Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Bus Pass

Great News!  I'm not actually old enough for a bus pass after all.  I'm not sure if I should be pleased about this news or somewhat miffed.

After a rather cold and windy walk round Brayford Pool to City Hall this afternoon, I was rather surprised to be ushered straight in to see a consultant in Customer Services.  I handed over my completed bus pass application form, my passport to prove my age and a Council Tax bill to prove my address.   I thought it was all too easy!

It seems that since April 2011, the age you need to be to get a bus pass has increased in line with decision to change the starting age for womens pensions, quite how the two are linked, I'm not sure.  Seems that I have to wait until I am 61 years 7 months and 8 days old before I qualify.

Methinks its time to get my bicycle serviced.......

Monday, December 12, 2011


12 December 2011

Hey-ho, back in Lincoln again after a 4 week sojourn to South America.  There is a mound of dirty laundry now, so the washing-machine is going to earning its keep this week!  The bags are back in the attic and the pictures down-loaded from the camera onto the computer.  Now all we have to do is start planning the next adventure!

The weather is distinctly cool and damp, so walking into town didn't appeal to me this afternoon.  Having got on the bus and payed for a return fare, I suddenly remembered that I no longer needed to pay - I'm off down to City-Hall tomorrow to acquire my much joked about bus pass!  I down-loaded a form entitled, 'Elderly Person' and realised that it referred to me.  Clearly, in Lincolnshire, being aged 60 is officially to be elderly.  On one hand, I'm not an OAP as a state pension is still some five years in the future, however, in terms of transport, I qualify as a doddery old git.  I'm just looking forward to 'young people' giving up their seats on the bus for me.

The best thing today was a visit to the dentist which lasted approximately 30 seconds.  The dentist and I parted amiably, me with cheque-book still in pocket and the dentist with an unexpected 15 minute coffee-break!

Having composed a considerable travel journal over the past weeks, of questionable quality,  is it satisfying to see that several people have read my scribblings.  I don't feel that I am ever going to challenge the Bill Brysons of this world, but I have enjoyed recording our travels.  If you have any constructive comments to help me improve my efforts, I'd be very happy to receive them.

Friday, December 9, 2011

London - Bristol

09 December 2011

We woke up at 9.45 - what a great nights sleep!  Shortly afterwards, we were heading west down the M4 for Bristol.  Traffic was fairly light, so it didn't take long.

Back in Bristol, we found a small white dog sound asleep!  He didn't stay asleep for long though.  I think he was pleased to see us!

We had a great holiday in South America and would love to go back to see some more of the continent.  We thoroughly enjoyed what we had seen of Ecuador, but our highlights were probably the jungle and cloudforest despite the fact that we were expecting the Galapagos to be the best.

In the Galapagos, we saw just about every bird that you can, with the exception of the Flightless Cormorant (which is only seen on one island that we didn't visit), we saw just about every mammal and amphibian and reptile that inhabits the islands so there were no suprise sightings.  This was contrasted in the Jungle and Cloudforest where you never knew what you were going to see each day.

Nonetheless, it was a wonderful experience and now we are back, Christmas is looming, so no time for rest!

Quito - Amsterdam - London

08 December 2011

Unsuprisingly, I managed to sleep quite well on the flight, whilst Lynn didn't!  I woke up about 2 hours before we were due to land feeling fairly refreshed.

The weather over UK and at Amsterdam was very overcast so we didn't see much until we were about to touch down.  After a very long taxi, the aircraft arrived at the terminal and we all got off.  The airport was decorated for Christmas and very busy.  We managed to get some Euros and went to get a coffee.

Our next flight to London was due to leave 1 hour and 45 minutes later, so we didn't have long to hang around.  We were taken to the aircraft on a bus, and once out of the bus could feel how windy it was.  Once on the flight, the captain informed us that there were delays at Heathrow and we would have to sit in the aircraft at Schipol for 30 minutes.  Some passengers were clearly unhappy with this news!

Finally, we took off and headed out across the North Sea to London.  Once in the London area, the captain came back on the intercom and said that we would have to circle for about 30 minutes before we could land.  It was a shame the cloud was so low as we were over the city by then.  Apparently, when the weather is poor at Heathrow, including very windy, the number of flights that can land every minute is decreased.  Usually, a flight lands every 20 seconds, but today it was every 40 seconds.

Once we had landed we were quickly off the aircraft and went to immigration and baggage collection.  At immigration, we were able to use the new automatic machines and then went off to collect our baggage.  One of the bags was damaged, so we stopped to report it the airline representative.  Hopefully, we will get a replacement bag later.

We grabbed a taxi from the airport to the hotel, and despite the heavy traffic, the cabbie managed to get us there quite quickly.  We checked in and then I went to find the car, but it had been moved whilst we had been away!  With the help of the staff, I found the car and loaded one of our bags into it.

