Northland, New Zealand

Tags

, , , ,

We wanted to see the far north of New Zealand. We didn’t get to Cape Reinga, the tip of a long finger of land that points north from the rest of the island, but we got to the knuckles, around Doubtless Bay. One long sandy bay after another stretches along the north end of New Zealand’s north island. We left our spot on the beach near the town of Mangonui to see Tokerau Bay farther along. When we got there, it was the same gorgeous sand beach stretching for miles.

Beachcombing turned up lot of interesting shells, though only a couple of pieces of beach glass. Fragments of mussels and pen shells have iridescent interiors that reflect the sun in stripes of blue, green, and purple. Jonathan found the live oysters growing on the rocks irresistible.

We stayed at the Old Oak hotel, built in 1861 as the Mangonui hotel, renovated many times, and lovely. The small downtown area of Mangonui has photos showing buildings that have been in place since the 1890s. The only difference between then and now is that the buggies have changed to cars.

One of our goals in Northland was to see Ninety-Mile Beach. It spans the entire west side of that northern finger of New Zealand. Vehicles can drive the length of the beach at low tide and it’s a popular tour. We didn’t really want to drive for two hours up and then back, so we went for a look, and saw marks of the wheelies on the sand–at the end of the tour? Jonathan found people clamming along the shore and wanted a bucket so he could take home his own clams, but we’re not going to be home to the stove for two days and that might not be good for either the clams or for us after eating them, so we watched enviously while they worked. I admired the work of the woman who was clamming with a bucket in one hand and her cane in the other. That’s spirit for you.

Our chief souvenir from 90 mile beach was a flat tire. We changed the tire in record time and when we stopped at a wood carving shop just down the road, a woman directed us a few hundred yards to Awanui Tires. According to the young man fixing tires (tyres), the Monday morning rush had just ended and we chatted while he fixed the hole. He held up a strange piece of metal, neither bolt nor screw, that made the hole. We shook our heads and thanked the two men. The entire process from flat to fix had cost us less than an hour. We understood most of what they said…..New Zealanders can speak their own language when they want to and tourists–we’re on our own.

Last stop in the north was Whangarei (Fhan-gar-ey) the only city north of Auckland. Highlights included the Town Basin area where there is a sculpture walk along the water and shops and galleries selling beautiful local crafts. Polished and carved wood and resin from the kauri tree, distinctive and now rare, was one of the highlights.

Among the sculptures in the downtown area of Whangarei is an unusual small building covered with colored tiles and mirror. This turns out to be a prototype of materials and forms to be used in the Hundertwasser Museum. Hundertwasser was an Austrian artist and architect who was captivated by New Zealand and moved here in 1975 and spent the rest of his life near Kawakawa, outside Whangarei. I became aware of Hundertwasser’s imaginative paintings when I was in college. He drew floating cities with forests for roofs, presaging green roofs by quite a few years. He turned to fanciful architecture, building structures in Europe that resemble the work of Antoni Gaudi. He designed public toilets for the town of Kawakawa, a project that proved to be his last. Now, after years of public debate and fundraising, the Hundertwasser museum is under construction in Whangarei, to open in 2020.

On our way out of town we visited the Quarry Arts Center where a number of artists have studios in a delightful tiny neighborhood filled with sculptures of all kinds..

We ended up at Kiwi North, SW of Whangarei, to see the kiwi. They live in a controlled environment that leads them to believe day is night so they will come out to eat. What funny birds! They look like the back half of a cat with a long beak in the front that they use to snuffle about in fallen leaves. When startled, they zip back into their cave-like nest. We watched them in the dark until a keeper brought out food. That drew them out into what little light there was. After eating, the pair scuttled back into their burrow and we went on.

