Category Archives: History

What I Will Miss About Living in Ecuador

– Not driving a car, being able to walk everywhere (Save $$$$ on Gas)

– A $2 three-course meal with dessert

– The variety of fruit and fruit juices (Quiero una jugo de mora AND the best pineapple I’ve ever eaten)

– High-priced fast-food and American candy (good incentive to not eat it)

– Empanadas (compare that to hot pockets, which are not as good)

– The breakfast at El Colibri

– Coup attempts that got us out of work

– Living in a country with vastly different geographical landscapes (the coast, highlands, amazon and galapagos)

– The passion in the culture and people

– Being able to survive without a cellphone

– Television isn’t the center of the living room (the only time it was turned on was during the coup attempt)

– Everything being so close (grocery stores, gym, cafes)

– Free Salsa lessons on Wednesday night in The Mariscal District

– Not living to work, but working to live


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What I Won’t Miss About Living in Ecuador

– The diversity of people (predominantly one ethnicity unlike the melting pot in the States)

– Being stared at for being “tall” and “blonde”

– Having to watch my step, worry about breaking my ankle walking on the sidewalk

– Whistles, Car Horns/Alarms, Random Firework Shows every single night

– The no sense of time philosophy shared by every Ecuadorian

– Stores opening and closing whenever they feel like it

– Having to pay for “agua sin gas” (water) at every meal

– Holding my backpack like it was a baby on the bus in fear of it being slashed (aka having to be overprotective of belongings)

– Public breast-feeding

– Public urination

– Being asked for change when I presented a $5 bill or larger

– Nescafe or any of their coffee

– Fake ketchup

– The supermarket being crowded at any time of day

– Lack of personal space

– Coup Attempts

– Squeezing onto the buses and being packed lack a sardine

– The fact that insulation did not exist in the houses, meaning it felt like the Arctic in my bedroom

– The machismo personality (gawking and throwing pick-up lines at every ‘pretty’ girl)

– No seat-belts, No speed limits, No rules of the road

– Having to dart out of the ways of cars, not having the right of way as a pedestrian

– Having to throw away the toilet paper in a trash can rather than in the toilet

– Not having hot water in the faucets or showers (electric showers)

– Indoor smoking is still allowed in business/bars

– Having to haggle for anything (food, taxi fare, any item you wanted to purchase)

– Being begged for money at every corner, street light or on the bus

– Being sold/or asked to buy candy or food at every corner, street light or on the bus

– The lack of seasons

– Having to see stray dogs and homeless everywhere

– Lack of any spicy food

– Rice

– Not being able to eat salad for fear of contracting a parasite

– Slow walkers – they definitely take their time getting to and from places

– The scary stories of rape, robberies, slashed purses, drugs, etc

– Wondering whether or not the laundry people actually washed my clothes or not

– Being told not to walk around at night after 7 pm by myself

– No sense of common courtesy (knowing what the point of a line means, waiting your turn)

– The mission it is to pickup a package

– Overpriced imports (candy from the United States)

– Lack of laundry machines in the house, having to take it to the cleaners who may or may not even wash them


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Video: Galapagos Islands – Darwin’s Land

To finish up the Galapagos Islands Series, I have made a video of the voyage.

I hope you have enjoyed the adventure just as much as I did.

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Santa Cruz & North Seymour – Galapagos Series – Chapter VI

After my friend dropped off two pieces of bread for my breakfast, I decided I could not miss out on the day’s activities and forced myself to eat it and get dressed. This was the day I was looking forward to the most – and again, I was in the G-A-L-A-P-A-G-O-S! No upset stomach was going to keep the Traveling Bard from an adventure.

charles darwin research station on santa cruz island

The zodiac pulled up to a pier on Santa Cruz island and we unloaded. After Isabella, Santa Cruz is the second-largest island in the Galapagos and has the largest population located in its capital, Puerto Ayora. Before landing here, we had been hopping around uninhabited islands where the animals reigned. On Santa Cruz, however, it was an urban development with a bustling city center.

Once we regrouped, Tour Guide George started leading us along the road to the Charles Darwin Research Station, which has been in operation since 1964. Scientists and researchers work on projects to help conserve the Galapagos Islands and it’s animals, while learning more about the archipelago. Along the way, we stopped to watch a man sort through a fresh batch of caught lobsters where we happened to spot a Lava Gull, which is apparently very rare because there are only 400 left. We continued on and passed a small, green road sign that had an arrow pointing in the direction we were heading that read, “Estacion Ch. Darwin”.

At the park entrance building we were able to get our passports stamped. Another amazing souvenir that will compliment the equator stamp nicely. Eventually we passed the sign that let us know we had made it and entered a room that was dedicated to educating people on The Restoration of the Tortoise Dynasty. Tour Guide George explained the different species that are found on each island and their current predicament. I learned that the Galapagos Tortoise is the largest tortoise species in the world, and that the National Park and Research Station are trying to eradicate the dogs, pigs, donkeys and rats that hinder their populations.

lonesome george - the last of his species of galapagos tortoise

We walked to an area where we could watch the baby tortoises wandering around and climbing all over each other. The baby tortoises weren’t always placed behind bars, according to Tour Guide George. Apparently, travelers would be caught at the airport on their way back to Ecuador trying to sneak out tortoises they picked up. I couldn’t believe anyone would even think of doing something like that – or think they had any chance of successfully getting away with it. Moving on, we went to visit the two celebrities of the Charles Darwin Research Station: Lonesome George and Diego.

Lonesome George is named because he is the last known Pinta Island tortoise in the entire Galapagos archipelago. Goats had destroyed the species and he was moved to the research station for protection. Restless searches have not turned up any others of his kind. He is kept in an environment with two females in the hopes that he would mate with them to produce offspring. George has produced batches of eggs with the females, but all have unfortunately become inviable. When he dies in a hundred, or so years, his conservation status will become: extinct.

the galapagos tortoise - stretching the long neck

On a brighter note, one tortoise has been able to help repopulate the entire Española island with his offspring. His name is Diego and he was returned to the Galapagos after spending a large part of his life in the San Diego Zoo, which is where he got his name. His species was in decline due to the goats that were harming the vegetation that the tortoises relied upon. There were only 12 females and 2 males left when he returned and produced more than 1,400 babies that are now back in their natural environment, helping maintain their population on Española. Even at more than 100 years of age, Diego continues to mate with the females at the Charles Darwin Research Station.

After visiting the tortoises and iguanas, we met up with our bus that would be taking us to the highlands. We had decided to spend the entire day on Santa Cruz instead of just the morning, and then sailing on over to an island to snorkel and see more of the animals we already had on the other islands. The highlands offered us a chance to get up-close-and-personal with the giant Galapagos tortoises in their natural environment at the Highlands National Park Tortoise Reserve. It was a quick ride and our chefs from the catamaran brought all the food for lunch in a nice buffet-style setting for us to enjoy in the park. As we gradually finished eating, one by one, people from the group began to disappear and explore the tortoise landscape.

in the highlands with the large tortoises

The giant tortoises, which can weight more than 650 pounds and live up to 200 years, were scattered all throughout the green landscape. Most could be found in the shade of trees in order to stay out of the afternoon heat. We were able to get inches away from the endemic animals and pose for multiple pictures. In the park, the tortoises have the luxury to roam wherever they like, whether that be across the roads or into the deep forest of trees on the reserve. A few were lounging in the muddy waters of one of the ponds. At one point, we were lucky enough to see the beginnings of a possible mating – the male was trying to crawl onto the back of a female, but the female began to take off with the male following closely behind. Eventually, the female was able to seek refuge in a large bush, which made it difficult for the male to crawl on top again due to all the branches in the way.

Some of the group went back to the lunch area while the rest of us followed Tour Guide George on a trail through the trees. Ever so often I could spot the shell of a tortoise in the distance. The lush vegetation of Santa Cruz provides a suitable environment for the tortoises and the reserve protects them from invasive species – although I did spot two kittens hiding beneath branches and leaves at one point during our hike. We also spotted fruit growing in bushes and trees with the help of Tour Guide George. He wrangled a papaya down and fed it to one of the tortoises who devoured it and made quite a mess. I guess the others got worried about us being gone for so long because one of them somehow found us even though I had no idea where we even were in the forest.

inside looking out of the lava tunnel on santa cruz island

We hopped back on the bus for a five minute drive to our next stop. A dirt path led us to a small set of stairs where we walked down into the opening of a lava tunnel. It reminded me very much of Mammoth Caves, which I just visited in Kentucky in the summer before leaving for Ecuador. Lava from a volcanic eruption flowed and eventually hollowed out, creating the tunnel we were walking through. We could only go so far because  of boulders that blocked our path, so that was our turning point. The string of lights didn’t help much. It was still dark enough that my clumsy self would trip over some of the rocks in the path but I eventually made it safely back up the stairs and to the bus with no broken bones. The group went back to the city center where we were given a bit of time to look around. My Norwegian friend, the friend I came with and I went for some coffee and ice cream before venturing back to the meeting point. We boarded the zodiacs, but had to wait for the other zodiac to arrive with the life-jackets before we eventually got back on the catamaran.

It was our last night aboard the Nina. Throughout the duration of the entire voyage, the group had become very much like a family. At dinner that night, the two tables were pushed together and we ate like a family, complete with random side conversations. In the morning, we woke bright and early with the sight of giant waves crashing ashore on North Seymour – the final island we would explore. The waves made getting out of the zodiac incredibly hard but everyone made it safely on land where we were greeted my numerous bird sightings. We walked the rocky trail and saw blue-footed boobies – a mom and her babies. In the trees we noticed two male Magnificent Frigate birds with their red pouches puffed up to attract a female.

male magnificent frigate bird with red pouch

With only an hour of time to enjoy the island, the group quickly made it’s way to the coast where the waves crashed upon the rocky shore. Here we saw more sea lions and iguanas basking in the sun that was growing stronger in the waking morning. After slipping and sliding our way back into the zodiacs, we all looked back for one last glimpse of the Galapagos before we hopped back on the catamaran to say our final farewells to the crew as it took us to the drop-off point where buses were waiting.

At the airport, the group remained intact. On the flight, the group remained intact until we lost an Australian couple at the first stop in Guayaquil. The rest remained together until we said our goodbyes at the baggage claim in the Quito airport and went our separate ways,. However, we all still had the memories of Darwin’s Land intact.

soaring over the sea lion on north seymour island

zodiac heading to shore on north seymour island








tortoise chowing down at the charles darwin research station on santa cruz island

a sea lion and her pup on north seymour island


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Post Office Bay – Galapagos Series – Chapter V

Each of us had to wade in the water to climb back into the zodiac to depart Floreana Island. I could not hide the grimace on my face when my my feet were drowned in the icey water. The sensation implanted itself into my mind and stayed there during breakfast and afterward when Tour Guide George came around telling us to suit up for our snorkeling adventure. I noticed most of the group sucking themselves into their tight wetsuits and grabbing the bags of fins and masks with their room numbers. As I continued to contemplate, I looked everywhere for my friend, whom I found clothed and ready to hit the sun-deck on the third level of the catamaran. She had decided to skip out of snorkeling this time, not because of the cold water but simply because it was not her cup of tea. She asked me whether or not I was going and I explained my fear of the freezing temperatures. Her reply, “I think you’re going.”

before diving into freezing waters to swim with sea lions

Sure enough, my friend was right. I had decided that since I was in THE Galapagos, I could not miss out on any opportunity. Within minutes, my wetsuit was squeezed on and I was sitting on the side of the catamaran bouncing off the water toward our destination. We reached a cove in Champion Islet and immediately noticed the two spunky sea lions darting around each other, popping in and out of the water. Tour Guide George said they were eager to play with us. One by one, people fell overboard and into the water. I was one of the last ones who reluctantly slipped into the arctic water, only to feel like I had just been stabbed in every inch of my body.

However, my body either adjusted or became numb because I put my head on the water’s surface and began flipping around watching the two sea lions frolicking underwater. I could never keep track of them because they were incredibly fast. We would pop up out of water to look around and realize one was right behind us. We would turn around and they would have disappeared underwater again. On a couple of occasions, the sea lion would come head-first straight at you, only to turn away or dive deep down. The group members were inches away from the sea lions, swimming and playing with them in their natural environment. Both the sea lions were twirling and spinning beneath us and it was amazing to watch. One of my friends I had made on the voyage could not stop giggling every time one of the sea lions would swim near her. Eventually, I was cold enough that I wanted to get out and warm up. I sat in the zodiac waiting for the others to slowly join me, hoping that my under-water camera was able to get some good shots of the magnificent animals.

zodiac cruising behind the catamaran heading to next stop

Sadly, Tour Guide George had the idea of heading to a different place known to have more sea lions. The group shivered as the zodiac made its way to the spot. Another tour group was in the area swimming in the freezing water without wetsuits and we couldn’t believe it. Looking at the water we could tell it was a bit rough and by then, most of us had dried a bit and didn’t want to jump back in. the water We decided to head back to the catamaran. We jumped aboard, took off our wetsuits and warmed up with tea that the crew had set out for us. After every snorkeling trip the crew would have some sort of snack and beverage waiting for us on deck and it was always thankfully devoured.

Once we regained feeling in our bodies, Tour Guide George told us that we would be heading to Post Office Bay and said it also offered an opportunity to snorkel with sea turtles. That brightened me up, but sadly, I had already made up my mind that I was done with snorkeling for the day. A few of us sat up on the sun-deck relaxing until departure time. With a view of the bay I was able to see a sea turtle floating around in the water. It was bittersweet to say the least and to make it worse, Post Office Bay was unfortunately another wet-landing.

I braced myself for the cold and raced out of the water as fast as I could. The weather had turned cloudy and the temperatures had dropped to the point that I was layered in clothes. Being from Arizona, we always like to say, anything below 70 is freezing to us. Tour Guide George took us on a little path through the brush to an area that resembled a bonfire setup. This was the Post Office, and the itinerary provided a brief explanation as to its history:

the post office is still in use after 18th century whalers first began the tradition

At Post Office Bay, eighteenth century whalers used a barrel as an unofficial mail drop. In those times ships were often away from home for two or more years at a time. Ships on their outward journeys would leave letters and ships returning home would pick them up and bring them to their homeland.

Some of the original wood was still present, whereas others had been added, their surfaces scribbled with the names and messages of previous visitors. The main attraction of the post office is the 200-year-old barrel that looks like a giant birdhouse with stickers plastered all over it. Inside are piles and piles of postcards left by travelers. The traditions has each visitor leave a postcard, which requires no postage stamp. When a new group arrives, such as ours, we open the little door to the barrel, pull out the postcards, divide them amongst ourselves and find ones that are addressed in areas as close to our homes. as possible If we find one, or two, or three – in the case of my friend from New York – we take them back with us and either personally deliver them if they are close enough, or mail them to their final destinations. It is truly an amazing experience to see who stepped on the island before you and read what the have to say.

the group carrying on the tradition, looking for postcards they could send once back home

The group members would shout out countries and states to each other, passing a postcards here and there. It could take weeks, months and even years for them to be delivered, depending on where the travelers are from and where the postcards are addressed. I came across a few that said “Do not take”, which meant that the post-sender wanted it to be picked up by someone else – such as the Navy. Once or twice a year – I forgot what Tour Guide George said – the Navy comes a long and picks up all the cards that have not been taken to mail once they reach port. Overall, it was a lovely tradition that I was happy to continue, even though I didn’t find any postcards to send once I returned home. Hopefully someone from Arizona visits and picks mine up!

We returned back to the beach where we were allowed to rest. Most of us went to go watch the soccer game that was taking place for a few minutes. There was an entire field of men dressed in jerseys and some were recognizable as part of our ship’s crew. Even this far out on a tiny island, the game of soccer – or football – still carried on just like the Post Office tradition. Quite a few of us were getting really cold so Tour Guide George used his walkie-talkie to request that the zodiacs come and take us to the warmth of the catamaran. I could already feel the effects of the the weather and freezing water from snorkeling with sea lions taking its toll on me.

soccer match being played at post office bay

That night was gruesome for me. As soon as I got back on the ship I took a hot shower and crawled into bed. I missed the briefing for that evening, as well as dinner. To spare the gritty details, the toilet became my friend throughout the dark hours about three times. When I finally let my head hit the pillow, the question of whether or not I would be taking part in the next day’s adventure was still up in the air.

hundreds die a year after attempting to eat a blowfish

the post office sign








the barrel where all the postcards can be found


one of the many messages left at post office bay


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Floreana Island – Galapagos Series – Chapter IV

in punta cormorant on floreana island - galapagos islands

The next morning was begun with another early wake-up call. The cruise ship had followed us once more, but this time to Floreana Island. We barely had time to wash a bit of crackers down our throat with coffee or tea, and stuff a banana down as well before jumping into the zodiacs to head ashore on Punta Cormorant. It was another wet-landing, so I decided it would be a flip-flop day. No sun had broken through the overhead clouds and reached the beach yet, so the trio of sea lions had taken an early morning swim in the bay and huddled together keeping warm on the sandy shore.

On the horizon you could see a group of mountains that reminded me of Arizona. Most would call them hills compared to other more dominant ranges like the North American Rockies or the South American Andes. They seemed light and fluffy, as if they were covered in dandelions that could be blown away by wind to leave the mountainous hills bare.

the lagoon on floreana island - flamingos pose here from december to may

We gathered and headed up a slight hill, surrounded by the bare-limbed, white colored dandelion trees on both sides. Just so you know, they’re really black and white mangrove trees. An occasional bird – each a different species – could be seen perched or fluttering about on the the branches. Eventually, we reached the first stop on our exploration of Floreana Island, which was named after the first president of Ecuador, Juan Jose Flores, who took control of the Galapagos Islands. It was a lookout point constructed of wood and resembled a patio at the back of a house.

The group crammed together on the patio lookout and glanced at the landscape. A lagoon was slowly rippling with the slight breeze. It’s surface was able to keep the glassy reflection of the trees that lined its edges and the clouds. Tour Guide George explained how the Galapagos Islands never receive rain. When the clouds pile up overhead, they release a mist, but that is all, according to Tour Guide George. Hence, there being no fresh-water streams, rivers or lakes. Simply, lagoons that connect to the ocean. However, my own research had told me otherwise.

Apparently the Galapagos archipelago experiences some frequent rain showers. The islands also take part in the El Niño phenomenon, which brings heavy rains along with it. From June to November, known as the Garua, there are drizzles that last all day and from December to May there are some strong rains every once in a while. Maybe I just misheard the endemic Tour Guide George while I was taking pictures of the breath-taking nature around me at that moment.

sea turtle nests on floreana island

This lagoon is known to have pink flamingos visit from December to May. Sadly, we missed out on seeing the sophisticated creatures. After the quick educational lesson, we  continued on the path toward another bay – this one being very special. A little ways up the shore, a pattern could be seen in the white-sand beach. A number of rounded dugouts had been made, separated by mere inches from one another. Tour Guide George explained that these were sea-turtle nests and had just been emptied, pointing out the baby’s tracks that led to the ocean water.

I could see pieces of hatched eggs still sitting in one of the nests. We walked along the shore, the first feet to touch the sand that day – a perk of waking up at 5 a.m. – to try and look for any sea turtles that didn’t make it to the ocean. Overhead a black bird, most likely a Frigate, was soaring with its peering eyes to hopefully beat us to a baby to make it breakfast. Unfortunately for us and the bird, but lucky for the sea turtles, we did not find one. During the search party, I did get to see a sea lion basking in the sun, a Yellow Warbler prancing around on the sand and a Least Sandpiper running around on the beach.

looking out for sting rays on floreana island

We spent some time here exploring. I got to inspect my first set of tide-pools, which were sadly mostly empty but there were plenty of Sally Lightfoot crabs picking at the rocks for food. Tour Guide George had us gather around again to tell us that this bay area was known for having plenty of sting rays in the shallow areas. He had us go up to our knees in the ocean water to look at them. At one point, he grabbed my arm and pulled me around pointing at each one of them. I stood still enough that I felt them nibbling at my feet – either that or it was seaweed but I didn’t see any floating seaweed.

When I felt them, I pulled my leg up in fear, making myself look like a flamingo standing in the water. The waves were carrying the stingrays right up to us and some of the group actually said they stepped on one or two. Eventually, I walked back a bit to some of the more nervous bystanders, and was even lucky enough to see a stingray flap its “wings” on the surface of the water before disappearing beneath it once more.

After we all decided that we risked our lives enough, we headed back to the other side of the island to wait for the zodiacs to arrive. The sun had finally made its appearance and Tour Guide George was able to show us the crystals that give the beach its green olivine color.

green olivine crystals on floreana island - photo credit: rachel tavel

The crystals glistened underneath the sun and with a close eye, I could really seen the hint of green against the dark sand on the beach. Some sort of chemical reaction with lava creates the green crystals, which add to the majestic beauty of one more Galapagos island. Not too much later, the zodiacs rushed ashore to pick us up and take us for a nice breakfast on the catamaran before we would  put on our wetsuits again. Next stop: Champion Islet for another snorkeling opportunity – this time with some special friends.

a bird pirched on a tree branch in the floreana island lagoon

sea turtle tracks leading to the ocean on floreana island

least sandpiper on floreana island beach

yellow warbler on floreana island

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Española Island – Galapagos Scrolls – Chapter II

sunrise in española - galapagos islands

I woke with the rising sun. Its orange and yellow shades sifted through the window blinds of the room my friend and I shared on Nina, the luxury catamaran that sat anchored at our second stop of the voyage. After breakfast, the passengers and crew congregated at the back of the boat on the second-floor where we would put on our life-jackets and board the zodiacs. In the previous night’s briefing, tour guide George went over the day’s itinerary and gave all of us one very important decision to make. Apparently, there was another boat that would be visiting Española that same morning and George wanted to ensure that we had the opportunity to be the first to step foot on the island and explore it without having to worry about others sneaking into our photos or obscuring our wildlife-watching.

At 5 a.m. the wake-up call – or soft music I should say – began drifting out of the overhead speaker in all of our rooms. We had agreed to sacrifice a few extra hours of sleep to be the first to experience Española, which is known to be one of the most beautiful of the 15 main islands and 3 smaller islands that make up the Galapagos. We boarded the zodiacs with full stomachs and sleepy eyes to make our way through the turquoise, clear blue ocean water to the dry-landing dock at Suarez Point where the sea lions made their first appearance swimming around the small bay.

the dry-landing dock at suarez point on española island

As soon as my sneaker hit the granite steps, I had entered a world of wildlife. Adult and baby sea lions were zipping through the water playfully, while others were sun-bathing in the crevices of the volcanic boulders. Brightly-colored Sally Lightfoot crabs were crawling from rock to rock. Their vibrant red, orange and yellow colors bursting boldly underneath the morning sun. I noticed the iguanas perched on the rocks as well – only distinguishable from their surroundings by the red-green coloration on the sides of their scaly body. I learned that these marine reptiles were known as the Christmas iguanas.

The sea lions were calling out to each other in noises equivalent to honking. On the sandy shore were pairs and groups of three or more that would be cuddling side-by-side, occasionally flapping their flippers and shaking their heads to get rid of bothersome flies. Right near the edge of a hedge of bushes was a collection of Christmas Iguanas all sprawled out. Their arms firmly on the ground but their heads raised high with closed eyes, embracing the warmth of the rays.

the christmas iguanas sun-bathing on española island

We walked on the marked path, spotting birds along the way. The Galapagos National Park is doing an incredibly marvelous job of ensuring that all visitors know the rules. Tour guide George made sure we followed them. If a sign said “stop” we stopped and went no further, despite our strong urges to do so. The Galapagos Islands have only recently been taken off UNESCO’s endangered list after environmental threats and so much tourism had withered away the islands’ conditions, resulting in a halt to any visitation. Today, the main goal is to keep it off the list and protect the animals, and their environment.

Iguanas were sun-bathing on almost every surface. I had to carefully check each spot before I put my foot down so that I wouldn’t happen to step on a tail. Overhead, birds were catching the wind currents and soaring gracefully above the crashing ocean waves. Others could be seen on the ground pecking around for their breakfast. When I caught up to the group, I heard their fingers feverishly clicking the buttons on their cameras. I looked down and noticed the blue feet. The infamous blue-footed boobies were less than a yard from our own feet.

the blue-footed booby doing the mating dance on española island

We quietly watched as they performed their mating dance, which goes a bit like: left foot up, left foot down, right foot up, right foot down, ruffle the feathers and wings, and look at the female you are trying to impress with hopeful eyes. Every now and then they would puff up their chest and let out a whistle sound. Even though I’m not a scientist, I could not help but be fascinated by the blue-footed boobies and their mannerisms. The group stayed for nearly 15 minutes watching nature’s act play out live right before our eyes.

Eventually, we had to reluctantly move on to the ushering of tour guide George who wanted to show us a lookout spot known for its blowhole. Some boulders became our resting spot as we impatiently waited for the rumored 65-foot high spurt of water that was known to shoot up iguanas that had accidentally stayed too long in the area. However, we were not lucky to see such an event but the view of the cliffside and deep blue ocean were just as good.

a nazca booby and its egg on española island

Just down the path and down a rocky hillside was the iguana-filled land. I learned that the soft-sand area to the left was the only place on Española island where the iguanas crawl up the terrain to nest. This was a forbidden area to step so as not to disturb their breeding grounds. Instead, we walked around it to the other side and back up the hill, noticing two Nazca Boobies that were keeping their baby eggs warm. An area of birds had turned a bit hostile while we were there. They were fighting others that kept meandering into their territory. It was just one more great moment of nature to witness before we made our way on the rocky path back to the bay area to watch the sea lions play and Sally Light-Foot Crabs crawl. The Christmas iguanas had disappeared from their sun-bathing area since it was now covered in shade. When the group became a group again we took our zodiacs back to the catamaran, which turned on the engine and sailed on over to Gardner Bay, which is known for its sun-bathing sea lion colonies.

a sea lion standing proper in the española bay

baby sea lion climbs onto rock in española bay











a sally lightfoot crab on española island

sun-bathing christmas iguana on española island

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San Cristobal Island – Galapagos Scrolls – Chapter I

Once I had my luggage checked-in – after the most simple run through the x-ray machine ever – it was onward to the AeroGal VIP Lounge with the fellow cruise-mates, which included an American-Ecuadorian-Belgian couple with two children and a lady that would be known as Switzerland for the duration of the trip. We all found each other and got know each other quite well during our time spent in the lounge snacking for more than two hours because our plane had a mechanical error. A light was not working. We all learned that we would have to wait for it to be replaced or wait for the next plane to arrive before we could take-off.

Eventually the lounge attendant called our flight number to say we could head out to the plane. After a five minute bus ride – the fastest of my life – to the plane we all climbed aboard and fastened our seat-belts ready to get to the Galapagos. The group feared the worst, especially my friend and me. We figured that with the time lost due to the plane delay that we would have missed the first adventure on San Cristobal island. In roughly 2 hours (excluding the Guayaquil stop) we landed safely on a desolate runway.

Looking out from my window seat, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities of the land to my home-state’s geography. It looked like the Sonoran desert of Arizona. Browns and beiges with spots of green here or there. Eventually I came to learn that the Galapagos Islands don’t receive any rainfall at all. The islands have no fresh-water rivers, streams or lakes – despite the lagoons that are fed by the ocean water – which gives them this arid appearance.

We were divided as tourists or nationals before paying the park entrance fee and getting our passports stamped. A tractor made several trips back-and-forth hauling the plane’s luggage to an area where it was sniffed for drugs by a dog. Once the people had organized all the luggage, the stampede of people began searching for their suitcases. The tour manager met us on the other side of baggage check and led us to the bus, which took us to the dock. As we pulled our suitcases behind us, we were stopped by a man who introduced himself as George, our tour guide.

He said that the other group, which had been on the catamaran for a few days already, were leaving at that moment for the turtle breeding station. We had a choice to make. Either go with the luggage and board the boat to enjoy a nice lunch, or hop on the bus immediately and visit the breeding station. My butt was on a seat within seconds as the bus pulled away and started heading through the city. We passed by a festival gathering that was being held to celebrate the Dia de los Muertos. Families gather and cook all day long, visiting the cemetery nearby where their loved ones are buried.

the tortoise breeding station on san cristobal island

Continuing along, the bus twisted and turned on the dirt road, making numerous attempts to avoid the potholes in the ground. Some were successfully bypassed, others were met with a big bump. The Cerro Colorado Galapagos Breeding Station was located right off the dirt road, a sharp turn hidden behind lush vegetation and any eyes.

We walked to a room where the guide explained the history of turtles and turned out facts one after the other. I learned that:

  • In the Galapagos, there are 11 species of giant tortoises.
  • Another 3 species existed but are now extinct Each island has its own species.
  • All species are believed to have evolved from one common ancestor that arrived thousands of years ago to the islands.
  • Tortoises can walk up to four miles a day, one to two miles for babies.

the breeding and acclimation pens for baby tortoises

Tour guide George, who said he is endemic because he was born in the Galapagos, took us through the natural environment on a rocky trail with the hope of spotting a giant tortoise. The station breeds and protects the tortoises from the many introduced species that attack  them, especially the babies. Between 90 to 95 percent of tortoises survive without predators, whereas 80 to 85 percent of babies survive with predators. Their shell is soft and vulnerable until the age of three or four to invasive species such as rats and cats.

The main factors threatening the giant tortoise population are introduced animals and habitat destruction. At the breeding station, I learned that tortoises are bred and then begin their reproductive cycle from December to May and then their eggs are incubated from June to November. They are fed until the age of five by park rangers before being repatriated to their natural habitat. The program started in 2005 and the group of tortoises from that year had only one survivor. She has a white number one painted on her shell and is known as Genesis. Since then, much more success has been seen. The baby tortoises are growing in their pens until they can be reintroduced into their natural environments.

a giant tortoise cooling off in the pond

Seeing that it was late in the afternoon, most of the tortoises were not out in the open for us to spot. There was one soaking in the pond, which allows them to cool off and get rid of insects. Another was sitting behind a mesh of tree branches but that was all we could see. The afternoon was much more of an educational experience than wildlife, which was enlightening.

I went to the Galapagos Islands to see all the wildlife, but I also went to learn just like Darwin did years and years ago. Being reminded that I also have to listen as much as I am looking around at the nature and animals on the first day of the tour was extremely beneficial. Afterward, our tour bus took us back to the dock as the sun was setting behind one of the mountainous hills, closing the first hectic and busy day to an amazing adventure that was only beginning.

a walkway at the breeding station on san cristobal island

genesis, the only survivor out of the original 2005 group









the tour bus heading to the dock

a group of baby tortoises at the breeding station

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Places you should not miss in Ecuador

¡Hola! I am safely back from an unbelievable voyage around the Galapagos Islands. All desires were fulfilled and then some. Pics are being downloaded and posted. The video is in production – awaiting on my soundtrack selection and minor edits. I have decided to post a series of blogposts from each island to make it more manageable for myself and more enjoyable for readers.

In the mean time, the company where I intern, Viva Travel Guides, had all us interns contribute to a guest post for the travel blog Velvet Escape on the 10 places in Ecuador that you should not miss. The following is what I contributed as my favorite places and here is where you can find the rest.

the basilica del voto nacional in quito, ecuador

Basílica del Voto Nacional

The Basilica del Voto Nacional, which means National Vow, was built to symbolize Ecuador´s devotion to the Roman Catholic Church. It remains in an unfinished state and a rumor lingers among Ecuadorians that the world would end if construction was completed. For $2 USD you can explore every inch of the church, which is the largest neo-gothic basilica in the Americas. It has characteristics of European architecture and from the outside; the basilica´s façade actually looks similar to the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. However, one of its distinctive decorations is the grotesques, or gargoyles, which do not appear ominous or threatening, but are instead animals that call Ecuador home. Visitors can head into the sanctuary to admire the details in the stain-glass and tile designs before climbing the stairs of either clock tower that offers panoramic views. While ascending the clock towers, do not miss the chance to cross the wooden-plank bridge (you´re walking over the sanctuary) that will take you up more stairs and to another tower with more views of the city. For the extra-brave, there is another staircase near the tower that will take you even higher to a view worthy of overcoming any fear of heights.

one of many waterfalls along la ruta de las cascadas in baños, ecuador


This city is known as the gate-way to the Amazons. However, most travelers tend to stay in Baños for a decent period of time because of all it has to offer.  The city is situated near the Tungurahua volcano, which is the largest in Ecuador and can easily be climbed, surrounded by dense green forests. The geothermal hot springs are the number-one attraction. Foreigners and locals flock here almost every weekend to pick one of the mineral pools around town that are either warm or cool, depending on the mixture of spring water or that heated by the volcano. Spas offering an assortment of treatments can be found on almost every street. Besides soaking and relaxing, visitors can horseback ride in the hillsides or sign-up for a tour at one of numerous companies in Baños that can take you rafting or canyoning. Another popular activity is renting a mountain bike for $5 and cycling La Ruta de las Cascadas. You stop along the way to see waterfalls and most have tarabitas you can ride for $1-$2 that take you up-close-and personal with the raging water.

the cotopaxi volcano in the cotopaxi province of ecuador

Cotopaxi Volcano

The Cotopaxi Province is one of the most dazzling landscapes in Ecuador. Every picture makes it seem like you are on the set of a movie.  On a clear day, the vast Cotopaxi Volcano, which is the second-highest summit in Ecuador and debatably the highest active volcano in the world, can be seen. It´s snow-capped peak contrasts against the blue sky and green landscape. Hostels in the area offer many excursions such as hiking to the glacier and mountain biking down, or even climbing the Cotopaxi volcano. The alternative option for those not fit to scale the volcano at such a high altitude is to do a similar climb just on the back of a horse. A pretty lengthy horseback ride can take you up the Ruminahui Mountain where you can get a closer look at the volcano.  Cotopaxi has become a sense of cultural pride for the indigenous of Ecuador and a don´t miss for any who visit the country.


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A Voyage to Darwin’s Land: the Galapagos Islands

I’m off to the Galapagos Islands! Yes, I AM! My friend over at TravelsWTavel was able to find the most amazing last-minute deal and I simply could not pass it up.

the galapagos islands located roughly 525 miles west of Ecuador

The best way to find an affordable trip to the Galapagos is by endless searching and searching, phone calls and e-mails to find last-minute deals. Otherwise, it is nearly impossible to fit in a trip to Darwin’s Land on a budget. It is not hard to find a last-minute deal, because not all the ships fill up each week. However, the tricky part is finding one that gives you the most bang for your buck. When I say my friend and I were lucky, I mean it.  It is nearly unheard of  to get a 5 day – 4 night trip on a luxury catamaran for the price we’re paying. Trust me, we’re reminded that by everyone we talk to about it.

The voyage begins tomorrow and we will be on the luxury-catamaran Nina, which is said to be the best ship sailing the islands right now. Our journey is 5 days – 4 nights and our itinerary includes:

Tuesday: San Cristobal Island /La Galapaguera

pm: La Galapaguera or Interpretation Center:
The Galapaguera allows you to see the Giant Tortoises in their natural environment. Marvel at the tiny babies, or the gentle giants, which, at four-foot, are probably as long as some of your friends are tall. Given the right conditions, the option to visit the Interpretation Center in San Cristobal is available

Wednesday: Española Island

am: Suárez Point:
Often listed as a Galapagos ‘favorite visitor site’, this is a great place to see Blue-Footed Boobies and the Waved Albatross. Like most Galapagos wildlife, the Boobies are so accustomed to life without predators, that they will hardly note your existence. Be prepared for an up-close look at their families, and marvel at the elegance with which they glide through the air. You can also see the famous blowhole, which spurts water sixty-five feet (twenty meters) high. Bring your camera.

pm: Gardner Bay:
Española Island is where nearly all of the world’s twelve-thousand pairs of waved albatrosses nest and breed. Gardner Bay includes a beautiful, white sand beach where you can nap near a sea lion colony. This is a prime spot for snorkeling or relaxing on the picturesque beach as the clouds float by.

Thursday: Floreana Island

am: Champion & Cormorant Point:
Our trail will take us along a beach where the sea lions bask in the sun. We’ll make our way behind white and black mangroves, and come upon a brackish water lagoon where the vivid pink flamingos pose. Then we’ll head up to a remarkable look-out point before taking in the white sand beach where the sea turtles nest. The nearby Champion Islet is widely considered to be one of the best snorkeling and diving sites in the Galapagos.

pm: Post Office Bay:
At Post Office Bay, eighteenth century whalers used a barrel as an unofficial mail drop. In those times ships were often away from home for two or more years at a time. Ships on their outward journeys would leave letters and ships returning home would pick them up and bring them to their homeland. Many Galapagos visitors continue the custom, and you may leave, or retrieve, a letter as well. No postage required.

Friday: Santa Cruz Island

am: Charles Darwin Research Station :
At the Charles Darwin Research Station, you will get to meet what the Guiness Book of World’s Records has dubbed ‘The Rarest Living Creature’, Lonesome George is the last of the Pinta Giant Turtles. In the walk-in enclosure, you can mingle with the adult Giant Tortoises, while the baby tortoise house will allow you to meet little giants, aged four years and younger. Scientists are available to share how they work to keep Galapagos thriving. Afterwards you will have an opportunity to look around Puerto Ayora for souvenirs.

pm: Isla Plaza :
This island is a very special place in the Galapagos; you will find a big colony of Sea Lions, Land Iguanas, and a variety of different bird species. There is a fantastic, cliff-side view of the ocean, and the fascinating Opuntia Cacti forest.

Saturday: North Seymour

am: North Seymour: is a low-lying island with a very large population of Blue-Footed Boobies. It is also home to the largest colony of the magnificent Frigate Birds, whose male representative boasts an amusing red pouch. The first half of our trail is sandy, but as a testament to the diversity of the islands, the second half is rocky (be sure to bring appropriate shoes). As this point, we’ll head back to the airport for your flight to the mainland.

It shall be any interesting voyage to say the least. Exotic animals and locations. Lots of hiking and snorkeling. And loads of learning! My friend believes in evolution whereas I do not. I have asked her if she would like to make a guest-post from her point-of-view and she said she would love to write one. So  you can hopefully look forward to that at some point in the future.

I will be taking notes during our guided hikes and plenty of pictures. Stay tuned for a video as well.

the infamous blue-footed boobie in the galapagos islands

the infamous giant galapagos tortoise

What animals are we looking forward to the most?

Friend : Blue-Footed Boobies!

Me : The Giant Tortoises!


More than anything, I am looking forward to visiting a land that I’ve read about only in books. That is my favorite type of travel. To bring the images and words into reality. The Galapagos Island have recently been taken off Unesco’s endangered list for environmental issues and overuse of visitors since the Ecuadorian government made much progress in conserving the land that led to Darwin’s theories of evolution. To be able to visit it is truly a gift and I hope to share it with you once I return. Bon Voyage!

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Filed under Activities, Ecuador, Facts, Galapagos Islands, Global, History, International, Latin America // South America, Nature, Outdoors, Sites, Tour, Travel, Worldwide