We both had a shower and freshed up, what a great feeling!  After our long flight, my teeth felt as if they were furry too - urgh! After over three weeks of not being able to use tapwater to clean our teeth, it was a great to be able to do so in UK.  A beer and a small meal later saw us heading for bed after a very long day/night.

Quito - Amsterdam

07 Dec 2011

Fantastic news, Lynn is feeling considerably better than yesterday, so, following breakfast, the first job was to pack our bags for home.were getting good at packing now, so it didn't take long to fill all three bags.  That done, we decided to take a taxi up to the Mariscal area of the city.  The Mariscal, the shopping centre of the newer part of the city, straddles a road called Amazonas and is full of small shops and an artisan market.  It took the taxi driver some while to get us there, but the fare was still less than $2!

We wandered around the shops and then the artisan market before stopping for a coffee.  The coffee in Ecuador is very good, which is hardly suprising as it is grown and processed in the country.  A good cup will set you back about a dollar.  Chocolate, another Ecuadorian export, is also very, very good!

We were back in the taxi to the hotel by 12.00 and I then popped out for some cash, last minute shopping and lunch from Subway!

We checked out sometime after 2.00 and sat in the hotel lobby and waited for our transport to the airport.  It was somewhat delayed as traffic was particularly heavy.

Quito airport was a revelation today as we were at International departures!  This was an area of calm compared with our previous encounters at the Domestic part of the airport and we quickly checked in and made our way through security.  There were lots of shops to browse, but all very really very expensive.

Our aircraft arrived from Amsterdam on time and we boarded quite quickly onto a half empty aircraft.  Soon we were leaving Quito and heading in the opposite direct to Amsterdam to the Pacific coast city of Guayaquil.  Here the remaining passengers left the flight whilst we remained on board.

An army of cleaners then descended on the aircraft and started tidying up from the flight from Amsterdam.  Meanwhile, the aircraft was refuelled for the flight home.  With the aircraft doors all open, it was easy to feel how warm it was, 85 degrees at 6.00 in the evening!

The aircraft left on time, at around 8.00 in the evening local time, and we started heading back towards Amsterdam.  Our route was to take us up the Ecuadorian Coast, then across Columbia and Venezuela, over the Dutch Antilles and out in the Atlantic Ocean.  Later it would next cross land in West Wales, overfly London and finally descend into Amsterdam with a flight time of 10 hours 45 minutes.

The flight was fairly empty, so we occupied two rows of seats at the back of the aircraft, in order to be able to stretch out overnight!


06 December 2011

Quitos Birthday today - public holiday

Well after three weeks of being fit and healthy, Lynn woke up feeling very grotty this morning, grotty enough to stay in bed.  I felt fine and went down to a solitary breakfast.  The city is very quiet this morning, presumably sleeping off the partying from last night.  It is also a Public Holiday to celebrate 'Navidad de Quito'.

Back in the room, Lynn tried to sleep in order to feel better, the healing process wasn't helped by the music from Carolina Park which appeared to start at 11.00 with some 'Heavy Metal' bands screeching at full volume.

By lunchtime, it was clear that Lynn still wasn't feeling any better, although her temperature had gone down a little, so we asked the hotel for a doctor.  When I enquired about charges, so I could go to the cash machine, the hotel informed me it was free, all part of the hotel service.  How good is that?

A female doctor eventually appeared and prescribed a couple of drugs and also gave a free injection to ease the fever.  Hotel staff then offered to go to the pharmacy, but when they said that they were going just across the street, I went myself.  Despite the Public Holiday, the chemist was open and fearing the worse financially, I got the presciption.  Much to my suprise, the bill only came to $7 - I think I'm living in the wrong country!  Cheap prescriptions, fuel at $1 a gallon, this is the place to be!

I managed to catch up with the backlog of blogging that had built up.  The backlog had built up because there was no internet access in the jungle, none on the boat and none in the cloudforest, which accounted for 11 days.

Lynn continued to rest, but managed to eat a ham sandwich from Subway for lunch.

Later in the evening, I walked to TGI Friday for dinner by myself as it was the closest and easiest option.

At around 9.00 in the evening, there was a tremendous firework display in Carolina Park, and although we couldn't see the display, we could certainly hear it.  We caught glimpses of it reflected in the windows of the building behind the hotel, and the echoes made it very noisy.

Fingers crossed, Lynn is showing signs of improvement, so hopefully after a good nights sleep, she will be fit enough for the long flight home tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Bellavista Cloud Forest - Quito

05 Dec 2011

After a very peaceful nights sleep, I was up just before 6.00 just as it was getting light.We had arranged for an early morning bird walk and everyone was ready by 6.15.  We didn't get far initially, just the car park where we found several Masked Trogon and Toucan Barbet.

View at dawn from our room at Bellavista Lodge

Walking around the grounds of the lodge, we also saw two types of Woodcreepers, Cinnamon Flycatchers, Blue-winged Mountain Tanagers and White-sided Flowerpiercers.  We also briefly climbed up a track to a viewpoint which turned out to be the lodge campsite!  The view over the mountains was outstanding.

