Tag Archives: lindblad expeditions national geographic endeavour galapagos cruise

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 a rare species?

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

Lindblad Endeavour Arrives at Puerto Egas

Puerto Egas beach animals-1

One perfect afternoon at Puerto Egas, where wildlife offer 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, at a place called 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.

galapagos santiago puerto egas mountain fence-1  galapagos santiago puerto egas old road-1
Jarring reminders of the humans who once lived here

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.

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.

Galapagos Islands SantiagoPuerto Egas American oyster catcher-1American oyster catchers were common place at Puerto Egas

Hopefully, they 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!”

Galapagos Islands Santiago 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.

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.  It certainly couldn’t have carried here something this size. The iguana seems as large as the hawk, so the bird shouldn’t have to scavenge for several more days.

galapagos santiago puerto egas galapagos hawk-1  galapagos santiago puerto egas seal pup-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 my, 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.

Galapagos Santiago Island Puerto Egas male fur seal-1Male 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 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.

Galapagos Santiago Island Lindblad Endeavour cruise shipLindblad’s National Geographic Endeavour off Puerto Egas

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

More About Daily Life On Board Lindblad’s Endeavour

Lindblad Endeavour kayaking Galapagos-1

More thoughts and observations about daily life on the Lindblad National Geographic Endeavour, a follow-up to yesterday’s post.

Kayaking
According to Carlos Romero, our expedition leader, Lindblad Expeditions is the only cruise company to offer kayaking, That isn’t surprising since, according to the National Park, most other boats carry only 16 passengers. The kayaks serve two purposes: to provide a different activity and to allow passengers to seek out on their own the birds, iguanas and sea lions that reside on steep island cliffs. All kayaks are two-person sit-on-top models, which are quite stable; you’d have to work extremely hard to tip one over.

Lindblad Endeavour kayaking Galapagos-2                                       Paddling at Tagus Cove, Isabela Island

But with two people paddling, it’s vital both paddlers be in synch, each alternating to the same side with every stroke. Paddlers are out of synch when, seen from the front or rear, their paddle blades resemble a windmill in motion, which is not good; the purpose of windmill blades is to spin in a circle.

The only tricky part is getting in and out of the kayak, which is achieved from a Zodiac, not the Endeavour. A kayak is held alongside the inflatable as two paddlers, on at a time, slide onto the center of the kayak. It’s a more delicate exercise to slide back into the Zodiac since the kayak is lower. If anyone is likely to fall into the drink, it’s during the loading and unloading exercises.

The Endeavour has no scheduled kayak quick-course since it doesn’t require much instruction to propel the craft. However you may find these tips helpful. Guides accompany kayakers, able to shout directions to anyone needing help.  As with snorkeling, a Zodiac stays close to pick up anyone needing assistance or provide a tow.

Talks by Naturalists

These are one of the high-points of the trip. Frequently the briefings are just after lunch or part of the evening recap. Naturalists change regularly to rotate to other Lindblad ships or take a week or two off, meaning topics may change from week to week Almost all of the naturalists are Ecuadorians, either born in the Galapagos or long time island residents. All have been trained and certified by the National Park Service

Lindblad Endeavour Galapagos penguins-1  Lindblad Endeavour sea turtle Galapagos-1
Possible talk topics include Galapagos penguins and Pacific sea turtles 

Sample talk topics may include a history of early 20th century settlers in the Galapagos (if Galapagos native Aura Cruz gives this talk, you must attend not only for the information but the strange and wonderful video of people dancing with their “adopted child:” a donkey!). Expect an explanation of how Charles Darwin’s visit to the islands helped form his theory of natural selection, perhaps even a separate session or the evolution of fish species. Regardless, all sessions are informative and usually accompanied by films or slides shown on large flat screen TVs scattered around the lounge so everyone has a good view.

Personally, until one of the talks I never knew that Charles Darwin’s family was so wealthy and that it was due to the Darwin family tradition of marrying one of the Wedgwood daughters, as his father and Charles both did. These are the same Wedgwood  as in fine china and whose name has become almost a generic synonym for elegant table ware.

