Switzerland: Scenery and Food

Switzerland is famous for its mountains, crystal clear lakes, chocolate, cuckoo clocks and yodelling. The majority of this trip was undertaken in April 2012 with a small group of friends, taking in a number of the iconic towns, spectacular mountain scenery with a visit to a cheese (Gruyère) and chocolate (Cailler) factories. Enjoy!

The best ways to see Switzerland is by public transport with trains seamlessly connected to buses, boats and cable cars. The Golden Pass route goes between Lucerne and Montreux, which was our main mode of transport, at certain times, the route has panoramic coaches which has extended height windows, while at other times, there are the standard intercity or local Swiss trains.

Lucerne

We arrived in Lucerne via the main airport in Zurich and connected to Lucerne via a train (which was unusual in that was 30 minutes later than scheduled!)

Lucerne is a small and beautiful city (population-718,000), with two wooden bridges, (originally built in the 14th century) spanning the river and linking the two sides of the town. The old town (Altstadt) is picture-postcard Switzerland with a backdrop of a lake, mountain and bridge.

Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge) is a covered wooden footbridge spanning the river Reuss diagonally, it dates back to the 14th century and in its 17th-century roof panels (Painter: Hans Heinrich Wägmann) has important events from Swiss history and mythology.

Löwendenkmal (Lion Monument) is a 10-m long sculpture of a dying lion (Sculptor: Lukas Ahorn) to commerate the Swiss soldiers who died defending King Louis XVI during the French Revolution

Lake Lucerne has a number of villages/towns dotted along the shoreline with the snow-capped mountains providing numerous classic Switzerland photographic opportunities, A boat trip on the Lake was a great (if slightly chilly) way of absorbing the scenery of mountains and lakes.

One caution, it the number of day-trippers that seem to flood the chocolate and souvenir
shops in the afternoon.

Interlaken and Ringgenberg

We travelled from Lucerne to Interlaken by train (part of the Golden Pass route). it is best to
sit on the right-hand side of train; as this has the spectacular views of the lakes.

From Interlaken, we went to Ringgenberg (approximately 20 minutes by bus from Interlaken station). Ringgenberg overlooks Lake Brienz (Brienzersee), another crystal clear and beautiful lake. We visited Ringgenberg Church, built-in 1670 in the ruins of Ringgenberg Castle (first built 1230) and we’re lucky to have it all to ourselves.

The pictures below were captured using a variety of camera modes and anchored to the castle walls! My heart stopped more than once trying to anchor the camera; so I hope you enjoy the results!

Lauterbrunnen and Staubbachfall

Lauterbrunnen (population 2,452) is a small village, nestled in a valley with 72 waterfalls. With late April, between its winter and summer tourist seasons; it was quieter than we expected.

Our hotel room balcony had a view of Jungfrau, which would have been a great way to spend a lovely spring afternoon and evening if it wasn’t for the strong smell of cow manure!

Staubbach Falls (Staubbachfall) is a 297-m waterfall which has a beautiful ultra-mist spray that drifts across the cliff face, up close it is a much more solid body of water,

At Hotel Oberland, we were able to enjoy the Swiss favourite, the fondue complete with
garlic, mushrooms and onions.

Jungfraujoch and Kleine Scheidegg

Dressed in our warmest clothes, we purchased our tickets up to Jungfraujoch; which in the end totalled 137 CHF (or 100 GBP)! We then boarded the trains to the highest station in Europe from 796 m (Interlaken) to 3,454m (Jungfraujoch). The journey takes about 2 hours; despite being able to see Jungfrau from our hotel balcony!

2012 was the 100 year anniversary of the opening of Jungfraujoch, with the train passing through tunnels deep inside the Eiger mountain. Designed as a tourist attraction and took over 16 years to build. Although, I’m sure that with today’s environmental impact statements it would never be built!

Jungfraujoch is in the Bernese Alps, connecting the peaks Jungfrau and Mönch, at an elevation of 3,466 metres (11,371 ft) above sea level. It is a glacier saddle, on the upper snows of the Aletsch Glacier. It is an amazing feeling to sit on a series of 3 warm trains and suddenly emerge at the edge of a glacier.

From the Inside (i.e. warm) viewing platforms, it is possible to get sweeping views of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau and Aletsch Glacier fields, the meteorological station called the Sphinx and the valleys of Lauterbrunnen and Grindelwald.

We braved the snow, cold winds to walk on the terraces despite some being closed due to snowfalls. The Ice Palace had ice sculptures carved in small caves within the main complex!

After a hearty lunch of wurst and rosti at Kleine Scheidegg (2,061-m), we attempted to down the mountain to Grindelwald. However, the paths were closed due to the volume of snow so it was to be the train back instead.

Grindelwald is a small town (population 3,740), though larger than Lauterbrunnen. We indulged in the chocolate shop of Läderach was still open! I definitely suggest the Champagne and Cognac batons if you are anywhere in Switzerland.

Mürren and Gimmewald

Mürren is a traditional village, with views of Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau which has no public road which leads to it. While it has a population of 450, it has 2,000 hotel beds!

