Tag Archives: expedition

Ecuadorian journeyman – 2019: Quito and home!

Hi folks!

After our excursion around the Galapagos Islands, it was time to return to the mainland and to Ecuador‘s capital – Quito for a proper look round. We’d flown over it a few times already, and stayed in a few hotels en route to or from the airport but not investigated the place on the ground.

Maybe there are parts of the city that are well-designed, well-built built, with lots of greenery and leafiness and overall pleasantness; however, we only saw such a place once – the city’s central square.

The rest of the city – at least those parts we saw – leave a lot to be desired. Untidy, ungroomed, seemingly no plan for town-planning ever, and traffic worse that Moscow’s – and that’s saying something. The old town looks much better and there are some neighborhoods that are interesting (for example, where our hotel was located), but even those – I’d hardly call them charming. Alas, the city is lagging behind other Latin American capitals I know of.

One aggravating factor the city’s huge population all crammed into one relatively small area. To compare, Quito covers nine times less area than Moscow, but its population is just 5.8 times less. But Moscow is a city of practically nothing but high-rise buildings; Quito rarely gets much above two floors across the whole city.

Here are some tourists lapping up Quito’s suburban sprawl. It’s not quite a favela, but it’s getting there. There are some places where the houses are better, but they still seem to be made of non-standard materials and hardly ever painted.

I have a simple rule when visiting a new city: the best way to get a proper feel for it is by taking a stroll through it. First decide on a route, then follow it. Here in Quito it went from the Virgin of Quito monument back to our hotel. Alas, I didn’t get a pic of said monument; you’ll have to make do with one I found on the internet:

Read on…

GALÁPA-GOSH – PT. 9: Now you’ve seen it all.

Our oh-my-Galápa-gosh adventure was fast drawing to a close; just one day, one night and a morning, and we’d be heading home. Though this unwelcome end to the trip loomed heavy on our minds, inevitable Ecuad-awesomenesses still lied ahead for us…

Next stop: the northernmost point of Rábida Islandhere. Dark brown-red beaches and rock, and lots of fur seals. Sure, they lazed around on the beach alongside tourists also lazing about on the beach, but we were used to that already. No, here there was a bonus – a very special, unforgettable bonus – which also served as the day’s Ecuad-awesomeness: they’d swim together with us in the ocean!

Swimming with fur seals is insanely fun. They twist and spin and turn around you for a while, then go off and do the same around another tourist, then come back for a repeat performance, perhaps with the addition of some crazy acrobatic somersaults – and it goes on like that forever! They never stop!

And we even got them on video:

Ahh. So much fun and positive vibes.

And ashore – all that Martian redness: fairly monumental:

And of course, lots and lots of cacti, which turned out to be Opuntia. Sure – I’d seen cactuses shaped like that on windowsills back home, but it was only when we got up close to them here did we realize just how massive they are here:

Suddenly, mommy pelican feeding her little one. Oh my gastroscopy!

Peek-a-boo, we see you!

More boobies in their brightly-colored boots:

A fine feathered species all on his lonesome looking out to sea. Looking for his dinner, maybe?

And the icing on the cake, or – rather – the dessert to our whole Galapagos trip – a beach that goes by the name of Espumilla on Santiago Island, aka San Salvador – here. We strolled along it, our mood still a little low since this would be the last beach of our expedition.

The definition of ‘easy pickings’? These here pelicans gobbling up these here fish that washed up on the beach with some waves!

Btw – I used the right metaphor when I mentioned ‘dessert’, for it turns out that ‘espumilla‘ is a popular dessert in Ecuador! I don’t know what it tastes like, but if it’s as nice as this beach – I want some ).

The following morning was a corker: beautiful weather and………. SEX!…

Tortoise sex, that is ).

Yes, that’s what those frisky tortoises get up to – at Black Turtle Cove – here. And why not? Only natural wanting to propagate one’s species. Perhaps we shouldn’t have taken pics; how would we have liked that? )

Not only did we take pornographic photos, we also learned all the ins and outs of the mating process here from our guide. Apparently it takes a full six (6!!) hours. And the poor female there is underwater for a lot of that time. Well she needs to come up for air occasionally – like in the following pic. Or, sometimes they swim/copulate on their sides so there’s no need to come up for air )).

