Category Archives: wildlife

Galapagos Tortoises

Location: Santa Cruz, Galapagos

Today was all about the famous Galapagos Tortoises. These iconic reptiles are even the source of the name of the islands. When the Spaniards first found the islands, they found thousands of these giant tortoises where ever they looked. On some of the islands, the shells resembled a horse saddle that was en vogue in Spain at the time. That saddle was called a Galapago. Hence the name Galapagos Islands.

We dropped anchor in the Puerto Ayora bay and spent the entire day around this location. We began with a tour of the Charles Darwin Research Center. This is the primary research station for the park and it houses several breeding programs for the endemic species. The flagship breeding program is for the Galapagos tortoise. Some breeding age tortoises are kept here to increase the numbers of the many species of tortoise from around the islands.

The tortoises are bred with members of their own species, eggs carefully incubated and young raised until the reach 2-5 years old. Once they are old enough they are released into the wild on their respective islands. Hundreds to thousands of tortoises have been reintroduced to their natural habitats.

Young Galapagos tortoises
stretching juvenile Galapagos tortoise

While there aren’t any zoos in the islands, since the entire archipelago serves as a nature preserve and living museum, this breeding program sort of acts like one in that its a convenient location for people to see the iconic reptiles.

an example of a saddle-back tortoise

After we were done visiting the research center we walked into Puerto Ayora to do some quick souvenir shopping. We coincidentally ran into Gerencia from the hotel and said hello. We waited at the fish market to catch a shuttle to our next itinerary shop. During the wait we saw more herons, sea lions, pelicans, and a ray.

Ray in the water near the fish market

Next we took a shuttle into the highlands of Santa Cruz to help plant native trees in the forest. Celebrity has been engaging in this program for a few years and has been pretty successful in getting nearly all it passengers to participate. We donned rubber boots and took a very short hike into the jungle to each plant a couple of scalesia saplings. A tiny cork tag was loosely tied around the plant to show that is was planted as part of the Celebrity program. We joked that we would go looking for those trees the next time we return to the island. But we saw some older tags didn’t survive long and the serial numbers appeared to be the first things to disappear.

Our next stop took us to a farm in the highlands for lunch. They has some decent Ecuadorian food and a great atmosphere. After lunch, some local youth put on an Ecuadorian and Galapagos dance show for us and the other passengers. After lunch we went out into the fields to observe the Cerro Porteri (Santa Cruz) tortoise in their natural habitat.

They weren’t difficult to find. They don’t move fast, and they were all over the place eating grass and other vegetation.

After that we returned to the ship for the last time. Tonight was lobster night, we each had a HUGE galapagos lobster tail. We didn’t ask for seconds. But for what it’s worth, yesterday’s dinner was a BBQ on the aft deck. We each had three grilled half lobster tails, so our tradition of getting multiple lobsters on a cruise continues.

Huge galapagos lobster tail!

Tomorrow we disembark from the Xpedition. We take a midday flight from the Galapagos back to Guayaquil.

Total Phillie Phanatic sightings: 0
Total havana club and cokes: 2
Total islands visited: 1 (San Cruz)
Total watercraft: 3
Total Steps: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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The Boobies of San Cristobal

Location: Puerto Baquerizo and Punta Pitt, San Cristobal, Galapagos

We have now seen all the boobies!

Today we spent the entire day near San Cristobal Island. In the morning we visited the administrative capital of the islands in the town of Puerto Baquerizo. We had two options for tours this morning: a fast paced 1.5 mile fitness walk, visit to the Galapagos interpretations Center and time for shopping; or everything above except no walking. Ryan choose option 1, Rachel choose option 2.

The hike started out over rough terrain through the woods, but after a few minutes changed over to a paved trail. The highlight of this walk was a visit to a statue fo Charles Darwin overlooking the bay where he first made landfall.

Charles Darwin Statue in San Cristobal

The bay on San Cristobal where Darwin first made landfall.

The interpretation center gave a general overview of the history, geology, wildlife, economy, and people of the Galapagos Islands. Ryan spent more time here than most other passengers. Rachel lamented that this would have been a more appropriate stop to have earlier in the cruise, instead of it being the second to last full day.

We both picked up the usual souvenirs in town. But Rachel used most of her shopping time to go to one of the nearby beaches and take pictures of one of the many local sea lion harems.

Galapagos Sea Lion Pup waving hello

When we first booked this trip 27 months ago, the afternoon portion of this day featured a scenic cruise of Kicker Rock. These iconic rocks stick out of the water and have become one the quintessential pictures that represent the nautical portion of the park. This is a popular diving location. However about a year after we booked the trip we learned that this stop was being replaced with a visit to Punta Pitt. Ryan was still hopeful that we would still be able to sail past and get pictures. We did.

