Pambamarca 2009, Galapagos Islands

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Thursday, July 30, 2009, Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Galapagos, Ecuador, about 2000 ECT (GMT -7

090730_pap_galapagos_santa_cruz_puerto_ayora_santa_cruz_sign_7600.jpg There are not many pictures today because we were traveling and I didn't have the camera out most of the time. This is a map of the island of Santa Cruz in the Galapagos group. This island group is Ecuadorian and is located 600 miles west of the Ecuadorian coast right on the equator. The airport is on a little volcanic rock named Baltra just off the north coast of Santa Cruz. We took a bus from the airport (a really small affair) to the channel between Baltra and Santa Cruz, then a water taxi across the channel then another bus from the north end of the island to the south end at Puerto Ayora.

When we got to the airport, our checked bags weren't there. However, when we asked the attendant at the exit, he asked if we were George and Sandy. I knew something was up. We had checked in so early that our bags got there on an earlier flight and they were locked up in an office.

We didn't have any hotel reservations but we were assured when we booked the flight that there would be plenty. We wandered through the small town and found the hotel district, there were at least half a dozen hotels. We booked a nice room for $30 a night at the Hotel Espania. Our room is on the 4th floor (stairs only) but it has a TV that gets CNN in english. There is WiFi in at the reception desk which is an open air lobby.

090730_pap_galapagos_map_7603.jpgThis map is painted on the wall of the hotel reception desk. Santa Cruz island is the roundish one in the middle. We're at the very southern tip of the island.

Each island has it's own ecosystem, many with species that don't exist on the other islands. The Ecuadorian government is very protective of the ecology here, the whole place is a national park. Just to come here, they charge you $10 at the airport for a card, I'm not sure what it does but collect $10 per person. Once you get here, they collect another $100 park entrance fee, in cash, at the airport. There is no ATM there and if you don't have the cash, I'm not sure what happens.

About every other storefront here is an agency for booking tours. It should not be hard to find something to do. We found a market and bought some fruit, water, bread and a bottle of Fanta and then returned to the room to rest before we went out in search of dinner.

It was starting to get darker by the time we wandered out for food. There aren't a lot of restaurants here, but we found a good one right downtown, as it were. I had an excellent piece of grilled fish, fries and salad ($7) and Sandy had a "small" Hawaiian pizza (also about $7). The pizza could have fed two. With a strawberry juice and a bottle of Inca Cola (tastes like cream soda), tax and tip, the meal was $20.

By the time that we got our of the restaurant, it was getting dark fast. This happens near the equator, the sun dives almost directly for the horizon and doesn't waste any time getting there. In higher latitudes, it slips below the horizon as it slides sideways and dusk can extend for quite a while. Here, dusk lasts about 10 min.

We stopped by one tour shop to inquire about a snorkeling tour, An all day snorkel and swimming trip was $85/head from the one shop. Tomorrow, we'll shop around to see what the dozens of other tour shops want for a similar tour.

The year around weather must be pretty mild here because many shops are open to the air, maybe through bars, but nothing keeps the weather out. Unlike the Andean highlands, it apparently doesn't get cold here either. The hotel didn't even bother to put blankets on the beds.

Friday, July 31, 2009, Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Galapagos, Ecuador, about 1600 CST (GMT -7)

090731_pap_galapagos_puerto_ayora_puerto_ayora_sign_7608.jpgI went out this morning to look around and scope out the town. The main harbor is where the channel inland is, the fishing harbor is the little inlet to the north.

Sandy stayed behind with a case of Atawahlpa's revenge. Atawahlpa was the last Inca king. We woke up last night at the same time with "problems." Mine cleared immediately, Sandy was having difficulties all night. It might have been the Inca Cola, I had a sip, she had the rest of the bottle.

090731_pap_galapagos_puerto_ayora_street_view_7609.jpgThis is a typical view from the street in the northern part of town which appears to be the higher rent district. This area has the expensive hotels, the most art galleries and nicer sidewalks.

090731_pap_galapagos_puerto_ayora_fish_market_7610.jpgThe fish market was going strong early in the morning. There were many pelicans hanging around looking for handouts.

