Dearest Reader:
During the “big” trips I keep a diary for the entire group – what we did, what we saw, the jokes, the things that went wrong, the things that went right. I refuse to pretend that everything always goes smoothly on all of my trips, but we always learn and we always have a good time. Skim through this synopsis – blemishes and all – it isn’t sanitized but I think it will give you a flavor of my trips and the wonderful people who go on them.

Michael Ellis

THE AMAZON, THE HIGHLANDS OF ECUADOR, AND THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

January 14 to January 31, 2009 with Michael Ellis and local guides

Tuesday, Jan. 13
I go to Quito early. So do Verena and Jason..

Wednesday, Jan. 14.
I make some last minute arrangements and go to meet 13 of you at the airport with Susie and Frankie, our faithful bus driver. Rene drives the luggage for us. Everything is very smooth. Welcome to Quito and the Hotel Alameda Real aka Grand Mercure Hotel = your soon to be home away from home. To bed and sleep. Forget that welcome cocktail

Thursday, Jan. 15:
This is a very very good group; up and ready to go easily by 9:00 AM. We are in the Land of Eternal Spring; the sky is blue and the sun shining. We all hop on the bus. I realize that I had Susie as a guide in 1992! Quito in 1910 had 2 large lakes and few people. Now no lakes, many people. Greater Quito population 2 million. 53 volcanoes. 20 universities in Quito. Largest is Catholic U with 15k. French Expedition to the equator in 1736 to measure the earth and create the standard of worldwide measurement – the meter which is 1 ten millionth of a quadrant (1/4 the circumference of the earth).

Here are some general notes about Quito. Juan Leon Mera St. named after Ecuadorian author of the National Anthem. 6th of Dec. Spanish founded Quito. The city w. 40 miles N to S, 5 miles E to W. Bolivar’s second in command was Marshall Sucre (the airport is named for him).

We see the Gothic Basilica Church up on the hill. Started 120 yrs ago and is still not done. Pope did mass in 85. The gargoyles (throat – gargle) are condors, and animals from the Jungle and from the Galapagos. Basilica defined as ‘a roman catholic church given ceremonial privileges. Cathedral: where the bishop is.

The Colonial area of the city was declared one of the first UNESCO historic areas in 1978. We stop for a visit to a fine restaurant Patio Andalusia. Right purty the area is gentrifying much to Susie’s delight. Real estate prices have rocketed. Into the Plaza Grande or Independence Square – Liberty breaking the chains of slavery, the condor over the lion. Rufus Collared Sparrow singing. Archbishop’s house, the cathedral, the Mayors House, City Hall, the Presidents White House. NO separation of Church and State here!!. Sambucus in flower aka elderberry. French style Flag is yellow blue red, colors of the Grande Columbia. Yellow = gold, blue = sea and sky, red = blood of patriots. The Virgin Mary with wings overlooking Quito.

Then to the finest church in the Americas — La Compania. Society of Jesus. Just opened after yrs of refurbishing. Painted spiral staircase in the back for symmetry. The Golden Church of the Americans took 168 yrs to build for the Jesuits on the backs of the Indios. 4 tons gold here according to a guide in 2002 but in 2003 it was 30 lbs. and then 50 lbs from Carlos in 2007 and Susie says 75K. Facade of andesite. the Sistine Chapel of South America. Only the highest classes attended church. Jesuits banished in all South America. Why?

Then to San Francisco Plaza. There is not one single lady in a nurse’s uniform – Matt, Jason and I are disappointed. The Plaza was the domain of pickpockets but the entire city has been cleaned up by the major of Quito – their Giuliani. One of the oldest churches in the Americas built with Moorish influence (inspired by St. Sophia in Constantinople) by Catholics upon the ruins of the Incas by enslaved Indians with their own religion wrapped up Christianity. Go figure. And Susie tells some bs about the right side of the church..hmmm. The largest church in Quito at one time, 1800 people lived in and around it. We can see the hill called Panadillo (little loaf of bread) at 10,000′ is an aluminum imitation statue of the Virgin of Quito. Christmas decorations are still up there. Stop here for bathroom and tea. Johnnie is waiting for us with the bus and off we go toward the north, the equator and lunch.

We drive along the west side of town on the Pan American highway north to the Equator Monument. I give you a brief orientation about out trip as we move along to the Equator (EQUAL). . Many photo ops in the middle of the planet. Up to the top of the tower and then down through all the various indigenous groups of Ecuadorians. Information overload!! We leave Christine behind as we continuing north of monument and climb a mountain to Pululahua and the Crater Restaurant. Perched on the steep sides of an extinct (we hope; the last eruption was 100k yrs ago) caldera, not crater. Whoops Frank the driver and I head back down to rescue Christine. I hate it when that happens.

Typical Ecuadorian meal – Lorco – the famous potato, corn, cheese and avocado floating on top, empanadas, fritadas, hominy corn and all the desserts were hits – passion fruit mousse, figs and cheese and fried pineapple and vanilla ice cream. Cloudy with no view over a caldera with a large volcanic plug in the middle. The male/female decorations of the bathrooms are a highlight. Going to the “breast room”. Sleepy time. Back to the city by 400 or so.

We begin to repack our bags for the first but definitely not the last time. We meet at 6:30 for a “short” walk to our restaurant = La Ronda. OK it was 35 minutes, no, Edna says at least 2 hours. Fortunately Jason and Verena catch up with us. We are entertained by roving musicians and great food (humitas, corvina, potato soup, ahi). We eat and are happy and loud; so much for official intros!. Fun fun fun. And most of us walk back.

To bed. Power outages all afternoon and into the evening. Our hotel has a generator.

Friday, Jan. 12:
Wake up calls at 630!!! Breakfast and bags out. You are a number 9 on the scale of readiness. Yahandu comes and takes us to the airport; Rene gets our bags. I pass out 100 dollar bills (for the last time, sorry Frank). Busy morning but we flow very smoothly out on our TAME airbus 320. 6 seats across. Plane is late taking off. A stop to Guayaquil in 40 minutes. No looks at any volcanoes, too cloudy. In Guay. we wait for 30” and fly out for 1’35”. Pretty smooth. Arrive in Galapagos at noonish local time – central time. We are met by Byron, our naturalist guide. Whoa!! It is warm here and still brown, the rains have not come. Refreshing breeze. Short crowded bus ride to dock. First Darwin bumble bee. Opuntia cactus and Palo verdes. There is some fog up in the highlands of Santa Cruz. Slight wind, beautiful blue green water, and a freshening warm breeze. Some nursing and resting Galapagos sea lions on the benches greet us. Magnificent Frigate, Brown Noddy, White rumped storm petrel, Brown Pelican (same as at home), Blue Footed Boobies. Hey guys I think we are here. Our first zodiac ride to the Tip Top III. On board we have an orientation and get our cabin assignments. Great views of Daphne Major (Peter Grant’s Beak of the Finch book) and Minor. Then a snack. Then another briefing and then emergency procedures test. The Galapagos had 150 k visitors in 07!

At 4 we gather on the back and get into the pangas for a ride into and through the mangroves. Black tipped sharks galore – little ones feeding on small fish. Many Black aka green turtles and we see quite few mating. Quite a single scene in the mangroves. Yellow warblers (the ONLY yellow bird in the Islands) singing, smooth billed anis, Gal mockingbird singing, great blue heron, striated or lava heron, cattle egret, blue footed boobies, Nazca boobies, noddys, Audubon (now Galapagos) shearwaters, brown pelicans, sally light foot crabs. The tide is rising as we enter the saltwater forest. Gal carpenter bee (a black female), green sea turtle pits (they lay 80 ping pong sized eggs in three clutches up to 200 eggs per year), small ground finch, (males are black, fem brown),
Mangroves (generally) are trees and shrubs that grow in saline (brackish) coastal habitats in the tropics and subtropics. The word is used in at least three senses: (1) most broadly to refer to the habitat and entire plant assemblage or mangal [1], for which the terms mangrove swamp and mangrove forest are also used, (2) to refer to all trees and large shrubs in the mangal, and (3) narrowly to refer to the mangrove family of plants, the Rhizophoraceae, or even more specifically just to mangrove trees of the genus Rhizophora. Mangals are found in depositional coastal environments where fine sediments, often with high organic content, collect in areas protected from high energy wave action.

Red and white mangroves. We all have perfect looks at the sharks and turtles. The clouds are puffy and dramatic. Back on the boat by 6 and we immediately pull anchor and start motoring toward Rabida. But n 15” we drop anchor for our dinner. The Park does not want boats staying right off the turtle area. Great sunset into clouds but it does not last very long here at the Ecuador. The equatorial earth is spinning at about 1000 mph here, 800 mph in CA.