Kiwi North is a central place for culture in Northland, including historic structures moved from elsewhere, a small museum, rotating exhibits, the kiwi, and a series of regional museum/clubs including medical equipment, old cars, rocks and minerals, and others. These are not open on any particular schedule, but the campus-style setting provides a place for aficionados of different things to have a clubhouse/museum. It looks like a good arrangement for all.

By this time, we had to make our way back to Piha. We packed a lot of looking around into a few days in Northland. There’s lots more to see–we missed the Hundertwasser toilets in Kawakawa! That will have to wait for another time.

 

Auckland 2018

Tags

, ,

We landed at the Auckland airport, picked up our rental car and made our way out of town as fast as we could. Having just gotten off a 12-hour flight, navigating to a new place, and driving on the left, I don’t remember much of the trip. My first real view of the city was also a shock. A few days after we arrived, we stopped at the Arataki Visitors Center in the center of the park that lies between us and Auckland. Terraces around the center provide spectacular views over the forest, a large reservoir, and in the distance, downtown Auckland! It was strange to be surrounded by dense forest and see skyscrapers of the central business district through my binoculars. It’s barely ten miles away.

We drove into the center of the city for a walk along the seafront and a visit to Victoria Park Market (much described by guidebooks), as well as stopping in to a clinic in our ongoing quest to get Jonathan’s visa to Australia (more on that another time). The waterfront is lined with boats of all kinds, sailboats from small to ocean-going, traditional to Americas Cup sleek, and motor craft from cigarette boats to trawlers. There are ferries across the bay and tour boats that circle the area for sightseers. Boating is popular for many reasons including the long coastline, huge bays, and the distance of the islands from anywhere else.

Downtown Auckland is growing fast, with construction cranes all across the skyline. New apartments are being built along the waterfront, as is a huge Hyatt hotel.

Away from the waterfront, Queen’s Street was the busiest area for shopping. We admired New Zealand jade, Maori wood carving, merino wool sweaters and every imaginable item painted with kiwi birds or sheep. We’ve been in New Zealand barely a week and we’re holding off making purchases other than postcards. In addition to the usual range of tourists, I did see some very fashionably dressed women. One wore an unusually cut jacket, the other a boldly patterned skirt, and both had interesting very-high-heeled shoes. Perhaps they were influenced by the windows at Chanel.

Since we arrived, the multicultural face of New Zealand has made itself clear. We were asked whether we were about to board a cruise ship, and met a couple from Minnesota who were about to do so. In the forest park, we chatted with a pair of young people from New Zealand and Australia who had Indian ancestors. They warned us about the strength of the sun and the need to stay hydrated. On the same trail, we met two young women from Auckland of European ancestry who had never been to the park before, despite it’s being within an hour of the city. The Thai restaurant where we ate lunch was staffed with Thai-New Zealanders. At a copy center, we chatted with a young New Zealander of Indian ancestry whose brothers and cousins live in Ohio and California. Even the grocery store showed multiculturalism, though it turns out that New Zealand Breakfast tea is earl gray with a different label.

Our only strike-out of the day was the Victoria Park Market. A series of restored structures on the edge of the park is intended to be a boutique covered market and restaurant zone, and perhaps it was, a few years ago. It is mentioned in guidebooks, but there is almost nothing there. For some reason, this development appears to be a flop.

The market was just a blip on our day. Auckland was bustling and colorful, with great people-watching on every block. It’s easy to think about living here, so close to the surf and the forest, yet in a lively city.

 

The Tasman Sea

Tags

,

I never thought I’d look out at the ocean and think, “Wow, this is the Tasman Sea.” But here we are, looking at the Tasman Sea, the part of the Pacific Ocean between New Zealand, Australia, and Tasmania. This part of the ocean, along with Tasmania and other landmarks, are named after the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman who sailed by Tasmania, New Zealand, and Fiji in 1642-43, the first European to do so. Tasman saw the coast but he barely got off his ship due to rough seas.

Surf lifesaving season began on New Zealand Labour Day, Oct. 24, 2018 and continues until Easter.

