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Lindblad Endeavour Arrives at Puerto Egas

puerto egas beach walk sea lions marine iguana-1

Puerto Egas, where the wildlife offer a warm welcome

Everyone who takes a Galapagos cruise usually has a favorite shore landing. Mine comes unexpectedly almost midway through the trip when Lindblad’s National Geographic Endeavour takes us to Puerto Egas on Isla Santiago (also known as James Island and Isla San Salvador). On our afternoon stop there, everything comes together: the sunlight is gorgeous, we encounter a good variety of birds and mammals and also witness lots of lively animal interaction, including a large bellowing male Galapagos fur seal. Best of all, this is one of the most leisurely walks, without the usual and constant push to keep moving.

Ironically, when Lindblad’s National Geographic Endeavour arrives and anchors off Isla Santiago, there is no hint this will be a special afternoon. Instead, once our Zodiac lands on a narrow rocky beach, the scenery is almost depressing. A dilapidated house sits on a small cliff above where we stand. Then, after we exit the beach and get a better view of the old deserted homestead and its empty, fenced-in fields, the spot seems even more dismal.

There may be 30,000 people living in the Galapagos, but this is the first evidence of human occupation we’ve seen since sailing from Baltra on Saturday morning. This unexpected detritus of human intrusion is an irritating reminder of past efforts to harvest salt here, first between 1928 and 1930, then much later in 1964. Both attempts invariably caused environmental damage by using native and endemic trees for firewood and also introducing new plants and animals. The Puerto Egas name, in fact, refers to the last salt company operation, run by Hector Egas whose venture failed when the price of salt in South America became so cheap that operating in the Galapagos was impractical.

puerto egas ruins-1  puerto egas Remains of old salt trail-1
The jarring reminders of the humans who once lived here

Thankfully, we quickly leave the settlement area and make the short walk across the island’s narrow point to the other side, which is surprisingly different. It’s long black lava coastline that seems to extend endlessly along James Bay, where Charles Darwin’s ship anchored and he explored the interior of Santiago Island. The shore, comprised of an old lava flow that poured into the ocean, has many large inlets and tidal pools created by the erosive force of the rough wave action. One of these inlets, a vertical chute where the water rises and ebbs as waves regularly crash against the rock, carries the appropriate if undignified name of “Darwin’s toilet.”

This lava shoreline is a favorite haunt of fur seals, the smallest of the pinnipeds and creatures we really haven’t encountered closely before. Endemic to the Galápagos Islands, an estimated 40,000 fur seals are spread throughout the islands, apparently much smaller than just a few decades ago. Scientists say the fur seal population was reduced significantly in the 1980s due to the effects of El Nino, which also reduced the local fish populations.

The best known place to see fur seals is Gruta de las Focas, which has a natural bridge above the inlets where fur seals are normally found. They’re present today because, thankfully for us, Galápagos fur seals are the most land-based of all the fur seals, spending at least 30% of their time out of the water. Fortunately, they also do most of their fishing at night since they prefer to spend as many days as possible warming themselves on the lava rocks and only occasionally sunbathing on sandy beaches.

puerto egas american oyster catcher-1American oyster catchers were common place at Puerto Egas

Hopefully, the fur seals will be as prevalent here and throughout the Galapagos in coming years since the current climate change seems to have prompted an ambitious group of Galapagos fur seals to look for better fishing waters in Peru. No one is sure why, perhaps because there are more fish there. This migration happened in 2010 when a group of Galapagos fur seals traveled 900 miles (1,500 km) to the northern waters of Peru and established a colony there, the first recorded instance of Galapagos seals migrating from their homeland. Rising water temperatures have been credited as the motivation but the water still averages warmer in the Galapagos.  Water temperatures off northern Peru have increased from 62F (17C) to 73F (23C) in the past 10 years; Galapagos water temps average 77F (25C). It’s speculated more such colonies might be established in northern Peru. Still think it’s due to better fish populations in Peru and not the water temperature.

Darwin paid scant attention to the fur seals during his visit, perhaps because fur hunters had almost hunted the animals to extinction. On this day fur seals are prominent at Puerto Egas, along with Sally Lightfoot crabs, marine iguanas, American oyster catchers, a Galapagos hawk and more. Two fur seals are in a contest with a sea lion to dislodge the sea lion from its flat rock perch just above the waves. The sea lion ignores the fur seals’ loud noises and aggressive threats, holding its head high with an expression we interpret to mean something like “Well, here goes the neighborhood!”

puerto egas Lava Gull-1Lava gull stalking the Puerto Egas tidal pools

The matter is semi-resolved when one of the fur seals jumps on an adjoining rock and gradually nudges its way into sharing part of the platform. The sea lion refuses to retreat and both animals end up appearing to have reached a compromise for the space. The second fur seal stays in the water, preferring to swim around and keep out of the way. Once the action subsides, we wander away, careful not to trip over or step on the marine iguanas littering the craggy lava surface like washed-up seaweed.

