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There are not many places in the world where you can capture three distinct species in a single frame. In the Galapagos you can, from just a few yards away. I especially liked watching (and photographing) the way very distant relatives interacted. Here, newborn sea lion pups chase the tails of marine iguanas while vibrant Sally Lightfoot crabs skitter from the Godzilla-like creatures.
The little city of Banos is situated on the side of volcano Tungurahua and has gorgeous waterfalls like this one, the Pailon del Diablo or Devil's Cauldron. To get up this high the trail first drops about 1000 feet into the valley and then climbs via stairs and ladders until it ends inside the waterfall under a sheltered rock overhang with millions of gallons of water thundering around. It's quite wet and the "trail" turns into a crawl space at certain points but the view is astonishing.
Galapagos Conservancy is a partner and supporter of #GivingTuesday, a day dedicated to giving back during the Christmas holiday season (now in its third year). Galapagos Conservancy has used #GivingTuesday to support a marine iguana conservation effort by requesting pledges of $5 that go toward identifying a mysterious disease afflicting the world's only known sea-grazing lizards. To date, more than 100 animals have died of unknown causes; this effort helps support laboratory tests, monitoring programs, and a rapid response initiative, all of which contribute to a larger conservation strategy. The marine iguana is one of the most unique species of animal living on the Galapagos, and it thrills most everyone who visits. Let's help keep it that way.
The magnificent frigatebird soars above the waters of the Galapagos, terrifying fish everywhere it goes, stopping just long enough to puff out its chest to impress the opposite sex. The frigatebird is notable for its tremendous size, ability to fly day and night for hundreds of miles at a time, the males' bright red throat sack that fills with air during mating season, and propensity for terrorizing other sea birds by attacking them and forcing them to drop their catch. These aerial pirates are spread throughout the Galapagos Islands, but their most impressive breeding site may be North Seymour Island, where they nest in low shrubland near the coast.
I'm not a cruise guy in any way, and I went into this adventure with trepidation. I worried about all the things one worries about when they consider a cruise. Turns out, I had nothing to worry about. This was one of the most remarkable travel experiences I've ever had. Choosing the right cruise ship is important, of course. The folks at Metropolitan Touring arranged passage for me aboard La Pinta, a smallish vessel that made everyone feel at home and at ease. The food was fantastic, the crew accommodating, and our naturalists tuned in and well informed. Other passengers mentioned how they had fun aboard the Nat Geo ships, but I couldn't have asked for a better adventure.
September 15, 1835. Darwin and the crew of the HMS Beagle head for San Cristobal Island, passing Espanola Island without anchoring. Espanola, also known as Hood Island, is one of the oldest, and most fascinating of all the Galapagos islands; Espanola is home to a number of endemic species, including the Hood Mockingbird and the pink venustissimus marine iguana, and is notable for being the breeding site of the waved albatross. The waters between Espanola and San Cristobal are a popular playground for dolphins.
We spent the night up on Cotopaxi (19,300 ft.) and the next morning went for a short walk up the trail. We were greeted by these llamas who blocked our path back down to the lodge! There were friendly enough, but very curious. I would highly recommend the tour that we did through Arie's Bike Company in Ecuador. We spent 10 days biking around Ecuador, seeing the beautiful sights and landscapes on two wheels rather than four!
Technically, the marine iguana isn't a salt spitter, it's a salt snorter. Adapted to sea life, the marine iguana dives for seaweed and algae, then basks in the sun to increase it's body temperature. During this time, the excess salt is filtered through a nasal gland; it's not uncommon to walk among a large group of iguanas and have them snort salt all over your shoes. At first it's a bit unnerving to walk among a million tiny dinosaurs as they lay about catching rays, but it doesn't take long for the spectacular scenery of Punta Espinoza and Fernandina to overwhelm any lingering sense of trepidation.
Comprising four coaches—with interior designs ranging from pre-Hispanic to neoclassical—the Tren Crucero takes four days to mosey from the Pacific coast to Ecuador’s capital in the Andes. An open terrace car provides unbroken views of the Devil’s Nose promontory, coastal plantations, and Ecuador’s highest active volcano. From $990. (800) 873-637. Photo courtesy of Tren Ecuador/Facebook. This appeared in the June/July 2013 issue.