A rather blurry Masked Trogon

Back at the lodge, it was time for a shower and breakfast.

A very handsome Toucan Barbet

After breakfast,  Lynn and I walked up the road for a while.  We didn't see any birds, but did photograph several very pretty butterflies and some flowers.  At the lodge, there are lots of hummingbird feeders, so there is a constant flow of these beautiful birds coming in to feed.  The smallest, a bee hummingbird, never even lands at the feeder.

Bee Hummingbird

We then went back to the lodge where Lynn set up tripod and camera in our room with the windows wide open, whilst I went for a more adventurous walk by myself.  I walked about 2 kilometres up the road, and then turned off onto a track.  I followed the most obvious track which took me onto the top of a ridge in a grassy sort of field where cows had clearly been grazing recently.  The views from here were magnificent.

View from the top of the mountain

After a while, I found a new signpost which showed that I was on the wrong path, so I had to backtrack all the way back to the road.  After hunting around, I found the 'Yumbo' trail and headed into deep primary rainforest.  There were lots of birds around, but mostly very difficult to see.  After about 20 minutes, I branched off down another path heading toward a waterfall.  The path was marked as difficult and was steep, slippery and all downhill.  Toward the bottom of the path rope handrails had been installed as the path was near vertical.  Finally, at the bottom, I found a beautiful waterfall and took the chance to splash some icy-cold water on my face as I was somewhat warm and sweaty.

Cloudforest waterfall

After a few photos, I set up back up the path.  I hauled myself up the ropes and then started uphill.  Even though the altitude was a bit less than Quito, it was still hard on the lungs.  Rounding one steep corner, I came face-to-face with a Chesnut-crowned Antpitta, it quickly scuttled off into the undergrowth.  As the path was so poor, I had but my camera away - shame!  Shortly afterwards, I was very pleased to see the road as I knew it was an easy 2 kilometres downhill from there.

Blue-winged Mountain Tanager

After lunch at the lodge, we packed again and got ready to leave.  Our small party of 'Brits' had managed to persuade the drivers that we wanted to travel together so that we could consign the noisy Americans to a different minibus!

The journey back down the mountain dirt track wasn't too unpleasant and we eventually reached the main road again and started wind back uphill.  We encountered some major roadworks at one stage and sat outide a very basic restaurant for about 15 minutes.  I couldn't (and probably wouldn't want to) tell you what was being cooked up right in front of us.  Certainly the cut of meat was unidentifiable, suffice it say that it was probably pork.

Back in Quito it was rush hour and fiesta was still ongoing, so traffic was a nightmare.  We finally got back to the hotel after 5.00.

Neither of us was feeling particularly hungry, so we went to the nearby Japanese restaurant again.  The noise from the music in Carolina Park was spectacular again.  We also saw several more 'party buses'cruising around.

Quito - Bellavista Cloud Forest

04 Dec 2011

We were up well before 6.00 and were at breakfast shortly afterwards.  We abandoned two of our bags at the hotel and slightly early, our transport arrived to take us to Bellavista Cloud Forest Lodge.

There were already two German ladies on the minibus and the driver said we had to pick up four more passengers.   We drove out of the city centre into a residential area where the driver had great difficulty finding the correct address for the pick-up.  Eventually, we found it and two Americans climbed into the minibus, one of whom then directed the driver to another address, where we waited for another American women to get in.  From here, were went to yet another address for a fourth American.  By now we had been in the bus for close to an hour and were running late.

As we headed north out of Quito one of the American women starting talking, loudly - she never stopped!  We discovered in the space of the next 2 hours her entire life story, her family relations, every job she had ever done, boyfriends she'd had.  She didn't like Quito, where she was teaching English and the air was too thin for her.  She was so pleased we were descending so she could get more oxygen!  I wanted to suggest that if she shut her mouth and stopped talking she might get more oxygen (and give us some peace).

North of the City, we crossed the Equator yet again, this time into the Northern Hemisphere. The Ecuadorians have built a sort of theme park on the Equator called 'La Mitad del Mundo' or 'The Middle of the World'.  There is a large monument here to celebrate lattitude 00 degrees.  I  believe that in fact it has been found to be 7 seconds of a degree to the south of the line, about 240 metres away, but who cares!

From here our route took us over a low pass and then followed a very deep valley down through the foothills of the Andes.  Eventually, after about 90 kilometres, we reached a dirt road turn off and started heading back up hill to the lodge.  The road climbed for 14 kilometres on an unsurfaced road high up into the hills.  About 30 minutes later we reached the lodge.

