After having finished at the conservation project, I am still exploring the islands of Galapagos for three more weeks. Time for some real adventure - and relaxation! Helping the Charles Darwin Research Station, explore remote islands, enjoy the endless, vacant and perfect beaches... Only the imagination - and funding - make the limits!
18. April. It is early up and out to grab a cup of coffee before the bag get inspected and I jump onboard Cholita; a slightly bigger boat then last time. The extra five dollars have been spent well: Instead of crammed benches along the sides, we have wide flight seeds, and only passengers for half of them.
Closed cabin; not splashing water, noise and smoke but an excellent TV screen, showing the first half of a good movie. I dose off the first half of the tour, only to wake up, when we passes Santa Fe. The sea is flat as a floor, and I have probably wasted a sea sick pill.
Well arrived at Ayora on Santa Cruz, and I start checking hotel prises. It seems like $15 is the absolute minimum until I get a good, long talk with Vilma at New Elizabeth. $12 for a real clean and nice room in the back yard; nice and quiet. Only problem is: It is the neighbour to The Rock; the best restaurant in the entire Galapagos!
I drop my bag, and head out of centrum, searching for cheep tours to Bartolome and Santa Fe. Not many operators have land-tours, and the one I find, want $125 for Bartolome and $220 for Santa Fe! Before I know it, I am almost out at the Charles Darwin Research Institute.
Guess I might as well go see if the botanist; Ann, is at her office. She is having a meeting, and I make a loop around the tortoise and iguana area. It is still rather early on the day, and here are activity in the corrals. Get some more photos and more close encounters with these fascinating giants.
Ann is back, and we have a talk about what I think I can contribute with. She want me to share my knowledge with the gardeners: I have been unemployed for two hours! Then we walk down to the gardeners; Marie, Rosio, Jose and their boss Meriam. She speaks a rather good English, and we make a round it the little but well kept nursery. Besides for experimental research, they produced plants for the local gardens. More native plants means less invasive.
She tells me how they do, and I add my input, if I got additionally ideas or knowledge, mainly around cutting and other vegetative reproducing forms. At lunch brake: 12-14, a bus drives the employees down town, and I join in. I get off in the shopping area, and while I am there, I get some breakfast. No reason to waste sleeping time and money on restaurants with too unhealthy food - will be bad enough at supper...
Back at Charles Darwin Research Institute at two, we clean seeds while I give a small lecture about how seeds works, and which different parameters that can be altered to get them to grow, both physical and chemical. They are experience difficulties with quite some species, and I give a list of possible solutions for each one. Scarification, long-time soaking, heating, acid treatment and even freezing are some of the things that can get a seed to grow.
One problem is the way too few fertilized seeds of the Scalesia affinis, probably due to the lack of insects. They have tried manual fertilizing with success, but it takes a lot of time. My suggestion is more colourful flowers in-between, artificial nest for the timber bees (old wood of drilled holes in stems), water or even sucker water.
Ann pops by in the late afternoon, and has a chat with Meriam, who appreciate my input. Ann talks about writing it down for the benefit of the two other propagation units at San Cristobal and Floreana. This little nursery, open to the public, is only part of a larger project. Tomorrow, we will drive up in the hills and work with the highland plants.
After "work", I walk back to town. I saw a few signs to beaches, but it is just stretches of sand with locals on. There are a single guy working with the fishermen's fish, attracting attention from both tourists, pelicans and sea lions.
Pass the hotel to change into tourist cloth and then out to find a "dip-boiler" for hot tee and coffee water. Unfortunately, it is an unknown object around here. All I can find it huge electrical kettles. I got plenty of tea, coffee, milk and sucker - just not any hot water!
Try a few more tour operators, but can only find the same Bartolome tour on Saturday even more expensive. Buy some apples for tomorrow and a merienda in the food court street. Cheese soup and chicken breast with brown beans and rice; $3, and it taste good.
Home to work on diary and photos. Once again; I got way too many of the tortoises, but it is hard not to shot on. I even got quite a few where Lonesome George at least looks after a girl. He is, by the way, rather fat!
