I am a native in this world And think in it as a native thinks

Thursday, October 31, 2013


The rocks of Santiago in the golden light of early evening.

Striated heron

This guy also followed us, striding along the rocks with us while we sailed in the zodiac.

The following

This sea lion seemed curious about our zodiac and swam around us for several minutes when we paused to look at the sea lions on a beach.


Another zodiac ride this afternoon, along the coast of Santiago.

And almost immediately -- penguins! There was a pair on the rocks and several more swimming. Like the sea lions, they're endearingly awkward on land, and fleet and graceful in the water.

View from the beach

That's the side of Pinnacle Rock to the left. It was beautiful on the beach, but so hot I couldn't stand it for very long. I lasted maybe twenty minutes before hopping a zodiac back to the ship.

More geology


I'm fascinated by geology, but I don't actually know that much about it. I'm having a crash course in volcanic activity this week, and can explain the difference between tuff and lava, but not in any depth or detail.

These curves and striations on Bartolome, for example -- I love that you can almost see how the volcanos made them, the process of their birth laid out in layers of stone.


Bartolome is an islet off the coast of Santiago, and has some of the strangest, most beautiful lava formations we've seen so far.

This is Pinnacle Rock, one of the landmarks of the Galapagos, seen from two sides. (In the photo on the right, look for a tiny white dot on top of the larger of the two rocks in the bottom-right corner. That's a bird. Just for a sense of the scale. There's also a bird towards the bottom of the rock in the photo on the left.)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sunset, Daphne Major

I love the way the island looks like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup with some of the chocolate bitten away.


This evening, instead of the usual cocktail hour in the ship's lounge, the captain treated us to champagne outside on the bow. (Just because the Endeavour is an expedition ship rather than a giant floating hotel doesn't mean that we aren't traveling in very comfortable style.) We sailed around the small island of Daphne Major, where major scientific research into Darwin's finches goes on, until the sun set and it was time for dinner.

I continue to be surprised by how temperate the climate is. I know that sea currents keep the temperatures in the Galapagos much lower than you'd expect at the equator (and the water is often VERY cold) but I wasn't expecting the cool breezy temperatures we have day after day on the ship and the beaches. It gets hot as soon as you move inland, and in the highlands on Santa Cruz it was hot and humid, but on the ship it's usually just about perfect.

So far away

There are dozens of small islets like the one near Daphne in the photo above. Usually they're near some larger island, but sometimes there's just a rock, alone, out in the middle of the blue. The photo of the zodiac is actually from a couple of days ago, near Floreana, but they both have that sense of immensity: how small these islands are, how huge the ocean is, and how alone we are out here.

That's part of the magic of course. The waters aren't full of yachts and cruise ships; we don't run into other tourists when we go ashore. What we're seeing won't be here tomorrow or next week when the next boats arrive. But there's a loneliness out here that's undeniable; these islands aren't for humans. We're the aliens here.

Santa Cruz the sequel

Today we were on the north coast of Santa Cruz. After all the activity yesterday, today was much more low key and I don't have many photos.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Adventures in shopping

This is a jewelry store in Puerto Ayora that has no relevance to this story whatsoever, except that it's a retail establishment in the Galapagos, and I loved the stylized art nouveau gate and windows.

Obviously, fabulous shopping opportunities are not on anyone's list of reasons to visit the Galapagos. There aren't any snack bars or souvenir stands on the beaches we've been visiting, and we carry cameras and water bottles and not much else -- our rooms on the ship don't even have keys. But I was walking back from the Charles Darwin Research Center with Cathy, another woman from the expedition, when we saw an art gallery and went in to take a look. They had some nice jewelry, and beautiful carvings of fish and birds and iguanas that I immediately coveted.

But what originally caught my eye were the tapestries, huge colorful weavings of stylized fish and birds, done by a Peruvian textile artist named Maximo Laura. They were expensive. Very expensive. But I fell in love with a red and yellow rendering of fish that seemed to capture the magic of the Galapagos, and I rather impulsively told the young woman behind the counter that I would buy it.

She started to fold it up. And then I realized I couldn't buy it. Carlos, our tour manager, had suggested that we might want to buy something to wear on Halloween while we were in Puerto Ayora, so I stuck a couple of twenties in my pocket before we went ashore. But that was all the money I had, and this was definitely not a cash purchase anyway. My credit cards were back on the ship.

I reluctantly put the tapestry back in the pile and left with Cathy for the meetup point. She, very nicely, told me not to worry, that we'd figure out a way to get it, she'd even buy it for me and I could pay her back. I tried to tell myself that I was better off, it was too expensive, but after lunch I told Carlos the story and he arranged for me to go back to the ship instead of to the farm where we were going to see tortoises in the wild.

And that's what I did. Another woman, Shelley, decided to come along to see the tapestries, and we rode back to town, took a very choppy zodiac ride out to the ship, collected our credit cards, rode another zodiac back to town, and went to the gallery. Where Shelley also bought a tapestry.

You can see samples of Laura's work here. They're exquisite.

Plantation road

This little boy didn't care about all the strange visitors milling around trying the coffee and the rum. Not when there was that really cool truck up the road.


Yes, that's a warbler

A yellow warbler, to be precise. They're common in the Galapagos, and I've seen a lot of them, but this one catching a grub by the sugar plantation was the most photogenic.

Apparently I had to go all the way to Ecuador to finally get a decent picture of a fricking warbler.

El Trapiche

We took buses up into the highlands of Santa Cruz (a few intrepid souls biked up) to this plantation. Families that have farmed here since before the creation of the national park still do.

Only a few minutes out of Puerto Ayora the land changed dramatically. The arid grass and cactus gave way to lush humid green, ideal for growing sugar and coffee, flowers, and even giant tortoises making their slow deliberate way along the side of the road.

