Galápagos Week 2 -Itinerary B, days 5-8

  Thursday: Punta Moreno - Navigation to Puerto Villamil with Whale watching (24/11) At Punta Moreno we visited a relatively young lava field -approx. 10 000 years old. Here the gradual inhabitation by spiders, birds and flora can be witnessed. Lagunas had formed with a green borders of plants. Different types of lava flows were visible. 3 different cacti, each with a population of ants that help in the plant's pollination. We saw spiders inhabitating the cracks, Darwin daisies, silk plants and a type of sunflower. On the laguna we observed Bahama ducks and Moorhen, Flamingo, Galapagos Martin and Darwin finches. While snorkelling we saw an approx 15cm long sea horse, varied fish and many more turtles grazing. As the ship continued southwards along Isla Isabela we saw interesting landscapes, small craters in front of Volcán Cerro Azul and Volcán Sierra Negra which last errupted 2005. Not far from us 3 Orcas fished. Before dark we reached Puerto Villamil, a small harbour tricky to enter during darkness. Friday: Puerto Villamil: Volcán Sierra Negra: Hike to the Crater -Tortoise Breeding Center of Villamil (25/11) Per bus we travelled closer to the Volcán Sierra Negra and reached the crater on foot after approx. 1 hour walking. Flowers, Butterflies, Guava trees and lush green vegetation -quite different to the other areas we had visited so far in Galápagos. In 2005 the volcano errupted and the 13km diameter caldera filled approx 30% with fresh lava. After 3 hours we were back in Puerto Villamil and visited the local Darwin breeding station for different land tortoises, all from the various areas of Isla Isabela. On our walk back we saw flamingos, stilts, Bahama ducks and Moorhen. Charles Darwin visited the islands aboard the HMS Beagle in 1835 for 5 weeks. During this time his observation lead to the theory of Evolution by Natural Selection - particularly sparked off by the fact that the tortoises on each island had developed in a very distinct way to survive on the different available food sources. Visiting the local church was special - it is decorated in themes from the islands and not in the normal way. Please also take note that the park benches in this town belong to the sea lions and humans are only tolerated occasionally. Back at the ship our Captain William made an exception and allowed a swim in the harbour area -refreshing after a hot and interesting day. At our special wish the Captain and chef managed to source local Lobster in the harbour and we sat down for a very special dinner. Saturday: Floreana: Punta Comorant - Corona del Diablo - Post Office Bay -Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz)  (26/11) The ship departed at midnight and we reached the island Floreana early in the morning. Punta Comorant was our land excursion and on the beach we saw rays sucking worms from the sand in shallow water. A snorkelling outing followed at Corona del Diablo and we drifted through the rocks watching the abundant sea life. Back on board we soon departed to Post Office Bay where already in the olden days ships stopped to drop and pick up mail - the only way of communicating with Europe and North America at the time. It was one of the islands that was inhabitated very early on due to the source of fresh water. We looked through the mail of the barrel mailbox and selected some post cards we would be able to drop off or mail in Argentina and left some cards for friends and family in South Africa to see how well the post service still functions ( by the way our postcard arrived in Cape Town after 4 months, unfortunately we do not know who collected it in Galápagos). After lunch we proceeded back to Puerto Ayora, where the ship needed to replenish and we had some time in the town. Towards evening we were back on board for the farewell dinner which Francisco the chef had prepared and which featured Bacaláo (Seabass), the tables again decorated with vegetable art. Sunday: Daphne Mayor (Panoramic) - Baltra (27/11) Our last day started very early with a panoramic circumnavigation of Daphne island, well-known through the 40 year long research by scientists Peter and Rosemary Grant, observing the changes/evolution of finches in Galapagos. Some Brown Pelicans gave us a special display of their fishing skills - with brown Noddy terns frequently sitting on their heads hoping for a small fish to escape. By 9:45am our flight left Baltra to Quito, where we took a bus first to Carcelen bus terminal, and from there 2.5 hrs by long distance bus to Ibarra and then a taxi back to Finca Sommerwind- all this for US$ 7 per person. This post covers 23th - 27th November 2016

