A Travellerspoint blog

6. Caleta Tagus, Bahia Elizabeth

Cold, cold water

semi-overcast 75 °F

Day 6, Tuesday, June 21

Today’s agenda: Caleta Tagus, Bahia Elizabeth.

On Isabela Island, we encounter Targus Cove, a historical gathering and sheltering spot for both whalers and pirates, named for the HMS Tagus, a British frigate that visited here in 1814. There is a hiking trail of just over a mile where traditional inscriptions of the names of visiting boats date back into the 1800’s at a small cave. Darwin Volcano’s lava fields surround Darwin’s Lake. B4 and I depart aboard a Zodiac at 7:00 to experience this. I have assured her that she is more than capable of negotiating the terrain involved, I hope accurately. When we reach the dry landing spot (that means that you don't have to slide off the side of the Zodiac into the water and wade to shore), it is clear that I have misjudged. It is steep and there is more elevation involved than I had anticipated. I suggest that she take a hiking pole. "No." I strongly suggest that she take a hiking pole. "NO."

As we began our ascent, she was "flailing" her arms to keep her balance. I called back to Scott who was bringing up the rear to also bring her a pole. The view above Darwin's Lake was fine. I'll let her tell you whether or not that was a good idea.

She writes: Paul and I have more fun together than either of us would ever have imagined. However, that does not mean that we always enjoy the same things or see things the same way but we humor each other. The old adage 'opposites attract' is in some ways true. We are both early risers. Most days I am up by 5:30am, maybe 6am. I thoroughly enjoy communing with my cup of coffee in the quiet of the morning, and then with my phone to see what might be new overnight, and of course the daily business reports. My entire life, in fact, I have communed first thing in the am with spread sheets and with technology advances that migrated to communing with the computer screen. Those quiet moments of communing with with my coffee, my phone, my reports tell me lots of things that I may need to know that day. None of that early morning activity necessarily leads to getting out the door early. But today I had to be out the door by 6:55am to commune with nature. Who would have guessed. As we disembarked our zodiac I realized we had to climb up a rock filled incline before we got to the 103 stair steps we were told about. My first thought - am I really doing this to see a bird! But smile I did and I climbed the rocks and the 103 stairs. I did decline the walking stick more than once - I can be stubborn - but have to admit it came in handy. We were told once we were up the stairs we would be on flat ground. Wrong again. So for the next 45 minutes I was a sport - one who could barely catch their breath - and kept going up the incline. We did stop to look at some beautiful scenery - all available to look at in pics. Our naturalist pointed out lots of birds. to me they all looked like the common sparrow but what do I know. Naturalists are interesting people. They clearly love nature. I wish I had one with me when I go to buy flowers for our home, it would be handy for someone to explain to me what I am looking at. But alas this was pretty much about birds. We also got a lesson in 'skat'. For those of you who don't know the word, you might be familiar with the children's book 'Everyone Poops'. I now know more about different animals pooping in the woods than I need to. I think you get the drift by now. One side benefit is the hike was worth 6,212 steps - there is a bright side to everything. The Galapagos is a magical place in many ways. The sea life is fascinating. The land life - well; a bunch of birds that look like sparrows was less than fascinating to me. The next time my feet hit land will be to see the giant tortoise's which i am truly excited to see. Otherwise i'm sticking with zodiac rides and sea life.

2e7d7cc0-f1a0-11ec-a4c4-2d700f09ab96.jpegSummiting.jpglarge_2c918b40-f1a0-11ec-a4c4-2d700f09ab96.jpeg
She negotiated the hike like a champ, better than did some of our fellow travelers. GroundFinchInNest.jpgPelican.JPGGalapagosMockingird.JPGGalapagosFlycatcherAdult.JPGGalapagosFlycatcher.JPGGroundFinchFledgling.JPGThere were a few birds to see on this trip past Darwin's Lake but nothing else. The birds, like all the other creatures, had no fear of us and would stand their ground--or tree--as we stood next to them. Would it have been OK to skip this hike? It would.

No sooner than we got back, I had to jump into my shorty wetsuit and get back to the marina for a deep water snorkel excursion. There is no time to rest aboard Silver Origin--unless you want to skip an activity. Yesterday, I skipped the deep water snorkeling because of the chop and I regretted it. So, off we go. Here's what we encountered.

Nearby is Elizabeth Bay (Bahia Elizabeth), a sheltered bay with mangrove shorelines adjacent to lava fields formed from the merging of Alcedo Volcano and Sierra Negra Volcano to create rocky reefs and tiny islets. One is known as Las Marielas, three rocks at the mouth of a bay. There are rays, sharks pelicans, sea turtles, sea lions, and Galapagos penguins, the only penguin species found north of the equator. Of course, here it is not very far above the equator. These flightless birds are threatened by the increasing frequency of El Nino Southern Oscillation events…attributed to climate change. El Nino reduces their food supply of sardines, mullets, anchovies and other small fish, which leads to a slowing or even halt to breeding. Here are the mangrove pix.
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They are mostly the traditional tuxedo-like black and white accented by a pink tint under their bills. A white stripe curls up to their eye. Due to the consistent climate here, they breed whenever food is plentiful, mating for life and taking turns tending to eggs and, ultimately, their chicks. Only 1,200 of these rare creatures exist.

