Podcast Episode 018 : Galapagos Adventure
Today we explore many of the islands made famous by Charles Darwin on this Galapagos adventure travel experience. On this multi-sport adventure, we hike, bike, snorkel and stand up paddle board (surfing and scuba diving are also options)!
Plus, instead of doing a typical cruise tour of the islands, we'll actually be sleeping on the islands on this land-based tour, which makes for a more intimate experience.
We are joined today by Kris Henning of TravelPast50.com.
Galapagos Adventure Travel opportunities
Hike up to the massive caldera on Sierra Negro
Snorkel (or scuba dive) around Kicker's Rock and in pirate coves and beaches
Kayak around caves and coves
Bike from villages to the local restaurant or to watch the sunset
Some beaches are great for surfing, too!
Kris recommends spending ten days (including travel to and from Quito, Ecuador) in order to visit all four habited islands – more time if you can. Be sure to download the FREE Travel Planner to help you determine when the best time is for you to go. My favorite land-based small tour company for the Galapagos is one of my affiliate companies, Active Adventures (similar name to ATA but a different company).
|10 Days, including travel to/from Quito, Ecuador|
|Day 1: Arrive Quito|
|Day 2: Fly to San Cristobal; cycle San Cristobal highlands|
|Day 3: Snorkel Kicker Rock and Isla Lobos|
|Day 4: Snorkel and hike Floreana Island|
|Day 5: Isabela and snorkel Tintoreras|
|Day 6: Hike up Sierra Negra volcano (caldera is 9km wide!) and Volcan Chico lava fields (optional lava tunnels)|
|Day 7: Kayak Isabela Bay and visit Tortoise Breeding Center|
|Day 8: Hike Santa Cruz highlands and Tortuga Bay. Visit giant tortoises.|
|Day 9: Visit Charles Darwin Research Station and return to Quito|
|Day 10: Depart for home or consider exploring Ecuador mainland – (see Travel Planner for recommendations)|
Why a Land Based Tour?
Most folks visit the Galapagos on cruise ships, but I recommend a land based tour because you will have a more intimate experience with both the land and its people.
Instead of sleeping on the boat each night, you'll be in the local towns and eat and mix with locals. Obviously, since you are visiting several islands, even the land based tours have you moving about by boat. Going on a small group tour means smaller boats which also means you can get closer to cool bays and coves.
Galapagos Island Travel Planner
This printer-friendly planner has all the links and details on a handy two page planner to make it super easy to have all the info you need to plan in a single resource: Weather, suggested itinerary, safety, tour company recommendations, insurance, airports and airlines, visa info and much more!
Scroll down to see plenty more photographs!
You can read the complete transcript at the bottom of the page
History of the Galapagos 00:00- 07:32
04:11 Charles Darwin
11:59 How the islands were created
13:37 Intro to our guest, Kris Henning
15:59 Kris explains the history
20:18 Land based vs cruise based touring of the Galapagos Islands
25:06 Kris' adventures
26:27 Kicker Rock
28:35 Lava tunnels
31:12 Water is a scarce resource
37:47 Animals – are they everywhere?
40:20 Weather and what to wear/pack
41:37 What if you don't speak Spanish?
42:36 How's the food?
43:23 Calle de Kioskos
44:25 Turtles vs tortoises
48:04 Difficulty rating of Galapagos adventure travel
49:00 How long to visit there?
51:00 Travel Past 50
54:33 How did Kris get into adventure travel
Kris Henning joins us from her Travel Past 50 award-winning blog! She and her husband had an amazing multi-sport, land-based adventure on the Galapagos Islands and she shares her stories with us on today's podcast.
Read Kris' award winning blog post on her adventure in the Galapagos Islands!
Land-based touring of the Galapagos Islands is the way to go!
This is the documentary Kris mentions in the interview.
Many thanks to Kris Henning, who with her husband, Tom, had an amazing Galapagos adventure! You can reach out to them on their Travel Past 50 blog or on all social channels.
