Please scroll down and read/view, days are posted in order of travel. Album links have been posted below each write-up; videos to come soon. Please contact me if you have questions.
A Day in Guayaquil 11.29.19
La Danesa in Guayaquil (Duran Province)
I have to shout out my personal guide, Diana, who expanded my view of the vibrant history, foods, and culture of Ecuador. We traveled outside of the city by way of El Veinte Seis where you can find the colorful outdoor market with a variety of fruits, vegetables, and other various food items. We tasted mango and Guava Machete. There are 49 varieties of mango in Ecuador and their major exports include sugar cane, rice, bananas, and of course, mango. They also are one of the largest producers of Teak wood. The houses in the farmland areas are made of bamboo and are on stilts due to the monsoonal rainy climate. Ecuador is made up of four regions, the highlands, Amazonian/Tropical, coastal, and Galapagos (which my adventure awaits). I also learned that the famous Panamanian Hat is actually Ecuadorian known as the Paja Toquilla. There have been many tribes and cultures that make up the history of Ecuador that include the Valdivias, Las Vegas, Maya, Aztecs, African tribes like the Ibarra, and Inca. Italians were also an integral part in building Guayaquil itself due to the current president at the time (in 1896) needing to rebuild the city after a major fire. He wanted an Italian-esque vibe for the newly built city back in those days.
On my visit to La Danesa (the Danish), a 500 hectare farm with painted horses as well as Peruvian Vaso Fino Horses (for dressage) , I got to explore the makings of chocolate. From growing to cultivating to creating magnificence, I saw it all. We also inner-tubed down the Chimbo river which comes from Chimborazo, a 20,564 foot inactive volcano within the Andes Mountain range. The farm is home to many species of birds like the Pied-Water Tyrant, the Black-Cheeked Woodpecker, and the Turkey Vulture (I spotted each of these with the help of Diana). We also took a nice bike ride around, ate delicious food, and I to round out the day I got to milk a cow! What an exciting adventure all in a day's work.
San Cristobal Island 11.30.19
We landed on San Cristobal Island in the late morning. This is the third largest island and is populated by about 8,000 individuals. It is a very laid back beach city and holds the title of capital/administrative center of the Ecuadorian province of Galapagos. We spent the day exploring, eating delicious pastries from the Panederia. We just happened upon it because a statue of Chief Wiggum (a famous Simpsons character) was standing outside and Cristina had to get a pic with it. The Sea Lions were in rare, but normal form welcoming us all along the way. If it wasn't for the fences around the shoreline, they probably would have been walking the streets with us as well. Sally Lightfoot crabs (pictured in the header) were also on the welcoming committee as well as Marine Iguanas. Honorable Mention: Godzilla was modeled after the Marine Iguana. After our stroll through the city we took a sunset cruise to the Resting Lion (a huge monolithic structure that erects from the depths of the sea and looks like a lion sitting). Once up close you can see that there is a massive fissure that separates the head from the body, where sharks are prominently seen.
Española Island 12.1.19
This was an exciting day that started out at Gardner Bay for a nice long deep water snorkel, the first of many opportunities to get in the water. Our first greeting from our initial descent into the deep blue ocean was from the Yellow-tailed Surgeonfish. A neat welcome since I am a part of the Aspirations in Medical Sciences (AIMS) Academy at Jordon HS, LoL. We also saw a bountiful number of King Angelfish as well as Green Sea Turtles. This volcanic island is also home to Sea Lions who happened to be nesting. After our snorkel we took a zodiac over to the white sandy beach (with some lava sand mixed in) for a stroll along the shore. I had a very interesting encounter with a few barking Sea Lions you can see on Instagram @kvmeade. The male Sea Lion barked his way past me towards and then away and then back again, but brought two of his homies with him this time. The communicated with each other as they swooped under my floating, confused body. I decided I should get out of the water at that point. Along with these vibrant creatures we saw Marine Iguana's, Sally Light-footed Crab, Blennies, and Mockingbirds. Quite a spectacular day of nature and adventure.
