Guayaquil, Ecuador Wednesday, May 30 2012 

Moorish Tower

Moorish Tower

Guayaquil is the largest city in Ecuador and well worth a visit.  The revitalized Malecon, a two mile walkway along the Guyas  River, takes one past historic buildings, statues, shops, a botanic garden, and a museum.  Our exploration started on the south side of the Malecon where we passed the Crystal Palace, designed by Eiffel in 1905 and brought from France, which now serves as a gallery for temporary exhibits.  Adjacent to it is the elite private club, the Union Club, where notables such as President Clinton have been entertained. A statue of Guayaquil’s first mayor, Jose Joaquin de Olmedo is prominently situated nearby.  By a fountain an attractive young woman wearing a colorful banner saying “Nuestra Belleza Portoviejo 2011” posed for a photographer.  The next section of the Malecon has two levels – the lower level has shops, the upper level features small restaurants with views of the Rio Guyas.  A colorful statue of Ronald McDonald sitting on a bench outside a McDonald’s restaurant attracts locals to take a snapshot.  A replica of a pirate ship offers rides on the river.  A distinctive clock tower built in the 1930s, the Moorish Tower, is situated near the center of the Malecon.  Across the street can be seen the attractive Guayaquil Municipal Building.  The Rotonda monument, completed in 1938, celebrates the meeting of Simon Bolivar and Jose de San Martin who met in Guayaquil July 26-27, 1822.  Interestingly, the statues pose both men equal in height.  “El Fauno y la Bacante” is a statue with a man with diabolical look holding a beautiful woman.  A Spanish statue of “The Thinker” also graced our walk.  The botanical garden has winding paths lined with flowering plants and plants with leaves of different colors.  The Aroma Cafe served an excellent shrimp stuffed avocado with a pleasant view of a pond and a cooling fan overhead.  We bypassed the popular with locals IMax in favor of the Anthropological and Contemporary Art Museum.  This modern, spacious museum opened in 2004.  The special exhibit on Panama hats was informative and we couldn’t help but notice that the historical representations of people featured prominent head wear.  Because of the heat and humidity we didn’t attempt to climb the 400 steps atop the Cerro Santa Ana.  Instead we shopped for Ecuadorian hats elsewhere known as Panama hats.

Fountain Light Show

Fountain Light Show

We stayed at the attractive centrally located Oro Verde Hotel.  We highly recommend their breakfast.  We visited Park Bolivar commonly known as the “Park of the Iguanas.”  We also rested for a time in the Plaza del Centenario.  During our explorations we encountered Ecuadorians almost exclusively.  For dinner we walked west of our hotel to Rachy’s, for inexpensive local Ecuadorian food (about $6 each).  By the way, Ecuador uses the American dollar for its currency.  After dinner we stopped at Malecon del Solado to enjoy the dancing water fountain which uses lights and laser technology orchestrated with popular and classical music.  The temperatures were cooler than during the day and the pleasant breeze made for a memorable experience sharing this free entertainment with local families.  What a great visit!

Santa Cruz & Baltra Islands, Galapagos Farewell Wednesday, May 30 2012 

Lonesome George

Lonesome George

Lonesome George poised for pictures at the Charles Darwin Research Station.  El Solitario George was the last of his kind found on Pinta Island in 1971 and living at the Research Station since 1972.  This giant tortoise is representative of a saddleback whose neck can reach high for food.  We were told that the Spanish word for “saddle” is “Gualapagos.”  The bus ride to the ferry to Baltra took us through a scalesia forest at an altitude between 400-500 meters.  We stopped near the summit for a quick view of the Collapse Craters.  We joined other visitors on the ferry, all heading to the airport departing the Galapagos Islands.  A remarkable week of adventure with nature in the Enchanted Islands.

Puerto Villamil, Isabela Island Wednesday, May 30 2012 

Flamingos

Flamingos

The Arnaldo Tupiza-Chamidan giant tortoise breeding center provided an opportunity to see lots of young tortoises and to learn more about them.  A couple of males even demonstrated their mating moans.  A boardwalk through a mangrove offered a view of flamingos.  We then headed to a large lava tube near the ocean.  The distinctive candelabra cactus stood out inland.  The crashing ocean waves on the black lava with a blue sky made a calming scene.