The cable car took us to Grütschalp (1,487m), then the train to Mürren (1,684 m). With the cable car to Schilthorn closed due to the strong winds, we changed our destination to Gimmewald.

The walk between Mürren and Gmmewald is a beautiful one, with snow-covered front gardens, waterfalls, avalanche defences, grazing cows, countless pinecones and of course a snow
capped mountain or two!

After a picnic lunch at Gimmewald with against a background of the Swiss Alps; we took the cable car to Stechelberg (922m). One of the most spectacular cable-car rides, with a single pylon and a sheer drop of about 500m against with the roar of waterfalls and the wind tossing the
cable car; it was definitely a memorable 10 minutes!

The walk back to Lauterbrunnen followed the river and involved crossing a stream, note to self for next time; bring and wear waterproof shoes!

Gruyères

The journey from Lauterbrunnen to Gruyères took approximately 4 hours and involved 4 different trains with all the connections seamless.

Gruyères is a town (population 1,789) set on a hill with cobbled streets. It has a picturesque castle surrounded by green pastures dotted with grazing cows.

Dinner was a fantastic fondue, with only cheese being Vacherin and was topped off with the other Gruyères staple of meringue served with double cream and fresh strawberries. Sorry, no pictures as we were too hungry this time!

Breakfast was described as “hearty” by the hotel, what they omitted to mention was that it included the specialities of Gruyere cheese and meringue! In the interest of research, we had to sample the various aged Gruyere on offer and the meringue with fresh strawberries and “yoghurt”, which looked surprisingly like the double cream we had the previous
night!

Gruyère Cheese – La Maison du Gruyère

The tour of the cheese factory at La Maison du Guyère was an audio tour with Cherry the cow as our “guide”, some interesting facts that we learn:
– Each cow eats 100kg of grass and 85L of water a day to produce 25L of milk
– 12 litres of milk is used to produce 1kg of cheese
– 5.7 million litres of milk is the certified AOC production of Gruyere, of which two thirds are consumed within Switzerland

We were able to see the cheesemakers at work through the various stages of production and the sample at the end was 3 small pieces of 6, 8 and 10 months Gruyere. We couldn’t agree on a favourite, so you will just have to try all of them and make your own mind up!

Chocolate Factory – Cailler Broc

Next stop, the chocolate factory of Cailler (at Broc Fabrique), the oldest brand in Switzerland, owned by Nestle since 1929. Our tour included a history of chocolate, Cailler and a glimpse into the production process.

The highlight of the tour was, of course, the tastings at the end. Cailler offered unlimited samples of some of the chocolates that they make, a tip when you next visit; hold off until get to the Ambassador range – they are by far the best………..

Lausanne

The train journey from Broc to Montreux is spectacular, going along and through the mountains before descending to Lake Geneva and Montreux; this time sit on the left-hand side!

Lausanne’s old town was a solid climb from the train station; after we almost got to Old Town; we found at least 3 different metro stations! There is a panoramic view of the city from just outside the Cathedral.

Montreux and Château de Chillon

After a breakfast of bakery treats and coffee on the shores of Lake Geneva, we strolled along the famed Chemin Fleuri (Floral Path) along the shores of Lake Geneva.

Château de Chillon dates back to the Bronze Age and made famous by the Romantic poets including Lord Byron in the 19th century. The castle has a stunning position on Lake Geneva, with a 13th-century fortress with a maze of courtyards, towers, and halls with armoury, furniture and artwork.

Travel Dates: 24 April to 30 April 2012

#travel, #nature, #landscapes, #adventure, #travelmore, #cheese, #chocolate

Ecuador: Quito City

Quito – Bus Tour

The Quito City Tour with its live commentary in Spanish and English was a great backdrop as we drove through the downtown districts of La Mariscal (country homes of the rich in the 19th Century, now full of restaurants and bars), Americas in the Old Town (so named for the streets named for American cities and countries).

Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco
Alexandre Pétion Statue
Statue, Old Town
Quito – The Modern section
Old Town looking towards Mirador el Panecillo
Traffic crossing the city

Our bus ride up to the 41-metre tall statue of La Virgen de Quito (complete with a crown of stars, angel wings and a chained dragon) at Mirador el Panecillo, involved our double-deck bus having to do a slight reverse and a sharp right onto oncoming traffic to go up the hill. There were houses on the hillside with corrugated iron walls and an outdoor laundry room.

La Virgen de Quito
La Virgen de Quito

From Mirador el Panecillo, the viewing platform gave a spectacular view of the city especially the old town. La Virgen de Quito is one of the largest aluminium statues in the world it made for a beautiful and towering backdrop.

Old Town and Basilica del Voto Nacional
La Virgen de Quito

As we made our way through the old town (particularly on Calle Paseo De la 24 de Mayo and Calle de La Muralla de San Francisco), we were caught in a traffic jam for the next 45 minutes. It was a great opportunity to observe how people live, a large range of items could be done purchased without leaving the footpath with fruit (cherries, grapes, watermelons and papayas), snacks (sweet rice balls, empanadas, nuts with lime and chilli), ice cream vendors with push-carts (who churned by hand and kept cool using large blocks). One-piece monkey suits, tracksuits, keys and cigarettes, clothes and footballs were all on offer.

