Galapagos, Nov. 2008

Nov 9-10, 2008 (Sunday/Monday) – Getting there

The travel fever appeared at exactly the time when I left the office on Friday. Yesterday was a busy day, buying the last things for the trip and getting everything packed. To the last minute I discussed whether to take my shorty and the snorkel gear. But the suitcase was extremely heavy and I decided to leave the shorty at home. I later regret that decision ;-)

We meet in the airport in the afternoon. Noone is late. My neighbours take me to the airport, Anne has made a small package for me. She is so considerate.

We very soon seem to be a good group. This is my first time travelling in a group and I am a little unsure how close you will really get together. Already in the checkin line we chat a little with each other.

We have to wait 5 hours in Amsterdam before leaving for Quito. We take a light dinner and have plenty of time to get to know each other a little bit better. We drink coffee and have a drink and soon it is time to go to gate. Security and boarding takes over 1 hour but finally we are seated in the big MD-11 from KLM. Service on board is nice. We soon get some rest and actually also do sleep a little.

Suddenly the crew call for a medical doctor and we see that one of our fellow passengers are really feeling sick. I have never seen a dead person before but this is how I assume it would look like. His face is paper white with dark circles around his eyes. This is serious. Two doctors arrive and after something that seems forever, but is probably not more than 15 minutes they can move him. He already had some colour back in his face. This happened while we were right over the ocean. It reminded me how fragile life is and made me start thinking if I had said a nice goodbye before I left to all those dear to me.

We have a stopover in Bonaire. It is dark, but the hot and humid air that greets us leaving the plane smells and reminds me so much of the Caribbean that I love so much and where I have had many nice experiences. For a while I almost want to stay. Bonaire was always on my list of places to go. But Galapagos is higher on that list so after half an hour we board the plane again and take off for our last stop before Quito, which is Guayaquil.

We are all tired after a long trip when we arrive at the Dann Carlton Hotel, but a huge bucket of roses welcomes us at the entrance and we get our rooms easy and quickly. After a short meeting with a lot of practical information we stroll down to the Botanical Garden which is not far from our hotel. Every 4th flower in Ecuador is an Orchide, but I think it must be the wrong time of the year because only few are blooming. We also get to see some Hummingbirds (Kolibrier) and Henrik tries desperately to get some good pictures of them, but I think this time with only limited luck.

In the evening we go out for dinner together at La Ronda close to the new city centre. The restaurant is nice and there a local bands playing live music for us. But the food is only average. We have a nice evening which ends early. People are tired.

Now 11, 2008 (Tuesday) – Old Town of Quito

We wake up very early due to the time difference. But we are not alone. At the breakfast table most people say that they woke up early. Breakfast table is great. There are so much to chose between, o.a. the small half-popped popcorn and shrimp soup.

We start at 9 am and drive first to the big Cathedral which was first build from donations, but are owned by some other authority, which have enough money to complete it. But they leave it unfinished due to the “interest factor” that it gives the church. Driving through the narrow and steep streets in the bus is an experience. The bus driver is good and make complicated u-turns with the bus at places where people with ordinary cars would think twice before doing it. We have our local guide Santiago with us all day. He is from a local guide company (Via Natura) and has taken a 5 year education to become a guide in Quito. He is nice and good at his work. All the time here in Quito we have two guides at our disposition. It is really luxurious.

At first we visit the big square at the centre of the city called Placa Grande. Around it is both a church, the presidential residence and the Town Hall. It is a really nice place, very neat and nice. Not too busy, but enough to be cosy. We look at an exhibition of graves in Quito made by a Danish artist called Birte Pedersen. It is in a building housing the library and is the oldest printing house in Quito. We get to see some old printing machines. We also visit the outer part of the presidential palace where we have fun with some schoolkids wanting to “pose” for us. We stroll around the streets until we get to another square with some old buildings from the colonial time. There is also a fine handicraft store placed in narrow basement passages from a time long gone.

After a cool drink we then drive to see the third largest protection monument after Statue of Liberty in US and Brazil. It is Virgin Maria with wings, standing on the earth with a snake. It is up a very steep hill and you can see the monument from many places in Quito. Even though Quito is placed in a valley it is not flat and it is constantly threatened by earthquakes. Not dramatic ones, but many smaller ones.

