Tag Archives: lindblad galapagos cruise

Getting to Guayaquil & The Galapagos

I_Love_Boobies_Souvenir_Cap-1

By Linda O’Keefe

Numerous options for flying to Guayaquil

Many Since we didn’t get to sleep until around 1 a.m., the sound of the alarm two and half hours later was met by loud groans of protest from both Tim and me. Knowing we were finally on the way to the Galapagos made the early rising a bit easier to handle.

We were enjoying such early morning misery because we’d opted not to take Lindblad Expeditions recommended American Airlines non-stop flight from Miami to Guayaquil that wouldn’t land in Ecuador until after 10 p.m. That was too last minute for out taste since the Endeavour would start its weekly expedition the following morning. Tim still remembers how his luggage did not arrive in Guayaquil last time and that it barely made it on his Galapagos flight. And that was back when there were a lot more flights from Miami to Guayaquil.

We chose instead an 8 a.m. flight on Copa Airlines to Panama City (the real one, not in Florida) and then on to Guayaquil where we’d arrive around 2 p.m. We’d informed Lindblad of our air arrangements soon after booking. Since we aren’t part of the group, we’re to take the shuttle to the Hilton Colon just a short distance from the airport; Lindblad advised against taking street taxis in Guayaquil.

After clearing customs, Tim and I begin to look for the shuttle bus station. After only a few steps, we see a man dressed in a suit and wearing a Hilton Colon badge holding a placard with our name on it. This is a pleasant surprise; we figured we were on our own in getting to the hotel. Our driver quickly relieves us of our luggage and we follow him to the Hilton shuttle bus for the quick ride to the hotel. It turns out to be a private shuttle bus. We are the only passengers on it.

Hotel Colon -1

At the hotel, we’re met by Rodney Bravo, a Lindblad Expeditions representative, who greets us warmly. He has an envelope with printed instructions and all the information we need for the next morning’s flight to Baltra in the Galapagos, luggage tags, breakfast vouchers and welcome drinks in the hotel bar. Tim gives the check-in clerk a credit card number for any incidentals; the hotel stay is included in the tour. It takes only a few more minutes before we’re settling in our room, which is larger than normal with a king bed, large work desk and a side table with two arm chairs. Very nice for a one night stay.

We decide to take advantage of the free afternoon and soon are sound asleep. After our nap, the two free drink tickets are calling to be used so the bar in the lobby seems the logical next stop. A large wide-screen TV at one end out the lounge displays a soccer match between Ecuador and Venezuela. Ecuador is two goals ahead. This audience certainly is intent on the game but stays amazingly reserved and fairly quiet, not at all boisterous like typical soccer or NFL fans. It is actually possible to carry on a conversation and not shout to be heard. A few times muted cheers erupt from the crowd, yet it’s all strangely . . . civilized.

     Guayquil view-1 blog  Hotel Colon chicken dish-1  Brahma beer-1

We have an early dinner in the hotel café where we each sample a Brahma, a local beer that’s quite good. The food is, too. Tim manages to consume a huge plate of nasi goreng, an Indonesian dish of fried rice with shrimp, chicken and an assortment of peppers and onions. I select chicken stuffed with prosciutto and mozzarella. It’s delicious, but the portion is far more than I can eat.

Then it’s off to bed for some more needed sleep. Wake-up will be early: 5:45, with suitcases outside the door by 6, check at 6:30 that our bags are in the lobby and have any luggage to be left behind properly tagged. Also turn in our return flight information, have breakfast and leave the hotel by 7:20 for our 8:30 departure to Baltra. Lindblad obviously does not believe in wasting any time.

Those who flew in on American are all very sleepy; most didn’t get to bed until around midnight. Guess it was worth getting only a few hours sleep two nights ago since we’re more rested than most.

AeroGal is the name of our Galapagos carrier. It sounds like a new version of the defunct Hooters Air (yes, the Hooters of chicken wing fame did have an airline from 2003-2006) but the iguanas and birds on the colorful fuselage indicate there’s no kinship. AeroGal is the shorthand version of Aerogal Aerolinea Galapagos, which has been shuttling people to the Galapagos since 1985.

AeroGal-1

The plane for our 637-mile, 90-minute flight was a new Airbus A320 (or Airbus 319, didn’t write it down)  with all the frills including plenty of overhead storage for our camera bags and laptops, wide seats and individual entertainment consoles. They even fed us breakfast again, though we didn’t have much of an appetite after the Hilton Colon’s huge buffet.

The weather is bright and sunny as we leave Guayaquil. That changes dramatically. The clouds are so thick we can’t see anything of the Galapagos until the plane is on its final landing approach to the Baltra airport, located on a small flat island near the center of the Galapagos.

Tim and I look at each other. “Well, the garua looks grim today,” he says. “Going to be lots of close-ups and animal portraits.”

