Posts Tagged ‘Volcano’

Our in-depth look at Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, part three

In part two of Ruthie Stein’s guest post on her trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, she told you all about the island of Santa Cruz and the breeding and rearing program of the giant Galapagos tortoises.

Now Ruthie will take you along the last leg of her tour to the islands of Floreana and Isabela.

I departed Santa Cruz on a two-hour boat ride on the Pacific Ocean towards Floreana, one of the smallest islands in the Galapagos, home to only about 130 people. My ride to the island was on one of  the smaller boats, but the sizes do vary. A majority of them fit a maximum of 20 people.

Here’s how the boats are set up. The front of the boat is covered and has four rows on each side that seat two people each, for a total of 16 passengers.The back of the boat, which is not covered, seats another four passengers for a total of 20. As I learned, if you’re more prone to getting seasick, sitting in the back relieves that feeling somewhat, but you’re also more likely to get wet during the ride. ;)

My ocean-front cabin on Floreana

When I arrived on Floreana, I checked into the Red Mangrove Floreana Lodge. One of the things that amazed me during my trip was how my luggage got from one island to the next. I never had to lift a finger! I’d hand my luggage over when I checked out of one hotel and by the time I arrived in my next hotel room, my luggage was already there. The Red Mangrove’s level of service was exceptional.

The lodge is made up of 10 independent cabins. The wood paneled rooms make you feel like you’re in the middle of the wilderness, until you hear the crash of the waves outside your door. That’s because every single lodge is ocean front!

When you step out of your room, there’s a wooden walkway that ‘s about six or eight feet wide separating you from the beach. The view is spectacular. I was able to see hundreds of sea turtles coming in and out of the water. And the cool breeze from the ocean kept me so comfortable at night that I didn’t need to turn on my air conditioner or use a blanket.

And keeping with their eco-friendly practices, the lodge provides your soap and shampoo in a dispenser, not in little plastic bottles. By refilling the dispensers, the lodge is creating less waste. This is just one of the many steps they take to protect the ecosystems on the island.

A Floreana finch

What set this lodge apart from all the other ones I stayed at was that it did not have a kitchen. Instead, you get to eat your meals with a local family. I ate breakfast with seven or eight other tourists with a family on their outdoor patio. Our hostess served eggs, a plate of cheese, fresh fruit, and yogurt. We also had a choice of cereal, coffee, tea, and fresh juice.

Getting the chance to eat with the local people was not only a delightful experience, but it gave me a chance to understand their culture, and as a bonus, providing meals for tourists helps maintain their livelihood. In addition, every person I met was welcoming, warm, and friendly. Most of the locals speak Spanish, which I do not. But nevertheless, they went above and beyond to make me feel comfortable.

When I was finished fueling up for the day, I spent a lot of time hiking. It’s the best way to see different kinds of indigenous animals and birds. I walked up to the Asilo de la Paz (Peace Asylum), the site of an artesian spring, one of the few year-round sources of fresh water in the Galapagos.

Galapagos penguins

Then I went to the Cueva de los Piratas (Pirate’s Cave), where pirates carved temporary shelter out of soft stone. This was also where Margret Wittmer, one of the original settlers, gave birth to her son Rolf, who promotes responsible tourism to the Galapagos Islands through his foundation. Afterwards I saw a profusion of Floreana finches on Cerro Pajas (Bird Hill) and more Galapagos tortoises at another reserve.

After two days of exploring life on Floreana, I hopped on another two-hour boat ride for Isabela. The amount of wildlife you see when approaching the island is unbelievable. I saw sea turtles, sea lions, and tropical penguins in the turquoise water. But that was nothing compared to what I saw on my tour of the bay.

Some colorful crabs

The blue-footed boobies, colonies of marine iguanas, and crabs were just stunning. I’ve never seen more colorful animals in my entire life. The crabs were a brilliant red and orange, and there was a small canal where you can go snorkeling. I opted not to, but the canal was full of resting white-tipped reef sharks. I was able to see them above the water as the snorkelers swam around them.

But my most memorable moment on this trip happened on Isabela, and it doesn’t include any of the animals I saw. It came in the form of a very tall volcano — Volcan Sierra Negra, to be exact. It’s the second largest volcano in the world and I hiked that baby. :)

We took the cheetah, which is the big truck with a heavy axle and big wheels from the hotel to the base of the volcano. Our naturalist guide led us up the four miles to the top of the volcano. (That’s right. I said four miles.) It had rained a few days prior so the hike was muddy, which made it even more adventurous.

Our trek to the top of the volcano

The route was surrounded by vegetation and lava rock. And just like every other place I had hiked so far, we were not allowed to pick up anything — not a single piece of lava rock or a petal from a flower. This is all done to protect the delicate ecosystem. The only thing we were allowed to take was wild guava fruit that grew along the trail, which was delicious and refreshing.

When our group reached the top of the volcano we explored the caldera and the fissures in the ground from the last eruption (it’s dormant now!). I also took some time to relax and take in the spectacular view of Isabela from the top. Then we began our descent back to the Red Mangrove Isabela Lodge. It was the perfect place to relax after a long hike. The oceanfront lodge has a beautiful wooden deck by the sea and a rooftop terrace with sea vistas for miles.

After my time on Isabela, I went back to Santa Cruz for a night before departing for Quito, which would eventually bring me back home to the U.S. I was sad to leave the beautiful islands, but I was coming home from one of the most amazing experiences of my life that I will never forget.

I was so fortunate to get the opportunity to go to the Galapagos Islands. I can say first-hand that it is one of the most beautiful places on earth that we should never take for granted, and we should do everything in our power to protect and preserve it.

A rainbow over Floreana

Friendly Planet erupts with activity after Iceland volcano blows

As I mentioned in my previous post, I don’t have to tell you about the travel disaster that hit so many people in Europe and elsewhere. I thought you might find it interesting to know what we, at Friendly Planet, did after the volcano in Iceland erupted.

As soon as we heard about it, we called all hands on deck because we had travelers that were crisscrossing Europe, and as far away as India, as part of their travel. We had to try and make sure that we knew where they were, what they needed, and had a steady stream of information going to them about what to do.

We started calling airlines, but that turned out to be a waste of time. The lines were absolutely overloaded and it was impossible to get through. So, we went online in order to reroute as many of our travelers as we could.

We started on Friday and we worked straight through Sunday, getting everyone we could back to the United States. I was impressed and inspired by how hard the Friendly Planet team worked to accommodate everyone and how appreciative many of our travelers were of our efforts.

Mandi Fulk of our air department deserves a special mention here. She became a whirling dervish, simultaneously handling calls, finding odd seats, and piecing together amazing itineraries to get people home quickly. Thanks to her efforts, most of the people who got home in a timely way avoided the extra days and weeks of waiting to get on later flights.

The traveling public probably doesn’t realize that in a crisis, travel agents, like travelers, are forced to slog through on their own. Our industry is fragmented, and full of rules that make things difficult.

It isn’t easy to sift through thousands of flights. When every flight is booked solid and there are literally thousands of travelers competing for those odd seats, finding the seat or two that will bring Mr. and Mrs. Jones home is very difficult. While we didn’t succeed 100 percent, I am very happy to say that we got pretty close. Who is it that said, “the enemy of very good is excellent?”