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Italy Day 14, a Ferry, Salerno, a Car Rental, Torre Del Greco, and Occhio!

 

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Amalfi’s Fountain in the Main Square

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We felt comfortable knowing that the ferry from Amalfi to Salerno ran regularly.  There was some discrepancy in the scheduled times we saw, but not enough to cause concern.  We slept a bit late and packed.  To turn in the key, we walked to the owner’s flat, rang, and were buzzed into her patio. She came out moments later, “Buongiorno, Come stai?” We chatted for a while, mentioning again that Romeo messed up in not arranging to have our bags (and us) whisked up to the apartment.  Would we like a ride down?  “No, downhill is not a problem.”  With mille grazie on both sides, we parted and hiked down to a coffee shop near the ferry bigletteria.

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Ellen waited at the coffee shop entrance while I purchased tickets.  The next ferry was at 10:20, roughly an hour away.  We ordered cappuccino and a doppio macchiato enjoying the sun.  Ellen mentioned she wished she had photographed a narrow street when we walked down.  “Go do it.  We have lots of time before the ferry arrives”  She came back well ahead of the ferry.  We moved to the dock to wait.  It was a glorious morning with some high clouds in the sky.  Not enough to threaten rain.

The Ferry

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The ferry for Positano arrived first and it was packed on departure.  Fifteen minutes later we were on the ferry to Salerno, which was half full.  We sat close to a couple with a baby girl. She was gorgeous.  Part way through the trip, we commented on how beautiful their daughter was.  They were on vacation from Sidney for two weeks visiting relatives in Campania. Their parents live in Sidney with them. He is a firefighter, she a teacher (If I remember correctly).  I have great respect for firefighters.  California is just coming out of a drought and has had four years of severe fires. The 40 minute ferry to Salerno went by quickly.  As we left I joked, “Can we take your daughter for just a few weeks?”  I’m not sure they heard me, probably for the better.  We landed at a familiar port, unloaded and walked to the car rental (europcar) with the help of my Italian Smart Phone (thank you TIM).  It was a short walk away, made longer by heading in the wrong direction for a while before the GPS corrected itself (err, me).

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We bantered with the rental host in broken English and Italian.  Had our passports photocopies, signed here, there, everywhere on a form, and were walked to a pristine, white, Alfa Romeo Guilet sitting practically on the sidewalk.  I was shown how to open the trunk (not obvious) how to open the gas lid (would have got that one) and , “Should I show you how to find reverse?”  “No, I think I’ve got that. Thanks.”.  He walked off, while another europcar fellow stood nearby watching closely.  I think there was a bet going, “how far will I get before causing a crash or could I even drive off the curb?”  It took my time settling in, adjusting the mirrors, figuring out how to shift into reverse (lift a ring under the shifter and move the lever into reverse), setup our Garmin Nav with a Fodor’s map of Italy.  It took some time.  The attendant patiently stood by waiting.  Into first gear and a soft push of the throttle and the car lurched forward. I think I scared the fellow who made room for me as much as I frightened Ellen. I was too busy to be concerned. I was free and driving in Salerno.

There are two GPS maps of Italy available for the Garmin Numi today.  The Fodor’s is the best of the two.  It is very good at getting close to your destination, but very bad at locating it.  We use our Italian masterpiece and Google maps for the last 20 km.  I had wanted to see Bacoli, a small town on a peninsula west of Naples, but we thought it best to avoid Naples and went directly to Torre del Greco.   The surface roads getting to the autostrade are hit and miss, some good others not so much. The autostrada was great.  Smooth except where marked, and fast.  I did not see one polizia the entire drive.

I chose Torre del Greco because it is close to Pompeii.  I wanted to visit the ruins and they were just off the autostrade.  Arriving at Pompeii, I parked in the first place I found after some difficulty (fun) crossing cross traffic.  We parked and were told that parking was free if we had lunch there.  We were starving and not thinking very straight.  Sure.  We sat, ordered, then were told that we had to spend 40 euros for free parking.  Our order was less.  But you could get the mozzarella and a water and be ok.  Humm, 3 euro per hour, we could stay overnight for 40 euros, but we were starving.  Ok.  The pizza was good, not great.  The mozzarella was not buffalo.  The beer was good!  We felt like we had been had, and we had been. With a shrug, we were off to the ruins.

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Free Parking with Lunch, Do Not Eat Here

I have been to a number of ancient archeological sites, some very well preserved.  Nothing I have ever seen prepared me for Pompeii.  It is massive.  It is an entire Roman city that was destroyed when Mt Vesuvius erupted. Think about that: an entire city.  destroyed, volcanic eruption.  I’ll post a photo showing Mt Vesuvius today. If you run a line up both sides of the volcano, they intersect well above the saddle in the current mountain. The area below that intersection is the amount of the mountain that was blown into the air along with probably an equal mass of molten lava from the earth’s core.  This is astounding in its magnitude.

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The Nine Regions of Pompeii, Pompeii is Vast!

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Modern Sculpture Abound on Site, Beautiful but do not be fooled.

Equally astounding is the extent of the city the Romans had build by 79 AD, the year the city was destroyed. You have to see it to believe the size. And not just the size, but the quality of life shown in the layout and decorative skills of the artists and artisans of the period.  The mind runs in several directions when confronted with Pompeii.

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A Human Body Encased in Ash and Turned To Stone

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More of the Same

Destruction, annihilation, extinction.  When randomness in the universe was first proposed, the church opposed the theory on the basis that God would never allow the earth to be destroyed by some random act of “nature” (or God).  That a massive asteroid ended the dinosaur’s evolutionary path is well accepted.  Ours, mankind’s, could end just as abruptly.

I hope this video gives you a sense of the size of Pompeii.  This is a video of one small part of one of the nine sections of the ruins of Pompeii.

Quality of Life.  What defines quality of life.  Nearly 2000 years ago, these people had a very good and relatively advanced culture.  Arguably, from a literary or philosophical point of view,  as advanced as our own today.  Scientifically and gadgetarily there is no comparison of course.  But does having more “stuff” imply a better life?

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Classic Tile Floor from 79AD, Pompeii

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Mosaic 79AD, Pompeii

Empathy. Why did I feel such abject sadness that an entire city was wiped out.  I have no immediate connection to these people who perished 1,938 years ago. Yet I felt sorrow, tearful at the event and what remains now.