In the afternoon we visited Punta Suarez where we were greeted by the welcoming party, Sea Lions, Marine (Christmas) Iguana's, Lava Lizards, and of course, the Mockingbirds (curious creatures). We hiked by boulder hopping and traveled around the island for almost 2 miles; we went from one side of the island to the other and looped around finding Swallow-tailed Gulls, Nazca Boobies, and the Waved Albatross (fun videos to come of the birds in action). These birds were nesting, so it was easy to identify them. We also spotted the famous Finches; the Warbler and Medium Ground Finch. It was a long day of exploration.
Floreana Island 12.2.19
We started this day off on the photography hike, it allows you to start early, yet take your time in order to get the perfect shot. Our welcome committee were the nesting Blue-footed Boobies!! They were in rare form maintaining nests and courting. We also saw how life can turn so fast, a washed up and beginning to decompose Sea Turtle lay on the shore just feet from our drop-off point. It is a wonder of how this came to be. Down the shoreline there was a Galapagos Heron waiting for its next meal patiently on the rocky shore. After a long while of being able to observe these magnificent birds (including Warbler Finches), we walked inland a short distance to the salt brine pool where American and Chilean Flamingos were feeding and nesting as well. There was a baby that continued to call out for its mother and when it attempted to make its way toward her, she flew in the opposite direction; this happened twice. It was kind of funny and sad at the same time. The baby had already probably been fed earlier in the day, but was being greedy.
@Champion Islet - An Offshore Volcanic Cone
The day continued after breakfast (yes, that first part of the day started super early - as we say, the early bird gets the worm) with a one and one half hour deep water snorkel! There was so much to see while swimming with the Galapagos Sea Lions who took most of our attention. Yellow-tailed Surgeonfish, Anchovy, King Angelfish, White-tipped Reef Shark, Red-billed tropic birds, Sooty Terns, and Swallow-tailed Gulls to name a few.
That first encounter with the Sea Lions a couple days ago was unexpected, plus they were barking at me. So this time I was much more comfortable with being in the open water with them. They are so playful and curious. I can't wait to post the videos!
Santa Cruz Island 12.3.19
Puerto Ayora and Highlands
63 Tortoises were counted on the way to the El Chato Dos Reserve, the second of its kind - hence the "Dos." The Geochelone Elephantopus is the largest of the turtle genus. The giant tortoise can live to be over 100 years old! The day didn't start there though. We began our journey on Santa Cruz by heading through the populated city to the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF), visiting the famous, now in taxidermy, Lonesome George (the last tortoise of its kind) and Diego (who has fatered over 1,000 tortoises and still going). There were also nurseries that support reproduction efforts.
Everyone who lives on Santa Cruz works and there is no homelessness. Pureto Ayora is the name of the bustling seaside town that supports tourism, but also sustainability. Although the Galapagos are moving toward eliminating single use plastics, they still are used on Santa Cruz.
The CDF not only works on tortoise sustainability, but birds as well among other species that are endemic to the islands. They focus on captive rearing where the focus is on indirect contact so as not to disrupt the species but rather to support its progress. One species that is of current focus is the Mangrove Finch because there are only 100 individuals left in the wild. Another project focuses on the Vampire Bird Fly: Philornis Downsi (P. Downsi) and its elimination. There are 20 Galapagos birds that are hosts including 12 species of Darwins Finches. The flies larva are a parasitic fly larva that feeds on the babies of finches. Once the fly lays eggs in the nests of finches the babies become victims of its rage for life in it's own development. Larva burrow in baby birds nostrils and feeds on the baby affecting it's birdsong in the long run, which effects reproduction. They are developing attractants (pheromones, food, etc.) to trap flies, but the most effective way is making them sterile by producing a generation of males that are sterile so as to pass the gene along to other flies therefore eradicating the problem. This process takes time.
