Angela Fairbank Photography

Galapagos Travel Blog

Friday, 21 July 2017 - Vancouver, BC, Canada to Quito, Ecuador

Early start - Vancouver to Denver - Denver to Houston - Houston to Quito all United flights - TV offerings were sub-par and it was a pretty bad meal too. My last flight left two hours late due, we were told, to the presence of volcanic ash in the air en route. I was met by the tour company agent in the new Quito airport, despite the now, late, hour, and driven 45 minutes to Quito city arriving at the Hilton Colón hotel around 2:00 a.m. Nevertheless, I was very happy with my choice to bring only hand luggage with me on my trip, so that no bags might be lost or left behind at any interim stops.

ecuador sign

Saturday, 22 July 2017 - Quito, Ecuador

I slept in until about 9 in order not to miss the hotel breakfast (which left me unimpressed) and then worked all day on a translation and uploaded it to my agency's portal in the evening. At 7 p.m. I met up with 13 other members of our tour group (a family of four from the USA, a family of three from the UK, a couple on their honeymoon from northern England, another couple from Auckland, New Zealand and a couple from southern England. At this orientation, we found out that we were obliged to get up very early the next morning (3:30 a.m. for me) for a 4 a.m. breakfast plus the long drive to the airport. I then had a quiet dinner on my own in the hotel at 8. I shall not have wifi now for several days.

map of trip

Sunday, 23 July 2017 - Quito to Baltra (South Seymour) Island and transfer to Yolita II yacht. Visit to Bachas Beach.

Our flight from Quito to Baltra Island departed at 7:25a.m. with a brief stop in Guayaquil. All was normal until somewhere between Guayaquil and the Galapagos (a 600 mile - 1000 km distance and a one and a half hour flight) a 17-year-old boy in the seat behind me suddenly started to have a seizure - for no apparent reason. I had noticed him with his family (parents and four teenage boys) at breakfast in the hotel this morning. The crew called for a doctor, and after about the third call for a doctor, a guy reluctantly stood up in his seat a few rows in front and went over to have a look. But there wasn't much he could do. The crew supplied the boy with oxygen and water, but when the plane landed, as expected, in Baltra Island in the Galapagos, the entire family walked off the plane first - no assistance was needed. An emergency vehicle was standing by, but really it didn't seem to be anything serious, though apparently this boy had never had a seizure before.

So after that excitement, the rest of the arrival formalities were taken care of once we arrived around 11 a.m. We each had to pay USD120 (which is the country's legal tender) of which $100 was for the Galapagos Islands Park entry fee - to fund park maintenance and supervision in the Galapagos, as well as ecological study, conservation and infrastructure development in Ecuador's other National Parks, and to protect Ecuador's natural heritage - and $20 was for a Transit Control Card - to track, control and maintain the sustainable tourism targets set out by the Galapagos National Park and the Ecuadorian government in an attempt to preserve the fragile environment of the archipelago. Our tour guide met us outside this 100% ecological airport as did the last two members of our group - a young couple from the UK/Germany. It was an old rickety broken-down bus that took us a short ride to the pier where we were given life jackets and assisted into zodiacs (called pangas in the local language) that took us to, and were part of, our yacht for the trip - Yolita II.

Once on board, we were assigned our cabins; I was to share my first week with a recent Cambridge University strategy management graduate who had taken a year out to travel in South America and was doing this part of her wanderings with her parents - geophysicists and also Cambridge University graduates - who were about my age. The cabin was not the luxury I was used to on large American cruise ships, though the shower was nice - roomy, powerful and seemingly able to provide non-stop hot water - but there was a bad smell from the toilet. We were told not to put our toilet paper in the toilet, but were assured the garbage would be removed twice a day by the crew. I unpacked and we were provided with a spaghetti lunch at noon.

welcome to Galapagos sign sleeping sea lions at Baltrastop sign at Genovesa

In the afternoon, we had our first excursion: the pangas took us to white-sanded Bachas Beach - white, because the sand is made of decomposed coral, and very soft. We were told it was one of the sites for nesting sea turtles. We saw the depressions of their nests and tracks of turtles, birds and lizards, but any newly hatched baby turtles would usually only emerge at night so that it would be difficult for their predators to see them and scoop them up before they reached the ocean. Their chief predators on this island are hawks and sea rays. We did spot, however, our first of many brightly coloured Sally lightfoot crabs on the lava rocks along the water's edge and walked along the beach to see a wide range of wildlife, including a flamingo, a great blue heron, brown pelicans, blue-footed boobies (though I was not able to capture any digitally at this stage), marine iguanas, oyster catchers, a black-necked stilt, Darwin finches and a brightly coloured yellow warbler.

bachas beach marine iguana brown pelican

yellow warbler female sally lightfoot crab great blue heron

finch oyster catcher flamingo

sally lightfoot crab black-necked stilt brown pelican

We were greeted back on board with mugs of hot chocolate and pan de yuca. It then became my habit to load any photos and videos I had taken during the latest excursion onto my laptop, edit, resize, and enhance them in Photoshop and load them up to my blog. During this our first night, the eight-hour ride to our next destination was quite choppy and we had all been up early this morning, so we went to bed about 8 pm and preferred staying horizontal as the boat heaved and rocked, eventually rocking us to sleep. As far as I remember, this group was a pretty hardy lot, so there were no bouts of sea sickness from any of the passengers - none I was aware of in any case.

