Galapagos Islands Travel Blog

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Puerto Baquerizo Moreno

Travelers to the Galapagos can stroll around the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, pass by the statue of Darwin, go into a local cafe for a cool drink, and check out the small museum and the shops there.Your guide might arrange for the group to take a bus to the highlands.

Now that San Cristobal has an airport and a number of tours start and end there, the town is undergoing some rapid enhancement in its tourist-related facilities. Puerto Baquerizo Moreno also is the jumping-off point several small excursions to nearby islands. Isla Colon offers a dry landing, sea lions, and frigate birds. And Kicker Rock and Isla Lobos are impressive sites, often visited on the last afternoon before the departure from the airport at the village. Kicker Rock is a boat-based tour around these dramatic monoliths jutting out of the water. Isla Lobos is a brief land visit.

The Interpretation Center on San Cristobal, Galapagos

This center is a spectacular addition to the islands. It was inaugurated in August 1998. Its supporters included the Spanish government and the government of Ecuador. The center is on the edge of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, and it is reached by a short bus ride, arranged for you by your Galapagos travel guide. The center is wonderfully designed to tell the natural and human history of the islands and to serve as an active educational resource for visitors, island schoolchildren, and other residents. It is a beautiful, light, airy building, made of the local stone and wood to blend into the slightly hilly landscape on which it is located. You move easily from room to room, from era to era of archipelago history. The displays are stunning, with luminous portrayals of the geological evolution of the islands and colorful displays of land and marine life.

The human history is told through a combination of paintings, old photographs, and three-dimensional re-creations of early life on the islands. The horrendous story of the penal colony that existed for more than 150 years, until it was closed in 1954 when the appalling conditions there became known internationally, is riveting and dismaying at the same time. The intriguing story of some of the twentieth century’s distinctive immigrants from Europe, with broken dreams, divided loyalties, and suspected murders, is equally well told.

For a little break from the learning, take a few minutes to walk and travel outside the building along the boardwalks that extend from it into the surrounding thickets of Palo Santo and other dry, lowland vegetation. The wind sweeps up the hillside from the harbor, and you will have excellent views of the water a kilometers or so away.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Rabida Galapagos Travel

The Galpagos Travel blog gives you a feel for the Rabida. At first glance, Rabida is another typical beach-plus-mangrove-plus-flamingo lagoon site. But what makes it very different and very memorable is the color of the beach and island soil: a rich russet that gleams in the sun and gives everything on it a special quality of soft beauty. The reddish hue comes from the oxidation of the iron-rich lava that is the basis of its soil.


The island is an hour and a half by boat from Sombrero Chino. It is small, just a little over 2 kilometers across at its widest point. It is steep and rugged and rises to more than 400 meters at its highest point, although the visitor will be staying at the lowest elevations. The chief vegetation on the slopes is opuntia cactus, Palo Santo trees, and other scrubby bushes. Right at the shoreline is the band of mangrove that separates the beach from the saltwater lagoon inland just a few meters.

The landing is a wet one onto the narrow strip of beach. Usually a number of sea lions are on the beach or in the small caves that have been formed in the cliffs at the water’s edges. Even if you see no sea lions basking or swimming at the beach, your nose will tell you whether they are still to be found a little farther on. Be careful when you walk into the mangrove strip because the sea lions also love to sleep in the shade of the bushes. It is entirely possible to unexpectedly step on an extended flipper. An irritated Galapagos sea lion can move amazingly quickly and inflict quite a bite, so caution is called for.

It takes only a minute or two to reach the lagoon.With any luck there will be flamingos sieving through the brackish water for the minute plant and animal life that they depend on for food. Each time I was there we also saw several Galapagos white-cheeked pintail ducks (Anas bahamensis). This is a very attractive bird with a steel-blue bill decorated by fuchsia stripes along its lower length.

The trail is a gentle 1-mile circular route. It goes up a slight slope to a cliff that overlooks a small ocean inlet. The path leads to an excellent view of a tiny cove; its white sandy bottom and blue waters are set in the frame of the red cliffs on which you stand. You will have a lovely stroll among the Palo Santo trees, and there are some sweeping views of the ocean from the low cliffs that the trail approaches. Always there is the contrast of red soil, blue water, white sea floor, and gray-green vegetation.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Bartolome Galapagos

This is the single most visited place in the Galapagos. If you saw just one photograph of the islands before you came, it probably was of Bartolome’s Pinnacle Rock, towering over a perfect blue cove, lined by a copper-colored beach, and set off by the rugged profile of Santiago not far in the distance.

There are two sites on this small island: a hike up an extinct lava cone for a sweeping view of the nearby islands and a beach where snorkeling and birdwatching can be very good.

Bartolome Galapagos - Summit Trail

The landing for the summit trail is a dry one, directly from the panga onto a rock and concrete stairway from water level. The trail is 600 meters one way. It is a wonderfully designed and sturdily constructed boardwalk, built to preserve the fragile tuff cone surface from the erosion of thousands of visitor feet. The boardwalk steps are easy to manage, wide and not too high. There are several points where you can pause and look out at the increasingly spectacular view as you make the ascent.

All along the walk, you will be struck by the stark beauty around you. The gracefulness of the contours contrasts with the near-barrenness of the slope on which you climb. As you look closer, you will see the little lava lizards scampering across the ground or sitting on one of the small boulders that were blasted out of the throat of the now-extinct volcano that formed the island.