Kicker Rock

Punta Pitt has only recently been opened up to visitors. This part of San Cristobal island is the only location in the Galapagos where one can see all three booby species in one place. We’ve seen blue footed and nazca boobies already. But not the red-footed booby, due in part to its limited numbers. In 1998 there were only 105 birds at Punta Pitt, but restoration efforts have increased that number to over 604.

We had two options for this stop. The first option was a short zodiac ride followed by a steep climb through a slot canyon up a mountain to visit the booby colony. The other option was a longer panga ride. Both options had an optional beach swim (non-snorkel) after the main tour. Ryan choose the first option, Rachel the second. Neither of us choose the beach swim.

Both Ryan and Rachel’s tour started by taking a panga to see nearby Pitt Island. There was no way to get onto the island, so this was exclusively a scenic tour. There we could see red-footed boobies, sea lions, frigate birds, red-billed tropic bird. Rachel was also able to visit another nearby island with a huge red-footed booby population. It should come as no surprise, that of the two us, Rachel got the better pictures.

Red-footed boobies in a tree
Juvenile red-footed booby

Nazca Boobies
Red billed tropical bird

After Pitt Island, Ryan made landfall on shore and began to hike up to the booby colony. This was the most strenuous hike of the trip. It was a solid class II hike, we featured steep climbs, uneven surfaces, slippery rocks, and a tight slot canyon. Unsurprisingly only the younger or more fit passengers choose this option. It was well worth it. At the top we got to see numerous blue-footed and red-footed boobies.

The trail to the top of the Punta Pitt booby colony
Ryan at the top of the Punta Pitt booby colony

Both species look pretty similar from a distance. The main physical difference is the color of the feet (obviously!). But the young of both species lack their distinctive colors and have grey feet. So the easiest way to tell the difference is that red-footed boobies are always in the trees. They make actual nests.

Blue-footed boobies are always on the ground. They usually produce two eggs.

Female blue-footed booby incubating two eggs

There are no land predators that hunt them, so they stay on the ground. They mark their nests with a ring of guano. The adults recognize that chicks inside those rings as their own and will feed those chicks. If the chicks leave the ring they won’t be fed. In lean times, siblings may push one another out of the ring to ensure that they get all the food.

Speaking of which, Ryan witness several blue-footed boobies feeding their young during his trip to the colony.

A mother blue footed booby about to feed her chick

On two occasions, a frigate bird swooped down and tried to steal the food from both of the boobies mouths!

A frigate bird tries to steal a juvenile blue-footed booby’s meal from its mouth
Two blue footed boobies try their mating ritual. Spoiler: It didn’t end in mating.

And for the fun of it, here’s a picture of a sea lion sleeping on the beach of Punta Pitt with a panga coming to pick up Ryan and his group.

Last night the ship gave out a Galapagos themed crossword puzzle for the passengers to complete. The first to turn in a completed and correct crossword puzzle would win bragging rights and a prize pack. Last night, we had dinner, edited photos and started writing the blog. Then we started working on the puzzle. We turned in our puzzle by 10:00pm ship time. All throughout today we saw other passengers trying to complete their puzzles. We just smiled knowingly at each other. It was announced tonight, during the naturalist briefing, that we won. 🙂

Tomorrow is our last full day on the ship. Boo! We’ll spend the day back on Santa Cruz in Puerto Ayora. We’ll visit the Charles Darwin Research Center, plant scalesia trees in the highlands, and we’ll both finally get to see the famous Galapagos Tortoises.

Total pinnipeds: 1 (galapagos sea lion)
Total penguin species: 0 😦
Total blue-footed booby dances: 2
Total successful dances: 1
Total boobies: 3 (blue footed, red footed, nazca)
Total Phillie Phanatic sightings: 0
Total havana club and cokes: 2
Total islands visited: 1 (San Cristobal)
total watercraft: Rachel 4, Ryan 5
Total Steps: fitbit still dead. But someone who was with Ryan had ~14,000.

Bachas Beach and North Seymour Island

Location: Bachas Beach, Santa Cruz Island, and North Seymour Island, Galapagos

Our first stop of the day was to visit Bachas Beach on Santa Cruz Island. We had two excursion options: a 1.2 mile beach hike with optional snorkel, or just snorkeling. We choose to go on the beach hike with snorkel.

We spotted a penguin darting across the water. It happened so fast that we didn’t get any pictures.

Bachas beach is best known for being a turtle nesting ground. We’re sure it must be pretty exciting when the turtles are hatching and making their heroic march to the sea while trying to avoid predatory birds. But when we were there it just looked like another beach with very soft sand. We used this hike to look at various finches, other shorebirds, and marine iguanas. We didn’t get to see any flamingos.