Our week began with some of this same weather. The water is very shallow along Piha beach, and waves crash over and over as they come in. There is a constant roar of the surf, not the rhythmic boom-pause-boom-pause I am more accustomed to hearing.

On Sunday, we took a long walk down the beach. The sun was out, and there were people everywhere despite a stiff wind. We passed surf life-saving crews practicing zooming up and down the shore between waves, snatching pretend victims from the sea. There were nearly 100 kids in surf school, running in and out of the water, flopping in the shallows, and following their leader. By the time we got home I was chilled to the bone despite my sweatshirt, yet all those other people were frolicking in the water.

Less than a week in New Zealand and I am already eating the words of earlier pronouncements. Piha Beach, our home for two weeks, is a popular vacation spot, with RVs rolling in and out of the campground, weekend visitors, residents, everyone. There is a  Surf Lifesaving Club and a surf club. There are zones for dogs to roam, dogs on leashes, and dogs prohibited. With all these people, there is almost no trash.

I haven’t seen or heard about beach clean-up. Maybe New Zealand is just far enough from the rest of the world that most of the plastic doesn’t get here. So far, I’m pretty impressed. The beach is long and sandy and there is only a small amount of litter visible as you stroll along. How did that happen?

The coast is dramatic and beautiful. Our good luck was sealed by Jonathan’s finding a piece of beach glass on our first walk. It was late in the day and the sun turned everything silvery. The sun sets much later than we are used to, around 8 pm, and it’s getting later every day. We will visit as many beaches in this area as we can, but we will only scratch the surface of the many rocky headlands and coves.

Welcome to Piha, New Zealand

Tags

Piha beach looking south.

Piha Beach looking north.

Strategizing about how to see as much of New Zealand as possible in two months resulted in our decision to move more frequently than usual. We’re spending two weeks in each of four places, starting with Piha beach outside Auckland and moving south to the Wellington area. In December, we’ll be outside Christchurch and then near Dunedin as we try to see a bit of both islands.

Our travel to Auckland was vastly improved by flying business class. We left Los Angeles an hour late because the trip was going to be too fast! New Zealand officials are as particular about aviation as everything else. Planes have a 30 minute window to arrive, 15 min either side of their scheduled time. Apparently the airlines are fined for non-compliance, and we were scheduled to fly for only 12 hours, not the usual 13.

Business class was worth the cost because we were able to eat something and then sleep–that being a euphemism for lying down with one’s eyes shut, earplugs in, and blanket pulled up, hoping for oblivion that doesn’t actually arrive. I watched Mamma Mia 2 (terrible but fun), then made myself sleep until 6 am Auckland time. Jonathan did something similar (different movies).

We arrived in pretty good shape, got our car and found our house in Piha. To get there we crossed the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park. New Zealand’s cool, rainy weather produces incredibly dense, dark green vegetation that ranges from palm trees to pines and includes cycads. These look like a fern sitting on top of a palm trunk and they are the living descendants of plants that existed in the time of the dinosaurs, 200 million years ago.

Once across the hills, Piha is a beach community that consists of a strip of houses backed against the steep hillside, facing the ocean. Some are summer cottages, others dramatic contemporary homes. We have rented a beach cottage with broad glass windows facing the shore. It is a family home–lots of board games, puzzles and decks of cards.

Piha beach has a dramatic formation, Lion Rock, and a broad sandy beach that is popular for surfing. Between the two, the area appears in ads, TV shows and movies (The Piano was filmed nearby). Announcements of filming are circulated to residents and posted in the Piha Store, the only local business apart from the campground and surf school. I saw one that mentioned a one day ad shoot with a “small” crew of around 20 people. I hope they film something while we are here.