In the afternoon we drove to the transition highlands area of the island where we saw a giant silk tree.  We also took a back road to the Mirador “El Mango” viewpoint.  Several yellow warblers captivated me.  We explored the small city of Puerto Villamil which is building a new Catholic Church.  The coastline has a viewpoint, too.  Beware of marine iguanas which have designated breeding grounds next to an ocean-side park.  We completed our visit with a coco loco, which looked more impressive than it tasted, and enjoyed the view of a bottle tree and the beautiful coastline.  Our Galapagos visit comes to an end tomorrow.

Isabela Island’s Urbina Bay & Elizabeth Bay Wednesday, May 30 2012 

Galapagos Tortoise

Galapagos Tortoise

An early morning panga ride to Urbina Bay gave us the opportunity to observe active tortoises.  Several tortoises were moving up the trail.  One was in a mud pit.  Three were grazing in an open field.  As the temperature warms up, tortoises find hiding spots.  Several land iguanas were evident along the trail, too.  Finches, of course, are ever present.  After breakfast on the Top Top II, we returned to Urbina Bay for a coastal walk.  In places the lava required some careful climbing.  Our destination was a spot that featured remnants of brain coral.  Along the way we spotted sea lions, flightless cormorants, and yellow warblers.

Galapagos Penguin

Galapagos Penguin

In the afternoon a panga ride into Elizabeth Bay allowed us to observe more wildlife.  Two separate clumps of golden rays glided near the water’s surface.  Sea turtles could be seen in the clear water.  Galapagos penguins were feeding and one posed on a rock.  A sea lion rested hidden in a mangrove.  A great blue heron stood camouflaged in the mangrove.  A brown pelican perched in a tree surrounded by water and blue footed boobies stood on nearby rocks.  Another memorable sunset completed a wonder filled day in the Galapagos.

Isabela Island at Ecuador Volcano & Fernandina Island Tuesday, May 29 2012 

Isabela Cave Entrance View

View Out the Isabela Cave Entrance

The sun rose on the northwest tip of Isabela Island for another beautiful day in the Galapagos.  A panga ride around Punto Vicente Roca provided us with the opportunity to see marine iguanas heading down steep cliffs to feed in the ocean.  Flightless cormorants dried their shortened wings after diving for their breakfast.  Storm petrals walked on the water gathering their nourishment.  A giant sunfish with its flat fin above the surface of the water lolled for a time.  The view as we left the cave where we snorkeled later in the morning was awesome.  It was great to swim with sea turtles and observe them chomping the ocean vegetation.

Fightless Cormorant

Flightless Cormorant

In the afternoon we visited Fernandina Island, the newest island in the Galapagos.  We visited Punta Espinosa which has large colonies of marine iguanas.  Colorful Sally lightfoot crabs scampered on the black lava.  Sea lions enjoyed the tidal pools and found places to nap.  Flightless cormorants dried their shortened non-functional wings.  A great blue heron also posed with outstretched wings.  A rainbow arched over our afternoon hike.  Another colorful sunset completed the day.

Santiago Island Revisited Monday, May 28 2012 

Marine Iguana

Marine Iguana

Puerto Egas, located on James Bay on the western side of Santiago Island, has black volcanic formations that provide shelter to a number of creatures.  On our panga ride we passed a blue footed boobie poised on a rock.  Several Galapagos hawks perched with expansive views.  Marine iguanas sun themselves on rocks and watch your step for lava lizards.  Shoreline pools provide fur sea lions with resting spots.  A sea turtle made its way up an inlet.  Sea lions like the beach which was lined with flowers such as the magenta star shape of the beach morning glory.  Of course, finches also call Santiago home.

Galapagos Sunset

Galapagos Sunset

In the afternoon we landed at Espumilla Beach and hiked past a bracken pond where baby ducks followed their mother for a cooling swim.  We passed poison apple trees whose fruit is edible by tortoises.  Finches and mockingbirds flitted in the trees.  As we climbed we passed giant incense trees.  Our destination was atop a dry waterfall where a lava lizard poised at the precipice.  Fire ants have invaded this area but we didn’t encounter any as we made our way through the thick underbrush crowding the trail.

A scenic boat ride at dusk to Buccaneer Cove afforded views of craggy cliffs.  In the 17th and 18th centuries, pirates and whalers used the cove as a safe place to rest and load up on supplies such a water and food (tortoises).  Another beautiful sunset concluded the day.

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