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It felt strange walking the paths that these long gone people once walked, embraced on, and even were immolated on.  There are ash encased remains on display here and there, with clothes and muscles as detailed as in life as if clinging to life.  Hands held to mouths to shelter one more breath from the heat or ash.

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The mosaics, the two amphitheaters, that must have played a role in entertainment.  Making the mundane more bearable, like our jaunts to the big screen for some escape.

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The Lesser Amphitheater

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Expanse of ruins

We got lost finding our way out.  Who knew there were three entrances and therefore three exits.  Which entrance did you come in?  Well, we don’t know.  Let me check our ticket.  With that and some help from a docent, we found our way out.  In the process we saw much more of the ruins that we expected.  At some point anything as large as this becomes overwhelming.  I cannot take more than a few hours, three at the most, in the Louvre.  Saturation sets in, I get “punchy” and have to leave. Pompeii is huge, far too big in size, scope, and implication for more than three hours.

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Painting On Stone, Pompeii

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Steam Heated Walls in 79AD, Pompeii

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A Courtyard, Pompeii

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Another Stone Body, Note Clothing and Hair Detail

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Mt Vesuvius In the Distance

Look at Mt Vesuvius in the background of the photo above. If you continue a line along the right slope and left slop they intersect at a point high above a little below and left of the left cloud.  The part of the mountain that is missing was blown away.  Probably an equal amount of molten core material exploded into the air, rising up into a column of super-heated rock probably miles high.  When that column collapsed back to earth, it engulfed Pompeii destroying parts of the city while covering other parts in ash leaving Pompeii largely intact but buried.

From Britannicia.com:

“Herculaneum was discovered in 1709, and systematic excavation began there in 1738. Work did not begin at Pompeii until 1748, and in 1763 an inscription (“Rei publicae Pompeianorum”) was found that identified the site as Pompeii.Sep 13, 2016”

Leaving Pompeii, our Garmin Numi got us close to Hotel Poseidon, Google Maps took us to the doorstep.

At reception we met Germano, who was very accommodating. Room Keys, Breakfast downstairs 7:30 to 10:30, park out back, take the elevator to your room, this is a seafood town all the restaurants serve very fresh seafood. Enjoy.  We tried to speak our limited Italian, but Germano was having none of it.

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Hotel Poseidon, Torre del Greco

Hotel Poseidon is modern and decorated as if you were staying at the bottom of the sea.  It is so modern, I could not figure out how to use the elevator! Seriously.  I’ve seen electronic panels with touch sensitive regions that spring to life when you press them.  I pressed away to no avail.  Lights came on, but nothing happened. Germano,, at the desk said (as if he’s done this many times), “Slide your thumb, don’t press!  Like this”  He slid his thumb across the panel, the up/down indicators glowed red, and after some whirring the elevator doors opened.

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Looking Down to the Lobby, Hotel Poseidon, Torre del Greco

The apartment was new and clean. All the fixtures in the bath room were bright shiny new.  The shower had a wand and overhead rain head with plenty of hot water. The bed was firm and comfortable.

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Taverna a Mare viewed from the Lido

Settled in, we left to explore the town. We walked down to the wharf/marina which clearly is a working marina. We walked until we could walk no further and had to turn back. At that point on the 2nd floor was a restaurant that looked inviting, but wasn’t open. “Let’s go check it out”. It was not obvious how to get there and in the process we passed an interesting café/bar with enclosed street side seating. Cool. We continued on trying a few dead end streets and eventually came upon the front entrance to Taverna a Mare.

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They were setting up for dinner. At the entrance was an ice lined display case of seafood that one fellow was setting up.  It was enormous.  Scusi, then I said in English that I’d like to make reservations for this evening.  He spoke with another fellow who scurried off to find someone.  I followed close on his heals. Moments later I was face to face with the manager, a tall big hulk of a man in his late 30’s, imposing with jet black hair and a full beard.  We do not open until 8pm.  We can seat you then if you like.  Yes, that would be fine.  Then he did something strange.  He paced his right index finger just under his right eye with the finger running down his cheek, lowered his head, and glared at me for too long. It was unnerving.  What is this guy doing?  I had the sense not to react at all.  After probably 30 seconds of this he relaxed and showed us out. Strange. The gesture is called occhio, and it means, “I’m watching you and I am not a fool”.. Check these Italian gestures out: http://edition.cnn.com/2015/05/29/travel/experts-guide-to-italian-hand-gestures/

 

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Da Ciccio

To kill close to an hour we went back to that bar we had seen, Bar da Ciccio.  This was a fun place to stop for a while.  I ordered a birra della spina and Ellen a limoncello.  Where are you from and we were off.  We used google translator to talk to each other.  First the gal then a guy.  We went back and forth.  Later I ordered another round and the conversation grew.  Ellen took photos of the group, who said, No let’s all be in the photo. The time came to go to Taverna and we parted with many Arrivederci’s, salves, and ciaos.

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Da Ciccio Crew

We were seated at Taverna a Mare beside another couple. The Italians do this. They are a gregarious lot and expect cross table conversation to flourish.  I had seen scorfano on ice when we entered, and ordered scorfano.  Ellen had coveted my spaghetti vongole the last time I ordered it.  We had house wine by the glass.  Ellen asked if she could have extra clams on her order. “Si, madam”.  I’ve probably mentioned this before, but the vongole, clams, are very small and very tasty.  They’re smaller than little neck clams of New England.  Ellen’s vongole was excellent, but my fish was amazing. The first bite was firm, mild, and very flavorful.  It was like a bit of perfectly cooked Main lobster, but tender.  I was ecstatic.

                               

Video of Taverna a Mare, just for the audio.

The couple beside us each had spaghetti vongole for their first course and salt encrusted fish for their second. This reminded me of the time Markus and Axlexandra visited in Venice.  The four of us wanted to share salt encrusted fish at a restaurant, but a Russian party ordered the last one.  That started a conversation about fish with the couple, Jonathan and Anna. Anna joked that her name is an anagram, demonstrating a thorough grasp of English.  They had driven down from Switzerland on a two week vacation.  They would go as far as the Amalfi coast.  I recommended Da Gemma in Amalfi and we raved about Ravello. Anna is a PhD candidate in biochemistry.  She is striking, poised, and very quick witted.  It would be fun to get to know them better.