The post-hike snorkel was much more successful. We’ve gotten better at getting ready and entering the water with each successive snorkel. We got right into the water from the beach without issue. At first it seemed like a repeat of yesterday where all we could see was fish. People found a turtle so we swam over. We were consciously aware that we have yet to get and good pictures of Rachel with marine animals, so we were determined to get a picture of Rachel with something cool. Ryan took the GoPro while Rachel position herself near the turtle. But just as Ryan was getting the camera at the right angle he felt a presence over his left shoulder… a sea lion wanted to play. So Ryan turned the camera towards the sea lion and filmed her playing for the next six minutes.

Ryan did managed to get some shot with Rachel beside the sea lion. But as you can tell from the picture below, there is a reason why Rachel takes all the photos on our trips.

In the afternoon the ship sailed about 5 miles to drop anchor near North Seymour Island. This island is best known for being a large frigate bird nesting colony. We had a few excursion options at this location. We could do a deep water snorkel. Then afterwards we had a choice between a long walk on the island, or a panga ride followed by a short hike. We choose the deep water snorkel and long hike.

This snorkel had the least welcoming conditions of the trip. The current was strong and winds made the surf a bit rough. It wasn’t challenging, but it was a departure from the conditions of the last few days. On this snorkel we saw six white-tipped sharks and a school of manta rays.

The long hike afterwards was much more exciting. We got to see the frigate birds in their nesting grounds. Many of the male frigate birds were puffing out their red neck pouches in an attempt to attract mates. It takes about 45 minutes for the pouch to inflate, and 30 minutes for it to deflate. The frigate birds inflate their pouches, face towards the sky, flap their wings and make a drum like noise. Quite the thing to witness. Towards the end of the hike we even got to see one successfully attract a mate.

Swallow-tailed Gulls

This island also featured a small blue footed booby nesting colony.

A blue-footed booby baby!

Even though it wasn’t their mating season, Ryan was still holding out hope that we would get to see the blue footed booby mating dance. In this case, when an eligible male spots a female in the sky, he’ll whistle and extend his wings out. Then he’ll lift one foot, put it down, then repeat with the other in an attempt to impress the females. We got to witness one dance during our time on the island. Ryan and another passenger were pretty excited. Most everyone else kept hiking down the trail. That booby wasn’t successful in attracting a mate.

Beyond the birds, North Seymor also had a large land iguana population and supported provided a resting ground for sea lions.

Tomorrow we visit San Cristobal Island. In the morning we’ll visit Puerto Baquerizo. In the afternoon we’ll visit Punta Pitt to see a nesting colony with all three booby species (Nazca, Blue footed, and Red footed)

Total pinnipeds: 1 (galapagos sea lion)
Total penguin species: 1 (Galapagos)
Total blue footed booby dances: 1
Total frigate bird pouch displays: lots
Total Phillie Phanatic sightings: 0
Total havana club and cokes: 3
Total equator crossings: 0
Total islands visted: 2
Total Watercraft: 5
Total Steps: fitbit is still outta juice

Santiago Lava Fields and Bartolome Island

Location: Sulivan Bay between Santiago and Bartolome Islands, Galapagos

This morning the ship dropped anchor in Sulivan Bay, located between Santiago and Bartolome Islands. This was the day which we were most excited for when planning the trip. This location mixed recent lava flows, volcanic formations, with an active penguin colony. We were worried that we may not have had enough time to fit everything we wanted to do into such a short day.

We had an option for two tours in the morning. We could either go for a long 2 mile hike over the lava fields on Santiago Island, or do a shorter lava field hike. We choose the longer option. We’ve been to a lot of lava fields during our travels together: Hawai’i Volcanos National Park, Vesuvius, Mount Etna, and even Iceland. But this lava field was probably the best we’d ever witnessed to see pahoehoe lava formations.

Lava fields in Santiago Island, Galapagos
Pahoehoe lava with layers of lava beneath.
Us standing on the Santiago lava field, with Bartolome in the background
Us at the edge of the pahoehoe flow next to the socoria cinder cones.

There wasn’t much in the way of wildlife in the lava fields. There were some annoying tiny yellow flies (who didn’t bite), and the painted locust who was attracted to Ryan’s shirt.

A painted locust landed on Ryan

There wasn’t a marked trail on the lava fields and one had to be careful where they stepped. Cracks and crevices were plentiful, exposing lava layers that the geologists love to study.

Never step off the trail! (even if it doesn’t exist)

We were both very surprised to discover hornitos, something that we hadn’t heard of before today. Hornitos are small holes where lava emerges out of lava tubes and bubbles to the surface. They can grow quite large, but the ones here weren’t particularly tall. They were pretty iridescent owing to the volcanic glass that formed around the edges.

hornito

We had a few hours in between the morning and afternoon tours. The ship didn’t even change location. So instead of us going to the wildlife, the wildlife came to us. All around us, we would see manta rays doing flips out of the water. The mantas engage in this behavior to dislodge fish, attract mates, or for fun.

