Thursday, June 30, 2016

Galapagos: Last Days - Tick Eaters and Earth Quakes

Galapagos: Last Days.

The next day was another transit day. We caught our same speedboat early in the morning and did the two hour jaunt back to Santa Cruz island. This time we knew all of the birds we saw on the way (that big rock sticking up out of the ocean over there is the main place you find Red Footed Boobies).

We passed two or three half-volcano cone islands. I guess that kind of formation is pretty common in the archipelago. These things rise up out of the water as a crescent moon. Steep and rocky. I bet they are a blast to swim around in. This was our third long speedboat ride so we were all old hands. We were also blessed with another day of calm seas and sunshine, so no sea sickness.

She is just squatting behind the tortoise. For Scale.

Back at Santa Cruz we went off to another place to view tortoises. I think I have seen enough tortoises now. And would rather be someplace cool. This place was a natural viewing area up in the highlands. It was pretty much a copy of that place we visited on our first day. A large covered area that served as a restaurant where we ate lunch, and a nice trail around the farm to see the tortoises in  a natural habitat. All of these islands are volcanic and one of the things you find around volcanos are lava tubes. This farm boasted it's own tube with a couple of collapsed overheads that served as entries. We got to walk through one from the fields back to the farm. The inside was lit with a string of lights and it was nice and cool down there in the tubes.

Looks a lot like Oregon Lava Tubes, No?

We also stopped by at a farm where they do Sugar Cane and Coffee production. We got to be the donkey for the machine that presses the cane into sugar water. You push this big stick around the circular path, that acts as a crank to turn the mashing gears. The local guy feeds pieces of sugar cane into one side and out the other side comes sugar cane sap.

The sap goes into a big tank where it ferments. The fermented fluid flows down a hose into a little moonshine still that the farmer was using to turn that sugar water mash into alcohol. His still was making quite a bit of moonshine there. Not sure if the stuff he was making was for real use or just for show to us. He did give out samples all around but not directly from the still, rather from a labeled bottle of clear liquid. Pretty much tasted like the everclear you would get at a liquor store anywhere. Would make great hiking stove fuel.


Now we headed back down to the beach. We were going to Tick Eater Beach (El Garrapatero). This beach was way down on the south side of the island. We parked in a big lot and then had a quarter mile walk down a very nice concrete walkway through a large set of mangroves and poison apple plants to get to the Ocean. The poison apple plants were not called that (I need to look it up) but we were warned very pointedly about the plant and told that it was very dangerous. (Ok, it IS called Poison Apple, or Manzanilla del Muerto. The scientific name is manchineel. Not only is the fruit pretty poisonous, but the sap itself can cause skin rash and burning and this can effect you if you walk under the trees during a rain storm. They grow near the show in Mangrove patches).

See the Turtle Tracks on the Beach?


TickEater Beach
The beach itself  was large and sunny with perhaps 20 people playing in the waves. We got in some more kayaks there and paddled over to a protected beach where we were not allowed to land. This area is reserved for Green Sea Turtle nesting. It was a beautiful little area, flat lava flow and black rock pack on top with lots of white sand. Out in the water were large outcroppings of Mangrove and the entrance to the beaches was protected with shallow water reefs.  From our perch just off shore we could see tracks where the momma sea turtle had crawled up the white sand to lay her eggs and then later crawled back down. The tide had come up the tracks stopped suddenly.

Our trip is winding down now. Just a trip back to our hotel for the night. Perhaps walk through town for some shopping.

We spent the night in a nice hotel on Darwin street right down near the harbor. A little walk in the slightly cooler night air showed us the small array of shops and such. What do you bring back as a souvenir from the Galapagos? The actual animals, plants, or minerals are verboten. You can get an array of Blue Footed Boobie t-shirts and such. Who doesn’t like a good boobie joke? We also found a little jewelry store with earrings with local animals and designs. Made in China? Who knows. I guess you bring back the memories and the pictures. Those are the best souvenirs.

We went as a group to a nice restaurant in town. This was our goodbye dinner for many of our group. That is when Fernando got busy with text messages and things got quiet in the restaurant. There has been a huge earthquake in mainland Ecuador. The epicenter is North of Guayaquil but we don't know where. There's some damage to Guayaquil, though, with the main road from the airport closed due a bridge collapse. That doesn’t sound good. Fernando has a relative who lives up near the epicenter (up north).  Luckily she was not at home and instead somewhere farther from the damage.  But lots of people are missing or dead. Lots of people.  We are wondering if we'll get out on time tomorrow, if the airport will be functioning, and feeling guilty for worrying about our travel plans when our guides are worrying about the safety of their friends and families.

Our Hotel

The next morning we learn that everything in Guayaquil is a go for our travel plans.  Sticking to the schedule, we go to the tortoise breeding center just up the road. We walk there in the gathering morning heat. There are more tortoises and a few giant land Iguana. The place looks a bit run down, however. I think they had been building up a big place for lonesome George, the last of the pinta volcano tortoises. He had been living in the San Diego Zoo for fifty years and had just come home to the Galapagos. They put up a nice place for him to live, the sign is up and everything. Then he died. There are a lot of arguments around among the locals as to whether they should try to re-populate the islands where the local tortoises have gone extinct. You know, bring in the closest match they can find. On some islands, they believe they have found remnant cross-bred populations of once believed extinct species. Should they bring those in and try to breed back to the true lineage and repopulate? I say, Damn Straight. We killed them off, we can put them back. Arrogance is our species main strength.

