Star Date: August 2013
Family & Friends!
(Hi! How are you Waorani tribe)
(as our dear juvenile sea lions on the Galapagos would say)
"Blessed are they who can laugh at themselves, for they shall never
cease to be amused!"
Primordial. Inimitable. Setting foot on the Galapagos Islands is stepping back in time, witnessing the possible building blocks of the origins of humanity. The question will always remain but clues exist on these 'other worldly' islands. Here Mother Earth and her creatures live in harmony. This has been called Nature's Greatest Experiment. Pushing up from the depths of the ocean bottom these isolated, wind swept islands are home to countless species seen only here. This famous archipelago was known by early sailors as Las Islas Encantadas, Enchanted Isles. Still captivating the interest of the world, these secluded barren volcanic islands are at the top of many 'bucket' lists of travelers.
Straddling the equator in the Pacific Ocean there are thirteen major islands, of which only 5 are inhabited. A few villages and towns on the islands hold close to 25,000 residents while the majority of the islands are uninhabited, by humans that is. Declared a National Park in 1959, tourism started as early as the 60's, 97% of the islands remain National Park. There are an estimated 7,214 species in the Galapagos. Marine species number 3089 with 32% endemic (native) to the islands.
Guests of the progressive University of San Francisco in Quito we stayed at their research station across on Mann Beach for 2 weeks, on Isla San Cristobal. We were treated to an spectacular, unique display of wildlife during our hikes, trips and even from our balcony, unlike anywhere else on Earth.
Next door, Cierro de las Tijeretas, Frigate Bird Hill, has a Galapagos National Park interpretation center explaining interesting facts and photos of the human history, geology, ecology and biology of these unique islands. Well laid trails lead through the rough lava fields to Playa Punta Carola, nicknamed Love Beach, now full of enamored sea lions. Hiking to Las Tijeretas Bay to snorkel has panoramic viewpoints along the way.
Pepe, a mere 63 years old, is nicknamed the 'first missionary on San Cristobal'. This giant land tortoise greets visitors to the interpretive center.
Met a Russian journalist, now reporting live from New York. When questioning how hard it must be to report the truth as she saw it she responded, "News is a business. It began with CNN. People love to hate. People love violence. We give them what they want."
La Loberia is a long beach full of wildlife, just past the airport. It is another great place to hike and chill. With few trees on the beach I had to have a heart to heart talk with a teenage sea lion, explaining that there was plenty of room in the limited shade for us both. We existed side by side, talking occasionally for over an hour, she snoring while I read. Along came a Ecuadorian tourist from the mainland, with her noisy troupe of family members. She squealed loudly that I needed to move or the sea lion might bite me. Wasn't even worth a reply.
Isla San Cristobal, the 5th largest island, is the only island with fresh water and a small airport right in town. In 1891 Manuel Cobos started a sugar cane plantation and factory. For 13 years he captured and held workers from the mainland in a sort of concentration camp. He even printed his own money called the 'cobo'. In 1904 his obviously disgruntled 'workers' revolted and killed him. The only thing left of this project gone sour are the ruins of the buildings and Cobo's lonely marked grave in the tumble down village of El Progresso (progress).
The Galapagos Islands have done just fine without mankind. Animals, birds, flora and fauna survived side by side from the beginning of time until that fateful day when a Spanish galleon in the 1500's, fat with the glory of conquering the Incas in Ecuador, drifted off course. Caught in the doldrums the crew almost died of thirst until bumping into the unknown Galapagos islands 600 miles from the mainland of Ecuador. This began a deadly history of untold cruelty and abuse of these precious islands. Pirates, whalers and sealers frequented here. Tortoises and fur seals were slaughtered and wild life and landscapes destroyed as scheme after scheme was attempted and failed. An estimated 100,000 giant tortoises were loaded on board sailing ships, as they could survive alive for up to a year, only to be eaten by the crew. Prisoners were shipped over with promise of pardon in exchange for work but rather than colonizing they turned the islands upside down and the project was abandoned, the man in charge escaping with his life back to the mainland.
