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Galapagos Trip Report - Long version.

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Galapagos Trip Report – One great week.

Day 1 – Sunday
I decided to start a new thread with more detail. Not sure how long it will be.
All went well and my pre-trip planning (posted here earlier) and schedule tweeking worked out. We had been met by a Linblad rep at the Miami airport on Saturday, where we began to get acquainted with some of our shipmates while awaiting our flight. Our Miami departure was delayed slightly as the airport had to clear Air Force 1 after the President’s commencement speech at a Miami college. But no problem, we became fast friends with our mates for the next week while sitting in the waiting room.
We arrived Guayaquil about 10PM, only about 30 minutes late. Linblad reps accompanied us to the Hilton Hotel, where we went through an expedited check in. Our luggage was in our rooms. We got a coupon good for a free drink in the bar, or a bottle of water the next day. Since the coupon was only good for a rum and coke, I opted for a marguerita and the free bottle of water. Our room rate included an adequate cooked breakfast buffet, after which we were whisked off to the Guayaquil airport for our 9:30AM departure. Linblad had arranged for us to wait in a VIP lounge prior to takeoff. So far, I am very impressed with Linblad.

Upon arrival at Baltra airport, our guides rounded us up and bused us to nearby Puerto Norte, about 10 minutes, where we boarded pangas (zodiaks) and were taken to the Linblad’s MS Islander. The harbor was quite active, with many ships loading and unloading passengers. Sea Lions had taken over the benches on the dock and we were warned not to get too close or touch, but they ignored us. It was our first glimpse of what was to come.

Aboard the Islander, we found our room. Two single beds (very comfortable), a desk, a compact but clean and neat bathroom, lots of storage space for our two suitcases and one carryon and backpack. We had a window but kept the curtain closed most of the time, as it was a outside passageway. We certainly didn’t spend much time in the room with all there was to do at all times. We had a quick buffet lunch and orientation. Then the prerequisite safety drills. All accompanied by increasingly loud chatter as we became friendlier with our ship mates.

The ship sailed to nearby North Seymour Island and about 4pm with great anticipation and excitement, we went out on our first expedition. WOW!

In what was to become a very familiar operation, we grabbed our life vests for the panga ride, which we kept in our rooms. Then we lined up in the reception area and filed out to the waiting pangas. There were about 44 of us, and the groups are maximum of 16. We had three guides on board. We boarded the pangas and your group of 16 was pot luck so to speak, different people each time, though many paired up to be sure they went ashore together. They alternated the guides so that you never knew which guide you would get. On shore, they keep the groups separated to avoid larger groups. Also, the Park service controls how many boats are at any island at any one time. All very organized and controlled. You cannot go off by yourself; must stay on the path with your group. We all felt this was very positive, and congratulate the Ecuadorian government for their strict policies.

At our dry landing site there were frigate birds swooping around, the males with their red throats extended. Brown pelicans sat calmly on nearby rocks, and walking up the slope, we had to step over a sleeping sea lion. So this is the Galapagos. We began walking through low shrubs and bush, but didn’t keep much of a pace. Before long we were stepping over lava lizards, mocking birds, and nesting blue footed boobies. Several eggs and chicks were spotted. They stared unflinchingly at us. Then we came upon hundreds of frigate birds. The males with their red throats sitting proudly on nests trying to attract one of the circling females. Idle juvenile frigates sat on rocks along the pathway. We stopped every few feet snapping off pictures of this or that. I am lost on some of the smaller land birds, but the birders amongst us were loosing their minds. But frankly, about me and finches, ho hum. This was our introduction to the wonders of the Galapagos. We also saw Swallow tail gulls, storm petrals, sally lightfoot crabs, land iguana, Galapagos Dove, marine iguana, and sea lion pups nursing. Our first day and we’re in overload.

That evening before dinner, we had a debriefing session and an outline of tomorrow’s events. The Captain gave us a welcome toast, and we adjorned to our first of many wonderful meals. We were all talking loudly and over each other, we were so excited. Lynn, our tour director, was impressed with the instant comraderie among us. We couldn’t wait for tomorrow.

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    Day 2 – Monday

    Optional 0600 wake up call for early birds climb on Bartolome Island, to which we had sailed during the night. The hike took one up 375 steps for the classic photo op of Pinnacle peak and the bay. We opted not to answer that call. They were back by 0800 for the buffet breakfast. Coffee was available beginning at 0600 and I took some back to the room.

