Sunday, March 29, 2009

Galapagos Trip

Galapagos 2009
The Galapagos are a group of volcanic islands located near the equator about 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador on the northwest side of South America. Charles Darwin did much of his research in the islands and they are the home of much unique wildlife such as giant land tortoises, land and marine iguanas, sea lions, marine turtles, and birds such as flamingos, penguins, three types of boobies, flightless cormorants, albatross, frigate birds, and many others. We spent a week living on the yacht Floreana exploring many of the islands. They are an Ecuadorian National Park and we had a park licenced guide, Rodrigo, that led us during our adventure. Photo opportunities were everywhere and we made many wonderful images. Each day we would go ashore twice to explore, traveling by inflatable boats called pangas. We also snorkeled most days.
Mar 17 - Departed St Louis to Houston to Quito, Ecuador on Continental Airlines. Arrived on schedule and met our contact at the airport for our ride to motel. All of our group arrived as scheduled with bags, seven on our flight, four the day before. Early arrivals spent a day visiting market.
Mar 18 - Breakfast at motel. Guided bus tour of Quito, Visited Old Town and several historic churches. Went to location with large silver statue and panoramic view of the city. Visited the equator and pictures available standing on the line. Lunch at the equator. Back to motel around 2:30 pm. Afternoon free. Dinner at La Rhonda, great food and Ecuadorian entertainment.

Mar 19 - Breakfast at motel. 8:30 pick up to go to airport to fly to islands (Tame Airlines). Hour delay leaving Quito, landed on Baltra. Met by our guide after picking up bags and in processing with the park. Bus to boat. Lunch then travel to North Seymour island. Went ashore for 800 meter walk. Saw many blue footed boobie pairs getting ready to nest and performing mating rituals. Frigate males displaying red balloon throats for mating to lure female. Also several land and marine iguanas and seal lions. One male sea lion blocked trail was reluctant to move. Many Sally light foot crabs where we landed pangas. Also Galapagos terns. Cute baby sea lion near panga.
Back to boat for short move. Snorkeling or panga ride options for late afternoon. At dinner were welcomed on board by our crew including out park naturalist.

Mar 20 - Early morning boat move to Northwest Santa Cruz island. Morning two kilometer walk. More sally crabs, great blue heron, large land iguanas. Black rock volcanic beach with large tree cacti. Several Darwin finches & fly catcher. After lunch moved to Whale Bay. Snorkeled near shore. Saw a shark, giant ray, parrot fish, and many others. Huge schools of very tiny fish. Also went on short panga ride along shore. Saw & photographed nesting pelicans, marine and land iguanas, blue footed boobie, and great blue heron.. After dinner boat moved to south side of Santa Cruz Island and spent the night in Puerta Ayora harbor.

Mar 21 - After breakfast, panga to the shore and a bus took us to the Charles Darwin research center. Here many fertilized land tortoise eggs are brought from four different island to be hatched and then rereleased back into the wild. If left in the wild, eggs would be destroyed by black rats that have invaded the islands. . Many huge land tortoises are available for close up photography at the center. We also saw hatched babies of different ages. The most famous tortoise is Lonesome George, the last remaining member of his species. George is now somewhere between 80-100 years old. He now has some girl friends from closely related species, but so far no off spring have been hatched. He has mated with the females but no babies. If babies are hatched, experts are not sure if the babies will be able to reproduce or not. There were also some nice land iguanas at the center. We did some shopping on the way back to the pangas and also a stop at an internet connection place to catch up on emails. Then back to the boat for lunch.
After lunch we took the panga back to town and caught a bus to the high country on Santa Cruz island and went looking for land tortoises in the wild. After a 30 minute bus ride, we parked and went for a short walk and found about 10 tortoises in various stages of activity from sleeping to walking around. We had many good opportunities for photos. We also visited a 400 meter lava tube in the same area. This was basically a cave created by past volcanic lava activity. We then went back to town and caught the panga back to our boat for dinner. We are scheduled to leave around midnight for out next destination.