The lodge was built by an Englishman and his partner about 20 years ago on the site of an old cattle and horse farm.  The vegetation is starting take over again which surrounds the hotch-potch of buildings all built from local woods.  We were accommodated up a very narrow circular staircase in the Mirador Suite.  The room had a lounge with a couple of sofas and large sliding windows, a small kitchenette, and bedroom with large sliding windows and a shower room.  There were no curtains and there was nobody to overlook us!

All the rooms are different at the lodge, some in the main building, some in two houses a 100 metres away and some about the restaurant.

We had a second breakfast, and decided that whatever the Americans were doing, we would go in opposite directions as we were so fed up their constant gabbling - we'd never see any birds with them around.

Two guides offered to different walks in the cloud forest, the Americans elected to go to their rooms and the rest of us, some we had been on the Galapagos Voyager with, split into two small groups and set off into the forest.  Lynn stayed at the lodge to do some static bird-watching and photography.

Tutu flower - much loved by hummingbirds

All the trails were very narrow, some quite steep and many very slippery.  The cloud forest is very different to the Amazon basin forest as the trees are lower and more light reaches the forest floor, thus there is more vegetation.  It felt very 'jungly'.

We were lucky and saw Toucans, fly-catchers, warblers and best of all Masked Trogon, a very bright red bird.  After a couple of hours we returned to the lodge for break and lunch.

A rather distant view of a Plate-billed Mountain Toucan

The restaurant was built as a geodesic dome with the dining room and bar on the ground floor, 3 guest rooms up a spiral bamboo staircase on the first floor, a further 6 beds on the second floor reached by a ladder and three further beds even further up the ladder at the top of the building!

A Hummingbird

After lunch, some of our group from the Galapagos, were returning to Quito after their brief day visit to the lodge so we said goodbye to them before our small group headed down the road for another walk.  we walked about a kilometre down the dirt road and then climbed back up 500 metres on a very steep, narrow track to the lodge.  At first, the bird life was almost non-existant, but towards the end of the walk we saw lots, including Woodcreepers and Woodpeckers.

Booted Racket-tail - a very small hummingbird

Back at the lodge, we sat outside and watched the Hummingbirds on the feeders.  There were at least 14 different species, some so small they were barely bigger than a bee.  They are quite unworried about their audience and everyone was trying to get good photos of them.  They are a difficult subject as their wings are beating so fast and they dart around so much.

Violet-tailed Sylph - a spectacular hummingbird

At dinner, the Americans seemed determined to drown out any conversation, the only people to attempt to compete with them were four German ladies!  We headed back to our room to read, catch up with blogging and then went to bed.

Galapagos Islands - Quito

03 December 2011

My 60th birthday!  After a very peaceful night at anchor in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, we all woke up refreshed, but sorry that we were going to have to leave the boat.  We did our final packing and went to breakfast, where Lynn organised all the passengers into singing 'Happy Birthday' to me - very touching!  The Captain even came to congratulate me!

Male Frigate bird over the Galapagos Voyager

Not long after breakfast, our bags were loaded on a dinghy and taken ashore.  After saying a final goodbye to the crew, we too were loaded into the dinghys one last time to go ashore.

Female Frigate bird over Galapagos Voyager

On the shore, we were reunited with our bags and loaded onto a bus for our journey back to the airport at Baltra.  On the way, we stopped a twin collapsed volcanic craters for a look.  They were quite an impressive sight.  Then it was back on the bus and onward toward the airport.

The road from the summit of Santa Cruz, Baltra Island in distance

As before, we had to get off the bus with our luggage and load ourselves, and baggage, onto the small ferry that sails between Santa Cruz and Baltra islands.  At the far side, it was off the ferry, make sure our bags were loaded onto a lorry then jump on a small bus up to the airport.

At the airport, we again collected our bags and headed for the chaos of check-in.  To be fair, it could have been a lot worse and after about 30 minutes we were safely ensconced in the departure lounge waiting for our flight to arrive.

The flight was on time, and this time we didn't go via Guayaquil so it was a much quicker journey back to Quito where we were met by someone from the Andean Travel Company.

Our trip back to the hotel was somewhat difficult as there were parades going on to mark the foundation of Quito.  This festival goes on for a couple of weeks reaching its peak on 06 December.

We went out to dinner to Tony Romas for ribs and shrimps, the restaurant was quiet but the food very good.  On the way back in the taxi, we drove past Carolina Park where dozens of giant statues of Hummingbirds had been erected.  All were decorated in different colours and hoards of people were wandering around looking at them. On the roads, in addition to the usual traffic, there were loads of 'party buses' cruising around.  These buses often had a band on the roof, passengers in the trucks and more on platforms suspended from the back of each lorry.  There was very loud music from a concert in Carolina Park too.

Once back at the hotel, we could still hear the concert so we closed our window and put the airconditioning on.  Sometime after midnight the concert ended!

What a great birthday, breakfast on a boat in the Galapagos Islands, lunch on a plane crossing the Andes and dinner in the middle of a fiesta in Quito - one to remember!