Endeavour Library
The ship’s library offers a small but interesting selection of books about the Galapagos and other expedition regions. Tim was one of the first people in the library after we sail from Baltra and he happened to find a worn copy of the Pulitzer-prize winning The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time. He found it a fascinating read, describing a 20-year study recording how the beaks of finches on Daphne Major Island changed over the span of 20 generations. The research proved for the first time the process of evolution not only occurs, it can also be observed. The study is still ongoing.

Lindblad library-1  N Seymour Darwin Finch-2
                 The Endeavour library; a Darwin finch on North Seymour Island

The library is worth visiting even if you don’t intend to read (there isn’t much free time except at night). The small room is a quiet, out-of-the-way place to sit and enjoy a cup of tea or snack on a wafer anytime, around the clock, since everything is provided on a self-serve basis. This is one of the ship’s less frequented areas.

The Computer Lab                          
A small computer lab located next to the reception area offers three  computers. All are linked to a printer, which can be used to make a hard copy of any important documents, such as airline online check-in. Satellite internet time is sold in various units, with the system working best when the Endeavour is stationary.
Lindblad Endeavour computer room-1

The Main Lounge
The social hub of the Endeavour is located on the deck just above the 100 cabins. The lounge is open around the clock for tea and free soda fountain (Diet Coke, Coke, Spite). A small glass-fronted cooler offers Ecuadorian beers with an honor system signup sheet for a person’s room number and the number of items taken. In early evening, just before the daily recaps, appetizers are served with treats like chicken lettuce wraps, chips, salsa, and veggies with dip. And the full bar here also is open at that time.

Lindblad lounge-1

The lounge provides the only the nightly entertainment, which normally consists of TV specials by (surprise!) National Geographic about different aspects of the Galapagos. Toward the end of the cruise, a group of local musicians and dancers from Santa Cruz Island entertained us with music and dance not only from Ecuador but Bolivia and Peru. Called Eco Arte, they were so impressive we bought all four of their CD’s, a perfect memory of the Galapagos. If you like their playing, buy the CD’s from them when they are on the ship. It’s the only opportunity you’ll have.

Galapagos Eduacorian dancer Lindblad National Geographic Endeavour

The Outside Decks
The stern has have a mix of tables and chairs and loungers, usually occupied by people reading or dozing between shore landings. A tiny swimming pool located near the stern is more like the size of a plunge pool and it seems universally ignored by everyone. It might appeal to young children, but none were on our trip.

Lindblad Endeavour sun deck-1  Lindblad Endeavour swimming pool-1

Tip: Wet bathing suits can really start smelling after a couple of days. Use the complimentary clothes dryer in the spa wellness area for anything that gets wet. Or take advantage of the Endeavour’s one-day laundry service.

Lindblad Endeavour Galapagos Cruise Links

The Galapagos Experience                                       Endeavor 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

Life On Board Lindblad’s National Geographic Endeavour


Lindblad endavour off Rabida-1

Who’s In Charge
Every Lindblad Endeavour Galapagos cruise has three supervisors:

The Captain, who hopefully you won’t see except at social functions. You don’t want to see him in a public area with a megaphone in hand or hear his voice over your cabin speaker during the distress signal while someone is pounding on your door.

The Expedition Leader, the most visible person of the three since this person usually oversees all departures and returns and emcees the nightly recaps in the lounge.

The Hotel Manager, someone who only occasionally is recognized at the lounge meetings but is usually present in the dining room at every meal. Other than the captain, this is the most important person on the ship. The hotel manger is in charge of the cabins, the dining room, pretty much everything on the ship that doesn’t include the bridge or any of the mechanical/technical operations.

Montserrat Rodriquez, Endeavour hotel manager                               Montserrat Rodriquez, the Endeavour’s hotel manger

Finding Your Way Around The Ship
Although the Lindblad National Geographic Endeavour is one of the largest ships stationed year-round in the Galapagos, it carries a maximum of 96 passengers. At the beginning of the cruise, you may find yourself going to the wrong decks because they have an unusual numbering system. Cabins with a 300 number are at the ship’s lowest level, while those with a 100 number are located two decks above, just the opposite of most cruise ships..

The Stateroom
Either the Endeavour has more spacious cabins than any other cruise line or Linda did a really good packing job. For a change, we don’t have camera equipment and other gear scattered around our stateroom. Square-foot wise, our cabin isn’t all that large but it has really good storage space.

