erruption was in 2005 and we were assured it wasn’t due for another few years. Reassuring, since today’s excursion was to the rim of the crater to peer inside.

Heading off into the mist. (My shoes used to be blue)

We travelled by bus to the start of the track. It was a damp grey day and the path was shrouded in mist. Visibility was poor, but we were optimistic that by the time we reached the top the clouds would part to allow us a view. As we trudged up the slippery, muddy horse track, we hoped that was true! On the way up we stopped at one lookout where there was nothing to see but whiteness. The edge of the world!

Thankfully after all that walking we did get to see the crater.

After a couple of hours we reached the top and were rewarded with chocolate and a view. The mist lifted long enough for us to see to the other side of the crater, and appreciate how vast it is, and see the flat black lava rock at the base. We took a different route down the hill, which followed the rim for some time, and on a clearer day would be quite scenic.

It was a long walk and a bit challenging – I was very glad to see the bus waiting for us when we finally reached the bottom. The last stretch was quite steep, rocky and slippery, and a test for middle-aged knees. As always there were photo ops on the way, including some pretty butterflies, birds and Galapagos Orchids.

Galapagos orchids, birds *yellow warbler, Galapagos Mockingbird) and butterfly (yet to be identified)

Was it yesterday I said we haven’t had a bad meal? Lunch today was not so much bad as non-existent! We arrived back from our walk tired, muddy and hungry, so went to the nearest cafe for a quick lunch. So we thought. Several of us ordered cheeseburgers, thinking that would be quick and easy. But it turns out they were out of buns. And burger patties. So they offered us a ham and cheese sandwich. We declined and ordered what we preferred. And waited. And waited. Some meals that looked like ours came and then were delivered to a different table. Our meals never arrived, but Chris kindly shared his (huge) spaghetti so we didn’t starve. It would have been funny if we weren’t so exhausted!!

After “lunch” we sat on the beach and relaxed, then headed to the beach bar for happy hour. I could get used to this lifestyle. Dinner was at our now favourite restaurant El Cafetal (home of the world’s best lobster!) and had another fabulous meal, followed by more light painting fun.

More fun with light painting

Iguanas Big and Small

Posted: November 26, 2012 in Galapagos

As usual, we had an early breakfast at one of the cafes in town. Bread here is so delicious – it all seems to be made fresh on the premises, and is different but equally good in each cafe. We walked along the beach and road, past the odd basking sea lion or iguana, to the wharf, where we were met by two small water taxis for a local bay tour. These water taxis are open sided wooden boats with an outboard motor, perfect for maneuvering in shallow waters and getting in close.

Around the wharf - stepping over sea lions - the wharf - fortunately not our boat - water taxis waiting for a fare

We headed to a small island where, we were informed, there may or may not be Galápagos Penguins. We were thrilled to find about half a dozen basking on the rocks and hopping in and out of the water. It is so strange to see penguins in such a warm climate. This time we had calm water and plenty of time, so I was much happier with my photos.

Penguins, including a young one losing his baby down.

Our next stop on the tour was another small island (so small it doesn't have a name), where we disembarked. The whole island was covered in jagged lava rocks, but fortunately there was a nice smooth path to follow. There were countless marine iguanas, especially lots of young ones, as the island is a breeding ground for them. Even baby iguanas are cute! We took way too many photos, of course, but they pose so nicely! There is a natural canal on the island where the 'tintoreras' (white tipped reef sharks) like to hang out, and sure enough we saw several there, both swimming and resting. And for a bonus a Galápagos sea turtle swam up and down the canal a couple of times.

Marine iguanas - and one lava lizard hitching a ride.

Tintorera, sally lightfoot crab, jagges landscape, oystercatcher, sea turtle

We spent around 90 minutes on the little island, and then went for a snorkel. Between the whole group we saw stingrays, sharks, sea turtles, sea lions and lots of fish, although Keith & I seemed to not be in the right place at the right time, and missed some of the sightings. Still, it was fun, though I am not getting any better at hoisting myself back onto the boat – it's not a pretty sight!

We got back to town in time for lunch. I'm not sure if there are enough restaurants for us to go to a new one every time, but we are working our way through them. Today's had an extensive menu, starting with three mysterious items – breakfast $5, lunch $5, dinner $5. Most main courses were $10-$18. We wondered if it was some kind of surcharge, but it turned out those were the 'house specials'. Not quite sure what we'd get, Chris & Jess and Keith & I ordered “lunch”. It turned out to be fish soup, followed by grilled fish with rice and vegetables, a huge serving that looked exactly the same as what some others had ordered except they had shrimps or chicken. The best value meal I've ever eaten, and tasty to boot.

Impossibly cheap lunch, and super-tasty dinner

The afternoon was free, as apparently most will be here on Isabela. Keith & I sat by the beach and culled photos for a while, and then slept for about 2 hours, and were almost late for dinner. Speaking of dinner, I think this may have been the best meal of the trip so far. We tried a different restaurant, which looked nice, and was playing Ecuadorian (or at least Latin American) music. The house specials were swordfish or lobster, so most of us had one of those. I chose the lobster which was divine. Beautifully served, tender, perfectly cooked and delicious. A bit more expensive than the other meals, but still cheaper than a lobster would cost to buy raw at home. Those who had the swordfish are still raving about their meal too.

Light painting - such fun, but not quite perfected yet.

After dinner we met on the beach and played with some light painting, using coloured LED lights and our camera. Lots of fun, and something very different to do.