Santiago and Bartolome Islands

02 December 2011

Our overnight journey south across the Equator again was long and rough with the boat pitching and rolling all night.  In the morning we found ourselves in calmer seas anchored close to the small island of Bartolome.  This island is relatively new, and mainly consists of volcanic cones with little or no vegetation on it.

Penguin watching on Bartolome

Straight out of bed, we clambered into the dinghys and went out looking for Galapagos Penguins.  There is a small breeding colony on Bartolome and we found them fairly quickly.  We all mananged to take a few photographs from the dinghys before the penguins flung themselves into the water to start their daily feeding session.

Galapagos Penguins

Back on Galapagos Voyager, we had breakfast and sorted ourselves our for our next expedition.  Meanwhile the boat had moved closer to neighbouring Santiago Island.

Galapagos Penguin

We had a 'wet landing' at Sullivan bay on the island and went out to explore the lava formations.  It was very hot walking around on the lava, not from the lava, but from the sun!  There were ropes of lava, pools of lava, spatter-cones and collapsed lava bubbles, all very interesting, but very dry and arid.

Lava Ropes with vegetation trying to take hold

Back on the beach at Sullivan Bay, we were very pleased to go snorkelling to cool down.  As usual, there were plenty of reef fish swimming around.  Some of our party saw a turtle and one lucky soul saw a penguin swimming underwater.After cooling down in the water, we headed back to the boat for an early lunch.  We have a long sail ahead of us this afternoon back to Santa Cruz.

After lunch we got back in the dinghys and had a 'dry landing' on Bartolome.  A walkway has been built from the shore all the way to the summit of the volcano.  It was quite a steep climb, but the views on the way up and from the top were well worth it.  After several photo stops, we headed back down to the jetty, got on the dinghys and headed back to the boat.

Galapagos Voyager from Bartolome Island

Before we had even reached the boat, it had pulled up the anchor and come across to meet us. Once on board, the dinghys were hoisted up onto the boat and we headed off.

View from the summit of Bartolome

Our route took us from Bartolome, around to the north of Baltra, through the sound between Baltra and Seymour and then down the east coast of Santa Cruz.  Most of us sat in the loungers on the middle deck and kept our eyes open for whales, dolphins and birds!  Whilst we didn't see any of the first two, we did, as usual, have an escort of frigate birds follow us most of the way.  They cruise just about the boat and exactly the same speed.  One eventually came and landed on edge of one of the dinghys, right alongside us!

Male Frigate bird

We had a final evening briefing at 6.30 and said our goodbyes to the crew and then ate dinner whilst the boat was still sailing.  Fortunately, it was a fairly smooth sea!

Not long after dinner, we anchored up in Santa Cruz harbour from where we had set off a week previously.  There were offers to run us ashore, but everyone declined as we had packing to do.  As usual, everyone headed from bed fairly early, know that it would be a quiet and stable night moored in the harbour!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Genovesa Island

01 Dec 2011

Boats at anchor in the Genovesa flooded caldera

Overnight, we crossed the equator back into the northern hemisphere, just!  We are just a few minutes north of the line in the flooded caldera that is Genovesa Island.  Apart from the entrance, we are almost entirely surround by land.

Prince Philip's Steps

After breakfast, it's the usual routine, grab cameras, binoculars, drinking water, sun-block and trainers and into the dinghys.  Our landing point is Prince Philip Steps,named after his Royal Highness following his visit in the 1960s.  This was to be our first encounter with Reds-footed Boobies who nest in low bushes.  They are rather comical with blue face and bill and bright red feet.  We also saw lots of Blue-footed Boobies and Nazca Boobies, the latter mainly white with a black mask on their face.  Also nesting were Frigate birds and we even saw a Short-Eared Owl, hiding in the rocks.  The owls mainly eat the Galapagos Shearwaters, of which there were tens of thousands flying around the island. Shearwaters nest in holes, so the owls sit outside the holes.

Short-eared Owl

The birds on these islands have no fear of predators, so often you have to step over them as they are on the path, they also nest in bushes at eye-level along the path, so nature is really in your face here.

Blue-footed Booby

After lunch, we were taken across the caldera in the dinghys to a low cliff,  Here, we heaved ourselves over the side and went snorkelling, primarily looking for Hammerhead Sharks.  There were lots of familiar reef fish here and eventually, we found a Hammerhead cruising just below us, a magnificent sight!

Nazca Booby

Our guide was feeling cold at this stage so he got back in the dinghy, whilst we started snorkelling back to our start point.  Because the snorkelling site is on the inside walls of the flooded volcano, the walls just disappear down into the gloom, but sometime where the wall had collapsed, we could see the bottom and found a school of Manta Rays just below us, we were so lucky.

