Monday, May 31, 2010

Hello from the Guayaquil Airport

Surprised by an ash plume from a nearby volcano this airport was closed on Friday and Saturday. But it reopened for our flight from the Galapagos yesterday, and we are now waiting to board our flight to Miami where we continue onward to Detroit if all goes as planned. The Lindbladt tour operations were all fantastic: they accompanied us from the hotel to the airport and all the way to the security line. Now of course we're on our own, depending on American Airlines. But so far so good. We have a couple thousand more photos that we haven't posted yet, and lots more to say about our remarkable trip.

UPDATE: all flights were on time and we arrived home just before midnight. I'll be posting more photos now that I am back to my own internet connection. On the boat it was fast -- but cost a lot.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


Today's remarkable bird: the albatross. They nest in large numbers on cliffs above a beautiful seascape, and they are engaging in "beak jousting" where they fence with their beaks. When they soar they are amazing. We wonder how many more remarkable birds we might have seen if we stayed here longer, but this was the last night of our cruise on the National Geographic Islander.

We hope to make it to Guayaquil tomorrow and home on Monday. BUT a volcano is erupting near Guayaquil, and ashes have erratically closed the airport. So we'll see if we get home. We thought that ash plumes were only a problem in Europe, but we were wrong.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Beautiful Islands

Zodiac boats took us from the ship to snorkeling, hiking, kayaking and bird watching. Every island is beautiful and different.


This morning we went to the Post Office Barrel, a 200 year old tradition on Floreana Island. For hundreds of years, after the discovery of these previously uninhabited islands, whalers, pirates, and mariners stopped here to look for water and (regrettably) to take the huge tortoises as a source of fresh meat. Floreana had the best water supplies, so it was a common stopping point. An English captain had the idea of placing a barrel where any ship could place letters addressed back to their homes. Any ship that stopped checked for letters that they might be able to deliver, or to pass on for delivery. It could take years for a letter to make its way -- remember, sailing voyages could last several years.

The cruise ships now stop and leave post cards at a similar barrel in the same location. Passengers volunteer to hand-deliver the post cards from earlier cruise ships. As everyone is flying home soon, a card might get there before the passenger. We sent a few, but none appeared to be addressed to anywhere we could deliver them. We’re curious how long it will take. I don’t think the recipients will be as happy as the families of sailors who were gone from home for years.

We continue to see penguins, just a few at a time. One was swimming in Post Office Bay. Yesterday, one was sitting on a rock as we took a Zodiac boat ride around the shore on Isabella Island. We were watching him from a few feet away when he brayed, and almost immediately we saw a second penguin swimming up from under the boat: evidently his mate, whom he had summoned. Both sat right in front of us on a rock, preening their feathers to spread the oil that protects and waterproofs them.

We find these islands beautiful and fascinating, but the contrast with the attitudes of the mariners of the 18th and 19th centuries is strong. They hated the area because it had so little water, and was often very hot. The lava rock was sharp and uninviting. The sight of the sea had no appeal to the men who had spent years on a ship.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

From the foredeck

Frigate birds are thieves -- they steal food from other birds, including their own species. Yesterday Len caught this photo of one frigate bird chasing another that had just caught a fish. A moment later I think they both lost the fish. Greedy, greedy!

We also watched a huge feeding frenzy including boobies swooping down into the water and dolphins and dolphin-sized tuna swimming on the surface, evidently hunting in a huge school, or baitball, of small fish. You can see a tuna (towards the left) jumping out of the water among all the boobies.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


This morning our wake up call invited us up on the bridge to watch whales and birds. Several whales were in the middle distance and pretty far towards the shore of a nearby island. Based on what the naturalists saw, and on Len’s photo of the fluke, they think this was a fin whale. At least two whales were visible, spouting and breaching quite a few times.

Overnight the boat navigated around Isabella, the largest island. We crossed the equator into the northern hemisphere and are now about to cross back into the southern hemisphere, having eaten another huge buffet breakfast.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Elaine's Penguins

Elaine managed to get a photo of two penguins yesterday. We saw them while snorkeling in the water below the rocks, so did not have a camera.

