Archive | Boobies RSS feed for this section

GALÁPAGOS ISLANDS

15 Jul

GALÁPAGOS ISLANDS

The ecologically rich islands of Galápagos are a magical place to observe biodiversity and enjoy many enchanting natural wonders. Galápagos is the most important tourism destination in Ecuador and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979. The number of endemic species of flora and fauna inhabiting this paradise, which informed Charles Darwin’s Theory of the Evolution of Species, was given the nickname: The Enchanted Islands.

The geographic isolation that characterizes this archipelago – located about 1000 kilometers off the coast – has transformed the region into a biological laboratory of great interest for both tourists and researchers.  The province of Galápagos consists of 13 large islands, 6 small ones, 107 inlets and countless rocks, all of them of volcanic origin.

From Guayaquil, we flew into the tiny island of Baltra; the world’s first ecological airport. Here, we took a 10-minute ferry over to the largest and most populated island of the Galápagos named Santa Cruz.

 

ISLA SANTA CRUZ

To think of the Galápagos, is to think of tortoises. The very name, Galápagos is derived from an old Spanish word referring to their saddle-like shape. So on our way to the town of Puerto Ayora, we stopped at the Fausto Llerena Tortoise Centre – where giant tortoises roam freely. They live there in muddy Mother Nature, so we put on some boots and went exploring. Not soon after we left, we found some – and they were so impressive and gigantic!

Emile boots_turtles

Blue boots are on, to go find the turtles in muddy terrain

We learned that the giant tortoises are the most celebrated animal in the region (about 15,000 to 17,000 are left here) and can grow up to almost 600 pounds (270 kg), with a curved carapace length of about 4 feet (1.22 metres). Surprisingly, they live well over 100 years – some reach it all the way to 200!

Kids Turtle

The boys with a BABY giant tortoise; only 25 years old

 IMG_1915

With giant tortoises at Fausto Llerena Tortoise Centre

On our second day, we took a 40-minute hike up to Tortuga Bay Beach. After about half an hour, we reached a perfectly preserved beach with incredibly high waves. Filou was ready to show off his surfing skills but unfortunately this beach is forbidden to swimmers as it is preserved for wildlife.

After a stroll along this beautiful sandy beach, we reached a gorgeous inlet with stunning blue water. It was here that we were allowed to swim and observe wildlife. We saw a colony of black marine iguanas on the beach, several beautiful pelican birds (one was bathing right in front of Emile & me), a stoic heron and many colourful, large, red Sally Lightfoot Crabs.

IMG_1966

A stoic heron on the lava rocks at Tortuga Bay

IMG_1977

Beautiful red Sally Lightfoot Crab

Our last day on Santa Cruz, we headed by ferryboat for Las Grietas. Once across the pond,we walked for 20-minutes through enormous cacti and over impressive lava rock formations. Las Grietas, which literally means “the cracks”, is a geologic formation; a canal formed between steep lava rock cliffs on either side. It’s a really beautiful hide-away and unique swimming hole (a mix of salt and fresh water come together here which makes for crystal-clear, snorkeling water).

The kids loved swimming in this cove and saw the most amazing blue-yellow fish. Also, as is commonly done here, Filou jumped into the water pencil-style from a high rock ledge. It was then that he made a remark that describes him so well. He said: “But mom and dad, you know – I was born to risk my life” (with the biggest smile on his face)! Anthony too jumped from the high perch, but without the whimsical quotable that Filou offered!

IMG_2013

Snorkeling and jumping off rock ledges at Las Grietas, Santa Cruz

And after 3 wonderful nights at Casa Tortuga (a gorgeous 2-bedroom bungalow with amazing amenities) (http://www.flipkey.com/puerto-ayora-vacation-rentals/p295060/), we were ready for our 2-hour boat ride to the next island: Isla Isabela.

 

ISLA ISABELA

We heard some stories about what the 2-hour boat ride from Santa Cruz to Isabela was going to be like, but nothing could have prepared us. I would say that this was an “once-in-a-lifetime experience” (but then not in a good way). A small boat with 22 people, trying to work itself through extremely rough waters – I counted 16 baggies of puke; need I say more? (and yes, the boat crew is completely prepared with black plastic bags and Kleenex; they know what’s coming! And the 16 bags were only on the lower deck; God knows what was happening above us).