Back to the boat for lunch and after a break we headed back to the shore, this time at Darwin Bay where we went for a brief walk along the cliff and saw all the usual boobies, Herons and Frigate Birds.  When we arrived back at the beach, we went snorkelling again, but it wasn't as good as the morning snorkel.  That said, we did get to swim with four, two-metre long, White-Tipped Reef Sharks, who were only a metre or two away from us.  As usual, they weren't really interested in us, but it is the only time I've snorkelled with them, usually I've seen them whilst diving!

Red-footed Booby

Back on the boat, we have dinner and prepare ourselves for another long overnight cruise.

Santa Cruz and Baltra Islands

30 Nov 2011

We are getting used to the long overnight cruises, but we don't sleep particularly well, especially when the boat rolls and we think we are going to be flung out of bed!  The pitching isn't so bad, although sometimes when your head is below the height of your feet, it feels a bit weird.

Dawn at Santa Cruz Island

This morning, after breakfast, we landed on Bacha Beach on northern Santa Cruz Island.  we found Pelicans, Whimbrels, Sanderlings, Common Noddies, Flamingos, Pin-tailed Ducks and Great Herons. We also encounter a large, noisy group of American tourist that provided us with some entertainment!


Back on the boat, we sailed across to Baltra Island where the boat was refuelled.  We were confined to our cabins whilst this is going on for safety reasons!

Great Heron

After lunch, we arrived back off the coast of Santa Cruz at Black Turtle Creek.  We got into the dinghys and after a rather 'hairy' chase through the surf and around the rocks we entered the sheltered lagoon,and our boatmen took us around the brackish waters of the creeks that are surrounded by mangroves.  There were plenty of Night Herons, but most people were fascinated to see Turtles mating in the shallow waters.  Apparently the mating process takes several hours with the males clinging on to the backs of the females, whilst other hopeful males circle the couple!

Female Turtle

Also in the mangrove lakes we saw several large Rays and White-Tipped Reef Sharks, I had no idea Reef Sharks frequented such shallow lagoons!

Lava Heron

Back on board ship we had dinner and the boat immediately pulled up the anchor for another long overnight cruise.  Some time around midnight, we will cross the equator back into the Northern Hemisphere.

Leon Dormida and San Cristobal Islands

29 Nov 2011

After another long overnight cruise, we arrived at Leon Dormida Island, just off the coast of San Cristobal Island.  Most people are becoming acclimatised to the boat now, and most managed a decent nights sleep, despite the slight swell.

The boat hadn't anchored and we slowly cruised around the impressive lava cliffs of Leon Dormida, or Sleeping Lion in spanish.  We had been expecting loads of sea birds to be nesting on the cliffs, but the birds don't really have predators, so most nest in low bushes or on the ground. We did see a few Blue-footed Boobies and Frigate birds roosting in bushes though.

Leon Dormida Island

We then had breakfast whilst the boat cruised on to Puerto Baquarizo Moreno on southern San Cristobal Island.  This is quite a big port and we came ashore onto a jetty in the middle of town.  A bus was waiting to take us to the Interpretation Centre where we learned more about the formation of the islands, the colonisation by birds, animals and plants and finally a bit about the human history of the islands, including inevitably Charles Darwin.

Puerto Baquarizo Moreno - San Cristobal

Back in town we were free to wander around for an hour or so, and most took the chance to visit the tourist shops on the sea-front and have a beer or coffee.  We ate an icecream sitting on bench by the sea, with two Sea-Lions sound asleep underneath the bench next to us!

Basking Sea-Lion on the Promenade

We had lunch on board, then returned to the port and a trip to a beach just outside town for some snorkelling.  The sea was quite rough and the bay a bit stony, but immediately I put my head in the water I encountered a large female Turtle.  As I swam around I found two more turtles cruising around in the shallow water.  As usual, we shared the beach with Sea-Lion.  The dominant Bull cruises up and down the beach, sometimes lurching up on to shore if it spots another male trying to sneak in for a look at his harem of female Sea-Lions.

Bull Sea-Lion - beach-master

We did see a tourist deciding to rush into the water for a swim, whilst the male was passing.  The bulls can be aggressive, but in this instance got close enough to frighten the errant swimmer.

Passengers from Galapagos Voyager landing at the jetty

After an hour of lazing in the beach, we headed back into town and hopped on the dinghys back to the boat.

Espanola Island

28 Nov 2011

Following an overnight cruise, we woke up next to Punta Suarez on Espanola Island. I say woke up, but I suspect that many people didn't sleep well on the first overnight cruise.  No matter, we survived, which is as well as we have several more nights of cruising ahead of us.

Our cabin was one of two double-bedded cabins on the boat and was located on the starboard side of the boat on the main deck.  The windows above the deck looked out to the bow of the boat.  The side windows looked onto the outside passage-way running along the side of boat.  As well as a double bed, we had a small cupboard, some drawers under the bed and a small shower-room with loo and washbasin in it.  Due to the size of the boat, one side of the bed was against a wall (my side of the bed!).

