Friday, November 1, 2013



After a week on the ship in the Galapagos, with limits on water usage, Miriam and I luxuriated under long showers before heading out to see the historic district of Quito.  We learned that Mondays are the changing of the guard at the Presidential Palace, only two blocks away, so we wandered up to see that event and also looked for locations that Miriam’s dad had photographed in the 1970’s.  Much had changed, but we did locate San Francisco Square and the churches close by.

Church in Plaza Grande

Part of San Francisco Square

Typical Historic District street

Plaza Grande - Quito

After the colorful ceremony changing the guard, with many people in traditional Ecuadorian dress, we had lunch at “Mea Culpa” restaurant and then back to the hotel to finalize packing for the trip home.  

Changing of the guard

Colorful Uniforms

Lots of Pomp & Ceremony

Guards at main palace entrance
Traditional Dress

More Photo Ops during ceremony

The Delta Airlines red-eye flight left Quito at 1130 PM and landed in Atlanta about 0600.  Both of us were able to doze on the flight.  In Atlanta we were able to use our Global Entry (NEXUS) cards, bypassing both the lines at immigration and customs.  The flight back to Seattle on Delta was uneventful, just long after the flight from Quito. 

Galapagos Islands - Days 7 & 8

South Plaza

On our last full day we were at South Plaza on a mooring buoy when we had our 0730 wakeup.  At 0900 we had a dry landing and walk, seeing a cactus forest, land iguanas, red billed tropic birds, swallow tail gulls and a bachelor sea lion colony.  Returning to the landing site we saw several large bull sharks cruising along the shore looking for stray sea lions to feed on.
Cactus Foreston South Plaza

Swallowtail Gulls on South Plaza

Red Billed Tropicbird

Swallowtail Gull

Bull Shark cruising next to shore and sea lion

More cactus forest on South Plaza

North Seymour Island

Heading back north to North Seymour Island we tied off to a mooring buoy and headed into shore for a dry landing to look for the Magnificent and Great Frigate Birds, which nest on this island.  The Frigate Birds mate all year long and we were able to see the inflated neck pouches of the male birds.  We also saw more Boobies and Iguanas.  By the time we returned to the landing site, the wind and chop came up as we were leaving, making the return to the boat exciting.  Since the buoy was on a lee shore, the captain elected to leave and find some calm water for the farewell dinner.  We finally anchored near Baltra.  At 2100 we were underway once again, this time in heavy seas all the way back to Wreck Bay on San Cristobal Island where we anchored at 0600.
Male Frigate Bird

Putting on a show for the females

Baby Frigate Bird

Booby Chick

Juvenile Frigate Bird

Another Blue Footed Booby

Female Frigate Bird with chick

Final Morning in Galapagos Islands

Disembarkation took place at 0800, followed by a visit to the Galapagos Interpretive center, a walk around the town, and then the few blocks to the airport for the flight on Aerogal back to Quito.  We covered 385 nautical miles during the trip, landing on four major islands and several minor islands.  The only major wildlife we missed on the Southern Itinerary was the Flightless Cormorant, which is only found on the Northern Itinerary.  Due to a change in park regulations, we were also not allowed to land on Isabela Island and see the crater at the Negra volcano, but not a great loss compared to our own Mt. St. Helens.  The wildlife is heavily oriented to birds and reptiles, along with the sea lions, and the islands are more arid than we ever imagined.

Our suitcases heading for shore

Sea Lions on the main street on San Cristobal

We had an uneventful flight back to Quito and were met at the airport by the travel company, which took us back to the Patio Andaluz Hotel in the historic district.

Galapagos Islands Day 6 - Oct 25

Volcanic Islands

Sometime during the night the crew raised the anchor and Letty headed out of Academy Bay and around the west side of Santa Cruz Island to the northern most area where an island known as “Chinese Hat” which actually looks like an old fashioned Chinese farmers hat.  Chinese Hat is next to Santiago Island.  Tying to a mooring buoy we headed in to Chinese Hat island for a wet landing and a hike across the lava fields of the island looking at the first types of vegetation to grow in the lava fields following an eruption.  We also walked over many lava tubes, some of which were broken open.  There was no new wildlife, just raw scenery on lava fields.
Sunrise over Chinese Hat
Santiago Island

Views from Chinese Hat
New Life in the Lava


Patrick in Lava Fields

Broken Lava Tubes on Chinese Hat

Sea Lions and Lava Lizards

Sally Lightfoot Crab getting ready to molt

After returning to the boat we donned our wetsuits and snorkeled along the shore of Santiago Island, seeing Marbled Manta Rays, White Tipped Reef Sharks, and the usual variety of fish, including several types of parrot fish.  The water visibility was much improved over previous snorkeling trips.

Volcanic remains on Bartholome Island

Volcanic crater from top of Bartholome Island

Incredible views from Bartholome Island

View of Santiago Island Volcanic Cones

Returning to the Letty we had lunch while motoring to Bartholome Island.  After the normal siesta, we headed into the island for a dry landing and then a climb of 400 steps and a boardwalk to the top of the island for a spectacular view across Bartholome to Santiago Island with numerous volcanic cones dotting the horizon.  Returning to the ship we again donned our wetsuits for the last deep water snorkel of the trip around the base of a volcanic spire before returning for our afternoon briefing and dinner.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Galapagos Islands Day 5 - October 24

Puerto Ayora – Santa Cruz Island

Letty anchored in Academy Bay after midnight and although in a bay, the swell rolled in and we rolled right along with the swell.  Arising the next morning at our 0700 wakeup call we found ourselves in a crowded harbor and the first town since arriving at San Cristobal.  Puerto Ayora is the commercial center for the Galapagos, with about 15,000 inhabitants.  The Charles Darwin Research Station is also here.

After a dry landing we boarded a bus for a trip into the highlands of Santa Cruz Island, moving into a very different vegetation zone due to the moisture from the clouds at elevations above 500 meters.  A 30 minute ride brought us to the “Twins”, two nearly identical sinkholes hundreds of feet deep created when magma chambers collapsed eons ago.
American Yacht anchored in Academy Bay, Santa Cruz

One of the twin sinkholes with rainbow

The other twin sinkhole

Another 30 minute ride brought us to a farm on the western coast of Santa Cruz, at an elevation that had lush trees and grass, good for both cattle and for giant land tortoises to thrive.  The tortoises have been brought back from the brink of extinction through bringing back male tortoises from around the world, like “Solitary George”, who passed away in 2012.  We donned rubber boots and headed out into the forest and muddy trails, finding a number of tortoises for photo opportunities.

All booted up to find tortoises

Tortoises don't seem to mind if you are close

Typical vegetation in tortoise territory
Check out the tonsils

These Tortoises love spending time in water

Tortoises feed on vegetation

Nothing happens quickly

After exhausting the photo ops since nothing happens quickly with the tortoises, we took a short ride to a large lava tunnel, now a tourist attraction before returning to the Letty for lunch.
After our normal siesta following lunch, we headed back into town to the Charles Darwin Research Station and viewed tortoises in captivity, as well as land iguanas and newly hatched tortoises in various stages of development.  The tortoises are kept about 5 years until they are no longer target for predators due to their shell hardness and size.

Cactus Tree

Lava Tunnel

After our visit we walked the few blocks to the center of town where we had a chance to shop, stopped for a local beer and then watched a sea lion pup and mom begging for scraps at the local open air fish market before returning to the ship for the normal afternoon briefing and dinner.

Land Iguana at Charles Darwin Research Station

Sea Lion begging for fish

Taking the fish anyway

Typical street in Puerto Ayora

Academy Bay in late afternoon