 

 

California Beaches

Tags

It was a pleasure to find that California beaches are as well-tended in the Santa Barbara area as they were in Mendocino five years ago. I often mention the quantity of debris that we find on beaches around the world in our continuing rounds of beach combing. California beaches are a remarkable exception. Yes, they have driftwood and occasional bits of beach glass, but they are not littered with the unending stream of plastic cups and mylar packaging that we see everywhere else, not to mention orange peels, and worse.

It is no secret why this is the case–people clean the beaches frequently. There isn’t less trash, there is greater effort to clean it up. Many beaches post the meeting time of twice-monthly cleanup gatherings. Clubs and advocacy groups hold periodic beach clean-ups. In addition, the entire state of California holds a beach-cleaning extravaganza at least once a year. The most recent one was Sept. 15, 2018. Our visit began just two weeks later, on Oct. 1, and we benefited from the effort. During our stay we rarely found the kind of beach trash that we usually find. “Eternal vigilance… etc. etc….” keeps the beach clean.  All visitors should be aware that other people work hard to make the beaches attractive. Congratulations to everyone who helps keep California beaches clean.

We visited beaches from Pismo Beach on the north to Mussel Shoals on the south and found them uniformly beautiful, and not particularly crowded, especially toward the end of the month.

There is an exception, isn’t that always the case? In the Santa Barbara area, all the beaches have tar blobs that have washed ashore and cannot easily be removed.  Whether the tar floats in from occasional leaks that aren’t even measurable they are so small, or whether the tar is left over from major oil spills of the past, it’s impossible to walk barefoot on the beach and not acquire a few black spots on your feet. The thickest tar buildups were at Coal Oil Point, perhaps aptly named, though all beaches have some tar. These are the legacy of the offshore oil industry that is still visible in the form of a half dozen oil platforms on the horizon.

Interim–October in Santa Barbara

Tags

,

We left Peru with great fanfare, but didn’t get all the way to New Zealand in one hop, we stopped for a month in Santa Barbara, CA. It was a month of relaxation, walks on the beach, exploring the area, and wine-tasting–this is California, after all.

We visited the Avocado Festival in Carpenteria, and the Harbor Festival opening the season for California spiny lobster in Santa Barbara, and ate a few spiny lobster. We tasted wine in Los Olivos, Solvang, and Ojai. Ojai is a town with family history, as Jonathan attended at least part of 8th grade there during his peripatetic childhood following his artist parents around the western US and Mexico.

As if this were not enough fun, we had visits with friends and family, taking advantage of being on the west coast. It was wonderful.  We had a chance to visit Cal State Long Beach (CSULB) and see Amanda’s experiment that is the basis for her M.A. thesis. At lunch, Amanda and Jonathan made fun of my taking selfies with a regular camera. Why not?

We stayed in a lovely Airbnb, a bungalow remodeled into an open plan living/dining/kitchen area with seating areas outside on both sides of the house providing shaded seating at all times of day. We shared a bit of the yard, and the outdoor shower, with a neighbor in the apartment on one side, but that did not prove to be a problem in large part because of the delightful tenant, Jackie, and her temporary guests Lucas, Henna, and Montana (3 months). A cute baby is always nice to have as a neighbor.

Under the pineapple guava (feijoa) tree with Kneave and Linda.

Our home was surrounded by perfect contemporary landscaping, terraces of succulents down the small hillside lot made the area seem larger. The tiers and pots of plants were interspersed with just the right number of citrus trees, one of each: grapefruit, oranges, Meyer lemons, lemons, and limes, along with an avocado and a persimmon tree. The persimmons were just ripening, dotting their tree with small bright orange fruit. Jonathan made multi-citrus marmalade, a gorgeous orange-gold color and tasty into the bargain. There were days when we could easily have sat on the terrace all day. In no time, it was time to leave for the airport again.

It Took A Week to Pack?

Tags

We’ve now been traveling for more than four years. From two checked suitcases each we graduated to one checked bag, with our carry-ons packed as tightly as possible. Now there’s always space left over. I still check a bag, though. Eight months is a long time in climate that ranges from hot and wet to cold and rainy. Eight months may be underestimating how long we’re gone this time, but that’s how long we plan to stay in New Zealand and Australia.

