Monday, October 10, 2022

Home from Ecuador

We took the shuttle from Rincon de Puembo to the Quito airport a little before 8 pm. We made it through check-in with no problems. The security staff at the airport was friendly and helpful. Our flight to Atlanta boarded on time and the five-hour flight was uneventful. We all slept some during the red eye flight before arriving in Atlanta. Our Global Entry status allowed us to get through security in Atlanta with no line. We remarked how valuable Global Entry is to us during international travel.

Our flight to Cincinnati was scheduled for 8:15 in concourse B so we met Whittingtons in concourse A as their 7:15 flight to Orlando was boarding.

Mary picked up a fruit parfait as a morning snack while we waited for our flight to board. The aircraft was completely full for the 8:15 am flight from Atlanta to Cincinnati and left Atlanta on time.

We arrived at the Cincinnati airport a little after 9:30 am, picked up our bags and headed for the ground transportation area. Probably for the first time ever, we got there as the shuttle for the Hilton was arriving so we made it back to the car in record time and made it back home before noon.

We did laundry and started catching up on things that we hadn’t done in the time we were gone. Although we had left the Galaxy Yacht on Saturday, we still felt the boat rocking for several days after we returned.

While it felt good to return to our routine, we will never forget our time in Ecuador. Everyone agreed that this was one of our best trips ever. The activity level of the outings was just right for us, and we got to see so many things that we have read about in National Geographic or watched on PBS nature specials. It was nice to just be immersed in nature. We were initially concerned about not having access to cell telephone signals and Internet, but it wasn’t a problem at all. In fact, it was quite pleasant to not hear about runaway inflation, plummeting stock markets, supply chain breakdowns and political bickering.

We did our best to identify and check off the variety of birds, mammals, reptiles and fish that we saw on the trip. I think that we did a pretty good job of identifying everything but the fish since we all saw so many different fish depending on where we happened to drift by while snorkeling.

We have already started discussing a location for our next adventure. Right now, I think the movement is toward sub-Saharan Africa, perhaps Kenya and Tanzania. There is also discussion of something in the Middle East.

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Walking around Puembo

Because we turned in so early last night, we woke a little after 4 am. There had been a wedding at Rincon de Puembo last night, but the music died down not long after 9 pm. We did our German lessons early and started packing for the return trip home.

Outdoor space at Rincon de Puembo

Cindy called around 6:30 am to let us know to meet them at the hotel restaurant at 7. I went out for a short walk around the hotel and ran into some of our Galápagos group waiting to go on the cloud forest trip that we took two weeks ago. We hope they enjoy the trip with Richard as much as we did last week.

Breakfast was excellent with lots of fruits, juices and breads as well as scrambled eggs and rice. We were not tempted by the tripe stew.

Courtyard to Whittington's room

Mary and I brought our bags from our room to Mark and Cindy’s room since they had the room until we had to leave for the airport at 8 pm. We decided to walk around Puembo and started by going to the city square going past many churches in session. As expected, most churches were Catholic, but we walked past an Apostolic Church along the way. We were struck by the number of dogs on the streets of the town. We stuck our heads into a roller-skating rink and walked through a market where all manner of food was being prepared and sold. After our walk we returned to the hotel where Mark and I took a nap while Mary and Cindy played cribbage.

Lunch at Floralp Delicatessen

At 1 pm we decided to walk to a delicatessen that Patricia recommended, Floralp Delicatessen on the Puembo town square. Mark, Mary and I had hot ham and cheese on ciabatta bread, and Cindy had cold cuts with tomato and avocado. We sat outside in the restaurant’s courtyard under a large avocado tree and enjoyed our meals. On the way out we picked up a variety of desserts to eat back in the room. We met some men from Toronto who are cycling in Ecuador.

After leaving the deli we walked back to Whittington’s room to hang out until time to board the taxi to ride to the Quito airport at 8 pm.

Saturday, October 8, 2022

North Seymour Island - Last Day in the Galapagos

Our instructions for the morning were to board the pangas by 6 am to tour North Seymour Island, returning to the Galaxy Yacht for an 8 am breakfast. Because our watches and telephones were still on Central Time (like Quito) and not mountain time (in Galápagos) we awoke at 4:30 rather than our intended 5:30. We finished packing and went downstairs to the lounge and when we saw that no one else was there, we realized that it was 4:50 and not 5:50. To make it worse, we woke Mark and Cindy thinking that they may have overslept.

