Day 7–Santa Cruz and the Giant Tortoises

Our last full day in the Galapagos found us on Santa Cruz Island. This was a very different day as there were no choices to be made about where to go today. Everyone on the ship was going to the same place…to drive across Santa Cruz Island. One thing that was different on this day were that we were all asked to wear masks for the first time off the ship in the week. This was because we would be meeting others who were outside our ship’s safety bubble.

After our Zodiac ride to the northernmost point on the island we hopped on busses to drive the entire length of the island to the Charles Darwin Research Center. But on the way an amazing thing happened. You see, so far every island we had visited had either been dry lava rock or dry scrub brush and rock. But Santa Cruz Island is split in half and as we drove south towards the Darwin Center and climbed in elevation, the dry, arid land turned to…rain forest. Seriously, all of a sudden we were driving through clouds. And it was raining. What a huge contrast to the entire previous week of weather.

After driving through some rain, farmland and finally a small town, we arrived at the Darwin Center.  The Center is all about keeping alive all the different species of giant tortoises from all the different islands. They have hundreds of turtles of all ages. The smallest are segregated by the island they came from. Then as they get older they are put into the same pens but with numbers on their shells that indicate the island of their origin.

In still another enclosure were some fully grown giant tortoises. They are truly amazing creatures. These were being kept apart because they can’t be sure which island they came from and they do not want to cross-pollinate species. As you can see from my photos, these animals are amazing. Later in the day we would see them in wild.

After our visit we headed back into the hills to visit the Manzanillo Ranch for lunch but before we got there we stopped to do some community service. Celebrity supports a reforestation project that removes invasive species and replaces them with the kind of plants that are native to the island. It was an interesting experience. Because we were planting them a ways off the road, our bus stopped (blocking half the road) and we got out and found a row of chairs and a pair of rubber boots that we swapped for our shoes. We then grabbed a trowel and two seedling trees and then we headed into the jungle. There we found pre-dug holes that we dropped the seedlings into and from there we just covered them, took pics of each other, changed our boots (while they stopped cars—it was almost funny to see this row of chairs standing on the road) and we were off to Manzanillo Ranch for lunch.

At the ranch they had a very nice covered area where a delicious buffet lunch was served. Again, just like the ship, no one was allowed to serve themselves and all the servers were masked. Lunch was tasty and was followed by an Ecuadorian folk dance performance by students from the island dressed in colorful, traditional colors . Celebrity has been supporting this group for a while including sending them to a folk dance competition to Italy.

I need to mention something that was so typically Galápagos. While I was taking these photos of the dancers in a covered area at a ranch, all I had to do was turn around in the exact spot where I was standing to take this photo. A giant tortoise that seems to have come along to see the performance himself.

After lunch we were allowed to go onto the rest of the grounds on the ranch to see the tortoises close up. Some notes about that short walk. As we started to leave the enclosure, the rain picked up and that meant my camera went into my dry bag so I didn’t get very many pics of the big guys in the wild. But I had so many from the Darwin Center, that was OK with me. Another thing that was very interesting was when a fellow traveler asked our naturalist who owned these tortoises, the ranch or the National Park that bordered it? His answer was, “No one owns them. They own themselves and can go anywhere they want on these islands. That is our  law.” In fact we were told if you were a rancher or a farmer, you could be fined for using any fencing that would block the tortoises from migrating. Speaking of migrating, our friend Fausto who runs the Celebrity operations in the Galapagos told us he had been to the ranch less than two weeks before to finalize the lunch plans and when he was there he saw two or three tortoises. Two weeks later while we were there we saw hundreds. They were migrating to the higher elevations. There were so many on the road leaving the ranch, it made it hard for our bus driver to get off the property. Think of driving in a sheep ranching area and running into a bunch of sheep on the road and have to stop until they moved. Now imagine it at tortoise speed 😀.

After our tortoise experience it was back to the ship for our final dinner, packing to leave and sad farewells. But in the meantime, here’s the balance of today’s pics.