20. I am at the local market quarter pass seven, but it is disappointing quiet. Here are only the few traders one see during the day. I buy a cup of warm milk, add Nescafe and wait for the others to meet me here. They arrival little pass eight, and we take the small, local bus up to Bellavista, a little village in the highlands.
Here, the Charles Darwin Research Station have its department for highland plants. Meriam show me their department, mainly propagation of native plants for local garden use. I make comments on their techniques and suggestions where I can. Actually not much, it is run real efficient.
Then an other gardener show me the experimental part. Here are tests on soil and shadow impact: How little sun does it take to make blackberry give up? It seems like only three year old Scalesia are able to take enough direct sunlight for the blackberry to almost stop growing. Real good news for Hacienda Tranquilla!
The task of the day is to fill a lot of back bags with soil and set cuttings in them. While we work, I share my knowledge on soil: Different sizes of air pockets and their benefit for the plants, nutrition and how to maintain it in the soil, until the plant desire them.
After the early lunch, I tell a bit on the flow of energy in the plant, the roots need to transpiration and how to get woody cuttings to root by scarification and hormones. Meanwhile, we have filled a lot of bags; the girls are real efficient. We wheel them out to a bed and put the soaked cuttings in. A dash of water, and we are ready to leave.
Bus back to Ayora where I head for a shower and some tourist cloths. Then out to find a cup of coffee and a way out to the wild nature on the other side of the port. It is a huge detour around the wall, forming the Lagoona de Nimfa and the entrance to Playa Tortogero. When I finally get there, I have to admit my heavy military boots would have been nice, but on the other hand; the biotope is real familiar. Around these islands, there tend to be a limited amount of species - even the invasive are limited!
Check the prices on Floreana, which I have heard, should be so beautiful. Most of the tour operators are siesta closed, but the ferry is $30 each way. Guess I will need some local transport too. There are only around 100 inhabitants on the 173 km˛ large island, but there must be a lot of nature, and I guess; several are taxi drivers...
Supper at a street restaurant: Chicken soup and chicken with rice for three dollars and a little coffee with milk at another restaurant for two, on the tourist walk! Paid $0,70 for a huge mug this morning near the marked.
In the evening, I finish my round at the tour operators - or agents. I end up with the best price at "My friend's"; 10% off the others. Still $195 for Bartolome and Floriana, but lunch and snorkelling gear are included. Still unable to find any acceptable price on a tour to the really close by Santa Fe. I can do without, if I see Land Iguanas on the other ones.
Home to do some reading - having a bit of bad conscience, not getting the names sorted out on the 600, more or less nameless plant photos. Then again; there can be a little for a rainy day too. The lonely evenings feels a bit long here; being so use to have six to eight people around me most of the time.
21. Meet in at the Charles Darwin Research Station at eight, and I have a chat with the director of the horticulture department. We agree on meeting later this week, exchanging ideas on how conservation can be done on Galapagos.
Then the three gardener girls and I walk all the way out to Playa Tortuga. We check in like everybody else, but like no one else, we are bringing big and small bags, and have intentions of filling them with seedlings and seeds. And we sure enough don't plan to stick to the only legal path at all!
At the entrance, I spot my first Galapagos Dove; Zenaida galapagoensis, which is a little, but really beautiful pigeon. Same place, I find a mixed group of finches, but as usual: they are more scared than they ought to be. The park ranger tells me to keep tracing them out in the wild, but they crosses the deep gorge or rather crack, that forms the barrier to the park.
We make several stops on the 4,5 kilometre path to the beach, and I get to do some loops in the no-go area. Some to collect seeds from among others; a lovely vine, others to take photos of the Palo Santo; Bursera graviolensis for a good friend of mine, who need them for a book he is working on. I also remember to take some of the 10-15 meter tall Opuntia gigantea for him too.
When we reach the sea and the perfect beach, we head into the dunes. Here, we collect Scaevola plumeieri seeds, cuttings and seedlings along with the huge flowering Morning Glory; Ipomoea pes-capae. I do some more explaining about different techniques to propagate from seeds and cuttings as usual.
On the long way back, we meet a guy who probably think it is longer than most: He is the employee who sweeps it! Not a job I envy him for sure: Rough lava rocks with many, partly dissolved leaves on, more falling constantly. We stop to have a chat with him, and he seems contend and happy.
