Tag Archives: Galapagos

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


One Talkative Swallow Tailed Gull


A Lava Lizard and Land Iguana


A Sea Lion Pup


Sally Lightfoot Crabs are Quite Colorful


Iguanas Look Prehistoric, Here is a Land Iguana


Swallow Tailed Gulls are Graceful in Flight


A Flock of Frigate Birds Followed the Islander


Some Took the Easy Way


A Flowering Cactus, the Islander in the Distance


The Galapagos Dove


The Galapagos Ellen, a Rare Bird


Sea Lions and the Islander






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 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 Islands, Day 4

Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos

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The Poison Apple Tree

Santa Cruz Island does not have poison ivy or oak, but it does have the poison apple tree. It is also called manzanilla de la muerte which means “little apple of death.” It is quite poisonous.

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And the Poison Apple

Charles Darwin Research Center

Overnight the Islander cruised to Santa Cruz Island, home of the Charles Darwin Research Center. We disembarked and took a bus from the port to the Darwin Center. The Center is working hard to restore the Galapagos to a pristine state. The Galapagos Islands were a stop over for whalers, fishermen, and sailors. Often they would drop livestock they carried for food aboard ship and replace them with tortoises. Tortoises could be stacked upside down and were easily managed aboard ship. They will live for months without water and were good eating. The goats and pigs that were left thrived. The goats eventually destroyed the highland forests (don’t think dense forests) and with them, the shade that the tortoises needed to survive. The tortoises population plumited.

An effort to eradicate the goats and pigs has been largely successful. Initially goats were shot from helicopters in large numbers. The surviving goats learned to avoid being spotted from the air. Enter the Judas Goats. These were nutered goats tagged with GPS trackers and released on the islands. Goats are social animals. When a Judas Goat hooked up with a goat herd, that herd was eradicated.

Today the upland forests and tortoises have returned. The Darwin Center has been trying to breed tortoises to replace the descimated population for years. One tortoise in particular was the spearhead of the effort, “Lonesome George”. Over the years he refused to mate with other females. Eventually George died. He is now at the American Museum of Natural History getting a make-over. He will be on display at the Darwin Center when he returns to the Galapagos.

Super Diego

Meanwhile, the Darwin Center found another male Tortoise to replace Lonesome George. Enter Super Diego, from the San Diego Zoo. Now Super Diego had not seen a female tortoise in over four years. He has done what Lonesome George failed to do. Together with two other male tortoises, Super Diego has sired over two thousand tortoises.

To maintain the biodiversity of the islands, the Darwin Center has researched tortoise DNA and found that their DNA differs island to island. The have been breeding tortoises with DNA as close to the original as they can and releasing tortoises on specific islands.

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Super Diego


We met Super Diego and a number of other tortoises at the center and watched the captive tortoises being fed. They move very slowly, but when the food arrived (green leaves and succulent shoots), there was a race on to get to the food. At break-neck speed they raced to the food, at tortoise speeds of course.

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The Feeding Frenzy

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The Race is On

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At the Finish Line

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Two Friends


From the Center some of us chose to ride bicycles to a local coffee and cane liquor producer for some samples then off to a restaurant for some local food. I was dallying with Ellen at the center when Jeanne Curry (I think) asked if I was going on the bike ride. “Yes”, said I. She said, “You’ll have to run to catch the group. They left a while ago.”. So off I ran in the mid-day heat of the Galapagos to catch up. There was a breeze and the group wasn’t too far ahead, but it was a crazy thing to do. We met at “the Rock”, a bar known for it’s name prominently posted upside down atop the building. The bus ride to the bicycle staging area was uphill. We were told we would be bicycling over rolling hills for three miles to the coffee producer. “Ok, No Problem”. The trouble was, there were two downside “rolls” and that was it. Everything else was up hill. The 21 speed bicycles were in good condition, but that heat will drain the most avid cyclist. Toward the end I was asking myself, “why, why why did I do this” I know the answer….

We had some coffee and a shot of hooch as we relaxed in the shade. I bought a small bottle of 108% cane alcohol that sits at home for my more adventurous guests.

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Checking the Alcohol Content of the Hooch


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Barn Owl and Baby


Lunch at the restaurant was again in the shade and with a breeze. You would think that the Galapagos Islands would be oppressively hot being on the equator. Surprisingly, on our trip there was an comfortable breeze most afternoons and the humitidy did not feel that bad. Miami felt more humid to me. The sun is punishing. Without a good hat and heavy sun screen, we would have been fried.

Ellen and I had the chicken for lunch. It was different than our free range chicken. The meat was more dense. The flavor was what you would expect, “It tastes like chicken”. After breakfast we boarded busses again for a trip to a ranch to see tortoises in the wild. The ranch was a working rance raising cattle for market. We drove past cattle that were lean by US standards, turned up a dusty dirt road and arrived in a parking lot surrounded by a “forest” of stunted looking trees growing wide apart. The trees cast shade that was mostly filtered and with few hard shadows. There were the moving rocks, creatures from another age entirely. We roamed freely, staying three feet away from them. Get too close and a tortoise will withdraw inside its shell and my not come out for hours! We all avoided getting “too close”. I can imagine children actually sitting atop them in earlier times. Conservation, something is gained and something lost. As a society we are losing our innocense. But I run astray…



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Tortoise Have Claws

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The Tortoise and the Hare

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In a Lava Tube


With the day coming to a close, we took busses back to town. Ellen and I chose to take free time in the town to just look around. The zodiacs would bring us back to the Islander on the hour with the last boat at 6 pm. We bumped into some of our group searching for a particular hat. Will had found a hat earlier in the day that everyone really liked. When he was hat shopping I was frantically running to catch the bike bus. So here we were, seven of us searching high and low for a reversable “I Love Boobies” hat. We missed the 5 pm zodiac on our search. Eventually, we settled on hats that were similar to Will’s, but no cigar. Will definately had the absolute best hat.


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A Brown Pelican


We had a welcome dinner and slept soundly.


National Geographic, Lindblad Expedition Daily Report

Santa Cruz Island
Apr 13, 2016 – National Geographic Islander

We landed on the largest of the Galapagos Islands. We saw civilization from the ship and soon thought about a different Galapagos, the one where conservation now jumps into the main focus. We had a dry landing on the Pier of Puerto Ayora and continued on a bus ride toward the Tortoise Breeding Center of the Galapagos National Park. We encountered many specimen of Giant tortoises from a few different sources, some of them had a saddle shaped shells and others had domed shells. Some land iguanas were also spotted in captivity within this facility.

After an interesting visit and learning about all conservation efforts being done in the Galapagos to help restore the dynasty of the Giant tortoises, we spent some time along the waterfront of Santa Cruz Island. We soon got ready to go to the highlands of Santa Cruz, riding a bus for about a 25 minute ride. Some of us chose to go biking to our destination instead on a length of approximately 3 ½ miles.

At the highlands we stopped at a small family owned hacienda where there is a sugar can press and we had the opportunity to learn about the processing of brown raw sugar, sugar cane alcohol, and also the processing of how to make coffee from the moment they pick the beans from the plant until the process of roasting.

After lunch we visited a different area of the highlands where we encountered several giant tortoises around the greenery of the humid zone. Some of these tortoises were cooling off in a rainwater pond, while others were grazing off the ground and shading under trees.

An underground expedition was also done through a large lava tube. We entered the fascinating geological feature to learn about basaltic lava composition and its solidification processes.

After a great day, we returned to the National Geographic Islander to continue our expedition.



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.


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.


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



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


The National Geographic Islander