Even though I knew what I wanted to pack, it took me all week. It’s much harder to pack when you have more than you need in drawers and closets. Once you’re on the road it’s just a matter of rolling and folding and shoving it all back into the suitcase. In the guest room that became my staging area, I packed the guidebooks we’ve accumulated thus far (4), and a memoir on Australia.

Next, I packed the least crucial elements, my wetsuit and mask, because I really want to go snorkeling in Australia. I experimented with an alternative shoulder bag, but went back to my mini-backpack. Next came arts and crafts. Now that I make oddball jewelry out of things I find on the beach, I want to have a few tools and materials so that if I find something on the beach I can make stuff. After contemplating the giant mess spread across the studio (former lab space), I packed up hundreds of pieces of beach glass that I’ve accumulated, picking out a few pieces to work on in the short run. I set out a small zipper bag to hold tools, deciding that when it was full, no more tools would come along. By the third day I had stowed away my materials so they won’t be too dusty when I return. I have piles of beach glass, beads, watch parts, seashells, and plastic cowboy, Indian, and superheros that have come from beaches around the world.

In went multiple bottles of sunscreen, bug spray, and vitamins all non-negotiable, and the rest of day four was spent emptying out my travel accessories and restocking. I tried to minimize the things that I can purchase there (soap, shampoo, deodorant), and take things like over the counter pain relievers that can be very different. Once I decided on a flashlight and not a clip-on reading light, an extra chapstick of my favorite brand and backup dental floss, the day was over.

The next day I chose a cap rather than a straw hat, though one scarf rather than two hung on as a question until the last minute. Shoes are another hurdle. One pair has to be waterproof, while another has to be able to go into the water. Which should be the third pair? More sandals, sneakers, flats? I went with flats, common for most people, unusual for me (I usually go with two pairs of sandals. Truth is, I wanted to bring my newest shoes that I just bought in Colombia. They’re covered in mola-style fabric, really pretty. The bed was piling up with possible shirts and pants. The shoes were wrapped and stowed and that was it.

In the morning, I realized that it was really time to pack up. I started with two beach tops and two bathing suits. With one last evaluation, I went with two long sleeved button down shirts, one of which is 100% cotton, the other a built-in sunscreen shirt. Two long sleeved t-shirts because New Zealand is never warm, then short sleeved (2) and t-shirts (3), a sleeveless top, shorts, and capris. My travel slacks were set out to wear to Lima. My travel tunic and leggings went in the carry-on for travel day. Underwear goes in it’s place and I take six cotton hankies to cut down on Kleenex.

The final packing day was dedicated to electronics, making sure my tablet, phone, and laptop were charged, the cables packed. New batteries went in the flashlight, and I squeezed in the travel scrabble game. Paperwork to take included printing itineraries, copies of all important cards, and my passport, as well as storing copies on a jump drive to take along. I made back-ups of files from the past six months and left them on the storage device in our office in Peru, then spent a while tracking down our yellow-fever vaccination documents. I don’t think we’ll need them but you never know.

Last minute additions included a pair of insoles, flip-flops, and an alpaca sweater. I had room in my carry-on for some snacks and lunch on the road to Lima, a big bottle of water, and go-cup of coffee for the road. (I sent the cup back home with Carlos.) That’s how you spend a week packing for a long trip. By doing all my picking and choosing over a week, I managed to be ready to go promptly at 9 am on Saturday, when Carlos and I left for Lima. We were at the hotel by 1 pm, and he turned around for the trip back to Barranca. He would be home before sunset, the safest way to drive in Peru. Meanwhile, I would spend the night in Lima and head to my flight at 7 am on Sunday, packed and ready to go.