At time for dinner we had lunch in a small restaurant in the new part of the city. We had some Ecuadorian specialties like the deep fried folded pancakes with chilisauce, fish with rice and lenses and banana and finally a nice tasty passion fruit mousse.

After lunch Vibeke, Nelly, Kirsten, Verner and I walk around in the new part of the city. We visit handicraft store which makes goods of better quality … but the price follows… of course. We all buy something in there. Afterwards we find the handcraft market with more ordinary things and fill up our backpacks. We are loaded when we finally stove all 5 of us together in a taxi and go back to the hotel.

Back at the Hotel Vibeke, Kirsten and Nelly and I decide to go use the swimming pool. That is definitely a hit! The water is nice and warm, we are almost the only one there. There is also a hot bubble bath where we get massage and we end by using the sauna and steam bath.

Nov 12, 2008 (Wednesday) - Cotopaxi

We start early because we have to drive 2,5 hours by car going south to the Cotopaxi Volcano. Being 5.897 meter high Cotopaxi is the highest active volcano in Ecuador and only one mountain in Ecuador is higher.

The ride is quite uneventful until we suddenly take a left turn and enter a very bumpy road leading to the Cotopaxi National Park. In Quito we start out in beautiful weather but when we reach Cotopaxi it is unfortunately cloudy and the snow covered top is hidden between the clouds.

We take a walk at two different places beneath the volcano hoping that the skies will split and we will see the top. We actually get a short glimpse once the skies spread a little bit, but mostly it is cloudy. We are at around 3.800 meter and we can easily feel the height affecting our breath when we walk. One of the walks are around a large lake placed in a gletcher area.

On the way back we have lunch at a beautiful romantic place in the middle of nowhere. There are roses all over and the garden is very nicely kept with the hedges cut on nice formations.

In the evening we repeat the success of visiting the swimming pool and in the evening we have dinner at the hotel.

Nov 13, 2008 (Thursday) – San Christobal – Sealion give birth

We leave for Galapagos early. The weather is extremely foggy and we are worried that there will be a lot of waiting time in the airport. We have all been wondering why the trip should take three hours with just 1.000 kilometers to travel, but it turns out that we have to go to Guayaquil to pick up people from there first.

Disembarking the plane in San Christobal is a great feeling. Finally we are here. Even though it is a bit cloudy the weather is warm and humid and it feels very right to be here.

We take a bus to the harbour where the panga (dinghy) takes us to the boat. Our guide is confused because we are going with a different boat than she expected, but it turns out to be a very good alternative. The boat is big and really great. On the top deck there is a large sundeck and a Jacuzzi. On the upper deck is 4 large cabins, and on the lower deck is also 4 large cabins and the bar and restaurant and “grouping” room.

After getting on board I go to explore the upper deck and I sit for a while in the stern overlooking the large number of anchored boats and feel the joy and happiness in me. THIS is truly what I came for. We saw the first birds and sealions already in the harbour and this is going to be great.

Lunch is served quickly after arrival and soon we are ready to go back ashore. This time we take a small path to watch some sealions. We are VERY lucky. We see a sea lion give birth! It is truly amazing. We all take lots of pictures but the sealion and the little newborn seem unaffected by our presence. We also see our first finches, lizards, crabs, leguans and the frigate birds and even a pelican which comes very close.

When we go home we are all happy and filled with good expectations of the coming days.

Nov 14, 2008 (Friday) – Espanola

I wake up at 6am fresh and full of energy wanting to meet the day. After a gorgeous breakfast at 7am we hit the island of Espanola with the pangas at 8am. Already in the water we see Sealions, the shield of a sea turtle and some Sea Iguanas feeding on the rocks. The sun is shining from a clear blue sky and it looks like it is going to be a great day.