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Returning to Silver Origin, our butler had prepared the whirlpool. We enjoyed prosecco and chocolates and a great view of our surroundings from muscle soothing hot pulsating water. Ahhh.

Looking out the window from our whirlpool/shower, taking in the scenery (a button allows you to fog the glass should you not want to be on view) it makes you aware that your are stationary--not cruising. But Silver Origin's version of stationary is extreme--we do not swing on anchor. A few days back, we wrote about Silver Origin’s Dynamic Positioning System. There is more to know about it than it keeps us from having to drop anchor.

Wind, waves and current manipulate seagoing vessels as they wish, twisting or even tossing the ship in combination with each other. Those of us who have been aboard these craft know that they “swing” on their anchors under this influence. Silver Origin is different. Its dynamic positioning system automatically maintains both the ship’s position and heading via propellers and thrusters…without use of the anchor. Electronics relying on gyrocompass and vertical reference sensors, position-reference system, wind sensors and motion sensors send data to a computer which calculates the required steering angle and thruster output.

What does it actually do? It allows the bridge to lock the vessel in a fixed position and heading to eliminate weathervaning. All of that is achieved without relying on an anchor which, no matter how careful you are, disrupts the seabed, something that is to be avoided here at all costs.

One more thing made today special. On our hike, we were in a Zodiac group also populated by Amanda and Nadia along with Claudio and Jordan. We bonded. Later, after our return to Silver Origin, we found them on the top deck at lunchtime occupying a six top. We asked if we could join them for lunch. For two hours we gabbed about this and that (Amanda and Nadia were gorilla trekking in Rwanda six years ago) and spent a delightful time together. We have met some really fun people aboard Silver Origin and some strange ducks. These four were wonderful.

Posted by paulej4 04:00 Archived in Ecuador Comments (3)

5. Isabela, Punta Vicente Roca, Fernandina, Punta Espinoza

'Volcanic" doesn't begin to describe it.

sunny 78 °F

Day 5 (3), Monday, June 20

It got hectic yesterday afternoon as we hosted guests on our balcony, fascinating Spaniard David and Phillipino Geralyn, a great young couple aboard with their children Francesco (5) and Noa (7). Here are some shots that I didn't upload because we were holding that delightful get-together. Harmony.JPGYellowEye.JPGRedEyeOpenBeak.JPGDSC_0030.JPGDSC_0084.JPGSoaring.JPGReadyForFlight.JPGDSC_0027.JPGBlueFootedBoobieProfile.JPGB4.JPGd7af6a60-f0bf-11ec-867d-e76e092c2a95.jpegSunsetFrom528.jpeg

Today’s agenda: Isabela, Punta Vicente Roca, Fernandina, Punta Espinoza.

Two bits of news: 1. It got a wee bit rough last night as we rounded the north end of Isabela Island crossing, as we mentioned yesterday, the equator northbound and then again southbound. Our "anchorage" this morning is in what--for the moment at least--are waters sporting a light chop. You can clearly see the current off our starboard bow. Simply said, the water is not as peaceful here. 2. Yesterday--and we had a champagne toast to celebrate it--was the one year anniversary of Silver Origin's first cruise with paying passengers aboard. Happy Birthday to both the operation of the ship and to the pianist who plays during lunch and evening at whatever venue we are gathered.
Isabela island covers 1,790 square miles and is the largest of these islands. There are five active volcanoes here lead by the Volcano Sierra Negra which is the second largest caldera in the world. The elevation spawns cloud forests, home to giant tortoise sub-species. Mangrove lagoons are home to stingrays.

Volcanic eruptions on Isabela are common, the most recent being the January 6, 2022, eruption of the Wolf volcano which was only declared “no longer active” on May 6, just over six weeks ago.

A 2018 event at the “well-behaved” shield volcano Sierra Negra (the “Black Mountain”) was more spectacular. Sierra Negra is “well-behaved” because, prior to erupting, it warns you by exhibiting telltale signs such as groundswell, gas release and increased seismic rumbling. “It is called a Shield” volcano because it has a broad dome, gently sloping sides and sends off thin lava flows between ash layers. Shield volcanos normally feature two consecutive eruptions separated by a brief rest sending lava (because of the gently sloping sides) long distances.