Christmas parade, Old Town
Old Town traffic jam
Taking in the sunshine
A traditional “backpack”
Vegetable stand
Fruit Stand
Locksmith
Grandma
Tea towels, anyone?
Clothes stall
Sweet treats
Grapes and cherries re-seller
Citrus re-seller
Snack seller
Hand churned ice-cream, on a giant ice block
Quito street food
Old Town traffic jam
Old Town traffic jam

The residents of the Old Town had a variety of uses for their narrow balconies including a garden of flowering plants, yard for a small dog to run around, balcony for the grandchild to watch the traffic jam go past and a way to get into the Christmas spirit.

The streets as a playground
Christmas spirit
Doggy day-care

The cause of the traffic jam was the last day of school before Christmas, with each child leaving with a free lunch courtesy of the school, some of which was eaten at the school gate.

School’s out
Free Christmas lunch

Ecuadorian Lunch

We had a traditional Ecuadorian lunch at Mama Clorinda.

Starter: Shrimp and fish ceviche: full of lime, chilli and onion – delicious!

Main: Grilled chicken had the smashed fried potato, beetroot and avocado – yum!

Shrimp and fish ceviche
Grilled chicken with smashed fried potato, beetroot and avocado

Centro de Arts Contemporáneo

Centro de Arts Contemporáneo is a beautifully resorted formerly military hospital modernised with glass while retaining the courtyard and stunning arches.

Centro de Arts Contemporáneo
Centro de Arts Contemporáneo
Centro de Arts Contemporáneo
Centro de Arts Contemporáneo
Centro de Arts Contemporáneo
Centro de Arts Contemporáneo
Centro de Arts Contemporáneo
Centro de Arts Contemporáneo
Centro de Arts Contemporáneo
Centro de Arts Contemporáneo

Basilica del Voto Nacional

Basilica del Voto Nacional (Iglesia La Basilica), a huge Gothic church visible from El Panecillo (lookout); it has beautiful stained glass and a highly decorated chapel which was closed. The exterior of the church is decorated with turtles, iguanas, monkeys and pelicans.

Basilica del Voto Nacional
Basilica del Voto Nacional
Basilica del Voto Nacional
Stained glass, Basilica del Voto Nacional
Basilica del Voto Nacional
Gargoyle, Basilica del Voto Nacional
Iguana gargoyle, Basilica del Voto Nacional
Aardvark gargoyle, Basilica del Voto Nacional
Tortoise gargoyle, Basilica del Voto Nacional
Monkey gargoyle, Basilica del Voto Nacional

Travel date: 22 December 2018

Isla Espanola

Isla Espanola landscape © Jin Liew

Isla Espanola is a dramatic island with cliffs rising in the south and its position in the south-east of the archipelago. It is one of the oldest, dating to approximately four million years and due to the flatness of the island, it is the driest of these islands, with only a few inches of rain per year.

Isla Espanola © Linda Hartskeerl
Isla Espanola © Linda Hartskeerl
Isla Espanola – the high ground on the island

A group of young sea lions playing in the shallows of the harbour were guarded by a large (and loud) male in the deeper water.

Sea lions playing in the shallows – Isla Espanola

Due to its location and age, the animals on Isla Espanola have different characteristics to those on other islands. Isla Espanola’s marine iguanas are coloured red and green and love to gather in larger groups in order to share body heat and the morning sunlight.

Marine iguanas warming up – Isla Espanola © Linda Hartskeerl
Marine iguana – Isla Espanola © Linda Hartskeerl

Despite being late in the season there were a few groups of waved albatross which were nesting on the cliff tops. We spotted a protective mum guarding her infant and an individual shaking their feathers out.

Waved albatross – Isla Espanola
Waved albatross – Isla Espanola
Waved albatross – Isla Espanola © Linda Hartskeerl

With new bird identification skills, we spotted Nazca boobies (mother and chick), a Galapagos hawk (on the ground and in-flight), a brown ground finch and Hood mockingbird.

Brown pelican – Isla Espanola
American oyster catcher – Isla Espanola
Lava lizard – Isla Espanola
Sally light foot crab – Isla Espanola © Linda Hartskeerl

Bahia Gardner is the perfect picture postcard! It has a white sand beach with beautiful crystal clear waters, sea lions basking in the sand. The sand was small and wonderful underfoot, free of shells, seaweed and plastic. It quickly changes with large volcanic rocks halfway along the beach represented the limits of access.

Bahia Gardner – Isla Espanola © Linda Hartskeerl

The strict rules of the National Park were brought to life when a few members of our group unknowingly wandered beyond the marked area. Our guide had to radio back to the boat’s zodiac which was then dispatched to guide them back to the permissible area. This incident would then end up in the weekly report to the National Park from our guide and another guide who were also on the beach with us.

