Giant Tortoise

When you think Galapagos, most people think of Tortoises, big ones. Over-hunting and competition with introduced animals has left its numbers close to extinction. The Galápagos National Park Service park rangers and the scientists of the Charles Darwin Research Station have been working since the 1950s to bring their numbers back. We saw and learned about their conservation efforts and saw Tortoises from 1 month old to some well over a hundred. They are working hard to restore and protect the Galapagos Islands’ natural biodiversity.

They weren’t very afraid of us and several times cut across our paths. Actually I should say blocked our path for several minutes as they walked 5-10 feet. All I have to say is that Hare must have been really stupid to lose to one of these.

Rabida

Rabida is a small picturesque island with red rock cliffs and maroon sand. The contrast of the red rocks, green cactus trees and the blue turquoise sea create landscapes of stunning contrast, even when you take them from the water. We saw some sea lions along the shore. I think that Mama wanted to nap but junior wanted to eat.

During the snorkel I saw sea lions, reef sharks, marine iguanas, colorful parrotfish.

In the afternoon we sailed to Eden Islet for a Zodiac ride and saw the local Pelicans.

North Seymour Island

Today our adventure started on North Seymour Island.

North Seymour is a small up-lifted island filled with a profusion of wildlife – above and below the sea. The new species today included Blue-footed Boobies, and lots of Galapagos land iguanas.

Love was in the air again as Blue Footed Boobies did their mating dance. It clearly works.

 

Sea lions basked in the sun and Land Iguanas foraged (Cactus, really?)

Coming ashore on the east coast of Santiago Island, we saw the lava flows that are not much older than a hundred years (1897). The snorkeling was great and we swam along side massive sea turtles.

Genovesa

Our first excursion day took us just north of the equator to an island called Genovesa. The day was packed and we started with exploration at ‘Prince Philip’s Steps’, a steep path named after the Duke of Edinburgh who visited the island in 1965. We saw Nazca Boobies nesting on the ground, Red footed Boobies in short trees and mating, Great Frigatebirds putting on a show with fiery red sacs, and a Short-eared Owl.

Then back to the ship, after donning wet suits we were zodiac-ed to a little bay where snorkeled. We were in a caldera (formed when the mouth of a volcano collapsed). It was hot, so getting in the water had a double benefit.

Afterwards we went to the ship, grabbed lunch and I had a quick nap.

In the afternoon we had another tour near the beach and saw many of the same species but in different habitat. We also saw a Yellow Crowned Night Heron.

We still can’t really believe that we are here.

Silversea Galapagos (day 5)

Hops, hops and more hops. We flew from Quito to Guayaquil to Baltra, rode the bus to the coast/pier and then finally took a Zodiac to the Ship.

Finally we are underway.

Quito (day 4)

Another early wake up call (5:00AM) so we could catch an early Cusco to Lima flight, followed by a Lima to Quito leg. The remote destinations we chose (Machu Picchu and the Galapagos) required a lot of connecting flights.

A city tour was available but we’d had enough of busses and travel for the day.

This is from our room at the JW Marriott in Quito. Quito is bigger than I thought at 2.5M people.

Tomorrow: Quito to the Silver Discoverer Galapagos.

Machu Picchu (day 3)

I rose at 5:45 to be at the gate when the park opened at 6. Sunrise had not yet cleared the surrounding mountains. The objective was to catch the ancient city as dawn hit. It was amazing. A magical place we will never forget.

This is the site before first sun. Even at this hour you can see how it sets apart from the rest of the area.

Here is when first light hits the ancient city.

After lunch we started back to Cusco. Machu Picchu Pueblo is accessible only via train. We took the Vistadome train back towards Cusco. It made better time on the uneven narrow gauge tracks than the Hiram Bingham had. Nice sights as we wended though the Sacred Valley of the Incas. About halfway back to Cusco, the highway started so we switched to a bus. We climbed through a pass over 12,000 ft through the highlands towards Cusco. Several of us remarked how much the Andes and highlands in this area remind us of the Rockies in Wyoming. The distant snowy peak is over 18.000 feet!

Our day ended with dinner at a restaurant that served traditional Peruvian fare. Nom, nom. Mary’s lamb shank was the best we have ever had. No one was adventuresome enough to try the Guinea pig stew. We were told it tastes like rabbit (which didn’t help a lot).