Sierra Negra has erupted six times during my lifetime: 1948, 1953, 1963, 1979, 2005 and 2018. Other still active volcanoes on this, the largest island of Galapagos, are Darwin, Alceda and Cerro Azul. A sixth, Ecuador, is extinct.
Vicente Ramon Roca, Ecuadorian President who served from 1845 until 1849 opposed the annexation of these islands when he had earlier been Prefect of Guayas still is the namesake for Punta Vicente Roca--a cove really. There are many lava tubes and underwater caves. Brown Noddies nest on cliffs and mate here. I am reunited with penguins—these being Galapagos Penguins who, along with Flightless Cormorants (building nests) have established colonies here. We see more here than anywhere previously but the choppy water makes photography difficult. There are dozens of sea turtles, marine iguanas lounging on the rocks, more Blue Footed Boobies, and the occasional parental mishap (otherwise known as a lost egg). Nonetheless, here is what Zodiac Girl saw:ZodiacGirl.JPGfcde4b20-f0bb-11ec-87fd-b777e006d21f.JPGInFlight.JPGPenguinCrabs.JPGPenguinPair.JPGFlightlessCormorantNestbuilding.JPGBlueFeetColdFeet.JPGMarineIguanaCU.JPG
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Some rays were leaping but far away and hard to catch.JustMissedIt.JPGLeapingRay.JPGLeapingRay1.JPG

B4 opted for an "after-Zodiac" massage while I was scheduled for a deep water snorkel. I decided the water was too choppy for me so I opted to skip that. And, wouldn't you know it, within ten minutes of the Zodiacs' departure, the sea calmed. I would have been fine. Oh, well.
At noon, we depart for Punta Espinoza, Fernandia: 248 square miles hosting Flightless Cormorants, marine iguana, pelicans, sea lions and fur seals. “La Cumbre,” an active volcano, created the island through many different types of lava flows. There are lots of marine iguana perched on black rock formations gathering heat from the sun near where they lay their eggs which seem to be patrolled by Sally Lightfoot Crabs. Here's what was in residence there.GalapagosHawk.JPGGalapagosHawkWide.JPGdc406cf0-f0fb-11ec-85d5-d1026a694a30.JPGde202970-f0fb-11ec-8303-2b887bb0c168.JPGMarineIguanaDuo.JPGLavaLizardCamo.JPGMarineIguanaHugs.JPGMarineIguanaBaby.JPGPelicanHeadshot.JPGSeaLionYawn.JPGSeaTurtleHeadOn.JPGSeaTurtleBeach.JPG255bf0d0-f0fc-11ec-85d5-d1026a694a30.JPGSkeleton.JPGSnake2.JPGSnake1.JPGSpottedEagleRayConflict.JPGWhaleSkeleton.JPG

I also shot some flix.

Posted by paulej4 12:19 Archived in Ecuador Comments (4)

4. Bartolome, Santiago, Buccaneer Cove

Greetings, humans. Welcome to our home. Please leave nothing and take nothing.

semi-overcast 75 °F

Day 4, Sunday, June 19

The Silver Origin provides us with high quality Alessi masks and snorkels, waterproof Silversea logo backpacks, raincoats and a refillable water bottle—no plastic is allowed on board. The typical day will require all of this as there are usually three excursions available—hikes, walks, beach snorkeling, deep-sea snorkeling and kayaking.

Today’s agenda: Bartolome, Santiago and Buccaneer Cove. We position ourselves in Sullivan Bay, gazing at the remnants of volcanic activity that leaves a surface reminiscent of the surface of the moon. Santiago is an island of 226 square miles and home to marine iguana, sea lion, fur seals, sea turtles, dolphins and sharks. Darwin’s Finches and Galapagos Hawks and Galapagos Penguins are also here. The Santiago giant tortoise roams inland but we won't see them today. We complete the day having seen only lava lizards, crabs, sea turtle nests, sea lions and a few birds.

Aboard Zodiacs, we are transported to the beach at Bahia Dorado where we encounter a few small lava lizards enroute to a 388-step climb up a boardwalk to enjoy a gorgeous panorama in the direction of Pinnacle Rock. The landscape is a moonscape of very dry powdered lava with precious little vegetation. In the distance are Baltra Daphne Major and Daphne Minor.

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Far far below me, I spot B4 in a Zodiac doing a coastal cruise as she opted to skip the steep stairs up the hillside. After completing it, I believe she made the wise choice. I've asked her to describe her journey without me:

My more favored activity takes place down the hall from our suite at the spa, however this morning was different. Up and out of our cabin bright and early at 7:15am to see wildlife - who would have believed it....but there is lots to see here.

