Galapagos Journal 2012
May 14, Monday
I drove to Hannibal with Savannah and Stacey in my truck. We met Bobbi Klein and Jessica Zeiger at Hardee’s. Stacey went to work and Bobbi drove us all to STL. Christian Carter’s Mom called to tell us he was sick with a high fever and could not come on the trip. This was very bad, and had never happened before. We met all the others at the airport. Amanda had left her money in her ride’s car, but this situation was remedied with an ATM. We checked in and went through security without difficulty. Savannah and I got the very back seats in the plane next to the bathrooms and with no windows.
We had no problems at ATL. I got the flight credited to my Skymiles account. We experienced some delay having to do with bags and establishing who was actually on the flight, and ened up 40 minutes late into Quito. We had no problems on entry and went fast through security. We met Vinicio and took the bus to the Hotel Vieja Cuba. Since the student that dropped out from illness (Christian) was male, only two males remained, me and big John Lidy. Megan and I were supposed to have single rooms, while the students were in doubles and triples. This situation created a bit of a rooming problem, so I chose to room with John and let Bobbi have my single. She’s a teacher, and probably appreciated the privacy and quiet devoid of rowdy college students.
May 15, Tuesday
We had breakfast at the hotel and took a bus to the highlands, which are actually lower than Quito. This trip was longer than I remembered.
At Bella Vista Cloud Forest we saw the assemblage of amazing hummingbirds and flowers. I had thought we were taking the same easy hike as last year, but our new guide David planned to take us to a waterfall instead. We went through more spectacular scenery on this route, including a lot of primary forest. The flowers were diverse and colorful, the trees large and covered with epiphytes. The route was much more challenging, however, with a lot of vertical climbing. Steps were installed in a lot of places, making it a stairmaster workout. At some points we were hiking directly in the streambed. Did I mention we all had to wear rubber boots? Many of them leaked, but that hardly mattered since some places were deep enough to overtop them. Bigger leaks were better able to let the water out afterward. To get past one waterfall we had to climb a ladder, then use a rope to get us across the rock. Two other places just had ropes. One student slipped, but held onto the rope and didn’t get hurt, just wet as she swung around into the waterfall. At the big waterfall near the end, two students chose to immerse themselves. Hope it was refreshing. One student got sick. Megan took her back to the lodge, so neither got to see the waterfalls. After the hike, we had a. nice lunch at the lodge. Too bad none of us had brought extra socks because all were soaked. If I remember right, the birds I saw included cinnamon flycather, russet-capped warbler, red-billed parrot, barrel faced tanager, and rush.
|Blue Mountain Tanager, From 2012_05_15 Bella Vista|
We had lunch at the lodge and took the bus to Mindo. It rained pretty hard on this ride. Buses are no longer allowed on the bridge that hung us up last year, so we had to get into little trucks. Those of us who rode in the back were shaken and soaked. I suggested that it was all part of the day’s adventure. Zip lining was the same, except that I didn’t take a camera (in the rain). Everyone who did it seemed to enjoy it. On the bus to Quito all slept as much as they were able. At one point SJC told me she had to pee or wet herself soon. On the narrow mountain road there was nowhere to even pull over. Fortunately, we stopped at a gas station after about 25 minutes. Dinner was at Boca de Lobo. I had my first Pilsener of the trip, but on top of the fatigue, my body felt ready to melt. I had pepper steak for dinner, and it was outstanding. We walked back to the Hotel Vieja Cuba. After a feeble attempt to connect to the internet, I fell dead asleep.
|Yellow Flower, From 2012_05_15 Bella Vista|
May 16, Wednesday
We got up early, had a nice breakfast at the hotel, and bussed over to the airport. After typical luggage and security procedures, we waited for our flight. Many of the students had bites on their legs where the boots had been. This after we all had used bug spray. I passed out antibiotic creme. Later, anti-itch medication would be needed.
As soon as we landed on San Cristobal, I could see how different things were from last time. Everything was green and flowering. Butterflies and dragonflies were everywhere. Jose said that this was typical of the rainy season. Usually, we go to Ecuador in December or January. This was our first trip in May. After a short bus ride to the Hotel Cactus, we had a robust lunch of chicken.
|Passion Flower, From 2012_05_17 San Cristobal|
We caught a bus down to the bay for kayaking. Incredibly, the bus driver recognized me from a year and a half ago. The water had a slight chop, and slow swells, much calmer than last time. We had many firsts for the students: the water birds, sea turtles, sea lions. My partner was Dani, who is small and fit. Savannah was partnered with Kassidy, a varsity basketball player, and superfit. While the students were playing on the beach, I found a place with helado mora (blackberry ice cream). We knew we were going to have to wear rubber boots for a later hike again, so almost everyone bought a long pair of socks.