090731_pap_galapagos_puerto_ayora_little_sea_lion_7617.jpgA couple of sea lions came up the steps from the harbor also looking for handouts and got some. Somebody was feeding them fish scraps.

090731_pap_galapagos_puerto_ayora_pelican_7606.jpgThis pelican was perched in a bush next to the fish market. These birds seem to show no fear of humans. I sort of had to nudge them out of the way to walk around. The sea lions didn't seem to care about people either. They've probably been fed here every morning for years.

090731_pap_galapagos_puerto_ayora_marine_iguana_7619.jpgAfter Atawahlpa gave Sandy the afternoon off we got some lunch then wandered out for a walk to the Charles Darwin Center for a look around. The center is located about 1 km north of the edge of town. On the way, we saw this marine iguana sunning himself on the sidewalk near the fish market, totally oblivious to the pedestrian traffic going right by.

090731_pap_galapagos_puerto_ayora_charles_darwin_center_baby_tortoise_7627.jpg We found the trail to the Charles Darwin Center's displays and wandered in. They breed tortoises there, these are less than 5 years old. If the adult tortoises lay their eggs in the center, feral pigs, dogs and cats will finds the nests and dig them up. The center staff scouts the adult pens every day looking for fresh nests and then takes the eggs to incubate in safety. Nests and baby tortoises from other islands are also collected and kept separate sorted by the island that they came from. Once the tortoises are hatched, the hatchlings are cared for in safety. As they get larger, they are moved to pens that more and more are like their wild environment. When they are large enough to survive in the wild, they are returned to their native islands after being tagged with an RFID tag.

090731_pap_galapagos_puerto_ayora_charles_darwin_center_sandy_and_cactus_tree_7630.jpg There is a large "cactus tree" that grows here. It is kind of a prickly pear, which tortoises in the California desert love, but it grows tall like a tree to protect itself from tortoises and iguanas. It grows only 1 to 2 cm a year so the sample behind Sandy is 300 to 500 years old.

090731_pap_galapagos_puerto_ayora_charles_darwin_center_lonesome_george_7634.jpg This large male is called "Lonesome George." He was the last living tortoise collected from Pinta Island in 1972. He is called a saddleback tortoise for the shape of his shell. He has been placed in an enclosure with two female saddleback tortoises from nearby Wolf Island but he has never mated in captivity. 37+ years is a long time to go without getting any.

090731_pap_galapagos_puerto_ayora_charles_darwin_center_female_tortoise_7635.jpg Many tortoises had been previously captured and kept by private owners. The government rounded them up and placed them at the center. This is one of them. It was just wandering down the trail we were taking and walked on by, not paying us any attention at all.

090731_pap_galapagos_puerto_ayora_charles_darwin_center_male_iguana_7646.jpg This is a large male land iguana. These are different from the black marine iguanas which swim in the ocean to feed. This large one is sunning himself to try to raise his body temperature to the level where he can become active.

090731_pap_galapagos_puerto_ayora_charles_darwin_center_lizard_7653.jpg These little green and red lizards were all over the place. This one was in a pen of large male tortoises, posing for a picture.

090731_pap_galapagos_puerto_ayora_charles_darwin_center_large_male_tortoise_7655.jpg The large male tortoises that had been collected by the government from private owners are kept in a separate pen. These guys can grow to 600 lbs.

There is one large male, collected in the wild, who is used for breeding because they know where he came from. His name is Diego and the breeders figure that he is the father to about 2000 baby tortoises that have been hatched at the center. These hatchlings represent about 8% of the tortoises now living in the Galapagos.

Saturday, August 1, 2009, Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Galapagos, Ecuador, about 2000 CST (GMT -7)

090801_pap_puerto_ayora_red_crab_7659.jpgWe didn't do much of anything today. Sandy was feeling better, but I wasn't feeling so well. Hopefully, we'll be able to get out more tomorrow.

We did go out walking by the harbor late in the day and I caught a picture of this red crab on the rocks next to a pier. These things are all over the place.