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Some of Torre del Greco’s Fishing Fleet

A word about Torre del Greco.  For fresh seafood, this is the best place we have visited thus far. The ice bar, to your right as you enter Taverna a Mare, is at least thirty feet long and five feet deep.  It is filled with whole fish and shellfish, fresh caught that day.  There is more seafood on display in that restaurant than most seafood mongers have in their entire shop.  The variety as well as the extent of the display was staggering.  Yes, they had scorfano and clams and muscles, and lobster, and fish I’ve never seen before.  Use Torre del Greco as a stopover to see Erculano, Pompeii, and perhaps Bacoli.  Walk the beach, check out the working marina and fishing boats.  Enjoy a drink or two Bar da Cicco.  Talk with the staff, they’re really happy friendly people.  Iif you’re really lucky (or unlucky) you’ll get “the occhio” at taverna a Mare. There is a “there, there” at Torre del Greco, but it is not on the surface.

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We walked back to Hotel Poseidon happy, sated, and ready for bed.

U.S news is poor at best, Florence in November 2016

Italy: Clashes at anti-government march in Florence

  • 5 November 2016

  • From the sectionEurope

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Media captionProtesters turned out in Florence over the Italian referendum

Hundreds of hooded anti-government protesters have clashed with Italian police in Florence as they demonstrated against a constitutional referendum put forward by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

They threw smoke bombs and firecrackers at police, who responded with tear gas.

The bill aims to reduce the role of the Senate and cut powers of regional governments. Opponents say it will lead to an excessive concentration of power.

Mr Renzi has vowed to resign if he loses the 4 December vote.

He says the plan will streamline the Italian parliament, cut costs and give Italy more stable government.

But recent opinion polls suggest voters will reject it.

Demonstrators clash with police during a protest against Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, in FlorenceImage copyrightAPImage captionOfficers in riot gear and protesters clashed during demonstrationA protestor is arrested during clashes between police and protesters at an anti-government demonstration in FlorenceImage copyrightEPAImage captionIt was the first time that a protest against Mr Renzi’s government turned violent in Italy

The young protesters were marching through the centre of Florence trying to reach a building where Mr Renzi’s Democratic Party was holding its annual convention.

Demonstrators, some carrying banners reading “No to Renzi”, tried to separate from the police in riot gear by dragging metal fences into the streets.

Reports said they were among a larger group of peaceful protesters against the referendum.

Florence’s Mayor Dario Nardella condemned the protests, saying: “Demonstrating is a right, but the use of violence is despicable and unacceptable.”

One officer was hurt in the leg during the clashes, Italian media said.

Planning for Spring in Italy

Today Rick Steves, ” A Pocket Guide to Florence” arrived in the mail.

Last year we visited Rome ahead of a Seabourn cruise of the Greek Islands. The cruise landed in Venice, where we met our friends, Markus and Alexandra, before moving on to Florence for four days. We absolutely loved the Greek Islands and Italy. We vowed to return to Italy for an extended stay. We also hope to do some island hopping in Greece, but on another trip. For us, a return trip to Italy came first.

Today, thinking back on our last Italian sojourn, Florence stands out as the place to stay for an extended time. Rome and Venice are outstanding. We had a wonderful time learning how to live in both cities; walking the streets seeing the piazzas, seeing world renound art in museums and discovering lesser known ones. We both enjoy taking chances on trattorias with an occasional forgettable experience. Rome and Venice are perhaps the most stunning cities in the world. In spite of all that, for us, Florence felt like home.

I remembered vividly two Florentine restaurants where we had lunch.Unfortunately I did not remember their names and couldn’t locate them on a detailed map. But… looking back over our Florence blog, I found one is “Il Barroccio”. I remember that the other is closer to the Giardino della Gherardesca and the Four Seasons Hotel. There it was in our blog: Trattoria Cibreo. Many other restaurants were memorable for service or for their location. These two restaurants were unassuming and served the most wonderful dishes.

This trip first lands us in Palermo, Sicily where we rent a car and drive the north shore of Sicily to Messina. From Messina we take a ferry and train to Salerno. From Salerno we self-tour Capri, Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi, and Ravello before renting a car for a month at Salerno. From Salerno we drive the coast visiting Paestum, Pompeii, Torre del Greco, Erculo, Bacoli, Gaeta, and Sperlonga before turning inland toward Tivoli. We will visit some of the castle towns of Velletri, Genzano, Ariccia, Albano, Laziale, Castel Gandolfo, or Frascati then stop in Tivoli. The road from Tivoli to Orvieto runs near Calcata and Bagnoregio. From Orvieto we drive to Florence. All our lodging for this eighteen day trip as well as our six weeks in Florence is now booked and confirmed.

Booking accommodations was amusing if sometimes frustrating. I used bookings.com, homeaway.com, tripadvisor.com, and hotels.com. Often a listing was common to all with different prices. Sometimes one site would have a listing the others did not. Where prices differed, some included the taxes and fees in the price, some included just fees or just taxes, some included neither. The least expensive listing often was acutally the most expensive after fees and taxes. We booked six stays through bookings.com, four through homeaway.com, three through TripAdvisor, and two through hotels.com. We booked our stay at the Villa Igiea, Palermo directly.

We would book our connections now, but it is not possible to do so online. Train tickets can only be booked 120 days in advance and the 2017 ferry schedules are not yet avaiable online. Then too, it may be better not to book ahead to avoid missing a connection.

What a marvelous adventure awaits.

Here are some stock photos that present the scope of our travels from Palermo to Florence.

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Lavenzo Island

 

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Petryglyphs on Levanzo Island

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Villa Igiea, Palermo

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Cefalu

Salerno

Salerno

Capri BlueGrotto capri

Capri and the Blue Grotto

Sorrento

Sorrento

Sorrento

Positano

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Amalfi Coast and Amalfi

Paestum

Paestum

bacoli

Bacoli

Gaeta

Gaeta

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Sperlonga

Valletri

Valletri

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Arricia

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Albano Laziale

Calcata italy

Calcata

bagnoregio

Bagnoregio

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Tivoli

orvieto orvieto 2

Orvieto

 

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A long time comin’

In the past year “almost daily” had become “almost never”. We did squeeze our Galapagos trip in, but for the most part we were selecting materials for our “new” home. Our contractor deserted us toward the end. That really surprised me, though I was on his case pretty much the last two months with time and performace issues. There are a few things left to be done; nothing beyond my capability.