A curious sea lion with Willo and Mary

In any case, we probably couldn’t have slept much later because the ship lifted anchor and started to sail toward North Seymour by 5 am anyway. We heard sea lions barking throughout the night with several of them jumping onto the lower deck of the Galaxy. Since we were already awake and dressed, we put our luggage outside the cabin for the crew to pack, did our morning German lessons and got ready for our hike on North Seymour Island.

Sea lion sleeping on the beach

We went back down at 5:45, put our life vests on and hopped on the pangas for a dry landing on North Seymour Island. This is not far from the airport but gets almost no tourist traffic. While the landing was dry, the rocks where we disembarked were very slick. The Galaxy’s First Mate put a towel down on the slick lava helping us get onto shore.


As we walked along the beach, we noticed the abundance of weathered coral and light stones from the reddish-brown ash. The sea lions were everywhere, so we had to be careful not to step on one. We saw one young lucky sea lion who had survived a shark bite. The wound was obvious but healing. There were frigate birds everywhere we looked. Males and females sat on nests, and other males showed the bright red neck feathers of the breeding plumage. Blue-footed boobies were also in abundance on the island. Like the sea lions, the boobies showed no fear of us, and we had to make an effort to not touch them as we walked on the island’s paths. There were a few small marine iguanas and we saw one land iguana.

Blue-footed booby

We walked for a little over a kilometer on the rough and rocky trails around the small island before returning to the boat landing where we make our way on the slick hardened lava to board the pangas for the short ride back to the Galaxy.

Back on the Galaxy, we had a good breakfast of western omelets, small pancakes, sausages and fresh fruit. Marcelo made another excellent juice, perhaps guava, for breakfast. We made a last-minute sweep through the cabin then took the panga to Baltra to get the flight to Quito. The landing at Baltra was quite busy, so we had to wait for a bus but once on the aboard we were at the small airport in under 10 minutes. The Galaxy crew loaded everyone’s bags on the bus for us at the dock then unloaded them at the airport.

Everyone made it through security and the national park inspection with no problems. At the airport, we purchased a few postcards knowing that we would have to mail them from Atlanta since mail service has been discontinued throughout Ecuador. We purchased chicken empanadas from a vendor at the Baltra airport and enjoyed them while we waited for our 11:50 flight to board. Like the trip to Galápagos, we knew that the flight would make one stop at Guayaquil on the way to Quito. 

Our flight from the Galápagos to Guayaquil and Quito was uneventful. I managed to get a short nap and was disappointed that there were dense clouds over the Andes preventing a view of the beautiful mountain range.

Our hotel in Puembo

When we arrived at the Quito airport our bags arrived at baggage claim quickly so we made our way out to meet our waiting Quito guide, Patricia. She arranged for a bus to take us to our hotel, Rincon de Puembo, near the airport. The hotel was once part of a large hacienda that has been repurposed as a location for weddings and lodging for tourists. We unpacked then walked to the dining area where we met the group as people were preparing for their trip home. There were several meal choices at the hotel. Mine was a ceviche appetizer and an entrée of grilled fish with mixed vegetables and a dessert of ice cream covered with the fruit reduction. Mary had the potato soup appetizer then chicken stuffed with ricotta cheese as the entrée and warm chocolate brownie and a scoop of ice cream for dessert. As we ate, each of us reported out on things that we enjoyed most from the Galapagos and what we learned.

We chatted with Mark, Cindy, and Patricia briefly after dinner to consider options for the day on Sunday since we don’t have to leave for the airport until 8 pm. After looking at options, we decided to explore Puembo on foot and have a more relaxing day before our red-eye flight home on Sunday night-Monday morning.

Our rooms at the Rincon de Puembo were clean and comfortable. There was good internet coverage, so we cleaned out email boxes and sent notes to a few people that we were back in continental Ecuador. We went to sleep around 9 pm hoping for a good night’s rest.

Friday, October 7, 2022

Rabida Island and Sombrero Chino

We slept well until around 3 am when the Galaxy lifted anchor to sail to Rabida Island. We went to the lounge for coffee, tea, hot chocolate or water around 7 am. Breakfast was tree tomato juice with corn pancakes, scrambled eggs and a mix of sausages and vegetables.

