The Islands of the Galapagos: Espanola

espanolaThis is the fifth post of a five day hopscotch series. Join me each day this week as I share with you our discoveries in the Galápagos Islands.

Isla Española

The kids and I would agree that Isla Española is our favorite. We spent the entire morning here on our seventh day – walking very slowly as there was so much wildlife to see here, particularly the baby sea lions, Waved Albatross, Nazca boobies, and Blue boobies.

Located in the extreme southeast of the Galápagos archipelago, Isla Española is considered, along with Santa Fe, one of the oldest – and thus the first to which animals arrived. The climate is very dry, like most of the archipelago, but due to the flatness of the island, it is the driest of these islands, with only a few inches of rain per year.

nazcabooby

As one of the oldest islands, Española is slowly becoming a rocky, barren land with little or no vegetation giving way to large bays with sand and soft shingle which attracts a number of Galápagos Sea Lions.

Punta Suárez is of particular interest to birders because of its varied bird life. As it is one of the oldest islands, this island has its own endemic species, amongst them the Española Mockingbird which has a longer and more curved beak than the one on the central islands; the Española lava lizard; the Marine Iguana of the subspecies venustissimus, which has red markings on its back; among others.

espanolaiguanaAs we walked along the trail on the cliff, we observed a surprise at every bend. We were able to watch a male Nazca booby court a female calling her attention and placing “gifts” of stones and sticks on a nest. We also watched a female Blue booby feeding her chick who was as white as snow and fluffy white.

As we returned to the Evolution later that afternoon, and what I later realized was the last time (for the next day we anchored off at Isla San Cristobal for our departure flight back to Guayaquil), we were captivated by a number of small golden rays that circled the panga and stayed with the ship for sometime after.

sallylightfootRead my other posts in The Islands of the Galápagos series:

Baltra & Santa Cruz

Isabela

Fernandina

Santiago & Bartolomé

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The Islands of the Galapagos: Santiago & Bartolome

santiagobartolomeThis is the fourth post of a five day hopscotch series. Join me each day this week as I share with you our discoveries in the Galápagos Islands.

Isla Bartolomé

Isla Bartolomé is a volcanic islet just off the east coast of Isla Santiago. It is one of the “younger” islands in the Galápagos archipelago. This island, and Sulivan Bay on Santiago island, are named after a naturalist and lifelong friend of Charles Darwin, Sir Bartholomew James Sulivan, who was a lieutenant aboard HMS Beagle.

Bartolomé has a volcanic cone that is easy to climb and provides great views of the other islands. We began our tour here by hiking up this cone in the morning – a relatively easy hike via a raised wooden walkway and stairs.

From the viewpoint we could easily see Pinnacle Rock, the distinctive characteristic for which Bartolomé is famous and the most representative landmark of the Galápagos.

pinnacleThe majority of our group chose to spend the afternoon on the beach (pictured just behind us above) where marine iguanas, sea lions, fur seals, land and sea turtles, flamingos, crabs, dolphins, and sharks can be found. While the flamingos continued to evade us, we did observe a shark playing in the surf, just a few feet from where we stood.

The afternoon was a little windy and cold and thus Patrick and Buddy were the only passengers to join Cristina on a snorkeling outing. They were rewarded handsomely, however. Not only did they see sharks resting on the ocean floor, but they were also able to swim with a pod of dolphins. I was so jealous – I’ve always wanted to swim with wild dolphins!! I am kicking myself for being a wimp and not want to get cold.

Isla Santiago

Isla Santiago consists of two overlapping volcanoes, atop the northwestern shield volcano. The volcano in the island’s southwest erupted along a linear fissure, and is much lower. There are many volcanic fissures and a variety of red, orange, green, and glistening black volcanic formations.

We spent the evening meandering about Sullivan Bay, which is especially fascinating for those who are interested in geology and volcanology. Here you can walk over the un-eroded, black lava flow covered with lava bubbles and tree-trunk molds in the surface.

pahoehoeRead my other posts in The Islands of the Galápagos series:

Baltra & Santa Cruz

Isabella

Fernandina

Española

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The Islands of the Galapagos: Fernandina

fernandina

This is the third post of a five day hopscotch series. Join me each day this week as I share with you our discoveries in the Galápagos Islands.

Fernandina

Isla Fernandina is the third largest, and youngest, island of the Galápagos Islands. It is considered the most pristine of the Galápagos Islands and has had no species of mammals introduced, which sets it apart from most of the other islands in the archipelago.

The westernmost of the islands in the archipelago, it was named in honor of King Ferdinand of Spain, who sponsored the voyage of Christopher Columbus. Like the other islands in the archipelago, it was formed by the hotspot and is an active shield volcano that has been erupting since April 11, 2009.

In 1968, the caldera underwent a collapse when parts of the caldera floor dropped 350 meters.  Since then, a small lake has intermittently occupied the northern caldera floor, most recently in 1988. Due to the active volcano, there is not much plant life on this island and has a mostly rocky surface.

marineiguanasWe landed at Punta Espinoza, a narrow stretch of land where hundreds of marine iguanas gather in large groups on black lava rocks. We had to be careful where we stepped because they literally carpeted the ground and camouflaged so well with the ʻaʻā and  pāhoehoe. 