As we walk the shoreline in the direction of the ship, it’s obvious the Puerto Egas tidal pools are attracting the largest variety of birds we’ve ever seen in one location. Even several Darwin finches land in the trees bordering the shoreline only a few yards behind the beach. I lag behind the others for the unusually prime photo ops. It’s what photographers call the “golden” or “magic” hour, very close to sunset, and the colors are amazing. This one afternoon almost makes up for the  cloudy days we’ve had to work around most of the trip.

When I finish photographing the birds in the tidal pools, I catch up with my group and see they are watching a Galapagos hawk dine on a sizable marine iguana. We are perhaps 20 yards from the hawk, which is well aware of our presence but continues to feed while keeping an obvious watch on us. We’ve seen numerous marine iguanas along the coast, more than in most places, and it’s not surprising there would be a natural death the hawk would take advantage of. The hawk carefully watches on us as we photograph/view it.

Puerto Egas Galapagos hawk feeds on marine iguana -1  puerto egas fur seal tidal pools-1
                                           Galapagos hawk feeds on its prize meal; a fur seal pup.

My day’s highlight comes near the end of our walk where we encounter a huge male fur seal with his harem.  The males are supposed to grow no larger than 5 feet (1.5m) in length and weigh no more than about 145 pounds. This fellow not only looks much larger and scarily impressive because he sits on a rock plateau just a few feet above us.

Seen in profile, this huge male should emphasize why the Galapagos fur seal’s scientific name is Arctocephalus galapagoensis, from Greek words meaning “bear headed.” to me, it doesn’t. Although this fur seal does have a short, pointed muzzle, along with a small, button nose and large eyes, the muzzle of most bears I’ve seen are considerably longer and the noses hardly button-size. Think hound dog, instead. But when the male fur seal starts bellowing at one of his concubines, he draws his lips back and flashed sharp, triangular teeth that did make me think of something as deadly as a bear.

puerto egas Male fur seal profile teeth 2-1                                               Male fur sea offering us some advice: “Stay away!”

Dominant male fur seals are enormously protective of their breeding territory, often required to challenge and chase away challengers. This fellow also obviously expends a lot of effort trying to keep his women in line, though he doesn’t seem to have much success. He seems to be loudly coaxing, or whatever—with hands, he might act like a gorilla beating its chest–to impress the only female on the platform with him. She acknowledges his “whatever,” occasionally swaying her head like a boxer in the ring, but eventually just turns and descends to join the other girls below him.

Our guide (a woman) explains, “She’s out to prove she wants more than a one-night stand. He needs to step up his game and romance her.”

It seems absurd that a creature this size and fearsome could ever court (date?) a mate. But male whales do it. Male sharks do it. Male magnificent frigate birds do it (remember those big red sacs?). Male blue-Footed Bobbies do it (by building impressive nests and their dancing). Uh, even human males do it. But instead of impressive nest building, we’ve evolved to offer dinner, a show, a sports event or not even acting in person, just text messaging.

In the Galapagos, you realize a lot about life and love.

Puerto Egas Lindblad EndeavourLindblad’s National Geographic Endeavour off Puerto Egas

Galapagos Tortoises in the Santa Cruz Highlands

Santa Cruz Highlands Tortoise Fence-2
Highlands fences must be high enough for tortoises to crawl under

Photographing giant tortoises in the wild

by Linda O’Keefe

After our visit to the Los Gemelos craters, it’s back on the bus for what I hope is an exciting afternoon with giant Galapagos tortoises in the wild. Our Lindblad Endeavour naturalist for the afternoon, Walter Perez, doesn’t share my confidence as he continually cautions us “all we can guarantee you’ll see is lava rock and plenty of it.” Still, I’m optimistic we’ll find some giant tortoises without many problems.

Walter advises us how to track one of the huge tortoises in its natural environment: to walk quietly through the forest, listening closely for sounds made by an 800 lb., five-foot long reptiles as it flattens the underbrush in search for food.  Fortunately, our search turns out to be incredibly easy.

After our bus turns onto a small winding dirt road and we head toward two small farm buildings in the distance, Walter excitedly points ahead of us. “Look there’s one–and there’s another! Oh boy, I can’t believe this!”  Ahead of us, on both side of the road, are what look like large, clumps of rock moving through tall grass just 10 or 15 yards from us.

Santa Cruz Highlands Tortoise fence-1  Galapagos Giant Tortoise Lindblad National Geographic Endeavour

We quickly clamber out of the bus. Walter divides us into two groups, one to view the tortoises along the long road and the other to descend the hill behind the farm house.  Tim decides to stay with the first group where he knows he can photograph tortoises. I decide to venture off with those going down the hill with Walter.

