On our last morning, we spent a couple of hours in the town of San Cristobal, which is on the island of San Cristobal, which has an airport. It’s a lovely little town, with some great public art, and we really enjoyed strolling the main drag. There are a LOT of sea lions and iguanas lolling around next to the ocean there.
Iguanas dozing in the sun
We said our goodbyes to the cruise staff who got us and all our stuff to the right place at the right time. As we waited for our flight in the very noisy waiting area, we were very grateful to our Spanish cruise friends Elsa and Heri who could translate the announcements so we knew when our flight was called.
A giant statue of a shrimp
After that it was an uneventful trip to Quito, where we were met by Wilson and Mauricio once again to bring us to our hotel. We will see them again in just a few hours as our flight out is at 6:00 am. They will pick us up at 3:20 am. So even though it’s not even 9:00 yet, we are just about asleep.
Today was our last full day on this wonderful adventure. Our morning outing was in dinghies to Black Turtle Cove (in Santa Cruz Island), which is shallow salt water with lots of mangroves growing all over the place. This area is a popular place for sharks to give birth – because it’s shallow and has the mangrove roots, the baby sharks can live safely for the 5-6 years it takes for them to get big enough to brave the open ocean. There’s lots of fish for them to eat there. We saw baby black-tipped sharks and baby white-tipped reef sharks.
Young Spotted Eagle Ray
There are also large marine turtles there, but they are very hard to photograph as their heads come up out of the water for just a second and then they are gone again. I was not lucky enough to get any photos of this. I did get a picture of the young spotted eagle ray that swam by our boat!
We also saw juvenile frigate birds – they are recognizable by their white chests and heads. These looked almost full grown in size and were a delight to watch as they soared around. And last but not least, I got a great picture of a Great Blue Heron perched on top of a mangrove.
Great Blue Heron atop the mangroves
After lunch, we went back to Santa Cruz to visit the El Chato Tortoise preserve. This is privately owned land that is dedicated to providing space for the giant tortoises that live on that island. We spent over an hour there and it was magical.
At the end of the afternoon, we visited the town of Puerto Ayora. It had a lot of wonderful shops that were fun to browse through.
Tomorrow we have a morning outing, but we have to get all packed up to go to the airport immediately after.
Santiago Island was formed by ash and lava spewing volcanic action. Along the coast, you can see quite clearly the thousands of layers of compacted ash (called tuff, pronounced “toof”) and lava that created it.
We started our morning with a dinghy ride along that coast. The most exciting part of that ride was the large school of golden mantas and mobula mantas that were skimming along just under the surface of the water to eat – there were probably over a hundred of them, and they kept swimming back and forth past us as they ate. It was amazing, and according to our guide, very unusual to see that many at once. We also did at last see some blue-footed boobies, but not very many, and none of them posed well in terms of being able to take pictures of their feet. They fish just like pelicans do, diving straight down into the water to catch their prey.
After the dinghy excursion, we changed into swimsuits and wetsuits, and snorkeled along that same part of the coast. Many more fish than the day before, and even some white-tipped reef sharks. Those are not dangerous to humans. Sadly, the mantas had moved on and I didn’t see any of them on this outing.
Layers of weathered tuff
In the afternoon, we started at a black sand beach on the north side of the island, and walked over land to a place on the western side where lava had flowed out into the ocean. There were some tunnels/large cracks that let in sea water – we saw sea lions and a large turtle (medium size by Galápagos terms). Then we walked back along the shore for maybe half a mile until we picked up our original trail again. The rock formations along that walk were incredible. Those layers of tuff were eroded and weathered into big sweeping curves. Adding to that, there were places where lava explosions had flung big globs of lava onto the tuff and literally melted it, so that the result looks like stone droplets and splash patterns. It took my breath away.
We didn’t see much wildlife. There were birds, of course: a cattle egret, a lava heron, and some American oyster catchers. Lots of little lizards. Some marine iguanas, and our first land iguana since the one we saw at the airport on our arrival.
After we returned to the boat, a delicious snack of sushi was prepared for us to tide us over to dinner. Tomorrow is our last full day on this adventure, and it will be a busy one!