Headlines in the newspapers of Norway proclaimed that these islands were paradise, the promised land. Over 2000 settlers landed on their shores only to face the harsh climate, many dying or returning within a year.
Intrigue and murder rang out on Floreana Island as a Baroness from Europe and her three lovers attempted to establish an exclusive resort for millionaires. Instead jealousy and a bizarre chain of events showcasing human greed found all but one poisoned or murdered. Following this a penal colony was set up, combining the worst criminals and the cruelest jailers in the country. The only remnant is a 27 ft high 'wailing wall' where many lives were lost during hard labor. Yet another failure. Mankind used and abused these islands then proceeded to declare their superiority to nature. All the while Nature stood by watching in disbelief. Left alone flora and fauna thrived, never greedy or mismanaging. These traits were reserved for the so called virus of mankind. People love to hate!
Now we are attacking once again, but not on such a subtle level. Radiation from Japanese nuclear meltdowns is slowly covering North America and working it's way south in the jet streams, oceans and air. Adapt or perish. Survival of the fittest. Will these ancient creatures be around long after we have messed our nest and disappeared? Or will we end up mutating to look like ocean going iguanas to survive?
In 2001 an oil freighter ran aground near San Cristobal and the government has vowed to make the islands self sufficient from fossil fuels by 2015. Can mankind rebound from the Pandora's Box we have opened on Planet Earth?
Charles Darwin, sent to Cambridge to become a clergyman, instead favored geology and biology. He set off for 5 years, at age 22, exploring the coastline of S. America from 1831- 1836 on the ship, H.M.S. Beagle. Contrary to the myth of Darwin he spent only 5 weeks in the Galapagos. Sick of the ocean, ("I loathe the sea") he headed back from Brazil with over 1500 specimens. In ill health he remained in a country estate, never again venturing far. His interest in breeding dogs revived memories of animals on the Galapagos and his 'Origin of Species' was born, only 1% refers to the Galapagos. He spent the next 23 years trying to prove his theory, eventually renouncing Christianity. Only those eye witnesses to the origin of our existence can, with a notarized statement, tell us what really happened. Otherwise all theories. Any ideas?
The sun has set. One by one all the 200-500 lb. speed bumps on the beach come to life. Rested, with bellies full of fish, it is time for these sea lions or Lobos del Mar, (sea wolves) to start swimming, bellowing, barking, socializing, mating and establishing territory. About midnight all of the sea lions who have been out fishing return. Then the party really begins. What a racket - all night long! GAIAS (Galapagos Academic Institute for the Arts and Sciences) is located right across from Mann Beach. Our lovely room at their research station overlooked the beach and ear plugs were required. We loved the antics of the sea lions and smiled continually as a new squeak or strange noise wafted up to our window; like a pinch to remind us we were in the Galapagos Islands.
Like a scene from a love movie, a mother seal bellows from the end of the beach, using her own unique call. From a pile of little ones on the far end comes a similar squeaky little call. They continue calling and answering, waddling towards each other, like lovers on a train platform embracing. They nuzzle one another, delighted with their reunion. Down plops Mom and baby loudly sucks milk. "Where were you Mom, I'm hungry?"
Residents are scattered throughout the islands, at times oblivious to Nature around them. These pesky sea lions, birds and iguanas who take up space on the beaches and park benches are what now attract tourists and partially supports their economy. Maybe residents are just feeling slighted as most tourists don't come all the way out here to see people. We come here to experience Nature in the raw and no one leaves disappointed.
These barren islands, just tops of large submarine volcanoes, are covered with an astonishing array of wildlife, many species found no where else on earth. After years of being protected, these unique animals and sea life seem oblivious to humans, thus providing an opportunity to interact up close and personal. Maybe they figure that if they ignore us we will just go away! And we may!
The rich plankton-filled waters, fed by the converging currents of the cold Humboldt Current from Antarctica and the warm Panamanian currents of central America attract ferocious killer whales, migrating from the Pacific Northwest in search of food. We experienced this same phenomenon off the coast of Southern Africa as balls of fish, miles wide, provided food for the larger mammals and birds. Whales (25 species of whales and dolphins) abound during the summer as they mate and frolic, eating the rich plankton and mating, all at the same time. Does life get any better? Bottlenose dolphins, the most commonly sighted cetacean offshore feed in groups of 20 or 30.