The slope is surprisingly steep but I glance in the distance to spot what look giant, gray pith helmets scattered across a field. The closer I get, the more I realize the enormity of these creatures. Santa Cruz Island with its humid, grass-rich highlands is home to the largest of all Galapagos Tortoises.

Galapagos Giant Tortoise Lindblad National Geographic EndeavourTortoise walks along the edge of pond.

These have a domed shell and short neck unlike the tortoises in the dry lowlands with a saddleback shell and longer neck. When Charles Darwin visited the island the vice-governor told him he could tell which island a tortoise inhabited by looking at it. Darwin was astonished by this statement but as he traveled from island to island he realized the shell patterns did vary from location to location. Those distinguishing features were one of the many facets that compelled Darwin toward his theory of natural selection and adaptation.

As impressed as I am with their size, the huge tortoises are not impressed with us at all.  In fact, they seem truly oblivious to our presence, continuing to eat, drink and simply wander around. Their movements are slow and deliberate and their legs, feet and toes are enormous, resembling tree trunks with huge toenails.  Each toenail is approximately the size of my fist. One tortoise walking through the field reminds me of an alligator back home in Florida as it “high walks” one leg at a time over the ground.

Galapagos Giant Tortoise Lindblad National Geographic EndeavourThese feet are big!

As the tortoises shift to drink at a small pond covered with pink tiny flowers, I expect to see them drink with a cat-like behavior, lapping up the water. Instead, they barely open their lips as they gently suck in the water.  The tortoises share their water hole with a several white-cheeked pintail ducks. We photographers are thrilled by the juxtaposition of the tiny ducks with the giant tortoises. We have an amazingly harmonious portrait of nature not often seen in the wild.

Galapagos Giant Tortoise Lindblad National Geographic Endeavour
Tortoise sips water with grass still in its mouth

We have only a 45-minute window to photograph the tortoises and much too soon it’s time to return to the bus. My group lingers longer than we should, trying to get that last perfect shot. I could stay here for the rest of the day watching these magnificent creatures loll about but the time crunch is sounding.

As we walk up the hill, Walter comments, “You don’t know how lucky you are!” I leave with mixed feelings: lucky to have witnessed so many tortoises with perfect sunlight but also a little sad to know I probably will never have this kind of opportunity again.

Lindblad Endeavour Galapagos Blog Links

The Galapagos Experience                              Endeavour Dining
Galapagos Adventure Upcoming                  Sustainable Dining Policy
How Darwin Saved The Galapagos               Saturday Dining Menus
Galapagos Photo Tips                                        Sunday Dining Menus
What To Pack For Cruise                                  Monday Dining Menus
Getting to Guayaquil                                          Tuesday Dining Menus
Las Bachas Shore Landing                               Wednesday Dining Menus
North Seymour Shore Landing                       Thursday Dining Menus
Fernandina & Isabela Islands                         Friday Finale Menus
Urbina Bay Shore Landing                                Endeavour Recipes
Life Aboard The Endeavour
More About Life On Board
Puerto Egas Shore Landing
Endeavour’s Floating SPA
Meeting One of World’s Rarest Animals
Puerto Ayoro Walking Tour
Santa Cruz Highlands Tour
Hunting Tortoises in the Santa Cruz Highlands
San Cristobal, Endeavour’s final stop

Lindblad Endeavour Santa Cruz Highlands Tour

Santa Cruz lunch sugar cane-2

A triple header shore lunch

Before we set out to find Galapagos tortoises in the Santa Cruz highlands, the Lindblad Endeavour has an extended lunch break planned that is surprisingly varied. One stop I did not anticipate: a visit to a still–what we Southern boys would call a moonshine still–and the option to sample its product.

Here’s how it happened. From Puerto Ayora, we drive for 30 minutes into the highlands and stop at an old sugar estate called El Trapiche, Spanish for sugar mill. A local Galapaguenos family still works the property, with an older gentleman and a younger man turning the sugar cane press when we arrive. A donkey, on the other hand, is tethered to a fence off to the side taking what is probably a rare opportunity to relax.

galapagos santa cruz  el trapiche sugar mill-1  galapagos santa cruz  el trapiche sugar mill-2
El Trapiche sugar mill donkey; old fashioned sugar mill press

We are all invited to take a turn at the press and several fellow passengers step forward for what is fun for a few turns but would be a long harsh day for real. The long green sugar cane leaves roll through the press with the sugar juice spilling into a pail for processing into large cubes of natural brown sugar sold in the sugar mill gift shop. As we will discover, some of that cane juice will be used for making hootch, English word for cheap whiskey. That was not for sale.

On the way to a shed to sample some of the sugar products we’re offered a brief demonstration of how coffee beans–also grown here–are pounded with a huge mortar and pestle. That may seem a strange thing to do with coffee beans but some connoisseurs consider pounding the coffee beans superior to grinding them since the powder from the pounded beans retains all the volatile oils, which give coffee its flavor. Heat–apparently produced through grinding–dissipates the volatile oils. (And that is the end of today’s informative lecture.)