Galápagos: Week 2 Itinerary B, days 1-4

Galápagos for a second week -what a privilege! We were curious to see what other creatures and landscapes the other islands more to the West on Itinerary B had to offer. Sunday: Baltra - Las Bachas (20/11/2016) The ship was refuelled and Maja Homberger came on board with the new passengers -this time we were only 11. From Baltra it was only a short distance to reach Playa las Bachas on the northern section of Santa Cruz island. We were lucky to see more Iguanas, many Blue-footed Boobies,2 Flamingos in a laguna ( there are only a few flamingos on Galapagos). We then visited a beach to see whether Turtles have laid any eggs yet, saw some spotted rays and went for a swim.  Interesting was to see how mangroves get rid of excess salt via their leaves. At supper we were back in Baltra harbour and the crew ceremoniously introduced themselves to the new guests. Monday: Mosquera - Cerro Dragon (21/11) We rose early and made our way by zodiac to the islet Mosquera, where plenty of sea lions awaited us. They are a pleasure to observe surfing in the waves. The Sea Lions came very close -sometimes too close for comfort and we moved away. After the issue of snorkeling gear and wetsuits for the week, we went for a swim and saw a lot of sea life -rays, sharks, surgeonfish, etc. The Angelito I then relocated to Cerro Dragon on Santa Cruz for a land outing: Turtles, Land-and Marine Iguanas,, large Cacti. As we walked around the hill we realised how dry the area was -two years of virtually no rainfall. There are still some goats and donkeys on Santa Cruz that eat the cacti -a problem as the cactus does not survive once the bark is eaten all around.The cacti are the staple diet for land iguanas. Tuesday: Tagus Cove (Isabela) - Punta Espinoza (Fernandina) (22/11) Tagus Cove is formed by the caldera of an extinct volcano. We wandered up the side wall where there should be many finches -however, it was extremely dry. The views across the lagunas were beautiful. The Palo Santo forests were white and leafless, we saw a sunflower tree, Euphorbias and Darwin Cactus. From the top the volcanos Alcedo, Darwin and the Darwin lava fields and volcano Wolf could be seen as well as the emerald green Darwin lake lower down. As we returned to catch the Zodiac we saw our first flightless cormorant. We then went snorkelling below the cliffs and could watch both the cormorants as well as penguins fishing with high speed under water by them checking each little hole and cave in the steep wall. In this area we counted 7 Green Pacific turtles feeding. After lunch we visited Punta Espinosa on island Fernandina. As we approached by rubberduck, marine iguanas could be seen exiting the waters after the midday feeding session. They needed to return to land to warm up. Interesting were the many iguana skeletons -two years prior the sea temperatures had risen to the degree that less algae grew with the resultant loss of approx 50% of the iguana population, apparently due to the el Niño phenomenon. The area rewarded our visit richly with sightings of seals, Pelicans, Cormorants, Lava Herons, Lava Lizards and a good sighting of a Gal.Hawk. The number of marine iguanas here was very high and we could observe some males asserting their status. The golden dry sea lions sunning themselves on the black lava were a special sight at Punta Espinosa. While the boat navigated to our next destination, we could observe the fragile looking Galápagos storm petrels (Galápagos Wellenläufer) that seem to walk on the water while feeding on krill. Wednesday: Isla Isabela : Urbina Bay - Elizabeth Bay (23/11) The next three stops were all on Isla Isabela - first Urbina bay, then Bahia Elizabeth and on to Punta Moreno. Urbina -on this beach turtles lay their eggs -for this reason a part is cordoned off. This area rose 1954 by 6m - it was interesting to see the changes in vegetation which included the very poisonous Apple tree which only iguanas can feed on. The milky sap produces a sunburn type affect if it gets on the skin and for humans eating them accidently can lead to death. We saw mainly finches in this area, no tortoises although there should be some in this area. Snorkeling from the beach was exciting as we saw a few very large Pacific Green turtles feeding ahead of the breeding season. Note: click on the video to play and also to stop it from looping. While travelling to Elizabeth bay we had the luck of seeing approx. 50 dolphins and as many sea lions that followed us. Once we arrived we took a late afternoon zodiac cruise into the mangroves, where many turtles rest and feed in preparation of laying their eggs. Towards evening we arrived in Punta Moreno. This post covers 20th - 23th November 2016      