Monday, 24 July 2017 - Genovesa (Tower) Island

In the morning after breakfast of scrambled eggs and pancakes, we took the pangas for a landing on the white coral sands of Darwin Bay on Genovesa Island. Although the sky was overcast this morning, it did not cloud our mood as this was a our first encounter with nesting boobies, and frigates as well as a small family of sea lions. Everything was easy to see and we did not have to walk far. It was quite exciting actually. The birds with their new born babies were right there seemingly posing for us and we were allowed to photograph them so closely and they didn't even move. Besides the red-footed boobies - which frankly, with their blue beaks, are more colourful overall than the blue-footed ones - there were also Nazca boobies, aka masked boobies, just as inquisitive about us as we were about them. This was my first encounter too with mating calls as the male Nazca boobies would show off to their potential mates by stretching up their necks skyward and whistling (photo three below). There were nests and chicks all over the place. The red-footed boobies and frigates all nest in bushes off the ground, but the Nazca boobies - and, as we would find out later, the blue-footed boobies - nest on the ground.

On this short walk, we also saw and photographed swallow-tail gulls, Galapagos pigeons, mockingbirds, more Sally lightfoot crabs, and a night heron. I was intrigued by a nursing baby sea lion. I could actually hear the noise the baby made as it suckled at about four teats, one after the other and I have this on film below. (In case you are curious, during this two-week trip, in addition to over 3,000 photos, I took over 170 video clips!)

red-footed booby nazca booby nazca booby whistling

male sea lion night heron sally lightfoot crab

frigatebird swallow-tail gull red-footed booby with chick

mockingbird frigate chick sea lion with pup

In the afternoon after lunch, we visited “El Barranco” aka Prince Phillip's Steps, located on the southern tip of Genovesa island for yet another amazing wildlife-watching opportunity. We hiked up the steps in our sturdier shoes to observe a sea-bird colony on lava rocks. It was another breeding ground for red-footed boobies, frigate birds and masked boobies. We also saw a yellow-necked night heron, small marine iguanas, tropicbirds and lots of petrels. The pièce de résistance however was a short-eared owl - rare enough that it made our guide, Oswaldo, quite excited too. And to top it off, after posing for quite a while on a young tree, the owl actually caught its prey - a juvenile frigate bird - and proceeded to pull off its feathers and eat it within photographing distance. I have the owl on film below.

nazca booby tropic bird yellow-necked night heron

short-eared owl frigate chick nazca booby on an arrow sign

Tuesday, 25 July 2017 - Bartolomé (Bartholomew) Island / Sullivan Bay, Santiago (San Salvador or James) Island

This morning was more of a walking, climbing day than a wildlife viewing day. From the pier (see photo 9) we climbed more than 300 steps up to the summit of Bartolomé Island with stops at four view spots on the way. This gave us an interesting perspective of the island's not-too-distant volcanic origins, and provided us with panoramic views of a number of the other Galapagos islands - including the volcanic island of Santiago that we would visit this afternoon - as well as Pinnacle Rock, by which our yacht had anchored. We did spot a few lava lizards, a locust, a Galapagos heron and, on the beach below, brown pelicans and a sea lion.

lava lizard galapagos heron brown pelican on our panga

lava lizard lava locust

view from the top of the pinnacle rock photographer at the top landing area from the top

Later this morning, I joined a snorkelling expedition from the pangas and saw many coloured fish and star fish as well as Galapagos penguins, which are the only species of penguin found north of the Equator. The weather was sunny, making the water clear, but my underwater camera was not great so I decided it was not worth trying to use it and did not go on any more snorkelling trips - which we were offered at least once and sometimes twice daily. I did get a fairly good shot of the penguins on the land from the water with my small underwater camera (and one of a penguin swimming underwater), though it was not as close as I would have liked due to not having my long lens, of course!

lava lizard lava lava lizard

galapagos pelican underwater  sally lightfoot crab two galapagos pelicans on land and one in the water