    At 0900 there was an “all hands” snorkeling safety meeting, followed by the distribution of snorkeling gear to those who needed. The gear was top-notch. We brought our own stuff, except my flippers, which are too big to comfortably pack. Theirs were fine. The ship had 2mm shortie wet suits for passenger’s use. We had brought along our 3mm full wet suits. As it turned out, we were glad for our heavier and full suits. Included in the available gear was a little storage bag for your snorkel gear with your room number on it. All received one of these bags which made storage convenient and boarding the pangas much easier, as the bag was passed into the panga and then you boarded with nothing in your hands. All very safety conscious.

    At 1000 hours, disembarkation for dune walkers and snorkelers. There was a short walk over the dune to a beach on the other side where several sea turtle nests were noted. Brown pelicans nested in nearby trees, and white tip reef sharks loitered around in the surf, waiting for baby turtle hatchlings, we suspect. We returned to the landing beach and went snorkeling for the first time in Galapagos waters.

    Cold! Temperaturo del agua: 22c. Thanks for the wet suits. Along some rocks some penguins had just returned from fishing. They swam up to the rocks and jumped up on them, then turned and looked back at us still in the water curiously. We saw several varieties of large fish while snorkeling, but nothing dramatic like sharks or rays, etc.

    1230 hours back on board for the buffet lunch and a siesta, during which time we sailed a short way to Puerto Egas on the western end of Santiago Island. There was a short introductory presentation in the lounge at 1430, and then a wet landing and more snorkeling, followed by a short walk around the beach area.

    At 1800 hours, sunset, the bar on the top deck was open, and we adjourned at 1900 to our nightly debriefing in the lounge. This was accompanied by lots of chatter and excited conversation about what had been seen that day, and of course, appropriate amounts of very good margueritas and cosmopolitans. After an excellent dinner, we had another science lecture (consider the term lecture to be rather loose).

    The ship had prepared lists of birds, fish and reptiles for us to check off as we saw the different species. This was great fun at cocktail time as we all compared our lists and the new things that we could check off after the days activities. Today we added many animals, including herons, finches, dove, sea turtles, warblers, etc. I’ll stop listing all the animals we saw. There are too many for this forum. Suffice to say, there were a bunch and to the last day we were adding to the list.

    Day 3 – Tuesday

    0630 wake up call for 0700 buffet breakfast. In the morning before you leave breakfast, you select your meal for the evening. They have menus posted with a meat, fish or vegetarian choice. I almost always chose the fish, except for one night they had a very good duck dinner. Wine was extra, but reasonably priced, usually a Chilean wine. Cocktails were also reasonably priced, no complaints there. Meals were universally wonderful and magnificently prepared. Breakfast and lunch was buffet; dinner was sit down. We always tried to sit at different tables and mix up the company. Much more interesting that way. Have a whole new set of friends from this trip.

    0800 dry landing at Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island. We were bussed to the Charles Darwin Research center and our guides took us through t he center. Our first look at the giant land tortoises of the Galapagos. And some little babies.

    For lunch we were bussed to a restaurant higher up in the garua section of the island. A Bar b q with chicken and all the trimmings, very good. The owner of the restaurant owns land down to the park border, and there are some wild tortoises living on his property. We hiked about a mile and a half down through some rocks and mud and saw about a dozen in the wild. Very exciting. When approached, they draw in and lower themselves with a loud hiss, as if the hydraulic system was letting out all the air. Which is exactly what is happening, we are told, as the lungs exhale to make room in the shell for the rest of the body.

    We then rode around to some craters, hiked a bit more, then back to Puerto Ayora for some lingering and shopping. My dark glasses had broken and I was able to pick up a pair of “genuine” Gucci designer dark glasses for under $10. Well, they might be Gucci’s :)

    Back on board for our nightly margueritas, cosmopolitans and debriefing. Another great dinner.

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    Ahhh Bless your heart BillJ.
    Thank you for the report.

    I could identify with everything you said and did.

    Yes, I remember climbing those steps and then looking down on Pinnacle Peak

    Keep the reports coming
    Thanks
    Percy

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    Back to day 2. Santiago. In the afternoon we snorkled off of a black sand beach, and saw sea turtles. On a rock outcrop a pelican sat calmly as I swam right up to him, almost too close to photo. Our walk took us out over lava shore line with the most curious sea scapes. Open lava tubes and grottos, with gobs of marine iquana laying all around and spitting salt. The lava had cooled in intricate designs. On the path, a mockingbird ran along with us looking all the world like their distant cousins, the road runners of the American Southwest, but a lot scruffier. The birders were gleeful. I was worried I’d step on him or the ever present lava lizards.

