Sunday, June 02, 2019

Unique + Diverse

There are surprises around every corner on the Galapagos. One morning we climbed the hill above the red sand beach. 

A few meters away was a brackish pond where we spotted a rarely seen (in this location) flamingo. 

A Pelican dove head first into the ocean then floated along while we snorkelled close by. 

Besides the giant land tortoises there are some very large sea turtles that seem to want to swim right up to me. Thanks to Rob for this photo as I was too busy getting out of its way. 

There are beaches with greenish sand caused by little bits of the mineral olivine in the sand.  Hard to tell from the photo. 

And then this lone flamingo walked right up to us on the beach. It’s a juvenile so quite pale coloured. Not even the slightest concern for humans. 

Every day we do a short hike, then a snorkel; then after lunch the same. It can be quite exhausting and there haven’t  been too many nights we’ve stayed up past nine! And not just us old folks. 

Ross snorkeling with a turtle (again thanks to Rob for the photo). 

You really had to watch your step for these red marine iguanas. 

Albatrosses mate for life but if something happens to one of them they’ll find another mate. We saw several mating dances going on where they click clack their beaks together. 

Some of the beaches are absolutely pristine white fine sand - contrasting with the turquoise water, punctuated by sunbathing sea lions. 

The diversity in the Galapagos is astounding and each island has something new to explore. Not just the animals but the landscape as well. We’ve been fortunate to see so many different things - I won’t even try to list all the types of animals we saw. It’s a very special unique place. We’ve had a pretty steady pace for the past few weeks and I think we’re both ready for a rest!

Nothing but tortoises

The day I’ve been waiting for. Giant Land Tortoises. Lots and lots of tortoises. The photos tell the story. 

We started at the breeding center on Santa Cruz Island where they’ve collected several species and will breed them to release them into the wild. It’s an extensive and long term project that hopefully will prevent the extinction of these ancient looking animals. 

They collect the eggs and incubate them, then track the babies until they’re ready to be released. 

In a large enclosed area the giants were being fed. This one is a saddleback, the long neck allows it to eat vegetation higher up. 

The others are domed tortoises and eat the lower growing vegetation. 

In their natural habitat these tortoises live in the highlands, up in the hills. Farmers are allowed to keep them on their land where they roam freely. We visited a farm where there were literally tortoises EVERYWHERE. 

Be careful driving!

Bucket List?

I’m not really a fan of bucket lists but if I had one the Galapagos would have been at the top of the list for a long time. Maybe even the only thing. There’s something about these remote islands with their unique flora/fauna that inspired Darwin and have also fascinated me. 

You don’t come to the Galapagos for the beautiful scenery, or the native history or the local culture, although there’s some of that too. You come for the animals. Many of the islands are quite barren and uninviting. 

According to our guide Milton, on these islands you don’t go looking for the animals - they will come to you. And boy was he right!

The sea lions loved cavorting among us snorkellers and for me it took some getting used to as they headed right for me before turning. 

These golden coloured land iguanas often blocked our path and look scary but were not frightening in the least. 

Land iguanas can also be dark coloured. They don’t move fast and we spotted many iguanas both land and marine. 

Great frigate birds have a huge wing span (over a meter I’d estimate) and the males have a small red sack by their throat that they 'balloon' up for mating. We saw a lot of these. 

Their babies are cute and fluffy!

The blue footed boobie was also nesting. Here the adult boobie is protecting the baby from the sun. 

We spent a morning traipsing over a huge lava field that had many interesting patterns but very little life. 

To reach shore from the boat we take a zodiac or panga. Along the way Ross had another incident with his hat (deftly recovered out of the sea). 

Ross got photobombed again - this time by the small Gal├ípagos penguins which we were fortunate to see. Our guide gave us a 0.001 chance of seeing them. 

I joined huge schools of brightly coloured surgeon fish. We’ve snorkelled 2x most days in between shore landings. 

There are sharks in these waters and we saw about 6 white tipped ones from the zodiac. Here’s a black tipped one spotted from the dock. 

The animals here are without predators so they don’t worry about humans. It’s also commendable what the country is doing to try to preserve the natural environment by limiting the impact of humans. 

Friday, May 24, 2019

We went to the rain forest and guess what? It rained.

Actually what they refer to as a 'cold front' from Patagonia has come through. Temperatures in the low 20s with humidity 100%.  We teased our guide Edwin about it being 'cold'.  To get to the Tambopata Lodge required a short plane ride from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado, a 45 min bus ride, then a 2 hour boat ride on the Tambopata River which flows about 1400 km before it reaches the Amazon. Then about 3000 km more to get to the Atlantic. 

Puerto Maldonado is a large city (100,000) and most of it looks pretty grim by Canadian standards. Lots of corrugated metal and brick buildings but plenty of fertile land for growing a large variety of foods. Streets full of scooters and 'moto-cars':

The bus we were on had to be escorted to the river with a police escort as the area is under a state of emergency due to gold panning - I’m assuming illegal panning and clashes between licensed gold panners. 

The river is wide and muddy and the journey gave us our first glimpse of a white caiman - from the alligator family - and often found on the river banks. 

A whole family of capybara - the world's largest rodent - continued bathing in the mud as we motored by. 

We also saw some brown splotches that apparently were monkeys and some black dots that were macaws. I need to get better glasses if I hope to see the wildlife better. Toucans were spotted as well but too far away to appreciate their colours. 

The Tambopata Lodge is quite impressive - each hut has 2 suites c/w flush toilets and solar powered showers. There is no electricity so candles illuminate the huts. There is a large dining room and a bar for which Ross was grateful. 

Our hut at night:

And the inside was very comfortable- you can tell it’s our room - Ross’s hat is already on the bed:

And the dining area:

We arrived in time for a night walk. We saw a few unusual plants and insects and our guide lured this lovely tarantula out of her (or his) hole. 


The next morning we waited for the rain to ease a bit before heading up the river and doing another walk through the jungle. Again some insects, flowers, birds, fruit but the overwhelming feature was the mud. Thankfully rubber boots were provided. 

A lot of the path looked like this:

Our guide paddled us in a canoe across a swampy lake - a few bits of crackers brought sardines and piranha to the surface. Unfortunately they're a bit camera shy. 

The rain forest has some impressively large trees. This group photo was taken next to a 300 year old, 50 m high kapok tree. 

The night before we left it rained a lot -  by the time we boarded the boat to head back in the morning, the river had risen 1.5 meters with a lot of debris making it difficult to navigate. As the temperature had dropped a few more degrees we donned most of our warm clothes so that by now Edwin was teasing us about the 'cold'. 

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