 

 

Good to Know About the Galapagos

Tags

If you’re thinking about a trip to the Galapagos, there are several things to consider.

-Land or Sea? I prefer sea because you can get to more of the islands, even though I am not a cruise person.

-Choose your tour company carefully. Ask for recommendations from friends who have been to the Galapagos, keeping in mind their interests and personalities. Read reviews online. The tour company organizes your experience and that will be fundamental to whether you enjoy yourself and are satisfied with the itinerary and range of activities.

-Size of ship. We were on a ship that holds 48 passengers, with only 29 on board. Ships range from about eight to 96 passengers. The trade-off is that there are more amenities onboard larger ships.

-Promises, promises. Read all of the tour materials carefully. If an amenity is not specifically mentioned, it is not available. Be sure to as many questions as you can before you book. Do you need internet? Do you want a double bed? Would you like air-conditioning? Need a special diet? Refrigerator for medications? Everything has to be specified before you book. Once you book, you have no leverage.

-Who else will be there? For best results, recruit people you enjoy to go along. That way you know what your company will be. We were fortunate to be with family and an interesting group of fellow passengers, but there are no guarantees. If you are an outgoing, friendly person you’ll be fine, but not everyone has that gift.

-Check to see that your guides will be appropriate. There are highly qualified guides that do not speak English. If you do not speak Spanish make sure that you will have guides of the highest qualification level who are also English speaking–or who speak the language you want.

-Keep your expectations reasonable. Every group sees the Charles Darwin Research Center, but not every group sees everything else.

-Take responsibility/do your homework. Some months the weather is hot and you can burn easily on the water. Other months the water is frigid and the days often overcast. You won’t get sunburned, but you might feel chilly.

If you have your heart set on seeing an albatross, or a white-tipped shark, find out when and where you are most likely to see them. Ask about it before you book, too, as the odds of seeing particular animals vary by season and location. You don’t want to get there and find that you are in the right place, but at the wrong time, or that you are on a ship with a different itinerary than the one that would take you to see your favorite animal.

-Have a great time. Once your plans are made, relax and enjoy the trip. The stark landscape is beautiful and if the animals aren’t posing exactly where you would like them to be, it’s still beautiful  all around you. Talk to the other passengers, learn new things and enjoy the experience.  Sitting on deck in a lounge chair or a hammock with a cold drink and a book can be as worthwhile an experience as seeing a giant tortoise. Trust me, I’ve done both…..

 

Cruising the Galapagos

Tags

,

Boarding a ship in the Galapagos puts you in a different world. Your cabin is compact, the windows and decks reveal water everywhere, the ship rolls, and you rapidly become accustomed to constant movement underfoot. I didn’t get seasick, and enjoyed most of the motion. Being surrounded by water was a pleasure. Any free time we had could be spent staring at the sea, waiting for a dolphin to jump or a turtle’s head to emerge for a moment. In the distance whales spouted. While we were having lunch looking out over the water, a huge manta ray leapt into the air, somersaulted and slapped back into the water. I couldn’t believe it.

The biggest plus to our visit was having two of our children and one’s partner, along. They made it much more fun, and it was a pleasure to have time to sit together and chat. We tended to stick with the kids, wanting to soak up as much time with them as possible, so we may not have been as sociable as we should have. Other people on the trip all had interesting stories and I was always impressed when I got talking to one of the other passengers. Everyone had traveled different places, had interesting careers or hobbies. It was an excellent group.

We cruised the Gapalagos on a relatively large ship the Lindblad/National Geographic Islander, with room for 48 passengers. Perhaps because of the season, the boat only carried 29 passengers, so there was always extra space in the dining room, the lounge, and on deck. It was the best possible cruising arrangement. Larger ships like ours are able to travel further, and as a result we managed to visit both Isabela and Fernandina Islands, a trip that would take too long for a land based group to reach and might be too rough for a smaller vessel. In addition, we stopped at N. Seymour, Rabida, Santa Cruz, and San Cristobal. We did not stop at Floreana, however, the island with the famous mail box (You leave a letter and perhaps take one going to a destination near you to deliver/mail).