The Sea lguanas are everywhere as soon as we land. Actually they are using our path … or we are using their path…. We soon come to a Sealion kindergarden where a couple of females are taking good care of a bunch of kids while their mother is away fishing for food. We see a few young Pelicans, about 4-5 months old lying in the nest waiting for their mother to return with food for them. They are about to loose their fluffy feathers and replace them with nice mature grown up feathers. They will soon be ready to be off on their own. To learn to fly they will walk to a steep cliff where they can catch the wind from beneath and they will take off. Some of them will land on the water and it will take a lot of effort for them to take off from there. We also see pelicans flying and we find a deserted pelican egg.

We see a lot of Bluefooted Boobies (Blåfodede Suler). We even see some doing the mating dance, some “fighting” over a female and a few young birds still in their nest.

At a high cliff we see the Galapagos Hawk proudly overlooking his territory. It takes about 3-5 males to get a female pregnant and all the males help building the nest and caring for the female and the young ones. This bird has only one chick which we saw sitting at a high cliff down by the water. A nice spot where we could watch pelicans and Frigatebirds in the air, we could see Sealions, Land Iguanas and Red Crabs all over, and occasionally some of Darwins finches would pass us by.

In the afternoon we go snorkelling. Unfortunately the sun is gone and the light is limited. The wet suit is way too big and I regret not having brought my own. But it is wonderful to be back in the water and swim close to the Sealions. They are fast… often too fast for the camera….but they are playful and fun. We also see King Angelfishes, Yellowtail Surgeonfishes, Parrotfishes and we swim around in steams of Galapagos Mullets.

Later in the afternoon we go ashore and just stroll around the large groups of Sealions hanging around. They are great fun to watch. Males are angrily chasing other males and youngsters away. Small “kids” are lying around waiting for their mother to return or playing with friends. Sometimes their mother is away for 4-6 days while the youngster is lying on the beach. They recognize each other by smell so it is important not to touch them, because then their mother will not identify them.

Nov 15, 2008 (Saturday) – Champion Island & PostOffice Bay

We start out by snorkelling from the pangas along the Champion Island. At first I don’t feel comfortable with the dive and get back onboard the panga. But soon I am ready to go back in the water. I leave the camera on the boat and of course that makes the difference. After a few minutes I see the shark. It passes by me at 4-6 meters but then make a sharp turn and comes back right towards me. It is a White Tipped Reef shark about my length. For a second I have to tell myself that I am not on its menu and then it is full excitement. It passes by my just 1 m away. I look around for someone to share the experience with.

In all there are a lot of life down there, Bumphead Parrotfish and Bluechin Parrotfish, schools of Yellowtail Surgeonfish and of Crimson Soldierfish (red). It is a wall dive and even if it is cloudy we have good light for most of the trip.

After this we go to PostOffice Bay also on Champion Island. This is a place where whale catchers established a Mail system. When you leave your mail here, people who come by will go through it and if they are going anywhere near the mail destination they should take the mail and bring it out. It has been working since 1793. Going there we first go to a place o see Sea Turtles. We are very lucky. We do see a few, but se also see a couple mating. This is very big and I almost get tears in my eyes. At land there is not much to see beside the Post Office and a small Lava tunnel but only the entrance since it is narrow and deep and not suited for tourism. This place is dry and “dead” at the time we are we are there.

After a delicious lunch we go to Punta Cormorant to see Flamingos and Sealions, shore birds and Sting Rays. We are very lucky that the Flamingos get close to our path and we get to see them very close. Flamingos are very shy animals and very difficult to get close to. We get a lot of good pictures. We also have the luck of seeing another couple of Sea Turtles mate and afterwards when we go snorkelling from the beach I see another Sea Turtle eating very very close to me. This is totally a great day.

When I come home I try to turn on my phone and a few SMS’s arrives. Unfortunately I am not able to reply. I can not send from here obviously and tell my friends back home how great this is.

Nov 16, 2008 (Sunday) – North Seymor – Frigate Birds

Today we start by hiking on North Seymor. Here we see lots of lots of Frigate Birds. Some flying in the air, some nesting. We get some very good pictures of some of them with their red pouch filled with air. It looks really spectacular. Here we also see our first Land Iguanas. The Land Iguanas are bigger than the Sea Iguanas and more colourful.