On our retirement celebratory cruise, we visited Rome, Istanbul, Venice and discussed returning for two months to live like a local. This was not possible in 2016, ongoing work on the house anchored us here. Next year will be vastly different. We will take a discount tour of Vietnam to see how that experience compares with extravagant (seabourn) and luxury (Nat’ Geo) cruises. We’ll also tour some of the U.S. in the fall. The highlight of next years trips will be a two month return to Italy. In 2017 we will fly into Palermo, explore Sicily’s north shore, take a ferry and train from Messina to Salerno, explore Capri and Amalfi, explore Tivoli and the castle towns just north of Rome before settling in Florence for six weeks. The Vietnam and Italy trips are all planned out and reservations booked.

We will be staying in a quiet neighborhood of Florence that’s not touristy. In fact you would not know it’s a vibrant area until early evening when the roll up doors open to reveal bars, trattorias, and night clubs. All our accommodations have been confirmed. It will be interesting to post why we selected these particular hotels, B&Bs, and apartments and what our expectations are. Then later see if our experience exceeds our expectation. For the last month in Florence we will be staying close to “our coffee shop”, il Baretto del Rifrullo that sits below the climb to Michelangelo Square. I have fond memories of having our morning cappuccino there.

Here are a few photos from our four day sojourn in Florence last year

Botticelli, Birth of Venus and Allegory Of Spring

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Local Coffee Shop

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A View over Florence

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The old ciy wall

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A Garden in Florence

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This looked to be a film class creating a film about an impromptu classical music street jam.

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Galapagos, Day 5

 

Galapagos: South Plaza and Santa Fe Islands

 

Today was filled with birds, iguanas, small islands, and more birds. We had an early morning dry landing on South Plaza Island and walked a loop around the small islands’s perimeter. South Plasa is a small flat island covered with a coral/red succulent plant, numerous land iguana, swallow tail gulls, frigate birds, and sea lions. The far side of the islands is a rocky cliff which slops down to the water on the near side. Hundreds of birds were nesting, perched in the cliffs, or flying about below or around us. The contrast between yesterday’s excursion to the town and people contrasted dramatically with today’s small uninhabited island, making to day special. Busses, noise,, and tortoises yesterday, zodiacs, quiet, and wildlife today. The contrast was not lost on us.

During lunch we left South Plaza for Santa Fe Island. Santa Fe was a wet landing and a walk on a broken lava and sand trail.

Here are a few photos taken on South Plaza and Santa Fe Islands.

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A Sea Lion Pup

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A Landing Swallow Tail Gull

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Island Cacti

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Ellen and Some of our Group

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Island Vegetation

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Frigate Birds in Flight

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A Nasca Booby Taking Flight

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The Sea Lion Yawn

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A Land Iguana

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One Talkative Swallow Tailed Gull

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A Lava Lizard and Land Iguana

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A Sea Lion Pup

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Sally Lightfoot Crabs are Quite Colorful

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Iguanas Look Prehistoric, Here is a Land Iguana

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Swallow Tailed Gulls are Graceful in Flight

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A Flock of Frigate Birds Followed the Islander

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Some Took the Easy Way

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A Flowering Cactus, the Islander in the Distance

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The Galapagos Dove

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The Galapagos Ellen, a Rare Bird

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Sea Lions and the Islander

 

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Sunset

 

 

South Plaza and Santa Fe Islands
Apr 14, 2016 – National Geographic Islander

We continue our expedition in the magical Galapagos archipelago exploring two beautiful hidden small treasures, South Plaza and Santa Fe Islands.

We disembarked at South Plaza Island very early this morning. This small island, which is in fact just some few hundred yards long, was once part of the ocean floor. It is the product of a volcanic uplifting. The amount of wildlife found in this paradise is overwhelming. In addition, the marine landscape is as beautiful and striking as its inhabitants. Huge cacti were surrounded by a carpet of red vegetation where colorful Galapagos land iguanas were seen everywhere making it look like a real life painting.

Further inland there is a spectacular cliff side where many sea bird species can be observed either flying around or resting. Once we arrived to the highest point to walk along the cliff, we found the best site to watch sea birds in action. Galapagos shearwaters were skimming the ocean surface looking for food while Nazca boobies were gliding along the cliffs. Beautiful Swallow tailed gulls were seen either flying around or taking care of their hungry white youngsters

After this magical morning visit we went back to the ship to join a presentation. Naturalist Jonathan Aguas talked about the Human History of the Galapagos Islands.

After lunch we headed to Santa Fe Island. In this location there are remarkable sceneries where volcanic cliffs are covered with giant prickly pear cacti. Some guests opted to go kayaking while others went snorkeling. Waters were relatively calm today and many colorful reef fish species were seen, including many rays, Galapagos sea lions, some sea turtles and some sharks.

Once everyone was back onboard we put on our walking gear to explore Santa Fe Island. The landing beach is home to a Galapagos sea lion colony. The rocky inland trail led us to encounter a couple of pale brownish green land iguanas, the famous Santa Fe land iguana (Conolophus pallidus). This latter species, as its name implies, is only found on this small island and nowhere else in the Galapagos! It is not only endemic to the Galapagos, but just on this island.

After recaps and dinner we had a star gazing session on the top deck. A clean sky gave us the opportunity to observe an impressive celestial starry night right on the equator.

Once we were all in bed, I’m sure we all could not help but think about the various feelings and memories that this day brought us, so strong that will remain in our hearts and minds forever.

 

About the Author

Carlos-Romero2012

Carlos Romero·Expedition Leader
Carlos was born in Quito, Ecuador and grew up in Venezuela, where he lived for many years near the ocean and later the rainforest. He returned to Quito to study biology and specialized in the fauna of Ecuador. His main field of study was zoology with an emphasis on vertebrates. He has a doctorate in biology and a master’s in ecotourism and natural protected areas management. He designed a new curriculum for the largest university in Ecuador, the Central University— a masters in environmental management and administration of natural protected areas. Carlos has also taken part in various scientific projects and expeditions with the Biological Sciences Department of Quito’s Polytechnic University. He has published several scientific papers, including one about the bats of Galápagos and one about the vampire bat of mainland Ecuador.

Galapagos, Day 3

Floreana Island, April 12 2016

Carlos’ cheery voice awoke us very early in the morning for a Zodiac ride, wet landing, and a walk to see flamingos (maybe) and turtle nesting. The turtle tracks are unmistakable and depression the turtles create are huge. We saw no turtles as they nest at night and hatchlings emerge from the nest at night.