Bahia Gardner – Isla Espanola

While snorkelling off Isla Espanola we were close to a group of sea lions, a large male sea lion sent a clear message that we were too close and took a cheeky nip on the arm of group member. Watching a sea lion play underwater is really special, they are able to dive almost to the sea-floor, spin and quickly rise in a truly elegant display of underwater gymnastics!

Bahia Gardner – Isla Espanola

There were also sea turtles feeding on the seaweed near the bottom of the sea. We saw different types of fish in a few hundred meters depending on how close we were to the cliffs, the caves or the depth of the seafloor.

Bahia Gardner, Isla Espanola © Jin Liew

Sailing on in the evening, we were followed by a group of frigate birds, who were more than happy when the boat released some food scraps into the ocean.

#buckletlist; #Galapagos; #travel; #nature; #landscape; #adventure; #intrepidtravel

Travel date: 28 December 2018

Ecuador: Climbing Cotopaxi

Introducing Cotopaxi

Cotopaxi is an active stratovolcano in the Andes Mountains, located in the Latacunga canton of Cotopaxi Province, about 50 km (31 miles) south of Quito, Ecuador. On a clear day, Cotopaxi is visible on the skyline from Quito. It is the second-highest summit in Ecuador, reaching a height of 5,897 m (19,347 ft), it is one of the world’s highest volcanoes and is part of the chain of volcanoes around the Pacific plate known as the Pacific Ring of Fire.

Cotopaxi has an almost symmetrical cone that rises from a highland plain of about 3,800 m (12,470 ft), with a width at its base of about 23 km (14 mi). Although situated at the equator, it is one of the few mountains with a glacier, which starts at 5,000 m (16,400 ft). According to local Quechua language, “coto” means moon and “paxi” means neck. The mountain was honoured as a “Sacred Mountain” by local Andean people, even before the Inca invasion in the 15th century.

Since 1738, Cotopaxi has erupted more than 50 times, resulting in the creation of numerous valleys formed by lahars (mudflows) around the volcano. The last eruption lasted from August 2015 to January 2016, re-opening to climbers in October 2017.

Getting from Quito to Cotopaxi

Our journey from Quito, started with a 7 am meeting when our driver and guide checked that we had enough warm clothing as had seen snow a couple of days before on the mountain. Using the tried and tested method of layering, I managed to put together two t-shirts, a long sleeve shirt, a light puffy jacket, Gortex and a scarf (aka a beach sarong) for the hike up.

Unlike London or Sydney, it wasn’t the peak hour traffic across town that was the problem rather the traffic jam leaving the city which caused the gridlock; there were countless buses (they are in the process of building the metro system) and people were changing buses in the middle of intersections.

Cotopaxi National Park
Horses at Cotopaxi National Park
Cotopaxi National Park

From the national park entrance to the car park of Volcán Cotopaxi, it was a 7 km long winding and the partially paved road ended at 4,600 m (above sea level); from there the walk would continue on foot. Taking into consideration the lack of altitude hiking and equipment, reaching the summit was never a realistic objective for that day. My goal for the day was the Refugio José Rivas which at 4,864 m (above sea level); which is the point from which hikers start off at midnight to reach the summit for sunrise.

With my only previous experience of hiking at altitude being Macchu Picchu where I was able to acclimatise to being at altitude over a couple of weeks; the hike up to Refugio after being at altitude for less than 24 hours was always going to be a stretch. Although we tried to counteract some of the effects of the altitude with Diamox about 36 hours before it definitely was not enough.

Summit of Cotopaxi
View of Refugio José Rivas and Cotopaxi from the carpark

The journey towards the Refugio was a slow and careful one, the recent (2015/16) volcanic eruption deposited a lot of loose rock, which meant that for each step up; you would slide back a couple of centimetres. Using the same method that had got me through the Inca trail, I would count out 50 steps and steps before allowing myself to stop; and would be overtaken by mountain bikers who were hiking with their bike in one hand. I also met a group of Ecuadorians who were practising for a summit in 6 weeks and had already run/hiked from the lake about 2 hours away and several hundred metres in altitude without water and in gym wear (rather than hiking wear).

Mountain biking – the hard way up Cotopaxi
Looking up at Refugio José Rivas and Cotopaxi summit © Linda Hartskeerl

Although I didn’t reach the Refugio, I probably got about 2/3 of the way up from the carpark, so probably just under 4,800 m (above sea level) and it was the highest altitude that I have ever been! There was still a magnificent view of the snow-covered top of Cotopaxi. I will have to make it back and attempt the climb with more preparation and the right gear!

Almost the highest point that I got to on Cotopaxi, © Linda Hartskeerl
Looking down Cotopaxi, © Linda Hartskeerl

A 30-minute drive down the mountain to Laguna de Limpiopungo (3,800 m above sea level), was a great way to properly see Volcán Cotopaxi in context; the shifting clouds made it quite tricky to get a decent picture. The lake itself was calm with wildflowers and birdlife just off the paths and mercifully free of other tourists and hikers.