By far the best way to see the Galapagos is by cruise ship. Not only can you see more of the islands but you don’t have to pack and unpack every day or two. All your visits are already scheduled, permissions applied for, fees paid. These are significant advantages. With all the advantages we had, I still have to say that I don’t enjoy organized tours. Sometimes it’s the best way, or the only way, but overall it’s not my favorite mode of travel. I am not a cooperator. I dislike mandatory timetables, even when I benefit from them. That is, there were two or three time slots for activity each day. Often the early slot was a walk, which I usually skipped to sleep in. Each of the other time slots offered two activities, one in the water and the other a hike or boat ride. There was always something for those who didn’t want to get wet. Scheduling all this meant that people had to wake up and have breakfast at specific times. Some announcements over the ships PA system could be muted, but many were mandatory and broadcast in all cabins and public areas. I found it difficult to accept that these were necessary.

Our cabin was the best on the ship, large and comfortable, the best bed we’ve had away from home that I remember. We had great views over the bow of the ship and off to the starboard side, as well as seating areas and a desk. We had a real shower in our bathroom, not the mini shower that wets the entire bathroom. Staff straightened up three times a day! They left us chocolates every night–it was fabulous.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The pictures of our room show how good we had it. Though the other cabins were much smaller, the public spaces were very nice, and with a smaller than average number of passengers, there was plenty of space for people to spread out and avoid spending time in their cabins during the day.

In addition to snorkeling and bird-watching, I went stand-up paddleboarding and looked at a animals at the same time. Another day I went kayaking along the coast and saw graffiti that has been left behind over the years. (It’s not permitted today.) Add snorkeling and boat rides and we were busy all the time and we knew what to do, very important in the Galapagos. There are lots of rules, one of which is that you cannot visit most places outside the towns without a guide. Each tour receives permission to visit specific places at specific dates and times. There is no pulling in to a pretty white sand beach to explore, as large areas of the Galapagos are closed to anyone without a specific research permit. It’s limiting, but also protective. No plastic is allowed, even on cruise ships. I appreciated the effectiveness of the Galapagos rules and regulations on the beaches where there was no trash at all. Not any. In a full week I found one tiny knot of nylon rope (1/2″ clump), Jimmy found a Gatorade bottle, and we saw a floating apple core and two halves of an orange. That was it. I have not been on such clean shores in many years.

We had guides who were qualified at the highest level, all Ecuadoreans who speak English. One had a background as a biologist, the others completed a training course for Galapagos guides. I would have preferred that all our guides had a background in science, and I regretted that our ship didn’t have a guide interested in birds, but that wasn’t promised. Our entire staff, guides, crew and captain were Ecuadorean–not a single American or Brit apart from the passengers. Now and then passengers filled in a word when the guide couldn’t come up with the correct one, but they got the job done.

The staff was well trained and rapidly instructed us on how to do what was required. This included wearing life-jackets, how to board and disembark from small boats, where to clean swimming gear, how to make onboard purchases.

Although we had a wonderful trip, why don’t I want to go on another cruise, ever? Most are built-in aspects of cruising that I would prefer to avoid if I have a choice.

-The tour companies exaggerate, even Lindblad/Nat Geo. You’d think they wouldn’t need to. Our trip was billed as ten days and it lasted seven. They count every minute of travel as part of the tour, and it’s not.

-On the final day of the tour, the seventh actual day, we were awakened at 6 am, told to have our luggage outside our doors at 6:15, given breakfast at 7 am and required to completely vacate our rooms at 8 am. Our flight back to Guayaquil didn’t leave until after 11 am. Why were we given the shove? Another tour was arriving on the plane we were taking back to the mainland and they needed time to spruce the place up. Wait! We were still guests! (No, by then we were nothing but outgoing flotsam). The final hour was spent in the lounge where a long loop of Lindblad cruise ads played. This was a tour day? Seriously?