Flamingos on Rabida Island

Everyone boarded the pangas at 8 am to ride to the beach on Rabida which has sand that is very red in color from the island’s volcanic ash. The wet landing was very easy on the gently sloping beach. We walked along the beach then over to a small lagoon about 100 yards from the beach where seven flamingoes were feeding. There was one juvenile and several adults sitting on nests with eggs. We continued along the path where we saw prickly pear cactus plants that looked very different than ones we have seen on other islands. Rabida does not have tortoises and very few land iguanas so many of the cactus plants have parts that are nearer the ground. Cacti on islands with tortoises or iguanas frequently have their lower parts grazed off.

View from Rabida Island

We came back down from the hill toward the brackish lagoon with the flamingos. Willo told us that young male sea lions congregate at the lagoon in the evenings because the larger sea lion colony with the alpha males takes over the beach front, so the younger males must find another place.

We took our shoes off and reboarded the pangas to return to the Galaxy Yacht. Marcelo had pound cake and juice made from blackberry and guanabana or soursop juice for us. About a third of the group decided to snorkel around Rabida although the weather was very overcast. Many of us opted to wait until the afternoon to see if conditions improve before diving.

Lunch on the Galaxy Yacht was a special surf and turf. The chef prepared langoustine lobster and petite steaks. The appetizer was lentil soup with cheese and dessert was meringue and fruit. As usual, an excellent meal.

Green sea turtle near Sombrero Chino

During lunch the Galaxy sailed to Sombrero Chino Island, so we put our wetsuits on and gathered the snorkel gear to explore the coast of this cone shaped volcanic island resembling a Chinese hat. As we snorkeled along the rocky coast, we saw many beautiful tropical fish including king angelfish, green sea turtles, parrotfish, wrasse and several large white tip sharks. It was a great location to swim.

Our team on Sombrero Chino

Marcelo had a warm beverage for us when we got back to the boat, and we quickly changed clothes for a wet landing and short hike on Sombrero Chino. We saw marine iguanas that were noticeably smaller than individuals that we saw on other islands. Several sea lions were lounging about including many pups that were less than one month old. The island looked very much like a moonscape with lava covering most of the terrain. A few hardy portulaca plants grew in places where the lava was cracked. Several shorebirds were in the surf as well as frigate birds and blue footed boobies in the air. When we finished our walk, we took the pangas a short distance on the island to see a group of Galápagos penguins. We still can’t get over seeing penguins on the equator.

Galapagos penguin

We returned to the Galaxy Yacht with time to relax, start getting clothes dried and preparing for Saturday morning’s departure back to mainland Ecuador. The ship was sailing south toward Seymour Island and the sea was pretty rough, so we didn’t spend time on the sun deck. We were pleased to learn that our friend here found his passport in the nick of time to assure that his group could keep their travel arrangements intact.

Marcelo prepared a spiced drink for our 6:45 daily briefing in the lounge. Willo gave us directions for our bags and getting to the airport on Saturday morning. We were sad to see our Galápagos adventure coming to an end, but everyone seemed to have had a great experience.

Dinner was poached fish and octopus, beef cutlets, sausages, chicken breasts and salad for dinner. Cindy purchased several bottles of wine to share with the group and the chef made a celebratory cake for the occasion. We traded email addresses and headed to our cabins to finish packing and get a good sleep since we have our last island tour at 6 am on Saturday.

Thursday, October 6, 2022

Cerro Dragon and Black Turtle Cove

View from Cerro Dragon

As usual, I was awake at 5:30 this morning so I walked to the lounge for a drink of water and to do my morning German lesson. It wasn’t long until other passengers started trickling in. Mary came down a little after six. Breakfast included eggs over easy with western spices, French toast with walnuts, bacon and fresh papaya and pineapple.

Flamingo near Cerro Dragon

At 8 am we boarded the pangas to ride to Santa Cruz Island for a hike on Cerro Dragon or Dragon Hill, so named for the number of Galápagos land iguanas to be found there. We made a wet landing in the sandy area of the beach although most of the beach was littered with volcanic rock. Several of us elected to ride the panga barefoot then carry our hiking shoes up the beach where we put them on.

