Reptiles, Birds and Sea Lions, Oh My!

Trip Start Dec 31, 2011
Trip End Jan 17, 2012

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Flag of Ecuador  , Galápagos,
Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Monday January 9th was a day of travel. From Cusco we flew to Quito via Lima. On the way to the airport we made an important stop - the pharmacy! Many of us purchased anti-parasite medication. The pharmacy tech was a little bewildered by the bus load of people coming to the window. This stop is not typically on the agenda, but our awesome guide demonstrated the O.A.T. mantra of flexibility. After getting these drugs most of us were feeling better.
We arrived in Quito, Ecuador in the late afternoon and met our Ecuador guide, Roberto and our Quito guide, Jorge. We checked in to the Mercure Alameda Hotel Quito. It looks fancy from the front lobby... however, the front desk was not so helpful and the rooms were not impresive. Sara and Joli were a little more impressed with their room after seeing Sid and Linda's room though. The worst part (for this blog) is that the hotel does not have free internet but it has a casino! Dinner Monday night was at the hotel. Our guide made special arrangements to make sure the meal would be ok for those of us having stomach issues. We had quinoa soup and "Ecuadorian" see bass.
Tuesday January 10th we were off to the Galapagos! We flew to the islands on AeroGal via Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador. On the flight we saw snow capped volcanoes, and then lots of ocean. We landed on the island of Balta, which was a US military base during the end of WWII. From the airport we took a bus across the small island to the channel where we boared a ferry to the island of Santa Cruz. On Santa Cruz we took another bus from the north side to the south side of the island to meet our boat in Puerto Ayora. We boarded the Carina aftr a short ride on the Zodiacs and were welcomed by Carlos, the bartender/server and the rest of the crew with a yummy chocolatey ice creamy drink (forgot the real name of the drink already). Lunch was on board - spaghetti! After lunch we got back on the Zodiacs and headed for the Carles Darwin Research Center back on Isla Santa Cruz. We saw lots of sea lions and marine iguanas. We had to be careful not to step on them at the landing. It is mating season for the iguanas and there were two males competing for the females. They were biting, head bashing, trying to knock each other in the water. We watched for a little while but had to move on. We still wonder which one was victorious. At the Darwin Center we saw baby tortoises that were part of the breeding program they have to repopulate/maintain native tortoise populations. We also got to see the LARGE tortoises, including Lonesome George. He is the last of his species. He's over one hundred years old and is HUGE. They are trying to breed him with females of the next closest species. Unfortunately, at this moment he does not seem very interested. Perhaps Viagra would help?
After visiting the Darwin Center we wandered around Puerto Ayora for a while. Of course this meant shopping, especially for Linda and Frima. Dinner was back on board the Carina - another awesome meal cooked by Chef Raul, who liked to come up to the dining room to do a twirl in his matching funky pants and chef hat then serve us our soup. We retired to our cabins, which were nice. We were rocked gently to sleep. The boat tended to reposition to different islands during the night so getting up to go to the bathroom could be a challenge.
On the morning of Wednesday January 11th we awoke to the beautiful sight of North and South Plaza Islands and turquoise water. Breakfast was at 7:00 with the group. We then boarded the Zodiacs for South Plaza Island, which is a tiny uplift island, only two square kilometeres. This island had distinctive bright yellow land iguanas which stood out among the cacti. The cacti were large prickly pear trees that grow up to 10 meters tall. They have tough woody trunks and don't look like the pricky pear in Arizona. There were tons of sea lions. South Plaza Island has one of the largest sea lion colonies in the Galapagos, approximately 1,000 strong. We had to shoo them off our landing site. They also liked to hang out under the cacti or rare bush for shade. Watch where you step! The sesuvium plants on the island were bright red which provided a nice contrast to the gray and black rocks, green cacti and turquoise ocean. We hiked around the island and also saw frigate birds and finches and sally light foot crabs which are very colorful - red, blue and yellow.
Lunch was back on board the Carina while we motored to Santa Fe Island. In the afternoon we had our first snorkeling excursion in the awesome clear waters of the Galapagos. We saw lots of colorful fishes, inquisitive sea lions, sting rays and a shark! The white tipped reef shark wasn't hungry for gnomes, but did give us a scare when it first came into sight. After snorkeling we hiked around Santa Fe Island. This island starred a local variety of land iguanas which were pale yellow and grow up to 1.5 meters long.
On Thursday January 12th we woke up to the sight of Isla Floreana. In the morning we hiked around around the island. We saw the famous blue footed boobies - these are birds! We also saw a pair of flamingoes and penguins. On one side of the island was the Pacific green sea turtle nesting grounds. There were a bunch of turtles swimming close to shore, waiting for it to get dark to come on land to lay their eggs - 60 to 70 at a time. The beach had very fine white sand. We walked along the beach a little and saw sting rays in addition to the sea turtles. Before lunch we got in some snorkeling around a rock island that was part of Floreana. We saw more cool fish, sharks and sea lions.
After lunch we went to the other side of the island to Post Office Bay. The practice of leaving mail in a barrel began in 1793 when ships bound for Pacific whaling grounds would leave letters here to be picked up by homeward bound ships whose crew would deliver by hand. Tradition dictates that if you find a letter addressed to someone near you, you should take it home and deliver it in person. We dropped a few post cards in the barrel and looked for any bound for destinations near us. We didn't have much luck. Then we hiked up to a lava tube. The entrance to the lava tube was a bunch of steep rickety stairs. Once in the tunnel flashlights helped us find the rope that kept us from sliding down the steep path. The tunnel opened up to a large chamber where we ended our hike (the rest of the tube has water in it). After surviving the lava tube we headed back to the beach for ome snorkeling. We got to swim with the giant Pacific sea turtles. That night we motored over to Espanola Island and it was extremely choppy. Giardia Bob returned for Sara. Being sick on the boat was not fun.
Friday January 13th included a walkabout around Espanola Island without Sara. Isla Espanola is the southernmost and oldest island in the Galapagos. Many different sea birds use the island as a stop over or nesting site, including the waved albatross. It was a three hour hike over very rocky terrain but there was a very pretty view from the cliffs on the far side of the island which included a giant blow hole. Again, we saw lots of sea lions and their cute babies, mounds of iguana and sally light foot crabs. We saw lots of birds including blue footed boobies, Nazca boobies and their boobie babies. The gnomes came under attack by the hood mockingbirds that are extremely inquisitive and like to steal things from people. Fortunately, the gnomes survived the brutal atack. In the afternoon we landed on Gardner Beach, which is a beautiful soft sandy beach with the usual contingent of sea lions to greet us. We walked along the beach by the sea lions, then snorkeled with the sting rays, sea turtles, sharks and fish. Sara saw six sharks on this outing! This was our last snorkeling adventure there. We are going to miss the sparkling turquoise water when we get back home. We relaxed on board the Carina as it motored to our last destination in the Galapagos.
On Saturday January 14th we said goodbye to the crew of the Carina and took the Zodiacs to San Cristobal Island. We visited the Interpretive Center, which describes the human, animal and geological history of the islands. We then wandered around town for a while, aka shopped, before heading to the airport to fly back to Quito. We had an awesome Galapagos experience and didn't want to leave!
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