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Two Turtle Nests and Tracks

As with most of our landings, our party was the only group on the beach.

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On the Trail with naturalist Jeffo and photographer Dexter

The walk to the lagoon and flamingos was short and interrupted as we walked past a Lava Heron in a tree literally four feet away. Like all willdlife in the Galapagos that we encountered far from the towns, this heron was unafraid of us and stood quite still for a photograph.

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A Lava Heron perched on a tree very close to the trail

We were not disappointed at the lagoon. There was a number of flamingos feedin by kicking up algae and consuming it. The beta carotene in the algae and shrimp turn the flamingo’s gray feathers bright pink. The total population of flamingos on Floreana is about 250 indigenous. We also saw one Chilean flamingo which was white colored and a Chilean juvenile.

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Still Waters

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Flamingos in the distance

On our way back to the beach we encountered our first boobies, a male booby courting a female. Unfortunately the male was not successful as the female flew away. In the booby’s courting dance, the male lifts one foot and sways to the opposite side, sways back to the oher side and lifts the opposite foot. He does this a number of times. We did not observe the booby sky pointing this morning.

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This fellow was unsuccessful

We have a video of the Blue Footed Booby Mating Dance.  Unfortunately it is too large to post here without editing the file.  Ii will post the video in our video library a bit later.

 

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A Yellow Warbler

Back aboard ship, we were too late signing up for kayaking to go out today. Both the morning and evening reservations were booked.

After breakfast we disembarked by zodiac to explore Champion,, a small island off Floreana. This was our first view of wildlife from a zodiac. It was fun exploring the small island.

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Our small group aboard a zodiac touring Champion

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Paul and Jeanne near the bow on the lead zodiac

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Swallow Tail Gull perched under an overhang

On our first sighting of a Galapagos Seal, we were informed that there are no seals in the galapagos. What we saw were sea lions! Sea Lions have small ears protruding on each side of their head. Seals have holes for ears. There are some fur seals on the islands, but we did not see any. They may be endemic to the west islands.

 

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A Sea Lion perched high in the cliff

 

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An Inquisitive Sea Lion Pup

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A Nasca Booby looking for dinner

We had lunch with Paul and Jeanne and had a very interesting wide ranging discussion. Paull recommended “the beginning of infinity” by David Deutsch as an explanation of why things are as they are.

After the zodiac excursion we went snorkeling and saw numerous tropical fish, some in schools others singly or in pairs.

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Ellen having a wonderful time

 

We have a small canon point and shoot camera with an underwater housing. The camera takes some very good photos and has white balance adjustment for underwater shots build in. Unfortunately, I failed to bring the camera on this snorkeling trip. This was the second time we forgot the camera in our excitement to get abord a zodiac and into the water. The photo above was shot a few days later.

Post office bay on Floreana is home to the oldest post office in the pacific. It was setup in 1793 by James Colnett, a British whaler. Seafarers would stop by Floreana to leave letters in a barrel and look through the letters already there. If a sailor was going to visit any of the places addressed on the letters, he would take the letter and deliver it. This tradition is carried out today. We left a few letters for friends and family and took a few letters with nearby addresses. It will be fun making new acquaintances from this “post office”.

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Carlos explaining the history of Floreana’s Post Office Barrel

 

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Carlos “stamping” a letter for Ellen

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Do We Have to Go?

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The end of a magical day

 

 

National Geographic, Lindblad Expedition Daily Trip Report
Floreana Island
Apr 12, 2016 – National Geographic Islander

The southernmost island in the Galapagos is also well known for the occurrence of mysterious events of its early inhabitants. Just to mention one, a woman from Germany came to live here with three lovers, one of them was Ecuadorian and the other two came with her from Europe. One day she and one lover disappeared without trace and other inhabitants followed a similar path of tragedy.

Before breakfast we headed onto the beach for a short hike over a greenish-brown sandy beach comprised of olivine crystals. We also visited a brackish water lagoon with Greater flamingoes, noble inhabitants of this location usually joined by pintail ducks and black-necked stilts, among others.

The trail ends at a white coralline sandy beach where sea turtles nest throughout the year and where rays concentrate by the hundreds along the shore under the breaking waves. Sally light -foot crabs splash the dark lava with their colorful shells.

Back on board for breakfast we started to navigate to a small Island called Champion where we disembarked for a Zodiac ride in search of interesting wildlife such us sea lions, boobies, swallow tailed gulls, brown noddies, red billed tropic birds and others. We also searched for the elusive bird called the Chatham mockingbird which became extinct on the main island due to predation by introduced animals.

We came back on board to get ready for another exciting activity, snorkeling at one of the best destinations to do so, as large schools of fish are found, including parrot fish, king angel fish, invertebrates, echinoderms and more. We also enjoyed swimming with sea lions who entertained us throughout the session. It was a great morning!

Post office bay is another place on Floreana open to visitors. In addition to the interesting human history of the island, here one can also take and leave correspondence in the way whalers and others used to do centuries ago. No need for stamps.

We also enjoyed exploring by kayak because this place is alive with plenty of wildlife like, turtles, sea lions, marine iguanas, and birds. The landscape here is outstanding, too!

Galapagos, Day 2

The expedition folks kept us very busy. Yesterday we were so tired with 3 hours sleep, we almost skipped the evening walk (our first experience off ship). We did go but were not impressed with our guide Pato’s knowledge of the area. He was “ok”. Ellen bonked her head on a low lying branch on the way back. A number of people heard the bonk. She was ok if stunned.

We had dinner with the Istanbul group and a close knit Park City group and an interesting conversation about visiting Istanbul. The recent bombing was mentioned.

In the evening, the Islander moved to Espanola Island. We skipped the early morning (6am) kayaking group, opting to sleep in a bit and have breakfast. In orientation briefing after breakfast, Carlos was hilarious and informative. Our first snorkeling adventure was up next. We brought our own equipment and did not have to “gear up” on the top deck. Though I did go up to get a ditty bag for our “stuff”. With 30+ people scrambling for equipment it was a bit of a zoo, though Carlos had it under control. The NatGeo/Lindblad equipment is quite good though we do prefer our own familiar suites, masks, and fins. Though with new “Miami” suites we were not sure how things would go.