I will be back tomorrow with some notes on the ship and our room. See you then.

 

Day 6–South Plaza and Santa Cruz

Good day readers! As I write this I am sitting in our good friend Cathy’s living room in Wellington, Florida. As I think I mentioned before I am planning on doing four more posts after this one. One to cover Day 7, another to answer questions, a third to talk about the ship and our stateroom (with video) and the last one to kind of sum things up…with a very few complaints, so stick with me please.

South Plaza Island

Just off Santa Cruz Island (the Galapagos most populated island) are two very small islands, North and South Plaza Islands. On a map they look like two halves of a circle with missing pieces at the top and bottom. Smaller boats (up to 30 people) anchor in between them during the night. Here’s what our schedule looked like:

This morning we again had the choice of a long or short walk. Kathleen took the short walk and I took the long one. This one was a real eye opener. Not for the fauna (because as you will see in the photos, there were plenty of the usual suspects) but because of the flora. All of the islands we had been on before this had been either green (foliage), black (lava) or brown (scrub brush) but South Plaza was lit up like New England in the fall. Not on trees but on the ground. And the cacti looked like a forest sometimes…after a fire when only a few good trees are still standing.

It was drop dead gorgeous. Especially since the weather was also pretty good or a long walk. This was the windiest island we were on. And that meant the amazing seaman who drive the Zodiacs had a heck of time getting us on and off. We thought that was the toughest we had seen them have doing a dry landing…until that afternoon. So here’s my pics of our morning hike. I truly loved this walk as it was like being in an entirely different type of island.

Dragon’s Hill, Santa Cruz Island

In the afternoon we headed to the island of Santa Cruz for what we were told would be a “fast walk.” Which meant as our cruise director Betina told us, “More walk, less talk.” But it seems we found time for both. I want to add here if you take the longer walk, it is fast. We were moving. I walk 4-6 miles a day at home at just over 15 minutes per mile and I found this one to be strenuous. Mostly because of the trails.

This is called Dragon’s Hill because of the plethora of land iguanas of very large size. So you will have to endure a few more to those. But to me the big revelation (for the second time that day) was the geology. Many of my fellow walkers felt it looked like Mars (with water) or the Moon (again with water 😀). Check out the photos to see what I mean.

One thing to know if you take this walk—it is HOT! Even with a breeze. So take lots of water. You will need it. And thus ends day six. I really liked this day. Just when I thought they couldn’t show us anything different, they did. These were two awesome hikes I would not have wanted to miss. But day seven was even more different. I should have that for you tomorrow but later in the day as we don’t fly from Fort Lauderdale today until 6:30 pm EDT and don’t arrive in SEA until 10:00 pm PDT. So who knows how we late we will get up. Plus I want to walk, need to shop for groceries and then collapse 😀.

 

Day 5–Morning Fernandia, Afternoon Isabela

First, if you are following this blog note that I posted twice yesterday (Sunday). I hope to get this one out early Monday but it may be later. So you didn’t get two e-mails by mistake, there is another post.

Morning on Fernandina

In our previous daily episode (interrupted by those pesky questions and answers) we had finished the afternoon of day four. Day five found us exploring Fernandia Island in the morning and going back to Isabela Island in the afternoon but we had moved to Punta Vicente Roca. Here’s our Day Five schedule.

As you can see, in the morning we had a choice of a long or a short walk. I took the long one and Kathleen took the short one. My long one was excellent as we got to see more of the usual animals and I finally got some good shots of the Sally Lightfoot crabs as well as lots more pictures I like of the marine iguanas, sea lions and a Galapagos hawk. Today’s walk was all over some incredible lava with huge fissures as you can see from the pics.

Afternoon cruising around Isabella

Our afternoon choices were fairly limited. Since we SURE would not be doing the “Deep Water Snorkel” we had a choice of a tender ride or a tender ride. We chose the tender ride 😜. We took the earlier of the two because they wanted to use the later ones for the people coming back from the snorkeling.