Occasionally other males swim up to the action hoping to get in on it. Oh my gosh. What? Tortoises doing threesomes? Or more? Tortoise orgies? Well. Now I – and you – have seen it all )).

Meanwhile – check out the pesky voyeurs:

And on that jolly note, I end this Galapa-gosh series. Here was the day’s schedule:

Next up for us – ship, airport (for our morning flight)…

Next morning at the airport, we fancied a drink of water from the empty café in the corner. Some of us wanted just hot water, and found out it cost a full two (2!) US dollars. What?! Maybe that’s why the place was empty? )

As if to make up for the hot water extortion racket in the airport, the plane that awaited us on the apron was brand new, and it was a new-to-me airline too – Avianca:

We flew over Guayaquil once more, checking out both its poorer and richer parts, and further onward we flew…

…And back to Quito.

Now, some aromatic bitters I think, to help the digestion of all those dishes of Galapagos. And there’s no better digestive aid than… reading maps, as you’ll know ).

But first, we need to get to grips with the local place names on maps of this part of the world. See, theses islands were discovered by the Spanish, then the English, then again the Spanish, and each time (almost) every island earned itself a new name!

So, herewith, the various names of the islands we visited (going form north to south and from west to east:

Manage to digest all that?!

So totting those up – that comes to eight islands we visited.

Now for the particular places on the islands we disembarked at:

  • On Santiago: Espumilla beach / Buccaneer Cove
  • On Bartolomé: too small for place names
  • On Rábida: ditto
  • On Baltra: airport
  • On Santa Cruz: Los Gemelos / Pit Craters / Twin Craters; Cerro Dragon / Dragon Hill; Caleta Tortuga Negro / Black Turtle Cove!
  • On San Cristóbal: Cerro Brujo / Witch Hill; Punta Pitt / Pitt Point
  • On Floreana: Post Office Bay and Cormorant Point – no Spanish names
  • On Española: Suarez Point / Punta Suarez; Gardner Bay

Ok. Now, finally – the cognac and cigar! – bring out the route map!

So there you have it folks, the Galapagos Islands – from top to bottom. Highly recommended, it goes without saying. They’re a pain to get to, the whole trip ain’t cheap, and the boat rocks a bit too much for comfort for some; but the raptures, the impressions, the emotions, and the future memories – I think they more than compensate for all that. But don’t take make word for it – have a go yourself! You wont’ regret it.

Over and out from the Galapagos folks!

All the Ecuador pics are here.

Flickr photostream

Instagram photostream

GALÁPA-GOSH – PT. 8: PENGUINS… AT THE EQUATOR!

I think this day was the most Ecuad-awesome of all during our boat-based excursion of the Galápagos Islands. Two islands in one day: one with brightly-colored iguanas; the other – with similarly wonderful wild animals and sensational sunsets. The latter wonderful wild animals – I’d been expecting them sooner or later as I’d heard about them before, but here they finally were, in the flesh – Galápagos penguins! Yes, you read that right: penguins! Who’d have thought it – on the equator of all places?!

Read on…

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GALÁPA-GOSH – PT. 7: Volcanism, Darwinism, Puerto Ayora-ism…

Hola boys and girls!

Herewith, a continuation of my reportage from the Galápagos Island of Santa Cruz, on which we’d already seen: cacti that defy, surfaces with tortoises, and banana iguanas. Next up… – my favorite: volcanism! In particular: lava tubes. (‘A lava tube is a natural conduit formed by flowing lava which moves beneath the hardened surface of a lava flow. Tubes can drain lava from a volcano during an eruption, or can be extinct, meaning the lava flow has ceased, and the rock has cooled and left a long cave.’ – Wikipedia.

I’d been in such constructions before, in Kamchatka, Sicily, on the slopes of Mount Etna, and in Hawaii. I think that probably most relatively fresh volcanoes in the world feature such lava tubes – and that includes on the Galápagos Islands:

Read on…

GALÁPA-GOSH – PT. 6: Banana iguana.

A new day on the Galápagos Islands and a new Galápagosh for us…

Still on the island of Santa Cruz (on which we saw yesterday’s giant tortoises), this morning we were checking out a different spot thereon – Cerra Dragon (Dragon Hill in English, here) (in the afternoon we were headed over to the tiny Bartolomé Island).

What made this day special was the way we didn’t see just one Ecuad-awesomeness, but a full three! Oh my Galápa-goodness! Let me go through them one by one. In this post – #1…

The ‘Galapagos land iguana’.