Tropical fish of all colors (400 species) can be seen while snorkeling in the cold bays. Fifteen species of rays, including the manta ray, the world's largest fish species, is commonly seen. These underwater giants have been reported up to 9 meters or 27 feet! Swimming next to these gentle giants it is easy to see bizarre looking and scary schools of hammerhead sharks. Black and white tipped reef sharks, whale sharks, tiger sharks, in fact almost every type of shark comes for lunch at some point. But have no fear with the abundant sea life attacks on humans don't occur unless...........
Like sentinels guarding a well kept secret, tall vertical rock islands surround each island. While most of these 'new' islands are covered with arid cactus filled lava rock, the coastlines are teeming with life. Bright red Sally light foot crabs and black shaggy marine iguanas work the coastline for new tidbits. On one of our first hikes I was busy looking at the rocks along the ocean and almost stepped on the tail of a large male marine iguana. He just looked at me and spit salt out of his nose, an evolutionary process when these land lizards adapted to swimming and eating under the salty ocean reefs. This enormous sentry backed into his 'pile' or 'heap' of fellow black iguanas, all sunning on the black lava rocks. Along the shore nursemaids watched rocks full of little babies from 4 inches to a foot long, all piled up sunning themselves.
A surprisingly thick, green layer of tropical vegetation exists in the highlands where mist and occasional rainfall keep the air plants and moss dripping from the trees. Agriculture is finally seeing a comeback. Puerto Baquerizo Moreno has a local market from highland farmers every Saturday morning. It is away from the usual tourist crazy frenzy: fly in, grab a boat, visit a few islands, fly out. We got to know the locals in our 2 week stay and I swear got to know some of the sea lions on the various beaches. At 650 m lies El Junco, a freshwater crater lake in the mountains. It fills during the rainy season and doesn't leak out, providing a place for the frigate birds to wash the salt off their bodies. A bit further down in the highlands zone is where the giant, ancient land tortoises (who can live several hundred years) like to hang out. They have an interesting, successful breeding program where it is possible to see tortoises in all sizes from hatchlings 3 inches across to 7 year olds a foot across to adults hundreds of years old. In the north part of the island, accessible only by boat then hiking (there is only one short road on the whole island), scientists came across an ancient male. The only one of his kind in the vicinity he was soon nicknamed "Lonely George". They brought him to the breeding center and enticed him with a string of 'frisky' females. Poor George died last year, heirless, but with a smile on his face.
Further on the other side of the island, at literally the end of the road is Puerto Chino. A pleasant boardwalk leads to an isolated cove. White powdery sand and crashing surf, it is easy to imagine landing on the Galapagos centuries ago. What surprises awaited anyone who ventured to these shores.
Birds abound on land and sea shore. Owls, hawks, the favorite blue footed boobies, flightless cormorants, penguins and even flamingos each have their favorite hangouts. Everywhere you look, including on your bed or at your table are a variety of Darwin finches; yellow, black and every color in between. Different beaks indicate which food they most readily eat. Supposedly all evolving from a single species these little guys are the island's welcoming committee.
Not far behind are the favorites of all times, the comical, unabashed, unafraid, gregarious, noisy, stinky sea lions. Sitting on the beach it is common for a sea lion to swim to shore with the agility of a ballerina, lumber up the beach and plop itself next to you. Humpf! Then he or she makes a few roars, complains a little, sneezes, farts and with a great exhaustive sigh falls fast asleep.
Just when a Mom gets asleep up ambles baby bellowing like he hasn't eaten for weeks. Over she rolls and he hooks on to a tiny teat, sucking loudly. When the milk bar closes Mom simply rolls over. Basking in the warm sand their sleep is soon disturbed by an enormous, boisterous 500 lb male with long whiskers. He roars and without more than a couple seconds warning plops down, thud, right on top of the sleeping females. He has the whole beach to choose from but this must be the best spot! In this world he who is the biggest controls the beach. One male controls his harem and lo be it for another male who happens by. Great noisy disputes erupt with biting and chasing and the eventual winner chasing the loser out to sea. A little like the territorial land iguanas who butt heads over domination of an area.