This one was very cool. Even though we are seeing some of the same animals, we are seeing totally different habitat and varying landscapes. This one included sightings of lava gulls, female frigate birds, more blue-footed boobys, sea lions and penguins again! YEAH! We also got to see some amazing geology. Here’s what we saw:

As I write this, we are sitting in the airport in Quito waiting for our flight to Miami. Had to be awake at 2:50 to make this flight at 6:30. The airport is packed. It took us an hour to get through all the checks and we are in Business Class so we were quicker through check in. Then we had go through security (computers out, belts and watches off but you can keep your shoes on which is good since I have my boots on and they are a pain to lace)

It seems as if all the flights in and out of Quito are either very early in the morning or very late at night. Part of our group that was going to Houston left around midnight and others around 2:30 am. We did not hear of anyone who had a midday day flight so everyone was either up really early or still up really late. Looking at the departures boards it looks like very little departs Quito after about 9:00 am until late tonight. That is only a good thing in one way…unlike Miami airport where everything was closed prior to our 6:30 am flight down here, here everything is open. I told Kathleen with the schedules the airlines have in Quito, this is the only time they can sell anything. And when I say everything is open, I mean EVERYTHING! You can buy a Panama hat (which comes from Ecuador) at 30% off right in front of me 😜.

Day Four–Afternoon on Isabella

In our previous episode…before the food, we were on Isabella Island in the morning and afternoon found us there as well but Flora had moved north to Urbina Bay. Our choices were a short walk or…a short walk, with snorkeling. If you have been reading all of this, then you know that we are NOT snorkeling so for us it was just a short walk. That was OK because by today, we were exhausted.

Here’s the Day four schedule:

As you will see from the pictures, we joined naturalist Juan Carlos and found our first land iguanas as well as some finches. Finches are a huge part of the Galapagos as they helped Darwin formulate his theory of evolution. While there are finches on every island, they have all adapted into almost another species. Some of have grown longer beaks to be able to grab for seeds that are deeper into brush, while others nest on the ground as there are no predators to bother them.

So when I post the gallery, you will see that most of my pics are of finches and land iguanas. The land iguanas are much more colorful than their marine iguanas who are mostly black to hide themselves on the rocks onshore. The land iguanas also blend in very well to their hot and dry environment being predominately tan, orange and red. In the case of both iguanas, if you are here, you have to be very careful where you walk when you are in their environment because it would be easy to step on one. It always amazes me when we are walking and I see one sitting less than a food away from my foot.

So, here’s the pics with some captions. Back soon with answers to the rest of the questions I have and with Day 5. I am writing this on our last morning on board and it’s 9:04 am and we don’t get off the ship until 11:40 so I have two solid hours to write and do photos.

Day Four and More!

So I have some questions but first day four. (In fact I am going to answer the questions in the next post so I can get this one online. Sorry to give you so much to read but there is so much happening.) We are still having an amazing time. How amazing a time? Well the route we are traveling on this week on Flora is called the Outside Route. It hits certain islands. Celebrity (by direction of the Galapagos National Park) must have two different routes with alternating schedules. So to tell you how much we are now enjoying this trip we were actually discussing at lunch coming back in the future to do the Inner Route. When we had dinner with the Captain and the Chief Engineer they both told us that their favorite island was Bartolome and it was on the Inside Route. So maybe we have to see that. 😁

On day four both our tours were on Isabella Island, the largest of the archipelago. Here’s today’s schedule:

In the morning I chose the long walk and Kathleen chose the short walk. I should also tell you that as you can see they also combined both of those with an “extended tender ride” which meant that after our long walk we took the long way back to the ship stopping to take pics at very slow speed. We saw so much. BTW: The “very rocky trail” was hardened lava. And since this was dry landing we had to get off on lava and we stayed on it for almost the entire way. Most of our “long walks” are about two miles but over very rocky trails. The lava varied between types but no matter which type it was (and I know what the types are but I can’t spell them. I will see if I can find Ellen our resident (for our cruise) scientist and get the rights ones.).