Today we returned to the tortoise-breeding center and then visited a lava tube and a volcanic crater.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Bird Sightings from the Ship

Above is a frigate bird, male, in breeding costume which means he inflates his amazing pouch.
Yesterday as well as the breeding frigate birds, we saw a male blue-footed booby doing a dance to attract the lady blue-footed booby. The lady was just sort of sitting nearby. The boobies also lift their beaks up towards the sky, and they whistle. They sound like a person who can’t whistle very well. Finally the lady decides which one she likes best and they bump beaks for a while. They REALLY look like silly boobies. And they are all over the place.

Today, finally we have seen penguins! Two of them were on the rocks by the sea where we were snorkeling. We didn’t have a camera but we enjoyed seeing and hearing them. One of them pointed his beak up to the sky, flapped his little wing-stubs, and brayed -- the penguin’s cry is like a donkey. He said “hee haw.”

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Hello from the National Geographic Islander

We met Elaine and Larry at the airport as scheduled, boarded our cruise ship the National Geographic Islander, and are now underway to our first hiking destination. First thing, we had a briefing and a low-key disaster drill with life jackets. Lunch was delicious. The ship has satellite access to the internet.

Our final evaluation of the Hotel Silberstein on Santa Cruz island is that they delivered everything they promised, from the airport pick-up to the final guide who took us back to meet the cruise ship reps. It's a pleasant hotel, clean, with good food and a nice atmosphere. The staff are all very helpful.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Friday, May 21, 2010

Swallow Tail Gulls

Swallow tail gulls
Swallow tail gull chick

Today's photos are by Len. We loved the swallow-tail gulls.

Nazca Booby

Rare Hybrid Iguana

On today's boat trip we saw several new species -- swallow-tail gulls (with chicks), nazca boobies, a new species of land iguana, and this extremely rare hybrid between a land iguana and a marine iguana, found only on South Plazas Island where we were hiking. We saw this iguana take a big bite of the cactus. We also saw two normal land iguanas facing off over territory -- they shake their heads and swell their bellies.

Frigate bird

The male frigate birds have a red pouch on their neck, as you can see in this photo (by Len). The females have a white throat. They are definitely magnificent or at least great!

Santa Fe Island

Santa Fe Island is across a narrow -- and today very calm -- channel from Santa Cruz where we are staying. We took a walk to see wildlife, including a beach full of seal mothers and babies. We saw boobies, shearwaters, a Galapagos hawk, and lots more animals and birds.

Blue Footed Booby
The Eclipse, our boat, from which we also snorkeled:
in the water we saw the biggest school of fish we had ever encountered.

Two of many sea lions we walked among on the beach

Sea Lion Skull

A Land Iguana

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Volcanoes and Earthquakes

Lava Tube, Santa Cruz Island

The lava formations here in the Galapagos are both beautiful and interesting. Like the Hawaiian islands, these islands formed as the mid-ocean hot spot spewed magma up between the earth's floating tectonic plates. Many volcanic features remain, though on this island they are eroded and changed by earthquakes and vegetation.

Today we walked part-way through a lava tube several million years old. In the lava tube, water marks, perhaps from the ocean entering the tube at some point, made stripes on the walls, and broken up rocks were on the floor. It went on for some distance past where we stopped walking, at a hole in the roof where sunshine lit the way.

The Crater on Santa Cruz Island

Near the lava tube, we also visited a gigantic crater with nearly vertical walls covered with vegetation and bright green water at the bottom. This is another volcanic feature in the alien Galapagos landscape. All volcanic cones, craters, and rocky outcroppings are very old and much affected by uplifts and fissures from later earthquakes.

Deep clefts in the shoreline make for interesting small lagoons and narrow waterways with vertical sides, where people swim and dive. I visited several of them on a boat ride yesterday.