About 80 miles from Quito, this eco lodge in the sky is owned by 12 campesino families, who are regenerating 1800 acres of now-protected forest. Santa Lucia Cloud Forest Reserve offers lodge accommodations as well as beautiful wood-and-glass cabins, stilted out over dense jungle that's once again dripping with life.
October 2, 1835. The HMS Beagle skips the trio of northern Galapagos Islands (the only three wholly in the Northern Hemisphere), en route to Santiago Island. The crew spends a few days exploring Santiago, where they encounter numerous animal species, including iguanas, for which Darwin had little love. "When we were left at [Santiago], we could not for some time find a spot free from their burrows on which to pitch our single tent," Darwin writes. Sadly, the land iguana is no longer found on Santiago; it was wiped out by invasive species introduced by humans beginning in the 16th century. The tortoise is the symbolic emblem of the Galapagos, but it is not the only animal marred by human invasion of the islands; keep that in mind when sailing in Darwin's wake. This image was taken on the island of Isabela, where the land iguana is still common.
I am usually an adventurous eater, but I must confess I felt a bit squeamish when Andrés Dávila, the chef at Casa Gangotena, told me he would be serving llama as part of the evening's tasting menu. I figured if I was ever going to eat llama, then it might as well be prepared by a talented chef. Dávila's menu features both traditional Ecuadorean dishes, such as fritada (fried pork with potato patties, hominy, fried corn, and avocado cream) and more innovative twists on Ecuadorian dishes such as our llama spring rolls that were actually quite delicious. The llama tasted like lamb and the fried spring roll was stuffed with fresh herbs. Ecuador is known for its soups and Dávila's versions are not to be missed, particularly his locro Quiteño, which is a traditional potato soup. Dávila has started to take guests to the local market to help familiarize them with Ecuador's native ingredients. Trips can be arranged with the front desk ahead of time.
Expeditions are hard work (sometimes), and require attention, dedication, and focus. After a long day exploring the islands, the Finch Bay Eco Hotel on Santa Cruz is the perfect place to unwind. I took a cocktail to the pool, dipped my toes in the water, and tried to unwind as boobies flew overhead. It's quite something to find exciting, luxurious accommodations like this on the island. I loved every minute of my cruise, but there's just something to be said about a bed on solid ground, a fine meal, and a pool that doesn't tip over. One of the things I really like about Finch Bay is their dedication to the environment; Finch Bay is the only hotel in Puerto Ayora with a water treatment plant, they have a number of solar energy systems in place, and they support local farmers, artists, and artisans.
The Galapagos penguin is cute. Rediculously cute. Especially when doing its very best to teach an uncoordinated adventurer how to swim in rough waters near Isabela Island. The Galapagos is the only penguin able to survive north of (in this case, directly on) the equator, thanks in part to the chilly waters brought to the islands thanks to the Humboldt Current. They're also spectacular, if not somewhat impatient, diving instructors, keen on showing off their sensational underwater skills for anyone brave enough to test the icy depths. Metropolitan Touring arranged all of my snorkeling expeditions, and can also arrange some of the world's most spectacular dives.
Hacienda Cusin is an unassuming and completely lovely place to call home while bear Otavalo, Ecuador. With excellent mountain biking and hiking in your backyard, a lovely on site restaurant and simple, romantic rooms rest your head here! Ask for one of the deluxe suites with a fireplace; a roaring flame will await you when you return home from dinner!
Human beings have exploited the giant tortoises for hundreds of years; pirates, whalers, and even Charles Darwin's HMS Beagle crew took these animals as food, or harvested them for oil. Entire populations have been decimated, and some sub-species eradicated. Galapagos conservation programs aimed at restoring native populations have helped numbers rebound, though the tortoise still faces an uphill battle against invasive species like goats, donkeys, cats, rats, and dogs. Reintroduction, breeding, and eradication programs set in motion in the mid-1960s have seen tortoise numbers on Espanola, Pinzon, Isabela and Pinta climb; more than 2,000 tortoises have been reintroduced to these islands, though Galapagos Conservancy recognizes that plenty of work is still to come. Over a 10-year period, the project aims to accomplish these goals: - restore tortoise populations, including those considered “extinct in the wild,” through a combination of in situ management, breeding and rearing tortoises where appropriate, and repopulation of an island where tortoises are extinct through the use of an analog (closely-related) species. - evaluate habitat conditions and restore where necessary - improve education/outreach in service of giant tortoise conservation
Book a suite at Mashpi Lodge and you can spot howler monkeys, sloths, butterflies, and hundreds of bird species from your Philippe Starck bathtub-with-a-view. Opened in April 2012 on the 3,000-acre Mashpi Biodiversity Reserve, the lodge has resident biologists and a library stocked with bird books. A new tram traverses more than a mile of dense forest canopy, providing guests with an overview of the reserve’s extraordinary plant and animal life. Photo courtesy of CereallyExplosive/Flickr. This appeared in the June/July 2013 issue.