After lunch, we visited Sullivan Bay on aforementioned Santiago Island to see its quite striking, unusual and fascinating giant lava formations. It was a bit difficult to walk on lava, so we were glad we had our solid shoes. Very few plants have managed to survive on this island due to its harsh environment and relatively new lava flow. The only wildlife we saw here were lava lizards, locusts and a lone Galapagos dove. In the evening near sundown and before dinner, we were treated to the sight of schools of large manta rays off both sides of our yacht. No photos, unfortunately, but there wasn't much to photograph as we could only see their twin fins poking up through the ocean's surface.

lava field 1 lava field 2 lava field 3

lava field detail lava field with people lava field - colours

locust in lava field galapagos dove colourful juxtaposition of volcanic matter

Wednesday, 26 July 2017 - Puerto Villamil, Isabela (Albemarie) Island (the largest island in the Galapagos)

After breakfast, I filmed and photographed the fascinating antics of petrels skimming on the water to try and catch small fish (this video clip appears below). I also snagged a couple photos of a small black-tipped shark that swam by our yacht.

Then we took the pangas to the small town of Puerto Villamil where we were greeted by six large male Galapagos land iguanas, before being driven through the mist to the base of a trail that led to the rim of the 10km-wide (6-mile) crater of the Sierra Negra volcano, the largest basaltic caldera in the Galapagos. The track was muddy and I did not have the proper shoes, so I turned back after about 10 minutes and read my book whilst being entertained by Darwin finches, shown below. The males are black and the females brown. Our guide told us a personal history of the town, as this is the island he comes from. On our way back to the yacht, after a rapid ride back to the pier in a converted truck, we saw sea lions, sally lightfoot crabs, marine iguanas, a small ray in the water, a sea lion on a boat and some blue-footed boobies, but as I did not have my camera out on the panga, I hope this will not be the last time sighting the latter (it wasn't).

Isabela Island sign brown pelican on a buoy black tip shark in water

petrils skimming the ocean in search of fish galapagos iguana detail galapagos iguana

Darwin finch - male Darwin finch male on a post in the mist Darwin finch - female

In the afternoon, after lunch on the yacht, we returned to Isabela Island and the town of Puerto Villamil to visit the Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre (the tortoises were giant, not the breeding centre). This program was established in the late 1950s to protect the giant tortoise from becoming extinct. We were told that part of the fee that we paid at the airport would go toward this breeding program. We were introduced to the regular round-shell-shaped giant tortoises as well as the long-necked saddle-back tortoises. The former eat low-lying food, grasses, whereas the latter, who tend to live at higher altitudes, need the long neck to reach trees for their nutrition. We also saw baby tortoises and were shown eggs as well as sample foetuses at various months.

There was a brackish pond near the centre containing flamingos and a moorhen. The yellow bird below is another yellow warbler - a male this time. There is additional footage of the tortoises below. After our visit, we had some free time in the town, which I used to grab coffee and tea at a restaurant by the beach, so I could check my e-mails and send a few as well. A few of my travel companions went exploring and came across a large colony of marine iguanas.

flamingos common gallinule or moorhen tortoise breeding centre

giant tortoises yellow warbler tortoise detail

baby tortoise tortoise lava lizard

Thursday, 27 July 2017 - Elizabeth Bay / Urbina Bay - Isabela Island

In the morning, we headed out by panga to explore Elizabeth Bay, keeping an eye out for wildlife hiding among the mangroves. We saw many marine turtles, sea lions, eagle rays and flightless cormorants, as well as blue-footed boobies, penguins, and pelicans. In addition, we saw a Galapagos hawk and a night heron.

blue-footed booby-1 blue-footed booby-2 blue-footed booby-3

galapagos hawk galapagos hawk in flight flightless cormorant night heron in mangroves

sea lion sea lion marine turtle

galapagos penguin-1 galapagos penguin-2 brown pelican galapagos penguin-3

In the afternoon, we visited Urbina Bay, located at the base of Alcedo Volcano, for a walk among a massive marine reef that was raised out of the water in 1950 during an uplift. We saw some dried coral while touring the area on foot. We also saw our first yellow-coloured land iguanas, and a hermit crab, as well as the seemingly ubiquitous Darwin finches and yellow warblers. The small apple you see comes from the poison apple tree which is poisonous to all (humans included) but the giant tortoise, though it does, shall we say, cause its intestines to clean out rather quickly.

land iguana poison apple land iguana

land iguana hermit crab land iguana

land iguana yellow warbler land iguana detail

Friday, 28 July 2017 - Tagus Cove, Isabela Island / Punta Espinoza, Fernandina (Narborough) Island

This morning we visited Tagus Cove, an Isabela Island anchorage site that was popular among whalers and pirates, hence the graffiti (but I suspect some of it is more modern). We took a wooden stairway to the trail entrance and followed the path through dry vegetation to various lookouts for spectacular views of Darwin Lake (a spherical saltwater crater) and the bay. The Palo Santo trees you see here are present on many of the Galapagos islands. When they are burned, the branches give off a pleasant smell, apparently, and ward off mosquitoes, not that we had any problems with mosquitoes. I did get bitten on some islands by horse flies, which are an introduced species, and we were given permission to kill them if we could, but they did not leave any scars or marks after I had brushed them off.