Galapagos: Week 1 (Itinerary A) days 6-8

Friday: Isla Española: Punta Suarez -Playa Gardner (18/11) After breakfast we rode to Playa Gardner, a white beach , quite a contrast to the previous black and red ones. Sea lions awaited us, different Mocking birds, light coloured Gal. Hawks and American Oystercatchers. Note: This video loops - please stop it manually when you are finished watching it   During snorkelling we saw large Stingrays, Lobsters, Turtles and a number of swarming fish. Water here was colder with viz approx 10-15m. Afternoon was a scheduled landing at Punta Súarez with plenty of sea iguanas with beautiful red and green shading. Many sea lions on the beach and in the water, dense vegetations with mocking birds that accompanied us. Many dead iguanas were testimony to global warming - two years before approx. 50% of the iguana population starved to death due to the sea grass and algae not growing as the water temperatures rose too high. At the cliffs we could observe Gal. Hawk, red-billed Tropicbirds, Noddys, Blue-footed as well as Nasca Boobies and breeding Galapagos Albatross. We saw plenty of Lava Lizards as well as a snake, the beautiful Gal. dove and different Warbler Finches.   Saturday: Santa Fé - South Plaza (19/11) At Santa Fé island we did a morning walk among the many catcti on which land iguanas fed and had beautiful vistas from higher up. Per zodiac we rode past the opposite island, saw male sea lions patrolling their territory and during snorkelling we saw rays as well as a cleaning station for sea turtles. While the boat transferred to the island, we had more opportunity to observe frigate birds following the boat. At South Plaza island we viewed a bay filled with cacti and succulants  in red and yellow. Plenty of the sea birds we had seen before, however here we saw the nests of tropic birds and were amazed at the speed with which they landed on the rocks to feed the chicks. While the ship travelled to a sheltered canal for replenishing, we spotted large black-tipped reefsharks. From here the ship returned to Baltra for the night. During supper the crew was formally dressed and presented a thank-you ceremony to the guests, tables were decorated with animals carved from vegetables and fruit and a dessert chocolate cake - yummy!   Sunday: Black Turtle Cove - Baltra (20/11) An early morning outing by Zodiac to Black Turtle Cove (part of Santa Cruz) allowed us again to observe Blue-footed Boobies, Pelicans, Striated Herons, White-tipped Reefsharks, Eagle Rays, Gal.Turtles, mostly in-between mangroves. Back at Baltra our fellow travellers and guide Efrain sadly left. The ship was refuelled and soon the new passengers arrived for Itinerary B. How lucky for us to be able to stay for a second week. Maja boarded and would be our guide for the coming days. This post covers 18th -20th November 2016