Wild flower at Laguna de Limpiopungo
Wild flower at Laguna de Limpiopungo
Bird on Laguna de Limpiopungo © Linda Hartskeerl
View of Laguna de Limpiopungo © Linda Hartskeerl

Lunch at La Posada del Chagra in Machachi; a traditional Ecuadorian restaurant was a definite highlight. My first course was a traditional potato soup with pig organs garnished with dried pig’s blood, avocado, tomato and onion topped off with a homemade hot sauce. While the main course was pork with smashed potato, fried plantain, large white corn and pork crackling.

Traditional Ecuadorian potato soup
Side salad garnished with dried pig’s blood
Pork with smashed potato, fried plantain, large white corn and pork crackling

In sharp contrast was dinner, where we carried on with the Ecuadorian theme but this time ended up with a “Caesar Salad” with lettuce, grated plastic cheese, half a slice of bread and what tasted like a cup of cheap white vinegar (definitely not vinaigrette dressing).

#travel; #nature; #landscape; #adventure; #hiking

Travel date: 21 December 2018

Isla San Cristobal – Puerto Baquerzo Moreno

Puerto Baquerzo Moreno, Isla San Cristobal

Puerto Baquerzo Moreno is the provincial capital of the Galapagos. It is like a country town with a few bars, cafes, tourist shops (and the promise of wifi) by the ferry terminal was the most civilisation that I had seen in a week! Puerto Baquerzo Moreno is also a surfing mecca.

Surfing hub – Puerto Baquerzo Moreno, Isla San Cristobal
Visitor facilities – Puerto Baquerzo Moreno, Isla San Cristobal
Cafe, Puerto Baquerzo Moreno, Isla San Cristobal
Local transport, Puerto Baquerzo Moreno, Isla San Cristobal
School wall, Puerto Baquerzo Moreno, Isla San Cristobal
Marine iguanas, Puerto Baquerzo Moreno, Isla San Cristobal
Sally lightfoot crab, Isla San Cristobal

Sea lions at Puerto Baquerzo Moreno

Puerto Baquerzo Moreno has many sea lions which congregate around the beach just by the ferry terminal. Despite fences which were designed to keep them out, they wander freely on the boardwalk.

Sea lions on the beach, Puerto Baquerzo Moreno, Isla San Cristobal
Sea lion lazing, Puerto Baquerzo Moreno, Isla San Cristobal
Curious sea lions, Puerto Baquerzo Moreno, Isla San Cristobal
Sea lion looking at beach, Puerto Baquerzo Moreno, Isla San Cristobal
Playful sea lions, Puerto Baquerzo Moreno, Isla San Cristobal
Playful sea lions, Puerto Baquerzo Moreno, Isla San Cristobal
Sea lions on the beach, Puerto Baquerzo Moreno, Isla San Cristobal
Sunbaking sea lion, Puerto Baquerzo Moreno, Isla San Cristobal
Mother and juvenile sea lion, Puerto Baquerzo Moreno, Isla San Cristobal

At Puerto Baquerzo Moreno (called Interpretation Center of San Cristobal) on Tijeretas Hill and Punta Carola Point, we learnt about the human history of the Galapagos. Ecuador claimed the islands in 1832, the hypothesised existence of resources including guano (a highly prized fertiliser) and its strategic position for international trade saw the superpowers of the era France, England and the US interested in claiming for themselves around 1860.

There were successive waves of immigrants were trying to exploit its resources came from Ecuador, Norway, Germany and Japan largely failed due to the lack of freshwater and the difficulties faced in setting up a colony so far from the nearest other civilisation.

During World War 2, after the Pearl Harbour attack, airbases were built from which the US could defend the Panama Canal and this explains why there are 3 airports for an Ecuadorian population of 25,000 and visitors of 250,000.

Cactus flower, Isla San Cristobal
Cactus flower, Isla San Cristobal
Cactus flower, Isla San Cristobal

Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre (Centro de Crianza de Tortuga Terrestres) is a key breeding centre where giant tortoises wander around freely. We learnt that in a natural setting, the female giant tortoise will use her back legs to create a hole which will hold between 2 and 16 eggs. After a period of 4 – 8 months, the baby giant tortoises will hatch and dig themselves out to ground level over the course of a month. The hatchlings weigh around 80 grams and are around 6 cm in length, over their lifetime they will grow up to 225 kg, a thousand increase on their birth weight! Warmer incubation temperatures result in a greater proportion of females.

Giant tortoise, Isla San Cristobal
Giant tortoise, Isla San Cristobal
Giant tortoise, Isla San Cristobal

The Grand Queen Beatriz received an unexpected visitor, a sea lion who decided that the back of the boat would make a comfortable resting spot.

Sea lion on the Grand Queen Beatriz
Sea lion on the Grand Queen Beatriz
Sea lion on the Grand Queen Beatriz
Sea lion on the Grand Queen Beatriz

#buckletlist; #Galapagos; #travel; #nature; #landscape; #adventure; #intrepidtravel

Travel date: 30 December 2018

Isla San Cristobal and Isla Lobos

Panorama – Isla San Cristobal © Jin Liew

Isla San Cristóbal (Chatham) is the easternmost island in the Galápagos archipelago as well as one of the oldest geologically (around 4 million years old).