We then continued on an ascent to a promontory made up of spatter cones (small volcanic cones) for stunning views of Darwin and Wolf volcanoes. Again, not much wildlife here. Not even flamingos in the brackish water - as it is apparently too salty for them - but more lava lizards, Darwin finches, and a brown penguin who bid us adieu as we left the cove.

graffiti at tagus bay-1 graffiti at tagus bay-2 graffiti at tagus bay-3

palo santo trees at darwin lake lava lizard

lava lizard darwin lake 

mockingbird view from top of promontory pelican

In the afternoon, we explored Punta Espinoza on Fernandina Island, the youngest of the Galapagos Islands. This landing site has some of the largest colonies of marine iguanas and sea birds. We saw a lot of sea lions with sweet pups, small lizards, sally lightfoot crabs, sea turtles, pelicans, and brown terns, and walked over lava flows and sandy beaches. We also saw a skeleton from a beached whale and were able to pick up parts of it to discover their weight and texture. We were lucky to sight live baleen whales in the waters around the yacht in the evening before dinner. To top off this day, there was also a beautiful sunset. Below is a video of the sea lions and marine iguanas.

baby sea lion marine iguanas baby sea lion

mother sea lion baby sea lion sea lion couple in water

lizard sea turtle marine iguana

lizard on marine iguana sea lion marine iguana

Saturday, 29 July 2017 - Playa Espumilla / Rábida (Jervis) Island

In the morning, while the others headed off to Playa Espumilla to snorkel, I washed my clothes in a borrowed bucket and hung them on the top deck to dry. About mid-morning we passed Buccaneer Cove to see rocks shaped like a praying monk and an elephant's head as well as a few birds - Nazca and blue-footed boobies, frigates and pelicans - and a sea turtle. Frigate birds were also flying over our yacht which made for a good opportunity for photography. As you can see from today's photos, it was a bright sunny day so my younger female travel companions were baring skin in an effort to tan.

frigate bird in flight monk rock elephant rock

flying frigate detail top deck of Yolita II three young female blond humanoids

Our afternoon excursion to the red sand beaches of Rábida and up the hills to the cliffs was very colourful and provided for some unique photography. There were a lot of prickly pear cactus trees, beloved by land iguanas, and I managed to photograph one that was flowering. The fish you see in the water are large mullets and I photographed them off one of the cliffs as they were quite close to the surface. There were plenty of lava lizards - the two here are growing back the tails they lost, no doubt due to being stepped on by tourists - a juvenile oyster catcher, a Galapagos pintail duck and mocking birds, these latter three species were all located near an inland brackish water pond. We then headed back to the beach to watch the sea lions.

flowering cactus beach from above school of mullet

tail-growing lava lizard galapagos pintail duck double tail-growing lava lizard

baby oyster catcher mocking bird sea lion head

sitting sea lion 1 birdtracks baby sea lion lying down

baby sea lion lying down 2 sitting baby sea lion

Sunday, 30 July 2017 - Daphne Island / North Seymour Island

Today was the half way point on my trip for me. We were up early at 6 a.m. to observe Daphne, a tiny conical island, home to nesting blue-footed boobies, frigate birds, Darwin finches, and a variety of marine life. There was nowhere to land with a zodiac, so we could only observe from the top deck of the yacht as it circled Daphne three times. This island is dedicated to scientific research and is where Dr. Peter Grant conducted a long-term study of Darwin finches. We were told by our guide that scientists would live on the island for months at a time - in caves. They would receive food supplies etc. once a week and have to cart it all up themselves. There seemed to be only one path round this very steep islet. You would never get me to live in a cave for months on end. No internet, no showers, no way! There aren't many photos here because the wildlife was frankly too far away to photograph. However, once again we had frigate birds flying above us and the males were quite photogenic with their bright red under-the-neck pouches. Little did I know I would see more of these pouches this afternoon...