Yesterday there was a miscommunication and I accidentally misidentified one of the types of bird we saw -what I thought was a blue-footed booby was actually a Nazca booby. I already corrected the original post but I wanted to let you know as well, dear subscribers!
Today we visited Genovesa Island. Three trips, altogether.
Female Frigate bird
For the first one, we disembarked from the cruise boat at 8 am in rubber dinghies. The cruise boat was anchored a short ride from the island, and we motored in the dinghies along its rocky cliffs to the point where steps had been cut in the rock so people can climb to the flat top. Along the rocks, we saw several sea lions – they like to lounge there in the shade while they can. There were swallowtail gulls, frigate birds, pelicans, and tropic birds flying around as well.
Male Frigate bird with his chick
The top was a flat expanse with probably hundreds of nesting Nazca boobies, red-footed boobies, and frigate birds. The Nazca boobies were pretty much entirely on the ground – walking around and nesting. The red-footed boobies were primarily in the trees. In addition to their feet being different colors, their faces are quite different too. You can see that in these pictures. We saw eggs and babies of both. The frigate birds are dark: the males have red patches on the necks, and the females have white chests.
At one point we saw a vast number of storm petrels swooping around. They were beautiful. We also saw a short-eared owl, which hunts the storm petrels.
Our second visit was to snorkel along the rock wall. No pictures of that! But it was very enjoyable. Lots of colorful fish.
Our third visit, in the afternoon, was to the only beach on this island. There were many sea lions sunning themselves and swimming there. We walked down for a ways, then waded further in a small inlet. While in the inlet, a baby sea lion came over to check some of us out! We just stood quietly and it came over to several different people, curious, and sniffed their legs. On this walk we saw more boobies, of course, and two different types of swallowtail gulls. One is native to the Galápagos, the other comes from Chile to the Galápagos each year to mate. We saw one juvenile of that species and several instances of mating. We also saw a lava gull, which are quite rare.
All in all, it was a lovely day. Tonight we will motor to another island, and they have promised it will be rougher than last night’s passage, so thank heaven for Dramamine!
This will be a short post as I’m exhausted and a little seasick. We made it successfully to the islands and onto the boat. In the afternoon we had a beach expedition to the island of Santa Cruz. We walked the beach looking at the amazing life there, then swam in the beautiful blue ocean. Here are some pictures.
Today was mostly devoted to getting back to Quito in preparation for the next leg of our trip. After breakfast, we made a visit to the Science Lab at Mashpi. One of the biologists, a woman named Chiara, told us lots about the research they are doing into forest health and biodiversity. It was really interesting and impressive to see how devoted they are to that work.
Mick and I with Juan Carlos, guide extraordinaire
We had one last delicious lunch and said our goodbyes to the people there who we had spent the most time with. Our Quito guide Wilson and driver Mauricio arrived to pick us up a little before 3:00 and off we went. Today’s pictures are of the dining area at the Mashpi lodge, and us with Juan Carlos. He is the one who led all the expeditions we took and taught us so very much about the Cloud Forest.
We had a lot of fun on that ride, sharing music back and forth. Mick and I love a lot of Latin music (that we got to know back in our days as Zumba instructors), and it turns out we have some common taste with Wilson and Mauricio in terms of what we like. We were all delighted at one point that two Ecuadorians and two Americans were listening over the internet to salsa music by a Japanese salsa band! Wilson is particularly fond of cumbia music and loved Cumbia del Saxofon by Chicos de Barrio, which was one of my suggestions to for us listen to.
Tonight we are staying at a hotel close to the airport, as we catch our plane to the Galápagos Islands early in the morning and this is convenient.
Today’s highlight was visiting the Hummingbird Center, which is part of Mashpi. It’s located a little ways away from main lodge and higher up, primarily so that it can attract hummingbirds from higher elevations as well.
Hummingbird feeding from a hand-held feeder
It is completely open air with just a covered shelter in case it’s raining. They have a number of hanging feeders with sugar water as well as little feeders that you can hold in your hand. The hummingbirds will come sit on your hand and eat! (Mick, of course, put one on top of his head…) In this picture, the hummingbird did not land to eat, and its little wings are beating so fast you can’t even see them in the photo. The whole experience was magical.