Galapagos: Week 1 (Itinerary A) day 1-5

Galapagos -this destination is on many a bucket list. We were very fortunate to be able to visit these very special islands while waiting on our vehicle and fridge parts to arrive from South Africa. Die Galapagos Inseln besuchen zu können ist auf dem Wunschzettel vieler Reisender. Wir hatten das Glück, diesen Traum zu verwirklichen. Für Naturliebhaber sind diese Inseln ein Paradies -und für Fotographie Interessierte ein ganz besonderes Ziel. Galapagos consists of 14 main islands and more that 120 rocky islets, surrounded by 133 sq km marine reserve. In 1959 97% of the land area was designated as a National Park, 20 years later the islands became the first ever Unesco World Heritage site. Around 30 000 people live in Galapagos permanently and 200 000 tourists visit each year (about 3800 visitors per week). The name Galapagos means Tortoises and is derived from an old Spanish word for this animal. From a number of fellow travellers we had the recommendation to visit the Galapagos islands on board of the Angelito I. The reason given was the impeccable quality and service and that the boat is a smaller one, taking a maximum of 16 passengers ( 8 double cabins) and she has a crew of 8. It is owned by 2 Galapeño brothers ( Hugo and Leonardo Andrade Serrano ) and the bookings and guiding is handled by the Swiss Cometa Travel in Quito. So we decided it is worth a try and that it only took 16 passengers appealed to us and so was the fact that all cabins have outside windows. The boat was also fully refurbished during 2013. This information convinced us sufficiently to give it a try. Maja Homberger from Cometa Travel accommodated all our wishes,her 30 years of guiding in Galapagos showed in the information we received back promptly. To view our first week's route, click on the Cometa Travel link, select virtual map and view Itinerary A. On Saturday we left by bus from Ibarra to Quito's northern bus terminal Carcelen (2.5hrs ) and from here into Quito where we stayed overnight at Maja's place. For the bus trip we bought an extra ticket to ensure that the photographic equipment would be next to us and not stowed where it could disappear. Public transport is safe and cost-effective in Ecuador - however we were cautioned that on bus rides baggage could be pilfered. Next morning at 4 o'clock we were duly collected by her driver and taken to the airport, from where we departed on time, saw a number of the Ecuadorian volcanoes from the air, then stopped at Guayaquil airport to refuel and take on more passengers. From here it took 1.5hrs to the Galapagos airport on Baltra island (very flat, used to be an American war-time airport) where on disembarkation every visitor had to pay the US$ 100 entry fee to the islands. Our guide for the first week, Efrain Zambrano, welcomed us and we were transferred to the Angelito I, in readiness for the new passengers for the week of which there were only 13. Sunday: Baltra - North Seymor - Baltra harbour (13/11/2016) We navigated to North Seymor island in hefty swell due to the supermoon on this particular weekend. Our first land outing produced some interesting sights -2 types of frigate birds (the larger Magnificent and the Great Frigate bird), young Blue-footed Boobies, yellow Galapagos Warbler, Galapagos dove, yellow land iguana and the black marine iguana, sea lions, brightly coloured crabs, Brown Pelicans and Lava Lizards. It was quite a special feeling as the animals on these islands show no instinct to flee. Landings are well controlled so that only a few tourists visit at any given time and it is only permitted to walk on the prescribed paths with a qualified Galapagos guide. On our return to the ship we spotted a ray and in the evening sharks circled the ship. The boat returned to Baltra harbour for the night. Monday: Chinese Hat - Bartolome (14/11) The boat left the harbour at 4am and sailed towards Chinese Hat island. The morning outing was onto a small rocky lava island, where we saw Sea Lions with pups, a Galapagos Hawk trying to catch marine iguana, Lava Heron and crabs which had shed their shell. This outing was followed by a snorkel outing, we saw Parrot-, Surgeon- and other Wrasses and many fish we did not know, but also Sea Cucumbers, Starfish etc. In the afternoon we climbed the 140m high lava hill on island Bartolome, where the view from the top was spectacular covering some of the surrounding islands. Per zodiac we rode past Pinnacle Rock, where we spotted our first Galapagos Penguins and some American Oystercatchers. At 23:30 we departed towards Genovesa -the caldera of an extinct volcano, over 100m deep and open on one side so ships can enter. Tuesday: Genovesa: Darwin Bay & Prince Phillips Steps (15/11) First landing was at Darwin's Bay where we saw Red-footed Boobies, Swallow-tailed Gulls, Nasca Boobies, the fast flying Red-billed Tropic Birds, Dracula Finches, Brown Pelicans, Galapagos Mocking Birds and Ruddy Turnstones. We went for a swim amongst the sea lions and birds landed in close proximity. While snorkelling the viz was limited due to thermoclines, but we spotted Moorish Idol and some Pufferfish. The afternoon outing took us up the Prince Phillips steps and during the walk we saw many Frigate Birds, Red-billed Tropic Birds, Pelicans, Boobies, Gal.Doves, Gal. Finches, Galápagos Short-eared owls and seals. After an early supper the ship took bearing towards Puerto Egas on Santiago island. Wednesday: Puerto Egas (Santiago) - Rabida (16/11) The night ride was rough! Seldom have the islands seen such high swell, it was the first time that the fridge on board the Angelito I toppled over. An early landing at Puerto Egas took place on a scenic pitch black lava sand beach. Along the rocks were blowholes pumping and we spotted Gal.Hawk. Many Marine Iguanas could be observed here as well as seals with pups. The ship then sailed to Rabida island, where we landed on a red vulcanic sand beach. Here the vegetation had many colourful saltbushes, a small lagoon with an orange coloured Flamingo ( only one as the salt concentration at this time is too high) and we spotted Pacific Green Turtles. Galápagos Finches were spotted drinking from Cactus flowers. During snorkelling we observed white-tipped reef sharks, seals, large starfish and many different tropical fish including Trumpet fish. The ship took course to Puerto Ayora, the harbour on Santa Cruz island -we remained for the night in the harbour and appreciated a quiet night. Thursday:  Santa Cruz: Charles Darwin Station - Highlands of Santa Cruz  (17/11) In the morning a visit to the Darwing Research Centre was scheduled, where many large land tortoises are reared and we could appreciate the different developments of the animals depending which island they inhabitated and what source of food was available there ( length of the neck differed greatly). There was sufficient time to take a stroll through Puerto Ayora and to appreciate the crafts, the buildings and the market. In the afternoon an outing to the highlands took place by bus in order to see more tortoises and the large lava tunnels, that formed during an eruption. The ship only transferred late evening to Isla Española, which gave the crew and passengers time on shore in Puerto Ayora.   This post covers 13th -17th November 2016