There were 4 cabins, two doubles and two twins, on this deck as well as the dining room and lounge area. Right at the stern, there was an open fantail deck which we used for getting on and off dinghys.  On the deck above, were a further four twin-bed cabins, the bridge and a covered sun deck at the stern.  Above this, was an open sun deck with loungers and the all-important washing-line!  Some days our boat looked a bit like a floating laundry.

Waved-Albatross Chick - a handsome little critter! 

After breakfast, we boarded our dinghy and headed for Punta Suarez on Espanola Island, one of the most southerly of the islands we will visit.  Our walk on island included seeing myriads of marina Iguanas, Nazca Boobies, Sea-lions, Waved Albatrosses, Espanola Mockingbirds, and several Galapagos Hawks.  The Waved Albatrosses only nest on this island and it is the end of the breeding season, so it was wonderful to see them and their horribly ugly babies.  We also saw a couple of adults going through the courtship rituals, but they won't mate this year as they are due to leave for the ocean-wandering life-style next month.

Adult Waved-Albatross

The photographers amongst us, have at last moved on from 'snapping' every cute baby bird/crab/seal immediately they step on shore and we are all getting a little blase about stepping over and around birds/crabs/iguanas that have absolutely no fear of humans.

Male Marine Iguana - or a Doctor Who character

Back on board the ship, lunch was served as we cruised to Gardiner Bay, then after time for lunch to digest, it was across to the beach for some snorkelling.  We had the thrill of snorkelling with Sea-Lions, although it is a little unnerving to see a grey shape heading toward you underwater.  They were just curious and never really got close to us.  We also saw quite a lot a large Rays as well.

Galapagos Mockingbird about to take up snorkelling

Back on ship we relaxed on deck until dinnertime.  Following dinner most people went to bed fairly early to catch up with sleep, and to attempt to get to sleep before we started moving again.

Santa Cruz Island - South Plaza Island - Santa Fe Island

27 Nov 2011

Our slumbers on board were rudely disturbed at 3.00 with the ships anchor being pulled up and the chain being stored directly under our cabin!  We slept fitfully, as we continued cruising until 6.00 when the anchor went back down.

Galapagos Voyager moored at South Plaza Island

At breakfast at 7.00, this was to become routine breakfast time, we found ourselves anchored alongside South Plaza Island.  On the low cliffs we could see lots of sea-birds roosting and overhead, Frigate Birds and one or two Red-Billed Tropic-birds.

Not long after breakfast, we did a 'dry-landing' on South Plaza island and made the acquaintance of Galapagos Sea-lions.  'Dry landing' meant our inflatable dinghy pulling up to a jetty/steps/rocks so we could step off in trainers.

Sally-Lightfoot Crab

After a walk with our guide, Williams, we returned to the boat with cameras full of pictures of birds, Sally-lighfoot Crabs and Land Iguanas.

Male Land Iguana in breeding colours

The boat then sailed to Santa Fe Island whilst we had lunch.

After lunch, it was into the dinghy and off to Barrington Bay where we had a 'wet-landing'.  This entailed reversing the dinghy into a beach, then all of us clambering out into the sea to walk up onto the beach.  During this landing, we started to get to know the 'foibles'of some of our fellow guests.  Watching someone hopping around on a sandy beach trying to rinse sand of feet, dry feet, put socks on and then lace up trainers did provide some amusement!

Bull Sea-Lion guarding his beach

Shortly after getting out of the boat a male Sea-Lion charged up the beach to inspect us and make lots of noise to impress his rivals!  After a short walk around, we had the chance to snorkel. The water was cool, but the visibility was good and we saw lots of reef fish, Parrot-fish, Bump-head Wrasse, Giant Damselle fish, Puffer fish and Sergeant-majors.

Back on the boat we had a chance to relax before dinner with a beer.  We then attended the 6.30 briefing, during which Williams told us the plans for the next 24 hours.  After this we had a three-course dinner, which once again was excellent.  Not long after dinner, the anchor came up and we we headed for Espanola Island, a seven hour overnight cruise away.  The sea was a little choppy, and several people started to suffer from sea-sickness.

Quito - Galapagos Islands

26 Nov 2011

Quito - Galapagos

5.30 is a great time of the morning - oh yes it is!  Another trip back to the airport awaited us after breakfast, but at least as it was weekend, the traffic was a little less mad.

Quito airport made up for it in spades though!  Check in reminded me of a rock concert just after they open the doors and everyone is trying to get to the front by the stage.  After some searching, we did find there were a number of what might have been queues, but no visual sign about which desk was handling which flight. There were flights to Cuenca, Coca, Guayaquil and Baltra all leaving at roughly the same time.  People for the earliest flight to Cuenca were behind us and they were sometimes helped by officials to get to the front of the scrum.  Suddenly, our 'queue' started moving and we managed to pick up boarding passes and check in our luggage.  By this time it was less than 30 minutes before our flight was due to leave and we still had security to deal with.