Land iguana, one of the "dragons"

We hadn’t walked far on the trail until we saw a large male land iguana basking in the sun. Like most animals we have seen in the Galápagos, the iguanas showed no fear of us. We walked a short distance further into the island and saw a marsh area with a young flamingo feeding. We watched it for a while remarking on the feeding technique of stirring the mud with the feet then scooping with the beak. They are really beautiful and remarkable birds. We had seen flamingos a few times in the Everglades but never this close.

Feral goats near Cerro Dragon

As we followed the trail around Cerro Dragon, we heard the bleating of goats and eventually spotted several Spanish goats at a distance. These animals are considered to be invasive and are controlled if they are on National Park property. The problem is that some farmers nearby have goats that escape onto the National Park where they breed to form herds of feral goats.

Land iguana under a prickly pear

The walk around the hill was beautiful with excellent views of several islands. The prickly pear cacti grow as tall as many trees and have trunks over 12 inches in diameter. We saw several wild cotton plants in bloom along with wild morning glory. We noted an abundance of portulaca growing along the paths. Lots of lava lizards scampered among the portulaca and cacti.

After our walk, we boarded the pangas for the ride back to the Galaxy Yacht where Marcelo has fresh squeezed orange juice and a snack for us.

The ship started sailing for Baltra to refuel so we had some free time through lunch.

After we were in the dining area, the ship’s chef demonstrated making ceviche, Ecuador style. He started with chunks of red snapper adding lime juice, red onion and spices. It was an excellent appetizer with a slice of plantain. The buffet had broiled fish, roasted chicken, white rice and salad fixings. Dessert was a mango custard. As always, everything was good.

Sally Lightfoot crab

We had free time after lunch, so we sat on the top deck for a while then chatted with other passengers in the lounge. The last outing of the day was to Black Turtle Cove from the pangas. We were not to disembark from the boats but would observe wildlife from the small boats. We saw many green sea turtles, white tip sharks, eagle rays and a marbled stingray. We saw red snapper as well at several species of mullet. There were several species of birds out but nothing we hadn’t seen before. It was a nice way to spend the late afternoon.

Green sea turtle

We returned to the Galaxy Yacht a little before 6 pm so we had time to relax for a minute before the nightly debriefing and dinner at 6:30. Willo showed us a 3-minute video that he created using clips of our trip. We then discussed plans for Friday which will be our last full day in the Galápagos. We will visit the islands of Rabida and Sombrero Chino.

Dinner appetizer was a small salad, and the main course was a choice of turkey or pork with mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables. Dessert was apple strudel. We were happy with the meal and sat at the table chatting until we walked into the lounge. Cindy and I had a Manhattan, Galápagos style. Mark had a local craft beer. We went up to our cabin around 8:30.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Santiago Island

I managed to sleep in a little, so it was around 5:30 when I went down to the lounge to make tea. Mary stayed in the room doing her exercises while I chatted with Mark since we were the only two passengers up. By around 6:15 others came down for the morning coffee.

Land iguana at Puerto Egas

After a breakfast of sunny side up eggs and assorted fruits and juices, we prepared to go to Puerto Egas on Santiago Island to see fur seals and a unique natural bridge in the lava. There were many sea lions and several marine iguanas as well as a few land iguanas that had a lot more yellow pigmentation than others we have seen. We also walked to a natural bridge along the ocean made of columns of basalt. We were back in the panga for the short ride to the Galaxy Yacht. Marcelo met us with a glass of tree tomato juice and dishes of fried plantain chips.

Sea lions at Puerto Egas

We put our wetsuits on and gathered our snorkel gear to swim around Puerto Egas where we saw large schools of anchovies, wrasse, parrotfish and others. One sea lion investigated us but lost interest quickly. The water was nice, but we didn’t see many sea lions and no turtles or marine iguanas.

Lunch was a buffet of beef and chicken shish kabobs with shrimp fried rice. Dessert was spiced pears. Everything was quite good.

Mary preparing to snorkel Bahia Bucanero

After lunch we were at a Bahia Bucanero on Santiago Island where we took the pangas out to look at the area. Our pangas went into a large lava tube that was interesting. We floated by an island where we saw a couple of new birds: swallowtail gull and Nazca booby. The ride was nice, but we returned to the Galaxy to put wetsuits back on and snorkel along Santiago Island. I opted to not snorkel this afternoon, but Mary went in briefly. There were some large schools of fish in some places but nothing that we hadn’t seen before. We returned to the Galaxy where Marcelo had a snack and guava juice for us. We cleaned up and dried off in our cabins when we heard the captain sound the air horn. We stepped out of our cabin and the first mate pointed to the ocean just outside our cabin door where we saw a killer whale (orca) following the ship. We think that we were the only passengers to see the whale.

