Ecuador: Galapa-go-go

This is it, Directorate. The final holiday post, excluding suitcase post-mortem, which will come later.

The last leg of our trip was an 8-day sail around the Galapagos Islands, which are part of Ecuador and (primarily) reached by flights from Guayaquil and Quito. We flew from Quito through Guayaquil, but didn’t have to de-plane in Guayaquil which enabled us to abide by the State Department’s warnings about that city.+

Here, I must confess, that I had not done any advance reading about the Galapagos Islands and was equipped only with knowledge about their importance to the thinking and writing of Charles Darwin in developing the theory of evolution . . . which I am willing to say is, in lay terms, a factual explanation of life on Earth, not a theory.

During our journey, we saw many facets of nature.

We saw robust conservation efforts.

These little tortoises, babies to the left and toddlers to the right, were part of a breeding program where eggs are harvested, incubated, hatched and protected through their early years. Tortoise eggs, a tasty snack for hawks and rats, are very vulnerable. The youngest tortoises are also a tasty snack for hawks and therefore kept in small pens covered with metal screens (e.g., 15 feet long and 4 feet wide and 2 feet deep) in which food and water is provided to them. The juveniles (one to three years old) are kept in smaller groups in  walled enclosures with lots of rocks, bushes, and trees to hide beneath.

Numbered tortoises 3 and 7 (lower right corner) in a hawk-proof enclosure
Young, frisky tortoises . . . practicing their rest in hawk-unfriendly terrain

Once the tortoises reach a substantial weight (too heavy for a hawk to lift) they live in small groups within large enclosures. 

These two fellows perambulated toward us and then got into a squabble, which consisted of them yopping++ at one another. Note that they aren’t even facing one another.

This is Tortoise Oblique Fight Club; it looks more ferocious than it was

Tortoises don’t have vocal cords, so the sounds accompanying this “fight” are like agitated grunts or coughing and lots of smacking the lips together. Tortoises also have no teeth, so there is no biting and as you can see there isn’t much vulnerable surface on a fully grown tortoise for violent gumming. A warning for humans however: A tortoise could clamp down on a human hand or arm and it would really hurt. It could also result in the loss of a finger or fingers.

The fight lasted less than a minute, which in the tortoise time-scale would be unit of time smaller than a millisecond. Possibly too small to measure.

We saw cruel nature

In this photo, a hawk (to the left) is hoping to eat a newly born sea lion cub or at least steal the placenta that accompanied him. While we sat in our dinghy, the mama sea lion moved her cub and tucked him into a tight spot that the hawk would have difficulty accessing. The hawk later made off with the placenta, which seemed to me like the best possible outcome.

The hawk (upper left) looking at me as if to say, “no photos, please; this is a private matter”

We saw also saw animals living in peace and tranquility.

Pelicans lined up at the fish market in Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz; they take a number and wait their turn; NOPE! they are waiting for something to be tossed their way . . . or accidentally fall off the counter; they made no aggressive moves toward the fish or the workers
A crab crawling over a pile of marine iguanas (called a “mess”) on Fernandina Island;  I guess there’s no incentive to take the long way around if the iguanas don’t mind

You know how you can take your cues from the flight attendants when trying to decide how you feel about turbulence on a flight? The same is true of experienced guides on a nature walk. When the guides take out their cameras, it’s time to take a hundred pictures. Thusly, I have zillions of pictures of the creatures that our guides photographed.

The guides were particularly pleased to see these three birds, or to have them come as close to us as they did.

A lone flamingo, spotted on Day 1, Excursion 1, as we approached and then landed on the island of Santa Fe; she picked her way daintily up the beach amid a large group of disinterested sea lions and a small group of excited tourists (including me and our guide)

An American Oyster Catcher on Santiago Island; he was with his mate and they appeared to be discussing household matters and doing tai-chi
A patient cormorant on Fernandina Island, willing to pose — nay, preening — for dozens of photos; this flightless bird showed us his scraggly wings and allowed us close enough to appreciate his dense plumage, which looked more like a beaver’s pelt than feathers

We also saw the animals we were supposed to see.