We then travelled to Baltra Island, to the airport, to see off the group from this past week and our guide, Oswaldo. As I could not get any internet due to there being no wifi and no possibility of buying a local SIM card at this airport - there was also no town here, only an off-limits military base - I was unable to check e-mails or say hello to family and friends, so, feeling frustrated, I waited around to pick up our new group with our new guide, Roberto, and to make the journey back to the yacht, Yolita II.

frigate bird in flight daphne island pelican in flight

birds feeding Oswaldo our guide week one frigate bird in flight

After our new group had settled in (consisting of a family of six Danes plus a separate Danish couple, a family of three Americans, a Canadian couple and two Aussie women - who, I was later shocked to find out, were my age, though they looked a good 10 years older) and I met my new room-mate, the American daughter - an ESL teacher from the US East Coast - we had lunch, which was a repeat of last Sunday's lunch. Then we visited North Seymour Island, another of those amazing places, you wouldn't ever believe existed: where we could stand mere metres away from nesting wildlife and photograph away without their flying off or attacking us in fear that we were there to harm their babies. Here we were not only able to see blue-footed booby nests on the ground and more specifically mating pairs performing their courtship dance, but also the scarlet throat-sack-swelling courting antics of the male frigate birds (also on film below), who, with their two-metre (6.5 ft) wingspans, were precariously perched on low bushes watching over their similarly-sized chicks.

Also present on this island were large land iguanas - curiously enough also climbing the trees. The pair of red-legged small spotted birds you see below are ruddy turnstones...and again, as in most places, there were sea lions.

lava lizard male frigate flying with swollen pouch male frigate with swollen pouch

juvenile blue booby male frigate birds nesting with swollen pouches land iguana up a tree

frigate juvenile land iguana walking land iguana

land iguana head frigate chick blue-footed booby doing mating whistle

frigate chick blue-footed booby with chick frigate chick

ruddy turnstone pair sea lion grunting land iguana in the bushes

Monday, 31 July 2017 - Kicker Rock / Cerro Brujo / Isla Lobos, San Cristóbal (Chatham) Island

Today I skipped the very early morning snorkelling activity at Kicker Rock, though I got up early enough to watch the sun rise and shine through the channel between the two parts of this stunning landmark of steep (150m (492 ft)) vertical stone walls rising from the ocean. I was informed by the others when they came back that it was pretty spectacular and that they had seen a couple of hammerhead sharks, a species that one of the fellows from last week was really wishing he could see, but never did.

After breakfast, we landed at Cerro Brujo on San Cristóbal Island (our guide's home island) to explore the cool sandy beach and look for sea lions, marine iguanas and seabirds. Frankly the wildlife was not that prolific here, but I did manage to get some photos of blue-footed boobies fishing, as well as Darwin finches, mockingbirds, yellow warblers, a few marine iguanas, a great blue heron and a sea lion. Sally lightfoot crabs were also present here. I also recorded animal and human tracks in the sand because I felt they made nice patterns.

sea lion on beach Kicker Rock mockingbird

marine iguana great blue heron human tracks in sand

small animal tracks in sand finch Kicker Rock

blue-footed booby fishing-1 blue-footed booby fishing-2 blue-footed booby fishing-3

In the afternoon, we visited the tiny Isla Lobos on foot to spot nesting frigate birds and blue-footed boobies. Again, we could not have been any closer as some of the blue-footed boobies were nesting right on the path. And both females and males were performing courtship dances (see the video footage below) - it was quite exquisite. We learned how to tell the difference between the males and females by looking at their eyes. Their voices, too, were quite distinct - the males with a high whistle, the females with a low honk. We were told that their courtship dance with raised wings and stretched neck is to show their partner how beautiful they are - no pesky insects or parasites in their feathers as they are constantly grooming themselves. Otherwise, there were the usual fauna as seen already on other islands, no less photogenic, however...

blue-footed booby in mating mode blue-footed booby doing dance-1 blue-footed booby doing dance-2

marine iguana >yellow warbler blue-footed booby detail

sea lion face finch baby marine iguana

Tuesday, 1 August 2017- Gardner Bay / Punta Suárez, Española (Hood) Island

Today was perhaps the best day of the entire trip. In the morning we arrived at Gardner Bay, a swimming and snorkelling site with another magnificent white sandy beach, home to sea lions and sea birds. Our special treat this morning was to see the Galapagos hawk up close - really close - feeding on a dead, probably still-born, baby sea lion on the beach ...and not just one hawk, but two! And they were there for ages, taking turns eating, hence the multitude of photos I was able to take. There were also many live sea lions on the beach and some very curious mockingbirds, who were feeding on the placenta of the dead baby sea lion as well as finches, a couple of small lizards and a couple of fishing blue-footed boobies.