Sunday, August 2, 2009, Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Galapagos, Ecuador, about 1500 CST (GMT -7)

090802_pap_puerto_ayora_tortuga_bay_trail_with_sandy_7664.jpgToday, we elected to got to Tortuga Bay which is just west of Puerto Ayora. It was recommended that we take a taxi to get to the entrance station, the ride was $1. Had we known exactly where it was, we could have walked it easily. The trail is about 2.5 km long and goes mostly straight to the beach. It is paved with concrete paving stones the whole way, 7 wide by about 4 to the meter, or about 70,000 stones.

090802_pap_puerto_ayora_tortuga_bay_lizard_7663.jpgThe edge is lined in a low volcanic stone and concrete wall. Lizards like these liked to sun themselves on the edge and tended to vanish against the concrete. These guys were all over the place, we tended to startle one every few meters or so.

090802_pap_puerto_ayora_tortuga_bay_marine_iguanas_7677.jpgAfter the 2.5 km walk to the beach, we walked another km or so up the beach to the other end. There was a loop trail through a peninsula that forms the north end of the beach. Along this trail we found just a few marine iguanas. This was the largest single group, but there were hundreds of them in total.

090802_pap_puerto_ayora_tortuga_bay_marine_iguanas_with_sandy_and_george_7679.jpg This group was sleeping on the trail itself, we had to walk off the trail to get around them. They didn't care a whit about us.

090802_pap_puerto_ayora_tortuga_bay_blue_footed_boobie_7681.jpgOn the protected side of the peninsula, we found three blue footed boobies like this one. There is also a red footed boobie that has a blue beak, but we didn't see any of those.

090802_pap_puerto_ayora_tortuga_bay_swimming_beach_7689.jpgProtected by the peninsula is another smaller beach that has virtually no surf, a fine white sand beach and very clear water. This is where most of the people were. The main beach is marked as dangerous with strong rip currents.

090802_pap_puerto_ayora_tortuga_bay_sandy_7691.jpgWe picked a spot under some trees to eat lunch. A bunch of finches came by to help us. They had absolutely no fear of humans and would literally try to grab food right from my hand, either on the fly or by landing right on my wrist.

After a little while on the beach, we walked back to our hotel. My pedometer indicated 7200 net steps on the way back, or about 3.5 miles.

At 1300, almost this whole place closes up tight for siesta until about 1500. Some of the travel agencies stay open, but if you want food, you're out of luck. On a Sunday, the restaurants that will open at all will not open again until 1900. We did manage to book a "highland" tour for tomorrow afternoon. We'll see some lava tubes and perhaps some giant tortoises in the wild along with other flora and fauna. That will take up up until about dinner time. The day after that, Tuesday we get up early to catch the bus to Baltra to fly back to Quito. On Wednesday afternoon, it's back to the Quito airport to fly home.

Monday, August 3, 2009, Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Galapagos, Ecuador, about 1700 CST (GMT -7)

090803_pap_puerto_ayora_hotel_espania_construction__stairwell_cut_away_7694.jpg The whole time we've been here, there has been construction going on. After watching them for a few days, it appears that they are adding an extension to the this hotel. The technique appears to be common in latin america, poured pillars and floors make the building frame and the gaps between the pillars are filled with concrete blocks to provide shear strength.

In this picture, the wall at the landing of the stairwell has been cut away to eventually allow access to the new addition. The tops of a couple of pillars that were poured last week can be seen against the wall.

It is clear that they are going up at least one floor higher than this one as the next landing up has been cut away too.

090803_pap_puerto_ayora_hotel_espania_construction__floor_support_7695.jpg Each pillar has six pieces of vertical rebar with a wire cage wrapped around the rebar several times a meter. The cage helps prevent the pillar from exploding when it fractures in an earthquake. The pillar may be destroyed, but at least it will not collapse completely as crushed concrete will still be trapped in the rebar cage.

The wooden platform is a form for the next floor. A pattern of rebar will be formed horizontally in the floor overlapping the pillars. The rebar sticking out of the existing pillars forms a connection for the pillar that will support the next floor. It is very common to see rebar stick out out of the roofs of buildings here to provide support for new construction that is not yet built.