Later we go snorkelling from North Seymor. It is a great trip. I see two Whitetipped Reef sharks, two Eagle Rays, a Needlefish and of course (how can that be “of course”?), lots of Parrotfish, King Angelfish, Yellowtail Surgeonfish and much more.

After lunch we have a little time to relax on the sundeck of the boat. Some of the girls enter the Jacuzzi. The Gran Montserrat or the Odyssey as it is also called is really a very nice boat.

In the afternoon we go ashore on Las Bachas beach on the Northern part of Santa Cruz. Here the weather is always nice because the clouds stick to the mountains in the mainland.

Nov 17, 2008 (Monday) – Bartolomé - Giant Stingray

We start out by going to the top of Bartolome Island. This is 370 steps and a very rocky and “cold” island with very little vegetation. The reason for this is that this island is very young, only 1.2 mill years. Already plants and grasses have started growing there. From the top it is a beautiful sight and the most photographed place in Galapagos. We take a group photo from there.

We go snorkeling from the beautiful beach afterwards. We snorkel around the large cliff and this is a beautiful trip. Easy with the sun warming our backs. There is lot of light and we see a giant Whiptail Stingray. It is lying under a cliff on the bottom, I think it is close to 2 meters including the tail. Unfortunately I do not get a good picture  But there is lots of other colourful fish to look at. Parrotfishes are all over. A giant triggerfish, not really that colourful is also around. Schools of Soldierfish are all around. A Leatherbass, some Porcupines or Pufferfish and lots of lots of others. I lend Henrik the UW camera halfway and I am a little annoyed that his pictures are much better than mine today. Especially I am disappointed that I did not get the Giant Ray.

After the snorkelling we hear that the others have seen Sea Turtles ashore on the other beach and we hurry to the boat to get our cameras and then hurry to the other beach. We end up seeing mating Seaturtles and one of them coming ashore. There are lots of them and also quite many (10+) reefsharks in the water. I think we scared the one turtle left on the beach away. That is not a nice thought if that is really the case.

In the afternoon we again go snorkelling, this time at Sullivan Bay on James Island. It is again a great trip. When I booked the trip to Galapagos I thought I deselected the UW part. But with all this snorkelling I get a really good share and I do not miss scub diving very much. On this trip I see: Yellowbellied Triggerfish, Yellowtail Surgeonfish, Pacific Green Sea Turtle, Whiptail Sting Ray, Wrasse (Mexican Hogfish), King Angelfish (male), Black Striped Salemas, Creolefish, Flag Cabrilla, Whitespotted Pufferfish, Concentric Pufferfish, Parrotfish.

The cook on the boat Roho is really good. Every day there is both fish and meat and we have both soup and dessert every day. We are living like kings and barons. I end the evening sitting on the top deck feeling the cold breeze in my hair. Most days John and Nadia joins me after a while and we have a drink and a nice chat. John is a good guy, and a very good guide. He is both experienced and skilled, and at the same time he is considerate and caring and get along with everyone from the group. I think we all get to like him more every day.

Nov 18, 2008 (Tuesday) - Isabela

Today is real hiking at Sierra Negra on the Island of Isabela. We enter the Island at a small town and it is cloudy weather when we take off in an open bus taking us towards the top. After 45 minutes driving we have to walk. John can not guide us here, because only local guides are allowed on Isabela. We enter a muddy and slippery slope towards the top. After about an hours walk we reach the edge of the crater and walk alongside it, but due to fog and rain we are not able to see anything. The higher north we get the better the weather. Finally after 2 hours we reach a point from where we can overlook the crater. It is really special. The crater is about 10 km in diameter and covers around 75km2 of land, all of dead lava.

When we come back to the basecamp Angel has prepared lunch for us. As always it is delicious and nice. Angel is our waiter and bartender and he is really and Angel. His captivating smile lights up our day and we all like him. Always at our hand. Always at our service. I would have liked to take him with me to Denmark.

Coming back from the Volcano we go to see a shark tunnel. The sharks enter there at high tide, but get caught at low tide and have to wait for the tide to rise again in order to get out. Here are lots of them and of Iguanas.

Finally we sail to see Penguins and we are lucky, there are a good handful standing overlooking the sea.