At 630 we meet for our formal introductions. Why this trip and what are our expectations. Then the crew comes with our welcome cocktail and Byron introduces us to the crew. They are dressed in their finest colors, well white is a color. Johnny the Captain, Orlando the first mate and panga driver, Israel the second mate and the other skiff operator, Julio the engineer, Gino the Chef, Alberto his assistant, and the steward is Paulo. Our first dinner – veggies and fish.

Our first briefing after dinner. Heading to Rabida around 4 am for a couple of hour navigation. We are tired and to bed we go.

January 17, 2009
Anchor lifted at 3:34 according to Pat and Conner (they are near the anchor and will hear it well for the next 6 days!) and we motored to Rabida arriving on the north side at 620 AM. Magnificent frigatebirds (kleptoparasites) catching a ride with us on the top deck. Our first breakfast and then we get ready and we are on the beach by 735!!! GOOD WORK. There are two other boats here including some avid American photographers — mostly male with very long lens.

The beach is bright red, much oxygen bound up. It is rusty. Along the beach I tell you bout the difference between seals vs. sea lions. And a bit about the Galapagos sea lion natural history. There are a couple of males patrolling the beach and there are several juveniles. Thermoregulation with flippers up the air. 25k sea lions. Wonderful looks at Galapagos Hawks who are polyandrous (more than one male to mate with, can you imagine?). Can see Isla Santa Cruz, Santiago and Isabella from here. 3 kinds of lava – cinder, basalt and tuff. The pelicans are done nesting in the colony at the end of the beach. There is only one juvenile hanging around. American oystercatcher, wandering tattler down from N. America, no flamingoes or ducks anymore in the lagoon. Espino (related to Ca ceonothus) and salt bush are dominant. Black and white mangroves, no red. Our first lava lizards. 1906 Cal Academy’s expedition found one tortoise here. But it was probably brought from James by pirates, built enclosures to keep them in. No herbivores (land iguanas and giant tortoises) here, hence the cactus is low and the spines are soft. Was goats, then there weren’t, then there were and now there ain’t. Round Opuntia pads are actually photosynthesizing stems. We can see green “fog” line in vegetation up on hills. Small ground finch and one cactus finch seen. A Galapagos flycatcher lands right above us. Red cliffs with turtles and marine iguanas below.

Back to the beach for our first snorkeling – most of us do very well. Was superb with great light, visibility and abundant fish. Some of the things some of us saw = marine iguanas in the water, penguins swimming by, King Angelfish, Sergeant-major, rainbow wrasse, yellow-tail surgeonfish, schools of small black-striped salema (Ojon), white-tailed damsel fish, yellow tail damselfish, bumphead parrotfish, bluechin parrotfish, rainbow wrasse, large banded blenny, bulls eye puffer, black tipped and white tipped reef sharks, a hogfish eating another fish with only the tail sticking out of the mouth, Pencil, green and short-spined Urchins, sea cucumbers, Hieroglyphic hawkfish, bumphead parrot fish, hydroids, orange tube coral, panamic-fanged blenny, flag cabrillo. A few sea lions playing around us. There are blue footed boobies diving on the fish, noddys, Pacific Manta Rays flipping, Audubon now known as Galapagos shearwaters and Elliot’s storm petrels.

Back to the boat to change right on time as Byron predicted. Change and then we begin to motor toward Bartolome and have lunch on route. Fantastic tuff islets abound and we can see the flow from Sullivan Bay – 7 sq miles. The whaling ship – Sullivan was nearly trapped by the lava in about 1903. Drop anchor at 130 and most of us are resting or napping or reading.

At 3 we go to the beach with a brief stop to watch some penguinos! 2nd smallest in the world after the fairy penguin in New Zealand. Everyone has superb looks at these cute birds. Then to snorkel. Not as good as this am – a bit murky but still some cool underwater sights. Spotted eagle ray seen by Jenn. More sharks for Conner, Matt and Pat AND THE WATER WAS WARM!!!!!! My watch’s thermometer said the water temp was 77. Back on board for a quick change and then we are off for a brief panga ride to see some more penguins. We all go to the land and climb Bartolome, 374′. A blooming and fruiting Galapagos tomato plant. Byron gives a brief geologic overview – Nazca plate moving at 3 inches per year east ward, Deep deep magma plume. 65 eruptions in the last 200 yrs. Last one was 9 months ago, in 2006 a very big one on Cerro Negra, Lava cactus, lava tubes, lava lizards, spatter cones. Great view of Sullivan 100 yr old lava flow in 1892, Daphne Major and minor and Isla Santa Cruz to the south. Pinta and Marchena seen in the distance to the north and east. Tigelia (gray mat plant), spurge (Chamaesyce amplexicaulis – a Euphorbia) lava lizards. The one/half to one million year old lava has little vegetation on it because Santa Cruz blocks the southern moisture bearing clouds. Pinnacle rock is part of a tuff cone leaning to the left, the rest has disappeared. A few jumping Manta Rays. Sombrero Chino Island. Can also be seen as well as Rabida where we just were. Back on the boat just after sunset 630.

Dinner at 7. I do a dramatic reading from an English sea captains florid account of the 1825 Isla Ferdinina eruption. Byron goes over several miscellaneous things about the Islands and we hit the sack. We have a long passage this evening.

January 14, 2007. Sunday.
Darwin Bay at Isla Tower (Genovesa). Smooth passage last night. Actually rained a bit and is very overcast. We anchored in the harbor which is a drowned caldera just before 6. On shore at 730 wet landing, Darwin Bay. Coral beach but no coral reefs here – too cold. This time of year the furthest north islands have the warmest sea tenp. Only two other boats here which is an improvement by the Park – they have banned the large boats from coming in here. Cloud cover makes the heat more manageable. Greater frigates – green sheen and young with tan on their heads. Red footed boobies both white and brown phases but brown is the dominant one here and the opposite is true in Hawaii. Masked aka Nazca boobies, Galapagos dove, Galapagos mockingbird, adult and immature yellow crowned night herons, Swallow tailed and a few young and Lava gulls (rarest in the world about 400 we saw 6 at least), yellow warblers, wedge-rumped storm petrels nest in big numbers on this island, large ground finch, sharp-beaked ground finch (vampire behaving on two islands they are found on but not here.. here they can eat Opuntia cactus flower.) The Blue footed boobies are close to islands, Nazca have obligate sibling murder, one always kills the other and it is not necessarily the big one. Nazca feeds in the inter-island area, Blue footed feeds inshore. Red-footed are pelagic and most numerous but not as often see except where we are right now. We see the red mangroves with seeds that germinate on the tree and prop roots. Fiddler crabs in tiny holes. Males with large claw. Walking to the left through the mangroves on rough rocks. Yellow Cordia and large Ipomoea (morning-glory) vine. Many young frigates and boobies. Honky tonks. K selected R selected. Seabird strategy. Precocial vs altrical. Our first hermit crabs. No blue footed nest here but do occasionally roost. Smallest of the marine iguanas are on this island. Hundreds of Galapagos doves. Palo Santo are beginning to leaf out. W walk all the way out to the navigational aide and the other group (Sobek) from the Reina Silvia joins us. Thank goodness for Americans bringing money to Ecuador.

Back to the boat for a quick change and the into the Pangas for some snorkeling along the rock wall of the caldera. very many fish and large ones too. No sharks but we did see the fur seals and sea lions swimming around us. The water was 77 and quite pleasant. Everyone’s equipment seemed to work well. The visibility was pretty darn good.

Lunch and siesta and some folks kayak in the drowned caldera. We meet at three for a brief “lecture” by me. Nautical terms in our everyday language –Bitter End, above board, head, port, starboard, cat o’nine tails, scuttlebutt and square meal. Then I go over the Island and South America geology story again. At 340 the sun is now shinning and we are off to Prince Phillips stairs. Along the way our first red billed tropicbirds and more fur seals. We climb up the steep Prince Phillips stairs – good work all you guys with replaced parts (hips, knees etc). Up onto flat lava plain. Good sounds of Nazca boobies. Palo Santos have some leaves and even some flowers. Female Darwin’s bumblebee working the Walthaia ovata and the Cordia in flower. Almost all flowers are yellow here. Galapagos doves and mockingbirds. Wonderful everything – we have our first quiet time at the very end of the trail. Several witness copulating Nazca boobies. ON our way back we do see the short eared owl out in the flats- hard to see. She has adapted to daytime eating of wedge rumped Storm petrels. There are no hawks here to compete with.