Isla San Cristobal

At the north-eastern point of Isla San Cristobal is Punta Pitt which rises up a couple of hundred metres above the sea. A short hike up the hill over rocky terrain with Nazca and red-footed boobies and frigate birds flying overhead was like a symphony of birds. The crater that visitors walk up was formed by volcanic ash and large rocks called “volcanic bombs”.

Hike up to Punta Pitt, Isla San Cristobal
Rock layers, Isla San Cristobal
Landscape – Isla San Cristobal
Landscape – Isla San Cristobal

The view from the top of the Punta Pitt was spectacular, overlooking crystal waters, sandy beach and the sweeping drop was another side of the island. In the other direction, there was a dramatic view of the caldera with the sloping cliffs and rocks.

View from Punta Pitt, Isla San Cristobal

There were a number of blue-footed booby nests which were guarded by a protective parent in front of their nest. Red-footed booby nests in trees, often high in the cliffs and away from predators, hiding their spectacular red feet in the shrubs.

Birds resting in cliffs, Isla San Cristobal
Great  Frigatebird, resting in trees, Isla San Cristobal
Great  Frigatebird, Isla San Cristobal
Great  Frigatebird, Isla San Cristobal
Great  Frigatebird, Isla San Cristobal
Magnificent Frigatebird, Isla San Cristobal © Linda Hartskeerl
Red-footed booby, Isla San Cristobal
Red-footed booby, Isla San Cristobal
Blue-footed booby, Isla San Cristobal
Blue-footed booby, Isla San Cristobal
Blue-footed booby, Isla San Cristobal
Blue-footed booby, Isla San Cristobal
Blue-footed booby, Isla San Cristobal © Linda Hartskeerl

While snorkelling off Los Lobos we encountered a large territorial male sea lion guarding his harem, including a group of babies who were playing in the shallows… A memorable moment was witnessing the shock experienced by a fellow group member when the large male sea lion passed between him and the fish he was videoing.

Sea lion, Isla San Cristobal © Linda Hartskeerl
Marine Iguana and crab, Isla San Cristobal © Linda Hartskeerl

While walking or more accurately the balancing on lava stones on Los Lobos, there were large groups of sea lions relaxing on the beach and rocks. Among them were very curious juveniles who came up to us, close enough to have a sniff of someone’s red trainer.

Cactus, Los Lobos
Red volcanic rock, Los Lobos

#buckletlist; #Galapagos; #travel; #nature; #landscape; #adventure; #intrepidtravel

Travel date: 29 December 2018

Isla Santa Fé and Isla Plaza Sur

Isla Santa Fé panorama © Jin Liew

Isla Santa Fe is a small island where sea lions frolic in the shallows and young pups call out to each other. As usual, their antics were the focus of our attention and with a combination of phones, small and SLR cameras trained on their every move. One sea lion managed to take a sniff of a bag that was lying on the beach.

Young sea lion grooming , Isla Santa Fé © Linda Hartskeerl
Young sea lion grooming, Isla Santa Fé
Young sea lion posing for the human paparazzi, Isla Santa Fé
Young sea lion, Isla Santa Fé © Linda Hartskeerl
Sea lion investigating one of our bags, Isla Santa Fé

Only a short walk from the beach brings you into opuntia cacti country, where yellow-tinged land iguanas co-exist with sea lions and lava lizards. While cacti are normally associated with the desert, there it was in abundance in an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Opuntia cacti on Isla Santa Fe
Opuntia cacti on Isla Santa Fe © Linda Hartskeerl

The land iguanas with their yellow faces and barnacled forehead soak up the sun’s rays and keep their bodies close to the ground to absorb as much heat as possible. Their red conical spines and red-brown back mean they blend well into the landscape.

Land iguana, Isla Santa Fé
Land iguana, Isla Santa Fé
Land iguana, Isla Santa Fé © Linda Hartskeerl
Land iguana, Isla Santa Fé © Linda Hartskeerl
Iguana, Isla Santa Fé © Linda Hartskeerl
Land iguana, Isla Santa Fé
Land iguana, Isla Santa Fé

In the distance, there were a few blue-footed boobies who were clinging to the rocks and showing off their bright blue feet – one of the iconic animals of the Galapagos.

Blue footed booby, Isla Santa Fé

The power of ocean currents was demonstrated when as a result of the recent storms and human habitat, we found evidence of plastic on a normally pristine beach. So, we did our small bit by picking up bits of plastic (easily discernible among the twigs and shells of the beach). The refuse was then transferred back to our boat where each week the National Park officials come to weigh and collect the ships’ rubbish after it is sorted. The rubbish from all the boats is then transported back to the Guayaquil into landfill.