A manta ray flipping out of the water

A turtle came to the edge of the ship.

A sea lion took a nap on one of the pangas.

Look at the last panga on the left side to see a napping sea lion.

And an egret landed on the aft dining section of the ship.

Egret

Their were several options for tours in the afternoon in Bartolome. Everyone could do a deep water snorkel. Then separately people could climb to the top of bartolome, or go for a panga ride to see wildlife. We choose the snorkel and hike.

Bartolome is a volcanic island that formed about 700,000 years ago. Probably from a single eruption. The island may be best known as one of the filming locations from the movie “Master and Commander: Far Side of the World”.

Our first excursion of the afternoon was to go for a deep water snorkel off the coast of Bartolome near pinnacle rock. This was the tour that Ryan was most excited for. When we approached the dive site, we could see a penguin about 30 feet north of the panga making noises. It was like it was beckoning us to come play with him. But our guide told us that we had to swim south. We figured that if we saw one penguin, we’d surely see more that wanted to play.

We didn’t. As it turns out most of the penguins live on the other side of the island, but they occasionally come over to look for food. Not so much today, but at least we got to swim with penguins yesterday.

In fact, we didn’t see much beyond lots of fish on this snorkel. It was a little disappointing compared with our previous swims. But you can’t control wildlife, and we were probably very lucky that last couple days so it sort of all balances out. On the plus side, we saw a LOT of fish, and the water was probably 10 degrees warmer than yesterday.

Two schools of fish collide
Ryan snorkeling
Starfish were very common

Our last tour of day was the long walk to the top of Bartolome. We had to take 380 steps to the top of island (374 feet) with a trail of about 0.8 miles long. The entire trail was on a wooden boardwalk. The panoramic view from the top is said to be one of the best and most iconic in the islands.

The hike took about two hours. We made frequent stops so that the naturalists could explain the geology and vulcanology of the island. We got to see lots of craters and cones from diversion eruptions, lava tubes, and volcanic bombs.

A lone green plant and flowers on the side of Bartolome

Here’s our view from the top. It really did offer a great view of the nearby pinnacle rock, and most of the surrounding Galapagos islands. The only downside was that the tour was near the end of the day, so the lighting wasn’t very great to get a shot of pinnacle rock.

A view from the top of Bartolome
A submerged caldera from Bartolome

Tomorrow we go back to Santa Cruz island to visit Bachas Beach, where we might get to see flamingos for our last beach snorkel. In the afternoon we visit North Seymour Island for our last snorkel of the trip, and visit a frigate bird colony.

Total pennipeds: 1 (galapagos sea lion)
Types of lava formations: 3 (pahoehoe, aa, hornito)
Totel penguin species: 1 (Galapagos)
Total Phillie Phanatic sightings: 0
Total havana club and cokes: 3
Total equator crossings: 0
Total islands visted: 2
total watercraft: 5
Total Steps: IDK, fitbit died. But based on other passengers fitbits, over 10,000 plus a lot of swimming.

Snorkeling with Penguins in Tagus Cove

Location: Tagus Cove, Isabela Island, Galapagos

This afternoon we dropped anchor in Tagus Cove on the island of Isabela. In the past this location was used by sailors and whalers as a safe harbor. Graffiti marks the cliffs surrounding the cove of ships that had visited in the past. Today it’s a nice place to do some snorkeling and hike to see a scenic lake and lava landscapes. We had three excursion options for this stop. The first option was a deep water snorkel for experienced snorkelers. Following that we could choose between two options: a short panga ride and long “steep fast paced” hike; or a longer panga ride with optional short steep hike. Rachel choose the longer panga ride without a hike, and Ryan selected the short panga ride and long steep hike.

The deep water snorkel was amazing. We booked the inner passage itinerary in September specifically to snorkel with penguins. This afternoon’s snorkel was the first of two chances we would have on this trip.

Who has two thumbs and is swimming with penguins? This guy!

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

You can imagine our excitement as we boarded the panga and traveled out into the cove. Once we got to the starting point we were instructed to put on our masks and fins and then jump into the water. We didn’t hesitate. It only took a few moments to overcome the cold water, about 59 F, 7-8 degrees colder than yesterday’s snorkel.

We swam around for a little while looking at the numerous turtles. Then we heard the naturalists announce that a penguin was over in the distance. We’re not sure if the other swimmers heard the announcement though. Ryan started swimming in that direction passing the other snorkelers in our group. Then he spotted a penguin and darted off after it! He aggressively followed it around for a couple minutes as it hunted for food. The path wound up making a big circle as he ended up about 10 yards behind the group he first passed.