Petrels were named for St. Peter. Often these birds become more agitated and flighty when the barometric pressure drops. Mariners noted this with petrels and thought the birds could predict a coming storm. Legends about petrels abound. When mean sea captains died their souls were thought to be condemned into these birds. As punishment for their cruelty the captains were damned to forever fly at sea and never come back to land.

Back to the boat. Briefing before dinner. After dinner we begin to motor we have an 8 hour navigation to Pt. Ayora on Isla Santa Cruz. ST gulls following the boat. Stars peaking through.

January 19 Monday.
Heading south tonight around the east side of Santa Cruz. Very very calm transit! Hardly knew we were moving. South east trades mean weather comes and hits the south side of most island therefore the wet side on south, north side dry rain shadow. Guara is the misty time usually July to Nov. Late breakfast at 7 and we are in town by just after 8. Vicente our bus driver is waiting for us. Four islands have permanent populations – Pt. Ayora has 20k, 1500 Isabella, 3k San Cristobel, 150 Floreana.
Landry stop at Lava Gull and then we head up into the Highlands up through the bright red and orange African Tulip trees. There are seven ecological zones on Santa Cruz – littoral, arid, transition, sclesia, zanthoxylem, miconia, and pampas. Up the mountain on the windward, wet side through the agricultural zone — Elephant grass, papaya, cows, farms, cattle egrets, castor bean plant, breadfruit, bananas, coffee, balsa, quinine, bamboo, cedrela trees, cattle egrets, teak, smooth billed anis. Erthyrinas used for fence posts. At Belle Vista (oldest town on the Island) we have a little run through Byron’s hometown and then go all the way up to Los Gemolos – the twins. Road was paved in 1990 just built in 1971 and it goes to Baltra and the airport. Up into the Scalesia zone of the highlands, lush rain/gaura forest. Arrive at 600 meters above sea level (850 meters the highest pt.) Walk to right to view the right Gemelo, great sinkholes where the volcanic fart gas escaped causing the lava to collapse into the PIT. Then back to the other side of the road to the other one. Park is poisoning the quinine and blackberry plants. Loop hike, rough and slippery for some. Scalesia (woody sunflower family) forest, bracken fern (found on every continent, Ageratum, passionflower with batman leaves, thick mosses, mother-in-law tongue fern, other ferns, liverworts (black hanging from trees), catsclaw tree in citrus family, elephant grass, Tournefortia (borage fam.), native coffee, bromeliads, small ground finch and warbler finches singing away, Nice and sunny no rain or fog! Very unusual and welcome this time of year.

Back to bus and shortly we have a stop because sharp eyed Byron spotted a male vermillion flycatcher we all get superb looks at this startlingly brilliant bird.

Down the hill and then a right turn into Steve Devine’s farm – Tortoise Preserve. Steve’s parents sailed from Seattle in the 1940’s to Santa Cruz. The tortoises don’t belong to anyone just wander through the fincas. We see our first tortoise along the dirt road we pass it …there will be more. After getting out of the bus we visit a lava tube looking for our second owl of the trip – Barn. But alas no owl. More tortoises and they are mostly males but there are a couple of females. Group photo taken in front of particularly large one. Nice little farm pond full of relaxing tortoise. The shell is dome shaped in these – no problem getting something to eat on this island. There are 4k on Santa Cruz there was 20k. The temp is perfect and the clouds are dark and make for nice photo light. But watch out for the fire ants!! There is a white-cheeked pintail in small pool. We stop at the overlook for a sit and some lemon grass tea. Off at 1225 heading toward lunch but first there is a tethered goat that has just a few moments earlier given birth to twins! The placenta is still hanging out of her.

Back down the road and a left turn into the Restaurant Aquelarre run by Osvaldo Donoso Barrios. Nice fruity welcome drink and the food is delicious. Only one other group there. The rain begins while we are eating but stops before we are down. Great timing on my part!! Then down to town and the Darwin Research Station. 4 different mangroves- button (in sandy soil), white, red and black. Maytenus – leather leaf looks like manzanita. Medium ground finch. .

Station is nearly 50 yrs old. 560 sp of plants, 180 endemic. 500 sp of introduced plants. Baby tortoises, 15 yrs to sexual maturity. Sex determined by incubation temp == 30+ degrees for females and lower for males. Males keep growing through life. Saddleback and dome types. Lonesome George is not seen well. 14 subspecies of tortoises 250k originally now only 20K. 3 subsp are extinct (Ferd., Floreana, Santa Fe) and when George dies, the Pinta one will be lost unless those eggs hatch. In 30 yrs the Darwin Center has managed to restore 7K to the population, not many. Feed the tortoises on M, W and F. It is pretty darn toasty this afternoon. We here the heartwarming story of Diego – the lover boy. Santa 97% of the islands are in the Park, 52 tourist sites that are less than 1% of land area.

Free time in the big city to internet shop etc. Serious betting at the volleyball court. City has traffic now. We catch the zodiac back to the ship at 530. Briefing at 630.

I give you four more nautical terms – By and Large, Slush, Grog, Pipe Down.

Byron shows us a bunch of the fish we have seen snorkeling (not the fish, us!!). Dinner and then quiet time- most of us do NOT go into town to have a grand time. However we do have a lot of fun just chatting with each other. We are not exactly the party group!! Matt keeps promising to dance on a table..

January 20. Tuesday. Inauguration Day
– yea Obama in Bush out and a brand new chapter for the USA!! Eight long years is nearly over!! Pulled anchor at 330 am and motored the two hours northish to South Plaza, uplifted island has the most visitors and many friendly sea lions. But there is only one other boat!!! We manage to land safely (except for yours truly who demonstrates how slippery the guano covered, sea lion polished rocks are). We immediately take the first of 150 Land Iguana photos. The #300 land iguanas here have no fresh water must get all their moisture from cactus pads that fortunately grow low. Common ground finches – male=black/ female = brown. There is rain in the highlands just where we were yesterday in the sun. Lucky group. The Sesuvium is in full red glory (same family as Ice plant) native here but not endemic. Great cliff shots- Swallow tail gull (remember it is the only nocturnal gull in the world and maybe the most beautiful White spot on beak for young to peck, feeds on squid), Portulaca is very similar. Galapagos shearwaters everywhere, a few red-billed tropicbirds, magnificent frigate birds, blue footed and Nazca boobies. Marine iguanas including small ones. Many ST gull eggs and babies of different edges – good year for them says Byron. Jenn finds a shearwater nest with an egg. From above in the water we can see a hospital of yellow tailed surgeon fish, azure parrot fish, a diamond sting ray, triggerfish. We have our 10 minutes of quiet time. Thank you Edna for suggesting it. It is getting warm, great puffy cumulus clouds. Possible here to see cross mating male marine iguana with female land iguana results in sterile hybrids. Ruddy turnstone, semi-palmated plover and Yellow warbler. . Nursing – slurp, slurp- sea lions.
Back on boat and then we begin our motor for about 2 hours to Santa Fe. Lunch at 1200 we arrive in a perfectly protected bay with turquoise water. We are the only boat in here for a while until a small sailing boat comes in. Kayaking and swimming and jumping off the top of the vessel. Bulls eye puffer, sea lions and turtle are around the boat. A gorgeous day. We R and R until we snorkel at 300. Suddenly there are a whole bunch of boats in here. We go south east of the cove to snorkel along the shore of the main island. Many large schools of Jeff Fish (aka surgeons); we have our first real snorkel with sea lions. fun fun fun. They really know how to swim. There is a large male who keeps his mouth open watching. We do have some fun; the water temp is about 80!!!! Quite nice. Three banded butterfly fish, yellow bellied trigger fish, electric blue young giant damselfish, streamer hogfish, hieroglyphic hawkfish, banded blenny, many parrot fish, Sergeant majors galore, and rainbow wrasse.

Matt, Conner (I’m not ready yet), Jason and I jump off the top deck again and get videotaped…see it on You Tube. We head to the beach and Santa Fe Island at the same time (450) as all the other boats (3 others). We do the loop and see the endemic land iguanas. We have seen 2 of the 3 species possible for these remarkable animals. The newly described pink one is on the western island. Reptiles and birds use uric acid crystal to metabolize not water expensive urea like us mammals. Great giant Opuntia forest, very tall, old and stately.