Our stateroom room is basic: two twin beds against opposite walls with a nightstand in between. Together, the three items probably don’t cover much more space than a single king-size bed. However, under the beds we can hide the suitcases, shoes, dry bags and other gear. A flat area between the bed headboards and the cabin’s window makes a convenient shelf for our Kindles, books borrowed from the ship’s library, the daily activity sheets and our sunglasses. We each have a lamp over our beds with the added feature of a built-in reading light, one of the cabin’s best features.

    Lindblad Endeavour cabin-1                           Some cabins on the Endeavour have a large single bed

At the foot of one bed is an easy chair and a small work desk with chair and mirror. Amazingly, there are three electrical outlets above the desk instead of a single one on most cruise ships. Two of the outlets are 110, the other 220 for a European-style plug. We always pack a power strip to have enough outlets for our computers and for recharging camera batteries. Before Tim sets up his computer on the desk, most of the desk space was occupied by a large container for water and two drinking glasses. He transferred them to the top of a wooden coat rack, which acts like an additional shelf. They fit perfectly.

Behind the desk are two roomy closets with several large drawers for folded clothing plus plenty of space for hanging them. Everything fits perfect even with all of our computer and photography equipment. One item absent from the cabin is a TV, which we’re too busy to miss.

The cabin stewards are surprisingly attentive. In addition to their usual morning clean-up and towel change, they return during the day while we’re out to straighten up the room.

The Day Begins
Our mornings always start early, sometimes at 6:15 a.m. but never later than 6:45 with a wakeup call on “Radio Carlos,” the name for our room speaker. Carlos Romero, our expedition leader, always greets us with a cheery, “Good morning, breakfast will be served in 15 minutes.”  This speaker system has its pros and cons.  It’s a real convenience since you don’t have to worry about setting an alarm clock or being late for any activity because the departures are always announced well in advance.  And one of the two channels also broadcasts the nightly recaps and any afternoon talks by the naturalists held in the ship’s lounge. That makes it possible for us to stay in our cabin to download images from our cameras and not miss anything important.

Lindblad Endeavour sunset-2                                            Relaxing on deck for sunset watching.

The one bad part of the speaker system is that if you decide to sleep late and miss an excursion, you can’t turn down the volume. On the one morning Linda decides to take a break, she is regularly bombarded by Carlos’ announcements as he continually reports the departure times for kayaking and glass bottom boats throughout the morning. Normally you can turn down the volume or turn off the speaker. Not when “Radio Carlos” broadcasts. No way to avoid it.

The Shore Landings
Morning shore excursions usually depart at 8 a.m. and arrive back between 10:30 and 11:30 for lunch, which is at 12:30. Typically, the ship moves to a new location during lunch for a second shore landing. Our blogs occasionally cover both landings but most often concentrate on only one. Why? Because the walks may be so similar that describing one is enough. A more pressing reason: as we write these posts, we’re preparing to leave for New Zealand.

Snorkeling
At the beginning of the week, the naturalists help everyone select a properly-sized shortie wetsuit, a pair of fins and a correctly-fitted mask with snorkel. If you’ve never snorkeled much before, take advantage of the offered training before tackling the deep water snorkel outings. For deep water snorkeling, getting back in the boat is easy. The Zodiacs mount a removable set of stairs on their bows, a trouble-free way for getting in and out of the water. If you prefer, you can always leave the boat using a traditional backflip.

Lindblad snorkel boat-1            Snorkelers in a Zodiac outfitted with stairs to make getting in and out easy.

Galapagos water temperatures are chilly much of the year, sometimes plunging as low as the mid-50’s. The coldest water temperatures on our trip range from a low of 68 F to a high of 72 F. The water temperatures of each location usually are announced ahead of time so snorkelers can back out before getting wet. Even 72 F is a bit brisk for some of us with only a shortie. Back home, Florida’s fresh water springs average 72 F year-round, temps that require a full wet suit for scuba divers.

Those nippy water temperatures can be a relief when air temperatures reach 90 F and above, something you’re not apt to experiences in the Galapagos. On the other hand, those who were raised in colder climates consider the water temps to be “just like back home.” It’s a matter of personal fortitude; or an individual’s background and how close to the Arctic Circle they were raised.