Galapagos Santa Cruz El Trapiche sugar mill electric sugar press-1  Galapagos Santa Cruz El Trapiche sugar mill still on fire-3 El Trapiche electric sugar mill press; the spurts flames after a douse of moonshine

From the coffee grinding demo we enter a small shed and find a still operating. Obviously distilling your own drinking alcohol isn’t illegal here–as it wasn’t in the U.S. for most of its history–and the elderly gentleman is more than willing to waste his alcohol by throwing it on the still and having it blaze briefly for us to take photos.

Then with some slices of cheese we dip into a bowl of sweet molasses, a by-product of processing sugar cane. Fittingly, the word molasses comes from a Portuguese word for “honey.” This stuff is delicious. Then, an Endeavour guide I’ve rarely seen quickly points out several small bottles of moonshine that he invites us to sample. I’m one of the few interested. I went to graduate school in North Carolina where moonshine and grape juice was a favorite drink. This elixir has to be sampled straight without a mixer. Quite good. And, thankfully, not as potent as I feared.

galapagos santa cruz altair restaurant-1  galapagos santa cruz altair restaurant pool-2
The Altair Restaurant in the Santa Cruz highlands;  pool at the restaurant

From the sugar mill, we go to a restaurant named Altair and dine on freshly grilled chicken and, if anyone was interested, take a swim just outside the restaurant. Or relax in one of the too few hammocks behind the pool.

The final stop of our triple-header lunch break is at a place called Los Gemelos, the twins, which are two huge craters formed by the collapse of a magma chamber. The craters, on opposite sides of the Puerto Ayora-Baltra road, are quite impressive. They look more like meteor impact craters than the results of some random ground collapse.

galapagos santa cruz los gemelos crater-1  galapagos santa cruz  scalesia cloud forest-1
One of the Los Gemelos craters; a tree in the cloud forest around Los Gemelos

The walk from crater to crater leads us through a cloud forest called a scalesia forest filled with epiphytes, ferns and orchids. This endangered ecosystem also supposedly is rich with birdlife such as Darwin’s finches including the woodpecker finch and the rare vermillion flycatcher.

Unfortunately, with the sun out for the first time all day, the forest and the branches are beautifully lighted. Maybe all that sun is bothering the birds because none of us–including our guides–can sight a single bird anywhere. The guides tell us this is unusual.

I can live with that. I just hope the sun will stay out for our next stop where we hope to find giant tortoises in the wild. No wild creature can be relied on to appear where or when you expect it.

Lindblad Endeavour Galapagos Blog Links

The Galapagos Experience                                             Endeavour Dining
Galapagos Adventure Upcoming                                 Sustainable Dining Policy
How Darwin Saved The Galapagos                              Saturday Dining Menus
Galapagos Photo Tips                                                       Sunday Dining Menus
What To Pack For Cruise                                                 Monday Dining Menus
Getting to Guayaquil                                                         Tuesday Dining Menus
Las Bachas Shore Landing                                              Wednesday Dining Menus
North Seymour Shore Landing                                     Thursday Dining Menus
Fernandina & Isabela Islands                                       Friday Finale Menus
Urbina Bay Shore Landing                                              Endeavour Recipes
Life Aboard The Endeavour
More About Life On Board
Puerto Egas Shore Landing
Endeavour’s Floating SPA
Meeting One of World’s Rarest Animals
Puerto Ayoro Walking Tour
Santa Cruz Highlands Tour
Hunting Tortoises in the Santa Cruz Highlands
San Cristobal, Endeavour’s final stop

Lindblad Endeavour Cruise: Puerto Ayora Walking Tour

Puerto Ayora blog2

Your one & only Galapagos shopping stop

The stop at Santa Cruz Island by the Lindblad Expeditions’ National Geographic Endeavour is an unusually full, busy day. Following our tour of the Darwin Research Station and seeing Lonesome George and Diego, the station’s most famous tortoises, we’re given a little over an hour to tour the waterfront of Puerto Ayora, largest city in the Galapagos. With a population of more than 10,000, Puerto Ayora contains about a third of the islands’ total human population.

Leaving the Darwin Research Station, we turn right onto Avenida Charles Darwin, the port city’s main street which ends at a plaza where buses will take us to the highlands for the rest of the day. It soon becomes clear that almost all the businesses along the street are intended for tourists. Although I spot a few hotels, restaurants and dive shops along the route, they are overwhelmed by the surplus of t-shirt shops.

Not necessarily a bad thing since this is the first and our only real opportunity to shop for Galapagos and Ecuadorian souvenirs. One of the first places we encounter is the Galapagos National Park store, which has a huge selection but whose prices are 2-3X as much as the items at the small shop at the Darwin Research Station. Too bad the Darwin Station’s shop isn’t larger; its offerings are fairly limited.