I wonder, “Assuming we can get close to the animals.” Despite everything I’ve read and heard, I really doubt the wildlife is as accommodating as it’s supposed to be. According to one source, there are supposed to be something like 87 ships visiting 97 landing sites. How can the animals not have adapted and become more wary of us? And not want to move away from us when they notice our presence? It has to have changed since Tim was here 25 years ago.

(Tim here. At this point, Linda hasn’t waded far enough through The Voyage of the Beagle to read how resilient marine iguanas are when it comes to human presence; the other animals are much the same. And Darwin was iguana tossing almost 150 years before my last (and only) visit.

Darwin had little regard for marine iguanas, calling it “a hideous creature of a dirty black colour, stupid, and sluggish in movements.” He recounts this experiment, trying to understand why when frightened the iguanas will go to the edge of the sea but rather allow a human to grab its tail than jump in the water:

         Marina Iguana Fernandina-1
                                       Darwin said I’m hideous? Dude, I’m just partying!

“I threw one several times as far as I could, into a deep pool left by the returning tide; but it invariably returned in a direct line to the spot where I stood . . . Perhaps this singular piece of apparent stupidity may be accounted for by the circumstance that this reptile has no enemy whatever on shore, whereas at sea it must often fall a prey to the numerous sharks. Hence, probably urged by a fixed and hereditary instinct that the shore is the place of safety, whatever the emergency might be, it there takes refuge.”

Darwin also recounts how a seaman tried to kill an iguana by attaching a heavy weight to it and sinking it: “…but when an hour afterwards, he drew up the line, it was quite active.”

Instead of having iguanas running away from her, I can almost guarantee Linda’s biggest concern will be not stepping on them. Their “dirty black colour” makes them blend into with the lava rock so well it’s a problem everyone has. But you do have to experience this phenomenon to believe it.)

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

How Charles Darwin Saved The Galapagos Islands

Galapagos NASA satellite image
Charles Darwin’s Fame Saves the Galapagos

The naturalist-guides on the Lindblad’s National Geographic Endeavour will go into  Charles Darwin in far more detail than I can here, though none of them—in fact, no one anywhere that I can find—has appreciated the legacy of Charles Darwin in this same manner.  Yet it seems so strikingly obvious. Charles Darwin’s fame saved the Galapagos Islands.

With the 1859 publication of The Origin of Species and its revolutionary concept of evolution through natural selection, Charles Darwin made the Galapagos archipelago world famous. And in doing so, this fame eventually helped save the islands from further exploitation and devastation of the landscape by introduced animals, particularly goats. The first protective legislation for the Galapagos was enacted by the government of Ecuador in 1930 and supplemented in 1936. However, there was no real enforcement or protection until the islands were declared a national park in 1959, on the centenary of Darwin’s publication of his still controversial book.

Without such world focus on them by Darwin, there’s a good chance none of us would be interested in visiting the Galapagos because none of its wildlife would remain. As it is, some endemic species have disappeared and the tortoise populations drastically reduced by wholesale plundering of the island by its earliest visitors.

Discovered in 1535 by the Spanish who had no interest in claiming them, the Galapagos first became a haven for pirates in the late 1500’s who preyed on the huge tortoises for their meat over the next 200 years. Realizing the tortoises would stay alive for a year or more without food or water, pirates also sailed away with thousands of the animals which were unable to right themselves once they had been turned on their backs.

Whalers made up the next wave of visitors, lured by the unimaginable number of sperm whales that were said to pass the islands in a line from dawn to dusk. By the time Darwin’s visited the Galapagos in 1835 as part of a 5-year around the world mapping expedition, the number of tortoises were already being depleted. He reports in his book Voyage of the Beagle that for the 300 residents on Floreana Island  “the staple article of animal food is supplied by the tortoises. Their numbers have of course been greatly reduced in this island, but the people yet count on two days’ hunting giving them food for the rest of the week. It is said that formerly single vessels have taken away as many as seven hundred, and that the ship’s company of a frigate some years since brought down in one day two hundred tortoises to the beach.”

Fur seals were also killed off in great numbers because of their thick, luxurious fur. By the beginning of the 20th century, fur seals were almost extinct. Birds were shot in great numbers for their feathery decorations. In addition, introduced animals–goats, pigs, feral cats and dogs, rats, burros and cattle– severely impacted the natural environment.  Particularly devastating were the goats which  consumed and destroyed the vegetation the tortoises relied upon  to survive. Just a tiny colony of only four goats on one island multiplied to a population of over 100,000 in just a few decades.

Whaling ended by the 1860s but ships continued to stop to take on meat and water. By 1900, the tortoise populations of Floreana, Santa Fe and Rabida had vanished.