One other thing I want to say before I drop in the pics is that so far, this was my best day photographically. I took a photo which I consider my second best shot ever. See if you can figure out which one it is. Those of you who follow me on FB and Insta already should have a good clue. Remember, if you look at these photos on a computer or a tablet, you can click a photo and use your arrow keys to go through a slide show at full screen.

See you soon with answers to your questions and about food! And then I will tell you about day four’s afternoon excursions.

 

 

Stopping at the Post Office…Barrel

This one will be short just to bring you up to date on the afternoon of Day 3. This was a short, wet landing stop to see the Post Office Barrel.

In the olden days (17 and 1800s) whalers would be away from families for months on end, sometimes years. And they would stop on this part of Floreana Island. On the island someone had installed a giant barrel (in the pics below) and the sailors and whalers would leave a letter for their families and if they were headed home, they would pick up letters for others families, promising to deliver them, in person, when they returned to their European country of origin.

That tradition exists today. So after a wet landing we took a short walk off the beach to the barrel. Inside were hundreds (maybe thousands) of postcards that we could take and hand deliver if we lived or were going to that area of the world. We spent about 20 minutes going through the ones that were in there at this time and a few people took ones to deliver. There was on headed to Seattle but it had just been put there three days before and we didn’t want to be delivering it before they got back home 😜.

After we finished with the post office barrel we jumped back on the Zodiac and went for a slow ride. We saw more blue footed boobys, sea lions and a few other birds. It was awesome.

Here’s the pics. Don’t forget you can click the first one and it will open full screen and then use your left or right arrow to scroll through them.

See you back real soon with Day 4.

Galapagos Day 3—So much to see, so little time

Every day gets better and better after the day one hiccups. This has gone from a cruise that was not making me happy to one of the best traveling experiences of my life. But I do have a warning if you are planning on sailing on Flora—it is exhausting. I have never been so tired on a trip in my entire life. You have seen our daily schedules (Day 3 is below) and I can honestly say that if you do everything (and you HAVE to do EVERYTHING) you will be so worn out at the end of the day you will literally pass out when your head hits the pillow. You know the old joke about needing a vacation from a vacation? Well, this is that vacation.

Here was our schedule for Day 3 on Flora

Every morning we are up between 6:00 and 6:30. I am normally a person who likes to shower in the morning but on this cruise I have already taken two showers by the end of the day—one after the morning excursion and one after the afternoon excursion. Mostly to get all the sand and sunscreen off but also because on some of the “walks” (hikes in real life) can you leave you very hot and sweaty.

This morning (actually two days ago) we started with a wet landing at Point Cormorant on Floreana Island. I am not sure if I explained what the difference between wet and dry landings is, so here goes—besides the obvious you need to know that the Zodiacs that Celebrity uses are amazing pieces of machinery and they are custom built for the Galapagos. On the front there is a set of steps that you use to get off and on the ship. I had seen that in photos prior to coming but I will be honest that I had no clue that when you got off the ship on a beach, that the area just to the right of the steps goes down so that you can step right off the Zodiac. When we do a wet landing it is just that. Your feet get wet as you step off. On a dry landing you are normally going to step off onto rocks that are about level with the top of the steps of the Zodiac. This means when we have done a wet landing I wear Tevas so they can get wet and when we do a dry we are usually doing a longer hike so I wear my hiking boots. BTW: Those are the only shoes I have with me on this trip and that seems to be all I need. I usually go to the dining room and everywhere else on the ship in the Tevas and save the hiking boots for hiking.

On Floreana we had a “long easy walk” from one side of the island to the other to one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. Unfortunately there is not a lot of swimming off this beach as we could see a bunch of rays swimming in the shallows and there are sometimes Galapagos sharks just offshore. The naturalists told us that neither of those species is aggressive but if you step on ray by mistake you will get stung and it may put you out of capacity for a day or two.

