Erupting with Fun

May 29th, 2015 by kono

Hello Galapagos Blog Readers,

We made it to WIFI!!! YES! Granted we are now in Atlanta but… Quick update for you, water is still wet, sun is still hot and the wildlife is incredible. On last Thursday we arrived on board the Floreana and after getting settled, we set out in search of the Galapagos Land Tortoise. We walked through lava tunnels and the lush greenery of Santa Cruz. Of course it rained, but not a light drizzle, it poured. This made for an awesome experience full of puddles, mud and tortoises. We saw a total of five, which is a large quantity for those who have not experienced turtle tracking.

That evening we navigated to Genovesa and Katie discovered seasickness, to the max. Many a conversation was had that night that Katie doesn’t remember but don’t worry Katie survived and is now enjoying the trip and the incessant jokes regarding her weak stomach. Genovesa provides us intrepid explorers with the bird watching experience of a lifetime. There were boobies everywhere!!! Along with the Nazca and Red-footed boobies we saw lava gulls, swallow tailed gulls and the Galapagos Mockingbird. Frigate birds were also present displaying their vibrant red pouches for the ladies. The afternoon consisted of a snorkel in Darwin’s Bay. We got to see numerous reef fish and a quick glimpse of a sea lion as it sped by. Later on we climbed the steps on to the bluff of Genovesa, there we searched for a short-eared owl trying to prey upon the storm petrel bird. The owls blend into the landscape of the bluff and are very difficult to spot. In the end, our spectacular guide, Victor, identified an owl approximately 300 yards away. The rest of us required binoculars to even find the little specimen.

From Genovesa we moved to a channel between Santiago and Bartalome. Who knew you could take so many pictures of rocks on a rainy morning. But they weren’t just any rocks, these rocks had descriptive names like pahoehoe (which apparently means rope in Hawaiian) and Ahah (which coincidentally means pain in Hawaiian) Parts of Santiago are relatively newly formed in the late 1800’s, they have little to no vegetation on them. This gave us all an opportunity to observe the land formation in its truest form. Only a few brave lava lizards ventured out onto the rocks. There were also a few doves hoping to and fro around the pioneer plants that scattered the landscape. Our snorkels for the day gave us a chance to swim with white tipped sharks, schooling fish and a variety of rays. In the afternoon we had the experience of a lifetime. We ventured out to Baralome where we encountered a female sea lion on the steps leading to the trail. After leaving the sea lion to her nap we hiked to the top of Bartalome closely followed by an adult Galapagos Hawk. The hawks have a bright yellow beak and yellow talons. Once at the top we got to view the incredible vista accompanied by our hawk friend. The adult hawk was quickly joined by a juvenile, both of whom were in extremely photogenic moods. We spent a while with the hawks before climbing back down and preparing for the next day.

That evening we traveled to Chinese hat…yes it actually looks like a Chinese hat. On Chinese hat we saw lava lizards, marine iguanas, a great blue heron and baby sea lions. The baby sea lions were especially curious of us. They were eager to come close to us, smelling us to determine if we were their mothers. Many pictures were had before we moved on to the marine iguanas and the rocky shoreline around the corner. The marine iguanas blended in very well to the black rock that made up the shoreline. This made for a prime hazard as we walked along. One had to be very careful not to trip on the iguanas as they slept. Thomas thought it would be a good idea to inspect the edge of the shoreline and was promptly greeted by an enormous wave that nearly nocked him on his back. Thankfully he withstood the on slot and only came out looking like a drowned rat.

6am! Up and in the boats. We traveled for an early island visit and snorkel all before 8:30am. We were greeted by a spectacular show from the boobies. A giant flock of blue-footed boobies was feeding in incredible fashion as they performed simultaneous plunge dives over and over again. After watching the boobies for a while we landed on Tintoreras and walked around surveying the land as all the animals awoke from their night’s sleep. The marine iguanas were soaking in the early rays of the sun before some began to head for the water and sun. A few sea lions were seen sleeping the morning away in the sun. The snorkel gave us all an opportunity to get up close and personal with juvenile Galapagos Sea Lions who were eager to play with us intrepid travellers. In the afternoon we travelled to the mainland of Isabella. We visited a turtle rehabilitation and breeding facility where the giant tortoise is being bred for reintroduction and repopulation on major islands. While at a breeding facility we confirmed reports of an active volcanic eruption on Wolf Volcano in the northeast corner of Isabella. Plans were immediately set in motion to see the active lava flow provided nature did her part.