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The first bird we see is a blue footed Boobie, relatively common in the Galapagos but not indigenous to the islands. Paul talked about how they got their name in an earlier blog. I know what it is like going through life with an unusual name. Sometimes it isn't fun but i'll take 'Beryl' over 'Boobie' any day. One interesting piece of trivia about a Boobie is when they feel like a meal and dive to catch a fish, they hit the water at about 70 miles an hour. That could hurt but they make it look easy and seamless. There is no particular mating season for Boobies, it's whenever the mood strikes. But when the mood strikes they do the 'Boobie dance' and the female gets to pick her male. Most attractive to her is a male with deep bright blue color legs. That bright color tells her he is healthy, well feed, strong, and able to provide food. Clearly the Boobie in the pic here doesn't make the cut. BlueHeron.jpgI guess Blue is the color of birds here as another one we saw this morning is the Blue Heron. Why it is called as such I can't explain, I see no blue. LavaHeron.jpgThe lava heron is indigenous to the islands. It is hard to spot since it is the color of the lava rocks on which it sits. OysterCatcher.jpgSea food is abundant here but if you chose oysters for dinner it is an imperative you catch yours before the red beaked 'oyster catcher' bird beats you to it. If your preference is crabs for dinner you may be out of luck. SallyLightfootCrabs.jpgThere are 'Sally light foot' crabs everywhere, named for a woman named Sally who first found them. They are quite edible but protected so only the birds and the sea lions get to enjoy them. We think of penguins as cold water, cold geography birds this travel in huddles. Penguin.jpgHowever the Galapagos is home to tiny little penguins, the third smallest of the breed, that are solitary. It's a good thing there is no speed limit in the Pacific ocean because these penguins swim at 50 miles an hour. A young one stands here surveying the area around. How do I know it is a young penguin? Because its white fur around its neck is not ringed with black. GalapagosSeal.jpgPaul had a great sea lion experience on his hike, my sea lion encounter was more sedentary but i thought my pic was pretty good so i included it. So there you have it, more birdlife than i have experienced in my entire 71 years.

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On expedition cruises, one becomes familiar with what is known as, “The Zodiac.” I got very accustomed to these small mostly rubber boats in the Arctic, the Antarctic, and on whale shark or orca or other whale watching trips. I’ve been aboard them in frigid ice-clogged under-the-iceberg conditions and in peel-off-your-shirt steamy-water dead-calm conditions. Here, we glide adjacent to the beach to watch a Galapagos Seal bathe.

But how much do I really know about Zodiacs? The word “Zodiac” is a registered trademark owned by the Zodiac Nautic Company of France which manufactures these craft in France, Tunisia and South Carolina. In financial difficulty, the company went private in 2015. It was formed for the purpose of manufacturing airships, a business that collapsed along with the Hindenburg back in 1937. About that same time a Zodiac engineer, Pierre Debroutelle, invented the precurser of today’s Zodiac.

The Zodiac boat itself is a RIB—rigid inflatable boat. It sports a rigid bottom married to compartmental air tubes which create the side of the hull. There is so much air in these buoyancy tubes that Zodiacs would stay afloat even if completely filled with water. Silver Origin carries eight Zodiacs.

Here in the Galapagos, our Zodiacs will host us in average June weather which is a low of 72 °F and a high of 75 °F. The seas should be mostly calm as they are sheltered by all the islands themselves. In other words, not hot and not cold but, if you’re wet and the open boat is moving briskly through the water, it would feel chilly.

The Zodiac process features us being divided into disembarkation groups which are rotated so that the same group doesn’t always enjoy the privilege of being first to disembark for whatever adventure awaits. Each Zodiac has an experienced driver/expert guide. Sometimes we will make “Dry Landings” meaning we disembark onto a dock or other landing platform. More often we make “Wet Landings” where we flip our legs over the rubber pontoon sides and then drop down into shallow water, wading to shore. We have water shoes which are ideally suited for this. Of course, we are warned ahead of time how to dress for which of these landings is in store. Safety vests are mandatory aboard Zodiacs. Ecologically friendly sunscreen is made available to us and sunglasses are highly recommended.

We hop aboard to make a run to the beach to snorkel. B4 heads for the beginner group and I opt for the deep water group. We are happy with our respective choices. I take my GoPro with me and am lucky enough to get one good scene. Note the ray on the bottom and watch for my new friend to swim across the screen.

Shuttling via Zodiacs, Buccaneer Cove is next. On Santiago—or James Island—this spot drew pirates in search of food and water and, perhaps, hiding places for stolen treasure. There are caves carved into the rocks—one called Bishop’s Rock. The area is dotted by Prickly Pear Cactus and Palo Santo trees. From cruising Zodiacs, we see lots of boobies: Nazca Boobies, Blue Footed Boobies and even some Swallow-Tailed Gulls.

The non-migratory Galapagos Sea Lions welcome humans to their swim adventures. They fear sharks and killer whales but not us human beings. Smaller than California sea lions, they are the most populous “land animal” in these islands. The local population (estimated to be between 20,000 to 50,000 individuals) stay relatively close to shore while hunting fish for food and seems to love to lounge or sleep on flat sandy beaches.

These sea lions are not to be confused with the local Galapagos fur seals which are about half as big. They get their name from having, when dry, much thicker fur which is black in the water but dries to a gold color. Fur seals have big eyes and ears and prefer rocky shores to sandy beaches and are most often sighted here on Bartholome and Santiago Islands and on the southern shores of Floreana.