Plants that grow in dry environments face a major problem. In order to grow, they need to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert it into sugars (photosynthesis) by using energy obtained from light. Plants gain their carbon dioxide by opening small pores, called stomata on the leaf or stem surface. But opening of the stomata during the hot, daytime hours leads to loss of water from the tissues. The cacti and many other succulent plants have overcome this dilemma by using a special biochemical process called crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) because it was first discovered in plants of the Crassulaceae family. Basically these plants open their stomata by night, when the temperature is cool, and absorb carbon dioxide which they store by chemically combining it with an organic compound containing 3 carbon atoms, producing a 4-carbon organic acid. During the day, when the stomata are closed, the carbon dioxide is released from this organic acid and used to synthesize sugars, using the energy of light. These plants do exactly the opposite of normal plants, which open their stomata by day when light is available for photosynthesis, and close them at night

There are some yellow flowered Cordias. Nice loop through barren rough landscape – the trail is actually from a fire break. The Park used fire to wipe out fire ants that had been introduced from the beach. It worked and now we have a new trail. Santa Fe used to have tortoises, but no more, so land iguanas get to eat the whole cactus.

The pangas race back to the ship stopping to watch 2 sea turtles, the sunset is gorgeous. Back to the ship and briefing at 640. Conner is looking mighty red…boy I sure would hate to bring her home looking like that!!!

Nautical terms for this evening hidden in the following sentences.
– By and Large you will get a Clean Bill of Health. It was touch and go but we did make it to the next Island. The Captain shouted orders and we replied Aye, Aye, SIR! Thank goodness or he would have had us all over a barrel.

We pull anchor right after dinner for a 5 ½ hour navigation to Gardner Bay on Espanola or Hood Island. Dueling PC’s compete for attention with their videos. There is a little bioluminescent on the bow you can see the lights on the horizon from San Cristobol to the east. It is the actual capital of the Galapagos Islands. The air is soft and warm, still clouds with the stars just peeking through.

January 21.
Breakfast at 630. On shore at 730 in Gardner Bay for a “free” time on the beach. Anywhere there is sand we can be. We have our own quiet time. No trash on the beach. We have the beach to ourselves for 30 “or so. I run back and forth. Then the other tourists arrive – The Isabella II is here with 42 PAX, the Galapagos Adventurer, and a small sailboat. The Hood mockingbirds are endemic and now do not beg for water like they used to do. American oystercatcher. Friendly baby sea lions. We stay on the beach until 930. The clouds are very pretty. Hot and sunny with occasional relief from the sun. Mia, Christine and Byron find 3 sea turtle eggs from a nest laid last night and then a second female came ashore and laid her eggs in the same pit and ejected the first ones from it. Mockingbirds already found the eggs to eat. Yummy…

Along with San Cristobel and Santa Fe, Hood is the oldest island 3 mya. No young lava. Is uplifted, not a volcano (except underwater). 23 sq miles, 675’ elevation. 13 Saddlebacked tortoise tortoises removed when the Darwin Station opened in the 60 and now at 1500+ tortoises have been released back to the Island. This is one of the few islands that are totally free of introduced pests. The Darwin Center is reforesting the island with cactus that the goats destroyed. 200-300 prs of Gal hawks in all the islands. Largest lava lizards are here that lay 8 eggs rather than the usual 2-3. The female lava lizard heads are washed totally in red. On Genovesa (aka Tower) there were no hawks because there are no lava lizards there.

Back on the boat and then over to Gardner Rock for some drift snorkeling. WOWWOW WOW WOW. Thousands of fish are seen, much plankton in the water and many fish feeding in large school on it. Salema, Jack and surgeonfish especially. Several rays seen by everyone. Water is still warm 78. Very good, very large schools of Creole fish, King angelfish, several different kinds of puffer, yellow bellied trigger fish, electric blue young giant damselfish, streamer hogfish, hieroglyphic hawkfish, banded blenny, parrot fish, grunts, jewell moray eel,, Sergeant major, rainbow wrasse, sea cucumbers, chocolate chip sea stars, and many other delights. The diversity is great. It was the most fish I remember seeing at one time in all my trips here.

After lunch we motor over to Pt. Suarez on shore around 300. There are six boats here with 100 tourists going onto this trail. The marine iguanas are the best we will see- head bobbing and bright green and red flush. They are only found this time of year with these bright colors. They have the longest tails and are one of the largest of any of the marine iguanas. The usual welcoming committee of very cute sea lions are waiting for us…many are nursing. This is the latest island for breeding for the sea lions well into December. Galapagos doves galore, there are only three finches on this island (small ground, large cactus and warbler finch), 4 Galapagos hawks, Striated aka lava heron, American oystercatcher. The light is very nice, dark clouds; the Nazca boobies framed nicely. This is the largest colony of these lovely seabirds in the world. It is warm and the trail rocky but a cloud blocks the sun every once in a while there is a nice breeze blowing.

Blue footed booby. Males wheeze, females honk. Remember that Blue footed they have opportunistic sibling murder, if times are tough one chick will out compete or kill the others. They prefer to nest in the trail, no clearing to do. No brood patch so they use their feet to incubate the eggs at 102. Middle nail is longer and used as preening tool. According to our guide the blue footed have been having a hard time breeding in the last several years. We also see the Nazca boobies, larger and tougher than BF and out compete them for the best nesting spots, usually near the cliff. WE see several with one or two eggs and some very tiny chicks. Remember the blue footed feed inshore and the Nazca between the islands. There are babies of both boobies, some quite large.

Croton, mesquite, Byron psthsses and all the finches come and congregate -. And we do see two waved albatrosses flying out at sea.11 lbs 7 1/2 foot wingspan, live for 30 + yrs, return to island after first six years spent at sea. They arrive in April for breeding. Tubenoses, lateral nasal glands. We see one on the land. My record of seeing them always on this islands is intact. Red billed tropicbirds. At the blowhole we have a few moments of blessed silence just listening to the sounds of the island. A Galapagos hawk lands right next to Verena during the quiet time- photos at ten. Well not Conner’s. Nice stroll back with the great clouds and sunset. Back to boat in time for red sky at night. We have the briefing at 630.

Here are the terms for this day. Admiral, The Devil in the Deep Blue Sea, Son of a Gun.

I share a bit of my knowledge about the mammalian diving reflex in pinnipeds and whales. Then Byron regales us with the soap opera story of Floreana. We even get to see the films taken by Millionaire Naturalist (that’s what I want to be!!!) Alan Hancock in the 1930’s, donkey wrestling, nurses uniforms (YEA!), mummified remains, pulled real teeth, shared false ones, BDSM, rotten chicken death killed the vegetarian,,,,, hmm you had to be there. Pulled anchor at 845ish for our 5 hour trip.

Tonight we go west across very smooth seas. The stars are in full glory so I do an impromptu star talk on the bow – Canopus, Zodiacal light, Leo, Saturn, Aires, Taurus, Gemini, Orion, Pleiades, large Magellanic clouds, false cross, Capella, part of the Ursa major, Canis major and minor, shooting stars…..Nearly as many stars as fish that we saw at Gardner Rock says Matt.

January 22. Thursday.
After a 5 hr navigation in Post Office bay. So calm I could barely tell we were moving. Floreana was the first inhabited island with a penal colony in 1833. Be shot or go to the Galapagos. Hmm let me think about that. Later penal colonies on San Cristobol and Isabella. Tortoises got wiped out in all of those islands.

Norwegian fishing camp from the 1910’s. A few of you have read Floreana by Margaret Wittmer for all the drama on this island. We drop off our postcards and pick a few to HAND DELIVER. We have some free time on the beach with the tourists from 4 other boats (same ones). Soccer game. Many eastern pacific black (green) sea turtles are all around us

Back on the boat at 915 and we move over to Pt. Cormoran (no cormorants here they are far to the west from here). Most of us hop in the dingy to snorkel at Devils Crown. The Rambo group drops in on the outside due to the strong current. However it was not present this morning for some reason. It was very calm. Absolutely fantastic, gobs of fish. The little rock just off the crown is really full of fish and many sharks just off in the sand. Moorish Idols, white-tailed damsel fish, yellow tail damselfish, bumphead parrotfish, barber fish, big body thick lips, leather bass, Creole school of hundreds, coronet fish, King angelfish, Moorish idols, flag cabrillo, white salema, striped salema, blue chin parrotfish, rainbow wrasse, large banded blenny, golden puffers, trumpet fish, thousands of yellow surgeon fish scorpion fish, great looks at sharks by everyone. The other group got us good when Pat the Judge of all people LIED and said they saw two hammerheads so being the Rambos that we are we jumped right back in.