TRAVEL PAST 50
WINNERS OF EIGHT 2017 NATJA AWARDS FOR JOURNALISTIC EXCELLENCE
Hit the Google Translate button at the bottom of the page to view in another language 🙂
Kit: 00:00 I don't know about you, but anytime I think about the Galapagos Islands, I just think about the animals. Who knew that it has a fascinating history and it's a great place for adventure? I just thought you could only go on the little tour boats: Get Out, look at the animals, take a picture and get back on the boat. Today we're going to learn there's another way to explore the Galapagos Islands. This is the Active Travel Adventures podcast and I'm your host, Kit Parks. In this episode number 18, we're going to learn that when you go to the Galapagos Islands it's not just about picture taking. You can also snorkel, scuba dive, kayak, and hike, so let's get started.
Kit: 00:35 The Galapagos Islands sit about 500 nautical miles off the coast of Ecuador and are a part of Ecuador. The islands are on the equator in the Pacific Ocean. It's an archipelago of volcanic islands and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978. The Galapagos are comprised of eighteen main islands, three small islands and 107, I would just call them really, really big rocks and islets. Of all of these volcanoes, the only one that's currently active at the time of this recording is Fernandina, which erupted again in 2009 and it's still active today so you can get up kind of close, but not too, too close for safety reasons. The island of Isabella is shaped like a sea horse because multiple volcanoes merged together with the shifting tectonic plates and it's the only island that the equator actually runs directly through.
Kit: 01:32 On Isabella, you're going to have a great chance to see land and marine iguanas, the big tortoises, Darwin finches, the flightless cormorants, and lots more. On San Cristobal island, you'll be able to see the frigates, the sea lions, both the blue and the red footed boobies and some dolphins. And most popular is Santa Cruz island, which is also the most populated and that's where the Charles Darwin Research Center is, and where they hadve the Tortoise Breeding Center. It's also famous for its lava tunnels. In Black Turtle cove, you might see some sting rays, sea turtles, and small sharks meeting amongst the mangroves. You think that sitting on the equator that the weather would be the same throughout the year, but actually that has two distinct seasons and also it depends on what altitude you're at. On a couple of the islands, say Fernandina, it gets up to 4,900 feet tall and Isabella gets up to 5,600 feet, so you're going to get a little bit colder as you get up there.
Kit: 02:21 The two distinct seasons, are Gaurua, which is June through November, and you're going to find that the temperature near the coast is going to be around 72 degrees Fahrenheit/22 Celsius, but there's going to be a steady south to southeast cold wind, that's going to cause a lot of gauruas, which is drizzly weather. So much of the day is going to be drizzly and foggy and can conceal the islands. From December through May is the warm season and the temperature's gonna increase about five degrees Fahrenheit and there could be almost no wind, but you'll get some periodic strong rains, but then the sun breaks through so you can choose whether you want to have the drizzle or a quick strong rain and then see some sunshine.
Kit: 03:23 The Galapagos Islands has a fascinating history. They can see from artifacts that have been found that pre Colombian South Americans visited the islands, but because they found no burial sites, they don't believe there were any settlements before the Spanish arrived, and they got there in 1535 by accident, when a sailor drifted off course when he was in route to Peru. Despite the balmy weather, the islands themselves aren't very hospitable to humans. There's not a lot of fresh water and all those volcanoes have created a lot of a very sharp, sharp rocks, so that's going to tear your feet up or tear your shoes up. And for a long time, the only people that ever used the islands were pirates in the late 1700's. The whalers realized that they could use the island as kind of a base camp and collect these large tortoises which they could bring on board and use for food for many months because the tortoises themselves can go months without food or water, and a lot of these whalers almost hunted lot of large tortoises to extinction. And the fur seal hunters, which followed, did the same with some of the seals.
Kit: 04:11 The first permanent resident was an Irishman who got marooned. He survived by hunting and he managed to grow a small garden and then he traded with the visiting whalers. Then one day he stole a boat and escaped. In the 1800's, large pods of whales were discovered. So that brought a massive influx of whalers who then use the island as a somewhat of a post office to send and receive letters, dock the ships for repairs, etc. Then in 1832, Ecuador took over the archipelago, and the new governor brought over convicts to populate the island Floriana. A couple years later, the HMS Beagel captained by Robert Fitzroy, stopped by to do some surveying. Charles Darwin was on board. At the time, he was mainly a geologist and he was inspired and fascinated by this land of craters. He noticed that the mockingbirds were different on the different islands, and so Darwin mentions this observation to somebody who goes, “Hey, those big tortoises are also different on the different islands!”
Kit: 05:07 This got him to thinking, and he collected a bunch of specimens and amongst them were some finches that he did not realize at the time were related, but when he learned that they were and that these different looking birds were unique to the different islands, this helped him form the theory of natural selection and evolution that he later put in his book, Origin of the Species.