After the others came back from what started out as rather uninspired snorkelling activity - due to a lack of exciting starfish and other promised enchantments, that is, until Roberto turned into a juvenile sea lion and got the other juvenile sea lions playing and swimming around my travel companions, delighting them completely (I was told Roberto is able to hold his breath for two minutes underwater, which seems pretty long to me) - the captain shouted out “Whales on the prow!” - mother and baby humpbacks apparently, but they were too far away for good photos. Then, no sooner had I put my camera away again, when he shouted “Dolphins!” These were a much larger group, jumping and swimming right up to the boat and under it and back again. They were too quick for my camera, but I did manage to get one satisfactory photo to record the event.

two galapagos hawks eating dead baby sea lion two galapagos hawks eating dead baby sea lion two galapagos hawks eating dead baby sea lion

mother and baby sea lion two galapagos hawks eating dead baby sea lion mocking bird with seal entrails in mouth

galapagos hawk eating dead baby sea lion sea on the beach galapagos hawk eating dead baby sea lion

finches finch finch

large sea lion resting in the sand bottle-nose dolphins

In the afternoon, we landed on Punta Suárez on the western side of Española Island, the southernmost island in the Galapagos archipelago, known for its red-coloured marine iguana, but also home to masked boobies and... albatrosses! We climbed to the top of the cliff for spectacular photo opportunities, following a trail through a rookery learning about the geological history of this volcanic black lava-rock-filled island. I was privileged to observe the courtship dance of a couple of mocking birds, in addition to the mating antics of albatrosses and Nazca boobies, as shown in the video below. The other bird you see below with its open mouth and curiously-shaped tongue is a swallow-tail gull.

marine iguana lava lizard two mocking birds doing mating dance

marine iguana marine iguana marine iguana

sea lion marine iguana nazca booby

albatross in flight sea cliffs swallow tail gull

albatross and chick blow hole spray albatross couple in mating mode

Wednesday, 2 August 2017 - Santa Fé (Barrington) Island / Plaza Sur (South Plaza) Island

After the hawks yesterday, we thought things couldn't get any better, but this morning on our visit to Santa Fé essentially to see its endemic land iguanas (called, simply enough, Santa Fé iguanas), we were walking toward the cliffs along the northern shore, among giant prickly pear cactus, when we saw a small but long snake dragging its kill - a lava lizard - toward its lair. This is also on a video clip below. Our guide called it a Santa Fé snake, but I could not find it on the internet to verify his claim. Nonetheless, it was a rare sighting and consequently the main point of excitement for today. We also saw butterflies on this island and were given a very interesting presentation about lichen (seen here on a very large Palo Santo tree) by Roberto. He also informed us that this particular island has the largest colony of sea lions in the Galapagos and we saw proof of this fact on the beaches. The skull you see below is of a sea lion. The berries are muyuyo berries.

baby sea lion on the beach sea lion skull santa fé iguana

lava lizard santa fé snake with lava lizard-1 santa fé snake with lava lizard

santa fé iguana muyuyo berries santa fé iguana

Roberto our guide finch palo santo tree with multicoloured lichen

galapagos sign baby sea lion butterflies

In the afternoon, we visited South Plaza, one of the smallest islands in the Galapagos, which also has one of the largest populations of land iguanas. We walked along a path through a cactus forest and a combination of dry and coastal vegetation in full sun. My thrill today was as follows: There I was at the top of the cliffs with my camera aimed high in the air trying to photograph flying red-billed tropicbirds, which are beautifully white with a long tail, quite elusive and are unable to land on the ground like most birds and so instead live in holes under rocks, when, whoosh, not one by two tropicbirds landed literally at my feet in an enclave of rocks a foot away from where I was standing. And they stayed there, made some courtship movements toward each other and allowed us to film them, photograph them and move around them very closely. We also spied adult and juvenile indigenous swallow-tailed gulls and, as you see, many iguanas, which at some time had been brought here from Santa Cruz Island when food was scarce there but plentiful here.

landscape of succulants cliff birds land iguana

land iguana tropic bird in flight juvenile swallow tail gull

tropic bird pair-1 tropic bird pair-2 tropic bird pair-3

land iguana land iguana land iguana

land iguana land iguana land iguana

swallow tail gull tropic bird

Thursday, 3 August - Santa Cruz (Indefatigable) Island

In the early morning 13 of our group left for the airport, so we remaining three, the Danish couple and I, arrived in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island just after breakfast and picked up five new people - two male Aussies, a Kiwi girl, and a Texan/British couple. Santa Cruz is the second biggest island in the Galapagos, and has the largest population. I was looking forward to catching up with internet (after an absence of over a week!) but first we went to see giant Galapagos tortoises, this time at the Charles Darwin Research Station, a scientific organization initiated in 1964, which works to preserve the Galapagos ecosystem through the conservation efforts of scientists, researchers, and volunteers. The research station provides a study location for international scientists and environmental education for the local community. A bus dropped us off at the entrance to the park and we walked into the station. To our surprise, a very fit female jogger in crop top was using the road into the park as her training track. We were also introduced to the poisonous apple tree once again and, when we finally reached the area of the tortoises, we saw both species in pens at the Fausto Llerena Breeding Centre sorted according to age. Adult tortoises are contained in a corral while a nursery contains the young tortoises until around age three by which time their shells will have hardened. A stuffed Lonesome George, a saddleback tortoise from Pinta Island who died in 2012 at the age of 102 and failed to produce any offspring, was on display inside a special acclimatized room.

