Galapagos Trip Galapagos Trip, 2013

Marguerite and Gar's Trip to Ecuador and Galapagos, August 2013

In August of 2013 Marguerite and her son Gar made a 10 day trip to honor Crawford Jackson, Gar's father, by exploring Darwin's "laboratory" aka Galapagos Islands, located about 650 miles west of Equador. Crawford had a PhD in Biology with a concentration in tortoise/turtles. Marguerite and Crawford spent many an hour in the swamps of Florida, and other locations, looking for critters. Crawford died in December of 2003, so this trip was to commemorate the 10th anniversary of his death. It was also to celebrate Marguerite's 70th birthday year and Gar's 45th birthday year.

Galapagos means saddle and/or tortoise in Spanish. Since the islands are close, one would think all the flora and fauna were the same, but they are not as Darwin discovered. Marguerite and Gar spend about 8 days on a cruise, with sufficient wine, discovering what Darwin discovered.

Darwin was part of an expedition on the HMS Beagle which landed in the Galapagos in 1835 and made discoveries that lead to his book, the Origin of Species in 1859. The Galapagos islands are made up of the largest island, Galapagos, also known as Isabela, and many smaller islands. Below are interesting facts concerning Darwin's time on the islands and the tortoise species that has the name Galapagos or Saddle Tortoise.

Marguerite's luxury cruise was part of the Celebrity Cruise Line adventures. It involved travel from the USA to Quito, Ecuador, two nights in Quito with a day sightseeing, and then air travel to Baltra, Galapagos to pick up their ship, the Celebrity Xpedition. The ship had 97 passengers and about 60 crew. A very nice ratio for a luxury cruise! The passengers included several families with teenage/young adult children and many couples of various ages. There were also several sets of friends (women and men). Because the ship was so small, we got to know just about everybody and several of the crew. The downside of a small ship is that the food is not quite up to par with the big cruise ships and it seemed to get more salty each day as they repurposed various dishes!!

The adventure consisted of visiting the islands via the cruise ship with land tours of the most interesting spots. So nice not to have to pack and unpack but visit new spots everyday.

Quito, Ecuador

We flew from San Diego to Quito, Ecuador, via Houston. Since the Galapagos are owned by Ecuador we had to connect at the Quito airport for our flight to Baltra, Galapagos, Ecuador. But first we got two days in Quito to explore. Quito's claim to fame is the equator which passes near this capital. They took us to a big monument area dedicated to the equator.

While in the city of Quito, we visited an old monastery with beautiful gardens. A naturalist guide was there selling books of photos of the wildlife in the Galapagos Islands. The books were $20 each and well worth it! Gar took a photo of Marguerite with the photographer. We also visited an old church with gargoyles of the Galapagos animals. Quite lovely. Our hotel was the JW Marriott and we were given an upgraded guest room that included access to a private club on the top floor. Unfortunately, Ecuadorian law says there can be no liquor, wine or beer sold on Sundays!!

Flight to Galapagos and our Ship

Our flight to Baltra was under two hours on AeroGal airlines. Once there, we got onto a small bus that took us to the dock were we found four Zodiacs (rubber boats) to transport us to our ship. The photo on the next row left is of the Celebrity Xpedition. Marguerite had arranged for cabin 604 on the top deck (deck 6) that had recently been remodeled. It was quite spacious and included a wonderful balcony with four lounge chairs. It was on the front of the ship and down below we could see the men raising and lowering the anchor and putting two Zodiacs on and off. There was a Jacuzzi nearby but it wasn't very hot so Gar only went in once. Food was served in a dining room on Deck 3 that included buffets for breakfast and lunch and a semi-formal four course dinner in the evening. We usually took about two hours for dinner that also included plenty of wine (trip was all inclusive for all food, wine, tips, and trips). There was also the "Discovery Lounge" were we spent a lot of time, and several outside decks for visiting and eating.

Exploring Islands

The highlights of the trip, of course, were visiting the islands. All visits were made in Zodiac boats and were either "dry" or "wet" landings. Dry landings meant we were to wear walking shoes; wet landings meant we were to get off in the water and needed water-safe sandals.

Monday: Santiago and Rabida Islands

The first day we visited Puerto Egas on Santiago Island, where a salt mining operation existed until the 1960s. We both walked along a trail and Gar also snorkeled. This island is famous for lots of sea lions and fur seals (a type of sea lion) and thousands of marine iguanas. Rabida island is pretty rocky and has much interesting wildlife, including Sally Lightfoot crabs. Gar went snorkeling on both islands and saw some very interesting underwater sights. Marguerite stayed dry on the beach!

We also saw many of the famous "Blue Footed Boobies" that really have bright blue feet, lots of pelicans, and some swimming marine iguanas. This is the only place in the world where iguanas can swim.

Tuesday: Elizabeth Bay and Tagus Cove, Isabela Island

Elizabeth Bay has lots of mangroves where sea turtles and other sea creatures can find shelter. We saw several sea turtles and flightless cormorant birds from the Zodiacs.

Tagus Cove provided shelter for wayfarers and was one of the areas visited by Charles Darwin in 1935. In the early afternoon, Gar did an advanced deep water snorkel and then took a strenuous hike up the side of a volcano to the site of Darwin's Lake. Marguerite took another Zodiac ride!