Kit: 05:30 In the 1920-30's, a lot of European settlers discovered the Galapagos and there's instances of multiple mysterious disappearances. In fact, this was the topic of a documentary called “The Galapagos Affair: Satan came to Eden” and that featured Cate Blanchett. I'll put a link to that in the show notes on this and this is episode number 18 or /galapagos at ActiveTravelAdventures.com/ 18 or /galapagos.
Kit: 05:58 World War Two brought change. The United States built an army air force base on Balton island that they called the Beta base, which formed a triangle of bases. Alphabet was in Nicaragua. Gamma base was on the Ecuador mainland and the three bases together protecting the waterways and the Panama Canal during the war. After the war, the US gave the base to Ecuador, which is still maintaining the base.
Kit: 06:23 In 1959, the Galapagos Islands was declared a national park. That brought the tourists and another influx of Ecuadorean residents. This brought a lot of flack from the local residents because it was stretching the already limited resources a little bit thin, so there's a lot of fighting that went along, but that's kinda settled down now. And in fact they have changed the law that Ecuadorians just can't migrate over to the Galapagos. You must have a native relative there or have been born there in order to move there. Before it was established as a park, less than 2000 people lived in the islands and now it's more than 25,000.
Kit: 06:58 The Galapagos Islands has gone through tremendous change. The pirates introduced lots of species for food: goats, pigs, donkeys… and there's been major eradication efforts to try to limit those species because they'll often kill the native species which have no natural defenses against them. The 700 plant species that have been introduced are now competing with the 500 native species.
Kit: 07:21 The people that are in charge of such things are on it and they're now really strict controls over which you can do or how many people, et Cetera, in order to try to preserve this remarkable ecosystem.
Kit: 07:33 Let's talk a little bit about the animals that you'll see on Galapagos because that is one of the key drivers of the reason people go through all the trouble to get there. The giant tortoises weigh over 500 pounds, but they're not able to to get the parasites off. So the finches actually work in a symbiotic relationship with the tortoises and eat those. Similarly, lizards keep flies off of seals so the seals don't mind them crawling all over them, and the crabs off the Iguanas. It's kind of cool how they all work together to survive. Marine iguanas, once we're land iguanas and the Marine Iguanas look just like the land ones except that they fish in the sea, but there's so little food on the Galapagos islands that many of them adapted to the water.
Kit: 08:15 They can dive as deep as 30 feet down and stay about 10 minutes before their bodies started getting so cold because remember, they're cold blooded animals and have to surface. One other cool thing about that is the seals are very playful and even though they don't eat Iguanas, they love to torment them. Kind of like a cat with a mouse. And the iguanas will be racing trying to get back to shore and the seal might just grab a hold of its tail and just harass it. The Marine Iguanas have to dive off these big lava rock cliffs into the just brutal waves and I'm sure many of them don't make it and become food for the crabs or whatever else is in the sea because it's really only the older ones are able to do so. The boobies, these are these really cool birds. They have red footed and blue footed boobies and these birds seabirds hunt in unison, so you'll see a big flock of them. All of a sudden they'll see a school of fish and all at one time, “Boom!” down, they go down to to attack the school all at once. It's really quite remarkable! Another cool thing, you know there's penguins in the Galapagos and you associate penguins with cold environments. The reason they're able to live in the Galapagos area is because of the cool water. Remember the Pacific is much colder than the Atlantic Ocean, so they're able to survive. Likewise because the Galapagos is warm, the seals that are cousins to the California seals that we have here in the United States can handle the heat. So the Galapagos is, this is odd environment that is able to attract both cold weather animals and warm weather animals. Some of the other cool birds, you'll see are flamingos. The islands are great for birds and marine animals, but it's really kind of hard for the land animals as the first settlers found out just because there's just so much lava rock and it's not very conducive to mammal life.
Kit: 10:10 First settlers often had to survive off the cactus fields, which a lot of the Iguanas do as well. The reason Charles Darwin did not realize that the finches were all related is because each one has developed a beak that's unique to the different islands that they're living on. So some may be curved, some may be straight, and they all look very different. Another popular animal is the waved albatross with a wingspan of seven feet wide. The ‘waved' in the name is due to the variations of the color and the feathers. It looks like multiple little waves rippling into the shore. They stay in the air solidly for six months, but for six months they come back to the Galapagos to nest. There's about 12,000 breeding pairs that are on the island right now on Espanola and like many birds, they mate for life and they do this really cool courtship dance when they finally meet up again, because remember its been six months, so they do this very established cool little clicking on the beaks and a little dance that they do when they are so excited to see each other.