Hammerhead Shark, common name for about ten related species of sharks found throughout tropical and temperate seas. Large flattened extensions of the head give these fish a hydroplane like lift and enable them to make sharper turns than other sharks; the eyes and nostrils, by being spaced at the ends of the hammerhead, also give them a greater ability to track prey

Pat’s camera (left by her on the Beach) is delivered to us by a personable young man from the UK named Danny from the sail boat who picked it up yesterday at Espanola. YEA!! For good karma.

Matt, Jason, Conner and I do a few more leaps off the top deck. fun fun fun. Lunch then kayaking rest reading etc until 330 and then we are off on another almost our last island adventure The wind is up our first slightly bouncing disembarkations – we have been very very lucky with good weather and sea conditions this trip…

The sun is out; the sky is blue with scattered clouds. On shore to see olivine green beach sand, pencil sea urchin bodies, hermit crabs, ghost crabs with little balls of sand everywhere, black mangrove with roots sticking up, leather leaf – Maytenus octagona. There are Christmas iguanas here – every bit as colorful as the ones on Hood.
Walked over to the other beach, very pleasant. Light is very nice. Water traps are set for the natsy introduced wasp. Mesquite, acacia, Palo Verde, Sesuvium in flower and dripping all over the vegetation, Three kids of lava can be seen from here – tuff, cinder and basalt. AA ouch lava. Pahoehoe – ropy or pig gut lava. We saw our first flamingo from the overlook (except the one that flew by the boat this am). Also white cheeked pintails. Franklin gulls, Smelling the Palo Santo tree which in not in leaf- there has been no rain so far this season. Parkinsonia in flower (palo verde). Ochilla lichens hanging in the trees were used for purple dye helped to inspire settlement of the Galapagos. The feral cats have killed the native mockingbirds on Floreana; they only exist on a small offshore island Champion that we can see from here. This is the most endangered bird after the Mangrove warbler. The lava lizards are endemic here. Getting hot now. many sea turtle tracks onto to beach looking like off road vehicles to lay eggs and back. We see many turtles 15+ in the water. Some are mating. Free time to walk and enjoy the beach. Ruddy turnstones, semipalmated plovers, whimbrels overhead,

After the peaceful beach time we wander back and get closer to lagoon. On the way a feral cat is seen skulking the bushes, a great blue heron, bl necked stilts, yg flamingoes (not so pink because they have not eaten enough shrimp yet), white cheeked pintail. Sea lions lounging on the beach. Palo Santos smell so good. The late afternoon is light is superb. Just as the sun is setting behind the rock we ponga back. Briefing 630

The last nautical terms for the Islands: Under the weather, overwhelmed, taken aback and finally (TA DA!!) Footloose.

There is a review of our trip by Bryon and the crew comes back out dressed in their whites again and we toast them with some gratis red wine. For dessert at dinner there is a cake with FOOOTLOOSE FORAYS and the TIP TOP III – what a combo!! After dinner on the upper deck is some star gazing again. Venus setting just as Leo is rising in the east. Very calm as we pull anchor and head almost due north for 7 ½ hours through he night and clam seas (AGAIN!!!!). Packing up our snorkeling gear, hopefully won’t need them in the jungle (La selva).

Tomorrow back to a different world and certainly a different sense of time. No more boat time.

January 23, Friday.
Wake up phone call at 610 (don’t answer!) onshore to Las Bachas at 635. Many sea turtle lay eggs on this beach. The name is a Spanish mispronunciation of “barge” mislearned from the Americans during WW II. We see a sea turtle female resting (exhausted) on the beach right in the surf. Good photo ops. Marine iguanas, no sea lions!, Franklin and Lava gulls, Sanderlings, ruddy turnstones, great blue herons, striated herons, imm YC night heron eating an eel, noddys landing on brown pelican heads, wc pintails, whimbrels, semipalmated plovers. The highlight were the 4 adult flamingoes in the second lagoon we visited to the left of our landing. This is our last easy birding, there are so few to chose from and so easy to see. Just wait till the rain forest! Sally lightfoot molting exoskeleton story. Two penises!! Last swim for some on the beach.

Back to our home vessel for one last jump, breakfast and final packing. We finish packing – bags out at nine. A very full week just passed and more grand adventures await us. Last panga ride to the bus and then the airport for a long warm wait. Goodbye to Byron (he will miss us; we were his best group ever). We finally board into a very cool airplane. We stop in Guay and finally make it to Quito. Back to the land of short breath and cloudy skies. Susie is there and Rene is waiting to get our luggage safely to the next place.

We leave Quito during rush hour and drive directly toward Cotachochi. Otavalo here we come. We head north toward the Equator into drier and drier landscape – agave, pepper trees, castor, acacias, and cactus. The bromeliad clusters on the wires. On the Pan-American Highway (completed in 69) about 70 miles (halfway to Colombia). Butchered pigs = fritadas. Through Cuyabamba the home of the Chirimoya fruit, aka custard apple. Cross the Rio Guayllabamba aka Green Valley. Bamba means valley in Quecha. Blue and green century plants = Agave, sisal, blue gum eukes, Scotch broom, Andean Pampas grass. Up and down through the rungs of the Andean ladder, 5000′ to 11,000′. By the time we get into Cayambe region with Holstein cows, it is dark. Greenhouses full of roses. The best roses in the world?!?!?! Hah! They have no scent! Continuing on the Pan-American Highway we turn east off the highway and pull in to Hosteria Cusin around 700. Two hours from the airport, just as promised.

This former hacienda built in 1602 and since 1991 owned by an Englishman who has remodeled it. I think we can get used to this. They have ping pong, a pool table, a library and a squash court. Very nice ambience. Dinner at 730, Lasagna, corvina or steak. Frogs tinking outside, happy for the rain. A bit of thunder.

Pan-American Highway, Alaska to Chile (taken from The Lonely Planet)

Since the Conference of American States in 1923 there have been plans to build a Pan-American Highway – a continuous roadway running the full 16,000 mi from Alaska to the bottom of Chile. Now, all but 88km (54mi) are complete, so aside from a time-consuming detour, it’s possible to drive from above the Arctic Circle down to Puerto Montt, nearly 1000km (600mi) south of Santiago, Chile. The road cuts through pretty much every kind of geography and climate possible.

Although the Pan-American Highway, or Interamericana, is more of a concept than an actual route, most say that it starts in the tiny Alaskan town of Circle, some 150km (93mi) west of the Canadian border and about 100km (62mi) south of the Arctic Circle (from which the town gets its name). And it is rough. Deadhorse isn’t just a cute name for the town, it was practically a guarantee earlier this century, and a summer drive along the dusty, potholed gravel surface will be the toughest test of your vehicle’s suspension. But an hour or two after Fairbanks you’ll hit the Alaska Highway, and it’s pretty much plain sailing then for the trip all the way through the Yukon and British Columbia and down the west coast of the USA.

The one sticking point on the Pan-American is along the border between Colombia and Panama, where the Darien Gap – a lush rain forest with one of the highest degrees of biodiversity in the entire world – forms a natural, virtually impassable border. While the completion of the highway would make these countries more accessible to trade and tourism, it would not come without a price: many experts say that a road through this region would effectively destroy it. After the long drive along the foot of the mountains in western Colombia, you bisect Ecuador – crossing the equator and passing through the charming, beautiful capital of Quito – then along the almost 2000km (1250mi) coast of Peru and, finally, Chile. Reach the strangely Nordic-style town of Puerto Montt, and you will have completed perhaps the most extraordinary inter-continental car trip possible.

My note: Actually you can get to Tierra del Fuego in Argentina where the road ends. I have been at the very end of the road a number of times.

January 24, Saturday.
Overcast day with cloudy view of Imbabura Mountain (a male) where the gods of the Otavalo dwell. Married the female mt (Cotochachi -she is shrouded in clouds with some snow) and begat the local people. The Otavlenos are the largest and most important tribe in Ecuador, 50-60,000 and increasing in number. These are the people that have been here longer than the Catholics, Spanish, and longer than there has been an Ecuador. These are the natives of this place. Otavalo males have long hair in braids, white pants, white shirt, blue poncho, felt hat. The females are hatless with cloth on heads, no poncho but shawl (matches skirt), white blouse with embroidery, long skirt made of one piece of cloth, gold beads (from Czech) on neck, and red bracelets. The amount of gold on the neck is indicative of wealth.

