Quito and The Galapagos Islands

Quito, Ecuador 

(November 26 & 27, 2010)

We started our trip to South America and the Galapagos Islands in Quito, Ecuador. After a very early flight from Orlando via Panama, we checked into our hotel, the J.W.Marriott and spent the evening relaxing.

Next day, we took a guided tour of the city. Quito is the capital city of Ecuador and is located 9,200 feet above sea level, so we took things very easily as we were concerned about the altitude. Fortunately, apart from a headache for Kristine, which responded to painkillers, we managed OK. The city was founded by the Spanish in 1534 and all the important buildings are Spanish.

Basilica del  Voto Nacional (The Basilica of the National Vow) was started in 1883 and is still unfinished, although the main structure is complete and the interior is quite impressive. On the exterior, instead of the usual human gargoyles, are animal gargoyles, representing the many species found in Equador.

Animal Gargoyles, in this case an Iguana and a Dolphin

The Presidential Place, Quito

One of the many squares in Quito. The twin towers of the Basilica are visible in the distance.

After lunch, we were taken to a "tourist park" called Mitad del Mundo (the Middle of the World) which marks the Equator. The park also has several very uninspiring exhibitions about the people and wildlife of the country, but on a wet, rainy day, it was really very disappointing and we didn't stay very long.

Standing at the equator on a wet and windy afternoon. Apparently the French (who built the monument at the back) put it in the wrong place and the true Equator is actually 240 meters to the north of the line on the ground. Oh well !

The Galapagos Islands

(November 28 to December 4)

The next day, we had an early start.  Equador was having a census and everything was supposed to shut down between 7:00 am and 5:00 pm so the census could be taken. As our flight to The Galapagos was supposed to take off after 8:00 am we weren't even sure if the flight would operate. The local guides in Quito seemed to have decided that as long as they got us to the airport by 7:00 am we wouldn't be their problem any more so at 6:00 am we were loaded on buses and driven the short distance to Quito airport. We sat around the departure lounge and no one seemed to know if we would leave or not. Suddenly, without warning, at about 8:20 am our flight was boarded and we left pretty much as originally scheduled !

On arriving at Baltra Airport we were taken by bus to board Zodiacs (large rubber dinghies) to take us to the ship. There are no ports ANYWHERE in the Galapagos which can handle ships of any size, so everything and everyone has to be ferried out on smaller boats.

Our first sight of the Celebrity Xpedition, our home for the next week.

Our first Zodiac ride - the first of many during the next week.

The Xpedition lounge

The Xpedition Dining room

The stern of the Xpedition and our stateroom with porthole but no balcony

It didn't take us long to explore the ship as it is only 296 feet long and 49 feet wide and after the 92 passengers had boarded we set sail for North Seymour Island.

 As this was our first day, everything was new and exciting so of course, we photographed everything we saw, even though we would see the same things better, clearer, bigger and nearer later on. But we didn't know that !

A sea lion and a sea lion pup (yes they really are THAT cute !)

An aquatic iguana - they get much bigger but they are ALL ugly, and a male  Frigate bird with their distinctive red throat

A pair of blue footed boobies and a sea lion enjoying the last rays of the sun

And a spectacular sunset, photographed from the Xpediton, as we arrived back on board after our first trip to the islands.

 The next day (November 29), the boat had moved to San Cristobal Island and we (Paul) had an early morning zodiac tour of Kicker Rock.

Kicker Rock from a distance and with the Xpedition in the background. The "snow" on the rock is bird poop.

After breakfast, we went ashore at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, a small town with a rather dull Interpretation Center. The highlight was a sea lion sleeping on a bench on the dock.

The sleepy town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno - even the sealions couldn't stay awake

In the afternoon, we moved to Espanola Island and once again, we were in the thick of amazing wildlife.

A marine Iguana showing his mating colors.

A Galapagos Mockingbird and a pair of Nazca Boobies

A Blue Footed Booby and a Nazca Booby with her chick

An Albatross chick and the chick about to be fed by the mother

Day three (November 30) found the Xpedition moored at Floreana Island. The highlights today were Galapagos Penguins, Sea Turtles and one lonely Flamingo.

The Zodiacs landing on the spectacular Florena Island Beach

Galapagos Penguins, the world's only tropical penguin

Galapagos Penguin and a Sea Turtle

A penguin pair make baby penguins (or at least penguin eggs).

Day 4 (December 1) found us anchored at Bachas Beach in the morning and Bartolome Island in the afternoon.

The extraordinary (and solitary) Greater Flamingo

In the afternoon, we landed at Bartolome Island beach on the other side of the island and climbed up an extinct volcano to Baroness Lookout. Once we had stopped panting from the climb, we enjoyed a wonderful, if very windy, view of the surrounding islands.

Baroness Lookout from the ocean

The view from the top

Sally Lightfoot Crabs congregating at the landing point and the last stage of a long climb up the volcano

Day 5 (December 2) we anchored between Isabela and Fernandina Islands.

This was a harsh  enviroment, but life was flourishing on these very active volcanic islands, with a great deal of bird life and the most iguanas we had seen on any of the islands.

One of the famous Darwin finches (different on every island) and a rare Galapagos Hawk watching us with curiousity

Our first tortoise, although not really a giant and an Brown Pelican 

Iguanas, iguanas iguanas everywhere

A Flightless Cormorant (although not entirely wingless), found only on The Galapagos and an Oyster Catcher

The sun catching the island at sunset

That evening, the weather was warm enough for us to dine "al fresco" on the stern of the ship with our new friends Barry and Shirley

Day 6 (December 3rd) found us at Santiago and Santa Cruz Islands. Once again, we saw all kinds of wildlife.

A baby fur seal hugs it's mother

A Lava Heron and an American Oyster Catcher

An all white Great Heron and a Great Blue Heron

A Green Sea Turtle and a sleeping baby Fur Seal

Just one more picture - smile for the camera !

And just one more iguana, but this time a Galapagos Land Iguana, not the aquatic iguanas we had been seeing all week

Our last day on Santa Cruz Island (December 4th) was a day for giant tortoises, first at the Darwin Research Station (a glorified zoo for tortoises) 

A Saddleback Tortoise (with the hump at the front) and a Giant Tortoise with a domed shell (no hump)

And then in the wild in the Highlands of Santa Cruz, where a farmer welcomes tourists and tortoises, for a small fee.

The next day Sunday December 5, we boarded a zodiac for the last time and after a flight to Quito, we headed for Lima, Peru and our visit to Macchu Picchu.