Nazca booby at Bahia Bucanero

We sat outside for a while enjoying the beautiful day while the ship sailed toward Cerro Dragon or Dragon Hill on Santa Cruz Island. Mary and Cindy played cribbage while Mark and I sat out on the deck watching for wildlife. There was the daily briefing at 6:30 where we learned of plans for tomorrow and a little of Friday’s plans. Dinner started with an appetizer of squash and cheese soup. The main course was a choice of chicken or tuna. Most people, including us opted for the tuna steak with sesame seed coating with a serving of quinoa and green beans on the side. We sat with the three sisters and our guide, Willo. The conversation was fun, mostly hearing about Willo growing up in the Galápagos Islands.

Throughout the trip we have remarked about what an exception group we have. On other trips we have taken there always seems to be at least one complainer, someone who is never satisfied with the trips, the food, the room, etc. However, this group of 15 works together and genuinely gets along. I hope that future trips we take include such nice people.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Fernandina Island

I awoke early in our cabin in the Galaxy Yacht. While Mary got a little extra sleep and did her back exercises, I went up on the sun deck to enjoy sunup. Eventually other members of our team of 15 passengers came through the lounge for coffee or tea.

Steve with a sea lion

Breakfast at 7 am included eggs sunny side up, yucca patties with cheese, the usual fresh fruits, and juice made from tree tomatoes. We had a little time to prepare for our walk on Fernandina Island at 8 am. We boarded the pangas for the short ride to Fernandina where we had a dry landing at Punta Espinoza and walked along designated paths along the beach. Areas were marked as prohibiting foot traffic since marine iguanas use the area as nesting sites. We saw hundreds of marine iguanas and even more lava lizards. Three Galápagos hawks roosted in a tree near us. There were numerous sea lions in the area, many with very small pups. We saw many Sally Lightfoot crabs including a mating pair. As we walked about 1.5 kilometers on the trail, we even saw a Galápagos racer.

Green sea turtle at Punta Espinoza

Much of this island is covered with the rope-like “pa hoe hoe” lava on which nearly no vegetation exists. There were broad sandy beaches from the ground volcanic rock in the area. These sandy areas are perfect for iguanas, turtles, and other animals to nest, so we had to avoid those areas. Most of the island’s perimeter is surrounded by mangrove trees except there the lava flow killed the vegetation.

Sea lion at Punta Espinoza

After nearly 90 minutes we boarded the pangas and returned the Galaxy where we put our wetsuits on and snorkeled around Fernandina Island. Like the previous time, we snorkeled in shallow areas that are protected from the highest waves. The calmer areas tend to attract more wildlife than areas with higher waves and had more visibility. We saw fish of all sizes and species as well as green sea turtles, sea urchins, and one very playful sea lion. This young pinniped seemed persistent in getting us to romp. While taking snapshots with my underwater camera. The sea lion came right at me appearing want to bite the camera. I tried to photograph the animal, but it was too fast for me in the water. There were a number of 5–6-foot white tip reef sharks in the area, but they (fortunately) had no interest in us.

Mary preparing to snorkel

We snorkeled for about 40 minutes when returned to the Zodiac panga to carry us to the Galaxy Yacht. Lunch was waiting on us when we arrived, and it was delicious as expected. Choices included shredded beef, pork frittata, cooked sweet plantains, roasted beets, and hominy that was fried with eggs.

After lunch the Galaxy moved north along Isabela crossing the equator. Mark and I lounged on the sun deck while Mary and Cindy played cribbage. It was nice to have some time on the ship to relax a bit.

Just before crossing the Equator, the captain brought everyone into the bridge to see how the ship operates and to observe crossing the equator. The ocean was churning heavily, and I started feeling uneasy, so I put a fresh scopolamine patch behind the other ear, and it seemed to kick in soon. In addition, the ocean has calmed just a little.