-The tour was very expensive. Yes, we got the best cabin, but even the least expensive cabin was costly. Yet every evening during the 30 minutes before dinner there was a “recap” that never reviewed the day. Rather, someone spent 20 minutes telling us about how much our donations to Lindblad/Nat Geo organizations are needed. We had to sit through this to get to the final ten minutes before dinner, when they told us the details of the next day’s events. These are not provided in advance, so that you don’t forget, and so that you attend the briefing. It was a frustrating experience. We weren’t the only ones with a newspaper or crossword.

-Tipping. I hate the common practices of cruise tipping. I’ll leave it at that.

-Begging. We were all asked to donate at least $500 to the Lindblad/Nat Geo good works funds.

-Food. My husband is a fabulous cook and I am utterly spoiled. Only rarely are meals out better than what I get at home.

Ending on the bright side, here are some of my favorite photos from the trip.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Someone who shares my opinion:

At Sea and Underwhelmed, by Joyce Wadler

Bloobies, Roobies and Nazoobies

Tags

The High-Noon Birding Society held a meeting as we looked toward the skies from lounge chairs on the upper deck of our cruise ship in the Galapagos.  We glanced upward and realized we were being shadowed by magnificent frigate birds. (That’s their official name “Magnificent Frigate birds”). Frigate birds float over the ocean and are incapable of diving into the water (their feathers aren’t waterproof), meaning they steal most of their food from other birds, or skim it off the surface. They look like a cross between a bat and a bird skeleton, and show the close relation of birds and dinosaurs by resembling pterodactyls of the dinosaur era. They attract females by inflating a pouch under their beaks and squawking pathetically. Go figure.

Our first excursion off the ship took us to N. Seymour Island to see nests of frigate birds. The chicks are very cute, the youngest looking like stuffed toys, the slightly older ones rather regal sitting on their pile of sticks.

Here we met our first bloobies (blue footed boobies). Our guides had mentioned three species of birds and we discovered that Bloobies are blue-footed boobies, Roobies are red-footed boobies and Nazoobies are Nazca Boobies (in guide-speak).

Later in the trip, we visited an area where all three species of booby nest in the same area. We have seen Nazoobis, or Nazca boobies, on the coast of Peru, but not the Roobies, Red-footed booby, a tropical species that likes islands. Weird fact, red footed booby feet bend, while the blue footed booby’s feet don’t. Reds nest in trees, blues on the ground.

9.4.18 Pta.Espinoza Fernandina-031crsm.jpg9.5.18 Tagus Cove Isabela boat ridecrsm.jpg

Other birds of note include the Galapagos Flightless Cormorant, such a good swimmer that its wings no longer have much purpose and are small and stunted. The other is everyone’s favorite Humboldt penguin, an unbelievably fast swimmer. In the Galapagos, their motto is “so many fish, so little time.”

What surprised me was that on our tour there was very little discussion of Galapagos finches. These are Darwin’s finches, the ones that adapted from a single original species to the conditions on each island in ways that resulted in their beaks ranging from very thin and pointed (picking insects out of cracks) to very strong and wide (cracking large seeds). There’s even one nicknamed “the vampire finch” because it dive bombs the booby’s tail and sips a bit of blood from it. The speciation of finches is one of Darwin’s observations that led him to consider the question of how evolution occurs. They are very important historically and scientifically.

However. Finches are small and mostly dark colors. They are difficult to see even with binoculars and most people didn’t bring binocs. We realized that Darwin made his observations while sketching specimens that had been killed. Dead birds don’t fly away, and you can measure their beaks carefully. It was a different era, when collecting specimens was more acceptable than it is today.

I was searching for a bird that Amanda was pointing out…..and finally found it.