Kit: 11:13 Those two together only raise one egg and they incubate it for a couple of months and it hatches as one ugly baby that eventually molts and looks cute again. Obviously the animals are a huge appeal for the Galapagos, but it's not all just the animals. You can go look at the animals by hiking or going in the water by snorkeling and scuba diving. My friends, Dennis and Marianne recently returned from the Galapagos and he was kind enough to send me his complete thumb-drive of hundreds of photos and videos, which I've culled down to my personal favorites. That'll add to Kris' is on the website, so be sure to check out ActiveTravelAdventures.com/galapagos, so you can see some incredible underwater video as well as some on on the ground shots. Very cool.
Kit: 11:59 The Galapagos volcanic chain is formed by a hot spot. Normally volcanoes occur where two tectonic plates meet together and formed the mountains and the ridges and whatnot, but the Galapagos is not like that. It's a little bit more complicated. Underneath the surface, deep, deep down, there's molten lava that is causing basically a hot spot like on a glass top stoves that you turn the burner on. All that pressure is building up and those form the islands, so therefore the new islands are very active, but as the tectonic plate underneath the Galapagos shifts to the southeast, it moves the islands away from the hot spot so they become dormant and eventually crumble into the sea. So this is a revolving conveyor belt cycle that goes over and over and over again. So the nearer you are to the hot spot, the more active the volcano and the further to the south east, the further you get close to the Ecuadorian mainland, the less activity there is of the volcanoes and the islands tend to move about a hundred miles in about three and a half million years. Each island has it's own personality and own vegetation own characteristics and as you'll hear from Kris later in the interview, the islands are covered in lava rock, which are very sharp. In fact, one of the early visitors to the island wrote in his journal that it looked like God himself had showered with rocks, but this remarkable chain of islands is a beacon for those that are interested in amazing animal life, plant life, and just spectacular rugged beauty.
Kit: 13:37 Most people visit via like a cruise or a tour ship that until I talked to Kris who is our guest today, I thought that was the only way that you could do it. But it turns out that there's land based tours as well. And so that's what Kris is going to be talking to us today about. These land-based tours allow for more intimate experience, not just with the animals, but also gives you more chance to interact with the locals versus getting off the boat, snap a few pictures, get back on the boat — similar to the coach bus tours. Our guest today is Kris Henning. She and her husband Tom, back in 2010, sold off the bulk of their belongings and left their 30 year publishing career to travel the world. Their main travel passions are delving into the different cultures that they like and they also like to do a lot of soft active adventures. And their trip to the Galapagos fits this bill perfectly. I love how I learned about Kris. I got an email from one of our ATA listeners, Laurie, who said she wants to go to the Galapagos and she had read a fascinating blog post from Kris who writes a blog called Travel Past 50. So she asked me, why don't I am interview Kris? I said, sure, great idea. So I reached out to Kris who readily agreed and within a week we've got an interview in the can. Super Cool.
Kit: 14:52 Thanks to Lauri and if any of you all have any great ideas of people I should interview or you want me to consider interviewing yourself, please reach out to me at Kit[at]ActiveTravelAdventures[dot]com or reach out to me on the facebook group Active Travel Adventures as well.
Kit: 15:05 If you new to the program, the podcast itself gives you a general overview of the adventure to see if it's suitable for you. On the webpage, you'll see all the photos and a little bit more details and breakdown of the actual itineraries and more details to help you fine tune whether this is something you want to do, and the Travel Planners give you the direct links that you need in order to actually plan the adventure on one, two sided page, which makes it super easy and convenient. And those come automatically each month in the newsletter or on the webpage you can click to download it.
Kit: 15:37 So here is my interview with Kris from Travel Past 50: A mutual follower, Laurie, is planning a trip to the Galapagos and she loved your blog post that she read, (which I'm going to link to in our show notes) and I saw that you were fascinated by the history of the Galapagos. Can you tell us a little bit about what you found there?