The next day started even earlier than the last as our guide Victor woke the entire boat at 12am. Lava flows had been spotted in the distance. Most awoke and with sleepy eyes to see their first volcano. Shortly after that most went back to sleep with hopes that the lava would continue flowing for a closer show the following evening. The day then continued as normal with a morning visit and snorkel all with one eye closely watching the volcano to the northeast. The morning visits centralized around the island of Fernandina. Fernandina gave us our first chance to see the flightless cormorants. We were also given more chances to see marine iguanas, lava lizards and Galapagos Sea Lions. The snorkel gave us a very intimate visit with green sea turtles. The turtles grazed on green algae and would basically swim straight into us as we snorkeled by to get to their desired piece of algae. The real fun began in the afternoon. After lunch we toured the side of Isabela in the zodiacs before heading around to the northern side for the lava flow. On the way we were treated to an impromptu whale watch as we saw blows from a blowhole off in the distance. It turns out what we were seeing was a sperm whale. The whales stuck around for a while before diving in search of food. We were also able to see a few Mola mola fish and some common dolphins along the way. After dinner the colors of the volcano came into view. The entire boat watched as the lava came into full view. It was spectacular!! Certainly something we can all check off our bucket list.

This morning we took the zodiacs to Santiago, where we disembarked on the beautiful black sand beach. As we started our hike, Victor pointed out some giant tortoise tracks etched in the sand. This was exciting, as the whalers in the early 1900s harshly affected the population. As we hiked along the ‘Aa’ lava flows, we came across lava lizards and a variety of birds. When we reached the calm lagoons on the other side of the island, we encountered the Galápagos fur seals for the first time on our trip. They lounged about in the water and on the lava ledges rimming the still water along with a few Galápagos sea lions, marine iguanas, and Sally Lightfoot Crabs. As we continued to explore the coastal region, we saw a dwarf octopus slip beneath the water and camouflage itself against the sand. After a quick change back on Floreana, we snorkeled in the area. We spotted a white tip shark, fur seals, and sea lions. We then set off for Rábida, the red island. On our hike, we spotted small ground finches, mockingbirds, and many prickly pear cacti. We were all happy to jump in the water again and escape the extremely hot sunshine for a bit. On this snorkel we came across needle sea urchins, orange cup corals with their polyps out, whiptail stingrays, and many schooling fishes. That evening, to cap our experience, we received diplomas certifying that we crossed the equator during our trip and thanked the crew for making this truly the trip of a lifetime.

And now we are back in Atlanta, Georgia, all have been awake since 6am yesterday, and are eagerly waiting to make it back to Boston to be home. All are excited to share the stories of the adventure we had and many photos taken throughout the week. See you all soon!

UNE Galapagos traveling seniors signing out.

Straddling the Line

May 21st, 2015 by kono

Wednesday May 20th 2015

Today was our first and only full day in Quito, Ecuador. All of us were very excited after what amounted to several planes; a train and bus ride to the hotel last night. We arrived at 1:00 am Maine time but thanks to the Ecuadorians not adopting Day Light Savings Time it was only midnight here. A few short hours of sleep and we hit the ground running at 8 am. After a quick breakfast this morning we met our guide Eduardo and Marco who took us out of Quito towards the equator and northern hemisphere where we would be spending the day. Our ride was an adventure in and of itself. The area around Quito is literally carved into the mountain side; making for a ride full of twists and turns, ups and downs and narrow roadways. Our first stop of the day lead us to the equator, everyone had an opportunity to straddle, stand on and parade around the equatorial line marking 0°0’0”. The site included a compass similar to those found in ancient indigenous tribal areas, alluding to the rich historic traditions of the country. Later on in our journey we arrived in the town of Otavalo where we were able to venture through a local market full of Ecuadorian merchants selling anything from hats and paintings to jewelry and small trinkets. This gave us all an opportunity to barter for goods… some of us were better at that than others. We also had a chance to explore the food market and town square both of which were unique cultural experiences. Our exploration ended at a traditional indigenous house where we were served a traditional four course Ecuadorian meal. After our meal our host gave us a look into the cultural past of the indigenous Ecuadorian people. We then loaded back onto the bus and headed back to our hotel in Quito to prepare for our 4:30 am departure to the airport and 7 am Flight to the Galapagos. There we will follow in the footsteps of Charles Darwin and keep you all updated along the way (provided we can find wifi). CHAO for now!