One of our favorite activities during our 2 week stay on the islands was to just plop ourselves down near a group of 'sand bags' and watch the show, prepared of course to give them the right of way if need be. The animals on the Galapagos are without predators, aside from man that is. Walking along the 'malecon' (waterfront) in sleepy Puerto Baquerizo Moreno they are everywhere; on benches, on the docks, on boats, on the beaches, sleeping and oozing in every doorway. It is heartwarming to see humans and animals living side by side. We even saw a Mom caring for her newborn in the water slide tube at the community park. Look but don't touch. These furry creatures Do own these islands.
Entering Ecuador from Peru we
chose to visit Guayaquil. Located on a series of rivers, lakes
and inlets this colonial waterfront was a pleasure to meander along
with locals, at all times of day and night. One can eat, drink,
visit sites and museums, climb up the hill through the old town to
the vista from the lighthouse, take boat rides or simply stroll
along this 2 mile long Malecon. A real surprise to these
hearty vegans were over a dozen tiny, tasty vegetarian restaurants
scattered throughout the town. We did our best to sample as
many as possible - all for about $2.50 for a luncheon plate.
Big, noisy, dangerous city - not at all. Where else can you
find a park where there are more iguanas than people? Sorry we
find what we look for and often travel writers miss the mark.
Ecuador is a small, often forgotten country in South America. Thinking it was tiny and we would breeze through it, we soon found this to be impossible. We were continually amazed by it's diversity. Over 2 months later we were still exploring all the completely different climate zones and regions. Best laid plans of mice, men and long term travelers!
And so it goes.........................................Next northern and eastern Ecuador- from the Andes to the steamy jungles of the Amazon Basin. Until then Keep Smiling and definitely make sure you have a good belly laugh as often as possible. Laugh at yourself and your best laid plans. Life really IS funny! See someone without a smile? Give them one of yours! We are glad you stopped by. Thanks for keep in touch! Take care!
Love, Light & Laughter,
1 US Dollar equals one US dollar. US currency is used. A good
place to stock up on US cash if you are heading to Venezuela.
Linea Lines buses have strange dot windows
sun screen that block your
viewing - not recommended
GAIAS (Galapagos Academic Institute for the Arts and Sciences) is located right across from Mann Beach.
Universidad San Francisco de
Very impressive, progressive university in Cubaya - 30 minutes outside of Quito. Santiago Gangotena is the founder, owner, physics professor and chancellor of this amazing university, which he started 25 years ago. A real visionary, Santiago was a pleasure to meet and get to know. This innovative university has 10,000 students (from over 35 countries) and many international programs. They have centers in the Galapagos Islands, the high Andes and Tiputini deep in the Amazon. A bi lingual school they would be worth checking out for a year or a semester to remember!
Guesthouses near Mann beach-
Restaurant Vegetariano - 1014 y
Playas - Ocean:
Choose your location wisely for the noisy weekends.
Sometimes the work involved and the lack of technology makes me want to throw in the towel with our website. Over 150,000 viewers monthly is encouraging. Our goal is to share how wonderful the world is with everyone we can. Words of support keep us going. A letter we just received from our new friend Jeff in Costa Rica:
"Here is a website of a beautiful compassionate couple. I met Joseph and Nancy here in CR. They are living their compassionate dream of traveling the world educating others of ways to live a healthier happier life. To give you an example of their compassion. As they have an email list of over 130,000 people from around the world. With so many people to consider, Nancy took the time to see how I was doing throughout my wife Silvia's last days and the times after her death. Her kindness will never be forgotten. God bless you both!
That is true compassion!
Here is their website to see about ways to protect yourself from radiating and they have great info on health and their wonderful experiences of life.
Note: Joseph and Nancy do not sell anything and/ or use anyone's email address or info for any purpose. " (Thanks for the kind words Jeff.)
This large male, with his
choice of the whole beach, proceeded