Here’s a photo scrapbook of our Puerto Ayora walk.

Along Avenida Charles Darwin in Puerto Ayora

 

Santa Cruz Natl Park Store-1blog  Santa Cruz store-1blog
              National park souvenir store solid as a rock; typical city souvenir store

Santa Cruz dolls-1a  Santa Cruz cemetery-1blog
Souvenir handmade dolls; city cemetery

Santa Cruz  Darwin mural-1                   Charles Darwin Arch, a major landmark on the outskirts of the city.

Santa Cruz woman shopper -1  Santa Cruz girl on booby-1
Shopping stop; mother & daughter on booby statue at Charles Darwin Arch park area

Santa Cruz fishing boats-1blog  Santa Cruz torotise statue -1blog
Marina with fishing boats; metal statue of a Galapagos tortoise

Santa Cruz outdoor restaurant-1blog  Santa Cruz handicraft market-1blog
Outdoor café empty between breakfast & lunch; handicraft market sign

Santa Cruz colorful store-1blog  Santa Cruz street scene-1blog
Candy-striped convenience store; yes, there is Internet!

Santa Cruz blue art gallery-1blog  Santa Cruz iguana statue-1blog
Some stores really try to stand out; iguana statue across from water taxis

Santa Cruz pier to water taxis-1Pier to water taxis—and cruise ship Zodiacs—fronting Academy Bay

Lindblad Endeavour Galapagos Cruise Links

The Galapagos Experience                                                  Endeavour Dining
Galapagos Adventure Upcoming                     
Sustainable Dining Policy
How Darwin Saved The Galapagos                    Saturday Dining Menus
Galapagos Photo Tips                                             Sunday Dining Menus
What To Pack For Cruise                                       Monday Dining Menus
Getting to Guayaquil                                               Tuesday Dining Menus
Las Bachas Shore Landing                                    Wednesday Dining Menus
North Seymour Shore Landing                            Thursday Dining Menus
Fernandina & Isabela Islands                              Friday Finale Menus
Urbina Bay Shore Landing                                     Endeavour Recipes
Life Aboard The Endeavour
More About Life On Board
Puerto Egas Shore Landing
Endeavour’s Floating SPA
Meeting One of World’s Rarest Animals
Puerto Ayoro Walking Tour
Santa Cruz Highlands Tour
Hunting Tortoises in the Santa Cruz Highlands
San Cristobal, Endeavour’s final stop

Lindblad Endeavour Takes Us To World’s Rarest Animal

Lonesome George Galapagos tortoise Darwin Research Station Santa Cruz Island
        Well, would you be happy to be the last of your world?

Poor old “Lonesome George”

When Lindblad’s National Geographic Endeavour anchors off Santa Cruz Island, we go ashore for the entire day to spend much of our time with the Galapagos’ iconic giant tortoises. And to meet a world-famous tortoise estimated at 100 years old known as “Lonesome George,” perhaps the last of his race. Of the 15 different races of tortoise that once lived on 15 different islands of the Galapagos, three are now extinct, almost four.

Lonesome George, estimated at 100 years old and considered in good health, is the last remaining member of that fourth race. Guinness World Records calls him the world’s “rarest living creature.” The very last of his kind. He supposedly was named after a popular 1950’s comedian, George Goebel, whose nickname was “Lonesome George.”

Considering the near extinction of the tortoises on Pinta Island, it’s hard to comprehend that giant tortoises were once commonplace throughout the world, living not only in the Americas but Europe and Asia, going back to the age of the dinosaurs. Yet what depleted Lonesome George’s race is what killed off almost all the world’s giant tortoises.

Galapagos Santa Cruz Darwin Research Station Breeding Center sign-1

                                   Darwin Research Station Captive Breeding Sign

Scientists say the huge tortoises of eons ago were unable to compete successfully with the many herbivores found on the continents, which is why today they exist only on isolated islands where there is no competition. Thanks to Charles Darwin’s writings, the Galapagos tortoises are the best known of the remaining giant tortoises but they also survive on the islands of Madagascar and the Seychelles, both in the Indian Ocean.

The Galapagos, of course, owe their name to the giant tortoises, taken from the Spanish word Galápago meaning saddle. Saddleback tortoises aren’t as large or as impressive looking as the bell-shaped shells of animals like Lonesome George. The smaller saddlebacks,  however, enjoy a shell shape that allows them to extend their necks higher to feed. Understandably, saddlebacks normally reside on islands with less vegetation compared to the bigger, dome-shaped tortoises still common on islands like Santa Cruz, where the vegetation is relatively rich.

Lonesome George is from Pinta Island, where the vegetation was decimated by introduced, roaming goats. Like the giant tortoises that once thrived worldwide, those on Pinta Island were out-competed. After Lonesome George was found in 1971, he was moved to the Darwin Research Station but it wasn’t until 1993–20 years later, not exactly a speedy reaction time–that the first attempt was made to breed him.