Once in the departure lounge, we heard that final boarding for our flight was taking place, so we rushed straight through and out onto the tarmac where there were 2 aircraft.  Luckily, we got the right one, because there was no obvious signs as to which was going where.

Amazingly, the flight almost left on time and we headed to Guayaquil some 30 minutes flying time away.  Guayaquil lies on the Pacific coast and is Ecuadors biggest city.  Once there, we stayed on the aircraft whilst many others left the flight.  The cleaners came on and cleaned around us and then quickly they started boarding more passengers.

New arrivals include a noisy party of South Koreans, but soon after we were airborne for the 2 hour flight out into the Pacific to the Galapagos Islands.  Also on our flight was a huge party from Tupperware who were on a day trip to the Galapagos! I wonder how much they had to sell to get a 'jolly' like that?

We had excellent views of some of the islands as we came in to land, the sea was an electric blue colour.  Once off the aircraft, we were carefully checked in to make sure that we'd payed our National Park Entrance Fee of $100. 

The main airport in the Galapagos is at Baltra, an airfield built by the Americans during the 2nd World War mainly to be able to defend the Panaman Canal not too far to the north.  The island is very flat and the foundations and ruins of the enormous airbase are still easily visible.

Arrivals was just a largish shed (perhaps I'm doing it a disfavour here) and luggage was moved into the shed on tractors and trailers. It was then uncermoniously dumped on the floor and a 'sniffer dog' let loose in amongst the bags.  Food and seeds are forbidden to be imported to the islands, in case it contaminates the ecostructure of the islands.

We boarded a small coach that took us to the channel between Baltra and Santa Cruz Islands.  Here we got off the coach and saw our luggage off a small lorry.  The bags were put on top of the ferry and we all climbed inside.  Once on the island of Santa Cruz, a bus was waiting for us and after loading our luggage, we headed south across the island, climbing all the time.

Giant Land Tortoise

High up on the mountain, we took a short diversion to a farm where we saw in excess of 80 giant land tortoises, we decided that we'd seem larger in the Seychelles,  but it was interesting to see so many.

Hot Giant Land Tortoises - trying to cool down

After an ice-cream, we continued on south, and back downhill, to Puerto Ayora.  This small town is the biggest on the island and has many shops, a few hotels and is where many people, including ourselves, join their small cruise boats.  We jumped into a inflatable dinghy and motored across to the Galapagos Voyager, our home for the next week.  The boat only has eight cabins so there are only ever 16 guests on board.

After a quick look at our cabin, we headed back to shore and went to visit the Charles Darwin Research Centre, whose main purpose is to preserve some of the rarer island tortoises.  Amongst the inmates of the Centre is 'Lonesome George' the only Giant Tortoise from the island of Pinto left on the planet

Back on board, we had a briefing about our programme for the next week and the ships routine was explained.  We were told that we would be sailing overnight between midnight and 3.00 in the morning and would be heading to South Plaza Island.

After an excellent dinner on board, we settled down in our small cabin for our first night aboard.

Cuenca - Quito

25 Nov 2011

Today we had a real treat, a lie-in!

Convent in Cuenca

After a late breakfast, we headed down to the Rio Tomebamba behind the hotel and saw hummingbirds, wagtails and Ruffous-collared Sparrows.  Following this, we packed our baga again and then crossed the road for a cup of coffee whilst we waited for our airport transport.

Spanish Colonial Houses - Cuenca

Much to our amazement, Cuenca airport is very modern and air-conditioned, so waiting for our flight was painless.  The flight was on time and we headed back north to Quito passing through a storm cloud shortly before landing.  I've rarely heard rain so hard on a aircraft fuselage whilst still airborne.

Quito airport was its usual chaotic self, but we found our tour rep who scooped us up and got us to our bus.  We were pleasantly suprised to find Lois 2 driving the bus!

Back at the Dann Carlton we collected our left luggage and headed back upstairs to unpack and repack in anticipation of our Galapagos trip tomorrow.

As it was still raining, we snuck through the hotel casino into a back street where we knew there was a restaurant next door to the hotel.  The decor in the restaurant was in the 'minimalist' style and had some odd features, not least a couple of tables surround by pink mosquito nets hung from the ceiling.  The food was, sort of, nouvelle fusion cuisine and very tasty, but the service was rather variable.  This might have been because it was the begining of a fiesta weekend and the restaurant was very busy.  Most of the women were given a rose on arrival, but we decided this was for those who had pre-booked.

Back at the hotel, we logged onto the internet, and shortly after that the room started swaying gently!  (I don't think the twos events were associated!)  It lasted about 30 seconds and we realised we'd experienced an earth tremor on the fifth floor of a building, an interesting experience!  (It seems that earth tremors are so normal, it didn't even make the local press.)  We did the last bits of packing and went to bed early as, guess what, we have another early start tomorrow!