We boarded Zodiacs for a short trip to the snorkel spot. Three zodiacs carried 16 people each. With mask and fins on, we hit the water. Me with a back flip, Ellen more gingerly. For the first time ever, Ellen had no equipment issue! No water in the mask, no snorkel filling with water, no “the water’s cold”, nothing!! The trick was a bit of vaciline along her hair line. I can’t say the same for me, I set the mask too loose and had a minor water fill issue. That turned out OK as I could slosh the water around the mask to clear any fog.

The snorkeling started with a deep water entry and a short snorlek look-see to a lava rock wall that was great. We drifted/swam along the rock wall in between 15 and 30 feet of water and watched colorful tropic fish swim about, some singly or in pairs, others in schools. I chose not to take a camera the first time out. It would only be in the way if we had equipment issues. I enjoyed bobbing around with Ellen for an hour. We pointed interesting fish out to eachother. An hour went by far too quickly. Our zodiac, #3, picked us up and back to the boat we went to dropp off our gear and head back to a white sandy beach. This was the most idylic strech of power white sand I have ever experienced. Again I did not take a camera, but wanted to see what a “wet landing” was like before hazarding our equiplent. As with everything on this expedition, the wet landing was no problem. Carlos overstates the difficulty of each event to be sure people prepare accordingly. It is a safe thing to do when dealing with people of vastly differing capabilities.

Ellen and I stripped to our suites and swam from the beach. This was big fun.

Back aboard we took a quick shower with plenty of hot water and had an Ecuadorian feast for lunch. I had a discussion with Michael Fleisher about the blues origins in the 30’s and 40’s and its influence on the 50’s and 60’s blues-rock.

I headed to the breezy top deck and got in a very animated discussion about life with a New York Psychiatrist. We touched on politics, but mostly talked about the human condition as it relates to us both. Suddenly Ellen appeared. She had been searching for me. We were leaving for a long rock-hopping walk in 3 minutes. I had to scramblel to make it and forgetting to grab my life preserver to board the zodiac, almost didn’t.

This walk was the first time we saw just how much birdlife exists on Espanola. There were shorebirds and sea birds in abundance with a cacophony of bird calls. This was the beginning of mating season. We saw many Nasca Boobies with their gray webbed feet. A Galapagos Hawk sitting on a rock among hundreds of nesting boobies, Galapagos Mockingbirds who were quite inquisitive and bounced right up to us and hopped between our feet. There were many marine iguanas and lava lizards that looked well fed. There were many sea lions on the rocks and in the water catching dinner. We saw a lone sitting waved albatross, a male. The male albatross arrive first on the islands followed a bit later by the females. We were too early to this island to see the albatross mating dance.

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A Galapagos Dove and Lava Lizard

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The Galapagos Mockingbird

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An Immagure Nasca Booby

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A Fledgling Nasca Booby

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Another Juvenile Nasca Booby

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Mother with Fledgling Nasca Booby

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One Juvenile Head On

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A Yellow Crowned Night Heron

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The Galapagos Hawk

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Male Waved Albatross

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The Same Fellow

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A Mating Pair

This fascinating walk took us to dusk. As we headed back on the walking loop toward the Islander, we found a pair of waved albatross going through their mating dance/ritual. We stopped to watch for a while then back to the zodiacs and the Islander for dinner. I have no notes on dinner that evening. We were bushed and wanted to eat and head right to sleep.

The island has no fresh water supply and is uninhabited. It is fascinating that life on Espanola find enough water to survive. I’ll explain how a bit later. I’ll also post video of the albatross mating ritual, what we have of it.

Here is the “Daily Expedition Report” for the Islander for 4/11/16:

Today the Galapagos exploration brought us to the southernmost island in the archipelago, Española. Several activities were going to comprise our expedition today and deep water snorkeling was going to give us a good experience by exploring the Galapagos Marine Reserve. Once we entered the underwater world of Gardner Islet, a marvelous sanctuary of fish was revealed to us. Lava rocks decorated with a variety of invertebrates, playful Galapagos sea lions, and reef fish of different species were part of the attractions that were seen.

As soon as snorkeling was over it was time to enjoy the sandy area found at Gardner Bay beach. A combination of white organic sand along with dozens of Galapagos sea lions were the perfect combination to inspire us. The curious Hood mockingbirds were the ideal companions for this marvelous occasion. As soon as the last Zodiac returned from the beach, we pulled anchor in order to take us to the next destination, Punta Suarez.

The afternoon activities were going to be set in a unique environment that only Española Island could provide. A comfortable dry landing was going to be the best way to begin our journey. Since the very beginning, surprises of different kinds astonished us as we explored the area. Colorful marine iguanas on the lava rocks greeted us on our hike as we approached the rocky area. When the Hood mockingbirds approached us without any fear, it reminded us that we were in a very special place, but the presence of juvenile Galapagos sea lions in the tidal pools was one of the most remarkable things to see.

Once we reached the farthest point of the trail we enjoyed seeing different kinds of sea birds. Nazca boobies were all over the cliff area, swallow-tailed gulls flew around us, and the glorious Waved albatross made us realize we were visiting a seabird’s paradise. A colorful sunset was the perfect ending to our expedition today, but we knew that our Galapagos exploration continues tomorrow.

Link

Miami

We have heavy duty wet suits that are too bulky to be practical for all but the coldest diving.  A week before flying off to the Galapagos, I called dive shops in the bay area and found that not one of them stocks 1 or 2 mil skins or wet suits, not one!  Well we were flying through Miami.  I found there were a number of dive shops in South Beach.  On my second call, I reached Arlyn at South Beach Dive Shop.  She said they have two models of women’s light weight full length suites in woman’s small and a dive skin in men’s large.  Cool, we’ll be out in a few days, could she hold them for us?

Our flight to Miami went quickly.  I wonder why people fly American.  If you are not one of their Gold, Platinum, Sapphire, Dust, Mud, Pebble, or sand members, you get cattle class with the worst leg room of all airlines (that’s what it feels like).  Because we would have an hour to make our connection, we opted to fly to Miami a day ahead and overnight at the Airport Marriott.  This also gave us time to take Uber-X to the South Beach Dive Shop.  Arlyn was at the counter when we arrived and “hooked us up” as the saying goes.  She was fun and helped us pick just the right suites for our trip.  If you are headed to warm waters and have the time, drop by this shop.