Perhaps the comments at dinner by one woman snorkeler summed it up well for those accustomed to warmer conditions: “I turned on the shower as hot as it would go and I still couldn’t stop shaking.” That’s someone who hung in there too long, possibly risking hypothermia.

The combination of cold water with rough water can become unpleasant after a time. Not to worry. Zodiacs with their special stairs are available to pick up anyone who’s had more fun than they can stand.
  Lindblad sea lion making a shark fin-1                          Here’s a sight to catch snorkelers’ attention: a shark fin!!? 
                          No, a  swimming sea lion just having fun.

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

National Geographic Endeavour Visits Urbina Bay

Urbina Isabela Island-2
              Isabela Island from the Endeavour en route to Urbina Bay

Urbina Bay Hikes, The Long and The Short of Them

Lindblad’s National Geographic Endeavour will spend the entire day at Isabela, largest island in the Galapagos Archipelago. Less than a decade ago, this island was overrun with feral goats and pigs brought in by settlers. Their continued destruction of the endemic flora and fauna threatened the survival of the land iguanas and giant tortoises, prompting the National Park Service to undertake the world’s largest ever ecosystem restoration mission in a protected area.

Known as Project Isabela, the eradication actually involved eliminating the goat populations not only on Isabel but also Santiago and Pinta Islands.  On northern Isabela alone, the goat population numbered 100,000 animals when the eradication project began in 1997. It was a costly, high-tech endeavor that included using helicopters for aerial hunting and GIS tracking with radio collars placed on sterilized “Judas goats” released on the islands to seek and pinpoint any existing herds of feral goats. The project was a complete success, ending in 2005. Land iguanas and giant tortoises are no longer threatened with extinction.

Linda’s Hike: Our day begins at Urbina Bay (also known as Urvina Bay) on the western shore of Isabela.  This is a famous location where in 1954 almost one square mile( 1.5 km) of sea bottom including a section of coral reef was instantly lifted 15 feet (4 m) above water by a geological uplift. Records indicate that sharks, lobsters and fish were left on land–some even found in the trees–by local fishermen who noticed the strong stench coming from the area. Uplifts occur in the Galapagos frequently, but this is one of the most dramatic ever witnessed. Almost 60 years later, ocean bottom has blended with the landscape and everything looks normal, but I can’t help but wonder if another sudden uplifting could be on the calendar for today.

I quickly remove that thought and start feeling excited about the possibility of seeing huge tortoises in the wild, our first chance for such an encounter. The Endeavour is offering two morning hikes, a longer one along the beach over large boulders that goes inland and covers almost 2 miles (3 km). A shorter, half-mile version covers only the inland portion.

I choose the shorter walk because climbing doesn’t over boulders doesn’t seem like the thing to do since I have a touch of motion sickness. It’s not that the Endeavour rocks and rolls that much; I have an inner ear problem that makes me especially susceptible to the motion of a rough Zodiac ride. The high waves yesterday at Isabela were too much like a roller-coaster ride and I’m still recovering..

The long hikers leave at 8 a.m. and we follow at 8:30. As the departure times grow closer, I become hesitant about doing the short walk because I don’t want to miss any great photo opportunity but the guides have assured me we will see the same wildlife.

Galapagos Bottlenose Dolphins Lindblad National Geographic EndeavourDolphins escort our Zodiac to shore.

The Zodiac trip over has an awesome surprise.  A group of bottlenose dolphins escort us from the ship to our wet landing site on the beach. Because our hike is short, naturalist Walter has the Zodiac driver follow the dolphins for 15 or 20 minutes.  Once on the beach, we are greeted by five juvenile Galapagos hawks.  One hawk tries to tear open a bright yellow mesh dive bag that a hiker left on the beach. What a terrific photo opportunity! I am thrilled with my short hike decision so far.

Galapagos Hawk            Ambitious Galapagos hawk trying to figure out how to fly off with gear bag.

As we depart the beach and head inland, we split into different groups (a maximum of 16 persons in a group). My naturalist today is Jeffo again, our guide yesterday on Fernandina Island. The first thing Jeffo shows us is a species of cotton that is, oddly enough, called Darwin’s cotton.  Although its an endemic species, it still seems out of place to find something as common and ordinary as cotton in the Galapagos. Closely related to cotton found on the American continent, scientists believe a cotton seed arrived here from South America either blown by the wind, washed in by the sea or dropped by a bird.