On the way across we stopped to see and hear about a number of both geological and fauna related facts. I can’t begin to tell you how much I have learned on this trip. And I have not been disappointed yet on any of our excursions. There was a large lagoon that we hoped to see flamingos in but it was not to be. I have to constantly remind myself that this is NOT a zoo. Animals and birds move where they want to but there are plenty of them and the naturalists know where to go to find them if they aren’t where they are expected.

One thing that I haven’t shown you yet is how close you can get to the animals. Some people have commented on FB or Insta asking how far away I was and what kind of lens was I shooting with—it must have been a long zoom lens. In most cases the animals or birds were within a few feet of me. For instance, yesterday I posted the first photo below of two albatrosses doing their courtship dance. I was pretty close when I took it. About as close as the people in the second photo. And the animals and birds just don’t care. Only the smallest birds scurry away. Albatross, blue-footed boobys, Nasca boobys, marine iguanas, land iguanas, sea lions…all just stay right where they are and you have to walk around them. (Keep in mind that in a browser you can click these pics to see a larger view.)

Some other amazing sites I was able to see during our morning excursion to  Floreana included these shots.

Amazingly enough, this was just our morning. Seriously. Wait until you see the afternoon. Coming soon to a travel blog near you.

Again, please forgive the typos as Kathleen just doesn’t have time to proof them before I put them up. And ask questions if you have them.

 

All is well in the Galapagos!

Jim’s Note: I am going to put this disclaimer at the top of every post throughout this trip. If you are reading this in an e-mail, STOP! Click the headline above and go to the post in a web browser on the largest screen you have. I promise when you see the photos, you will appreciate them so much more.

After our first day Kathleen told me it would all work out. And it has. First with my non-sleep incident and then yesterday Kathleen got herself a migraine headache after lunch and stayed in bed until this morning. But everything has worked out and today (Tuesday-Day 3) was marvelous. Day 2 for me (without the migraine) was also amazing. Especially the afternoon walk. More about that later.

Question and Answer Time

But first I have had some questions. Here’s the answers:
1) There are 57 passengers on the ship (max is 100) so we have it pretty nice.
2) Things have calmed down as far as this being the first cruise back. Everything is now back to normal (from what we have been told by the crew).
3) The food (especially lunch and dinner have been superb. Lots of fresh fish and great Ecuadorian dishes for me to try. Their food is amazing with things really being fresh. It kill me to overhear those at the other tables ordering “steak or chicken and not that weird food.” I am always all in on the local food. And unlike most cruises, this one gives you the ability to eat like a native. And their food is so much healthier.
4) We have two choices of places to eat. There is an open deck grille on deck 7 and the regular dining room on deck 4. You can pretty much wear anything you want to either. I have been going to both in shorts, Martini Mates izod shirt and sandals. I might dress a little better tonight because we are eating with the captain. But since all I have with me are Tevas and hiking boots, I won’t be too fancy.
5) The captain and about 95% of the crew are Ecuadorian. The hotel director is from Canada (near Toronto) and we have seen a few other badges with different countries but not many.
6) The naturalist guides are incredible. They seem to know everything. Most of them have been doing this for 10+ years or more. I hang on their every word. And I can’t believe how much I have gotten into science on this trip…already. We have a world renown scientist/geologist/oceanographer (Ellen J. Prager) on this cruise and she is so interesting. Went to hear her talk about the geology of the islands today and it was really good.
7) We figured out why most of the ship was always late to everything. The ship operates on Quito time. Ships of over 40 people sailing the Galapagos are asked by the national park to do that. It regulates the number of people on each island. But the guides (who are supposed to be the ones who tell us about that) forgot. Kathleen and I had known that from our research, thus we were always on time. Others were running about an hour late. Quito is on CST and the Galapagos run at MST. Once they got that through everyone’s thick head, things are going much more smoothly.

I think that covers the questions. I will be happy to answer any others. Just post them as comments.