"Las Grieatas" -- A deep crevasse between the cliffs

Deep channel between the rocks

On Floreana Island, where I visited on Monday, I saw several other types of lava formation in the highlands on the volcanic mountainside. Most impressive: narrow fissures between standing walls of lava rock. Pirates and whalers once lived and kept animals between these walls, making various grooves and square holes in the rock to insert fences and barricades. Nearby were lava caves, rather small, formed when the lava made a "bomb" that left a bubble in the molten rock as it cooled. In the 1930s some German families lived in these caves.

Pirate's Rocky Lair, Floreana Island

Lava bomb cave, Floreana Island

Galapagos Duck

After seeing many blue-footed boobies, noddy terns, finches, and other birds the last bird I saw yesterday was this Galapagos duck swimming in a salt-pan as we walked. We were on our way to one of many amazing deep clefts in the shoreline where salt and a bit of fresh water mix. This island was formed by volcanic activity over the hot spot where the magma comes up, but that was very long ago, and since then earthquakes have caused many rifts and uplifts.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Frigate bird drying its wings

Beach walk, more birds

With the same guide that accompanied us on Sunday, I walked through a wooded area and down to a beautiful white sand beach this morning (while Lenny is on a scuba trip). Finches, vermillion flycatchers, three species of heron, and other birds were everywhere. A few marine iguanas had walked up to sun themselves on the sand. All was peaceful and nearly deserted. For photos of a heron see: Eel for breakfast?

Cactus Finch

Self Portrait in Sand

Galapagos Dove


While I was on the boat yesterday, Len was diving. He saw many sharks and other things like the puffer fish above. I had never heard of a batfish, which I couldn't even recognize as a fish when I first saw this photo:
He looks as if he's about to crawl up onto land, turn into a mammal, and remind us in one more way that Darwin was here.

Monday, May 17, 2010

My First Blue-Footed Booby

My first blue-footed booby.

After this one, I saw a whole colony of boobies on a small conical volcanic island. ON the lowest shore were crabs, sea lions, and marine iguanas. Above them nesting blue-footed and masked boobies. At the top, swirling around, were magnificent frigate birds, getting ready to nest. I spied the red and engorged throat on one as he flew past the boat.

Cruise on the Luna Azul

We had a very long and rough boat ride across to the next island to the north on a fine boat called the Luna Azul -- max speed 37 knots. Finally, we arrived at the dock:
At the dock, sea lions and marine iguanas were resting -- together!

Also a pelican --
Our walk through the high country was very pleasant with light warm rain. We saw volcanic formations and caves (once used by pirates and whalers). We saw another breeding station for the Galapagos tortoises. And we saw lots of finches.

This strange Easter-Island type head might have been carved by European visitors or residents. Or maybe if you stretch the imagination by mainland natives who came from time to time by ship to take tortoises for oil and meat --

The water part of the trip after lunch and a hike had its points, though I admit I had a snorkeling panic and had to be rescued on the first try. The second try, I swam with a baby sea lion and heard the sea lion families calling hoarsely back and forth.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Galapagos Finch

Darwin Research Station

First, a beautiful bird photo by Lenny. We had a spectacular walk to the Darwin research and breeding station just up the street from our hotel. It includes several buildings with maps, photos, and other explanatory material about the wildlife, and we were also accompanied by a very good guide.

Workers at Darwin rescue baby turtles, land iguanas, and other endangered animals and raise them in a natural setting. When the animals mature and their habitats on other islands are returned to a good condition (especially without introduced predators) they are returned to the wild. Baby tortoises can be eaten by rats, for example. We saw a group of men on a truck taking a tortoise down to the dock for return to the wild. The area is also full of birds: we saw several of the famous species of finch.

On the dock, the crabs and marine iguanas are wild --

The tortoises are quite amazing --

We did not get to see Lonesome George, the last of his tortoise species, as he was hiding in his corral. However, these three huge tortoises of a safe species are thought to be around 200 years old --

Flying to the Galapagos

To our surprise, our seats on the flight from Guayaquil to the Galapagos were in first class. Very comfortable. From the air, we saw the city --

And we saw the harbor from which we expect our various boat tours will depart during the next week --

We are checked into the Hotel Silberstein. So far so good. We are going up to the Darwin research station in a little while.