We are well into our lunch brake when we reach town, and I find my hotel - along with a huge, red bag full of plants I have taken from the National Park. I have to start walking the 20 minutes out to the Institute before I have cooled down enough, but a dry T-shirt help the illusion, and a good cup of coffee at The Rock makes it up for lunch.
We start cleaning the seeds, and I demonstrate scarification on some of those that causes problems. I also suggest they try heating them in hot water, freezing them, saving them for a little year or give them a acid treatment, although I believe the scarification is the key. I just won't find out while I am here.
Then we work on the cuttings, and I explain the important of a 90 degree cut, leaving as little scar as possible. I also tells of the different types of bark and their effect on rooting, callus ability to form roots and other technical growing tricks like reducing of leaf surface. Suddenly, it is five o'clock, and we are off.
I stop to eat an ice cone at the tiny fishing harbour, and get some great shots of dark clouds and sun, a frigate bird and sea lions. Bach at the hotel to get a real deserved shower and write down some of the days impressions. No need to hurry; the street food court don't really open before seven anyway, and I would like to try another place.
Turns out to be a bad choice, and I have to eat a Almonde Semifrodo at The Rock to comfy myself. By some internet to learn more about why there are no flights over Europe these days. Turns out the Islanders have send ash, not cash as requested.
22. I'm early up, and get a large mug of hot milk with Nescafe near the marked, before I jump on the eight o'clock bus to Bellavista. Mari is getting her un-borne baby scanned and Meriam is conducting some survey at a tortoise place up in the heights. Then we are only three: I meet up with Jose, who is distributing lava gravel on the huge yard. Soon after, Rosio arrivals, and we start weeding a huge area with a native vine for seed production.
Next task is weeding of the area between beds. Kind of easy work, but the sun is hot, and the ants fears! Jose is reaching a area with a lot of black backs with dead cuttings in. Too massive soil, I guess. We divide bags, soil and cuttings, and end the day helping Jose finishing the layer on the yard and on some paths. At two, we drive back to Ayora in a taxi, only paying 25 cents each. Guess it is a small bus?
I get the needed shower, and hand over my laundry to someone who know what to do with it. I still have some clean left, but the weekend will be busy. An ice and some blank steering over the port, followed by a nap. I have to confess: It have been hard work today. The locals work hard, and I'm not the one to stand back!
23. We all meet up at the nursery, and start weeding the large beds at the entrance and between the offices and even in the yards. Most weed is native, and some are put in bags. Then we pull up seedlings from seed-beds and reduce their leave-area before we plant them in bags.
The heat is massive, and sorting empty bags out and replacing the live ones - in the sun - is a tough job. At ten, the Station offers lunch: I get a kind of fried bagel-crumble thing with fish; real delightful. We finish up the sorting, and while the others head down town, I remain during the long lunch break.
I could still do with some better shots of George, and it is a long tour back to town, and out here again. I talk my self into a ice at the shop, and after eating that, I doses off on a bench, in the shadow and a nice breeze, for half an hour.
Back among tortoises, I find some unexpected activity. Even George moves his body a few meters! I get some good close ups of both tortoises and Land Iguanas before it is time to work again. I'm out of water, and the shop have apparently midday closed.
Even though it is still three minutes to two, Rosio and Jose is waiting for me in the car. We make a few rounds in town, picking Marie and Meriam up at their homes. We head up the central road to a site where we are performing survey of a main water pipe for the city.
Trees have been marked: Can't be chopped down, and the amount of invasive plants are monitored too. It is a pristine area with Opuntia, Marzanillo, Palo Santo, tortoises and much more. The road that leis on top of the new pipeline gives access to people, animals and invasive plants.
We find several species that have been brought with the lava rocks and gravel that forms the road. All are photo registered and we do our best to pull up the most invasive species. Other invasive species, as Superosa are already here. I get some good photos of the wild plants while Meriam take photos of the invasive ones.
We get a short lift with a water truck, but have to walk the last bit out to the spearhead. A JBS and a working crew are making a drench in the new road, placing the 35 centimetre pipeline and filling it again. They are pretty careful not to go into the surrounding wilderness. Tapes with "PELIGRO" are stripped along the entire road.