Blue-footed boobies

Around 4 pm, we boarded the pangas to cruise to Albemarle Point at the northern tip of Isabela. We saw a great deal of wildlife up close including blue footed boobies, sea lions, marine iguanas, black tip sharks, while tip sharks, and eagle rays. As we were leaving, we sighted whimbrel birds perched on a lava block.

We had a little time before dinner when the Willo and the crew usually do a debriefing. This evening the crew dressed up as pirates and danced around the lounge. Willo had us play a charades game to earn our certificates for crossing the equator. Each of us had to portray an animal that we saw in the Galapagos. Mary did an octopus very well and earned her certificate. My assignment was a pelican.

Mary's pelican impression

Dinner was choice of chicken or fish with rice and vegetables on the side. We sat with Meko, Lorna, John and Joan enjoying the conversation.

As we went to bed, the boat was rocking making walking around very difficult. However, the ride seemed to smooth out as we moved around Isabela Island.

Monday, October 3, 2022

Exploring Isabela Island's Urbana Bay and Tagus Cove

As usual, I woke early after sleeping well. I went to the lounge to get a drink then up on the top deck to watch for wildlife. There were many turtles around the boat, and we suspect that is because the boat had anchored, which may have broken some seaweed loose for the turtles. Breakfast at 7 am included western scrambled eggs and walnut pancakes plus fresh papaya and cantaloupe.

Galapagos tortoise near Urbina Bay

Plans for the day were modified because of heavy waves, so we boarded the pangas and rode to Urbina Bay where we saw a lot of Galapagos birds and many green sea turtles.  The bay on Isabela Island is more protected, and we hoped for a wet but easy landing.  However, exiting the pangas was an adventure since the waves were beating us and the volcanic sand on the beach was very loose. One member of our team, Sharon, had some difficulty in the landing and got very wet, perhaps damaging her expensive camera. After the wet landing, we hiked along a 1.3 kilometer trail where we saw green land iguanas, several Galápagos tortoises and some birds we hadn’t seen before. We enjoyed watching another boat of tourists have the same problems as us; it was quite entertaining.

Our team at Urbina Bay

Back at the Galaxy Yacht, we kicked our sandy shoes off and had some free time to relax. Mary, Cindy, Mark, and I sat up on the upper deck and watch several frigate birds sparring over a place to roost. It was pretty comical. Mary and Cindy also played cribbage.

Lunch was a buffet of red snapper, beef tenderloin, purple rice with walnuts, and fresh fruit. Dessert was flan. Everything was delicious as we have come to expect from the chef on the Galaxy. After lunch we took sea kayaks out in Tagus Cove. We saw several Galápagos penguins, sea turtles, blue footed boobies, flightless cormorants and nesting pelicans. We were especially pleased to have several young sea lions romp around us in the water. We laughed at their playful ways as the older sea lions basked in the sun on the lava shelves in the cove. We also saw a huge manta ray that was feeding in the cove. We were only able to see it because it was rolling in the water, and we had a good view of the white underside. That was quite a thrill.

View of Darwin Lake and Tagus Cove

We returned to the Galaxy to change clothes and prepare for a lengthy hike to Darwin Lake and Darwin’s crater. We took the pangas from the Galaxy to a dry landing spot that was covered with graffiti going back nearly 100 years. A steep path, sometimes with stairs, rose up from the cove to a cinder cone produced by recent volcanic activity on the islands. We didn’t see much wildlife on this trip, but it certainly felt good to get out for a long walk. Our group of 15 helped one another, and everyone who wanted to see the top of the ridge got up the trail. Darkness was setting in by the time we started down the path to the dock, but we did great and got in the pangas for the short ride back to the Galaxy.

Sea lion napping on a panga

After we changed clothes and cleaned up, Willo presented an interesting program on the two species of pinnipeds in the Galápagos: the Galápagos Sea Lion and the Galápagos Fur Seal. He explained that sea lions have visible ears and long front flippers. Seals have no external ears and short front appendages. The Galápagos Fur Seal is actually not a seal at all and should be called the Galápagos Fur Sea Lion. Willo went over plans for Tuesday which included a short hike on Punta Espinoza and snorkeling.