Kris: 15:59 Well, we were in the Galapagos, my husband Tom and I were in the Galapagos about this time last year with a company called GalaKiwi tours, and it was really, really interesting to me because it was a land based tour. While most people who have visited the Galapagos to date have gone there on a cruise ship, they may jump to the islands for little day trips. This was truly land based every night we stayed on one of the islands and so as a result, we were active on land and water, which was great for me and we just learned so much about the history of the islands. There are four that are inhabited and we visited all four of the inhabited islands.
Kit: 16:46 Do you remember any of the history that they did teach you about that at all?
Kris: 16:50 Oh yeah, absolutely, particularly at Floriana. It's a fascinating island, the least habited one. We learned a lot about from the time it was discovered by the Spanish, by accident they were trying to get to South America and they ended up with the Galapagos to present day. Really the first couple of hundred years there were pirates who found the Galapagos to be perfect for hiding away. So there are still on one of the islands, some pirate caves. They loved taking the tortoise's, which we're the only mammals [correction: reptile] on the islands with them. Grab a tortoise for your ship to prolong your ability to eat on while you're sailing. And in the process of course, the pirates brought bats and rats and disease and you know, introducing mammals and upsetting the ecosystem. So that's a huge part of the ecological history too. But a big part of the human history.
Kris: 17:55 And then later when Spain, Ecuador gained its independence from Spain in 1822, so this is now about 300 years after it was a first bumped into… So when Ecuador became independent, penal colonies were introduced to populate islands. And that's, you know, sort of the way that they could say, this is ours. We have people here, so we visited, I think this is on Isabella island, it's called the “Wall of Tears”. The prisoners were just basically made to build this wall. That's what they did and it has had no purpose other than to occupy them. To clear some land perhaps, but huge and really when you think about not that far off piece of history, there are islanders on Isabella who still to this day know if they were descendants of the guards or the prisoners or perhaps both. And then later in the 20th century, the US military base was built on Santa Cruz. That shaped the population of that island. It now has the biggest city of the Galapagos and then finally in the seventies, approximately the 1970's is when research and tourism started to develop there.
Kit: 19:25 Do you remember the history of Charles Darwin and when he went there and started to come up with this theory of the evolution of species?
Kris: 19:33 The funny thing is is that his book was quite a lot later and he said, I can't recall the exact dates that he traveled there, but the book wasn't published until the 19th century. It maybe it was just decades after his visit, but he, he really hadn't developed the book until there was competition. Someone else was going to write it and so he quickly picked up that project and published the book. So the “Origin of Species” certainly now has a huge part in tourism. The Darwin's Center for research is on the Santa Cruz island. Very, very interesting. And you can walk through there on your own and just see some displays. It's a, it's a big piece of the tourism.
Kit: 20:18 Now, just switch back to your means of travel. You went on the land based tour as opposed to the cruise based. Do you see that as a distinct advantage over the cruise space?
Kris: 20:28 Well, that's controversial. I loved it because it, in doing that we met people who lived on the islands and not just a day guide, but we just eating in restaurants. I was just thinking about this as I was looking over my notes that two of the restaurants we ate at, and we were only there 10 days at the most were the chefs used to be chefs on cruise ships, which I thought was very funny. So like of course here they are on an island. They wanted land, but there's still a really dependent on, on the sea way. So we met people, we met children, we're in family businesses and that felt really good to us and enjoyable. It was just, we learned a lot more that way. We spend a lot more time hiking through to actually see the pirates caves to see on Floriana where the German couple that are made famous in a documentary, which I can mention later where they lived and still live.
Kris: 21:29 We stayed in a hotel owned by the descendants of this very bizarre story of the first visitors to Floriana. And the reason it's controversial, however, is that I think a lot of people feel that it's creates a negative impact on through use of bringing in food to support visitors through use of water. The Galapagos are very dry. There water is a precious commodity, and so it's controversial. I maintain that a drop of a cruise ship, dropping off a loads of people for a day is definitely as impactful in that regard as as our group of a dozen people. There are some limitations on tourism. Right now, there are about 200,000 people who visited the Galapagos per year. That counts land and sea based visitors. That's a lot, but one of the things that they did to control the changes as a result of tourism is that the Ecuadorians can no longer migrate to the Galapagos to live there and take on the tourism business. You have to be born in the Galapagos or of direct Galapean heritage to live there. The result of that is that the people who lived there who are fishermen are now the tour guides and your hospitality businesses
Kit: 22:58 And it would seem to me that the land based tours actually help the local people more than the cruise ships because the money is actually being spent and used directly on the island versus the tour companies who're taking that and may not even necessarily be based in the Galapagos.