There were some very beautiful flowers growing wild on both sides of the track (shown below) and on leaving the breeding centre, I walked back into tiny town of Puerto Ayora and passed some very colourful shops plus an unusual display of ceramics on a wall connected to a house. I had also caught a cold a couple of days ago so was looking for a pharmacy to buy some cold medication. At the first pharmacy of about four in town, I was told categorically that I could not have any medicine without a prescription so I went to another pharmacy and asked this time for a homeopathic cure. It was either very effective, or the fresh air, sunshine and a couple of ginger teas with honey did the trick, because I only ended up taking two of the homeopathic tablets before my cold was gone. After purchasing tissues, I went in search of a coffee shop with wifi to check my e-mails and text messages. By the time we all met at noon at the pier to go back to the ship for lunch, two more travellers had joined us - a young Israeli man and a young Chilean woman. We were still missing one passenger (a young Californian woman), but as she had not arrived by the agreed time, we went back to the Yolita II without her and she turned up at the yacht later, on her own, as she had decided to spend the day scuba diving instead. As we were not 16 this time, only 11, I asked for and got an upgrade on the room - a much bigger, and a nice-smelling, room I might add. As an additional bonus, I was able to lock the door! Finally, I was experiencing a bit of the luxury I had expected to have ten days ago.

map of galapagos islands highland giant tortoise coastal saddleback giant tortoise

passion flower tortoise research centre on santa cruz unidentified flower

mosaic wall in puerto ayora-1 mosaic wall in puerto ayora-2 mosaic wall in puerto ayora-3

In the afternoon in the rain (the only rain we had during the two weeks), we took a 45-minute drive into the highlands of Santa Cruz in order to visit the El Chato Reserve, basically a farm with a lagoon and lava tunnels where giant tortoises (the regular, round-shell type) continue to live freely. In fact, this is their natural habitat and when the government of Ecuador decided to ask its citizens to go and live in the Galapagos islands in order to maintain ownership of them, the enticement was land. This family got the land but they were unable to farm it, so instead opened it up to tourists to come and see the tortoises that had been living on this territory for centuries. The slow-moving tortoises we saw were feeding on grass and guava fruit, as you can see in the video below.

As an added note, the two Aussie males left the yacht sometime this evening before we lifted anchor as one of them was experiencing severe seasickness. He had never been on a boat before and we were only slightly rocking in the harbour. He would never have been able to make it through the quite severe rocking, choppy water overnight. So we were down to nine passengers on this the final three-day leg of my Galapagos trip.

sign at el chato ranch highland giant tortoise-1 highland giant tortoise-2

highland giant tortoise-3 highland giant tortoise-4 highland giant tortoise-5

retracted tortoise head finch on tortoise back guava

Friday, 4 August 2017 - Punta Cormorant / Floreana (Charles or Santa Maria) Island

This morning, we visited a couple of beaches on Floreana island, where wasps have unfortunately been introduced, are a pest and sting, but the black bees are stingless, harmless and endemic. These latter are pollinators, not honey makers, and are attracted to yellow and white, which means that the only flowers on this island are either white or yellow. This was the only place we saw a flycatcher too. Ours was a female so rather plain in colour, but I regret not sighting any males as they are vermilion. When I looked through the postcards and books on Galapagos wildlife at the airport, this bird was the only fauna I had not managed to see or photograph.

We were also able to observe a blue-footed booby and baby on the beach for a while, as well as far-away flamingos in a pink brackish pond, finches, yellow warblers, sally lightfoot crabs and sea turtle nests. We did not see any baby sea turtles, unfortunately but there were sting rays waiting under the waves for them to hatch and crawl into the water. This happens mostly often at night though has been observed on overcast days.

female flycatcher paraphernalia from beach blue-footed booby and chick blue-footed booby chick

invasive wasps sally lightfoot crab yellow warbler

sally lightfoot crab locust yellow flowers

In the afternoon, on our way to Post Office Bay on Floreana Island from our yacht, we took a panga ride to see sea lions, crabs, sea turtles, rays, penguins, blue-footed boobies, pelicans, yellow warblers, finches and marine iguanas. Once we arrived at the beach, it was a really short walk to the highlight of this island: in the late 18th century, English whaling vessels placed a barrel here to be used as a post office. Today, the box is used mainly by tourists, who drop off and pick up unstamped letters or postcards. We looked through a couple of stacks of missives to see if any were destined for my hometown, but there were none. Then while some of my travel companions decided to swim, I walked along the beach and photographed flying, fishing and diving boobies.