Some of the sugar grown here becomes rum, after the patient donkey above squeezes the juice from the sugar cane. We got samples of the cane to eat; and also got to try roasted coffee beans eaten with a couple of lumps of fresh brown sugar -- insanely delicious. We were offered samples of the rum as well, but I passed and went back for another coffee bean instead.

Paging Mr. Hitchcock

Then the frigatebirds swooped in for a visit, and for a few minutes the market was chaotic, a rush of wind and wing and feather. (By the time it occurred to me that video would be a much better way to record the scene, it was mostly over.)

There were probably only eight or ten of them in the battalion, but these birds are huge -- their wingspan can reach seven feet -- so when they circled around, flying under and through the open, low-roofed fish market, the thought that they would make fine, fine weapons did cross my mind.

They left as suddenly as they'd appeared, flying off or settling on the roof and nearby perches to plot their next attack.

It wasn't only birds who loved the fish market

Did someone say "fish market?

The fish market where I saw that booby had been mentioned as a place we should definitely go during our free time in Puerto Ayora. I thought, Okay -- stalls of clams or crabs or rows of big bulging fish eyes; there could be some fun photos there. I completely missed the obvious question: what happens when you hold an open air fish market surrounded by big birds who love love love fish and have no fear of humans?

Birds like these pelicans, for example. The birds circling over the market -- which is just a few tables pushed into a rectangle -- became obvious a few blocks away. It was fun to see the animals we've been observing in such pristine natural surroundings responding to a human environment -- a reminder that the issue isn't just preserving these wonderful creatures, it's figuring out how to make coexistence work.

Who, me?

A blue-footed booby, trying to look innocent while hanging out at the fish market in Puerto Ayora.

Pyramus and Thisbe

A female iguana at the Darwin Center, part of a captive breeding program that is restoring two colonies of land iguanas that were decimated by wild dogs. They breed the iguanas at the center, then repatriate them on the islands.

She's in a pen with male iguanas on both sides, but it seemed like she was focused on the handsome fellow in the picture below.

The iguanas won't actually be allowed to mate until the rainy season starts. But they are clearly anxious to get to know each other much better.

Land iguana

Familiar shape, different colors. The other iguana species of the Galapagos, the land iguana. Iguanas are surprisingly photogenic.


This cheerful fellow is Diego, the superstar stud of the Darwin Center.

He's an Espanola tortoise, who went to the San Diego zoo in the 1930's. He was returned to the Galapagos in 1977, when the few remaining Espanola tortoises had been removed to the Darwin Center for protection, and since then he's fathered more than 1700 children. His age is estimated to be around 130 years, so he's still late middle age for a giant tortoise and could have hundreds more children before he's done.

Peek a boo

One more, just because I love these shapes.

The pebbled patterns and curved shells of these strange creatures, almost abstract except for that one eye peeking out.

Hey, fellas!

I found the tortoises the strangest, most alien, of all the animals we've seen. But this pose cracks me up; it's the tortoise version of a bathing beauty. I especially love that back leg stretched out with the upturned foot.

Taking it slowly

A giant tortoise makes his way very carefully down a steep rocky slope. Climbing in and out of zodiacs and scrambling over those big lava boulders here has made me all too aware that my knees are way past their expiration date.

But watching these giant tortoises move with such heavy deliberation makes me feel positively balletic by comparison.

Charles Darwin Research Station

This was our first opportunity to see the famous giant tortoises of the Galapagos. (The islands are named for the tortoises; galapago is an old Spanish word meaning "saddle," which the shells of the highland species resemble.)

There's nothing in the picture for a sense of scale, so it's not obvious that although these tortoises are doing their best to appear very fierce and scary, they're actually babies, up to a couple of years old, and no more than a foot long, that are part of the captive breeding program at the Charles Darwin Center.

There are ten species of tortoise left. (Lonesome George, a tortoise who was the last member of an eleventh species, died last year without offspring, despite many attempts to breed him to females of closely related species.) Tortoises have a very long lifespan, so the tortoises bred at the Darwin Center live there for many years until they're big enough to be released in the wild.

Poison apple

Celso Montalvo, one of the wonderful naturalists, explains what happens if you eat the fruit of the poison apple tree.

(Hint: the name pretty much gives it away.)

Prickly pear

One of the amazing prickly pear trees.

Puerto Ayora

Today was spent in and around Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz island, the largest town in the Galapagos, and for the first time it was suggested that we might want to spend some of our free time shopping. (More about that later.)

First we walked to the Charles Darwin Research Center, just outside of town. I think it was the first time I got to see some of the cactus and prickly pears up close, and realized just how unusually tall they are.

The reason is -- you guessed it -- evolution. At some point in the past, a prickly pear with a mutation to grow into a tall tree rather than a short bush landed in the Galapagos, and those plants had a big advantage over smaller ones because the reptiles couldn't eat them. (On islands with few reptiles, the prickly pears tend to be more like the bushes I'm used to.)

Monday, October 28, 2013

Post Office Bay

We ended the visit to Floreana going ashore here. Whalers in the nineteenth century used to leave mail in an old barrel, and visitors to the islands continue the tradition.

There were probably a few hundred postcards there waiting to be delivered. If you take a postcard, you commit to delivering it in person, so the naturalists sorted through the cards and called out the cities so we could claim any of them that were near where we live, or where we'll be going. No New York addresses, though -- I had been looking forward to playing postman.

But I did write a postcard to leave there, and we'll see how long it takes to get delivered.


I am confident that this is the only place in the world outside a zoo where you can see penguins and flamingos on the same boat ride.

Two more of the beautiful heron

Blog Archive