Now let’s talk Monday. Here was the schedule:

In the morning we chose to do the Gardner Bay Beach walk and swim or snorkel. The walk was awesome. That’s where I got all those crazy sea lion pictures. They are a hoot. But as much as I loved the walk, I did not enjoy the snorkel. Previously I had mentioned that I had tried snorkeling a few months ago in a hotel pool but people, it’s not the same. For one thing, even though I had tried the snorkel, I had not worn flippers. That messed me up like nobody’s business. I have never worn flippers before and I found myself just tossed about and not able to do much of anything. I could see the bottom directly below me. I could even feel it with my knee but darned if I could stand up. Also, I did give it a try for about five minutes but saw nothing but the bottom. When I asked someone coming out of the water who had been snorkeling for a while, they pointed to a rock formation about 2/3 of a mile out and said, “You have to go over there to see the best fish.” For someone who does not swim on a regular basis and is not incredibly comfortable in the water, that was it for me.

Especially since most of the rest of the snorkeling is off a Zodiac in deep water with strong currents and they are really telling us you have to be a good swimmer (I am not) and an experienced snorkeler (I am not that either). So for this week I will stick to  the beach and putting my feet in.

Speaking of putting my feet in you may notice on the schedule that it says “wet landing” or “dry landing.” When we do the wet landing, the Zodiacs have this really cool front end that bends down so that you can just walk off into about a foot of water. When we do a dry landing, they are able to put us on rocks or a pier.

In the afternoon, I had a dry landing on another part of Espanola (Pt. Suarez). Kathleen had developed her migraine and was sleeping in our darkened stateroom…which gets very dark. Even though window/sliding door is the full width of the stateroom, it has great blackout curtains that open and close with a switch. How cool is that—motorized.

That afternoon hike was mind blowing. We walked through groups of sea lions, then on a very, VERY rocky trail through albatross nesting areas seeing the albatross, blue footed boobys, Nasca Boobys. (formerly known as masked boobys), Galapagos Hawks, Espanola snake, marine iguana, frigate birds and a few other specimen I can’t remember. Just suffice it to say that you couldn’t look one way or another without seeing something. And getting close to it. I specifically took some photos that show humans as well so you can see how close we could get to the animals.

I have so much to tell you but I wanted to get this posted so you would know that all is well here in Galapagos-land. So here’s some pics with captions.

 

 

Off to Quito

Disappointing Flights

(Hope you don’t mind me posting twice in one day but I wanted to share a bunch of stuff that happened today.) As I mentioned in an earlier post, our buddy Mike took us to Miami Airport at 2:15 am so we could get there by 3:30 which would be the recommended three hours before our 6:30 am international flight on Copa Air. This flight had been hard to come by so we took what we could get even if it meant that we had to get up way before dawn.

If you have never heard of Copa Air, they are the national airline of Panama. Originally we had a non-stop flight on American Airlines but that was cancelled last weekend and the best we could do was a one-stop trip from Miami through Panama City to Quito. The good news was we still got to keep our business class seats on both flights. But that turned out to just be an OK thing as Copa Air’s idea of business class differs widely from what we have experienced in Business or First class before.

When we arrived at the airport we were so early that there was no place open to even grab a cup of coffee. In fact there was no place open at all. To grab anything. And to the best of my knowledge nothing opened before we took off at 6:38. On our flight we got two cups of really bad coffee, a ham and cheese croissant and a very dry granola bar. The seats were much like US domestic air FC seats. Fairly comfortable but certainly no place to lie back and sleep. I need to mention we were flying on a Boeing 737-8. You will see why in a minute.

Our flight from Miami to Panama City was just a little more than two hours. We arrived in Panama City in just enough time to get from our arriving gate to our departing gate. Once we reached our new gate, we boarded within minutes. And once on board we were pleasantly surprised to see full lay down seats in a section that looked like a true business class section. And this was on exactly the same 737-8 plane that we had just gotten off. Sadly, this flight was just about 90 minutes so even though we had the seats to sleep in, there just wasn’t time to sleep.

When we saw the seats we thought maybe we would get something a little better to eat and drink but that was not to be. We were offered a bag of pretzels, a small bag of cookies and a can of Perrier for me and a ginger ale for Kathleen. One thing I am very happy about is that we did not spend our own money to upgrade as Celebrity arranged our air. If you ever get a chance to fly Business class on Copa Air, give it a pass.