The wind picks up as you reach the very top of the island, so it’s best to bring a windbreaker here. There are several flat areas on which to stand and look all around you. There is nowhere else on the islands where you can get such a strong sense of the sheer number and variety of sizes of the islands of the Galapagos Travel. The nearest island you can see is Santiago, a few minutes away by boat. South are Santa Cruz, Baltra, and Seymour Norte. Rabida is to the southwest. And there are dozens of islets and large rocks protruding from the ocean’s surface.

The larger islands are dramatically colored, with the typical orange base, the sweeps of black lava, and the fringes of gray life. The ocean’s color ranges from nearly white at shorelines to turquoise to blue and gunmetal gray. The profiles of the land, the contours and dimensions, are endlessly fascinating and beautiful. Pinnacle Rock (about 70 meters high) at the mouth of the Bartolome cove sets off the scene admirably. The top of the island is very far above it, and you can easily see the frigate birds that use it as a roost between their raids on other birds.

Keep an eye on the water further out, too. On my latest visit, huge manta rays were leaping out of the water, turning somersaults as they emerged.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sullivan Bay Galapagos Tour

As your boat passes by Santiago Galapagos on its various trips and as it pulls into Sullivan Bay itself, you often see wedges of black lava cutting across the island’s reddish slopes. Santiago is a classic volcanic island, rising to a dominant cone nearly 1000 meters tall at its northwest side. It also has many smaller cones projecting from its major slope, some having craters and others not.

Sullivan Bay Galapagos Islands

Sullivan Bay is the place to be reminded of how active the volcanic earth building is in the Galapagos. This site features a lava flow slightly more than 100 years old. It is a great swath of lava that oozed down to the sea, curling around small cones that came before it, adding land at the sea’s edge where there was no land before. There is a lot to be learned here about land-building processes, but first there is the feeling of astonishment and mystery as your walk over the shiny black lava fields.

The landing is a dry one onto a small ledge. You should wear lightweight running shoes to protect your feet on landing and on the fairly smooth but sun-baked lava flow. (You guide may have toughened bare feet, but visitors rarely do). Watch for penguins near the landing area. You may be lucky.

As your enter the lava field, what looks from a distance to be monotonous paving turns out to be a multilevel terrain of sheer fascination. It is like being in immobile black batter – 110 square kilometers of it. The proper name for this kind of flow is pahoehoe, pronounced with five syllables (“pa-ho-e-ho-e”). the word is Hawaiian for “ropey”. It is used by scientists everywhere to describe the same type of lava flow and surface character. It is a very apt word, conveying very well the shapes the lava takes as it flows fairly slowly, hardening into fans and swirls and protrusions of roughly parallel rope-shaped strands.

This kind of pattern is formed when the superheated lava cools more rapidly on its surface than in its interior. The lower, hotter part continues to flow and the upper parts begin to drag as they cool and harden, this uneven cooling gives the flowing mass its characteristic fan shape, with a series of curving creases roughly perpendicular to the direction of the flow. The flatness of the land over which it flows (the lava tends to separate and flow around obstacles such as earlier-established volcanic cones) and the fact that this flow went rather slowly overall (it was not the result of explosive volcano-buildin) allowed the flow to meander. There are fans a few inches in diameter as well as ones several meters across; they all interweave and overlap in the most marvelous fashion. Some of them look very much like other things; one part you’re likely to see the one called “pig guts” by the locals, and there’s no arguing the accuracy.

Stay tuned for more on my Galapagos travel journey...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Puerto Egas - Galapagos

In my travel throughout the Galapagos Islands I really enjoyed visiting Puerto Egas of James Bay... The trail, which actually follows the remnants of a road wagons once used to haul the salt, starts to wind away from the shore and up around the slopes of the crater’s cone. It’s hard to get much of a sense of the topography at first; there’s just a slope on your left side and flat ground to the immediate right. It’s an easy walk, although on a very hot day it can seem a lot longer than it is. Wear tennis shoes, not sandals; light-weight slacks also are a good idea. Somehow this hike seems to be one of the hottest excursions. The way to minimize discomfort is to keep a close eye on the sights alongside as you walk, and don’t be impatient to reach the rim of the salt crater itself.

But move along; as the elevation gradually increases, the birdwatchers in the group probably will have some great moments. The slope of the crater is a likely place to see the vermilion flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus). Just as it stands out in the dark piled on each other in layers, two or even three deep. This seems to be a way of retaining each other’s body heat. They seem to complete with each other for the spot that has the most direct exposure to the sun, even if it means clinging nearly vertically from a shoreline boulder with tails hanging out into space.

The walk will be an easy 15 minutes, ending at a small plain of black lava flow. This area is pocked by three aquamarine potholes. These holes are formed in the same way that the Santa Cruz lava tubes were formed, only these are not land-locked. The lava flow went out to the open sea and now the water rushes in and out of the tubes with the tides. The tops have caved in here and there, making the open pothole that you look down into. At one time, visitors could swim in these grottoes, but the combination of risks to swimmers of surging tides and of disturbing the wildlife has closed this option.

The main two pools are a wonderful sight, they're connected as they are to each other, with a bridge of black lava arching over them near the middle of their length. The exit of the pool to the open sea also has an arch over it, where it’s great just to sit and watch the water flow back and forth below you.