Here’s their website: http://www.southbeachdivers.com/

Armed with cool gear, headed back to Miami International Airport for our flight to Ecuador.

Ecuador

We have been home for a few days now. We flew back from Ecuador via Miami on Monday, 4/18/16. It was a very long day made longer by our sadness leaving the Galapagos. We did not feel the earthquake that hit Manabi Province on Saturday 4/16 around 7pm. We were in a caldera when the captain was notified and we steamed near top speed into deeper waters. Later that evening while in calm waters we felt two large swells rock the ship. The magnitude 7.8 earthquake has caused extensive devastation in Ecuador.

 

The Galapagos Islands

Here I will recount our magical trip to the Galapagos on the National Geographic Islander organized by Lindblad Expeditions and booked through Tim Lapage Safari Experts out of Park City Utah. This is our second “cruise”, though this was entirely different than a Seabourn Cruise. This is truly more like an ocean going safari on a much smaller and intimate boat. There were 47 guests and nearly that many crew.

We flew into Guayaquil (pronounced Y-aquil) from Miami on American on the April 9th. The flight was delayed 4 hours. Rather than arriving around 9pm local time we landed at 1:30am, arrived at the hotel around 2am, and had our wake-up call at 5:15 that morning for our flight to San Cristobal. Luckily we flew from San Francisco to Miami on the 8th. National Geographic organized the trip perfectly. A representative greeted us at Miami before our flight and another met us at Guayaquil and accompanied us to the Hilton Colon. Nat Geo people were with us from our departure from Miami throughout the adventure and through to our departing flight from Guayaquil. Their organization is top flight.

Dreary eyed but with full tummies after our breakfast we boarded busses for a short flight to the islands and boarded our ship. The first day aboard ship was very low key. We met the crew, expedition leader, Carlos Romero who gave us an orientation briefing. We met hotel manager, Daniel Davila, who is responsible for the ship’s rooms and smooth functioning of guest services aboard ship. We had the required safety drill, a buffet lunch where we met some of the other guests. Carlos then briefed us about the philosophy of the Galapagos National Park rules. Carlos can be a very funny fellow; I enjoyed his briefings. The tight control over the parks gave me pause. Kayaking and snorkeling is limited to one hour and in very specific spots. We would not be allowed on or in the water for extended periods. We also learned that all boats that enter the park must be authorized and must carry a GPS beacon. All are park “rangers” who will report any boat that is not registered to the Ecuadorian authorities. Even so, the park is huge and hard to patrol. Just the week prior an individual was caught with 17 iguanas in his luggage. He almost got away with it, but for a trained dog who sniffed out one iguana and the jig was up.

On our first day we had one excursion to the National Park Interpretation Center and a walk to “Frigate Hill”. Back aboard there was a welcome aboard cocktail party and dinner at 7:30 pm. Tim Lapage had booked a number of Park City couples on this trip. Many of the guests broke into familiar groups both at the cocktail party and for dinner. Ellen and I made it a point to dine at different tables over the next week to get to know each couple at least somewhat. Initially, it was a bit hard not knowing anyone else on the cruise, but over time that issue faded away. Often we found ourselves choosing an empty table to see who would join us. The other guests were like minded people and a pleasure to be with on the cruise.

Our first day held no inkling of what we would do and see in the following days. It felt very tame, which was welcome after so little sleep. We were in room 210 on the main deck. I had wanted 301 or 302 on the Bridge Deck, but in retrospect I think 210 was the better choice. The boat was very stable most of the time with cruising to our next destination done at night. Still the main deck swayed far less than the decks above. The observation deck at the top swayed noticeably in calm waters. Rooms with their own veranda seemed “nice”, though we were up and away from the boat practically all day. We would have had little time to enjoy a private view. Then too, why not mingle with the other guests.

Resources

For more information from Tim Lapage, Safari Experts:   http://safariexperts.com/

For more information about Lindblad Expeditions:          https://www.expeditions.com/

And here’s a link to the Islander’s deck plan

www.expeditions.com/why-us/our-fleet/national-geographic-islander/deck-plan/

 

First Day’s Photos

And a very few photos from our first day in the Galapagos.

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Porto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal Island

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A Lava Lizard, endemic to the island

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Ellen in her element

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The National Geographic Islander

Travel Itch

I miss Europe. I love the mix of culture, cuisine, antiquity, and beauty that we have found in Italy.

We have excursions planned for this fall and next spring that will be novel and exciting. The Amazon will no doubt present its own set of adventures. Peru and Ecuador are mysteries to us. It will be amazing to visit South America and dust off a bit of Spanish. (can you feel the but…)

I miss Europe. I do. I had planned our last trip to Greece and Italy to continue for another two weeks. We cut short. I was told the weather in late June and into July and August gets oppressive. With some depressing grumbling, I changed plans and literally yanked our last two weeks of our Tuscany trip. In retrospect, I am glad I did. I flagged on some of our walks in Florence in late June. It was hot, still reasonable but hot. If July gets still hotter, I am so glad I came around and dropped the last two weeks.

Our plans for the next year: this fall, winter, and next spring are complete.

Next fall we are planning to return to Italy for a few months. I’ve started looking into villas for rent around Florence and Rome. We’ll use a villa as home base for our excursions into the Italian hillside and coastal towns. I can relax, content in the knowledge that we’ll be returning to Italy soon. Troubling though, I would also like to do some island hopping in Greece. On our cruise we found that there is an extensive ferry system throughout the Greek Islands. It’s not difficult to see Greece by ferry. Perhaps we’ll fly into Greece and wend our way back to Italy.

There is so much to do. We hope to visit Alaska by RV; tour China and Thailand; revisit Africa a few more times; visit friends in the south of Spain; visit family on Madeira Island; tour Ireland; drive through Eastern Europe, Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and into Germany; visit Paris and tour the south of France; go skiing in the French and Italian Alps; drive through the Old South, the South West, and North West; canoe in Ontario. That’s just for starters. I have a scrapbook of places we hope to visit tucked away. Every time I come across an amazingly beautiful location or an adventure that’s not life threatening, I paste it into the book. I’ve done enough wacky and dangerous things in the past that I’m no longer interested in pushing the safety envelope. “Moderate” danger is ok. A charging elephant, canoe on the Amazon, bare boat cruising, diving with hammerhead sharks without a safety net, those are all OK by me. Class IV white water kayaking, technical rock climbing, or base jumping are “right out”. All this would be possible but for Ellen whose sense of “safe adventure” is clearly a subset of mine.