Lonesome George pen Galapagos Darwin Research Station santa cruz
Lonesome George’s isolation cell. See any females? He doesn’t either.

George was provided with two female tortoises of different subspecies in an attempt to produce offspring. George and his revolving harem produced eggs but all to date have been infertile. Even if all the eggs had hatched, technically the Pinta Island race still would be extinct after Lonesome George’s death since the offspring would be of mixed, not pure, blood. (Shades of Lord Voldemort!)

To preserve the Pinta Island subspecies, Lonesome George needs offspring with a Pinta Island female. A $10,000 reward is available for any zoo or private collector willing to provide a Pinta female to mate with Lonesome George but no females have been offered. Ironically, it’s possible there is a second Pinta Island male tortoise slightly younger than George which lives in the Prague Zoo. World renown tortoise expert Peter Pritchard considers the shell pattern of the Prague tortoise to be similar to that of George’s but no DNA tests have been conducted to confirm or refute the possibility. For the time being, rescuing the Pinta Island tortoise subspecies is at a stalemate that may never be resolved.

Galapagos Santa Cruz Darwin Research Station torotise eggs incubating-1  Galapagos Santa Cruz Darwin Research Station tortoise breeding pen-1
                               Tortoise eggs being incubated; tortoise breeding pen.

Our walk from the Santa Cruz Zodiac to enter the Darwin Research Station and reach Lonesome George takes about 20 minutes. We pass several turtle pens where species from other islands are being effectively bred. Our view into Lonesome George’s pen from a walkway overlooking it is depressing. He has a huge space to roam, able to hold scores of giant tortoises. He looks so large compared to the females present to entice him. No wonder George isn’t turned on by them. The pen seems to have everything a tortoise could want with lots of shade, vegetation and a huge concrete pond. From pictures I’ve seen of George on various web sites, he rarely leaves the pond’s edge.

Only a few steps away from Lonesome George is a crowded pen with an Espanola tortoise named Diego, a far more energetic but lesser known male tortoise largely responsible for bringing back his island’s population. Only 15 members remained on Espanola due to the impact of voracious goats. When the government began its goat eradication program on Espanola, the entire population was brought to the Darwin Research Station in hopes of increasing their numbers. But an unexpected problem cropped up: all of the males refused to mate.

Diego Galapagos tortoise Darwin Research Station

Diego, the studliest stud of Galapagos tortoises

The San Diego Zoo in California called the Darwin Research Station about a rogue Espanola male tortoise of theirs which was attacking all the other males. Did the Darwin Station want him? Yes, was the fateful answer. When this bully arrived, now named Diego in honor of the zoo, he promptly expended all his energy on the receptive females and quickly created a new generation of Espanola tortoises. Diego’s prowess inspired the formerly disinterested Espanola males. The resulting orgy sent more than 1,600 tortoises back to their homeland. Diego remains at the Darwin Station to continue his good work. He deserves a memorial, though I can’t think of a way it would be PG.

Meanwhile, Lonesome George is rarely interested, perhaps due to “low T” or maybe he just needs to be inspired (instructed?) as Diego’s buddies were. From what I see, George’s pen is cut off from all other turtle breeding pens with no opportunity for him to see what is going on around him. He lives in splendid isolation–like someone being confined to a large mansion with his two women–while Diego and his crew are out having fun in the back yard.

George needs to be moved where he can watch Diego in action and get over his performance anxiety. Or performance ignorance. According to our Lindblad guides, they even played music to help inspire Diego. Well, show George some turtle porn. Do something to provide him the same type of motivation given to Diego, who was a bad boy and probably didn’t need it anyway.

Galapagos Darwin Research Station parque nacional national park sign santa cruz                          Lonesome George is part of the Galapagos National Park logo

A cynic might say the Charles Darwin Foundation which operates the Charles Darwin  Research Station deliberately is keeping George lonesome and uninspired in order to preserve him as a powerful conservation symbol. Not only is George the Darwin Station’s most famous celebrity and its main attraction, he keeps both the Darwin Research Station and the Galapagos National Park in the public eye.

If there can be no true happy ending without another Pinta Island female, why not? (Lonesome George died June 24, 2012, without ever successfully mating. He was the last of his kind.)