Galapagos Darwin Cotton Lindblad National Geographic Endeavour                                       Darwin cotton; it also bears a yellow flower.

Jeffo slows down to point out several large iguanas hiding under the trees. It’s a clear day and everything seems to be hiding from the sun. We do spot two giant tortoises: a young one hiding in a hole with only part of its shell visible and a fully grown one sandwiched under thick tree limbs to keep cool.

Galapagos Land Iguana Lindblad National Geographic Endeavour        Urbina Bay on Isabela Island has some of the Galapagos’ largest land iguanas.

When we arrive back at the beach, the hawks are still patrolling and taking their photo is easier than taking candy from a baby. Several people in our group brave swimming in the cold water as sea lions watch them from the rocks.  I decide to just sit on the beach and watch a couple of eagle rays glide through the water as sea turtles bob their heads above the water for a quick gulp of air. Only in the Galapagos can I have this kind of experience. It’s extremely pleasant.

The best part of this morning’s walk: we were never rushed in the least; unlike some other hikes. I wonder how Tim is doing photo-wise on the longer walk.

The Long, Long, Long Beach Walk

Tim’s Hike: You would think the first groups ashore for the long walk would see more critters than those who come later. Not necessarily so. Our Zodiac is the first to encounter the bottlenose dolphin and they are close, just yards away from us. They are having fun, porpoising first on one side and then the other. No one is sitting in the bow, which would allow photographing them from both sides, so I claim it and begin firing away.

Because we’re on a schedule–our panga drivers need to go back to get the late-comers–we don’t spend much time with the dolphin but go directly to the black sand beach where a Galapagos hawk is sitting high in a tree, watching us. The bird seems as curious about us as we are about it, so I’m able to move as close as I need to for my telephoto lens. Any closer and there would be branches in the way because I would be looking straight up at the hawk.

Urbina long beach walk-1
In addition to its length, having to climb lava rocks on the beach deterred
many from this hike.

I’m so intent on taking hawk pictures I don’t realize how long we’re spending on the beach to begin our long hike. No one else is taking hawk photos. I’m surprised to notice it’s 8:30 a.m. before we start our walk. Hikers for the short walk already are starting to arrive.

There are two directions for the long hikes to take. From the beach, most hikers going right are starting by walking inland. Ours is one of two groups walking the lava rock beach. I notice that as we’re starting, the only other group to take this direction is very far ahead of us. I’m about to understand why. Our naturalist leader is an excellent naturalist but is a little too obsessed about telling us about everything we see; some of which we’ve seen before.

Urbina steep beach-2
The steep beach slope at Urbina Bay.

We do see many interesting things on the walk, especially observing clearly the steep incline of the beach where the shoreline was suddenly extended a half-mile due to the uplift. We also come upon a remarkably colored male iguana starting to glow with his mating colors.

However, we are just leaving the beach when we start encountering hikers who have spent almost two hours exploring and photographing the shorter inland area where most of the animals are said to be located. It’s already 10:15 and we’re supposed to be back on board at 11:15. Several of us hope we can pick up the pace if we leave the beach and begin the marked trail inland.

Almost immediately we encounter the cluster of boulder-sized coral heads located several hundred yards from the coastline. Corals generally grow only about an inch a year. Some of the coral boulders are shoulder to chin high or even well above our heads, monuments to decades, if not centuries, of development.

Urbina coral moved inland-2
Some of the coral heads moved inland by 1954’s uplift of the sea bottom.

I would like to spend more time at this location but the remainder of the trail beckons, which several of us continue to pioneer for our group. The pathway here is more overgrown than any other we’ve ever traveled, an indication of how infrequently it is used.

Urbina overgrown trail-1  Urbina goat head-1
The overgrown trail at Urbina Cove; a trail marker—the last goat on Isabela Island?

Some of the Galapagos’ largest land iguanas are supposed to live here and we find many of them resting under tree braches as well as the burrows where they retreat to from the sun. We also encounter a large tortoise that has pushed itself well back into a dense thicket to escape the sun. The only photo angle available: turtle butt.

Urbina giant tortoise                                  Galapagos tortoise seeks seclusion from sun.

The inland path emerges at our landing point. Not surprisingly, the other groups left well ahead of us. We finally reboard the Endeavour a half-hour behind schedule.