After Willo’s briefing, we went to dinner at 7:30; the appetizer was a sushi plate of thin slices of raw yellowfin tuna. For the main course, Mary had turkey with pineapple, and I had the calamari, and we both enjoyed our dinner. We sat with the three sisters who were cracking us up. After dinner we were pretty tired, so we made our way back to the cabin and were asleep very quickly.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Snorkeling in the Galapagos

I didn’t sleep especially well and was awake at 4:30, so I went to the dining area and worked on writing this journal. On my way through the lounge, I noticed someone sleeping. I didn’t know who it was, but I suspected that it was one of the three sisters. I had several cups of hot water and enjoyed the quiet. The ship had anchored near Punta Moreno on Isabela Island, and the boat seemed to be more still in the water. After a while, Beth, the youngest of the sisters work up and told me that they were considering leaving the excursion if her sisters weren’t feeling better. She and I chatted for a bit, then Mary came down for a cup of tea and joined us.

We met for breakfast in the dining area for omelets, bacon, rolls and fruit. We were very happy to see that all three of the sisters were feeling much better after a good night of sleep and calmer seas.

Sea lion basking in the sun

After breakfast, we took a ride on the Zodiac (panga) boats to the offshore rocks around Punta Moreno where we saw the tiny Galápagos penguins, sea lions, hundreds of marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, flightless cormorants, brown noddies, pelicans, and especially green sea turtles. It was a great outing although it seemed odd to us that we would have penguins so near the equator.

The sisters were all feeling better but decided to take things a little easy today until they were confident that they wouldn’t feel poorly again. However, we learned that John in our group may have lost his passport. His wife reported searching every inch of their room without success. Willo promised to call the places that we passed through between the airport and when we boarded the Galaxy ship.

Cindy & Mark prepare to snorkel

When we returned to the Galaxy, we picked up snorkeling gear and rented wetsuits for snorkeling in the Punta Moreno area. We spent about nearly an hour in the cool water, but the wetsuits helped hold body heat. While snorkeling, we saw many fish of all description, Galápagos penguins and green sea turtles up close under water. Nothing seemed to be fearful of us and swam all around it. I got near a sea lion who seemed to want to play with me. The mammal was swimming all around me as if playing a game of tag. It was a tremendous experience. Since I was busy snorkeling and looking at sea life, I didn’t take my underwater camera. However, we plan to snorkel most days, I will take the camera along on other days.

Marine iguana

We returned to the Galaxy for lunch which was included a very well-prepared ceviche with local shrimp and octopus. The main course was a buffet of chicken, fish, yellow rice, plantains and discs of ground and seasoned garbanzo beans. Everything was delicious.

We had a little free time after lunch so some of the group visited or took a nap. Because the ship was next to the largest island in the Galápagos, there was little rocking and made moving about easier. Of course, Mary & Cindy played cribbage in the lounge. During this time, the ship was traveling north along the western side of Isabela Island toward Elizabeth Bay.

At 2:45 our guide, Willo, discussed the differences in marine and land iguanas as well as a few other Galápagos animals. At 3 pm we got back on the small boats and rode into Elizabeth Bay where there were hundreds of green sea turtles. This area is very shallow is allows the turtles in the area to sleep safely among the mangroves without fear of attack by orcas or tiger sharks. We saw hundreds of pelicans, boobies, shearwaters, penguins and other birds feeding. As we went into the cove, the turtles were everywhere. We also saw a few more birds that we hadn’t seen before. We also saw a few eagle rays in the water. It was a calm and relaxing place to enjoy nature.

We returned to the Galaxy Yacht and cleaned up for dinner. Willo had a brief meeting to discuss the plans and options for Monday. After the meeting we moved into the dining room for dinner. We had a salad appetizer then choice of roast chicken or pork on a bed of bed of risotto. Mary had the chicken; I had the pork, so we exchanged half of our meats and enjoyed both. Dessert was a small cream puff made to look like an erupting volcano.

Saturday, October 1, 2022

Arriving in the Galapagos Islands

Last night was not a good night for sleeping. There was a concert at the arena next to the Sheraton that blasted “music” until after midnight. Then there were fireworks. Many of our team heard loud concertgoers returning to their rooms until 2 am.