Breakfast begins at 645 off at 830. Heading north on the Pan American highway, past San Pablo del Lago to Otavalo. Right along the Highway is the animal market. This little piggy went to market. Geez are those piglets loud, the hawkers are barking and cell phones are jangling- welcome to the new Ecuador the blending of the old and the new. Lotsa local color. Nice photos. Done at 930 and then to Otavalo.

Susie orients us to the markets and lets us go for about 2 hours. The vegetable market is great – tropical fruits, chicken legs, exotic sights, weird smells, many people. We like it. Unfortunately Conner gets her camera lifted out of her sweatshirt. The textile market or Los Ponchos is on Saturday is the big market day. We head out — dollars in our pocket, desire in our hearts and shopping in our minds. Bargains, fun, photos, hats, hammocks, bags, bowls, food, sweaters, pictures. We meet back at the bus at 1200. 8400’ here.

Next we drive to Peguche and visit a maker of musical instruments. He demonstrates the sounds of several different instruments from various Andean countries. Then some gorgeous young girls come out and perform a traditional dance for us. Next they play some delightful music with his sons and the girls and him singing. Lovely much better than those guys at the La Ronda! We walk a short distance to the town square of Peguche and a well-known weaver family – Jose Cotachochi. He makes all the money and is doing very well. In fact I have noticed quite a few new cars in Ecuador. The dollar has made it possible to save money for those who have some. Demonstrations of weaving the traditional way. Dyes from the cochineal insect , walnut, eukes.
Cochineal Insect, a scale insect traditionally used by Native Americans to make a crimson dye called cochineal. Spanish explorers in the 1550s brought cochineal from Mexico back to Europe. Cochineal became the most widely traded and, next to gold and silver, the most valuable product of the West Indies. Cochineal production was lucrative until the 20th century when synthetic dyes largely replaced cochineal. The cochineal scale that had commercial importance is native to South America. Several other scale insects in the same genus are native to desert areas of the southwestern United States. These scales also were once used to make dye, but to a much lesser extent than the South American cochineal insect.
The adult female cochineal insect is 2 to 5 mm (0.1 to 0.2 in) long with a distinctly segmented, purplish red or carmine-colored body. Cochineal insects feed on certain prickly pear cacti and are most obvious on the flat pads of the cactus in spring. They occur in colonies covered with a fluffy white wax that they secrete. The cochineal insect’s bright reddish body is not visible unless the waxy secretions are scraped away and the scale’s outer covering is punctured. Cochineal is produced from the dried, crushed bodies of cochineal scale insects. A carefully tended cactus yields about 20 pounds of scale each year.
The cochineal industry has an intriguing history. For over 200 years after the insect’s discovery, Spain prohibited export of live cochineal insects and prevented foreigners from visiting production areas in the Americas. Many Europeans mistakenly thought the dye was produced from cactus fruit, and Spanish authorities encouraged such misconceptions in order to maintain their cochineal monopoly. The Dutch amateur scientist Antoni van Leeuwenhoek in 1704 used microscopic lenses to analyze dried cochineal. Leeuwenhoek determined that cochineal consisted entirely of female scale insects. Many people found this unbelievable. Wide acceptance that cochineal dye was produced from the cochineal insect did not occur until the late 1700s, when the insects were successfully introduced and established outside of the Americas.
Cochineal production peaked in the 1870s, when as much as 7 million pounds of dye were produced annually. The development of less expensive, synthetic aniline dyes virtually eliminated cochineal production as well as cultivation of prickly pear cacti for this purpose. A small cochineal industry still exists in the Canary Islands, Peru, and Mexico. Recent findings that some synthetic red dyes may induce cancer has renewed interest in cochineal production. Cochineal-based dye is again becoming popular as a coloring agent, especially in processed foods.

To San Pablo Lake and the restaurant – Puerto Lago. Very nice view and a good choice apparently because Danny Glover and friends dined here in 2003. Many people like this place. The service is quick and the food presentation is fine. Desserts are yummy!! Marlys shows that llama in the yard who is boss!!.

We return to our Hacienda for a quiet afternoon; it is overcast and a bit rainy. The birds in the garden I have seen in the past are scrub tanager, black mantled grosbeak, blue grey tanager, white bellied wood star, cinereous conebill, Rufus collared sparrow, spot eared dove, sparkling violet ear, green violet ears, yellow grosbeak, cinereous conebill, rufous collared sparrow, vermilion flycatcher. Larry takes a nice photo of a bright yellow one.

We have dinner at 7 and a father and his sons come to play for us. The kid on the flute is good. Car alarms all night long!!!!

Sunday, Jan 25.
Clean underwear and off at 830…right on time whatta group. Overcast but clearing!! Roses are big biz here. 20 hours cut to market in US or Europe. A perfect day for a morning outing to Guinea Pig Lake. This should really be called “sacred” Lake. Up the mountain we go. I give a bit of an overview of the Incan world. 12th century beginning to collapse in 1535 or so. They were well developed organizationally but failed to invent writing or the wheel. 10K of paved road! Lupines cultivated for treatment of osteoporosis. Not toxic like they are at home. At the Cotacochi/Guyas Ecological reserve we park the bus and begin our hike up the road to the trail that circles the lake (that would be a 5 hour walk). We have a fine overview of the caldera; just like Crater Lake in Oregon even has an erupted island in the middle. Cotacochi mountain (4930 meters) hidden in the clouds. We walk up the hill. This park has 10 different ecosystems from the coastal lowlands to high paramo. Snow level is at 16000′. There is a spectacled bear released into the park and I have seen red deer on the last trip. But many of the large animals are gone due to the activities of man.

20% of the world’s ecosystems are in Ecuador. Ecuador is one of 17 countries that have 70% of the biodiversity of the world. 117 SP of hummingbirds. 25000 SP of flowering plants. 4200 SP of orchids. I point out as many plants to you as I can. Pearly everlasting, Indian-Andean paint brush, Heather, pampas grass, st johns wort, Berberis, blackberry, virgin slipper, tongue fern, Verbena, Salvia, Bidens (beggars ticks), bromeliads, Epidendren orchids galore, native lupine. Puya is the genus for the bromeliad with the very cool green flowers. A rare color in nature. We are at 3000 meters. Lake is 700’ deep, no fish, and little life. Grebe, coot, great thrush are the only birds I see. In the middle of the lake is a large island that is a parasitic cone it erupted either 1000 or 3000 yrs ago, depending on which guide you listen to. We walk down to the bus.

Back to the bus and down to the town of Cotacochi below. Shopping in the leather town for 30”. And then we continue south on the Pan American Highway. I elect not to visit a greenhouse full of roses…yea Michael!! We turn left and go to a new place for me for lunch. La Compania. A hacienda once owned by the Jesuits and now run buy Gloria and her husband. The fine old house was built by Gloria’s grandfather in 1919. Frence neo classical and all original. It is a bit busy (the wallpaper is too much) inside but the food and service are excellent. Roses everywhere.

The Jesuit Order was founded in 1540 and came to Spanish America during the term of Thomas de Souza as governor between 1549 and 1553. At that time the Franciscan and Dominican monks were already established in the New World, but these orders were not destined to have the significant impact that the Company of Jesus or the Jesuit Order was to have on the indigenous peoples of Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Paraguay, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Guatemala and Haiti. Through their successes with the Indians taken into their care and the resulting conflicts, the Jesuits were finally expelled from South America in 1767. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Jesuits began to defend their Indian charges and their rights against the authority of Spain. This authority was present in the new elite and the landlords and the Jesuits were forced out of one city after another. Finally, after a last stand at Ilano, the Jesuits were forced out of New Granad altogether when Pope Clement XIV dissolved the order in 1773.

We are off at 200ish back to Quito and the Mercure Accor Grand Hotel aka Alameda Real. Dinner is on your own tonight. The Magic Bean is good for most. Repack for the jungle. We are getting pretty good at this repacking scene. Rainy night in Quito.