Wednesday: Santiago and Bartolome Islands

The morning hike was over a blackened landscape that is a geologic wonderland. Every step was hardened twists and turns of lava that flowed during a volcanic eruption in the 1900s. Marguerite used a walking stick and Gar stuck close by to make sure she didn't fall! There were very few living creatures and only a few lone cacti! In the afternoon Gar did another snorkel and Marguerite did a Zodiac ride around Bartolome Island.

Thursday: Santa Cruz and North Seymour Islands

This morning we did a beach walk and Gar snorkeled again. Bachas Beach on Santa Cruz Island comes from the mispronunciation of the word "barges" by the locals during the 1950s when WWII barges broke their moorings and ran aground on the beach. Residual pieces of iron were still evident on the beach. In the afternoon we visited North Seymour Island for another hike by Gar and Zodiac ride by Marguerite. Lots of frigatebirds live in colonies on this island. We also visited the ship's bridge that day and Gar sat in the Captain's chair looking out to sea with the binoculars.

Friday: San Cristobal Island

This morning we visited the small town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and the Interpretation Center to learn about local people and conservation. Fresh water is a very serious problem in the Galapagos and there are now three desalination plants on the larger islands. In the afternoon there was another hike on a sandy beach and more wildlife.

Saturday: Santa Cruz Island and the Tortoises

We spent the last day visiting the large Galapagos tortoises! First, we went to visit the free roaming giant tortoises in their natural habitat. In the afternoon we visited the Charles Darwin Research Station, Giant Tortoise Breeding Center, and the town of Puerto Ayora. The tortoises in their natural habitat were pretty quiet and didn't move much as it was early morning and a cool day. The breeding center is amazing. They have had tremendous success in breeding and raising giant tortoise offspring. Of the original 14 sub-species of giant tortoises, at least 4 sub-species are extinct. Lonesome George was a famous tortoise who died last year. He was the last of his kind. Sadly, Lonesome George never produced offspring. During the 1970s, the Darwin Center contacted the San Diego Zoo to see if they had a large male of a similar species who could come back to the Galapagos to breed. The Zoo sent "Diego" who has fathered over 2000 baby tortoises in the four decades and is still going strong! The Darwin Center collects the eggs, incubates them in sand (no heat!) and when they hatch, tends them carefully for 6 years after which they are returned to their natural habitats. When we stopped for refreshments, one of the ladies on the trip got inside a tortoise shell for a photo -- it gives you an idea of how large these creatures really are!

As an extra bonus you see two panoramic photos of our adventure taken by Gar's iPhone camera. In the Volcano Island photo you can see Marguerite, third from right in the foreground, being careful not to twist her ankle. In the Ocean View photo, taken from our balcony, you can see we were always within sight of an island or two on this adventure.

Gar Snorkeling

Gar bought an underwater camera on board so he could take some photos underwater. He went snorkeling 6 times using the wet suit provided by the ship. Below are some of the photos he took.

The Last Night and Coming Home on Sunday

On the last night we had a gala celebration dinner. We usually sat at the same table in the corner with several of the friends we made on the trip. There were 10 seats and a good time was had by all! On Sunday morning we got up, were out of the room by 8, had breakfast, then waited to be picked up by the Zodiacs for the return trip to the dock, the bus to the airport, and the trip home.

The Ship's Crew

The ship's crew were all very nice and helpful. The top left photo is of the Captain and two other senior staff. In the middle are two more senior staff, and the musician who played guitar and helped coordinate "talent night" where several guests performed. Next to him is the Cruise Director, Jorge, who was in charge of all activities and the Naturalists. On the right are the wait staff and buffet staff. All excellent! On the bottom row, left, are the kitchen crew, the cabin crew, and other helpers. In the middle bottom are the Naturalists. Each Naturalist could lead a group with no more than 16 guests at one time. All Naturalists must either be born or married to someone born in the Galapagos Islands. They are required to speak English well and all are native Spanish speakers. One of them, Marvi, (third from left) lived in Poway, California, from the ages of 8-18. His father had married an American woman and he lived with them during high school. After that, he returned to the Galapagos and took specialized training to become a Naturalist. He told us that all of the Naturalists have to take courses regularly to stay up-to-date and are trained by the National Park Service. They are hired by various cruise lines and individuals. Nobody is allowed to visit the Islands without one of the trained Naturalists as a guide so as to protect the integrity of the islands and prevent theft of endangered species! On the right bottom is the Ecuadorian flag (yellow, blue, red).

The Adventure Home

After returning to Quito, we went back to the JW Marriott Hotel to freshen up as our plane was supposed to leave at midnight. They gave us a lovely room and we made a brief final shopping trip mid-afternoon. During dinner we learned the plane was delayed and we wouldn't leave until 2 AM! We went to the airport and "hung out" in the VIP lounge waiting to leave. We finally got away by 3 AM. Marguerite had arranged for First Class upgrades on all the flights except the one from Quito where there was only one seat available. She gave the seat to Gar so that he would truly have a totally "first class experience"!! We finally got back to Houston where we had a couple of hours in the United Club before we got back to San Diego after noon on Monday. This was a wonderful and awesome trip that Marguerite and Gar will remember always.

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