Mick with a hummingbird on his head
When we got back to the lodge, I took a walk and took pictures with my Nikon of the amazing plants right outside the door. I can’t wait to get those pictures on my computer.
A living leaf that has additional vegetation growing on it
After lunch, Mick and I got a couples massage at the spa here – so relaxing! I chilled for a while then went another walk and took pictures with my phone. This is our last full day here, and these will show you some of the lush surroundings. Also, I’m including a picture of the juvenile viper we saw last night on the night walk and one of the little frogs we saw.
Tomorrow we head back to Quito so we can fly to the Galápagos Islands Tuesday morning.
Our first full day here at Mashpi actually started before breakfast, with a short bird-watching session on the terrace upstairs from our room. I was reminded of how a wave of bird song, to greet the dawn, is continuously sweeping around the globe. It was a very sweet way to start the day.
After a delicious breakfast, our morning outing was to take the Dragonfly Tram ride over the Cloud Forest. It’s named this because dragonflies have a 360 degree view and soar through the air, just like the tram. It was incredible to travel so high over the forest canopy, to see all the textures of the different vegetation and all the different colors. We saw butterflies and a few birds, including, spectacularly, a pair of Crested Owls. The featured image at the top of this post was taken looking straight down at the tree tops. At the end of the tram ride, we took a short walk to a beautiful waterfall in the Laguna River, where the rock walls are sedimentary stone shoved up when the Andes were formed.
Waterfall in the Laguna River
After a leisurely lunch and time to chill, we walked to the Life Center where they are doing butterfly research. This building has a butterfly enclosure with a variety of local butterflies as well as a separate room where they raise the caterpillars and let the chrysalises develop into adults. The Owl Butterflies there are particularly striking. They are called that because of the spots on their wings that look like owl eyes. The one in this picture is freshly eclosed with bright colors and clear markings.
Owl Butterflies at a feeding station
Upon returning to the main lodge, Mick got ready for dinner and I got ready to take a one-hour night walk (he didn’t go with me). There were just three of us with our guide Juan Carlo. He did a great job of helping us see a variety of grasshoppers, a stick insect, small frogs, spiders, a juvenile viper (yes! as in poisonous snake!), some kinkajous, another Crested Owl, and a bioluminescent stick. The stick was particularly interesting because it had just one tiny mushroom growing on it, but the mycelium network from that one mushroom was interacting with the whole thing to make it glow in the dark.
Today we drove from Quito to our next destination, Mashpi Lodge in the Ecuadorian Cloud Forest. On the way, we stopped at the monument marking the equator. The monument had a view deck and a museum, as well as lots of surrounding shops and food stalls. It commemorates the French scientists who came here in the 1700s to confirm that the shape of the earth is flattened at the poles with a bulgy middle instead being of a perfect sphere. Of course, Mick & I had to have our picture taken straddling the equator, to match the one we have from Kenya last year.
One thing I learned in the museum that I found really interesting is that the ancient indigenous cultures here used to bury their dead curled in the fetal position, in a cauldron. Go out as you came in.
View from a trail in the Cloud Forest at Mashpi
Then we proceeded on, slowly due to holiday weekend traffic, to Mashpi. This lovely, serene eco-resort was build on the site of an old logging camp in what is now over 3000 acres of preserve. As promised, it was indeed cloudy when we arrived. I can’t express how much I love it here. Giant flora, lots of birds, and a modern, luxurious building with caring, attentive employees. After getting settled in our room, we met with one of the outings coordinators to learn more about what’s on offer here, then went for an hour-long walk through the forest. Even though it was just a short outing, we saw and heard so much: toucans calling, a White-whiskered Hermit Hummingbird, small blue fruits on a bush related to coffee plants, a giant snail (bigger than my hand!), an ocelot paw print, a guan (type of turkey), and many very cool leaves with amazing vein patterns.
I’m determined to find a balance between doing all the things here and allowing time to really let it soak in. Making sure to sit and look and listen, to sketch and capture colors, and just BE. In between all those great activities that I can do only while I’m here.