Oh my guana! Check these resplendent reptiles out!

Read more…

GALÁPA-GOSH – PT. 4: THE CACTUS TREES OF SANTA CRUZ.

Hi folks!

Another day, another Galápagos island. Next up – Santa Cruz Islandhere. We were driven literally from its top to bottom (on a road some 40km long). No swimming with the turtles on this day, but of course that didn’t mean there’d be no Ecuad-awesomeness – the main one of which was the fact that… cactuses can resemble trees!

Now, remember the last pic in yesterday’s post? The one with a tree trunk that looked to be of a pine or fir tree? Well it’s actually a cactus known as an opuntia, aka prickly bear! No, not one of those small cactuses with the silly ears that you know to be a cactus. Here cactuses are verrrrry big, verrrrry strangely shaped, verrrrry unusual – and with trunks!

Read more…

GALÁPA-GOSH – PT. 3: If you can swim with turtles…

Hola folks!

Adios Española Island, and, after a short night flight, hola Punta Cormorant on Floreana Islandhere.

At Punta Cormorant you’d think there might be at least one or two Cormorants to be seen, but you’d be wrong (I wonder… did they become extinct on the island?). However, instead, there are one or two tons of Cheloniid sea turtles – which provided today’s main Ecuad-awesomeness!

Read more…

Galápa-gosh – pt. 2: the maiden flight of a young albatross.

The albatross is one of the most astonishing birds in the world. It can fly for thousands of miles from the shore, it can actually live up in the air for years without landing, epic poems are written about it, epic songs are sung about it, it’s considered an omen, and generally there’s an air of mystery around the species. I mean, like, how did they learn to fly just soooo far? How do they sleep up in the sky? How do they sniff out smells of potential prey from miles away?.

The first time I saw some albatrosses was while sailing on a research vessel through the Drake Passage en route to Antarctica, as you do. They seemed to appear out of nowhere, soared so low over the ocean it looked like they were touching it, circled round the ship (just curious?), and then disappeared never to be seen again; and never once did we see them flap their wings! Like, really: zero times! Indeed, they can glide for hours (or is it days, weeks or months?) upon airstreams caused by large ocean waves and wind – both of which they need both to survive; calm, windless conditions are lethal to the albatross. No wind means it simply can’t fly off – not from water, not from land.

In fact, the species has gone so far down the evolutionary road that’s led to its extraordinary gliding abilities that their wings are hardly flappable like other birds’ wings any more. Instead, they have special retainers into which the bones of the wings stick into, fixing the two-or-three-meter-wide wings in place to resemble a glider plane – with no muscles being used at all and zero energy expenditure.

How do they sleep if they’re up in the sky for years (the first six years of their lives they never touch land once!)? Apparently it’s still not known. It might be that the two halves of their brains take it in turns to sleep and be awake, much like whales and dolphins’ do.

Great albatrosses are expert fishermen and fisherwomen. Much like the boobies, they’re super-fast divers, though they don’t go as far deep into the ocean as boobies. They can sniff out ‘food’ from miles away; they drink seawater (they have a special organ in their beaks (the little bumps with the holes thereon) that filters out the salt!!). They nest and breed only in one place – where they were born. That is, after several years and hundreds of thousands of kilometers of flying gliding they return right back to their birthplace.

Truly fantastic fowl.

Simply seeing an albatross would probably have been the main Ecuad-awe-someness of our second day on the Galápagos Islands. However, what made it even more incredible was that we saw the first ever flight of a young great albatross! But I’ll get to that in a bit…

Rewind! A new day – a new island. Next up: Española Island, which is the main breeding ground of the Galápagos Islands.

Read on…

Galápa-gosh – pt. 1: the dance of the boobies.

Hi folks!

Here we were – in the sunny Galápagos islands, after having flown in from the mainland and boarded the small ship we’d be on for the next seven days. And like I’ve already mentioned, on every one of those days we were treated to one large extraordinary Ecuad-awesomeness, plus several smaller ones. But let’s start with day one, whose main Ecuad-awesomeness was – the blue-footed booby!

Yes, I just wrote booby in a blogpost folks! Never thought I’d see that… But boobies with blue feet?! Ye gods!…

Before your imaginations get the better of you, here are the boobies:

Read on…