A Travellerspoint blog

Ecuador

The Birds of Paradise

sunny 30 °C

We’ve had many ‘National Geographic’ moments around the globe but few are quite as memorable as our encounters with the animals that thrive off the nutrient-rich waters surrounding the Galapagos Islands. Charles Darwin may have been disappointed with the generally drab finches, (although it was the variations in these birds from island to island that confirmed his belief in evolution), but the skies, (and souvenirs), here are abuzz with seabirds of every size and hue…
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Red footed birds are a dime a dozen in the world and there are many in the Galapagos - like this slender-legged beauty wading in the salt-marshes of Santa Cruz island …
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But birds with bright blue feet are surely cartoon characters…
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Not so… This is one of the famous blue-footed boobies which, along with their nocturnal red-footed cousins, are emblematic of this remote archipelago…

Penguins, flamingos and albatrosses can also be seen at certain times on some islands, while great flocks of elegant frigate birds soar constantly above the islands' cliffs…
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Photographing birds in flight is always a difficult task, but snapping them from the bobbing deck of a small boat offshore is almost impossible. We did however manage to catch the mating ritual of some frigate birds on camera…
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The males inflate their chests into an enormous red balloon as a show of virility.
We are not ornithologists and can identify few birds – but we know pretty ones when we see them…
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The fearless, lumbering pelicans are the real comedians. No fisherman’s catch is safe when this guy is waddling along the quayside in search of an easy meal…
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When it comes to easy meals - this little chap joined us for breakfast every morning on San Cristobal and sang sweetly to us before tucking into our bread, butter and jam…
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Sadly we soon have to say goodbye to our little friend as we head back to the Ecuadorian mainland and the ancient port of Guayaquil.

Posted by Hawkson 08:00 Archived in Ecuador Comments (4)

Galapagos -The Enchanted Islands

semi-overcast 30 °C

As much as we enjoy describing our experiences in our own style we have decided that this blog would best be written by the Englishman who first revealed the mysteries of the Galapagos islands to the world. These then are the actual words of Charles Darwin as written in Chapter 17 of his 1839 literary diary, 'The Voyage of the Beagle', (The basis of his 1859 opus magnum, ‘On the Origin of Species' in which he conclusively debunked the myth of divine creation.

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Darwin wrote:
The Galapagos archipelago consists of ten principal islands situated under the Equator between five and six hundred miles westward of the coast of America. They are all formed of volcanic rocks and some of the craters rise to a height of between three and four thousand feet. Nothing could be less inviting than the first appearance. A broken field of black basaltic lava, thrown into the most rugged waves, and crossed by great fissures, is everywhere covered by stunted, sun-burnt brushwood, which shows little signs of life…
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As I was walking along I met two large tortoises, each of which must have weighed at least two hundred pounds: one was eating a piece of cactus, and as I approached, it stared at me and slowly walked away; the other gave a deep hiss, and drew in its head…
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These huge reptiles seemed to my fancy like some antediluvian animals. Some grow to an immense size: Mr. Lawson, an Englishman, and vice-governor of the colony, told us that he had seen several so large, that it required six or eight men to lift them from the ground…
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The rocks on the coast abounded with great black lizards, between three and four feet long ...
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and we will now turn to the order of reptiles, which gives the most striking character to the zoology of these islands. The species are not numerous, but the numbers of individuals of each species are extraordinarily great...
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Of land-birds I obtained twenty-six kinds, all peculiar to the (island) group and found nowhere else. With the exception of a wren with a fine yellow breast none of the birds are brilliantly coloured. Hence it would appear probable, that the same causes which here make the immigrants of some peculiar species smaller, as well as very generally more dusky coloured…
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(Note – this is an offspring of one of the dusky finches that enabled Darwin to conclusively deduce that all creatures evolved based on their ability to adapt to their environment and circumstances – i.e. survival of the fittest.)

The natural history of these islands is eminently curious. Most of the organic productions are aboriginal creations, found nowhere else; there is even a difference between the inhabitants of the different islands; The archipelago is a little world within itself. Hence, both in space and time, we seem to be brought to that great fact -- that mystery of mysteries -- the first appearance of new beings on this earth.
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We found it amazing that we were able to experience, and photograph, exactly the scenes and animals that Darwin encountered more than 150 years ago. Perhaps the most amazing fact is that there are tortoises still alive that were born shortly after Darwin's visit.

Posted by Hawkson 17:35 Archived in Ecuador Comments (8)