Very happy that our family kept it together! Our strategy: lots of stomach muscle tensing, staring at the horizon and no breakfast. We were handsomely rewarded with the most stunning blue-green ocean waters, a group of cute penguins swimming alongside our boat, and several sea lions sunbathing on deck, as we entered the harbour of Puerto Villamil.

IMG_2193

In the harbour of Puerto Villamil, Isabela

IMG_2183

That afternoon we took our first swim and had the most amazing playtime with sea lions; they were swimming and twirling all around us – just incredible! One sea lion even slightly touched Filou; he loved it and said it had the softest skin.  Emile had the same experience the next day when several sea lions came up close to hang out and play. What a treat!

IMG_2202

Emile playing with a sea lion

The following day, we strapped our snorkeling equipment on our backs, rented bikes and went to explore the island.  First we stopped at the local UNESCO funded Tortoise Conservation Centre, which houses various sizes of tortoises; many of which have experienced high levels of poaching within the last 10-20 years. We saw both hatchling tortoises and older breeding animals. Emile particularly liked the little ones.

IMG_2131

Biking along the beautiful coast of seahorse shaped Isla Isabela

From there, we passed a beautiful pond with 15 majestic, pink flamingos. Then, heading in the other direction, we rode all along Isabela’s gorgeous coastline to find a good snorkeling spot – which we did locate at Playa del Amor. Here we had a refreshing swim and a chance to observe large marine iguanas up-close.

IMG_2153

Marine Iguanas at Playa del Amor, Isabela

All in all it was a lovely, relaxing day of observing wildlife and taking in scenery. However, the next day was even better for “los animales”. We booked a snorkeling tour with Rosedelco Tours and were off to Los Túnelos.

 

Los Túnelos

After a thrilling, 45-minute boat ride with Captain Leonardo (who was the spitting image of John Travolta) & crew – we arrived at our first snorkeling destination. Here, we quickly spotted several large Manta and Golden Rays. Then we moved on, to locate the most anticipated  marine species of all (especially by the boys); the White Tip Reef Shark! We first saw some hiding in a cave, but quickly we had them swimming right by us. Apparently these sharks are rarely aggressive towards humans as they have an abundance of food in the area, but still… pretty exhilarating to see several 5-foot sharks swim right underneath you!

Sharks

To prove we really swam with them, here’s a shot of a couple of White Tip Reef Sharks.

Next, we swam against some strong currents (kudos to the kids for keeping up), and arrived at the area of the giant tortoises. It was very cool to see these enormous, pre-historic animals majestically float in the water: especially as they come right up to you.

Emile Turtle

Emile having fun snorkeling with a giant tortoise

Then it was break-time and we got back onto our boat for a delicious sandwich lunch and some local, sweet treats. Round two of snorkelling was aimed at spotting the impressively, large Pacific Sea horse (of which we saw several). To conclude the snorkelling part of the tour, Emile braved deep waters to swim under several arched rock formations.

Seahorse

A very large Pacific Seahorse

After being warmed-up on our boat, we made one last stop at the area known as Los Túnelos. It is here that lava has formed beautiful arcs in the ocean. We got off to walk around a bit, take in the scenery and spot the famous Galápagos Blue-Footed Booby birds.

IMG_2287

The arched lava formations of Los Túnelos

IMG_2278

Filou who loves “boobies”

These birds, especially the males, take great pride in their fabulous feet – especially during mating season, as the bluer the feet the more attractive the male is considered to be. The colour of their webbed feet actually comes from carotenoid pigments that are obtained from their fresh fish diet. And the healthier the boobies are, the bluer their feet.

Also, boobies nest on land and lay only 1-2 eggs each year (of which only the strongest hatchling will survive). Therefore, it was pretty special for us to see a set of boobies safeguarding their egg.

IMG_2279

Famous Galápagos Blue-Footed Booby Birds with egg

 

ISLA SAN CRISTOBÁL

From Isabela, we took a flight, on board a 6-seater airplane (pilot included), to the next and final island: San Cristobál. The ride was thrilling, especially for Emile who sat in front with the pilot (window open and all!). As you can probably imagine, flying over the Galápagos Islands, gave us the opportunity to take in some magnificent views.