Here are many finches and mockingbirds along the road, a deserted tortoise shell and some fresh dune in the middle of the road. Guess they will find the road to be rather hard to pass in several stretches. Unfortunately; especially along the swamp.
While we are here, we collect some seeds. We head back the long way, and it get longer: Jose is NOT waiting with the car, and we have to walk all the way back to town. To add worse; I have my bag, hat and drinking bottle at the Station!
At half pass six, I am near the hotel, and see a tempting pizza place. $12 for a medium pizza; must be good! I wait 80 minutes and get a flat thing. It is not bakes, just dried. Well, I'm starving and tiered, and they get away with it. Could have had four meriandas at the food court: Soup, main meal and a large glass of fresh juice for the same money. And they have been better for sure! Pretty sure they stuffed it in the oven, and THEN turned it on!
Back home, I have a fast look through the 300 photos of the day. It is nine o'clock, it have been a hard day, my alarm ought to go off at half pass four and I feel like sleeping! I know; I will hate my self for it tomorrow, when I return with much more photos, but I leave today's un-tagged and -sorted. Have promised to upload diary, but that will be on Sunday - I guess.
24. Bartolome Day. Up 4:30, picked up in front of the hotel at five by a minibus. We drive all the way over the island to the airport ferries. I am in a group of nine Frenchmen with their own guide and four volunteers from the Charles Darwin Research Station. We get onboard the good boat Espanola, and start our tour to Bartolome.
Both up and down, there are seeds for all of us. After we have cleared the belt between Santa Cruz and Baltra, breakfast is served underneath in the cabin. Pretty good, and then we climb up again to enjoy the view of Menor Daphne and Major Daphne: Two smaller islands. The larger is a distinguish volcano with crater and all. The smaller is just a huge block with trees on its top.
We passes the lager quite close, and sea lions, Blue Footed Boobies and other seabirds can be seen. To my great joy, a single Tropical Bird passes us; first I have seen ever! It looks like a seagull with extreme long tail feathers - witch it probably is.
We still have two hours left of the three hour boat tour, and I catch up on my sleep. Sure of; I will hear if there are dolphins or other interesting creatures in the sea. I wake up when Santiago get in sight. It is a barren island seen from the sea. Only in a few places, vegetation can be seen.
Bartolome does not look more green from a distance, but closer to, a few Opuntias and small scrub can be seen. Most dominating is a long, serpentine boardwalk, leading all the way up to the island's 114 meter highest point. We are the forth boat in the bay, and it is fare from as crowded as I feared. Some are on the boardwalk while other snorkels.
We get into the dingy and sail to the island's pier. I have brought my military boots, but the boardwalk is perfect, and we are not aloud to leave it. No wonder; the few places someone have done it, the footprints are clearly visible. Some places in the world have signs: "Take only pictures, leave only footprints". Here, you are not supposed to leave anything!
The first thing that catches my eye is a male Lava Lizard. As for so many other islands, they are unique, and I hang from the railing to get a good shot - or ten. The others are engage with a single Marine Iguana, but I have seen enough for now. We are divided up in two groups after languish, and beside form our "other half", we only meet one other group on the long walk to the top and back.
The landscape is dominated by lava! Here are a few small herbs, one is a Euphorbia, the other is Portulaca howellii. Higher up, a few grasses are scattered around, and to my big delight: Lava Cacti; Brachycereus nesioticus. The impression the island gives is a rather young island, but it is actually two and a half million year old.
Here are areas with fine gravel, almost sand, lava tubes and clearly cooled lava flows. On one viewing platform, I find the female Lava Lizard, and succeed to get some perfect shots. On the next I find a Exodeconus miersii, not the plant I would have thought lived here. I keep shooting photos after the plan: It is more easy to delete at home, than take additionally pictures!
From the top, there is a slightly dimmed view over the entire 1,2 square kilometre island with its famous Pinnacle Rock and two sandy beaches. Deep underneath us, a crater is seen, just below the surface of the really clear water. I walk back alone, and find a Lava Cacti near the boardwalk, some more lizards, a single finch and endless motives of lava.
