This is a brief account of a ten-night trip on the M/s Cachalote to the Galápagos Islands, off Ecuador, with an overnight sortie to Tandayapa Lodge on the Ecuadorean mainland looking for cloud forest birds.
|14th July 2005
I left Glasgow in the afternoon, then travelled to Amsterdam via London Heathrow for the KLM flight to Quito. Everything went smoothly, if tediously.
|15th - 16th July 2005
By dint of Ecuador being six hours behind BST, we arrived at Quito in the morning, whereupon we were taken to Tandayapa Lodge in the cloud-forest of the Andean foothills.
We spent the rest of the day, and most of the following day there, amassing an enormous total of birds, mostly jewel-bright: even I managed to see 61 species! We were driven back to Quito in the late afternoon, with one main stop-off to check for other species, and overnighted in the Akros hotel, where I had a mini-suite all to myself, and the couples in the group had suites.
17th July 2005
A very early wake-up call got us down to breakfast, and 6 a.m. saw us in the queue for the early-morning Tame flight to Galápagos. The original schedule had us flying into Baltra airport, but its closure for upgrading had been extended, and all planes were flying into San Cristobal airport instead, which had meant a reworking of our entire itinerary.
We were met at the airport by our Galápagos guide, Monica, and were taken to our boat, the M/S Cachalote (Spanish for Sperm Whale).
The M/S Cachalote
In the afternoon, after our emergency drill and lunch, we went back onto Isla San Cristóbal, a new island for me, to a highland area to look for the island endemic, the Chatham Mockingbird.
Peter, Janet, Theresa and Alan try on their emergency lifejackets.
After seeing the mockingbird, and a few other species, we had a bit of free time in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the main town of the island. Although it is the administrative capital of the Galápagos province, San Cristóbal is much smaller and less well served than Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz.
|18th July 2005
A somewhat choppy overnight sailing took its toll on several of us: although I hadn't taken any seasickness pills (having been OK last year, apparently by dint of much better weather, rather than any good sea-legs I may have imagined I had). I wasn't too bad when lying down, but had to leave the breakfast table pronto, without eating any ...
How about this for the opening line of a book:
"On the morning of my silver wedding, I was being seasick, thousands of miles from my husband..."
Actually, I wasn't too sick at all, though some of my shipmates were.
The good thing about seasickness, as opposed to 'traveller's tummy' is that as soon as you're on dry land it's gone: none of that lasting weariness associated with 'the other'.
Anyway, back to the plot:
We had by now anchored off Española, the most southerly of the islands, and we got into the pangas and landed at Gardner Bay, with its fantastic white sand beach. The intrepids amongst us then went snorkelling off Turtle Rock before lunch. Interestingly, on my last trip, almost everyone took the opportunity to snorkel almost daily: on this trip, only a few snorkelled: but those of us who did loved it!
In the afternoon, we landed at another Española visitor site: Punta Suarez. The highlight of this landing is the Waved Albatross colony, but before then we had to get off the landing-place, which was so festooned with Marine Iguanas and birds that we could easily have spend all afternoon there, photographing the things we could see in the immediate area.
|19th July 2005
Another overnight sailing took us to Floreana Island. Most of the group went out before breakfast on panga rides around the islet of Champion-by-Floreana, looking for the rarest Mockingbird, the Champion Mockingbird, which nests there. My CD burner had failed the night before, and I wanted to take some time trying to coax it into action, but was unsuccessful, unlike the Mocker-seekers, who had been treated to good views of their quarry.
After breakfast, we landed on the olivine (greenish, with the eye of faith) beach at Punta Cormorant, checked out Flamingo Lagoon for the eponymous pink birds, then walked cross the isthmus to the flour beach on the other side of the 'punta'.
In the afternoon, we landed in 'shifts' at the village (c100 inhabitants) on the island, Puerto Velasco Ibarra, and were driven up to the highlands to the world's only site for the orange-loving Medium Tree Finch, some of us exploring the 'village' (c10 minutes - it's really a hamlet) and visiting the hotel 'the Wittmer Place' (which had some guests, who must really like getting away from it all on a 'black' sand beach), where our Galápagos guide, Monica, regaled us with the scandalous and mysterious history of the island.
|20th July 2005
Overnight, we sailed to Santa Cruz, and in the morning we visited Media Luna, particularly to search for the Galápagos Rail, and were lucky that two Paint-billed Crakes ambled right in front of our bus.
After lunch at a local restaurant, we visited El Chato tortoise reserve, where as well as the Giant Tortoises, we were treated to the spectacle of Magnificent Frigatebirds coming down to drink and splash in the freshwater lagoon. Another special treat was a male Vermilion Flycatcher, which gave super views, and another at the side of the road as we bussed back down to the town.
|21st July 2005
Civilization today, with a morning trip to the Charles Darwin Research Institute on the outskirts of Puerto Ayora, followed by a shopping trip through the town towards the pier. In my case, the shopping was supplemented by a visit to an Internet Cafe to load my pics onto a CD (only $3 in total!) and phone calls home.
An afternoon sailing found us mooring off Punta Morena, on the largest island in the archipelago, Isabela.
|22nd July 2005
Early in the morning, we had a quiet panga ride through the mangroves at Punta Moreno, followed by a landing and a walk on the volcanic landscape of pahoehoe, aa-aa and plate lava, examining the few living forms, past several brackish lagoons, which given their almost lifeless surroundings, are remarkable full of all sorts of life: plant, fish, bird and insect, each forming its own distinctive identity and ecosystem. Of special interest were the White-tipped Sharks in the second-last lagoon on the trail.