Marine iguanas are the world’s only sea-going lizards. Each island here, however, hosts its own subspecies. Those found near Espanola and Floreana are more colorful, capable of turning bright green and red. Males fight for control of harems of females. Their relative lack of agility on land is made up by their swimming skills as they look for algae upon which they feed. If you look closely at their snouts, you may see salt crystals—they have so much salt content in their diet that their bodies have developed a blood filtering system and they sneeze out all that excess salt.

There is so much here to learn, to absorb and to ponder. We attended a photography lecture, the kayak briefing where we learned that we are not good prospects for that activity and then a nap before another Zodiac cruise, this one at 4:45 when the sun is preparing for its 6:00 setting. These guys are on our route. BirdRedEye.jpgBirds.JPGNazcaBoobies.JPGBirdsEye.jpeg

Tonight, Silver Origin sails to a new destination. We cross the equator tonight; twice.

Posted by paulej4 03:59 Archived in Ecuador Comments (3)

3. Finally Here

Off we gos.

semi-overcast 78 °F

Day 3, Saturday, June 18, 2022

At 6:50am, before they even start serving breakfast at the JW Marriott, we board our Silversea transfer vehicle to the Quito Mariscal airport. Seated in the coach, I am accosted by representatives of both Silversea and Marriott because "I have not checked out and owe them money." There are many facts in dispute here. First, I hold in my hand on my iPhone on my Marriott Bonvoy app proof that I have checked out. Second, the name they are chasing me for is either Peter Russell or Scott Russell. Third, there are two different room numbers on the charges that I have allegedly dodged, one the room we were in and another for a room we did not occupy. Fourth, when we checked in I presented my Marriott Credit Card which guaranteed all charges and from which they even put a $200 hold when I checked in so they were at risk for nothing. When I showed them my phone check out documentation, they gave up the dispute but did not apologize for embarrassing me with it. Humans take note: when you err, apologize and show empathy to those whom you have harmed. It costs nothing and goes far toward healing the wounds the error may have caused.

The fear that protestors would disrupt our safe and expedient passage were unrealized so we arrive at Quito Mariscal Sucre Airport at 7:50, 2.5 hours before our flight. Checking in for our LATAM flight 1419 to San Cristobal Island on an Airbus 319 is a piece of cake as Silversea has pre-screened and pre-tagged our checked bags. The documents we were provided indicated strict weight limits for carry-on bags at 15 pounds. Mine, loaded with camera gear, computer, iPad, Kindle, chargers, etc., weighs significantly more. They never checked. Bullet dodged.

Regarding the old expression, "Better Safe Than Sorry," in this situation, we are both. But wait...

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There is a Priority Pass Lounge! Like a port in a storm, an oasis in the desert or a Shake Shack in the airport, the Priority Pass Lounge is a delightful and welcome treat. Free with many credit cards, membership gets you inside where soft seats, food and beverage, upgraded WiFi and more await. I love Priority Pass as a travel benefit. Kansas City traveller take note: our new Kansas City airport has no plans for a Priority Pass Lounge--a monumental oversight in my opinion.

We are in economy (6A window and 6B middle) for this three-hour-twenty-four-minute flight which features a stop in Guayaquil. Clearly, our upgraded transportation doesn't work with LATAM. In their defense, the last time I can remember flying them was many years ago and my membership number has been, justifiably, retired.

(From the comments section, Sandy and Laramona take note): We escape the thin air of 9,350 foot high Quito which, thankfully was noticed but did not interfere. My only negative experience with altitude sickness was in 2016 in Cusco, Pero, which at 11,155 feet above sea level--a couple of thousand feet higher than here--knocked me on my rear for a day even though the Marriott Hotel I stayed in piped pure oxygen into my upgraded sleeping room there. Seeing Machu Picchu was worth a day's physical discomfort, clearly, but I am relieved that neither B4 nor I succumbed to the less thin air here. Should you have too much time on your hands, the blog of that Machu Picchu trip is available at https://Paul2MachuPicchu.travellerspoint.com

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Opting for the window seat--B4 never looks out the window preferring to read or do email--I am disappointed that clouds obscure what I was certain would be a wonderful view. Halfway to Guayaquil, however, I received my window seat reward. Chimborazo Peak peeked. At 20,528 feet, it's apex is the farthest point on the earth's surface from the earth's center--due to being that high and that close to the equator. If it were not on the equator it wouldn't be able to claim that title but, no matter where it is, on this day it defeated the clouds, earning a view of a planeful of passing explorers headed for the Galapagos.

Approaches to the San Cristóbal Airport, no matter whether you land from north to south or south to north, are overwater. There is high ground to the northeast. It's a sleepy place to land and receives only a few flights daily. If we were of a mind to, we could walk to town center from here in less than 15 minutes. The most controversial thing about this strip is that in June 2019, the Ecuadorian government gave permission for the US military to use the airfield as a base. The locals were not happy; who can blame them?