Lindblad Endeavour Galapagos Cruise Links

The Galapagos Experience                                        Endeavour Dining   
Galapagos Adventure Upcoming                             Sustainable Dining Policy
How Darwin Saved The Galapagos                          Saturday Dining Menus
Galapagos Photo Tips                                                   Sunday Dining Menus
What To Pack For Cruise                                             Monday Dining Menus
Getting to Guayaquil                                                     Tuesday Dining Menus
Las Bachas Shore Landing                                          Wednesday Dining Menus
North Seymour Shore Landing                                 Thursday Dining Menus
Fernandina & Isabela Islands                                   Friday Finale Menus
Urbina Bay Shore Landing                                          Endeavour Recipes
Life Aboard The Endeavour
More About Life On Board
Puerto Egas Shore Landing
Endeavour’s Floating SPA
Meeting One of World’s Rarest Animals
Puerto Ayoro Walking Tour
Santa Cruz Highlands Tour
Hunting Tortoises in the Santa Cruz Highlands
San Cristobal, Endeavour’s final stop

Dining on the Lindblad Endeavour–Cruise Review


food_paella-1
               Classic Spanish paella with shellfish but no shrimp

Sustainability guides the dining choices—yum yum!

Lindblad Expeditions takes its dedication to conservation seriously, extending it even to the Endeavour’s dining room. Although seafood is a staple on the ship’s menus, you’ll never find a shrimp cocktail, fried shrimp or shrimp of any sort on the ship. Lindblad banned shrimp from its kitchens more than a decade ago, in the summer of 2001 as part of its sustainable dining program to help preserve fish stocks world-wide.

Lindblad says it could not find any shrimp suppliers who could prove that their shrimp harvesting methods did not damage the marine environment. One of the serious problem shrimp trawlers create is the “bycatch” of unwanted fish species that end up being killed and disposed of. In addition, in some areas the trawlers may sweep the same section of sea bottom several times a year, which leaves no time for re-growth or recovery of the marine habitat.

Shrimp farming also has serious negative impact because shrimp growers have made their pond water poisonous due to the large amounts of artificial feed, pesticides, chemical additives and antibiotics used for the highest possible production rate. Typically, the ponds are located in coastal areas to provide easy access to new fresh water sources to refill them. Unfortunately, instead of reducing pressure on overharvesting, shrimp aquaculture’s toxic effluent is blamed for reducing local shrimp and fish populations in some regions

When it comes to the fish served on board the Endeavour and other Lindblad ships, they are species considered not to be over-fished or caught by environmentally destructive practices. Lindblad Expeditions is not being extremist in its sustainability approach. According to Ocean Wise, a Canadian non-profit education and conservation association, an estimated 90-percent of all large, predatory fish have disappeared from the world’s oceans and it states that one recent scientific study predicts a world-wide fisheries collapse by the year 2048. Obviously, this is a topic that impacts all of us and one we all should be concerned about.

Placing the serious aspects of the Lindblad Endeavour’s menu aside, as you’ll see from the accompanying photos and the week’s menus on accompanying pages, no one starves and there is a serious emphasis flavorful food, although the preparations are not always ones we have every day or perhaps ever have had before. But trying new foods always has been an essential part of travel. The menu emphasizes Ecuadorian cuisine, as you would expect.

Here are some sample signs that are posted to explain unfamiliar dishes:

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Here’s how seriously Lindblad Expeditions takes its commitment to cater to the diverse tastes of its passengers. The photo at the top of this post shows paella served once a week at lunch that definitely would not suit vegetarians. So, a vegetarian paella is served at the same time.

This kind of catering is routine on large cruise ships. But the Endeavour carries fewer than100 passengers. Here is a photo of the vegetarian paella served at the same lunch.

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Vegetarian paella, a rice dish from Valencia, Spain

See for yourself what the dining on the Lindblad National Geographic Endeavor is like. You won’t be disappointed, I promise you. If I didn’t like it, I would tell you. But I do wish there was just one time during the week for plain old hamburgers with buns and all the trimmings. But that may be just me.

Lindblad Endeavour Galapagos Cruise Links

The Galapagos Experience                              Endeavour Dining
Galapagos Adventure Upcoming                                  Sustainable Dining Policy
How Darwin Saved The Galapagos                               Saturday Dining Menus
Galapagos Photo Tips                                                        Sunday Dining Menus
What To Pack For Cruise                                                  Monday Dining Menus
Getting to Guayaquil                                                          Tuesday Dining Menus
Las Bachas Shore Landing                                               Wednesday Dining Menus
North Seymour Shore Landing                                      Thursday Dining Menus
Fernandina & Isabela Islands                                        Friday Finale Menus
Urbina Bay Shore Landing                                               Endeavour Recipes
Life Aboard The Endeavour
More About Life On Board
Puerto Egas Shore Landing
Endeavour’s Floating SPA
Meeting One of World’s Rarest Animals
Puerto Ayoro Walking Tour
Santa Cruz Highlands Tour
Hunting Tortoises in the Santa Cruz Highlands
San Cristobal, Endeavour’s final stop

Lindblad Endeavour’s Floating SPA

Lindblad Floating Spa-1

by Linda O’Keefe

A motional massage

One thing I don’t expect to find onboard Lindblad’s National Geographic Endeavour is a wellness specialist as well as a mini spa. Alexandra Cueva, the wellness specialist for our voyage, puts in a long day, beginning around 6:30 a.m. with a yoga, stretching or water aerobics class just before breakfast. The rest of the day she is on call for paid spa services such as massage, reflexology and other spa treatments.