Back at the boat, we sail pass the coast to the Pinnacle Rock, and sail to the shore in the dingy. To my surprise, I have to pay extra for the snorkelling gear, but it is worth the five dollars. On the beach, the sand is scolding, but the water quite cold. We swim around the Pinnacle and the sight is fantastic!
Here are hundreds of fish in bright colours. I guess I see more than 30 species, some more than half a meter long. The water is quite clear; 20-30 metres sight. The button is rough lava too. Canals and holes, some with crayfish and huge sea stars. Schools of sergeantfish and single huge parrotfish are eating algae of the rocks. We can swim all they way up to sea lions on the rocks, but the penguins have apparently taken the day off.
I'm beginning to be cold, and at the same time; I would like to have some time to explore the beach. There are turtle tracks on it, and we were told the turtles are laying their eggs on the other coast, which it is off limit. While I walk along the spiny- and mangrove vegetation, I come across an arrow-marker. It turns out; here is a track to the other side of the peninsular!
We were told to leave all footwear on the boat, but I sure miss my boots! The sand is scolding! I end up sitting on my bud, feet high up, several times. And the lava is not that smooth either. Half way, a small creek give some release. The area is dominated by Batis; Batis maritima. I get close to - but not close enough - to some Opuntias and tiny Scalesias, probably affinia, and the area is beautiful. I reach the other beach, and here are numerous turtle nests and many eggshells scattered around the area. Some look like human digging, could be rescue?
I figure I better get back in time, and run across the hot sands again. I take glowing coal any day! We sail back to the mother ship, and are served a nice lunch: Fried fish, vegetables and rice along with juice. Then it is back again, around the island and pass the open ocean. I take another pill and doses of till we reach the Daphne islands - and some fruits are served.
We reach the city around five, and I got a good feeling of the day - although my face and especially nose have gotten way too much sun! Make a fast run through the 377 photos of the day, trying the find keywords for the diary. There are, not surprisingly, many alike with islands and lava. Newer mind; I have taken the day off tomorrow, and with a bit of luck, I end up with some great ones! I just pick some for the diary, write it and prepare it for uploading.
Then it is time for a merienda, today with cheese soup and boiled ox; real good! Then shopping and internet. I pickup some Tang; taste for my water and some needed - but late - sun blocker. I finally find a gift for my neighbour, who it taking care of my life and plants at home. Knew what I wanted to give him, but haven't found it before now. Then I book two more nights at Hotel Elizabeth. One day off, one to explore Floreana. Then it must be time to move on to Isabella for some time.
25. Spend the first half of the day, getting yesterdays photos sorted and tagged, then getting some names on all the unknown plant photos. There are still a lot without name, but only 30%, of which some are probably invasive. Then I cruse through town - which is real boring on a Sunday: Most shops are closed, and there are rather empty everywhere.
Down at the pier, there are some activity; small Marine Iguanas are finding the best spot in the sun, and Sally Lightfoot Crabs the best surf. The fishermen are sleeping at the pier. A few shots of the mangrove trees too, and then I treat my self with an ice and a bit later; a cup of coffee. Back to sit and read in the hotel's yard until it is time for dinner hunt. Most restaurants are closed in that street, but I find one with some good, but rather expensive dishes.
Internet and a stroll through town - which is still rather dead. I guess I have walked every street in the city by now, and been out of both roads, leaving the town. It might be the centre of tourism in Galapagos, but if you are not shopping for souvenirs or looking for a restaurant, there are next to nothing to do - especially not on a Sunday! I feel I am finish with this town - and a bit afraid I might have explored what I can afford of the Galapagos. Further more, I doubt the more remote islands can contribute with much, catching my attention - except the Talinum galapagosum I don't seem to be able to find on San Cristobal - the only place it live.
26. Floriana Day. Quarter to nine, I sit on a boat along with 17 others, going on a day trip to Floreana, way down south. We are a well mixed group; people are from Chile, Ecuador, Belgium, Japan, Norway, England, Germany, Czech Republic, Poland and USA.
It is a two hour and a half sailing tour, and my pill works brilliant: I sleep all the way. The island looks real green; no wonder the first settlers on Galapagos choose this island. Here are even a freshwater spring! The stories about these settlers are in a class by them self: A dentist that pulled out all his teeth out before coming here, a baroness with three lovers and other odd companies. Common for them all, except the baroness is: The just vanished. Well, one was found mummified on the beach.