A stately pelican on Isabela Island

Iguana on Isabela Island; there were iguanas on all the islands we visited, but their colors varied according to the landscape
Mama sea lion, worn out with her cub’s antics on Santiago Island@

Blue-footed boobies on Bartoleme Island
The Photographer swims with a tortoise

We saw beautiful landscapes.

Prickly pear trees on the Island of Santa Fe
Ground cover on Island Plaza Sur

A brackish lake on . . . you know what? I forget where this was taken
A lava field meeting the sea on the island of Santiago

You may notice over the course of these vacation posts that my hats start small and get bigger? I brought three hats with me and by the time we reached Galapagos I said to myself, “We’re going to need a bigger brim.”  Imagine me, saying that to myself, in Roy Scheider’s voice.  It happened.

Outcroppings at Bartoleme Island.

Here is our boat. I mean ship. I mean yacht. I’m not sure how it’s classed. It’s a seaworthy vessel.

Our boatshipyacht (left) and our boatshipyacht’s sworn enemy (right); actually, it’s just some other boat
A view of us on the boatshipyacht

But here is why I came all this way: THIS GUY.

And others like him.

Giant tortoises are amazing. They are dignified and majestic, comical and tragic. It’s hard to convey in words how slowly they move. I filmed one stepping over a rock that was a little smaller than himself.

It took him three-and-a-half minutes to execute this maneuver. In doing so, he stepped on another tortoise — who moved not at all.

Tortoise, partially closed for business; the only thing they do quickly is retract their heads; if he were fully closed, his front legs would be curled inward and covering his face

The other (stepped-upon) tortoise was arguably in the way, but maybe was just being used as a springboard. The stepping tortoise only touched down on his friend (frenemy) with his left rear foot and there was no yopping.

I love you
I love him so much; he’s chewing grass, not yopping

The last animal I saw before leaving Galapagos was this iguana, who had wandered into the VIP Lounge at the Seymour Airport on Baltra Island.  He blended right in.

It’s a charming airport and while we waited for our flights (your Directrice, The Photographer, and the iguana), we enjoyed a Coke and listened to acoustic versions of pop/rock including, to my amazement, an acoustic version of New Order’s Bizarre Love Triangle. It’s always a comfort to hear a familiar song (even if the arrangement is unfamiliar) when far from home.

VIP coloration; Darwin could have predicted that iguanas — so sensitive to environment — would evolve as rapidly as airline and credit card rewards programs

+ The State Department advises that travel to Guayaquil north of Portete de Tarqui Avenue should be reconsidered and that no travel of Guayaquil south of Portete de Tarqui Avenue is advised.

++ I thought yopping was a word of my own invention, but according the Urban Dictionary, yopping is eating with your mouth wide open and making lots of gross noise while doing so. Let my usage be a secondary, as yet unpublished definition.

@ We saw other cruel nature: On one island we saw a sea lion cub that appeared (according to my guide) to have been abandoned by its mother. This caused me to take to my bed without supper that evening. But I was told the following day, by another passenger, that her guide said the mother had returned.

9 thoughts on “Ecuador: Galapa-go-go”

  1. Having seen this yopping myself, here’s what I think was going on.

    TURTLE 1: “Hey! I don’t like you!”
    TURTLE 2: “I don’t like you either!”
    TURTLE 1: “Well, okay then!”
    TURTLE 2: “Fine!”

    (Turtle 2 moves several inches away, resolving to get even with Turtle 1 in 2028)

  2. Truly enjoyed this travelogue!
    I can’t get over having New Order’s Bizarre Love Triangle playing as musak in the airport. I mean, that used to be New Wave, alternative, Cool stuff. So was I….

  3. I too tend to move into wider brim hat territory as trips progress. It’s a tendency to flout and then realize how much sunlight my vampiric skin can actually handle. These travel posts give me joy! Hope to follow in your footsteps some day. This summer it was Alaska. I’ve seen that “back off lady” look on the faces of bears eating salmon and bald eagles doing pretty much anything. Thanks you two for the perfect armchair travel journey. Always a pleasure.

  4. I enjoy these blogs more than words can express. Highlights: Everything Tortoise. I hope The Directrice understands how every word and every photo is so very pleasing to her ladyship’s readers. More, please. You make my day.


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