Isla Plaza Sur

Although Isla Plaza Sur is small at only 0.13 square kilometres in area, there was a strong concentration of opuntia cacti. Whilst exploring the island, we saw the sea lions of the ‘Gentleman’s Club’ who are the non-dominant males with each having their own patch on the cliff top with a stunning view of the sea below. The walk up probably took us about 20 minutes on foot, I wonder how long the sea lion would have taken to climb up?

“Gentleman’s club” sea lion on cliffs on Isla Plaza Sur

Other wildlife in evidence included red-billed tropicbirds, red-footed and Nazca boobies and sea lions all nursing their young.

Cliffs off Isla Plaza Sur
Capturing the nectar, Isla Santa Fé © Linda Hartskeerl
Isla Santa Fé © Linda Hartskeerl
Swallow-tailed gull, Isla Santa Fé
Isla Santa Fé © Linda Hartskeerl
Isla Santa Fe and Isla Plaza Sur © Linda Hartskeerl

#buckletlist; #Galapagos; #travel; #nature; #landscape; #adventure; #intrepidtravel

Travel date: 27 December 2018

Isla Santa Cruz

Directly off the pier, we spotted sea lions napping on benches intended of people and black-tipped reef sharks swimming off the jetty. Only in the Galapagos!

Opportunistic resting place for a lazy sea lion, Isla Santa Cruz
Sea lion napping on the bench at the boat terminal, Isla Santa Cruz

Galapagos Fish Market

The fish market at Puerto Ayora was unlike anything I have ever seen, the persistent sea lion’s nose right next to the where the fishmonger was cutting up the fish, poised for any scraps. The lobsters and fish on sale are caught by on hand-lines to prevent over-fishing,

Line caught yellow-finned tuna, Isla Santa Cruz
Stall at the fish market, Isla Santa Cruz
Sea lion perusing the catch, Isla Santa Cruz
Hand-line caught fish available for sale, Isla Santa Cruz
Hand-line caught fish available for sale, Isla Santa Cruz
Hand line caught lobster, Isla Santa Cruz

Pelicans casting their eyes over the catch, Isla Santa Cruz
Waiting for the freebies – 2 pelicans and a sea lion, Isla Santa Cruz
The animal parade at the Fish Market , Isla Santa Cruz © Linda Hartskeerl
Sea lion getting a little too close for comfort, Isla Santa Cruz © Linda Hartskeerl

Charles Darwin Research Station

The Charles Darwin research station is focused on giant tortoises, raising juvenile and adults before they are returned to the wild.

Charles Darwin Research Centre with typical cactus in the background, Isla Santa Cruz
Mature Giant Tortoises, Isla Santa Cruz

Lonesome George was a male Pinta Island tortoise (Chelonoidis abingdonii) and the last known individual of the species. In his last years, he was known as the rarest creature in the world. Despite attempts to continue the species with near relatives from Isla Isabela, they were not successful. After his death in 2012, his body was preserved by taxidermists from the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Today, he can be found in a climate-controlled pavilion, with airlocks and a 5 minute visitation period.

Lonesome George , Isla Santa Cruz © Linda Hartskeerl

Rancho El Manzanillo

Rancho El Manzanillo, in the highlands of Isla Santa Cruz, borders the Galapagos National Park. The ranch was established after the farmer made more money from tourists than farming! The well-run operation provided boots for all visitors to allow us to wander through the muddy lakes and the long grass where the giant tortoises forage.

The giant tortoises are relatively shy and exhale and retreat into their shell if you get too close. The abundance of food gives them more energy and they appeared to be more active than those at the Darwin Station.

Giant tortoise in the pools Santa Cruz highlands, Isla Santa Cruz
Giant tortise in the Santa Cruz highlands, Isla Santa Cruz
Giant tortoise in the mud pools of the Santa Cruz highlands, Isla Santa Cruz
Giant tortoise paw, Isla Santa Cruz
Pelican in an urban environment, with another on the roof beyond, Isla Santa Cruz
A touch of Christmas in the Galapagos, Isla Santa Cruz

That evening we received a tsunami warning, as a result of the earthquake in Tonga (11,966.87 kilometres or 7,435.876miles away). For our safety, we were requested to leave the harbour at 4.30 am. luckily, there was only a slightly bigger swell.

#buckletlist; #Galapagos; #travel; #nature; #landscape; #adventure; #intrepidtravel

Travel date: 26 December 2018

Isla Floreana

Ecuador: Galapagos Islands – Isla Floreana

Post Office Bay dates back to the 18th Century where British and American whalers would pick up post for those close to their destination. The majority of the post was for the USA, reflecting the visitor demographics of the Galapagos,

“Post Office” dating back to late 18th Century, Isla Floreana
“Post office” at Post Office Bay, Isla Floreana

We identified 6 postcards that could be hand-delivered in Australia (Sydney, Melbourne), the UK and Canada. The instruction given to us by Alexis (our guide) was that it had to be hand-delivered and accompanied by wine and cheese.

The remains of the Japanese canning factory, Isla Floreana

Isla Floreana has two failed tuna canning factories, a Norwegian and Japanese, all that remains today are a few bits of rusted metal. As the only freshwater on the other side of the island, it is unsurprising that both ventures failed.