Quito!

We did it! We finally arrived in Ecuador and we have much to report if you are planning on cruising the Galapagos with Celebrity post-pandemic…at least for awhile.

When we landed in Quito we made it through customs in no time and with a minimum of questions. There was a temperature check and we had to show our vaccination cards but after they checked those, we headed to passport control. We were very lucky because our flight (which was not full) was the only international flight landing at the time and being in the front of the plane, we got to the health check and passport control very quickly. Our luggage took a little longer so getting through customs inspection (they didn’t inspect anything) took a little longer. Once on the other side of security in a very nice and clean airport we used the facilities and I was about to try and contact Celebrity here in Ecuador when a man walked up to us holding a Celebrity sign. Within minutes we were in the van and on our way to the EB Hotel.

Pre-COVID this was an 11 day trip with two nights and a full day in Quito before the Galapagos segment and then a day after in Quito as well. But due to the COVID conditions Celebrity wanted to keep us out of downtown Quito. So instead of the regular hotel they use (The JW Marriott–Quito) we were at the EB Hotel near the airport.

If you are coming, do not worry about it being near the airport. These three photos show you the area around the hotel.

We have been here for at least five hours and have not heard a single airplane.  By keeping us near the airport we will be able to go right back to the airport tomorrow morning for our flight to Baltra where we embark on Flora.

The hotel itself is modern, new and beautiful and the rooms rock. Here’s a quick tour of ours. It is easier to see the video if you click the headline at the top of the e-mail and read the entire post in a web browser.

As you can see. it is pretty darned impressive. A true suite which we did not expect at all. Kathleen says to tell the ladies that if you are staying here, the products in the bathroom are all very high quality so you don’t have to plan for those. And Celebrity left us some really nice water bottles, a bottle of horchata (a plant-milk based South American beverage) and a health goodie bag with a mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer.

After getting settled into our suite we found lots of info from Celebrity including instructions about the included dinner and breakfast as well as all the hoops we will need to jump through before we can get on the plane to Baltra and the islands in the morning. Here’s our schedule:

Breakfast is 6:30 to 10:00 either in the restaurant or via room service. But either way we have to have our luggage in the hall outside our rooms by 8:00 am when they will collect it for inspection by the Galapagos Agricultural Authorities. They are making sure we have no organic materials coming into the islands that could change the environment there. To be honest, I totally understand their doing this but I hate the idea of them going through my bag because everything BARELY fits in the small carry-on I am taking for this trip. I have to be VERY careful when zipping it up or I will either break the zippers or catch my clothing inside. But we did find out later that we don’t have to put out our carry-ons. That made me happy as I don’t want them messing with my camera or this MacBook Pro.

We are also scheduled (we don’t have our time yet) to be health-screened sometime between 7:00 am and 11:00 am. We will have to go to their health screening room, get our temp checked (mine has been taken twice today already) take an antigen test, provide proof of vaccination and be approved for our flight.

At 11:00 am they will load us into vans and move us back to the airport for the 90 minute charter flight to Baltra. I will give you a full report on that flight tomorrow if the internet connection on the ship is a good one.

Celebrity seems to have this all really well taken care of. We have seen some folk in the lobby area we know are on the ship with us and we met the head of sales and marketing (Susanna) for Celebrity Galapagos who will be sailing with us. But I also know that some poor folks won’t arrive until the last Copa flight in tonight at 11:30 pm and they will have to be up doing the same things we will have do to tomorrow.

If you are sailing on Flora while they are still doing their pre-cruise at the EB hotel, here’s a tip for you. Request a parking lot view. We have a pool view and it faces west. And the afternoon sun beating against the windows (even though it is only 60F something outside) has made our room really warm. I have the thermostat set to 18 C but the AC just can’t keep up with the sun and it’s 23C in the room right now. Love the view from here but wish it was a little cooler and hoping it cools down once the sun sets in the next 15 minutes.