Mar 22 - Floreana Island. In the morning, we went to Post Office Bay, another Lava Tunnel, and we snorkeled on the beach. The Post Office is a letter exchange where you check for mail going near your home and they deliver it after your return. Spent long time with Sally Light Foot Crabs on black lava rocks. We also saw seal lions and a penguin. Several sea turtles were seen while snorkeling.. Back to boat for lunch.
After lunch, we moved the boat to Puerta Cormorant Bay. Saw more sea lions on green sand beach. Walked to Flamingo Lagoon and saw three flamingos. Walked on to beautiful White Sand Beach and saw sea turtles in the surf and some nests on the beach. Many black lava rocks for image contrast. Also saw some rays and small sharks in the surf.
Back to boat to prepare for snorkeling and panga ride at Champion Island. Snorkeled with curious sea lions and variety of different fish and a couple of sea turtle. Also saw marine iguanas along the coast. Back on the boat, we started our trip to Espanola Island.

Mar 23 - Espanola Island. Morning walk at Punta Sachez. Trail was rocky and animals very close, sometimes on the trail. Many marine iguanas in variety of colors - greens and reds, plus usual black. Some were digging nests prior to laying eggs. Inquisitive seal lions on the beaches. Galapagos Hawk greeted us upon arrival. Many blue footed boobies close to trail doing courtship rituals - raising and lowering blue feet in a pre-mating dance. Males & females opening and closing wings to flirt with each other. Also saw nesting masked boobies, some with chicks. Many opportunities for flying images of both boobies and frigate birds. Also saw swallow tailed gulls, Galapagos doves and mocking birds. Blow hole on the coast spewing water into the air for 40 feet or so with the largest waves.
Gardner Bay. After lunch, took pangas to Gardner Bay, beautiful white sand beach with emerald water. Many sea lions were laying on the beach. One pup trying to find its mother. At one end of the beach, some black lava rocks with marine iguanas with red stripes. Rocks made great foreground interest for photographs. We also snorkeled off the beach out to a black lava island. After returning to the boat, we left the area to travel to San Cristobal Island.

Mar 24 - After breakfast, took panga to town to interpretive center for the national park. Much information and displays on the Galapagos Islands and their history. After the visit, walked to town pier for shopping and another internet opportunity. Panga ride back to the boat for lunch.
After lunch, boat moved to Lobos Island. We went snorkeling off the coast with a group of sea lions. They were very anxious to play with us, darting in and out and swimming very close to us and then changing course to miss at the last available moment. It was a fantastic experience with wonderful photo opportunities. It was one of the best snorkeling experiences that I have witnessed. We also saw and photographed a large sea turtle and a marine iguana eating on the bottom. It was the best underwater photo opportunity of the trip so far.
We came back to the boat, grabbed our other cameras, and went for a short hike on a Lobos Island trail. It was a rocky trail and we saw more male frigate birds with red balloons - the red pouch on their necks inflated with air to attract possible mates for the mating season. We also saw more pairs of blue footed boobies doing their nesting ritual, marine iguanas, and more sea lions. We also saw an immature boobie with white feet that had not changed to blue yet.

March 25 - Traveled to Santa Fe Island with boat starting around 3 am. In the morning after breakfast, went to shore and walked a 2 kilometer trail. Prickly Pear Cactus forest of trees with bark. The bark has grown to prevent the land iguanas from eating the cactus plant. Many land iguanas, marine iguanas and hybrids on the island. Cactus blooming yellow flowers. Sea lions and sally light foot crabs near the coast. Tropic birds flying below cliffs where we were standing. Swallow tailed gulls with young.
During lunch, moved to South Plazas Island. Went ashore and walked short trail. Saw Sea lions, land iguanas, and several blue footed boobies. There were some small sharks working off the beach. After walk, snorkeled off the beach. Saw one very photogenic marine turtle and many fish. A couple of rays also swam by. Sea lions on the shore, but none came to swim with us. Back to the boat and traveled to Black Turtle Cove on Santa Cruz Island.

March 26- After breakfast, took panga ride into Black Turtle Cove. As you would expect, we saw many marine turtles in the low tide water. We also saw several large groups of golden rays. A Great Blue Heron was fishing near the shore. Several blue footed boobies perched on the rocks and many sally light foot crabs on the rocks near the water level.
Returned to boat to do final packing and load to go to airport on Balta to catch our plane back Quito. We got on an earlier flight and ended up in Quito a little early. Went shopping to a market with Ecuadorian made goods. Had a great dinner and went back to motel for a 4:15 am pickup to fly home.

March 27 - No problems traveling back home. Flew from Quito to Houston to St. Louis. All connections went well.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

All Images Copyright Roger Devore. All Rights Reserved.