Monday, January 26.
We get to sleep in a bit today. Motor mouth Susie comes and gets us at 945 and we go to the airport for our flight to Coca. It is TAME airline and not = thank the Greek Gods – Icaro. I give an impromptu talk in the waiting room on the amazing Amazon River and Basin.
The Amazon River or River Amazon; Spanish: Río Amazonas, Portuguese: Rio Amazonas) of South America is the most voluminous river on earth, having a greater total flow than the next six largest rivers combined. Accordingly, it is sometimes known as The River Sea. The Amazon is also generally regarded by most geographic authorities as being the second longest river on Earth (the longest being the Nile in Africa).
The drainage area of the Amazon in Brazil, called the Amazon Basin, is the largest of any river system. If the Basin were an independent country, it would be the world’s seventh largest, having more than twice the area of India (which actually does rank seventh).
The quantity of fresh water released by the Amazon to the Atlantic Ocean is enormous: up to 300,000 m³ per second in the rainy season. Indeed, the Amazon is responsible for a fifth of the total volume of fresh water entering the oceans worldwide. It is said that offshore of the mouth of the Amazon potable water can be drawn from the ocean while still out of sight of the coastline, and the salinity of the ocean is notably lower a hundred miles out to sea..

We are a little late lift off at 1225 in a Embraer 170 – whatever that is!!??!? Land in Coca thirty minutes later. The temperature is quite nice. Cloudy and cool. Lovely city, great ambiance….. frontier Texas grease town in the early 1920’s oil boom. We get on the crammed short bus with no windows, no doors either. To the safe house we go for our lunch with Gus and our luggage. And the CANADIANS!!!!

This town is actually named Puerto Francisco de Orellana not Coca.

In 1540 Francisco de Orellana (originally from Trujillo, Spain) became governor of Guayaquil, Ecuador. The following year he joined the expedition of Gonzalo Pizarro to explore the area east of Quito, thought to be rich in cinnamon and precious metals. The expedition soon ran out of food, and Orellana volunteered to lead a search party downstream for food. This expedition consisted of about two hundred and twenty Spaniards and four thousand Indians, four thousand llamas that transported the load, and everyday supplied of milk about two thousand pigs, more than two thousand dogs of hunting and many horses of spare part. Swept along by the strong river current, however, they never returned. On this journey of 1541-1542, Orellana and his followers became the first to travel the entire length of the Amazon River, named for women warriors they encountered after months of sailing downriver.

We get on a motorized canoe and head downstream with the other folks on the four night schedule. The river has risen 6 feet since this am due to rain in the Andes! Weird airplane restaurant to the left. Just downstream we see where the Coca (named for the cocaine plant) comes in from the left and meets the Napo. Much evidence of the oil extraction along the river. Our 50 miles downriver is fast because the river is high and flowing well. Not as many birds along the Napo as usual: Greater yellow-headed vultures, wh-winged swallow, trop. king birds, wh-banded swallow, white throated heron, great egrets. Urania = day flying moths with white tails fly by. We arrive at 335, 25 minutes ahead of schedule. Bathrooms are waiting for us.

We then take the trail that leads to the lake where we will take a dugout canoe to the Sacha Lodge. Oh boy we are in da JUNGLE. We see our first leaf cutter ants. The sky is blue and the light fantastic. Often it is overcast and cloudy and rainy and the colors are hard to see. Cross the lake on our first canoe ride to Sacha and our welcome drink, orientation to this wonderful lodge by Francisco. Other naturalist guides Julio, David, Gustavo (Gus) and Lars. Eduardo is the barman. Into our rooms and free time. Matt and I go swimming and most of the group is already shopping at the gift store!! until 645 for our boots and our three groups and begin our bonding with our very own guide and the local guide.

First call of the bamboo. Great food starting with soup as usual. Two groups for a canoe ride. Very nice, quiet along anaconda creek. Frogs happy and tinking. Ringed kingfish, caimans (those South American gators), hoatzins. Peaceful with just sounds of the canoe and frogs. Fish eating aka bulldog bats. 200″ of rain per year. 85 average temp. Our weather is really perfect.

The third group goes on a night walk. I fool Gus, Pablo and my group good with my feux frog. Take a picture, take a picture! yells Gus. Katydids, a female tarantula out side her hole, 2 Hyla frogs. A newly emerged cicada still drying (that was a first for me), a Bufo toad, and army ants on the move. Everyone saw the large smoky jungle frog clearly guarding his territory. Conga or bullet ants, 24 hours of pain.

Water Hyacinth. Eichhornia crassipes
Water Hyacinths are the only large aquatic herb that can float on the water unattached to the bottom. They float on bloated air-filled hollow leaf stalks. Their roots trail underwater in a dense mat. The Water Hyacinth has special adaptations to allow it to grow and spread rapidly in freshwater. They can withstand extremes of nutrient supply, pH level, temperature, and even grow in toxic water. They grow best in still or slow-moving water. Native to South America they have been introduced all over the world where they have become pests.

Tuesday, Jan. 27.
Wake up call for everyone is 530 breakfast 6 we are off at 630 all three groups heading toward ythe walkway. Pilchicocha named for the Pilchi the big cannonball fruits used for drinking gourds and cocha = lake. Maybe for the shape of the lake. 30’ deep. Black mantled tamarin monkeys seen elusively by our groups.

Our group gets there first and heads to middle tower, the second group joins us there and the third group arrives at the third tower. Completed 5 years ago at the cost of 1 million Dollars. It is what keeps Sacha ahead of all the other lodges in the region. Up we go… beautiful misty morning. Sun is coming out. Good work for those with acrophobia (Frank!) – this one is a challenge. Good birds as usual. Ivory billed Toucan, ari cari, cobalt winged parakeets. A troop red howlers calling. Second loudest sound in the natural world according to one of the former guides here. First are blue whales. One male making all that noise. Sounds like rolling thunder. Russet backed oropendulas like water drops. Tanagers, squirrel cuckoos, spangled cotingas, honey creepers, piractic flycatcher, double toothed kits, collared forest falcon, white fronted nun birds, gilded barbets, mealy parrots, and many banded aracaris, white throated toucan. I sneak off and climb all the way to the top of the tower – Matt and Jason are envious, only Jeff and Linda see me! I share with two groups the natural history gee whiz facts about palms. Two groups have their quiet time.

We all head back a different way. The three crested owls are seen by all, one is a juvenile. Other forests delights – garlic vine, clear wing butterflies, poisons arrow frog, millipedes, pambil palms (very useful with stilt roots) Helicopter damselfly plucks spiders right out of web. Peton melons with cauliflory fruits. Back at noon free time for swimming etc until lunch. And then some more free er nap time.

Julio et al canoe to the swamp and then go for a walk. Francisco et al. heads via orchida (Greek for testicles) creek to the tower. Gus et al walks to the wooden tower. Then our group paddles back and the other walks back. Night hike and night canoe. The birds are wonderful from the tower especially the vocalizing russet backed oropendulas. Spangled cotingas, plum throated fruit crow, euphonias, blue dacnis, ruddy pigeons, black caracara, yellow rumped caciques, cobalt winged parakeets, chachalaca much more. We have another 10 minutes of silence up on top of the tropical forest. thanks. Walking back we see lightening bugs with strong front headlights and back lights. Monkey frog singing. They stay up in the trees until midnight and then come down.

Here are some of the other birds some of us saw some of the time. Rufous backed oropendulas, yellow cacique, chestnut woodpecker, banded aracaris, black spotted barbet, masked crimson, violaceous jays. Tanagers- paradise, green & gold, opal crowned, opal rumped, orange bellied euphonia, white necked Jacobin, black caracara, greater yellow-headed vulture, wire-tailed manakin, black tailed tityra, bl-tailed? Trogon. Purple honeycreeper, blue dacnis.

Brief notes: Leaf cutter ants 100 sp each with own type of fungus. Atta is common genus. Presumably split from ancestral species and diversified. Colony could be over hundred years old with 10 million members. When new colony is formed there is a special slit in the belly to carry the fungus. Pambil (Iriartea sp) has fishtail leaves and stilt roots. Used for posts, table tops in lodge, trachea is used for blowguns, walkways, It strong and flexible. Mauritia Palm (dense fan palm), freshwater mangrove (Ficus family) with aerial roots). Achiote is fruit used for food coloring esp. rice here, tattoo fruit is Culsia, cedar used for canoes, Pilchi is relative that has cannonball-like fruits (Lecithidacea neo-trop.) and is used for the paddles because the wood is very hard and doesn’t rot. Peton – cauliflory fruits. Huge social spiders nest. Philodendrons (love trees). Caciques build nests near wasps for protection and later oropendulas come on in as well. Orange egg mass laid on vegetation near the water is from the aquatic Apple snail- the big one. Can blow it like a conch shell. Kites specialize in eating it.

Wednesday, Jan 28
Wake up call at 5!!!! Off at six across the lake –caiman seen well by some. Greater tinamou calling. Downstream we go, no rain. On our trip we see with osprey, black caracara, pied plover, spotted sandpiper, great egret, white winged swallow, greater ani, banded swallows, oriole blackbirds, yellow headed and black vultures, tropical kingbirds, tropical palm swifts, little woodpecker, ruddy pigeon, anhingas, hoatzins, elenia, yellow footed Amazon turtle, white eyed parakeets, wow!!!