This, our final destination, “Discovered” in 1535 (by Fray Tomas de Berlanga, the Bishop of Panama who was actually headed to Peru), the Galapagos Islands, first formally explored by the Spaniard Malspina, are a volcanic archipelago about 600 miles west of Ecuador’s coast. It was here in 1835 that 26-year-old Charles Darwin—aboard The Beagle—developed the foundation for his theories of evolution.

In 1978, UNESCO labeled this as a World Heritage Site and, in 1985, as a biosphere reserve and then upgraded in 2001 to include the surrounding marine reserve. There are 13 main islands, said to be home to 25,000 people in total, surrounded by 215 islets and rocks. We are atop the Nazca Plate, a moving tectonic plate traveling at 2.5 inches per year. Scientists say the first islands were formed five million years ago.

Upon landing at San Cristobal, a 215 square mile island settled in 1832 and where 6,000 people now live, we are shuttled to the harbor adjacent to a statue of Darwin for our transfer to the ‘almost brand new’ Silversea Silver Origin. Temperatures average 77 degrees and the land masses are like desert hosting 600 vascular plant species, thirty percent of them exclusively found only here. Scientists have identified 1,432 plant species in total here. San Cristobal is home to Frigatebirds, sea lions, giant tortoises, Blue and Red Footed Boobies, tropicbirds, marine iguanas, Swallow-Tailed Gulls and is patrolled by dolphins.

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We are booked into Royal Suite 528, an R1 Royal Suite at the starboard side aft corner of this, the smallest ship in the Silversea fleet. Silver Origin measures a short 331 feet in length and 52 feet abeam. Built specifically for this region, she is one of only two ships sailing here with both dynamic positioning and advanced propulsion systems—meaning we never once have to drop anchor on the fragile seabed during our entire week aboard.

She’s new. Just over three months ago on March 7, Silver Origin was christened at a ceremony marking the first ship christening for the new President & CEO of Royal Caribbean Group, Jason Liberty. Royal Caribbean Group acquired Silversea Cruises in 2018. Silver Origin was originally floated on December 30, 2019 but got off to a very slow COVID-19 mandated start in life.

Our Suite has a big veranda, walk-in closet, ocean-view bathroom with both a whirlpool bath and a walk-in shower and, with the veranda, measures just under 900 square feet. There is a 65-inch flat screen and lots of USB ports and electric outlets. The regular classic veranda suites are 325 square feet while the Owner’s Suite is 1,722 square feet. Every suite has a butler who stocks the mini bar with whatever you want—alcoholic or non-alcoholic—in whatever quantity you like. For us, we ask for prosecco to be always on ice.

We get robes and slippers and even expedition gear consisting of a safety jacket, wetsuit, mask, fins and snorkel, waterproof backpack, raincoat and a reusable water bottle. Binoculars are on the table. Laundry is included; so is unlimited “premium” WiFi. are available for complimentary use.

Dress aboard is different from ‘regular’ SilverSea vessels. On this ‘expedition’ vessel, shipboard attire is casual—evening during evening times with only jeans and shorts not permitted in The Restaurant. No jackets, please.

Holding a maximum of 100 passengers in 51 suites (we are told there are only 78 passengers aboard) and 90 crew (ten of them expedition leaders), this all suite ship was built in Dutch Shipyard De Hoop as an expedition vessel and launched mid-COVID with her maiden voyage completed less than a year ago. Eight Zodiacs (more on those later) can be launches—two at a time—from the sea-level fold-out stern embarkation areas equipped with hydraulic doors, hatches and cranes. There is one Zodiac for every 12.5 passengers which means minimal delays. The Deck 3 embarkation area is reached via an area known as “Basecamp” where pre-excursions briefings are conducted on a large interactive digital wall. It is home to a gigantic curved full wall LED screen where guides can reinforce their briefings from the podium’s touch screen—something a seminar presenter like me would have love to had “back in the day.”

On Deck 4 is the Explorer Lounge for daily briefings and pre-dinner cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, a Deck 7 Observation Lounge/Library, and more with floor to ceiling windows everywhere. Aft of the Explorer Lounge is a stern area outfitted with sun beds, a jacuzzi and a fire pit. On Deck 8 it’s lights out at the stargazing area where you can see both the Southern Cross and the North Star from this equatorial location.

There is a fitness center on Deck 5 along with a beauty spa for manicures and pedicures, a massage suite and all that stuff that B adores.

The two dining venues are “The Restaurant” and “The Grill”—an open-air venue--each of which is large enough to accommodate all 100 guests at a single 7:30-9:00 sitting. That’s on top of 24-hour room service offering in-suite dining. From reading and research, it seems that lots of our predecessors opt for room service breakfasts making early expedition departures easier to manage.

Promotional material boasts “fine local dining, wines, Champagne, spirits, beers, coffee and tea and soft drinks.” Onboard gratuities are included in the ticket price. There is a reserve list of wines available at an upcharge and I am anxious to see what that entails.