I truly hate the word, “blessed”. It smacks of a religious sense of “blessed by God”. As an atheist, that drives me crazy. I would rather say that decades of hard work, some risk taking, and a bit of luck made travel and adventure possible for us. We have the opportunity to enjoy ourselves after retirement. We will.

Ron

Road Trip: San Francisco to Coupeville, Wa

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On the Ferry to Clinton, Wa

We left the Bay Area on 8/11 en-route to Seattle.  I had planned to take five to seven days for the trip up, but we over stayed at home and buzzed up in three days.  We gave up a Shakespeare evening in Ashland, a visit to the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum near Portland, a hike in the Columbia River Gorge, a hike at Mt St Helens, and a visit to Crater Lake. That’s OK, we can visit them on the return trip.  Unfortunately hikes to the top of Mt St Helens are by permit only and permits are limited.  This year’s permits are sold out.

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Sunset on Penn Cove

 

 

Wildlife Safari, Winston Oregon

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We did stop at the Wildlife Safari in Oregon which was fun.  It is a self drive through a number of fenced in animal parks.  The park is large with enough room for the animals to roam freely.  The cats and elephants do not roam free.  It’s sad to see them confined as they were though I’m sure they are well cared for.  Food to feed the animals is available along the drive.  This is big fun for families.  The ostriches are not shy at all and will poke their heads into a vehicle in search of a bite.  If you purchase food, save some for later along the drive.

Ellen got to test her new camera and it brought back a flavor of Africa.  We did shoot a lion, with our cameras of course.  This is a wonderful place for families.

San Francisco to Coupeville, Wa

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Coupeville at dusk

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Ebbey’s landing

We stayed the first night near the Rogue River.  We did not want to drive very far from Rt 5 even though staying on the Rogue River could have been relaxing.  We opted to stay at an RV campground right off Hw 5 at Cypress Grove, Gold Hill Oregon.  This was a wonderful place to camp, if you look past being right off highway 5.  No doubt there are other fine campgrounds inland along 62 or 264.  Cypress Grove was great for dropping off the highway and getting back on the next day.  Ron and Vera do a wonderful job maintaining their campground.  They are fine, friendly people.

The second day we pushed through to Mt St Helens.  Again we wanted to stay close to Hw 5 to put our time and miles into driving north.  We chose Longview North Mt St Helens KOA.  This campground was very pleasant.  It is off the highway a bit and had no road noise.  It’s perched on a hillside with a good view of sunset over the ridges.  There is no view of Mt St Helens, which is unfortunate.  There were plenty of campsites here, probably because there was no view of the mountain.

Joergen, Mercedes, and Winnebago View

We noticed another Winnebago View as we pulled into Longview.  It was not long after we hooked up that we met Joergen, who had just hiked the mountain with a group of friends.  He does this every August.  Joergen worked for Mercedes and had traveled all over South America in sprinter vans.  He said he researched all the campers built on the sprinter chassis looking at accommodations, build quality, and how the coaches age and he felt the View 24J was best overall.  It’s always great to get corroboration, even if it is a bit biased.  Joergen visited us for an hour later in the evening.  He is well traveled and suggested a number of places we could visit in South America and on our trip north.  We both would like to go to Burning Man.  Strangely he will be headed to New England this fall and we will try to hook up with him then.

On the third day we blasted past Seattle, headed to Whidbey Island.  We took the ferry from Mukilteo to Clinton.  We arrived at 12:45 and queued up in the line going down the road to the ferry.  The ticket line went quickly and we boarded the 1PM ferry to Clinton with no delay.

From Clinton the drive to Coupeville wound inland up the spine of the island then turned east to the town.  We found Jerry and Michelle’s home easily with our Rand McNally  GPS.

Penn Cove, Crabs, Clams, and Poachers

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Dungeness Crabs in a bucket                                     Jerry cleaning a crab

Jerry and Michelle welcomed us with open arms.  We’ve parked “Li’l Beast” on their farm and stayed with them in Coupeville, on Penn Cove. The first day we dropped crab pots and pulled three massive Dungeness crabs from one pot.  They were sweet and very succulent.   We left the pots overnight thinking we’d pick them up the next day.  However, the next day we spent the morning at the local farmer’s market and went clamming  that afternoon.  The steamed clams were as good as any I’ve ever eaten.  With the crab pots still in the water, on Monday Jerry and Michelle went to see a tractor dealer and dropped Ellen and I off in Bellingham to visit with Cindy.  We had a short visit with Cindy over lunch then the four of us went back home.  Michelle, Ellen, and I headed out to recover the crab pots and with luck some crabs.  Sunset was glorious as we motored out on a glassy calm sea.  We found the first float quickly, but could not hook the line.  We tried a number of times before it occurred to us that 1. this was not the crab float, but the yellow float Jerry had attached to the down line and 2. there was no down line to hook!  The float had been cut from the line and the crab pot, float and all, was gone.  We found the second yellow float where the second crab pot should have been and that pot was also gone.  That sucks.  It might be understandable that someone would take a few crab from a pot if they didn’t catch any themselves, but to take the entire pot crabs and all is awful.

We were out during slack high tide.  We must have just missed the poachers because the floats would have drifted far from the site if they were cut  during the flood or ebb tide.   Search the web for crab poachers and you’ll be startled at how endemic this is across the US and Australia.

It’s Tuesday today.  Crabbing is illegal here on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  I hope to coax Jerry into dropping some fake crab pots on Thursday to mess with the poachers.  To do this we will drop a dozen cinder blocks with down line and a crab float with some rather nasty messages attached to the line.  Let the poachers deal with that subterfuge.  Later we might be able to drop crab pots without being poached or worst case we’ll drop crab pots-line-cinder block-line-floats down.  The poachers would be dissuaded by the cinder block and not continue pulling the line to find the crab pot.   I wonder how much work bringing up a cinder block covered with sea weed will be.

So we’re here for a few days longer.  We’ll probably visit Cindy for a while in Bellingham and visit Langley on Whidbey to check that town out.  Cindy said its the town she likes best on the island.

There are many places to visit and things to do on the way back.  We’ll have time, though I overheard Ellen mumbling about a woman’s get-together next Thursday.  This will be interesting.