Unfortunately for me, presumably some time between today's landings, my SLR film camera developed a serious fault in the shutter curtain. Bizarrely, I didn't notice it until we were in Genovesa - when I did, it was very obvious - and cost over £60 to fix. Ironically, I did have a spare body with me, but didn't realise that I needed it. So I got no slides (apart from about 15 boxes of blank slides) for the period from Punta Moreno until Santa Fé - and I didn't take any digital photos at Tagus Cove or the journey to Genovesa, and very few on Fernandina, where I was really concentrating on trying to take 'competition' slides of some Marine Iguanas.
In the afternoon, some of us went snorkelling in the cool waters (at least a shortie wetsuit is recommended) where we encountered lots of turtles swimming just below us, and the others went for a scenic walk at Tagus Cove, the highlight of which was seeing a Woodpecker Finch 'doing its thing', getting an insect out of a crevice using a 'winkling stick' - this species being one of the few birds which are known to use tools.
After this, we went a panga ride along the sand coloured cliff faces to examine the life found there.
|23rd July 2006
This morning, we again landed on Isabela, this time at a black beach, Playa Negra, particularly to look for, and find, the 'difficult' Mangrove Finch.
We crossed the Bolivar Channel to Fernandina Island. Again, the intrepid of us went snorkelling in the cool waters. Before we even got into the water, we were joined by two young sea-lions, who were clearly impatient at waiting for us to get in the water so that they could 'play with us'.
At the beginning of our swim, I was lucky to see the Marine Iguana feeding on algae underwater which Monica pointed out, but sadly, the strong current swept me over it, and it swam away before the others saw it. These iguanas are virtually 'bomb-proof' on land, where they have few natural predators (Tui de Roy has a photo of a Great Blue Heron with a young Marine Iguana in its beak, and another of a Galapagos taking a Marine Iguana), but are very wary in the water.
After that, we landed at Punta Espinosa on Fernandina, where the main attractions were the flightless cormorant colony (in a totally different location to last year, which 'threw' me) and the large numbers of Marine Iguanas. In this area, they are large to cope with the cooler waters. In the late afternoon light, they were often all 'lined up' to take advantage of the last of the sun's rays.
|24th July 2005
Today, we were 'all at sea', starting before breakfast.
We crossed the equator at 8.45 a.m., visited Punta Vicente Roca (very closely, thanks to the ship's manoeuvrability and the captain's skill) en route, then circling Roco Rodunda twice to look at the myriads of seabirds, before heading off for the long trip, past Pinta and Marchena, to Genovesa (Tower Island), the most northerly of the 'landable' islands.
|25th July 2005
Not all Galapagos trips go to Genovesa, because of the time taken to get there, and its inclusion was the reason why I chose this itinerary.
In the morning, we landed at Prince Philip's Steps (he was a visitor here in 1965), from which is is a fair scramble to the top of the island. We had landed at 6 a.m. to make sure we had plenty of time to savour the island before the passengers of the 'cruise ships' landed and were frog-marched through.
As we were taking off our life-jackets, we saw a Sharp-beaked Finch, which completed our tally of Darwin's finches (though I didn't photograph it, thinking we would see plenty of others later - when will I learn?). Interesting sightings this morning were Red-footed Boobies, which have a breeding colony here, Great Frigatebirds, likewise, and the Genovesa race of Short-eared Owl, which have an easy time feasting on the thousands of diurnal Storm Petrels which nest here, picking them off as they hop the last few feet into their nesting burrows. The Owls are fairly difficult to spot, being darker in front than our race at home, so let them blend more easily into their rocky habitat.
More distressingly, we actually saw for ourselves the phenomenon known as 'obligate sibling murder' in a Nazca Booby family.
By this time, the only snorkellers left were Roger and I, and we had our final snorkel with Monica along the cliffs near Prince Philip's Steps: murkier and very deep water, with no turtles seen, but a bigger variety of fish.
In the afternoon, we took the other Genovesa trail, which starts on the white sands of Darwin Bay and climbs up to the beacons by which ships must guide themselves out of the caldera, if they don't have modern navigation equipment. As well as the Frigatebirds and Nazca Boobies, there were Sealions on the beach and Swallow-tailed Gulls nesting, and the only Manta Ray I saw on the trip was lying dead on the beach, being pecked by Lava Gulls.
|26th July 2005
After another overnight sail, we landed at Seymour Norte, the aim being to see the Magnificent Frigatebird colony and to look for Land Iguanas. There were still some late-displaying male Frigatebirds, inflating their balloons to try to impress some apparently disinterested females. In contrast to last year, when half of the island had Blue-footed Boobies in all stages of breeding, this time there were only a few well-grown chicks to be seen: breeding must have been earlier this year, according to the conditions - the birds are opportunistic breeders. We also managed to find four Land Iguanas.
In the afternoon, we went to Santa Fé, another new island for me. We spent a lot of time on the two beaches at the beginning and end of our landing (it's a loop trail and the beaches are very close together in the same bay) with the ever-entertaining sea-lions. We managed to add four members of the endemic Santa Fé Land Iguana to our sightings list, while walking along the cactus forest trail.
|27th - 29th July 2005
Early in the morning, we left San Cristobal airport, on our way back to Quito.
Luckily, we didn't have to rely on a sealion captain and his sleeping first mate to get us to shore!
In the afternoon, we had a short birding stroll to Quito's large and interesting park, where inter alia we managed to catch up with the dramatic Black-tailed Trainbearer.
Next morning, yet another very early start got us to the airport for our flight back to Amsterdam via Bonaire. From thence, in my case, it was onward to Heathrow and Glasgow, where the shuttle arrived, bang on time, at 10.30 a.m. on the 29th.