A promotional video can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bdt0KnrpuVs or https://www.tlnint.com/whats-it-like-aboard-silver-origin/

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The ships engines engage as we waste no time in sailing a mere three miles so we can begin seeing the sights.

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First is picturesque Kicker Rock which is not rock at all but compacted volcanic ash that rises 500 feet above sea level. Technically, it is what remains of a lava cone that split into two parts. It is what remains of a former “tuff coneless” whose Spanish name is “Leon Dormido” or Sleeping Lion. It is actually two rocks, a large one about 1,000 feet long by 330 feet wide and 500 feet high. Separated by a narrow 65 foot deep channel is a secon obelisk rock. Snorkelers in the calm water which surround it encounter sea turtles, marine iguanas, rays, Galapagos sharks, tropical fish and, sometimes, hammerhead sharks.

Ashore, blue-footed boobies, masked boobies and frigatebirds populate the cliffs and sea lions lounge on the shore.

One definition of “boobies” is “seabird” but the English name is said to be based on the Spanish slang term bobo which means “stupid.” That derogatory term may possibly come from the fact that these birds are so tame that they formed a habit of landing on board sailing ships where they were easily caught and eaten. Boobies in flight can be seen diving straight down into the sea to catch fish. Air sacs beneath the skin around their faces cushion the impact from those dives. There are lots of Blue-footed boobies about along with Masked boobies and Nazca boobies.

Frigatebirds were first named by French mariners as: bird La Fregate—with the frigate part referring to a fast warship. English seafarers tended to refer to them, for the same reason, as Man-of-War birds. They are big—about three feet in length—and sport a wingspan of up to eight feet. Males have a magnificent red “gular sac” below their beek which they fill with air to attract females. Both genders have long narrow wings and forked tails. They dive for fish near the water’s surface but carefully don’t make contact with it.

They also harass the boobies in flight who then regurgitate the fish they have eaten so the frigatebird can convert it as their own meal. The technical term for this type bird is, appropriately, “kleptoparasite.” They spend the vast majority of their time—both day and night—aloft, often riding thermals to an altitude of as much as 8,200 feet before descending. Eggs are laid and young are raised in shallow nests in both bushes and trees.

This third day of our journey was a momentous "first" day.large_B4Sunset.jpeg

Posted by paulej4 03:53 Archived in Ecuador Comments (6)

2. Quito

Get High: 9,350 above sea level

semi-overcast 63 °F

Day 2, Friday, June 17, 2022

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863ca210-eb7e-11ec-815e-cd1ffc833901.jpeg[/float]We were to have had the day to ourselves with only a Silversea evening “Tour of Quito’s historic city highlights” on our schedule. But Silversea changed that--perhaps due to the "strike" by the indigenous population--and moved the city tour to 9:45 this morning--for our safety. But first, we had a half dozen forms to fill out (COVID related but also releases of liability from snorkeling and kayaking on this excursion voyage) and then still another COVID test to take. We have been told there are only 83 guests on our cruise, 18 fewer than Silver Origin can accommodate. We met some of them in line getting our tests. We got into conversations with one couple, U.S. citizens from the UK now living in San Jose, CA, and then a family of four from Tampa, FL, and then another couple from Washington, D.C., and finally two more whose luggage was lost as they made their way from Vienna through Amsterdam to Quito. More to come on that to be sure.

Beryl has never been to Ecuador. I have—back in 2008—but without continuing onward to The Galapagos. In many ways, not much has changed in that 14-year time span. I was surprised then to discover that the United States Dollar is the official currency of this country. In 2000, Ecuador abandoned their hyper-inflated “Sucre” and now has no currency of its own in a process economists call "dollarization." (The same situation exists in Panama, El Salvador, Zimbabwe and Timor-Leste). As another example, in Peru, dollars are accepted at the check out counter at your local grocery store. Back in 2000, The New York Times reported: ''Full dollarization, if credible, eliminates devaluation risk, and, consequently, will likely result in interest rates which are both lower and less sensitive to crisis in other countries.'' The article continued, saying, "Those who advocate formal adoption of the American dollar argue that it would also benefit countries in which wage-earners are used to seeing their purchasing power eroded by high inflation and a weak currency. Indeed, some analysts even suggest that dollarization could be a tool to reduce income inequality."

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If you come here, bring plenty of one, five and ten dollar U.S. banknotes and a few twenties--as they are readily acceptable; avoid large denomination bills like fifties or hundreds. As in the rest of the world, newer, unwrinkled bills are preferred.

In this country (named for its location on the equator), the export of bananas, shrimp, flowers, canned fish, oil and even gold is the country’s main source of income. But be prepared for political eccentricity as well. For example, a new law allows abortions up to 12 weeks of pregnancy—for adult women in urban areas—but up to 16 weeks for minors and adults in rural areas.That twist came after a Constitutional Court recently ruled that abortions in rape cases had to be decriminalized. President Guillermo Lasso—who defines himself as a defender of life from the time of gestation—has not as yet signed the law but earlier said he would respect the decisions of those who do not agree with him on the issue.