A story is circulating about how the efficiency of our life jackets. The waves were strong at the landing site and it seems one Zodiac was partially flooded by a wave, which caused all the life jackets resting on the Zodiac’s wooden floor to inflate. That’s a sight I’m sorry I missed.

The moral of this tale: the naturalist guides can enhance or hinder your shore excursions. All of the other naturalists have been excellent, and I find it surprising to encounter one so out of step with the rest. But that’s easily remedied: I’ll pay more attention to which guide is in charge of a particular Zodiac. And act accordingly.

I certainly saw more than Linda did on her shorter walk; but she enjoyed hers.

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 Calls at Fernandina and Isabela Islands

 

Fernandina iguana party-1

Fernandina, Island of Iguanas

During the night, Lindblad’s National Geographic Endeavour crosses the equator to take us into the westernmost section of the Galapagos where the undersea upwelling creates cool water temperatures as low as the mid-50’s F. This cold water provides a rich marine smorgasbord for the sea lions, marine iguanas and flightless cormorants residing in the region.

Our first landing of the day is on Fernandina Island, at one of the Galapagos’ best-known sites: Punta Espinosa, a narrow stretch of land and lava rock almost guaranteed to have a large concentration of animals, particularly marine iguanas. Darwin may have considered them hideous, but seen close-up, through a camera lens, their faces become captivating, almost appealing in a grotesque way; they certainly have character .

Fernandina Island, considered the youngest of all the Galapagos Islands, is still lively with volcanic activity. The last eruption here was in 2009, when the southern flank of the La Cumbre volcano had a fissure eruption that generated flows lasting for several hours. La Cumbre is considered among the Galapagos’ most active volcanoes, with eruptions in 2005 as well as 2009. Successive lava flows from the volcano have streaked the island in black, making this one of the most inhospitable islands for animal life living away from the shore. Because no animals were ever introduced, some consider Fernandina to be the largest, most pristine island remaining in the world.

Le_Cumbre_volcanic _plune_2009          This NASA satellite photo shows the volcanic plume from the 2009 eruption
of La Cumbre on Fernandina Island. The tiny section marked in red shows    where unusually hot surface temperatures were detected.

From the Endeavour, Fernandina and its 5,000-foot volcano are an imposing sight. They become even more impressive as our Zodiac draws close, winding through a lava canal that leads to another over the bow scramble to stand on lava rock. This time I realize the Zodiac’s netting is not only to protect the rubber boat but also to provide us better traction when wave splashes slicken the bow.

Despite the thick lava crust bordering the shoreline, the National Park Service has managed to place posts in the rock to mark off a nature trail. We need the trail to guide us, too, because the dark lava rock is littered with black marine iguanas almost everywhere. When the animals are bunched up in groups of 20-50 animals, they’re easy to step around. It’s the stray animals (seeking solitude?) that demand careful attention while walking the path. Anyone who stops spotting to view what’s ahead–or where they intend to step next–is likely to find a marine iguana underfoot.

Fernandina Island iguanas everywhere-1

Our naturalist, Jeffo Marquez, says all these iguanas are males which are hanging together like best friends, partly to increase their body warmth. But when the mating season begins, he says all the buddy-buddy get-togethers abruptly end and it’s every male for itself as they compete for a female. Sounds like a familiar ritual.

We come upon a female sea lion reclining on the hard lava rock as her pup suckles. It’s a surprisingly noisy process that we can hear over the waves. Jeffo z points out how a sea lion mother will never nurse another pup, even one that’s been abandoned and starving. It’s already hard enough for a mother to find enough food to nourish her own, which she nurses from six to 12 months.

Fernandina Island pup being chased away-1

This is not puppy love.  This is war.

Just as Jeffo ends sharing this tidbit of knowledge, two sleek and healthy sea lion pups, apparently drawn by all the nursing pup’s slurping sounds, suddenly appear from behind some rocks and quickly flipper-walk toward the nursing mother. She raises her head to issue a loud roar at them. That alerts her pup, which scrambles around to face the first aggressor. To protect his own feeding rights, the pup barks at the newcomer and aggressively nudges at it, attempting to drive away. The second interloper keeps its distance, seemingly unsure what to do. Finally the intruder sees this claim jumping isn’t going to succeed. It turns away and retreats, with its buddy close behind. The two come in our direction, realize we have nothing to offer, then plop down on the lava rocks. Excitement over.