090803_pap_puerto_ayora_hotel_espania_construction__scaffolding_under_floor_7696.jpg The wooden floor forms are supported underneath with temporary scaffolding. These are resting on a floor that was poured before we got here.

The concrete block walls and poured pillars of the adjacent building can be seen here. The mortar joints in the concrete blocks are usually not finished cleanly on walls that don't face the street. The new construction for this hotel will clearly block some windows for rooms on the adjacent hotel.

090803_pap_puerto_ayora_hotel_espania_construction__bamboo_scaffolding_7697.jpg That floor is supported on bamboo scaffolding as there isn't enough room for the metal supports used on the next floor.

These guys don't appear to be working to any specific plan. It appears that they just stake out the area to be built and dive in using standard construction techniques. I doubt that there is a formal permitting process either.

Utilities are not provided for in exterior walls. The building structure is built and then utilities are added later, mostly in interior walls. Bathroom floors are often raised about a room's floor level to allow utilities to be run under the bathroom floor.

If poorly done, this kind of construction is prone to "pancake" in an earthquake. If the pillars don't have enough of the right rebar in them, the shaking will crush the concrete and the dust will simply blow out of the pillar. The remaining rebar is insufficient to hold much of anything and the column collapses. The flat floors then smash down against each other crushing everything and everybody in the building. The basic pillar and floor construction doesn't have much shear strength. Without sufficient filling between the pillars, the whole thing can also topple like a house of cards, with similar results. However, with proper construction, the building my be functionally destroyed in an earthquake, but the occupants can still escape as the structure will not collapse completely.

Buildings are built right up next to each other as well so that adjacent structures can help hold each other up.

090803_pap_santa_cruz_galapagos_highland_tour_giant_tortoise_in_the_road_7698.jpg In the afternoon, we took a "highland" tour of the interior of Santa Cruz island. One of the objectives was to find some giant tortoises. It didn't take us long to find one, he was sitting in the road.

090803_pap_santa_cruz_galapagos_highland_tour_taxi_7700.jpgSince the agency that we booked the tour with didn't have anybody but us today, they booked a taxi so we had a private car and driver instead of a small tour bus. The driver didn't speak english, but Sandy's spanish is good enough that we got by just fine.

090803_pap_santa_cruz_galapagos_highland_tour_giant_tortoise_7703.jpg He took us to a private farm that happens to typically have lots of tortoises on it. They had a large dining room set up but when we got there, we were the only ones there.

The taxi driver escorted us through some muddy fields and we ran across 18 tortoises, all of them noshing on the thick grasses and plants on the "farm." These are not captive to the farm, tortoises have first rights to any land on the island. They roam freely but typically over a limited range where their favorite plants can be found. The tortoises spend much of the day grazing. They eat so much fiber rich plants that they also leave very large droppings behind. The fields were covered with them.

Then the driver took us to a nearby lava tube. This was a large tube with an improved (dirt) floor and electric lighting. The tube went for a considerably further distance than we went, maybe 200 meters. After that the floor gets much rougher and wetter. It was too dark inside for my camera to take any good pictures as my video camera doesn't have a flash. Sandy may have some that I can add later.

090803_pap_santa_cruz_galapagos_highland_tour_sinkhole_7713.jpgUp the road a little further into the cloud forest were three sinkholes. This was the medium sized one, it was probably 100 to 150 meters wide and more than 50 meters deep. The smallest one was only 10 or 15 meters wide but I could not see the bottom. The largest one was maybe 200 meters wide and also about 50 meters deep.

In the five days that we've been on this island, we've seen samples of pretty much everything that is here. The rest of the scenery is on other islands. The diving here is supposed to be excellent, but I elected not to do any snorkel or dive trips time.

By tomorrow afternoon, we should be back in Quito for the night. We'll fly out 24 hours later barring some unforseen problem.

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© 2009 George Schreyer
Created 30 Jul 09
Last Updated August 4, 2009