Last month, President Lasso, below right, no relation to Ted, imposed a state of emergency in three coastal provinces to counter drug traffic induced violence. The government blames the unrest on gangs who use this country as a transit point for narcotics destined for Europe and the United States. Quito, where we arrive, is an eight-hour drive from the provinces of Esmeraldas, Guayas and Manabi where curfews are currently being enforced by 9,000 police and soldiers. We will visit Guayas on the way home when we stop in the city of Guayaquil.

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Drug activity here is blamed for a crime surge causing the deaths of well over a thousand people. Prisons here are called “a battleground” where imprisoned members of rival Mexican drug cartels and Ecuadorian gangs reportedly attack and kill each other (43 deaths in one prison riot during May and 20 more in another April riot). In just over a year, the government reports, over 350 inmates have “massacred” one another.

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In the meantime, Rafael Correa, left, former president of Ecuador (2007 to 2017) was recently sentenced—in absentia—to eight years in prison for corruption. Correa currently resides in Belgium with his wife (who is a Belgian citizen) and is facing an extradition effort. He has formally requested political asylum there.

Here in Quito, a February rain storm weakened a slope below the slopes of the Rucu Pichincha volcano resulting in a landslide that killed 24 people and injured 48 more. At last report, 12 were still missing; their remains not found.

Two oil tankers, the Ardmore Sealancer and Vendome Street, had until very recently been anchored off the coast with much needed loads of Russian diesel oil that couldn’t be paid for because of U.S. imposed financial sanctions due to the ongoing war in Ukraine. Local oil spilled in February along the banks of the Coca River after heavy rains caused a boulder to fall and rupture a pipeline creating what some referred to as “an environmental disaster.” All of that exists as we visit to enjoy one of if not the most pristine environments on the planet—the Galapagos. The irony is exceeded only by the tragedy of it all.

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Our tour guide was Fernando, the greeter from yesterday over whom B4 towers. She is feeling very tall here. "Old Town is closed," he told us, because of the "troubles." But all is not lost as Edison, our driver, weaves his way through the city and up a high hill to where we linger at the feet of the Virgin of Quito, an aluminum edifice stands atop the dome-shaped hill of El Panecillo. She is the "third largest statue of her kind." The first two are the Statue of Liberty in New York and Christ the Redeemer in Rio De Janeiro. B4 gets some shopping done here.

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Then, back down we go winding on the narrow serpentine roadways to be told, "Good News. The demonstrators have left Old Town." The obligatory stops are the Compañía de Jesús church with its gold leaf and the Basilica of the National Vow with its stained glass, gargoyles of animals of the Andes on one side and of the Galapagos on the other and a fine garden space that is quiet and peaceful and wonderful.

But, frankly, Quito is, for me at least, just another big Latin American city (estimated population 3,000,000 with up to 1,000,000 of those being refugees from Venezuela) and I see no reason to spend much time here. Back at the hotel we get a recommendation to have lunch at "Hasta la vuelta, Señor," a restaurant three blocks from the JW. 61fd10a0-ee72-11ec-a5c9-5f0df56b42ef.jpegI opted for the local favorite, Loco de papa, which is a creamy potato soup with soft cheese and avocado. It was good. B4 had the ceviche and then we had main courses of Seco de chino (Lamb stew with rice) and Seco de pollo (same thing but with chicken). None of that will go down as the highlight of our trip. The most interesting thing about Hasta la vuelta, Señor, is a reference to Manuel de Almeida Capillo, a Franciscan monk who escaped the monastery for non-priestlike fun, would be asked about staying in and remaining chaste, "Until when, Father Almeida?" The answer was, "Until the return, sir," which, translated, is now the name of this eatery. The story is much longer than that but neither you nor I have the patience for it.

We have the remainder of the day and evening to relax. The good news is that arriving back from our lunch, we passed by the Silversea Cruises hospitality desk and learned this news: "Everyone tested negative."

Later, the phone rings in JW Marriott Room 936. "Because of the protesters, we are changing our plan for transport to the airport tomorrow morning. Please be in the lobby at 6:50. We will depart at 7:00 sharp." Our LATAM flight is scheduled to depart at 10:26 and it is normally an easy 45 minute--or less--trip to the airport. They're clearly worried about another burning highway that might cause all their passengers to miss the only flight that will get this full compliment of guests to the ship. Talk about stress. For them. My guess is that the ship won't leave if none of its passengers have arrived.

Nobody here is talking about it but it got quite heated the day prior to our arrival: Here is a clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAQQH6NP7zc and here is some background: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVWornG48F0

Posted by paulej4 01:48 Archived in Ecuador Comments (2)

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