We had dinner at La Playa. I had fish again. Got another helado mora. The beach was covered in noisy sea lions at night.
May 17, Thursday
After breakfast we boarded a boat to go snorkel Lobos Island. We saw stingrays feeding. It was incredible that they did not swim away. Blue-footed boobies were doing their courtship dance on the beach, but were gone when we swung by with the boat. I had never seen it before and had asked Jose about it earlier. We stopped at a beach to explore. Hermit crabs fighting over a shell were the most interesting find, but there were many finches, warblers and mockingbirds.
|Displaying male frigate, From 2012_05_17 San Cristobal|
After lunch we snorkeled Kicker Rock. This time there were very few sharks; I saw none. Many small jellies were present, though, and nearly everyone was stung, including me. SJC was distressed and we went straight to the boat. Upon our return, we prepared for the hike to the campground in the highlands. SJC was bitten by large ant, known locally as the quinquina, as soon as we got out of the truck. We put on our rubber boots ant hit the very muddy trail to camp.
We planted trees, thereby completing a service-learning project. Last year’s trees were head high, and all survived. Nice sunset, and stars were incredible. Wished I’d had a tripod to photograph the Milky Way. Wind picked up in the middle of the night. Hard to sleep.
|Sunset from camp, From 2012_05_17 San Cristobal|
May 18, Friday
We had an early breakfast at camp and hiked back down. Because of the wind, the boat ride to Floreana was very rough and long. Many people took Dramamine. I got a bit sea sick, but no one threw up. We saw some flying fish.
We snorkeled La Loberia upon our arrival at Floreana. There was poor visibility because of the wave action. Did see a couple of spotted eagle rays and a turtle. John found a pair of Leica binoculars.
We took the little bus up the hill to hike Floreana. The spring was running much more than usual, supplying the townspeople with their water. Now it’s fenced off from tourists and cows. Tortoises were attempting to mate, but mostly male to male. There’s a significant amount of grunting involved. A sea lion chased Randa at the dock. The big male marine iguanas that normally hang out on the shoreline rocks were notably absent.
|Amorous tortoise, From 2012_05_18 Floreana|
Another lengthy boat ride to Puerto Villamil, Isabela, followed. I lucked into a comfy spot and slept nearly all the way. A short bus ride to our digs at Hotel Tero Real was followed by a shower, dinner, and relaxation. I got the same cabin as last year, except that John was rooming with me. I let him have the larger bed, as he is nearly twice my body mass.
May 19, Saturday
This day was set aside to hike Sierra Negra Volcan. We stopped at the lagoon where there were 15 greater flamingoes. On the hike, Megan, Jess Main and I fell behind the group and took a wrong turn. We saw a vermilion flycatcher though. We still got to see the Caldera, and ended up at the lunch site before the others. Their route was much more difficult, as we had taken the horse trail, which is less steep. Dee Dee and Jess Z returned to the pick up point before then. Megan and Jess M returned after lunch. The rest of us continued on to Volcan Chico. The fumaroles were not very active, but the views were great. It was a long, 11-mile, hike, but at least it stayed cool. When we got back, I got an ice cream, candy bars and Gatorade. Took a shower. We had some time, so I took Heather to the emergency room for her bug bites and there was no one there. All the doors were open and the TV was on. We waited about 20 minutes then went to dinner. Her bites were big and many shades of purple. I was beginning to fear what they would become next (dead foot, perhaps?). We tried the ER again and saw the Dr. He prescribed a topical antibiotic cream. Both pharmacies were closed, as they were the next day. We got by with the antibiotic creams we had on hand. I always carry a first aid kit. Most of us went to a night club that evening. I had a beer and tried to keep an eye on the creepers who were eying my students. I wasn’t too worried, though, because John was watching over them. Did I mention he’s a 300-lb offensive lineman?