Emile Airplane

Emile sat in front of with the pilot, during our magnificent airplane ride (6-seater), from Isla Isabela to Isla San Cristobál

Once on the island, we jumped right in with a day tour to the most popular snorkeling spot in the area: Ln Dormido (also called Kicker Rock). We booked with Ln Dormido Expeditions and took a fabulous catamaran boat to this popular landmark and snorkeling spot. It is here that two majestic volcanic rocks (remains of a lava rock, split in two) tower about 140 metres tall above the ocean.

When viewed from the south, the formation looks like a sleeping lion, hence the name Spanish name Ln Dormido, while from another side it looks more like a boot (soccer shoe?), hence the English name Kicker Rock. Apart from its scenic beauty, Kicker Rock is the best place to spot sharks in the Galápagos, so of course the boys were excited to go!

We were instructed to swim through the narrow channel between the two rocks. The water was crystal-clear in there, and the bluest we’ve ever seen. All along the rocks, we found the most magnificent brightly coloured fish, including the spotted Eagle Ray (we saw a massive one!) and many sharks. We saw several Galápagos sharks (and some Black Tips), but unfortunately the Hammerheads were not around during our swim; these were the ones Emile really wanted to see!

IMG_2435

Popular snorkeling spot: León Dormido or Kicker Rock

Nevertheless, we had a fantastic day in the water – in certain spots it looked like we were floating over a carpet of fish (so many of them together)….. and of course swimming with the many tortoises and sea lions was phenomenal; they are just so majestic and impressive in the water.

Underwater Selfie

Snorkeling selfie at Kicker Rock – Leon Dormido, San Cristobál

Emile & mom with sea turtles

Emile and I, swimming with some giant tortoises. Great fun!

The next day, we chilled out with some great new Ecuadorian-German friends; Bastienne, Pablo and their sons Martine and David.  We first met this lovely family on Isabela and now again on San Cristobál. We had stimulating conversations about sustainability, business and life with them. They live in Quito but run a fantastic lodge in the Amazon Jungle, called Huasquilla Amazon Lodge. Check this out: http://www.huasquila.com

On our winding path leading to Las Tierretas, we visited the Galápagos National Park Visitor Centre with them. Here, we learned about the natural processes that have made the Galápagos such a unique place (a complete and documented history of the Galápagos, its ecosystems, flora and fauna was presented here). As well, there was lots of information about the efforts underway to protect and preserve the islands.

Boys Galapagos

With new friends Martine and David at the Galápagos National Park Visitor Centre

Then the kids were ready for their last snorkel. And what an amazing one it was – almost like a dance with baby sea lions (Filou got to use the GoPro under water camera for the first time and captured some great shots).

Filou underwater

Filou’s selfie with the GoPro

It was fitting that we ended with sea lions as the island of San Cristobál, is particularly known for them. We got to observe many up-close, both in and out of the water. Our conclusion is this; as majestic as sea lions are in the water, as sleepy, coughing, stinky and awkward they are on land. There are so many of them in the centre of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno that you have to be seriously careful sitting down on a bench as it might be taken!

IMG_2385

The beaches and shores of San Cristobál are filled with sea lions

San Cristobal, the capital of EL PARAISO, quickly became our Galápagos favorite. Efforts put forth to keep this earthly paradise intact have been great; a wonderful conservation example indeed and perfect finale to our REgeneration Tour (http://the-regeneration.com).

And now, I sit here on our 30th and last world tour flight, thinking of my very first international flight to Portugal when I was only 11 years old. I vividly remember the excitement of soaring higher and higher and seeing that beautiful white blanket of clouds that just makes you want you to jump in.

Now here, some 30 years later, I am once again looking out the window of an airplane, marveling at that gorgeous sky (with stunning red glow as the sun is just rising) and that same tingling, travel excitement, feeling is rising. I envision and hope that my boys will have similar vivid memories of their first travel experiences; we have certainly given them some to remember this year.

The world is stunningly beautiful and so worthy of exploring and protecting. Thank you Galápagos, your paradise was our “icing on the cake”; a fitting end to an incredible year of adventure, exploration and unforgettable world-travel with my three wonderful men – for which I am more grateful than can ever be expressed….Y.O.L.O!

Note: There will be one more blog that recaps our round-the-world-trip reflections and thoughts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements