Monday, January 03, 2011

Galapagos - land and water

Ok, I saved the best for last. The birds in the Galapagos were interesting, but I am more of a mammal/reptile/fish person.

Ok, when one thinks of the Galapagos, they likely think of the giant tortoises. Even the name "galapagos" is Spanish for a type of horse saddle, which some of the tortoise shells look like. So figured I'd start with some tortoise pictures...

(click on any picture to see it in higher resolution)

Here is a close up of another tortoise's head. Do you think he looks a bit like ET?

There are farms in the area that are in the traditional range for these tortoises, and often have a lot of tortoises there. So along with growing crops, they charge a small fee for tourists to walk around and see tortoises. We did have to have a naturalist/guide with, but much of what they were doing is keeping the tourists from bothering the tortoises. Though we could still get pretty close.

When we got off the bus, our guide immediately perks up his ears, tells everyone to be quiet and motions us to follow him. We wondered what was up, as we were headed a different direction than most of the other tourists. This was what he was headed for...

The male is much larger than the female, so you can barely see her.

Check out the video of these guys - make sure you have your speakers on for full grunting effect...

Off to the sea again - there were sea turtles all over the place in the Galapagos. Here are three in one picture, taken while snorkeling.

Here is a video of one that was not bothered by my swimming next to him:

Here is a pair of white tip reef shark seen while kayaking. These guys mostly feed at night, so rest in the shallow reefs during the day.

Galapagos shark seen while snorkeling. This guy was about 10 or 15 feet down by a sea stack. I don't remember if I caught a glimpse, or was told they were there by our guide, but I dove down and saw them and got a couple of photos. It is hard to tell size in this photo, but he was maybe 5 or 6 feet long.

Marine iguanas resting on a lava rock shoreline. These are the only iguanas in the world that swim out into the ocean to eat seaweed (most iguanas live and eat on land). The small ones are females, where the large, green one is a male (lucky guy).

Marine iguana swimming - as seen from above. Caught this picture while kayaking. This guy was headed back to shore after feeding.

Marine iguana that we saw swimming as we snorkeled. This one was also heading back to shore. I tried hard to find an iguana eating underwater, but never saw one.

One of the many friendly sea lion looking to play as we snorkeled. Our guide said that the younger ones often like to play., They will swim around you, sometimes looking to have you chase them, and sometimes they would want to chase you. So you would swim underwater and do flips and such and they would stay near and play.

Here is a video of me playing with another sea lion.


Sunday, January 02, 2011

Galapagos - Birds

I have a lot of photos from the Galapagos - too many to do in one posting here. So I had to find a way to break them up. Given that Darwin seemed to focus on the finches of the Galapagos as a key part of his theory of evolution, it only seemed fitting I start with bird photos. Though he may have started with finches, they weren't standouts in my mind, so I don't have any finch photos here...

Picture of the blue footed booby, which is endemic to the Galapagos. One of those animals you have to see when you are there. There is also a red-footed booby, but we didn't get to see those.
ps - actually, I think it is spelled "bubi", but that doesn't allow as easily for the corny jokes and t-shirts about booby watching and all.
(click on any picture to see higher resolution version)

Continuing with the booby/bubi pictures - this was a surprise catch for a photo. I just blasted away with the camera (actually, we had 3 cameras with us) and took almost 2000 photos. Sometimes you flash through a photo and don't see something at first. This is one of those - I didn't see the booby diving until I did a second review of the photo. Very streamlined shape that the bird is able to get into.

This was another lucky shot - and with a basic point and shoot camera at that. This is the same booby shown diving, but after he had his meal and was now flying back up to make another dive on some poor unsuspecting bait fish.

Yellow warbler on some volcanic rock at a beach. These guys were all over the place and perhaps take the function of pigeons in our country, as they were always around watching to see if some scrap of food would drop from us humans.

Frigate birds. During breeding, the males have large red pouches that they inflate to attract a mate. But I am not sure they would be trustworthy mates, as they get much of their food by stealing from boobies.

Better check the immigration status of these American Oyster Catchers. They do look a little different than the ones we have in California (I don't think ours have the white chest/undersides, but they do have the bright red beaks). Always loved the name "oyster catcher" - a catcher to me refers to catching something that moves, yet oysters don't move.

Well, this one isn't a bird picture, but is in the sky. This was a shot of our inter-island flight between San Cristobal and Isabela Islands. The airline that runs these flights has 2 planes - a 5 seater and a 7 seater. Our group of 11 required both. And I got to sit in the co-pilot's seat (that guy with the stripes on his shoulder is our pilot).

I wasn't really a good choice for this, as I am a bit large. Whenever the pilot banked the airplane, the yoke (or whatever they call the steering wheel) on my side whacked me in the knee. And he had to push my knee out of the way to adjust the tail flap fine tune adjustment. And if I stretched my legs, I would be pushing on the pedals (which I am sure would not be a good thing to do). So I spent much of the flight trying to stay still.


Saturday, January 01, 2011

Ecudador Highlands

Some friends signed up for the Galapagos & Otavalo Highlands Trip through REI, and let us know about it. Was expensive, but we decided this was on our bucket list, so signed up to join them. Another couple we often do things with also signed up, so our little group was 6 of the 10 people on the trip. This post shows some photos from what we saw in the highlands near Quito, Ecuador, where we started our trip.

Hiked around the Cotacachi-Cayapas caldera early on in the trip. 6 mile hike, but made much harder by being at some 10,000 feet in altitude. This is north of Quito, near Otavalo.

(click on photos to see larger size)

Andean condors that we saw on the hike. Given that there are only 60-70 of them in Ecuador, we were looking at some 3-4% of the total population. Also saw some eagles in the area.

Spent a night at the Termas de Papallacta hot springs resort, which is east of Quito. Hotel is at some 12,000 feet in altitude. Drove uphill from there to do a hike at Lagunas de Banos. Soaking in the hot tubs was quite nice, but the water was a few degrees cooler than the onsens in Japan.

In the highlands of Ecuador, the driving style was a bit more aggressive than we were used to, particularly when passing. This was a switchback area going down a gorge - did seem to be newer pavement than many of the other areas. But potholed roads sure didn't slow them down. And the signs and lane striping all seemed to be suggestions, not requirements (notice how the bus I am in is smack in the center of the road).

This is cuy - something that is a specialty of the Andes. In English, it is called Guinea Pig. We had heard about it on an Anthony Bourdain TV show, and made a point to try it. Tastes a bit gamy, but not that bad. More info:

Galapagos photos to come in another post.