In the afternoon we start making a song for the crew. A simple one to express our gratitude to them. Always smiling, always at our service. And funny too.

Nov 19, 2008 (Wednesday) – Santa Cruz – Giant Tortoises

We enter the mainland of Santa Cruz and take a short busride to go visit Las Primicias which is a farm where we can see Giant Tortoises. This is truly one of the highlights of the trip. The tortoises are really giant. We see them resting in a small pond or wandering around. We can both see and hear them eating. Karen is lucky to see a couple mating. They are a little shy so we have to be slow and careful when getting near them, but they are very cute. John says they remind him of E.T. I agree.

In the afternoon we go to the Darwin Institute to see the breeding of the Tortoises and to see Lonesome George. George is no more living up to his name, he has mated a couple of times and eggs are now being hatched. It will be exciting to see if any of his offspring will survive and also if they will be fertile (able to produce offspring). Unfortunately Lonesome George lets me down. He has just been fed and is resting in the shade. All we get to see is his tail.

In the afternoon we present our song for the crew. It is a powerpoint presentation with pictures of each crewmember and a single text for each. We sing it on the tune “Hjulene I bussen…..”. I think they like it, even though they can not be there all of them. After dinner John picks up his guitar and sings and plays for us. I enjoy it. It is a very nice evening. As usual I end it sitting on the top deck feeling the cool breeze in my hair. Leaving Galapagos is truly difficult and I feel a bit sad.

Nov 20, 2008 (Thursday) – Back to Quito

We get up early to see a rock rising steep from the sea outside San Christobal. It is a nice morning, but I am still sad that we have to leave now. A dolphin plays alongside the boat for a while. Soon it is over. We are packing our gear and get in the Panga’s to San Christobal.

Here I share a glass of freshly squeezed Orange Juice with Nadia and John while we wait for the bus. Finally we go to the airport and we say goodbye to John, who I have come to like and respect. I really don’t want to leave Galapagos. How can anyone ever understand what I feel at this moment. I take a lot of time for reflection on the plane going back and in the evening I feel tired and sad. But we go out for dinner at the Italian restaurant “Luki” just nearby the hotel and we have yet another cosy evening.

Nov 21, 2008 (Friday)

Today is “free play” all day. Nelly and Vibeke and I stroll down the road to find a shoppingcenter and get a cup of coffee. I think we need this “resting” day to digest all the impressions and experiences that we have had. In the afternoon we take lunch close to the Hotel and a small old lady watch me leave half of my coke. She is poor, probably homeless and I give her the rest of it. She swallows it in one gulp. In Ecuador it is common that the oldest son take care of the parents, but what if he does not have the ability to or want to. So there are quite many older beggars. Also there are a lot of kids selling candy or polishing shoes, while they should be at school. They have to support the family income.

Nov 22, 2008 (Saturday)

At 8.30 we gather in the reception to take a busride to the Otavalo market. The trip is over two hours but on the way we stop at the Equator line to take photos, use the restrooms and shop a little. The countryside we pass on the way is very beautiful with nice sceneries of mountains and valleys. Everything is very green which is a nice contrast to the infertile lavastones of Galapagos.

We drive on the Panamerican Highway which goes (almost) all the way from the north to the south of the Americas. But it is not a highway as we know it. People are walking alongside the road, some are feeding their cows or horses. Dogs live and run freely along the road and the consequences are obvious. We see lots of dead dogs and other animals along the road. People also live right along the road, some in bigger and protected houses, a lot of them in unfinished houses in poor conditions. But they all seem happy.

The market is huge, but not so different from the smaller market we visited in town. We shop for about one hour and then drive to a smaller village to have lunch. At this point we are now accustomed to at least three dishes and popcorn in the soup is normal for us.

This town is specialised in leather and after lucn we go shop for leather. It is extremely cheap, but the quality is fairly good. You can get a belt for 5-10 USD, a bag for 25 USD and jackets are between 65 – 150 USD. I do not buy anything.

In the evening we go out together as a group for the last time. The “Pavarotti” restaurant is really good and three waiters are “nursing” us while we enjoy this last meal in Ecuador. The food is delicious and so is the wine. A good end to a great vacation.