    The rhythm of ship life was now firmly established. With some variation, wake up about 6, buffet breakfast at 7 or 8. Excursions, land or water, 9 to noon. Buffet lunch and siesta time. Sometimes a science talk. Afternoon excursion usually ended back on board by 6 or 6:30. Meeting in lounge for debrief and outline of next day, followed by sit down dinner. Science talks followed dinner on three nights.

    I had two pair of shoes along with me. One for land; one for wet landings, beaches, etc. The steroidal tennis shoe is a Montrail “hiking shoe;” which we have had for a while. It works great on rocky trails, especially the lava trails we encountered on this trip. After this week, there were noticeable tears and scrapes on the shoe from the tough lava. The other was Keen, a “Teva” like sandal with a tough treaded sole. Excellent for wet landings, beaches, and short walks. My wife also brought along a pair of utility sandals for dinner, etc. (Since we did not pre- or post- extend, our packing was simplified.) Our shoe selection worked out fine; quite appropriate.

    Day 4 – Wednesday

    We had a long sail last night while we slept. And it wasn’t a smooth ride. We were awakened a lot from the noise of the ship slamming on the waves. We didn’t get sick, but some did, even those with patches. We are lucky. No patches, no bonine, no sick.

    We sailed around the top of Isabela during the night, and we woke to the western side of Isabela. The waters and wind was calm, sun shining. At about 0830 we crossed the equator with great fanfare. We were invited to the bridge, some opted to stay out on deck, watching the storm petrals and shearwaters swooping around. My wife happened to be standing at the right place and the captain had her push the button for the ship’s horn. We watched with great excitement as the GPS counted down the latitude. Then at 00 deg, 00 min, she blew the horn and we all screamed and shouted with glee. (No one felt the bump as we crossed the line).

    The weather and sea conditions cooperated, and we first had a panga ride near the coast. We saw countless flightless cormorants, swimming penguins and mola mola, the giant sun fish. Then we snorkeled in deep water at Punta Vicente Roca, under the shadow of an active volcano. The water was about 20c, and we were glad for our full wet suits. Flightless cormorants were feeding and feeding young, turtles and many large fish were present. We saw our first Nazca booby.

    For lunch we had what was billed as a typical Ecuadorian feast, excellently presented. We dined as we sailed across the Bolivar channel to Punta Espinosa on the island of Fernandina. We had a dry landing in a mangrove, and walked on lava fields enjoying countless flightless cormorants, nursing sea lions and more gobs of marine iguana. Here an uplift in 1970 had added to the coastline and changed the mangrove area significantly. Slept very well that night.

    Day 5 – Thursday

    We had sailed back to Isabela to Urbina Bay at the base of Volcano Alcedo. There were two hikes offered; long and short. We took the long which was the most strenuous of all the land excursions of the trip. We clammered over and through lava piled high, stepping over flightless cormorant nests and sally lightfoot crabs. It was slow going. Inland, the birders again went into overload, but we lost the sea breezes and it became very warm and humid.

    There was also an uplift here, and coral outcroppings, now white in death, are found far inland. We were pretty beat by the time we got back to the shore. I admit the heat got to me a little, but many passengers reported the same thing. After lunch, we opted not to go out on the afternoon excursion on Punta Moreno al little farther down the coast. Extended siesta. We missed a flamingo sighting, and were sad, but made up for it later. The wind and swells came up, and the planned kayaking was cancelled.

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    There were two ways to start a snorkel. You put on your wet suit on the ship, then got in the panga passing your bag of gear in first. If we did a beach snorkel, you put on the flippers mask, etc on the beach and entered the water from the beach. The other way was from the panga. After getting into the panga, you put on the flippers, mask etc, and jumped in the water from the side of the panga. Getting back in the panga was easy, as they had a ladder they placed over the side. All very convenient.

    Day 6 – Friday

    There was a long sail overnight around the south of Isabela to Floreana. We ran with the sea, so not quite so rough. Our pre-breakfast wet landing took us to the storied Post Office Barrel, where we learned some history and went through the mail to see if we had something to deliver to our home town. We left a post card to ourselves, and maybe some one will bring it to our house some day.

