|This is a brief account of a seven-night trip to the Galápagos Islands, off Ecuador. The islands were called the Enchanted or 'bewitched' Islands because early sailors found the islands' currents and mists dangerous.
The first record of a trip there was made by Fray Tomas de Berlanga in 1535. His becalmed ship drifted towards the islands.
He sent men ashore to various islands to look for water and reported:
"They found nothing but seals, and turtles, and such big tortoises that each could carry a man on top of itself, and many iguanas that are like serpents."
On one of the other islands "...the same conditions prevailed: many seals, turtles, iguanas, tortoises, many birds like those of Spain but so silly that they did not know to flee, and many were caught in the hand."
| 9th July 2004|
I had to leave from Glasgow airport on the afternoon of the 8th and overnight in a London airport hotel. An early morning start found me on the first airport shuttle of the morning. While waiting outside the hotel, I met Pat, who was to be my 'roomie' on the boat, who by coincidence had been staying in the same airport hotel. We met most of the rest of the "Travelling Naturalist" group either in London or in Madrid where we changed planes for Quito. After overnighting in Quito, we had an early breakfast then were taken to the airport for a flight to Baltra. We had time to look at some birds outside the airport, including Magnificent Frigatebird, Red-billed Tropicbird and our first "Darwin's finches".
A bus came to take us to the harbour, where we caught our first glimpses of pelicans, boobies and petrels. We soon boarded the m.v. Beluga (right), our home for the next week, settled into our cabins, then sailed to Seymour Norte, where we landed after lunch.
|Seymour Norte was a fantastic introduction to the islands. The main highlights there for me were displaying Magnificent Frigatebirds and Blue-footed Boobies with young at various stages of development.|
|10th July 2004|
We landed first at Gardner Bay on Española, which was a lovely sandy beach backed by small shrubs. It soon cleared up from a cloudy start, and some of the group went to the Pacific Green Turtle Chelonia mydas nest site at the far end of the beach, but the lure of confiding birds and sea lions to photograph prevented me from getting that far! Gardner Bay is an area where you're free to walk at your own pace in a delimited area.
In the afternoon, we landed at Puerta Suarez, also on Española, where the highlights were displaying Waved Albatrosses, supported by Nazca Boobies, Hood Mockingbirds and the large, bright Marine Iguana subspecies.
|11th July 2004|
Today we made two landings on Floreana. In the morning we landed at Punta Cormorant, where we took a pleasant walk to a lagoon supporting Greater Flamingos, then down across an isthmus to a beach where there were shorebird species and stingrays in the water.
Today, we also had our first snorkelling experience, off Champion Island.
In the afternoon we visited Post Office Bay, and were introduced to the human history of the islands. Most of us left a postcard in the barrel for other visitors to take home and took a couple ourselves to post on when we got home. This system seems to be more efficient than the islands' official system!
|12th July 2004|
Our island for the day was Santa Cruz, whose village serves as the island capital. In the morning, a bus took us up to the Highlands where we first of all went to see two pit craters known as Los Gemellos. Then we got to encounter Giant Tortoises in their natural habitat. We also went a walk in an area of Scalesia forest.
After lunch back on the boat, we again went ashore, this time through the town of Puerto Ayora to visit the Charles Darwin Research centre, which has done a lot of work in Giant Tortoise conservation, and in conservation on the islands generally. There is a very informative Visitor Centre. After that, we wandered back down to the harbour through the town, seeking retail therapy, visiting the internet cafés to keep in touch with home or looking out for what wildlife might be seen around the town. Not much is wilder than the volleyball-on-steroids played by the men of the town in the late afternoon!
|13th July 2004|
In the morning, we visited Punta Moreno, Isabela Island. We walked over the bare lava fields, looking at the brackish lagoons to see the flora and fauna they supported in an otherwise bleak and inhospitable environment.
In the afternoon, we visited Elizabeth Bvina Bay and Las Manillas.
|14th July 2004|
After a long sail around the top of Isabela, we reached Urvina Bay. After a 'wet landing' we walked over an area of coral which had been raised four metres only in 1954! A particular highlight of Urvina Bay is the Galápagos Flightless Cormorant breeding colony.
In the afternoon we visited Punta Espinoza on Fernandina Island, where we visited the huge breeding colonies of Marine Iguana. The Fernandina Island sub-species is the least coloured of all the Marine Iguanas, but it was still fantastic to see such huge numbers of these primitive-looking creatures piling up on each other and wondering at the ugly creatures who had come to photograph them.
|15th July 2004
Sadly, we had come to our last full day on the islands. In the morning we visited the Fur Seal Colony at Puerto Egas on Santiago (James) Island, where there were also many Sallylightfoot Crabs. We then sailed over to Bartolomé island, where we climbed a volcanic tuff cone, which was tougher than it looked!
In the evening, we said our thanks and goodbyes to the crew over cocktails and began to pack for our early morning departure.
|16th July 2004
Before breakfast, we had a last panga ride in Caleta Tortuga Negra, Black Turtle Cove, where we saw Pacific Green Turtles and Golden Eagle Rays, inter alia. But more exciting was the sudden 'feeding frenzy', where scores, probably hundreds of Blue-footed Boobies and Brown Pelicans appeared from nowhere and dived into the water, having come upon a school of fish..
After this, it was breakfast, then back on the pangas go land for the bus ride to Baltra and our flight back to Quito. We arrived in time for a sightseeing trip of the city, the first city to become a World Heritage Site, then back to our hotel to get ready for our goodbye dinner at a nearby restaurant called La Ronda
|17th July 2004
The others in the group were going on to visit some birding sites in the Andes, so I got up early to breakfast with them and see them off.
I spent the morning at one of the museums, then went on to the "Indian market" which was in the main park: lots of nice souvenirs at incredible prices.
Back to the hotel for a snack before I was picked up for the short ride to the airport. Boarded the plane at Quito, and stopped at Guayaquil. They said we didn't have to get off, then suddenly said we did, with our hand baggage. I stuffed my Nat. Geog. mag. into the seat pocket in front and went out: we had to go through security again - a slow queue, and when I got back, my magazine had 'disappeared'!
The journey to Madrid continued, uneventful though tedious, then onward to Glasgow via London.