Tortoise eats tree
What is that strange thing on his chest. He looks like a
creature from Avatar


Enough of this. Time to go see how Guayaquil fared in the earthquake. There were rumors that the airport over there had been closed but those proved to be false as our plane left the islands right on schedule and landed without a hitch. As we got off the plane, however, we began to see signs of the quake damage. Most were actual signs, as in the big information and advertisement signs that are on the walls of the air course. Some of these were off the wall and sitting a bit bent up on the floor. Once we got our bags and got on our bus, we were told that would have to go around the city from the river side and come into the hotel from a back way because of the closed highway. We were staying in the same hotel as when we arrived, the Oro Verde.

Marble from the exterior of our hotel

The boys are art work. Does look like they are fixing the wall. This is the lobby.
I thought I had a before and after of this, but I guess not.

See the fire hose tied to hold some marble in place

Some of the cleaned up mess out back.
The hotel had taken something of a beating. Many of the big sheets of marble that cover the walls as the standard venire in a swank establishment had broken and fallen down. 40 foot high curtains covered the walls and pillars in the main lobby. All that big rock was coming down the lobby must have made for a pretty scary place for a while there during the quake. The more we looked around the more damage we saw. Big cracks ran along all of the walls, especially near the stairwell. Two of the elevators were down. One or two entire floors were closed to customers, seemingly due to a water pipe leak. Fernando’s son took us for a little drive around downtown (we were hoping for some last minute shopping). The shopping was all closed by government decree, and we saw a lot of closed walkways (the buildings above were dropping rocks down) and some big cross-road art that had pulled its wires out from the buildings and come crashing down. And this was a town hundreds of miles away from the center of the quake. We were now hearing news broadcasts saying thousands are dead. But we were fine in our nice, if marked up, hotel. We still had water and lights and AC and a nice breakfast in the morning. Fernando took us back to the airport and saw us through customs. We were on our plane and bound for Miami. I think I will save you the nonsense of the long ride back. Well - perhaps this: After all of that heat in Ecuador, it was great to have good AC on the flight. Well, it would have been except the air was out on the 5 rows around where we were sitting for the last leg to Portland. 4 hours at 86 degrees. Thank you United Airlines.

A summing up is probably in order.

This was a land based adventure week that was focused mainly on educational topics. It was not a boat based scuba and snorkeling adventure. My take is that a boat based week would be very different. Would it be cooler? No idea. It certainly wouldn't be punctuated during the week with the nice Hotels and Restaurants. I need to do more research before I can tell if I might like to go and do the boat based thing. The bit of snorkeling I did was not world class waters.

As for the land based adventure. Incredibly beautiful and extremely interesting. The heat and lack of a good way to cool off put a certain level of uncomfortableness to the trip that still hangs in my brain. I needed more chances to jump into the ocean.

Jon's Top Ten list of things to bring to the Galapagos:

(In no particular Order)
  1. Change. America Dollars. Dollar COINS.
    1. Think about it. They use the American Dollar as the Ecuadorian currency. So they can't print more. The money wears out. Coins don't wear out so fast. Bringing coins to them is a boon.
    2. So bring a roll of dollars.
  2. Sun Shirts
    1. You should experiment with this a bit in the states. Perhaps in a Sauna. You want something that is loose and white and easy to clean. At least easy to rinse out. Needs to be strong enough that you can wring it mostly dry or it will never be dry.
  3. Water Proof Camera.
    1. Don't get the 3 Meter safe one unless you really don't know how to Snorkel. You know you are going to want to try a deep dive. Get the 15 meter safe one. (really hard to free dive down 45 feet if you are intending to come back up)
  4. Sea Sickness Patches.
    1. Yeah. Probably. Why risk it? Remember, we had 'Great' weather.
  5. Petroleum Jelly
    1. Hot, sweaty, walking a lot. Are you prone to rashes? Lot of other uses, you know.
  6. Snack Food
    1. Many people need little snacks throughout the day, especially while adventuring. The tour doesn't really provide these and such things are extremely hard to find on Floreana. Bring some energy bars or fruit and nut mix (processed!) or other things you might bring on a back packing trip.
  7. Non Water Beverage:
    1. If you don't drink beer and don't like Coke, you will find it hard to find ANYTHING except water on Floreana. Perhaps bring a bottle or 2 of your favorite non alcoholic beverage and then get Claudio to put it into the fridge for you. Well, I guess he could also score you some fruit juice if you asked him in advance.  (our editor was very unhappy the tenth time we were offered beer or wine as an alternate to water, but there was only one non alcoholic drink available, presumably on the entire island, which was a bottle of Coke. Bring some lemonade if you don't drink beer)
  8. Clothes Line
    1. A number of people told me, "Hey, clothes line, what a great idea!". I just thought of it as having some rope along. That is the boy scout in me. But still... need that clothes Line. (although we left our clothes hanging outside on Floreanna for three days and it never got dry)
  9. Extra Zip Lock Bags.
    1. The Big Ones. You are going to have wet clothes that need to travel with you. You are going to need to put some ice in a bag and ice that damn Knee after hiking the Volcano. Stuff like that.
  10. Pocket Natural Reference
    1. Sure wish I had had a little book of Animals and Plants. Something I could write in. 

Ok. Adventure Done. Readers Informed. Now...... Get Out There !!

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