Most of the lavas on Fernandina are ʻaʻā. Pahoehoe lavas on Fernandina are largely resticted to vents on the coast plain. ʻAʻā  is extremely difficult to walk on, making the climb to the summit a difficult one, however, tourists are kept to the outskirts of the caldera.

A nesting colony of Flightless Cormorant inhabits this island and we were able to get remarkably close.  Other endemic wildlife include Galápagos penguins, pelicans, Galápagos land iguanas, and sea lions. Mangrove forests abound on the fringes of the island.

groupcormorantsRead my other posts in The Islands of the Galápagos series:

Baltra & Santa Cruz

Isabella

Santiago & Bartolomé

Española

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The Islands of the Galapagos: Isabela

isabela

This is the second post of a five day hopscotch series. Join me each day this week as I share with you our discoveries in the Galápagos Islands.

Isabela

The seahorse-shaped Isabela Island is the largest of all the islands, measuring 120 km long and greater in size than all of the other islands combined. One of the younger islands and more volcanically active, it was formed by the joining of six shield volcanoes — from north to south — Ecuador, Wolf, Darwin, Alcedo, Sierra Negra, and Cerro Azul. With the exception of Volcano Ecuador (whose western flanks have collapsed), all are still active.

Wolf Volcano, with an elevation of 1707 m, is the highest point in the Galapagos Archipelago. Isabela provides visitors with excellent examples of the geologic forces that created the Galapagos Islands, including uplifts at Urbina Bay, tuff cones at Tagus Cove, and pumice on Alcedo Volcano.

In 1893, Antonio Gil, a well-known Guayaquileño, arrived in Galapagos and after visiting the other islands, colonized southern Isabela, founding the town of Puerto Villamil on the southern coast and later Santa Tomás in the highlands.

Villamil – named after a freedom fighter from the Guayaquil, José de Villamil – began as a center for a lime production operation where they burned coral collected in the coastal waters. Santa Tomás was the center for a sulfur mine in the caldera and a nearby coffee plantation.

sealionUrbina Bay

Located at the base of Alcedo Volcano on the west coast of the island, this area experienced a major uplift in 1954, causing the land (formerly red mangroves) to rise over 16 feet. The coast expanded half a mile leaving marine life stranded on the new shore.

On the morning of our third day, after a wet-landed from the panga, we walked in land about 1/2 mile and observed sea turtle nests, Giant tortoises, beautiful orange land iguanas, many small marine fossils, and several Galapagos hawks.

After our hike, we spent some time on the beach swimming and snorkeling with the sea turtles, sea lions, rays, and the diverse fish that were near the shore.

penguinsTagus Cove

Tagus Cove on the northwestern side of the island was named for a British naval vessel that moored here in 1814 and provided a sheltered anchorage for pirates, buccaneers, whalers, and others. One can still see the names of their ships carved into the rock, a practice that is now prohibited.

In the afternoon we first chose to snorkel from the panga. We saw many colorful fish but the most exciting were the penguins and sea horses, the latter of which were difficult to see they were so well camouflaged in the Sargassum.

seaturtleAfter returning to the Evolution to get warmed up and a little something to eat, the group split up – several (including Patrick, Jeffrey, and myself) ventured out again for a panga ride along the shore. Geneva chose to join the others for a “power hike” to Darwin Lake (he visited Tagus Cove in 1835).

The panga riders enjoyed many opportunities to observe boobies, penguins, iguanas, cormorants, and noddy birds along the cliffs and shoreline. I most enjoyed seeing the yellow and orange cup coral (just at the water line) in a small cove. They were so brightly colored!

darwinlake

Read my other posts in The Islands of the Galápagos series:

Baltra & Santa Cruz

Fernandina

Santiago & Bartolomé

Española

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The Islands of the Galapagos: Baltra & Santa Cruz

baltrasantacruz

This is the first post of a five day hopscotch series. Join me each day this week as I share with you our discoveries in the Galápagos Islands.

Baltra

Isla Baltra is a small, flat island located near the center of the Galápagos. Created by geological uplift, the island is very arid and vegetation consists of salt bushes, prickly pear cactus and Palo Santo trees.

During World War II Baltra was established as a United States Army Air Force base. Crews stationed at Baltra patrolled the eastern Pacific for enemy submarines and provided protection for the Panama Canal. After the war, the facilities were given to the government of Ecuador.

Today the island continues as an official Ecuadorian military base. The foundations of buildings and other remains of the US base including the old airfield can still be seen on the island.

Upon arriving into Baltra, all visitors are transported by bus to one of two docks. The first dock is located in a small bay where the boats cruising the Galápagos await passengers. The second is a ferry dock which connects Baltra to the island of Santa Cruz via the Itabaca Channel.

We were transported to the ferry dock and from there, boarded a panga with which we crossed the Itabaca Channel to Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz

Situated in the center of the archipelago, Santa Cruz is the second largest island after Isabela. Its capital is Puerto Ayora, the most populated urban centre in the islands. There are some small villages whose inhabitants work in agriculture and cattle raising.