We also got to snorkel with turtles, sea lions, puffer fish, flightless cormorants, and marine iguanas.

We returned to the ship after the snorkel, then parted ways to do separate excursions.

Rachel took a long panga ride where she got to see more blue footed and nazca boobies, penguins, flightless cormorants, marine iguanas.

marine iguana
flightless cormorant
brown noddy

Nazca booby
Blue footed boobies

She also got to see some cool volcanic layering.

volcanic layering in Tagus Cove, Isabela, Galapagos

Ryan didn’t get to see nearly as much wildlife, and we he did see he didn’t get good pictures of because he had the wide angle lens (Rachel had the telephoto lens). His hike was about 2 miles long round trip and went up about 430 feet. About halfway up through though the climb he was treated to a great view of the Darwin Lake.

Lake Darwin

At the top of the climb he got to see and panoramic view of the that part of the island. To the west was a view of a semi lush island, Darwin Lake, and the ship. To the east was an old lava field.

We had a breathtaking sunset in the evening.

Sunset at Tagus Cove

Tonight we will cross the equator two more times as we go around the island of Isabela. To commemorate last night’s crossing the cruise held King Neptune’s Court for the equator crossing ceremony. They gave a brief history of the ceremony for the pollywogs. The Xpedition’s ceremony was indoors, and needless to say, was much cleaner than what we experienced on the Millennium. Their version was having the passengers pretend to be Galapagos animals as they play a game of limbo.

Tomorrow is the day we (read: Ryan) has been most excited for. We’ll start the morning in Sullivan Bay, Santiago Island and go for a long lava field hike. In the afternoon we’ll go for another deep water snorkel to try to swim with penguins from the Bartolome island rookery. Afterwards we’ll hike to the top of Bartolome island for one of the best and most iconic views in the islands.

Total pennipeds: 1 (galapagos sea lion)

Total penguin species: 1 (Galapagos)

Total Phillie Phanatic sightings: 0

Total hemispheres: 2 (NW, SW)

Total oceans: 1 (North and South Pacific)

Total havana club and cokes: 2

Total equator crossings: 4

Total Watercraft: Rachel (4), Ryan (5)

Total Steps: 3,891 (Rachel) plus a lot of swimming

post script: The internet is sporadic on the ship, so we are posting this a day late.

The Penguins of the Elizabeth Bay Mangroves

Location: Elizabeth Bay, Isabela Island, Galapagos

Today we are splitting our posting of the days events into two seperate posts, because its a logical seperator due to being in different locations and because we have so many picutres to share.

This morning we dropped anchor near Elizabeth Bay, Isabela Island. The location is on the western end of the archapeligo and experiences some of the coldest waters. This makes it ideal for penguins and other wildlife that prefers colder water. Frequent readers will know that we love penguins, and the timing of this trip in Septemeber was to maximaize our chances to see the endemic Galapagos penguins at their most active time.

We weren’t disappointed.

There was only one excursion option this morning, a panga ride to see the mangroves of the bay. We had a choice between 8 AM or 10 AM ride. We’ve beaten the sun every day, so we choose the earlier ride. Plus wildlife tend to be more active in the mornings and evenings.

The panga departed from the ship and we made our way into the bay. As we approached the coastline our naturalist started looking for signs of penguins. Ryan was the first to spot one in the waters.

First sighting of a Galapagos Penguin

And then we never stopped seeing them! Even the naturalists were impressed by how many penguins we could see and how active they were. Normally they may only see a handful. We saw dozens!

Galapagos penguin eating a fish

Penguins chest bumping
A penguin falling off a rock after a chest bump
Ryan’s in his happy place
Both Galapagos penguins and Rachel exhibiting their respective natural behaviors

After looking at penguins in the open bay and near the mouth of the mangroves we ventured further into the protected waters. There we saw rays and turtles.

On our way back to the ship we stopped at a few rocky islands to see the nesting sites for the flightless cormorants. This nesting site was also joined by a couple resting sea lions.

flightless cormorant
Flightless cormorant nesting site.
flightless cormorant about to jump down a step
flightless cormorant midjumo
“Look at me! I’m beautiful!”

This afternoon the ship will move north up the coast to Tagus Cove. We will go on a deep water snorkel to try to swim with the penguins. Then we’ll split up and go on different excursions, each with varying length panga rides and hikes.

Puerto Egas and Rabida Island

Location: Puerto Egas and Rabida, Galapagos

Today was the first full day of the cruise. At first the destinations seemed pretty timid and more of a way of easing the passengers into the routine and rigor of exploring the islands. (There are actually a lot or preparation for getting both to shore and back onto the boat which we don’t describe in this blog) But it turned out to be a pretty packed day that had lots of unique wildlife encounters both on land in below the waves.