Snorkelling off Post Office Bay, we saw sea turtles, schools of yellow-tailed surgeon fish, spotted eagle ray and a white-tipped reef shark.

Yellow-tailed surgeon fish, Isla Floreana © Linda Hartskeerl
White-tipped reef shark, Isla Floreana © Linda Hartskeerl

Walking across Isla Floreana, we spotted several dozen adult flamingos scattered across the lake and nursery group of baby flamingos, protected by a few adults. Young flamingos are the same size as the adults, with their light grey feathers denoting their youth.

Flamingo nursery, Isla Floreana
Pink flamingo, Isla Floreana

Punta Cormorant is a fine sand beach where we spotted around 15 sea turtles and stingrays off the beach. The female sea turtles were waiting in the water to come onshore to lay their eggs. There was evidence of sea turtle nests above the high-tide mark.

Green sea turtle swimming, Isla Floreana
Green sea turtle on the beach, Isla Floreana

Snorkelling close to Devil’s Crown, we saw white-tipped reef sharks, sea turtles and a sea horse camouflaged by the seaweed on the seafloor.

Devil’s crown off Isla Floreana
Close up of Devil’s Crown, Isla Floreana

Sailing to Puerta Ayora (Isla Santa Cruz ) our boat was chased by a pod of dolphins and the cloud cover resulted in a most spectacular sunset.

Sailing away from Isla Floreana
Sunset over the Galapagos

This was definitely a Christmas Day to remember, one where presents came in the form of amazing wildlife where Santa’s reindeer were replaced by sea lions and marine iguanas.

#buckletlist; #Galapagos; #travel; #nature; #landscape; #adventure; #intrepidtravel

Travel date: 25 December 2018

Isla Isabela

Isolote Tintores

After landing at Isolote Tintoreras (near Isla Isabela); we were greeted by a marine iguana resting on the rock catching the first rays of the sun just after 6.30 am.

Marine iguana at sunrise – Isolote Tintores

There were many marine iguanas clinging to the rocks and they varied in size from about 10 cm to over a metre including the length of their tail.

Marine iguanas over a clear lagoon – Isolote Tintores
Land iguana – Isolote Tintores

The National Park rules require a 2-metre distance from the wildlife. This can be challenging to follow when animals cross the path directly in front of you.

Lava lizard – Isolote Tintores
Lava lizard – Isolote Tintores
Marine iguana perched on a rock – Isolote Tintores
Marine iguana taking advantage of volcanic rocks to warm up – Isolote Tintores
Male marine iguanas fighting for dominance – Isolote Tintores
Marine iguana – Isolote Tintores
Marine iguanas – Isolote Tintores

Sealions take every advantage they can, including using the shade created by the mangroves to have a rest.

Sealion and marine iguana soaking up the morning sunshine – Isolote Tintores
Sealion hiding in the mangroves – Isolote Tintores
Lagoon on Isote Las Tintoreras

Isla Isabela – Puerto Villamil

Low tide and the churning sands meant that the snorkelling off Puerto Villamil was disappointing. The large and small volcanic rocks and the waves that kept pushing us back onto shore.

I was lucky enough to see a pelican catch fish and diving blue-footed boobies.

Brown pelican taking off after catching a fish – Puerto Villamil, Isla Isabela
Sea lion playing by the pier at Puerto Villamil, Isla Isabela

The sea lions are very territorial and take over the benches by the beach. Some of them “hiss” at humans who get too close while others are quite happy to share their seat with one.

Isla Isabela – Puerto Villamil
Sea lion on the beach at Puerto Villamil, Isla Isabela
Sea lions taking over the ferry terminal – Puerto Villamil, Isla Isabela
Sea lion taking possession of benches – Puerto Villamil, Isla Isabela
Sea lion taking possession – Puerto Villamil, Isla Isabela

Arnoldo Tupiza Giant Tortoise is a breeding centre where they keep the giant tortoises by sub-species according to the island they come from and aim to replicate the conditions on their home island by varying the vegetation and amount of shade. To replicate the food availability in the wild, the tortoises are only fed every 4 – 5 days, this can lead to a feeding frenzy.

Mature tortoise commanding the attention of all visitors – Puerto Villamil, Isla Isabela

The slow lumbering gait of the giant tortoises across the courtyards was quite a sight, with their every move captured by the human paparazzi (including me).

Mature giant tortoise – Puerto Villamil, Isla Isabela
Mature giant tortoise – Puerto Villamil, Isla Isabela

By the boardwalk along Pozo Vilamail, we spotted the pink flamingos feeding in the shallows of the lagoon. Although flamingos are solitary animals, we spotted 4 of the 314 of the total population in the Galapagos.

Pink flamingo at Puerto Villamil, Isla Isabela

We celebrated Christmas Eve, with a large turkey complete with an Ecuadorian twist with tree tomatoes.

#buckletlist; #Galapagos; #travel; #nature; #landscape; #adventure; #intrepidtravel

Travel date: 24 December 2018