We had to have our bags tagged and in the hallway outside our rooms by 6 am. We were to board the bus to the airport by 6:30, so we had a quick but tasty breakfast at the hotel. The 40 minute bus ride through Quito to the airport was a lot calmer than the ride from the airport with Denis’ taxi on Tuesday. I suspect some of the difference was the reduction on traffic on a Saturday morning compared to a weekday evening, but most of the difference was a far less aggressive driver. We checked our carry-on bags where they were sealed with a plastic lock and returned to us to take to ticketing. We went through the immigration checkpoint then a checkpoint for Galapagos National Park to assure that we were not taking any banned substances such as fruits or seeds. We proceeded to the scan of carry-on luggage and the standard TSA-type security scan. There seemed to be no problems for anyone on our team and the Road Scholar team had informed us well of the procedure.

Upon boarding, many of us remarked that the aircraft was much larger than we anticipated. We expected a small prop aircraft, but this was a medium sized jet. Since the flight had a stop in Guayaquil, many of the passengers would deplane there while other visitors to the Galapagos would board.

Baltra airport
Mary and I were pleased to share a row with Miko, an 80-year-old Cherokee man, who retired from the US Army as a full Colonel, His wife, Lorna, was an Army nurse and Lieutenant Colonel, now retired. Chatting with Miko was very interesting since grew up on the Cherokee Reservation, moved to California’s San Joaquin Valley as a child, graduated from Stanford then joined the Army as an enlisted man and advanced to “Full Bird Colonel” in his 24-year career. He did three tours in Vietnam between 1966 and 1970 and received three Purple Hearts including one for being shot in the face resulting in the loss of many of his teeth.

View from Baltra
Landing at the small airport on Baltra in the Galapagos is just like landing at any airport. We were met by our Road Scholar guide for the week. Willo, like Richard and Patricia earlier in the trip, is a certified guide as well as a certified naturalist. He was born and raised in the Galapagos, so we felt in good hands for our stay. Willo was very tall, especially for an Ecuadorian, standing at least 6’3”. 

We collected our checked bags and waited for the bus that would take us across this small island. While waiting, we saw several unique Galapagos birds including many medium ground finches and a blue footed booby diving for fish in the water around the island. The bus carried us across Baltra, where we saw the remains of many structures that had been built by the US Air Force in the 1940s as strategic location during the war in the Pacific.

On the south side of the island, we left the bus and boarded a small ferry to take us to Santa Cruz Island. There we boarded another bus for the 24 miles trip across the island to the village of Porto Ayora. Small inflatable shuttle boats (panga/zodiaks) took us to the Galaxy Yacht anchored offshore. The ship is very nice with room for up to 16 passengers as well as common areas for dining, socializing and relaxing. We met with 8 crew members and had the required safety information before going to our rooms where our bags awaited us. 

The sleeping room, like any other cruise we have taken, was small but well designed for our needs. The ocean was pretty choppy so we knew that we would need to use the scopolamine ear patches for motion sickness. We had lunch onboard the Galaxy Yacht which was very tasty and well prepared. The kitchen staff took requests for dinner. I chose the fettuccine with garlic and mushrooms, but other pasta choices were available.

Mary & Steve with a Galapagos tortoise
We had a short time to prepare for the afternoon activity on Santa Cruz Island which was viewing the giant tortoises on the island. We rode the bus to El Chato Giant Tortoise Reserve near the center of Santa Cruz and saw at least 50 giant Galápagos tortoises just in pastures and farm fields. When we got to the preserve, we saw dozens on tortoises that live in the wild on the island. 

Cindy with a Galapagos tortoise
The huge tortoises are amazing creatures with some being well over 100 years old. The turtles in the preserve are wild animals and not confined in any way, but the preserve provides water holes and keeps the grass cut to a height that the turtles prefer. At the preserve we saw many tortoises of all sizes and both male and female. We also saw the Galápagos mockingbird and several other endemic birds. We walked through a lava tube then out the other side where we saw 7 or 8 giant tortoises in a shallow pond. After taking a lot of photographs and marveling at the size and age of the tortoises, we boarded the bus back to the Galaxy Yacht.

We had a lifeboat drill and a brief meeting before dinner, which was the fettuccine prepared in our choice of sauce. We enjoyed the meal and especially the visit with the others in our group.

The ship was rocking a good bit, and we all had problems. Two of the group of three sisters were so ill that they were considering aborting the trip and returning to the US. We staggered our way back to cabin 7 and went to sleep although the room was very bright from the air conditioning. The ship sailed sailed to Isabella Island for our next few days of tours.