Our first stop of the day was Port Egas on Santiago Island. In the days before this island became part of the national park, it was a salt mine. It wasn’t economically viable and shut down, but not before doing a lot of ecological damage to the island. Since then some work has been done to reverse the damages and revert the island to its more natural form. We a choice between two excursions: a longer 2.5 mi hike which allowed us to see both the Galapagos sea lion and fur seals, or a shorter hike (with no fur seals). Both tours had an option to do a post hike snorkel.

Us with sea lions and marine iguanas behind

We took the longer hike and snorkel option. And we were glad we did. We got to see a large amount of Galapagos sea lions, including many young pups.

Galapagos sea lion mother and her week old pup on the beach
Galapagos sea lion puppies!
Galapagos sea lion alpha mail overlooking his harem

In fact the tour group ahead of us got to watch one being born! Here is a picture of it less than 30 min after birth. It’s mother is trying to coax it into the water.

Galapagos sea lion mother and newborn pup

The birth attracted a couple of Galapagos hawks.

Galapagos hawk, attracted by the new birth of a pup

We also got to see the marine iguanas,

marine iguana

the Galapagos version of the great blue heron (not a separate species yet).

great blue heron (Galapagos)

Toward the end of hike we got to see a few Galapagos fur seals. Despite their name, they are actually a sea lions that were misnamed. But the call of the species does sound more like a seal than a sea lion, so we sorta understand the classifications.

Galapagos fur seal

After the hike we went for a snorkel by the beach. The water was deceptively cold and even though we were wearing wet suits, it took our breath away. We weren’t disappointed with what we saw either. We saw a variety of fish including a chocolate chip starfish and a ray,

chocolate chip starfish
A ray

but the excitement of the morning came when we swam with sea lion for the first time.

first aquatic encounter with a sea lion

We went back to ship for lunch and attened a lecture on bird identifcation. We took a short nap afterwards. Meanwhile the ship relocated to Rabida Island.

We had a choice of two excursions for Rabida. We could either go on a long hike inland, or go for a panga ride along the coast. Each choice allowed the option for snorkeling afterwards. We read online that the hike usually didn’t offer the best opportunists for seeing wildlife, whereas the panga ride was usually more successful, so we took the boat ride followed by snorkeling. This was least popular option, so there were only 6 people on this tour. And after talking with others who went on the hike, it sounds like we got to see more wildlife too.

During the panga ride we got to see a couple blue footed boobies on the ground

blue footed booby

and a nazca booby.

nazca booby

But the highlight of this excursion was the snorkeling. There were a lot of sea lions on the beach and they frequently enter the water to search for food and watch the humans attempt to swim and snorkel.

We also saw a black tipped reef shark here.

black tipped reef shark

Overnight tonight we will round the northern part of Isabela Island and cross the equator and enter the North Pacific Ocean. Then will continue sailing around the island and cross the equator again and make our way back into the South Pacific Ocean.

Tomorrow we will visit Elizabeth Bay and Tagus Cove on Isabela Island. These locations are known for the penguin rookeries and other unique wildlife. With any luck, we’ll get to see the galapagos penguins for the first time on our panga rides and deep water snorkles.

Total pennipeds: 2 (galapagos fur seal, galapagos sea lion)
Total Sharks: 2 (galapagos ray, black tipped reef shark)
Total Havana Club rum and cokes: 3
Total boobies: 2 (nazca and blue footed)
Total steps: 8,135 plus a bunch of swimming

Tomorrow we will also try to make two posts separating the two destinations we will be visiting.

Boarding the Xpedition and Daphne Major

Location: Santa Cruz, Baltra, and Daphne Major, Galapagos

We woke up early this morning. Not because we had too, but because we got to bed early last night, we’re still on east coast time, and a loud rooster was not far from the hotel. We spent some time packing up, and playing on the internet then headed down to have breakfast in the courtyard. It was a yummy and generous sized breakfast for two people. It didn’t take long for the birds to realize that we were eating and soon Tippy Headrin (Ryan) was surrounded by a couple dozen finches and other birds eager to eat any loose crumbs that fell off his plate when he was looking the other way. Like all other animals here, the small birds have no natural fear of humans, and would only fly away if we made any sudden moves in their directions.

After breakfast we left the hotel and made our way from Puerto Ayora to Baltra airport. We did the same journey as yesterday but in reverse. It took about 70 minutes to get to the airport. Along the way, Ryan spotted two Galapagos tortoises, but we were travelling too fast to get any pictures.

We arrived at the airport and met with the Celebrity Cruises representative. We were the first people to arrive for the cruise. He showed us to the Celebrity VIP lounge were was had access to food and drinks. Over the course of the next hour and a half, other passengers would trickle in from incoming flights. We were notified that the ship was ready for us and that we could board the ship. So the 16 early arrivals (most other passengers took the pre-cruise Quito add-on) made our way to a shuttle that took us to the port on the north side of the island.