|The caldera, From 2012_05_19 Sierra Negra Volcan|
May 20, Sunday
I was looking forward to this day to snorkel Los Tuneles. It had the most diverse and abundant fish last time. We saw Nazca boobies on the big rock on the way over. The sea was very rough. The boat turned sideways on the way in and splashed us good. Saw a couple of penguins, then walked around on the lava tubes. A few turtles but not many fish were present. We did not snorkel there, but went around to the place where the sea horse was last year. I saw an octopus, lots of fish, sea cucumbers, anemones. There was a shark in a cave, but I couldn’t see it. I did see the turtle sleeping in a cave. We looked long and hard for the sea horse, but could not find it. SJC had the runs in the boat’s bathroom. Kass asked if she had flushed. She said she didn’t know how, so we told her to push the handle up and down to pump water through the system. Shortly, we saw her poo floating out the side of the boat, just as a snorkeler from another group swam by. I had thought the boat had a blackwater tank, but I guess not! We ate lunch on the boat and motored back to the pier. We changed boats and motored over to the penguin colony. There were about 30. Took lots of photos. We went to Las Tintoreras. I didn’t see the one alleged shark, but there were cute baby iguanas by the dozen. Also some females, but no adult males. This was the first place we’d seen that had adult sally lightfoot crabs, and plenty of them. They are brightly colored and beautiful, so I took lots of shots. The sea was too wavy to snorkel, so we went back to the pier. I got an ice cream, then went back to the hotel for showers and naps.
|Blue-footed booby, From 2012_05_20 Los Tuneles & Tintoreras|
May 21, Monday
The last boat ride was supposed to be over two hours, to Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz. Fortunately, the sea wasn’t as rough as expected. It took about two hours. We saw that many birds, especially boobies, were plunge diving on fish. Flying fish were scattering from the side of the boat. I was trying to photograph them when, suddenly, a whale breached nearby. I only saw the splash. We tried to follow it in the boat. It breached again on the other side and I missed that one as well. Some people saw it clearly. A big school of yellowfin tuna were attacking the same baitfish, repeatedly jumping in the air. That was all the excitement we had. I listened to music and tried to sleep. The water was rough, but not as bad as a few days ago. We got to Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island in good time. Had lunch, fish, at the Cafe Hernan and a blackberry milkshake. We went to the Darwin Center and saw the tortoises. Kass dropped a bomb in their bathroom. I guess milkshake followed by ice cream is not a good idea for the lactose-intolerant. You can no longer go into the corrals and pose next to the tortoises because some idiot tourists had been caught riding them.
|Yellow warbler, From 2012_05_21 Santa Cruz|
I bought some gifts and goods in Puerto Ayora, but it seems like I’ve been there enough times that I already have one of everything. The Hotel Las Palmeras was definitely the nicest hotel we’ve stayed at. I was hopeful that the showers would even be hot (they were). I had a dinner of spaghetti at El Garrapata. We had cake for Bobbi’s Birthday. Went to the Bongo Bar (upstairs from La Panga) after. Soccer highlights were great, but the music videos were awful. I went back to my room for journaling and unwinding.
|Galapagos Blue, From 2012_05_21 Santa Cruz|
May 22, Tuesday
I woke at 5, showered and got breakfast in the hotel. We took the bus over Santa Cruz but did not stop at Los Gemelos pit craters. The ferry over the Strait of Itabaca was uneventful, as was the bus to the airport. This area was remarkably green for being in the arid zone. Dani had lost her Ingala card, so we bought a new one. Savannah had misplaced her passport, but found it shortly, much to my relief. Otherwise, the airport was about like usual. Oh, Jess M dropped an entire glass bottle of Gatorade on the floor. “Wet clean-up, aisle two!” Someone finally did come over and mop it up.
We flew to Quito via Guayaquil. Vinicio met us at the airport. We took the bus around Quito. We stopped at El Panecillo, which I believe has the highest concentration of stray dogs of anywhere in Quito, then went on to the Mercado Artesenal. I bought some stuff, but did not spend all my money. We went to the spiral mall and got an ice cream. We had dinner at Mama Clorinda’s because many students wanted the authentic dining experience. Many ordered traditional Ecuadorian food, and all shared half a Guinea pig.
|La Virgen del Panecillo, From 2012_05_22 Quito|
We waited around the airport for a couple of hours after passing through all the security checks. For the first time, we did not have to pay $40.80 to get out of the country. Dani was chosen for the random luggage search, but she said it was cursory. From Quito to Atlanta was the worst flight ever. The Red Eye left at 11 pm and arrived at 5:30 am.. Savannah and I were again placed in the last row of seats, which do not recline. I could not get comfortable, and got hardly any sleep. I watched J. Edgar.
May 23, Wednesday
In Atlanta, we had a fairly easy transition through customs and security. They’ve changed things there. They must have fired or retrained all the obnoxious people that used to work there because we encountered nearly all cheerful, helpful ones this time. We had a remarkably empty plane on the one-hour hop to St. Louis. Bobbi drove us back to Hannibal and Jess Z’s mom picked her up. We went to lunch with Stacey and drove home. I slept all afternoon. In retrospect, it was an interesting and unique trip in many ways.
As usual, click on the link below any image to visit the online photo album where it lives. Here’s another, including all the decent underwater shots.
|Green sea turtle, From Galapagos 2012: Underwater|