At the parrot licks: dusky headed parakeets, Blue-crowned Parrots, yellow crowned parrots and mealy parrots. Very many and we get real close via the boat. Just off the National park Yasuni. The largest park in Ecuador and home to the Huaorani people. We drift right offshore and have some quiet with the motor off while I record the cacophony. After superb looks we slowly head back upstream at 830. Mary gets her fine looks at hoatzins and we bird the bank and the small temporary islands. We have a brief stop to get some fruit of the cecropia tree – some excellent tree climbing by our local guides. Tasty and organic “grapes” apparently from Chile according the label on some. Cecropia is in the same family as mulberries. Helicopter with film crew from the Travel Channel (?) comes in.

Back to the trail and after much needed bathroom stops we have mighty fine views of a small family group of pygmy marmosets. The world’s smallest primate again hiking toward Pilchicocha. More leaf cutters and Jenn finds a greater pootoo or a mottled owl?? The staff seems to think pootoo and I reckon they are right. Electric blue morpho butterflies flit by. A large tegu (caiman lizard) is seen by all on the left side of the canal. We yell MARCH from Julio’s canoe and witness the marching wasps that share a home with a large colony of ants. Lunch at 100 free time. Squirrel monkeys by cabin 26 and then all over the lodge. We can see them from the lunch tables. Very good jumpers.

Power naps taken by some; looks like rain but never does. We meet at 340 for a little overview catch up stuff – Myth of the Piranha, Primates, some new world monkey facts, mammals and bats.

This is unconfirmed but a good story….

Legendary Myth of Piranha Revealed
by Frank Magallanes, OPEFE

The legend started with President Theodore Roosevelt (circa 1914). While President of the United States, Roosevelt decided to explore South America. The Brazilians were excited about the impending visit by this famous American president. They also knew he liked the thrill of the adventure. So they arranged a spectacular tour of their country through the Amazon rain forest. They also found a river that President Roosevelt could “discover” himself (later called Rio Theodore Roosevelt). This river is actually nothing more than an arm of another tributary, the Rio Aripuana.

President Roosevelt was accompanied by a hundred journalists, many whom never had been in the jungle before. When the Brazilian’s took Roosevelt to “discover” the Rio Theodore Roosevelt, the Brazilians were already prepared. They had isolated a hundred yards of that river with nets.
For weeks fishermen caught piranha with hook and line, throwing the fish into this netted off area. Then the Brazilian instigated piranha myth began. The Brazilians told Roosevelt and his group not to venture into the water of this river because they would be immediately be attacked and eaten by piranhas. Roosevelt was skeptical, how could any fish be this dangerous. This played right into the Brazilians hands and their sense of humor. To validate their point, they took a cow, slit her udder, and drove her bleeding into a seething mass of starving, trapped piranhas.
The cow, needless to say, was immediately attacked and stripped to the bone in short order. The piranhas were in fact, so starved they literally leaped out of the water with mouthful of flesh which added more credibility to this setup situation. The President and the journalists stared in amazement at this scene just 10 feet from shore.
Newspapers around the world carried the story, even embellishing it more by saying anyone entering the water in any South American river would be immediately attacked and devoured by these small fearsome fish. “The terrible piranhas” have since been feared by unknowing people, conservationists and the news media.

Then we are off on our various 4 pm outings. Every day is very very full. We saw a howler well and more squirrel monkeys making a lot of commotion through the trees. Everyone has a mighty fine time. Tortoise seen dashing through underbrush – not.

Barbecue tonight on the deck, we mingle. I miss the rest of our little tribe but that is the nature of this place. Gus gives a little speech recognizing all the people who work behind the scenes. . Tell all your friends to come on down to the Amazon Basin. Fun fun fun. A spectacled caiman hanging out under the deck eating meat scraps. And this is where we swim??? Matt finally dances on the table but I missed it..

Thursday, Jan. 29:
I head off with Julio et al this time up early and we paddle down testicle creek to the wooden tower. Yacky yacky Canadians up there with us but finally I request a 5 minute quiet time. I think it was quite a challenge for them. We have some very nice sightings of many different kinds of birds. Great temperature. The two other groups have some excellent sightings as well. A 5’ anaconda is spotted by Elias from the canoe on guess what? – ANACONDA creek! Gus’s group has some mighty fine BLACK caiman looks – babies and Gus calling distress sound, mom responds by calling babies who swim away and then a very large male? Comes up right by the canoe and stares at everyone. The biggest one Gus has seen here. More squirrel monkey looks. A dusky titi monkey seen but not well. Just before 2 of the groups get back it really begins to rain hard!! It is the rain forest after all!! Our first rain!!

Sacha means jungle or wild place in Quicha. The Quicha speakers were driven down from the highlands and now are the most populous group in the region. They have learned many uses of the plants from other indigenous groups.

More miscellaneous notes: Side-necked turtles (can’t retract necks in all the way, also have powerful stink glands). In Aug fish from Napo have come up into lakes to spawn. Catfish, ciclid, boca poco, Red bellied and black piranhas, fresh water sting rays, piranhas (eat fruits and seeds, dispersal), Blood of the Dragon: “Drago” tree with red sap used as antiseptic and for stomach ulcers in Euphorbia family drips maroon but turns to white when rubbed on skin, sweet smell. Wine cup fungus. Brownia (contraceptive plant) is the bright red flowers by the lodge. Bauhinia is the cow foot shaped leaf, 2 miles of lianas per hectare. Wild papaya with thorns on stems. Tagua is fruit from palm used as substitute for ivory. Giant spittle from moth!

After lunch we meet upstairs for our closing circle. A time to share some highlights before we go back to the busy world we live in. We had a great time here saw just about everything = the weather and sea cooperated. A really compatible group we were. Then down to the dock for another group photo. The Carols take the photo for us. One of them has taken quite a shining to one member of our group who will remain nameless but his initials are MM and he eats a lot.

Well there you have it… Free time until four for most groups. The rain comes down on all of us out there in the rain forest. Dwarf caiman seen and Elias gets zapped by a bullet ant. After dinner the bats are really active and smoky jungle frogs are singing their heart out!! The stars are even out. I take off with Donaldo to record some sounds along Anaconda Creek but there is yet another generator down toward the storehouse. Long line to pay bills at the gift shop. Too bad everything else went pretty well.

Friday, Jan. 30.
We get to sleep in until 6~~ wow. We tip and say goodbye to our native guides – Elias, Donaldo and Pablo. Our cute little pygmy marmoset friends are waiting for us to say goodbye. We are on the river by 820. Great place this rain forest. We get no pee breaks and when we finally get to Coca in only a lttle over 2 hours and the safe house. The Canadians pass us in the larger boat but we have the luggage. No rain on us.

We are off from lovely Coca International Airport. We drop right out of the sky into Quito. We are back to the Valley of 14 Volcanoes and short breath. Metro tours is waiting for us. Quito with the hustle and bustle and cars and trucks and sirens wailing – what a contrast to the rain forest. Amazing how we humans meld our environments. Then back to our home away from home, the Alameda Real. Free time for last minute shopping. At 630 we all pile into the clown bus as 16 folks and 5 other ladies pile on in to the tiny thing. Through mucho traffico to our delightful dinner at Theatrum Quito Restaurant & Wine Bar. Upstairs from the National Theater group and they do still do shows. On foot we are escorted carefully through the traffic and the square to a most elegant place. I think all of you appreciated the fine dining and exquisite service of our last evening together. You really were a wonderful and thoroughly gelled group. You make my job fun and easy. Much laughter and LOUDDDDDDD singing on the way back. We all agree to wake up room 702 (or was is 905) and say goodbye at 4 am.
Hasta Luega!!

Saturday. Jan 31
Up and out with David from Metro way too early. The Renes take our luggage. Smooth check in at AA and all of us but for Jason and Verena head back to the good old USA together. Our first stop is the northern most city in Latin America called Miami; where we officially enter America. We have a new president since we left. And just in time for the superbowl. We are all glad to be home….

And you know what???

I WISH I WERE AN OSCAR MEYER WEINER THAT IS WHAT I REALLY WANT TO BEEEE
CAUSE IF I WERE AN OSCAR MEYER WEINER EVERYONE WOULD BE IN LOVE WITH MEEEEEE!!

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August 22, 2009