We boarded the first zodiac (panga) to leave the port and made our way to the Xpedition. The panga ride took about 5 minutes to get to the ship. We were the first ones to board the ship (and thinking of Leigh’s life goal the whole time).

We got a quick cruise briefing and our room keys. And just like any other first day on a ship: we dropped our stuff off in the room, got lunch, and decided to explore the ship.

Exploring the ship took less than 5 minutes. It’s just not that big. It has a lounge, hot tub, a few decks chairs. The lounge is used for nearly all briefings, and its the only place on the ship with wifi (although we still could get a wifi signal nearby).

Most of the rest of the day consisted of getting us educated for the rest of the week. Our first briefing was the mandatory safety briefing and muster drill.  This coincidentally happened at the same time as the fourth quarter of the NYG-Eagles games. We’ve heard this briefing before (in the event of a water landing…) but it had a few twists from the normal cruise safety briefings. Ryan paid close attention… to the gamecast on his phone.  And he in no way was loud, made a scene, or drew attention to himself when the eagles won with a 61 yd field goal. FLY EAGLES FLY!

Next the ship raised anchor and made its way to Daphne Major and nearby volcanic island. This small island juts out of the sea with no obvious way to make landings. So the ship sailed around it. The island is most famous for the recent(ish) work of two researchers who have been returning to this island twice a year to survey the various finch species. Through their research they were able to show adaptation and evolution in action through the natural generation of a new finch species. This scenic cruising lasted less than an hour.  We got some good pictures of the island with its geological layers.

Daphne Major
Geologic layers showing different types of eruptions on Daphne Major

Meanwhile various frigate bids began flying in our wake, providing great photo opportunities.

Frigate bird flying in our wake

Along the way, we passed by some rocks sticking out of the water. It was populated by lots of seabirds and sea lions.

birds and sea lions resting on the rocks.

Later in the evening we had a briefing on how to snorkel and what excursion options were available to us tomorrow.

Tomorrow we will visit Rabida Island. In the morning we will go for a long hike and snorkel near Port Egas. In the afternoon we’ll go for a panga ride in Elizabeth Bay followed by more snorkeling.

Total watercraft: 3

Total steps: 6,175

The internet is faster and more reliable than we were expecting. It looks like we’ll be able to update the blog every night, but we may be a little limited in the amounts of wildlife photos we can upload. 

Also… Rachel was watching the Redskins gamecast while we were writing this… HAIL TO THE REDSKINS!

Arrival in the Galapagos

Location: Guayaquil -> Baltra/Santa Cruz Islands Galapagos

After a brief stay at the airport hotel, we woke up around 630 and made our way to the airport. There a few bureaucratic hoops one must jump through to travel to the Galapagos, so we allowed ourselves extra time to check in at the airport. Months ago we went online to fill out the forms for the Transit Control Card (although this could have been done the day of as well). Then we had to go to the INGALA window at the airport to pay for the cards and pick them up. Then we had to have our bags checked for organic material at the SICGAL area next door. Then we could actual check in for our flight to the islands and go through the normal flying routine. The whole process didn’t take more than half and hour, but it wasn’t very busy when we got there.

We didn’t have time to get breakfast at the hotel so we ate in the airport terminal. We each got an empanada, because South America, and they’re awesome. These ones weren’t very good.

The flight to the Galapagos itself was about two hours long and went without incident. On final approach there was enough of a break in the clouds to give us some good aerial views of the islands and islets around Santa Cruz, Galapagos.

We landed on Baltra Island, which is arid and uninhabited except for the airport. We got off the plane, went through another round of pseudo-immigration and customs where we had to pay the national park fee and then have an x-ray machines and dogs again search our belongings for biological material. From there we took a bus across the small island to the channel. Then paid $1 to take a ferry to the main island of  Santa Cruz. Then we took a taxi across the island to the main settlement of Puerto Ayora. Overall it took about 90 min from plane to hotel.

We are staying overnight at Forteleza de Haro.  The hotel has four suites of varying sizes. We booked the smallest initially. The hotel has lots of character; it looks like a castle made of volcanic rock from the outside. There is a courtyard inside with a small swimming pool, bar area, kitchen, and gaming area. Each suite has it own celestial themed name, and artwork painted by the owner of the hotel. The attendant Gerencia was very friendly and helpful. Regrettably, we are only here one night. But this would be a great place to set up a base camp to explore the Galapagos without a longer multi island cruise. Highly recommend it!

Fortaleza De Haro from the outside in the evening

Because this was tourist low season, we were also the only ones staying at the hotel.