 

Isabela Bound

Posted: November 25, 2012 in Galapagos

We bade farewell to Puerto Ayora and Santa Cruz this morning. We had an early breakfast at the Cafe/Deli as we did most mornings – $5 for coffee/tea, fresh exotic juice, deliciously warm fresh baked bread with butter and jam and scrambled eggs. Fortunately the hotel staff brought our luggage down the 4 flights of stairs. The hotel was family run, and the people were lovely. We opted to get a local 'taxi' to take our luggage – actually a ute (pick-up truck) which cost all of $5 for all our bags, while we walked the short distance to the wharf. Our bags were inspected for fruits and seeds and by 9am we were on our water taxi, a smallish enclosed speedboat which carried us to Isabella. It was too noisy for talking and too bumpy for reading (for those inclined to mal de mer, anyway), so I listened to my iPod and basically slept the whole way, save for a brief Oreo refresher half way across. The journey took around 2 hours, and we were met at the dock in Puerto Villamil, the only town on Isabella Island, and taken to our hotel.

Hotel Sol is basic but comfortable, and the best thing about it is that it is right on the beach. Gorgeous spot. And very close to the small collection of cafes and dive shops that passes for the town centre. It's very quiet (which Puerto Aroya certainly was not) and there's a relaxed holiday feel. I think we are going to like it here. Our room doesn't have the view this time, but it is huge – there is a king bed and 3 single beds, and we only have to go outside our door to see the view.

Keith, Rex & Vicki testing out the hammocks - the hotel - our beach - coconut palms are everywhere

After lunch at one of the nearby restaurants (burgers or pizzas mainly – but also on the menu was Oreo Cheesecake, Joel's speciality!) we had free time. Keith and I took a little stroll around the town, and popped into the large, modern Catholic Church to have a look. The stained glass windows were images of blue-footed boobies, iguanas and other local wildlife, the pulpit was a lighthouse and there was a huge mural of Jesus descending over Isabela Island. Different.

Isabela Catholic Church

We had a couple of hours free and the ocean beach looked very inviting. The water was not too cold, and we had a pleasant swim. As we sat on the beach drying off a marine iguana swam through the surf – a cool sight, even if none of us had a camera at the time.

At 4.30 we hopped on our little blue mini-bus and drove to a lagoon in a disused quarry frequented by flamingoes. We were told there may not be any flamingoes there, and if there were they may be far away (those of us who saw the flamingoes at Lake Bogoria in Kenya are hard to impress now), so we were happy to find several quite close to the rim. Some in the group have never seen flamingoes, so it was even better for them. We stayed until it was getting dark, then it was time for drinkies.

Flamingoes

We found a great little bar right on the beach. Ocean views, sitting at little tables in the sand, and they had videos of Galapagos Wildlife showing on an outside brick wall. There was even free wi-fi. Perfect spot – the perfect image of a tropic island holiday. Until it started to rain! We were planning to stay for dinner, but found out you have to order a day in advance, so we moved elsewhere. All the restaurants here are open air (though they do have a roof!) and have similar menus (lots of fish, prawns & lobster) and prices (cheap) so we just usually pick one that takes our fancy. The food is always good. Tonight I had grilled fish steak, and Keith had Teriyaki fish. The menu always just says “fish”, you just get whatever the catch brought in, there is no choice of species.

Our beachside bar (is that a Christmas tree?) - most of the group waiting for lunch - Oreo Cheesecake

 

Heading for the Hills

Posted: November 24, 2012 in Galapagos

We had a complete change of scene today as we left the coast and the waters and drove to the highland region at the centre of Isla Santa Cruz. It was another grey day, sprinkling on & off, so the forest was definitely the place to be.

As always, birds abound. A pair of small ground finches, a yellow warbler, a finch polishing off my lunch, a vermillion flycatcher (a lucky sighting, we are told) and a spider (yes, I realise it's not a bird)

Our first port of call was a former farm turned tortoise sanctuary. Apparently the farmer was having trouble with giant tortoises eating his crops, so instead he decided to invite tourists onto the property. It seems to have been a great success judging by the number of tortoises we saw, and the restaurant and three souvenir shops. It was rather muddy but they lent us rubber boots to wear, thankfully, and we tramped around taking photos and trying to get as close as we were allowed to the tortoises. There were lots there, scattered in grassy meadows, lagoons and mud patches, and surrounded by forest. It was fun to wander amongst them, and as we had plenty of time, we had some opportunities to try different camera techniques, with tuition from Chris & Jess. Muddy but entertaining.

Giant Galapagos Tortoises

The surrounding forest - tortoises playing leapfrog? - Keith staying dry - these giant tortoises are really giants - photography lessons.

After lunch at the restaurant at the tortoise sanctuary we stopped to see some of the natural formations due to volcanic activity in the formation of this archipeligo. We had a brief exploration of a lava tube, but sadly the lighting in the tunnel was not working, and Veronica our guide felt it was too dangerous to go too far, even with torches. We weren't too disappointed, as there was a section where you had to crawl commando-style through a small opening, and neither Keith nor I were looking forward to that!

In the lava tube. The bones belong the the calf who fell into the hole, thus enabling the tubes to be discovered.

Instead we stopped to look at two huge craters which we had passed in the bus a few times. They were impressively large, and surrounded by wet forest which we had a walk through, practising our macro photography on moss, lichens, tiny flowers and raindrop covered spider-webs.

One of the craters, and the surrounding forest walk

Some of our favourite macro shots

Back in town we had some free time, and had a last wander (since we leave Puerto Ayora tomorrow early) ending up at the small fish market. Each day the fishing boats bring their catch to be sold in the late afternoon. It is quite a tourist attraction as a couple of local sea lions (and several hungry pelicans) hang about hoping for scraps. Not a sight we are used to at home!

Keith makes a new friend at the fish market.

Dinner was another delicious affair. I don't think we have had one bad meal here. I ordered char-grilled octopus, and I have never seen so much food on one plate before! There was so much octopus they had to bring my vegetables on a different plate!! Seriously delicious though.