There are so many things goin on that support life & sustainability at the CDF. I was happy to share my visit with my students who joined me digitally on the foundation grounds and then walked with me through the city to the fish market to see some of the locals (Marine Iguanas, Sea Lions, Pelicans, and the Great Blue Heron) belly up for freebies.
After visiting the CDF and town we headed to the highlands where we learned how sugarcane is harvested to produce the sweet and alcoholic pleasures people enjoy. We saw how the burro is used to press the cane, how the cane is dried and added to the cacao (which I learned all about in Guayaquil), and how fermentation of the sugarcane can lead to alcoholic beverages. After a little chemistry lesson with Adriano Cabrera we headed over to the tortoise reserve to see these massive creatures in the wild.
It was awesome-azing to spend a full day here on the island.
I also caught a Vegetarian Finch eating on camera while on the CDF grounds and a Mangrove Finch landed on my Gimble device while I was chatting with the kiddos back at Jordan.
We also learned that Galapagos has 20% of introduced species, if it reaches 36% (and this is for any island/habitat) it is at a point of no return. The CDF along with its partners (including Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic) are working on maintaining this pristine ecosystem.
Santa Cruz, Guy Fawkes, and Daphne 12.4.19
Today began with an early wake-up and disembarkation at 6:30am to the North side of Santa Cruz (desert-type zone). We were greeted by Marine Iguanas, Boobies (the Blue-footed ones), and Lava Gulls along the volcanic Cerro Dragon (Dragon Hill) coastline area of Santa Cruz. The Marine Iguanas were in rare form, but the iguana we came to see is the Galapagos Land Iguana. It is this massive iguana, yellow in color, that makes the big tunnels/caves to live in. They are very solitary creatures, not that much motion going on. But on the active side of things was the Black-winged Stilt, a few Semipalmated Sandpipers, and of course, the Marine Iguanas! A fun day at this location as we traversed through rocky yet mostly dirt (fine red dirt - similar to that of Uganda) trail for 2 miles. I saw the Carpenter Bees at work pollinating and strolled all the way down the trail until I heard goats baying in the distance; it was two of them! These have been eradicated on the islands, so for two of them to be in the distance calling requires our Naturalists to put in a call to headquarters to come pick these two rouge animals up. The Foundation is working on eliminating the feral goats, cats, and dogs because they are not endemic to the Galapagos.
I spotted a Stone Scorpionfish within the underwater "Ceramic Garden." Although he was well camouflaged he was quite a site! Along with the Scorpionfish our guides pointed out two Hammerhead sharks just prior to our entry into the water, but they decided to be elusive in the deep (which I was kind of happy about - it would have been fun to see them under the water though). Later on as we continued around this monolithic structure I saw a Stream Hogfish eating a Sea Urchin! There were so many Black Striped Salema and Juvenile Grunts it felt like they were actually following us around because we never lost site of them. The Harlequin and Rainbow Wrasse were beautiful with their magenta, purple and yellow colors. I get why they call it the Ceramic Garden.
We rounded out the day with a sunset cruise around Daphne Major with Minor in the distance. We watched the sun go down below the horizon and observed the wild activity around the islet as Frigatebirds hovered above.
Bartolome & Sombrero Chino 12.5.19
A 6:15am Hike + Snorkel (beach launch) + Snorkel (open water launch) = 1300 calories burned before lunch! Thanks for the new FitBit Momma! That just meant that I got to enjoy an extra dessert, LoL! Today was surreal with a hike up the dormant volcano known as Bartolome Islet seeing Lava Gulls, a Galapagos Adolescent Hawk on the climb up, Lava Lizards, and a really colorful Grasshopper. There were massive secondary cones in the water adjacent to the main cinder cone. This Islet has 360 degree views from the top as you look around the tiny red lighthouse. This site was great for seeing old lava flows and puffy basaltics (sooty lava flows); they look heavy, but they're not because their full of air. On the way back to the ship two blue-footed Boobies tried to steal a Pelicans meal! They ended up dropping it and the Pelican swooped it up again and wasted no time in gulping it down.
