Galapagos Islands 2016

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Go back to the Machu Piccu portion of the trip.
The Galapagos Islands are 600 miles west of mainland Ecuador and since the 1970's has been protected by that country, after many attempts to exploit them by buccaneers and whalers (ate hundreds of thousands of tortoises), a prison colony (failed), and various settlers none very successfully (while introducing species that still raise havoc) until the advent of eco-tourism. Most of the people on the islands are directly or indirectly involved in tourism.

I can think of many reasons for going to the Galapagos, including:

  • See a place famous for its evolutionary history
  • Experience equatorial islands' natural beauty and complexity
  • Enjoy a vacation with good people.
The Darwin Foundation does a lot of scientific research, but is much less powerful than Galapagos National Park. The latter employs a significant percentage of the people on the islands. They have been successful in eradicating or severely reducing feral goats and donkeys, and on one island, rats. That is a significant accomplishment! Despite the damage done, it remains relatively one of the best preserved places on earth. Good thing, as it's remote location means it has fewer species than elsewhere, many of them endemic. Yep, that's part of the reason several have diversified to fill niches and created new 'species.'
A bit about the biosphere as our landings were to see these. There are vertical/altitudinal ecological areas:
  • high tundra (not visited),
  • highlands 'wet' forest,
  • dry zone and coastal dry zone,
  • mangrove
  • coastal waters and marine
The Highlands benefit from condensed fog, the garua which give them a tropical look with the Scalasia trees ( a big Aster) now largely replaced by agriculture and Ficus trees. This is where the tortoises hang out most of the year. Depending on the species, they trek down to the coast for part of the year. I visited a highland Tortoise park area on Santa Cruz with many mature dome shaped animals. Some species evolved a 'saddle' shape to allow them to reach higher. A tortoise 'fight' is hissing and seeing which can reach their head higher. Everything green within the reach of their long necks gets eaten by them and land iguanas.
The dry zone extends above the coastal area until it transitions to highland, and on the leeward sides of islands. It usually gets about three weeks of rain each year (with the Ninos and Ninas all bets are off) during which everything leafs out, blossoms, bears fruit and/or grows. While I was there all the Palo Santo (sandalwood) trees were dormant and leafless, but smelled good. The cactus/Opuntia trees lower pads get eaten by iguanas and tortoises. I found a Galapagos dove nesting in a curled cactus pad.

The coastal dry zone is where the Boobies and Frigate Birds nest. Black marine iguanas gather in huge numbers to warm up before and after swimming out to eat algae growing on the submerged rocks. Their numbers can fall by 80% during El Ninos when the algae fails. Areas of sand beaches are protected as the Green Sea Turtles lay their eggs there. The plants that keep their 'leaves' are waxy leafed and low to the ground. Gives the phrase 'desert island' meaning.

I do not have pictures of the mangrove coast, which may be the richest areas. We visited Black Turtle Cove which had lots of red mangrove coastal area, rich with eagle and golden rays and sharks. Red mangrove is the 'walking stick' mangrove that is salt tolerant and on the coast; black and white mangrove are further inland. All support much life and are threatened by coastal development (think twice before buying shrimp from Thailand as they are ripping out the mangroves for aquaculture). Herons, Frigate Birds, Pelicans, Yellow Warblers, and more.

Snorkeling was possible most days and much lives there: sea lions, turtles, white tip sharks, eagle rays, parrot fish, surgeon fish, trigger fish, and many wrasse among others. A beard means your mask doesn't seal well (sigh). I could go on, but....

Of course the people are the reason for going anywhere. The Galapagos people have embraced having international hordes invading their space. I'm sure they get tired of tourists, but I did not detect any of that. Their history is spotted, but I felt safe and well regarded everywhere. They were tolerant of my meager Spanglish. The fish market is where wildlife meet people in Pt. Ayora, Santa Cruz.

My berth was more than comfortable on the Queen Beatriz, a double hulled yacht for 16 passengers. The staff were great, the food was good, the guides knowledgeable,.... Intrepid/Peregrine (an Aussie company) does a good job and is about half the price of the National Geographic boat that carries 100 passengers.

I was again a group of one added to other groups; six other for the first few days and twelve for the remainder of the tour. They were almost all from New Zealand or Australia which was just great for me. As one does, we fell into snippets of personal sharing at odd times in the dinghy or at meals.

All too soon, it was back into transit mode, flying back to Quito. I had wished I booked the return flights for the same day, but it worked out that I very much enjoyed a day of museums in the old town and a wonderful dinner at La Casa de Geronias on la Rhonda, and a great conversation with the cabbie and his wife who took care of me back to the airport.

Karen met me at the airport. Bienvenidos a casa!

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