The Galapagos Islands are known around the world for the famous, endemic wildlife found there. An amazing eighty-percent of all land-based animals on the archipelago are only found there, thanks to its isolation from the rest of the world. Of all of these none are perhaps more famous than the giant tortoises. Weighing almost 1,000 pounds, the Galapagos tortoises are the largest in the world and can live well beyond 100 years. In fact some of the reptilian inhabitants may have been there when Darwin first encountered the island chain in 1835. While there is an excellent conservation facility guests can visit, for the ultimate experience there’s nothing like walking with them in the wild. The tortoises spend much of the year migrating from the highlands of Santa Cruz Island down to the shore in order to lay eggs. It is during this time when trained guides can help you find them as they find their way down well-defined tortoise highways. When I visited the beautiful giants were in a large field slowly meandering, stopping to rest or for a drink at a nearby pond. I was careful not to get too close, not out of concern for my safety but so I wouldn’t bother them. To stand there in a primordial forest amongst dozens of walking boulders was a humbling moment I will always remember.
The first time I had these little potato pancakes at a street stand in Otavalo, I thought that llapingachos was the pancake alone. But then later I went to a restaurant and saw Llapingachos under the comida tipica menu. A llapingachos meal is the potato pancake (stuffed with cheese) as well as chorizo sausage, fried eggs and an avocado and tomato salad. If there's anything I love more than potato pancakes (with cheese!), it's potatoes with eggs for any meal. If I lived in Ecuador, I'd eat llapingachos in every form for every meal. Perhaps it's good I just visited...
Quito has some of the continent’s best examples of colonial art and architecture. Must-stops include the National Museum of Colonial Art and the Guayasamín Museum, dedicated to contemporary artist Oswaldo Guayasamín. The Manuela Sáenz Museum, named for Simón Bolívar’s mistress, showcases the couple’s love letters. Book a room at Casa Gangotena, a newly restored historic mansion with a prime setting that overlooks Plaza San Francisco.
Ride along the Riobamba to the Devil's Nose on top of the train. Enjoy the sights as you pass traditional villages and rural life of local people farming and going about their daily business. In many cases, children will run alongside the train, hoping for some sweets to be dropped for them. Riobamba is located at the very start of the train journey that ultimately ends up at the Devil’s Nose, Riobamba is worth spending a couple of hours wandering around. the churches and small museums before embarking on the train journey. Many travelers stay overnight in this town, the night before their train journey which starts early in the morning. A little town Alausi is a peaceful slow paced town the train runs through and a charming place to wander about but go preferably on Sunday when the fair takes place.
A tortillas de maiz con queso is the best little bite of Ecuadorian street food. The dough is a paste of harina and water that the ladies roll into a small ball. They push a pinch of grated queso fresco into the middle and pat the whole thing into a small round about the size of their palm and fry it in bubbling lard until it's crispy and the cheese is melted. They're 3 for 50 cents and so smoking hot you have to wait until the grease soaks through the paper. That's when you know they're cool enough to eat. Ah-maz-ing.
check out the kapawi ecolodge in ecuadorial amazon. remote area on tributary of amazon river. thatched huts on stilts looking into virgin rainforest. I was there not too long ago shooting, and the people were amazing. private huts and great communal area. make sure you have one of the guys take you fishing for pirhana!! -volunteer opportunities too!!
Ecuador is a local foodie paradise. A variety of lush produce grows year round in small farms surrounding the colonial city of Cuenca. The rich volcanic soil of the Andes mountain nourishes fruits and vegetables that taste like they should, and the equatorian sun makes them available every day of the year.
19,374 feet above sea level, standing on top of Cotopaxi one of the planet's largest active volcanoes. Climbing this Ecuadorian monster has been my most physically demanding accomplishment to date.
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