The first snorkel was a launch from the nearby beach (right-sided beach in the photo from atop Bartolome) with a rust-colored sand; there were not too many black bits from broken up lava flows like some of the other beaches. As we entered we could see the lava flows that came into the water to make another refuge for underwater living. we were greeted by the Galapagos Penguins not too far off the coast; it was like a mini-penguin crossing that stopped us in our water tracks. To the left of us there was this massive lava tower (similar to the one on Kilimanjaro we camped at) with great big boulders you knew came from one of Bartolome's vents shooting out in a violent eruption. These big boulders were now home to a multitude of sea life as well as a Wandering Tattler who kicked it on the rocks while we swam throughout the underwater boulder forest.
The second snorkel we launched in open water on the left side of the photo at the rocks opposite the side we initially started on. We snorkeled all the way around to the back of the lava tower in the photo! White-tipped sharks were spotted on the way there as well as a variety of colorful fish and sadly some dead coral. And of course, PENGUINS!!! It was a long trek, but worth the experience. Shout out to Cristina Veresan for taking my Pentax camera down to get those beautiful Invertebrate pics (yay SeaStar!)
A THIRD SNORKEL!!! I didn't realize we'd be in the water 3 times today, phew. So exciting to see Sombrero Chino Islet with Santiago Island right across the way. We launched in open water that was the most pristine aqua marine blue you've ever seen especially against the black background of the lava flows. We snorkeled through the straight along with the current which was super strong and sweeping when you passed a particular bend, it was AWESOME!!! There was really no need to flip the flippers attached to my feet in order to propel myself. We got to view the Panamic Cushion Sea Stars, the Christmas-tree worm hiding in the rocks, Sea Lions, a variety of Parrotfish (young and old), and Guineafowl Pufferfish among a slew of others. Copepod Plankton (#HOLO) and Seaworm larva were some of the tiniest creatures we were swimming with. Arrow Worms were also around - they eat the animal Phytoplanktons. It's so interesting to think of the tiny things that are the basis for life, plus we sometimes end up eating them because of unintentionally swallowing ocean water, eek.
You can check out the video of the Penguins and Guineafowl Pufferfish on Instagram or Facebook.
My body decided to wake itself up as we crossed over the equator at 3:49am!! So I took a screenshot of my phone cause I was not getting up to walk to the Bridge (Lat. 00o 10'654oN / Lon. 0-90o 0-3'-211oW). Tonight is another opportunity around 11pm/12am, so we'll see.
Red-footed Boobies hanging out on the Red Mangrove on the Island of Genovesa - babies, adolescents, adults - It was a total family reunion going on as we beach-landed on the island that Darwin visited so long ago. In the same general breeding area were Nazca Boobies, Swallow-tailed Gulls, and the Giant Frigates. The senses were overwhelmed with a cacophony of birds and a Trap of Boobies. So many puns can be made from the vocab involving these Boobies. There were also Color-Morphed Red-footed Boobies (they are white/black w/red feet rather than the brown version with red feet). There was also this old and crotchety looking Heron that looked like it might be on it's last leg or just resting heavily.
Later in the day we took a nice deep water snorkel were we spotted White-tipped sharks, massive Sting Rays (one had a bite taken out of it). It was the warmest water this far, so that was nice. There were also Christmas-tree Worms and Anemone all around living on the rocks. Our usual visitors, the Sea Lions, joined in the swim. On another note, I was also low-key completing a little EcoBlitzing and found 3 pieces of this blue plastic floating in the water. Didn't think I'd actually see plastic out here, but I guess reports are correct, it's everywhere! I collected it and brought it back to the ship for proper disposal, it's the little things.
Later in the afternoon we took a hike throughout Genovesa and returned watching the sun set.
A beautiful day of exploration!
Shout-out of the Day: Thank you to Cristina Veresan for taking my still-shot Pentax and getting some great invertebrate shots as well as pics of me. Also, Thank you to our Naturalist under the water, Javier, for taking my go-pro down to get a much closer pic/video of the Sting Ray - those things are massive!