Galapagos Tortoise-1 blog

The world’s scientific community became interested in the Galapagos, though that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. Scientists started collecting the animals–not to ensure their survival–but to put them in formaldehyde or stuff them for display. The California Academy of Scientists in 1905-1906 took 70,000 biological specimens, more than any Galapagos expedition in history; some might call that wholesale carnage. In addition, living animals began leaving the islands in significant numbers to be added to zoos and sold to private collectors. It turned out that all this cultured interest–just like the wandering goat herds and feral cats–did nothing but bring more harm to the islands.

In a strange way, it was Charles Darwin’s enduring fame that helped stop the destruction. The year 1935 marked the 100th anniversary of Darwin’s visit to the Galapagos, and the Ecuadorian government celebrated it by turning parts of some islands into wildlife preserves. Finally there was official acknowledgment that the Galapagos indeed were something special, worth preserving, but nothing was done to cull the out-of-control goats and other introduced animals. Nothing really changed, except on paper.

Although the Galapagos were made a national park in 1959, it wasn’t until 1968 that the park service itself began. Of more immediate importance was the 1959 founding of Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands, incorporated in Belgium. It started work in the islands in 1960 and opened the Charles Darwin Research Station in 1964. At last, something was being done to reverse the decades of damage. The research station began collecting tortoise eggs and hatching them at their facility. Only when the turtles were large enough to have a realistic chance to survive were they returned to island where they were collected.

Fortunately, this rescue program started in time to save the species of tortoise on Espanola, which had just 11 females and 2 males remaining. Tortoise populations on other islands also were increased. Once it got going, the National Park Service started eradicating goats from the islands, a program that still continues today.

Why Charles Darwin was so influential

Darwin visited the Galapagos briefly in September, 1835, visiting only 4 islands during his 5 week stay. He did not, as many movies and books have indicated, have a “Eureka!” moment here and spring forth with his theory of evolution. Nor at the time was Darwin all that impressed by the differences in the 13 species of finches which have come to be known as “Darwin’s finches.” His theory developed slowly over a period of time, with the Galapagos providing fundamental elements for his argument supporting the ongoing process of natural selection.

Like most of the people of his time, Darwin initially accepted the belief that an animal species was something fixed and unalterable, made perfect at Creation with no need for change. But in the isolated volcanic mounds that make up the Galapagos there are a remarkable number of species that not only differed from those on the South American mainland, they also differ from island to island. Each island, in fact, often has its own peculiar type of tortoises, plants and birds.

Darwin reasoned that animals brought to the islands from South America by the winds, on driftwood or other means adapted to the special conditions on each island, and evolved into new species. The most striking example of this adaptation was in the 13 different species of finches which varied from island to island, All the finches have a beak of a peculiar form and use this beak in a special manner for getting food: one kind of finch pecks on trees, as woodpeckers do, while another has developed the beak of a parrot.

Charles_Darwin  Charles_Darwin_1855  Charles_Robert_Darwin_1881  Charles Darwin from L-R: about the the time he was on his “Beagle” voyage; several years before publication of his landmark book; a year before his death in 1882. Images from Wikipedia.

It was through such evolution that the Galapagos became home to so many one‑of‑a‑kind animals. All of the reptiles, except for 2 marine tortoises, are endemic. Most famous is the Galápagos giant tortoise, which has 11 subspecies on different islands, all of them endangered. Also endemic are the land iguanas, marine iguana, 3 snake species, numerous lizards and geckos. Birds include 57 species, of which 26 are endemic and the others migratory visitors. Endemic birds are the 13 species of Darwin’s finches, dark-rumped petrel, Galápagos flightless cormorant, Galápagos penguin, lava gull, Floreana mockingbird, Galápagos hawk, lava heron, nocturnal swallow-tailed gull, Galápagos rail, thick-billed flycatcher, Galápagos martin and Galápagos dove. The native mammals number only 6: Galápagos fur seal, Galápagos sea lion, two species of rice rat, bat and hoary bat.

However, it is more than the uniqueness of the animals that is so striking. It is their fearlessness of humans. They often regard us with curiosity but most often they ignore human presence.  A major reason for this is the lack of land predators with the exception of the Galapagos hawk. Amazingly, even underwater, the sea lions, penguins and fish act the same way despite the fact there are quite a few predators around, including hammerhead sharks.

This overwhelming sense of compatibility and harmony has even non‑religious people making Biblical references almost constantly the first few days of their visit. Nowhere else on earth is it possible to walk amidst nesting birds, legions of iguanas and herds of sea lions and fur seals and not have the animals flee almost from the first sight of you. The Galapagos are no lush Garden of Eden, but deep inside you know this is the way the world must have been when God first created it.

Without Charles Darwin to bring world attention–and appreciation–to this rare ecosystem, it might all have been irretrievably destroyed.

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