One service on the spa menu especially catches my eye: a “floating massage.” Technically, all massages given aboard the Endeavour are floating but this offering is something special. One of the Endeavour’s old glass bottomed boats has been redesigned to provide a viewing porthole of the sea bottom directly under the massage table’s head cradle.  The idea is to have a massage while watching sea life swim underneath the boat.  Instead of a massage on the beach, it’s a great rub on an ocean tub.

Scheduling any kind of spa treatment on the Endeavour is difficult because it usually means having to give up something: a shore landing, snorkeling or kayaking. Also, the opportunities for a floating massage are limited to certain locations where sea conditions are calm enough that Alexandra can stay on her feet and the massagee doesn’t slide off the table.

While kayaking Tim and I had seen the floating spa bouncing around in Tagus Cove where a Zodiac tried to keep it from crashing on shore. The waves and current were much too strong for any sort of stability. The Zodiac with its rubber hull acted like a seaborne bumper car to keep the spa boat away from land but there was no way the Zodiac could do it gently. In fact, we heard lots of crashing aboard the spa boat as we paddled pass but no shouts of alarm. Can’t imagine how Alexandra managed to stay on her feet that day.

Lindblad Floating Spa-2  Lindblad Floating Spa-3

Remembering that spectacle, I wonder how real this floating massage is and how much of it is a gimmick. So the night before my scheduled tub rub when I pick up a robe and slippers from Alexandra, I ask her what I should wear the next day with the robe.  Her response is quick and firm, “Nothing. This is a professional massage.”

The next morning, clad only in my spa robe and slippers, I wait at the reception area for Alexandra to fetch me.  I know in the back of my mind the glass bottom boat is away from the ship but for some reason it hasn’t yet occurred to me I’ll need to ride in a Zodiac to reach it. Just normally getting into a Zodiac when the waves bob it up and down is not the easiest maneuver even in normal attire. With a robe and nothing underneath, it’s really tricky. Fortunately, I make it on and off without any wardrobe malfunctions.

I take the Zodiac about half a mile from the ship to find the spa boat anchored in an isolated cove near shore. In the cloudy “garua” weather, the cliffs and a small island rock formation close by is both mystical and relaxing. After disembarking the Zodiac trip, I climb onboard the “floating massage” table.

As I lay face down and Alexandra works wonders on my back, the view through the three-foot wide glass circle is disappointing.  There isn’t a great view due to the reflections of the boat and sky. I spot only a few fish that wander by.

Despite the lack of underwater activity, I love this experience. The sound of the waves drumming the boat is more soothing than any new age music . Inhaling the salty sea air is natural aromatherapy. Occasionally the relaxation is broken as the wind sweeps the sheet off my body and there’s a quick scramble to grab it back.

Lindblad Floating Spa-4

After my massage and I wait for the Zodiac to return, Alexandra points out a large sea turtle swimming on the surface with several other turtles surrounding it. As the turtles approach our boat, I realize something seems rather odd about what I thought was a single large turtle.

I ask Alexandra , “Are those two turtles–not just one?”

“Yes,” she replies with a sly grin on her face.

I wonder aloud, “Are they doing what I think they’re doing?”

Her smiling face answers my question before she answers “Yes” and bursts into laughter. She confesses she has been watching them for a while. And we continue to watch the turtles float obliviously toward the boat.

My already R-rated adventure pushes the limit as the two mating turtles drift closer and closer to the boat. Eventually they bump into us, separate, swim away. At this point, Alexandra and I are close to hysteria laughing at them. (Though they probably don’t understand our idea of humor.)

Alexandra and I are still laughing when the Zodiac arrives to carry us both back to the Endeavour. All in all, this is an experience I won’t soon forget.

Lindblad Endeavour Galapagos Cruise Links 

The Galapagos Experience                               Endeavour Dining Galapagos Adventure Upcoming                                    Sustainable Dining Policy
How Darwin Saved The Galapagos                                 Saturday Dining Menus
Galapagos Photo Tips                                                          Sunday Dining Menus
What To Pack For Cruise                                                    Monday Dining Menus
Getting to Guayaquil                                                            Tuesday Dining Menus
Las Bachas Shore Landing                                                 Wednesday Dining Menus
North Seymour Shore Landing                                         Thursday Dining Menus
Fernandina & Isabela Islands                                           Friday Finale Menus
Urbina Bay Shore Landing                                                  Endeavour Recipes
Life Aboard The Endeavour
More About Life On Board
Puerto Egas Shore Landing
Endeavour’s Floating SPA
Meeting One of World’s Rarest Animals
Puerto Ayoro Walking Tour
Santa Cruz Highlands Tour
Hunting Tortoises in the Santa Cruz Highlands
San Cristobal, Endeavour’s final stop