Tomorrow: Cusco to Lima to Quito

Machu Picchu (day 2)

After an obscenely early lobby departure (3:15) and a ride to the airport we departed for Cusco. At one point, Cusco was the main capital of the Incan empire but most of the dwellings were destroyed by the Spanish invaders centuries ago. For us, it was the beginnings of a plane, bus, train, and bus day (without John Candy) that took us to Machu Picchu.

The plane ride was noteworthy in that Cusco is over 11,000 ft. We came into the runway quite hot and dropped between two mountains, one on each side of the airport. Our pilot landed the A-320 like it was a commuter jet or private plane. Sitting at the window it reminded me of a Star Wars video game.

 

After a 40 minute bus ride we boarded the Hiram Bingham train. It was named after the Yale professor who discovered and helped unearth (or remove vegetation) from the ruins in 1910-14. Here are two shots of the train. A glass of bubbly or wine, followed by a very nice lunch (beef tenderloin cooked to order) were served enroute. Very classy train ride.

We arrived about 1:00 at Machu Picchu Pueblo. It is at the bottom of the mountain on the river and for years the only gateway to the ruins. A hotel was built near the entrance 10 or 15 years ago so our bus picked us up and started the ~1,500 foot climb to our hotel near the base of the ancient city and terraces.

We dropped our bags in our rooms entered the park. This has always been a dream to experience this but I don’t think either of us realistically thought we’d get here. It blew through every expectation we had.

We were led by an expert local guide who gave us excellent insights into current thinking about the history and culture at the site.

We kept going until the sun was close to setting. Wonderful light.

Our guide’s climbing (and I am only talking about stairs and ramps) put us all to shame. We did over 12,000 steps which represented 200+ flights of stairs over the next three hours, all of this at 8,000+ ft. Needless to say we slept well.

Tomorrow: Sunrise in the ruins and the journey back to Cusco.

Lima – Day 1 (arrival & more)

Today is the first real day of our Machu Picchu/Galapagos bucket list trip.

We arrived last night (Monday) at the Lima airport at about 11:00 PM (which is in the central time zone). It was a long day considering we started from our Hotel at SFO at 4:30AM (pacific time).

Lima is larger than I thought with almost 10 million people. We have one day to explore the city. It is right on the ocean and foggy/misty/overcast most of the time.

Miraflores district, Lima, Peru

In spite of that, it only gets 1-4 inches of precipitation a year (most in the form of mist as you can see in the picture above).

We took some time this afternoon and explored parts or Miraflores. This is a shot of LarcoMar (a mall-like feature cut into the side of the cliff) where Miraflores meets the pacific. Apparently the locals wanted some nice upscale dining and shopping but didn’t want to ruin their view. Rather than go up, they went down.

We had lunch here in a restaurant called Mangos. You can see it in the middle of the picture with the umbrellas. Good food and fantastic view with a nice moderate sea breeze.

Our shuttle leaves at 3:15AM tomorrow (Wednesday) to take us to the airport and then on to Cuzco. It is only 360 miles away but it would be an 18+ hour drive. Happy to fly.

Rome to Istanbul – Day 9-10 (Istanbul)

Fifteen million inhabitants is a lot of people. We were told that the density here is second only to Shanghai. I don’t doubt that for a minute (but wikipedia differs). We arrrived early Saturday morning and left for the airport Sunday early (2:45 AM). I never saw a road that wasn’t clogged.

We sailed up the Bosphorous and docked on the European side. It is the only capital city spanning two continents (in this case Europe and Asia).

These shots are of Hagia Sophia and the Topakapi Palace at dawn.

Our excursion this morning was a sail up the Bosphorus to a Yali house. Yali houses are waterfront mansions lining the Bosphorus (mainly on the Asian side). They are traditionally built from wood, and were popular during the reign of the Ottoman Empire when rich owners used them as a second home. This one was purchased by Salih Efendi (chief surgeon/doctor to the Sultan) in the 1840s. It started as three rooms but was expanded over the years. What remains today is one third of the compound. His three daughters inherited it and two of the three sold off their portions. A fourth generation of Efendi live there today.

Not far away was Rumeli Fortress built by Mehmet the Conqueror in preparation for the attack on Constantinople (Istanbul today).

Finally after dinner we went for an evening tour of the city. It was certainly all lit up.

As you can see the Bosphorus was still abuzz with activity.