    THE SNORKEL OF OUR LIVES:
    At 0930, after breakfast, we disembarked for deep water snorkeling at nearby tiny Champion island. For non snorkelers, there were panga rides. OMIGOD!!!!! Did we get into it. Soon after entering the water, we were surrounded by about 15 -20 sea lion pups about 6 months old. They were swooping and swirling around us. They tugged at our flippers, “kissed” our masks, swam circles around us, jumped over us and generally went bananas. We could hear us all laughing through our masks. They blew bubbles at us and cavorted wildly. One stopped right in front of me and just starred at me, then opened his mouth in what appeared to be a huge grin, and let out bubbles, then swooped off in a somersault of bubbles and fins. We were ecstatic. It was the most exhilarating snorkeling experience we have ever had. What else did we see? Don’t know. They were awesome. Our guide was bewildered. In 30 years she had never seen so many gone bonkers together at one time. It was like we stumbled into the nursery and the teacher was gone. I snapped off 60 pictures in 30 minutes, including the smiling bubble blower, but of course many pictures were of bubbles and water only. Man, those guys are fast.

    We had been warned that they like to play “sea lion chicken.” They swim full speed directly at you, sometimes up side down, then swerve at the last moment. When it actually happens, time after time, again and again, there is nothing like it that I can compare in my years of snorkeling. We got back in the panga and rode around for a while giggling hysterically at what we had just been through. (Note: here the water was the coldest, 19c).

    After lunch and a siesta, we had a wet landing and walked to a brackish backwater and gazed at a dozen or more flamingos. So we didn’t miss them after all. A hike over a saddle took us to Flower Beach, a beautiful little beach that no boats can visit. We could only walk half of the beach. In the surf were white tip sharks, a swarm of sting or golden rays, thousands of sally lightfoot crabs, and several turtles. The beach had many turtle nests. The tracks of the mom’s could be clearly seen, and here and there were tracks of the babies as they scurried to the ocean. Only to be met by the maurading sharks and rays. Well, such is the circle of life. We did not actually see the babies. They hatch at night, and visitors are prohibited at night.

    From our landing beach, two of our mates swam back to the boat, about half a mile out. No, one of them was not me, thank you.

    Day 7 – Espanola Island; last full day.

    After the crazy sea lion pups, what could they throw at us now? Well they tried. The sail the night before was not good. We sailed to the farthest south-eastern most island; Espanola. The crossing was across the wave pattern, so the boat rocked back and forth all night long on a large swell. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. . . . . . Kept me awake, but lucky us, no sick. Many were. The morning deep water snorkel was not so good, as the water was pretty churned up and visibility was not good. But, we did see a big sized wahoo, a thrill. More sea lions, but not in the numbers or exuberance. After snorkeling, we lounged around on Gardner Bay Beach. Dozens of sea lions and pups were lounging here first and we could walk at will among them. Occassionally, an adult would come from the surf, barking loudly. A pup would wake and begin yapping and the two would run to each other, and the pup would begin nursing. Quite a sight. Little pups would walk right up to us and stare at us curiously, like “Are you my mommy?” Enchanting.

    That afternoon, we had a dry landing at Punta Suarez . On the way in on the panga more sea lions cavorting in a set of waves. Surfing dudes! The wave was back-lit by a low sun and the sea lions could be seen clearly in the wave. The pangas lingered so we could all watch for a while.

    On land, we went on what I call an ankle twisting, shoe shredding hike through lava and rocks and boulders for about 2 miles, but what rewards. We found ourselves in the middle of a nesting area for the waved albatross. Some were on eggs, others doing their bill clicking thing. Many were flying. We stood on a cliff overlooking the ocean and albatross flew over us. Also, the swallow tailed gull (most beautiful) and the magnificent Galapagos Hawk. We were mesmerized by the swooping and switling of all these birds.

    On the ground, two blue footed boobies were in their mating dance. Nazca boobies were in numbers. The sunset was beautiful. We thought quite a fitting end to our trip.

    Last Day – The disembarkation process back at Baltra went very smoothly. Linblad had us in a VIP room at the luxurious Baltra airport. Many of us did last minute shopping at the many shops at the airport. We flew all the way to Quito, most got off at Guayaquil. Linblad accompanied us to Quito and got us to the Hilton. We were on our own the next morning, and all day back to home town via Miami and LAX went off without a hitch.

    All week long a photographer accompanied us on our excursions. A DVD was ready for us upon departure for $50, I thought quite reasonable. We have watched it 4 times now, and it is in the DVD player ready again. We will always remember this trip as intensely nature oriented. And no matter how many times we see it on Nature channels, being there was a real treat.

    You can find my pictures at http://www.flickr.com/photos/calbillstravnstuff/ Click on the Galapagos Island picture, top right, then look at them as a slide show, or one at a time which will also show the captions. If you just scroll down they are in reverse order. Enjoy.

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