Swimming with the Sharks

sunny 32 °C

Our Canadian home overlooks the ocean and we often enthuse about the aquatic life we view from our windows. But here, in the warm equatorial waters surrounding the Galapagos islands, a few hundred seals and sea lions, or an occasional pod of killer whales or dolphins, is just kids’ stuff. More than a thousand sea-lions dominate the harbour and the streets of Puerto Banquerizo Moreno, the tiny capital of San Cristobal island. Try asking this lot to move if you want to get down to your boat…
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The harbour is just jammed with sea life, and at times it’s also jammed with cruise ships. But, while many people enjoy cruising, we independent types prefer to take the paths less travelled. So we jumped aboard a speedboat together with a small group of adventurers to snorkel here in the crystal clear waters at Kicker Rock off the north coast of San Cristobal…
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Puffer fish and turtles surrounded us as we stopped at a deserted beach to don wetsuits and masks in preparation for our dive…
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And then we were off to the deep waters and undersea canyons for an experience of a lifetime…
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This Jacques Cousteau world is beyond description. Words cannot convey the incredible joy of being part of the undersea ballet: diving, dancing and playing amongst sea-lions and giant turtles…
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Here's James chasing a couple of fleet-finned turtles...
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And we found ourselves swimming alongside shoals of multi-hued fish: fish that were more exotic; more colourful; more varied, and infinitely more numerous than those in the tropical fish tanks at the world’s best aquariums. These giant leopard rays simply flapped their wings and soared off into the depths as we approached ...
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Perhaps the most amazing thing about the wildlife in the Galapagos islands is that it is not really wild at all. The creatures on land, sea and in the air have no fear of man. Birds eat off our breakfast table without flinching, sea-lions and iguanas expect us to step over or around them on the streets and beaches, while inquisitive fish swim up to peer at us through our masks.

Vivid sea anemones and sea urchins, together with numerous multi-coloured aquatic plants, grow in the undersea canyons of Kicker Rock like exotic alpine flowers, and we spent nearly two hours watching millions of brilliantly hued fish grazing their undersea pastures. And then, just as we were getting ready to climb back aboard, a giant shoal of bait fish as dense as a thundercloud appeared in the water just a few feet beneath us…
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Within seconds a feeding frenzy began. Sharks and sea-lions pounded time and again into the living ball, tearing it apart…
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As the voracious predators crashed through the mass they twisted and turned with lightning speed, grabbing mouthfuls of fry, but as soon as each attack was over the ball reformed to await the next onslaught. On and on it went until it was time for us to leave this magical sight. These fabulous undersea images were taken by Juan our knowledgeable guide who photographed our entire expedition, but mere pictures cannot compare with the incredible memories that we have of the day we dived with the sharks in the Galapagos.
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Posted by Hawkson 17:24 Archived in Ecuador Comments (7)

Pretty Posers

sunny 33 °C

We haven’t posed a conundrum for awhile so here’s today’s question. Where on earth are we now?
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The beach babes here are so hot that ancient mariners once thought they were mermaids. This shameless hussy is Sirena…
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Some of these gals are so brazen that they hang about the street corners at night wearing nothing but a slinky fur coat. Some are just posers
like Mar-ee…
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And when it comes to being a little bit over-friendly this buxom chick just couldn’t get close enough to James…
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Not to be outdone, the local crabs have tarted themselves up with blusher and lipstick and sit naked on the rocks in the setting sun hoping to catch someone’s eye…
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Blowing bubbles is one way of getting attention…
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The marine iguanas, on the other hand, are a bit amateurish when it comes to getting a john. It’s not their fault. They’re just not as pretty as some of the other hookers. They just sit around on the beach hoping that someone will find them attractive and snap them up…
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So, if you recognise this beach, grab your swimsuit and come and join us…
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You too will get hooked by all the pretty creatures who just love cozying up to their human cousins in this island paradise. They’re not cheap, but they sure give you a thrill.

Posted by Hawkson 11:28 Archived in Ecuador Comments (4)

The Snows of Cotopaxi

semi-overcast 23 °C

Cotopaxi in Ecuador is the world’s highest active volcano at nearly 20,000 feet and its permanently snow capped peak is rarely glimpsed through the persistent clouds. But we were lucky…
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Cotopaxi has erupted 86 times since colonial records began in the 16th. Century and the resultant lava flows have twice decimated the city of Latacunga some 50 kilometres away.. Giant rocks from previous eruptions are scattered for hundreds of square miles…
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The drive from Quevedo to Cotopaxi took us up to 16,000 feet through the spectacularly picturesque scenery of the 110 kilometre Quilotoa Loop…
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All of the guidebooks, even the most recent, warn of the road’s dreadful condition and suggest that it is only accessible by hikers, donkeys or Land Rovers. Undaunted by the dire warnings, though somewhat apprehensive, we turned off the main highway and found ourselves on top of the world. If we had heeded the guides’ advice we would never has seen the fantastic emerald lake that has formed in the crater of Quilotoa’s extinct volcano…
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Neither would we have discovered that the once notoriously dangerous road is now a safe paved highway with only a few stretches of gravel to shake up granny. All the hard edges have been rounded off and we were treated to matchless vistas of the high mountains…
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At the halfway stage of the Loop we stayed at a farm hacienda and were astounded when we were given plastic identity bracelets like those used at busy all-inclusives to stop interlopers getting a free swim or free meals...
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We were astounded because, not only were we miles from anywhere, we were also the only guests in the thirty bed hacienda. Any interloper without grey hair and a beard would have stood out a mile with or without a bracelet.

Because of its proximity to the equator only the very highest peaks in this part of the Andes have ever received snow, and it is amazing to see lush vegetation at altitudes that would be well above the tree line at similar elevations in other ranges. The year round temperate climate is ideal for all kinds of horticulture, especially the fabulous roses for which Ecuador is famous…
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Now, after driving 2,000 kilometres through some of the world’s highest mountains we are going to take a breather at the seaside. Wish you were here, but hope to see you real soon.

Posted by Hawkson 13:52 Archived in Ecuador Comments (9)

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