Highlands of Santa Cruz

The island is a large dormant volcano. It is estimated that the last eruptions occurred around a million and a half years ago. Upon our arrival, we boarded another bus and drove up into the highlands of Santa Cruz  which offer exuberant flora and are famous for a gigantic lava tunnel that is over 2000 meters long. Along the drive, we were fortunate to observe a Galápagos Rail (an endemic, flightless bird) on the roadside but sadly we weren’t able to capture a photograph.

We enjoyed a wonderful lunch al fresco (the first of many) and from our table could watch giant tortoises doing the same. Thereafter we put on our wellies (which were provided for our use) and were then guided around the property. Here, we observed the large tortoise populations up close. Though it is rare to see females in the highlands (they nest in the dryer area of the lowlands) – we did see one.

We visited the highlands once again on our sixth day – touring the property of a cattle ranching family where we were able to walk around at our own leisure. It was here that we enjoyed a little spelunking in a lava tube. It reminded us of the lava caves in Central Oregon and Hawai’i that we’ve explored previously.

We drove up to Cerro Mesa for a fabulous view of the island. It was quite overcast and cloudy but the view was incredible. A short distance from the peak was a huge crater with steep walls that were covered in diverse, lush vegetation – even cactus.

bachasbeachLas Bachas

On our fifth day in the islands, we spent the morning on Playa Las Bachas sunbathing and exploring the fringes including a small brackish lagoon where we hoped to see flamingos.

Snorkeling near the shore, I loved seeing hundred of sea cucumbers, evidence that the fishing restrictions were aiding in the comeback of these echinoderms. [I had read about the illegal harvesting of sea cucumbers in Galapagos at the Crossroads: Pirates, Biologists, Tourists, and Creationists Battle for Darwin’s Cradle of Evolution.]

landiguanaCerro Dragón

In the afternoon, we hiked along a trail near Cerro Dragón where we observed land iguanas foraging. The area is also known for its flamingo lagoon but these elusive pink birds eluded us all week. It was here on this hike that we really began to understand the geography of the islands [Developing Map Skills in the Galápagos].

Puerto Ayora

The Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) and the headquarters of the Galápagos National Park Service (GNPS) are located on Santa Cruz. The GNPS and CDRS operate a tortoise breeding centre here, where young tortoises are hatched, reared, and prepared to be reintroduced to their natural habitat, which we visited on the afternoon of the sixth day of our 8-day voyage.

The hatchlings we observed were just a couple years old. They remain in captivity – gradually moving from one enclosure to another – each with less ‘protection’ and a more natural environment. Hatchlings are highly susceptible to predation so the efforts at the research station have dramatically improved the population numbers.

CDRSHere, were also had the opportunity to see saddleback tortoises, two of whom had been “roommates” with Lonesome George who sadly passed away just two years ago.

The most memorable moment at the research station was watching “Charlie” – one of the tourists in our group – befriend a little cactus finch. The finch was so curious, she must have spent 10 minutes hopping about on his arm and shoulder, pecking every now and then. It was clear that the nickname we had given him was well suited.

Read my other posts in The Islands of the Galápagos series:

Isabella

Fernandina

Santiago & Bartolomé

Española

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The Market of Otavalo

Otavalo’s beauty lies in its people and surroundings, the Otavaleños and the towering volcanoes that surround the andean town. The Otavalo Market, which makes this market town famous, is undoubtedly one of the most important and spectacular markets in all of Latin America.

When I was in Ecuador years ago, I had wanted to go but was unable. I didn’t want to let the opportunity pass me by again.

otavalo The Otavalo market is a fascinating way to experience traditional Ecuadorian culture and the traditions of the Andes. Local people use market day much the way their ancestors did during Ecuador’s pre-Colombian history. The market is attractive to visitors for both its outstanding shopping and its cultural significance.

History has it that Otavaleños have been talented textile makers and businesspeople since ancient times, prior even to the Inca invasion. The textile boom in Otavalo took off in the early 1960’s, when Otavaleños began to use weaving techniques introduced from Scotland.

The weavers diversified their products and soon established themselves throughout the country. Now, with over 80% of the Otavaleños involved in textile industry, products from Otavalo are found in markets around the world.

textiles

Traveling to Otavalo from Quito is a full day excursion. We inquired about the price of a tour bus but soon realized that it would be less expensive to hire a private driver for the four of us.

Upon our arrival in Otavalo, we found parking along the street near the market and began to browse. To my surprise, many of the vendors offered the same thing .. blouses, sashes, and traditional skirts for women as well as plastic toys for young children.

I’d hoped to see a variety of handcrafts and local artwork, but a las, I was disappointed. I learned too late that the best day of the week to hit the market is Saturday. Sadly we were there on a Thursday.

otavalohatsWe did make a few small purchases. Panama Hats are native to Ecuador and can be bought at the market as well as many upscale boutiques and shops throughout the country. My son loves hats and I expected him to come home with one, however, the style that most appealed to him were those worn by the local Otavaleños.

He put his bargaining skills to work and even tried to use a little Spanish. His personal style certainly shines. He turned a lot of heads and many locals admired his hat throughout our journey in the Andes.