Our Plan A for the afternoon was to go on a harbor boat tour. But we were informed a little after we arrived the the tour for the afternoon was cancelled. So we upgraded our room to the largest in the hotel, complete with spacious bathroom, balcony with hammock, and a second floor balcony picnic area.

So we came up with a Plan B. We hung out at the pool for a few hours, worked on our pre-sunburns and watched the birds and lizards that were also hanging out in the hotel.

A lava lizard iguana hanging out with us at the pool

Ryan even tried to look for the Phillie Phanatic from the watchtower of the castle hotel. He wore his Phillies Hawaiian shirt to try to draw the Phanaitc out into the open. It didn’t work.

Then in the late afternoon we went into town to try to see more wildlife and get dinner.

Sea lions sleeping on the beach in town
Frigate bird or Pterodactyl?
Pelican

Tomorrow we board the Celebrity Xpedition and kick off our Galapagos cruise.

Total flights: 1

Total boat rides: 1

Total Phillie Phanatic sightings: 0

Total times we crossed the equator: 0

Total steps: 12,775

The internet in the Galapagos is slow, so we won’t be able to upload many images today (or perhaps over the course of the trip). We will probably have additional entries after we get back home with other pictures. It is even possible that we may not be able to reliably make a new post until we return to Guayaquil in eight days. If that happens, we will stagger the posts on a daily basis.

Yellowstone South Loop and Grand Teton

Location: Island Park, ID -> Yellowstone/Tetons -> Jackson, Wyoming

Good news: we slept in later than we had the previous mornings. Bad news: we still beat our alarms.  But waking up early allowed us to get a head start on the day, and just like our first full day in Yellowstone we needed as much time as we could get. Overall the park felt a little busier than Sunday.

As soon as we made it into Yellowstone we made a beeline for the geyser basins and started with the Firehole Lake Drive. We coincidentally arrived about a minute before the eruption of the Great Fountain Geyser. It was perhaps one of the more interesting eruptions we had seen (in Yellowstone, New Zealand, or Iceland), owing to how the water sprayed and spread out around the crater and flowed down natural terraces that previous eruptions had created over time.

Fountain Geyser
Fountain Geyser Steps

Next we went on a two mile hike along the Fairy Falls trail. Luckily we got there just before the crowds arrived. This hidden-in-plain-sight side trail goes up a hill that overlooks the Midway Geyser basin.  In the cool morning, the trail gave us a great view of the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring reflecting off the steam. The trail itself ended atop a hill which gave an overhead view of the iconic landmark.

Grand Prismatic Hot Spring steam reflections

Grand Prismatic Hot Spring

We made a quick rest stop at Old Faithful, and was coincidentally there to see it erupt again. But no pics this time. We then drove across the park and had lunch at Lake Village, before driving north again to see Sulphur Canyon. They weren’t kidding around when they named that location. The sulfur was so overpowering that it stung our eyes. But it didn’t seem to bother the bison relaxing in between bubbling sulfur pools.

Sulphur Spring
The stench of sulfur clearly didn’t bother this relaxed bison.

Our last scenic stop at the park was at the Mud Volcano, where we saw the Dragon’s Mouth.

Mud Volcano
Dragon’s Mouth

We also passed the Great Continental Divide while driving in this part of the park.  A Continental Divide is a drainage divide on a continent. The Great Continental Divide is  series of mountain ridges stretching from Alaska to Mexico, marking the separation of drainage basins that empty into the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans.

At this point, we had spent most of the day in Yellowstone and had one more park to visit. So we drove south and exited the park. We had a short and uneventful drive on the John Rockfeller Memorial Parkway before entering Grand Teton National Park.

The Tetons are renowned for the iconic views of its distinctive mountains and excellent mountain hiking trails.  The park was much more crowded than Yellowstone, and Ryan suspects that a lot of the other visitors were there in part because of the eclipse yesterday. But we aren’t exactly known for our mountain climbing skills so this wasn’t a good fit for us. Sadly, it was the middle-late afternoon and hazy so we couldn’t get many good photos of the mountains.

But we did managed to get a few photos of the mountains and take a short hike near Jenny Lake and the Laurence Rockefeller Preserve.

We also saw the shrinking Teton glacier from the distance.

Teton Glacier

We left Grand Teton in the early evening and made our way into Jackson. It was supposed to be a short drive, but we got caught in the afternoon rush hour. After checking into the hotel (yay internet, air conditioning, comfortable bed!) we walked around the artsy and expensive downtown Jackson and had dinner.

Tomorrow we visit Fossil Butte National Monument, Fort Bridger State Park (for the Oregon Trail nostalgia), and finish in Vernal, Utah with Dinosaur National Monument.

Total national park passport stamps: 8

Total times Ryan checked the weather: 0

Total steps: 13,418

Total miles driven: 226

Osprey we saw in Yellowstone today