There are quite some fancy buildings along the coast, considering there are only a hundred habitants. We climb onboard a small bus, and the roof is "legal" too. There are little view from inside although there are no walls in the bus, and I climb op beside two others. A short stop at a restaurant's restroom, more people on the roof, and we head up the only track on the island.
We drive through a bush landscape that reminds me of Africa. Here are even Acasias among the Clerodendrons, Burseras and other low trees. Several volcanoes are dominating the horizon, all green. The island has an area of 173 km˛ and a maximum height of 640 metres. We passes the high volcano, but keep going inland. I take a lot of pictures, but the roughness of the gravel road in combination with some lack of suspension make them kind of blurry.
We passes a few farms, growing yucca, cattle and bananas before we stop at the end of the road at Asilode la Paz. Here are a corral with the tortoises, and there are even some activity among them. The local ones have been eradicated by settlers, but these are real close related. We walk around the large enclosure for some time, getting some good shots and even a xxx-video. Then it is out again, and further up the trail. We walk among Scalesia trees, and there are only a few invasive plants here.
We reach a huge roof, covering some large boulders. Guess it is to catch rain, because right next to it, the natural spring are found. Right next to it, the so-called Pirates Caves are found. Guess it is the first settlers doing. A large head are caved out of the loose gravel-rock too. Next to it, the farm of a German woman who came here before WW2 are still found, and she lived here until her death, a few years ago. Her son runs the largest tourist industry around here.
We keep following the track, and get to some huge natural walls. The Scalesias are beautiful, and here are real many finches around. We end up at the bus, and head down again. I keep trying to capture the awesome landscape from the roof of the bus, and spots new plants all the time. Here are also Darwin's Bushes and -Cotton, just along the track.
Back in town, we have lunch at Devil's Crow Restaurant. Surprisingly good, considered it is included in the $65 tour. We don' waste much time on it, but walk back to the boat. Right next to the harbour, a rock is occupied with Marine Iguanas, Galapagos Sea Lions and a Brown Pelican.
We sail out to a bay with steep lava walls. Here are Masked Boobies, Blue Footed Boobies and Galapagos Penguins along with other marine birds. We jump in the water with snorkelled gear: It is fresh! The water is clear, and here are quite some fish. Some are real colourful, others are just large!
While the others head for the penguins, I swim the other way. Suddenly, something is coming my way fast, from the side. It is, to my relief, just a playful penguin that checks me out. Up front to have a eye-to-eye look, then around me in superior style. Fascinating creature!
I'm getting cold, and climb aboard a little before the others. That give me time to see the many cacti through my camera along with the rocks. With the rest onboard, we head out to see. Some way out, a few, almost barren rocks are found. Closer to, I see they are partly covered in Opuntias. Unfortunately, I'm located in the front of the boat, and have to stick my camera up a hole in the roof.
The next cove we reach have even more fantastic cacti. Mainly the local species of Opuntia, but here are some Jasmincereus too. Sea lions are resting underneath the cacti, and there are seagulls and boobies on the cliffs too. While the others jump in the crystal clear water, I remain for a few minutes to capture the fantastic view.
When I get in the water, I see a great variety of fish among the huge lava boulders. Here should be several shark species, but even though I keep an eye out for them, I don't see any. The sun strengthens, and I return to the boat to take "a few" more pictures. The rest returns, and we head home.
There are a few things I would have thought we would have seen: The Post Barrow and the green beach, but I don't complain. It was, after all, a cheep tour, and I can easily live without. (It seems like the National Parks have restricted then recently). I place myself in the front of the boat, knowing there will be nothing to see on the way home. I once again sleep the whole way, and we reach Santa Cruz at half pass six. I have had a great day, and have taken 300 photos proven it.
A cold shower - could have done with a warm - and a merienda at the usual street. Then it is back to the computer, sorting photos and writing diary. At half pass nine, I have no doubt: The tagging can wait until tomorrow!
There are still time for some relaxation and appreciation of the islands, not the huge and most unspoiled; Isabella in diary 8.