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Galapagos Trip Story

Galapagos Trip Story

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Published by Richard Fife

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Published by: Richard Fife on Apr 10, 2008
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Trip to the Galapagos IslandsMost if not all tortoise enthusiasts have at one time or another dreamed aboutvisiting the Galapagos Islands. Well that dream finally came true for me, what afantastic experience. My brother Jerry and I traveled to the Galapagos Island onthe “Galapagos Legend”, a cruse ship operated by Klein tours, which caters toadventurers traveling to this island paradise, which was once Darwin’s laboratory.Since the entire Galapagos Archipelago is a National Park and an island treasurebelonging to Ecuador and the rest of the world, there are many rules, restrictions,and regulations that must be adhered to. The Legend cruse ship’s staff andnaturalists knew the rules and how to bring out the best in our experience.Our trip started with a flight from the USA to Quito Ecuador; a beautiful citylocated high up in the Andes Mountains. From Quito we flew to the GalapagosIsland of Baltra and boarded the “Legend” cruse ship on a Monday. Myexcitement immediately began to mount as I saw, for the first time, the scattereddesert islands poking up from a tropical ocean. It was the dry season so thingsappeared pretty desolate.The first afternoon was used to settle into our cabin and included a short briefingto learn the “Rules of the Galapagos”. My brother and I, as well as several other English-speaking travelers, were introduced to our guide and naturalist. Our firstexcursion was to a small island called the Chinese Hat where we saw sea lions,brightly colored sally–light-foot crabs, lava lizards, yellow warblers, a few marineiguanas, and some pigmy penguins. That evening we had dinner and a briefingto learn what the next day’s excursions would include (this would be repeatedevery evening).On Tuesday we embarked on a dinghy (the mode of travel from the cruse ship toeach island) and traveled to Santa Cruz Island where we saw more crabs, yellowwarblers, marine iguanas, and hiked Dragon Hill to see our first land iguanas.The land iguanas are best described as the color of autumn. That day we alsotraveled to Floreana Island where we saw blue footed boobies, sea lions,flamingos, sea turtles, stingrays, and a Galapagos shark. As you may imagine allthe land birds and mammals have no fear of man. We still had not seen our firstgiant tortoise.Our third day’s agenda (Wednesday) included an excursion to Espanola Island,which was abundant with beautiful red-colored marine iguanas, lava lizards, red-footed boobies, green-footed boobies, and Nasca boobies. We also saw themajestic Albatross and the Galapagos hawk. The landscape was fantastic withlava cliffs, blowholes, and breathtaking beaches.Wednesday’s agenda also included a trip to San Cristobal Island and BaquerizoPort where we boarded vans, traveled high into a lush cloud forest, and across
the island to a tortoise reserve, called “La Galapaguer-Reserve”. Thirty-seventortoises had been relocated to the reserve to enhance reproduction and to datethere are 15 hatchling tortoises.On Thursday, our fourth day, we again boarded the dinghy and this time landedon North Seymour Island. This island is known for their friget birds (threespecies) and blue-footed boobies. The island is a rookery for nesting sea birds.Of course we saw more marine iguanas and more sea lions (moms, dads,babies, brothers, and sisters). We returned to the ship and then traveled to theairport in Baltra.Some of the passengers ended their cruse at this point. Jerry and I put on wetsuites and hit the beach. What an experience to swim with sea lions and seaturtles. We returned to the ship and continued to the tiny island of Bartolome.Bartolome Island is just off the East Coast of Santiago Island. It was thebackdrop for the movie “Master and Commander-the Far Side of the World”. Thelandscape is awe inspiring with black volcanic cliffs and lava tubes created by anancient volcano. We saw bright yellow lava cactus, lava lizards, and moreGalapagos penguins. We did more snorkeling here. That night the ocean wasrough so the ship rocked me to sleep (amazingly I didn’t have any problem withseasickness).On Friday morning, our fifth day, the ship arrived at Isabela Island. We saw moreof the spectacular Galapagos Land Iguanas here. We also encountered Darwin’sfinch, sea turtles, and our first “unfenced” Galapagos tortoise. It was a large
Geochelone e. vandenburghi 
, which is only found on this Island. The tortoisewas partly hidden behind a bush about 15 yards from the trail (yes, we stayed onthe trail!).Friday afternoon we arrived at Fernandina Island and landed at Espinosa Point.The La Cumbre Volcano was overwhelming and can be seen from any point onthe island. On arriving at the island it was amazing to see hundreds of boobiesinvolved in a fish feeding-frenzy. All in unison a massive numbers of birds wouldpoint their beaks toward the ocean and complete a vertical dive directly into thewater. The flightless Cormorants are also plentiful on this island.Fernandina Island is home to the largest race of marine iguanas in theGalapagos Islands. Not only are they the largest marine iguanas but their numbers were phenomenal and spread across the lava field. Mangrovesencompass much of this island’s coast. Beautiful yellow lava cactus adorns theblack lava fields.Saturday we arrived at Santiago Island at Egas Port. This was one of our many“wet landings”. Due to landing conditions sometimes we were required to slideover the side of the dinghy directly into the water (usually two or three feet deep)
and make our way to the beach. Darwin spent 9 days on this island. In the1920’s the Egas brothers came here to harvest salt.On Santiago Island we saw fur seals, night herons, and other shoreline birds. Anopening in bottom of one of the large tidal pools allow the ocean to rush into thepool from below and then flush out with the outgoing tide appropriately namedthe “flush toilet”. The lava formations here also include an impressive naturalbridge. We did more snorkeling off the beach of this island.Our second Saturday excursion was deep water snorkeling off the cost of RabidaIsland. This was the best snorkeling experience we had. We saw beautifulcorals, star fish, sea turtles, tropical fish of every shape, color and size, and amarine iguana grazing on the underwater seaweed and algae. After snorkelingwe had a wet landing on the beach to be welcomed by a young Galapagos hawk.There were thick black mangrove trees, marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, apelican rookery, and a “male only” sea lion hang-out.Sunday was our last full day in the Galapagos Islands. Our destination wasSanta Cruz Island again but this time the Darwin Station in the morning and theSanta Cruz Island’s highlands and tortoise reserve in the afternoon.The Darwin Station was everything I expected and more. There were numeroustortoise pens crawling with baby Galapagos tortoises. Each pen was identifiedas to the subspecies of tortoises within. We saw the famous “Lonesome George”the last of his kind. We were introduced to “Diego” a male saddle-back tortoisethat was returned to the islands by the San Diego Zoo. His breeding andpresence encouraged the remaining two male saddle-back tortoises to helpfather 1,500 baby tortoises from 12 females. The Darwin Station was thehighlight of the trip but the trip to the Santa Cruz highlands was a close second.Our bus traveled for some time higher and higher into the misty mountains. Iwas surprised to see houses, huts, and small farms all along the road.Galapagos tortoises roamed freely in and out of yards and gardens. We made ashort stop to visit a lava cave and then onto the tortoise preserve. Adult tortoisesmigrate to the green and lush highlands to feed for much of the year. Femalesthen return to the lowlands to nest because the climate is to cold for eggs tosuccessfully hatch in the mountains. We saw lots of tortoises! At the tortoisereserve we examined huge empty tortoise shells.On Monday morning we took the dingy for a wet landing on Las Bachas Beachon Santa Cruz Island. We found the rusted remains of some World War II barges,which had been left to become buried in the sand in 1943. We also saw seaturtles mating, marine iguanas, and a flamingo. We encountered biting insectshere. Up until this excursion there was no need for insect repellant but I surecould have used it here. From Las Baches we returned to Baltra and our flightback to Quito.

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