sea lion sea lion pup sea lion pup in the water

sea turtle blue-footed booby diving blue-footed booby flying

lava lizard post office blue footed booby taking off from the water

male yellow warbler blue-footed booby flying over the water

Saturday, 5 August 2017 - Chinese Hat / Cerro Dragón

(Sigh) Today was to be my last full day in the Galapagos. I was feeling pretty satisfied with our wildlife sightings, and on analysis felt that I had made an excellent decision in waiting all these years to visit these islands properly. i.e. by boat, and for a full two-week trip, rather than only three days, as I had hesitated doing for so many years. Had I booked a three-day trip only, the places visited during the last three days would have been those visited, and although they had wildlife, they were not in the quantities or with the variety of species present in the islands we had visited the previous ten days. However, the trip wasn't over yet, so I decided to wait and see what today would bring, and luckily I was not disappointed.

In the morning, we explored Chinese Hat's beautiful landscape of bright red succulents against black lava rocks and white-coral sand. There were a couple groupings of small marine iguanas trying to get warm on the black lava rocks, and they uncomplainingly posed for us. Then, as we were about to leave, the Danish woman spied a dead marine iguana, its body swollen by gases. There were also some cute baby sea lions playing on the beach while their parents searched the water for fish, but that was really about all the wildlife there was here.

lava lizard animal tracks in the sand landscape

marine iguanas marine iguanas dead marine iguana

baby sea lion baby sea lion two baby sea lions playing

However, all was redeemed in the afternoon, when we visited Cerro Dragón (Dragon Hill). After a short walk from the beach, where I finally managed to photograph an endemic bee, to a hypersalinic (saltier than the ocean) lagoon where we saw an egret and some unidentifiable ducks, we walked uphill through a dry grassy area that reminded me of the interior of British Columbia, until someone sighted a feral cat and then, as promised, a little later, the first of a number of large yellow land iguanas. As we walked through these grasses containing locusts, we kept seeing more iguanas. The highlight of today was witnessing a fight between two large male iguanas, no doubt over a much smaller and less colourful female that we later saw lying unperturbed in the bushes. I have this fight on video too as we watched it unfold for quite a while. On the way back to the panga, I was finally able to capture a dragonfly digitally as well as a lava heron.

dragon hill galapagos bee marine iguana

great blue heron pond locust

land iguana land iguanas prior to fight locust

land iguana land iguana marine iguana

dragonfly lava heron great blue heron

Sunday, 6 August 2017 - Black Turtle Cove / Quito

Our final excursion gave us the chance to view wildlife in a mangrove lagoon via panga at Black Turtle Cove before breakfast. We started out on this excursion so early that we were able to watch the sun rise over the mangrove. The trees were covered in egrets which flew around in droves. I finally saw a small white-tip shark and a small hammerhead shark, as well as golden rays and many sea turtles. Our absolute best sighting was a huge pair of sea turtles mating. I took a few photographs but the boat was moving so they are not the best shots. Suffice it to say, the male and female were side by side at one point and we could see both their stomachs (see photo below). The female slapped the male twice with her flipper, and we were told it was because he is much heavier than she is and she was indicating to him that she needed to come up for air. After he moved off her, we saw her gasping for air a few times before going back under. The final photo here is of a lava heron standing on a rock in the middle of the lagoon, a fitting ending shot to our journey, I thought.

sunrise flying egrets mating sea turtles

lava heron

After breakfast, and after saying our goodbyes to the captain and crew, we were dropped via panga at the pier on Baltra Island and transferred to the airport by bus in order to take a 10:15 a.m. flight to Quito. We were joined at the Galapagos airport by the two Aussie men who had left our yacht due to seasickness. Instead, they had stayed on the island of Santa Cruz in a hotel, took day trips and did some snorkelling. They seemed satisfied with their choice and with what they had been able to see of the wildlife.

After an uneventful flight to Quito via Guayaquil, we were met by the tour company agent at the Quito airport and driven to the Hilton Colón Hotel. I spent the next four hours using the internet in the hotel room, catching up on work e-mails and had dinner at the hotel. Then I caught a taxi to the airport for a flight that was to leave just after midnight.

Monday, 7 August 2017 - Quito - Houston - Vancouver, BC, Canada

We did indeed depart just after midnight and I mostly slept on the flight to Houston, turning down the dinner offer. I had breakfast at Houston airport and checked e-mails. The flight to Vancouver was to leave at 9 but the plane arrived about an hour late. Then once we were finally seated on the plane and strapped in, it sat on the tarmac for another hour waiting for a thunderstorm to pass. The rest of the trip went smoothly though, and we arrived back in Vancouver around 2:00p.m. local time. A visit to the Galapagos Islands - done. One more item checked off my bucket list. Well worth the effort and the expense for the great photographs and videos. If you are reading this and have a chance to go...I say all means.

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