“I love it when nature proves my point!” Jeffo exclaims.

whale skeleton Fernandina-1  lava cactus -1
Whale bones on display at Fernandina Island; lava cactus


Isabela Island Zodiac Ride

Isabela Endeavour-1

In the afternoon, we cross the Bolivar Channel to anchor near Punta Vincente Roca at the southern end of Isabela Island. A mid-afternoon Zodiac tour passing close to Isabela’s high rocky cliffs should show us the famous Galapagos penguins, flightless cormorants, sea turtles and the ubiquitous marine iguanas. However, the rough seas make this an unusually exciting outing and a challenging one for photography. That’s unfortunate because all the critters are present, including numerous sea turtles and several penguins that swim within yards of us. The motion of the bouncing boat is compounded by the deeply shaded area where most of the animals are hanging out; the angle of the sun would have been much better in the morning but the Endeavour has to follow the schedule given to it by the National Park. It’s disappointing to imagine the images that might have been.

Isabela Zodiac ride-1
Having an action-packed time in the waves off Isabela.

Later this afternoon, just before sunset, we’re scheduled to recross the equator. This time we’ll be able to celebrate the occasion, unlike last night when we slept through it. To mark the event, a bar with snacks is set up on the foredeck in front of the bridge.

Many of us assemble there or on the Endeavour’s bow to view Isabela’s amazing geologic formations. Isabela, at 62 miles (100 km) long, is the largest island in the Galapagos. It also is located near the “Galapagos hot spot,” an area where magma pushes through the ocean floor crust but quickly cools underwater to form a gentle sloping formation. As more magma is propelled from the hot spot, the slope keeps building until it reaches sea level and creates an island.

Isabela, considered among the youngest islands here at only one million years old, was formed by the merger of six “shield volcanoes,” so-named because of their large size and their low profile. Those two characteristics combine to resemble a classic warrior’s shield. The last eruption on Isabela took place in October, 2005; the eruption on Fernandina that same year was in May. An estimated 60 eruptions have occurred in the Galapagos over the past 200 years.

Isabela volcanic cone c-1
The cone of a shield volcano at Isabela Island.

As we continue to enjoy spectacular views of Isabela’s dramatic coastline, Endeavour expedition leader, Carlos Romero, announces all passengers should come on deck if they want to see the line when we cross the equator. Linda and I look at each other, wondering what is planned to create the famed but invisible equatorial line. We move to the ship’s upper deck for a better view.

Two naturalists, one wearing an Egyptian headdress, appear on the foredeck to unfurl a wide ribbon carrying yellow, red and blue stripes that match those of the Ecuadorian flag. Carlos starts a count-down to the moment the ship reaches the proper coordinates, then invites everyone “to cross the equatorial line.” People hesitate, wondering if the naturalists will decide to lower their equatorial line from shoulder level to knee level, which would demand some limbo action to squeeze under it. But the equatorial line stays stable at shoulder-height.

Isabela crossing the equator line-1
Crossing the line at the equator.

I decide to bolt from the upper deck to join in the line crossing. Linda follows but, being more petite and less pushy, falls behind. It’s a good thing one of us is at the equatorial line because Carlos is waving a single certificate marking this historic passage–and the certificate has Linda’s name on it.

Carlos calls me over to take her place. As he hands me the official-looking document signed by the ship’s captain, he tells everyone “And all of you will receive one!” His announcement prompts cheering and applause from all the passengers. Linda then shows up, just in time to take a photo of me holding her certificate.

This “ceremony” was unexpected and it was fun. But soon everyone’s attention moves to the horizon where the sun is about to set. And it’s going to be a pretty one.

Tonight, the Endeavour will almost circumnavigate Isabella to take us to locations many smaller ships don’t have the speed to reach for a normal seven-day Galapagos cruise. We’re especially looking forward to the first stop at Urbina Bay. We’ve been told about a section of coral reef that was moved almost a half-mile inland following a major upheaval in 1954. Just so something similar doesn’t happen tomorrow while we’re on land.

Galapagos Full Moon Lindblad National Geographic Endeavour
The moon rises over Isabela Island.

 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