Colombia 13: Jardin, Riosucio, Tulua and back to Ecuador

We had seen colourful towns in Colombia before. But Jardin stands out with its beautifully kept buildings. Das Dorf Jardin begeisterte uns auf Grund seiner farbenfrohen Gebäude, aber auch durch die freundliche Atmosphäre und die Gelassenheit seiner Einwohner. The hostal Selva y Café cannot really be described as a camp site. It hardly fitted our vehicle into the driveway, but it was a pleasant place to stay ( not suited for large rigs). Being out of town on the mountain road towards Riosucio, it was quiet and offered us time to enjoy the birdlife and butterflies. The village could be reached on foot and the pleasant walk is downhill for about 30 minutes. To return there are plenty of three-wheeled motorcycle taxis. At the time of our visit the town was getting ready for Halloween and shops and shop assistants were dressed up for the occasion. This did not distract from the beauty of the plaza, the church and the surrounding buildings. Folk dances took place in front of the church. Children's theatre attracted the young and was presented with a strong educational message to preserve the natural heritage. The gauchos came to town on horse and there was plenty to eat and drink in a relaxed atmosphere. Typical Colombian buses ferried people to and from the village.
Inbetween we took a rest at the hostal as well as had the opportunity to visit a reserve where the exotic cock-of-the-rock (belonging to the Cotinga family) could be observed ( this bird is the national bird of Peru). We decided to take a scenic gravel mountain road towards the town of Riosucio, as we hoped to visit a bird sanctuary on the way -but we could not gain access to it, gates were locked. En route we came across a spot with interesting bright blue beetles as well as huge elephant ears and tree ferns. The road took us back through the coffee growing areas, we reached Tulua and found a local who kindly showed us the correct turnoff to the botanical reserve Jardin Botanico, where we had noted that it would be possible to camp. Sheltered from the rain we spend the night dry as we were allowed to camp under a roof of a shed. Plenty of parrots flew in at sunset to roost in the trees. Next day we took a stroll around the gardens and visited the collection of bamboo samples which are being studied here. We learned that there are 247 species of palms in Colombia. The route then took us to Popayan where we found our next camping opportunity at Ecoparque Rayos del Sol. After a brief shopping spree in Popayan ( which has the oldest university in Colombia) we headed towards Pasto, the road was mountainous and busy with many trucks and busses. At El Bordo we could camp in the gardens of the hotel Campestre de Miravalle, where we parked under a large tree -the swimmingpool was a special treat after a long day's ride. As the PanAm passed close where we camped, the night was a bit noisy due to the trucks passing. Ruta 25 took us down to Pasto, along a 1500m mountain range. The landscape varied continuously, we were sad to leave the area with the most beautiful trees. We again reached Laguna la Cotcha (a crater lake) - again we had bad luck with rain and could not take a boat tour. Here we decided to take a room at Hotel Sindamanoy overlooking the lake. Like the first time we were fascinated by Puerto with its picturesque houses, canals and boats. Since the rain did not abate, we decided to head via Ipiales back to the Ecuadorian border to reach Finca Sommerwind near Ibarra for a second time. Here we would have to wait for our parts to arrive from South Africa.
We took some time to get the vehicle into shape again, do maintenance and minor repairs. Since the arrival of our spares from South Africa would only be in 2-3 weeks, we decided to head for another dream destination: Galapagos. Our biker friend, Brett Fox,departed to Patagonia before us and was not afraid to handle a most beautiful tarantula that we discovered at Sommerwind. This post covers 28th -12th November 2016