Another note about the hotel; because of the lousy food on the plane we were ready for lunch when we got here and the restaurant in the hotel (Tabla Bella) makes superb food. Kathleen had a wonderful salad and I wanted to try two Ecuadorian appetizers. I got the empanadas (they were OK) and something called an arepa. It’s two pieces of masa stuffed with avocado (they LOVE avocados here), shredded, braised beef and cheese with a side of their wonderful avocado sauce to dip it in. Pics are below to make your mouth water.

Humid but fun Florida

 

Day 1

Our first day of travel started with a pickup by Century Car Service out of Seattle. We have used a variety of car services to get to the airport in the past but our neighbor and best buddy Lisa recommended these guys as people that she had used personally and when making arrangements for her team at Microsoft so we decided to give them a try. We are glad we did. Not only did our driver arrive on time but he called us the night before to verify the pickup time and advise us that our day to fly was going to be VERY busy so maybe we would want to get picked up 15 minutes earlier. That’s service. We said yes and when I went to open the garage door to watch for his 5:30 arrival at 5:15, he was already parked in front of the house.

At SEA in plenty of time, got through TSA pre-check in minutes and were sitting in the Concourse C First Class lounge in no time. Had a nice (if pre-packaged) breakfast before our flight and then off we went on Alaska Air to Fort Lauderdale. A totally full but thoroughly enjoyable flight. Great service, not too bumpy until landing and even then the Captain set her down beautifully.

Got our bags and called for our car service to pick us up. We were using Mike & Cathy Limos out of Wellington, Florida 😜. Seriously, we were picked up by Mike Priesman, one of our oldest friends and his new lady love, Cathy, one of our newest. We headed north with a dinner stop at what is probably my favorite traditional Greek restaurant outside of Greece, Chris’ Taverna. They serve my favorite food in the best way possible—incredibly fresh and it’s incredibly good. A bare minimum of sauce—my octopus was perfect, my trip complete—NOT. But it was really good.

After dinner we headed back to Cathy’s gorgeous house where I slept so darned well you would have thought I was on vacation 😀. If you are looking for a place to stay in South Florida, we highly recommend it. Great bed, super water pressure, lots of hot water, the owner/manager is a sweetheart but you have to watch out for the bellhop. He’s a little strange.

Day 2

After a wonderful nights sleep and a superb breakfast we were picked up by the Cathy & Mike Tour Company who took us to see the Jupiter Lighthouse. It’s a really pretty and very historical lighthouse in Jupiter (former home of Burt Reynolds and current home of Tiger Woods) just north of where we are staying. The still-functioning lighthouse is a great subject for photography and you can climb the 100+ step spiral staircase and step out onto the deck that runs all the way around the outside.

Only problem we ran into was…thunder and lightning. As soon as I got to the top and stepped out onto the platform, I heard the attendant tell the people behind me (Mike and Cathy) that, “Sorry, we have to send everyone back down because of the weather.” Of course I was already outside so I continued around the platform taking photos and that’s what you see above.

While I was shooting I could see the lightening not that far away and when the first huge clap of thunder hit I got myself off that platform in a big hurry. We were down and gone to the Visitor’s Center where they were kind enough to refund our admission even though I told them I had gotten up there for a few minutes. They said I should have been able to stay longer and it was very nice of them insisting on the refund. The lighthouse (on a non-stormy day) is a cool experience and I highly recommend stopping by if you are in the area.

Next up was lunch at Square Grouper, a fun hole-in-the-wall, right-on-the-water spot just across the waterway from the lighthouse. I got to try what I was told by Mike and Cathy is a Florida delicacy—Mahi Mahi sandwich. A big blackened Mahi Mahi fillet sandwich with cheese and grilled onions. It came with some of the best fries have had in years.

This about covered our day so far. Tonight we are going to a free concert in a nearby park and tomorrow doing a scenic boat tour on the Intercoastal Waterway. This tour company is awesome!

Anything for the quick life, as the man said when he took the situation at the lighthouse. —Charles Dickens