Kris: 23:12 That's exactly right. That's exactly right, and I have an interview in a different post with our guide Pablo, who makes a very impassioned argument for that. He believes firmly and he's a father, that the money there that is going in there directly to the local community is directly helping education first and foremost of the Galapean children, and who better to protect the island's than them? And it's very complicated though because it's not just the Galapagos and it's not just Ecuador. It's the entire international community who's watching over all of this. So I'm really glad that there is a developing interest and economy for the local community to have a voice there. Otherwise they could just get kind of swept up in the international management of these resources. The Galapagos, they were among the first dozen,or 10 or 12 UNESCO world heritage sites, so they'd been a world heritage sites since… when was that? 1978, I think.
Kit: 24:20 Yeah, I don't think it can be 50 years.
Kris: 24:24 So it was really interesting and Pablo is a, a great example of someone who was born there. He's a biologist and a great resource. He works for the national parks and in this case he was working with GalaKiwi, but GalaKiwi is funny too because it is, that's the land base tour company we were with. And they are Tim and Crystal. He is from New Zealand, hence the Kiwi and Crystal is from the state of Georgia. So they are an interesting story in and of themselves and the reason that they can operate there is that he has been there for decades and were grandfathered in.
Kit: 25:06 Very cool. So let's switch gears to and talking about the actual experience of being on the Galapagos itself. It looked like your adventure included a lot of activities such as snorkeling, some biking, hiking… Can you tell us a little bit about what kind of adventurous things you did there?
Kris: 25:22 Yes, and we had different activities. It's really built as an adventure travel experience. Every island offered different opportunities. We started in San Cristobal there, some highlands on on that particular island. We started at the top. They drove us up so it was kind of a cushy day, but we did have some time to talk about the agriculture and the vegetation in that area and then we biked down. It was just a beautiful way to spend our first afternoon on the islands… stopping at this incredible family business that sort of centered around a tree house and it was just a fantasy land. They serve ice cream and it's a playground and it's a bar and a restaurant that the locals come to the kids play at and it was a really fun place to stop. And the bike trip then ended up down at a sea lion refuge.
Kris: 26:27 We got there just as the sun was setting, so it was… it was a gorgeous experience. We did also take like a half day trip to snorkel off of sSan Cristobal to a famous place called Kicker Rock. The Kicker Rock is about 10 stories high and it's a famous place to snorkel because the rock is split in two, and the passageway between is called Shark Alley. There are hammerhead sharks swimming 10, 15 feet below you. It really, you have to remember that you wearing a snorkel because you just gasp with surprise at what you're seeing and have to remember to breathe rhythmically while you're snorkeling. So that was really an amazing experience.
Kit: 27:19 So the sharks right below you while you're snorkeling and you're not worrying about that?
Kris: 27:25 No, I would have, had I thought about it, but it's like, oh, they're, you know, they're not going to bother you there. Hammerhead sharks, they're down there. Apparently they're not interested in us. It also is a protected area. And one of the things that I appreciated there and other places that we visited is that they timed the visitors. So our boat with, at most, we were 10 or 12, I think counting guides, had a lot of time to be there, so you're not worrying about bumping into other people. There's sort of some impressive swells through this alleyway that a couple of swimmers with us didn't care for too much. In that case because if you had your head above water, you could see that you were swelling up and down in this alleyway between the two rocks. If you stay in the water, you don't really feel it.
Kit: 28:35 Did you go into any of the lava tunnels?
Kris: 28:39 Well, there are some lava tunnels. This is actually a good story because we were snorkeling in the tunnels. They are off of Isabela and this is, I think this might be what you've heard about. It's an experience getting there though. You have to go at the right time when the tides are right and it takes a really expert boat captain to, to get in and out these rough waters. It's rough waters to get there, but then you go snorkeling and you can snorkel down through under these lava formations. And that's kind of scary for me. But I did it and the guide I think pushed me. I started floating, I float way too easily, so he kind of pushed me down to get me through the tunnel. It wasn't a very long one and then he found sharks in another tunnel, and we were all just diving down, holding our breath to look at the sharks and I wanted to get a movie of the sharks and I just couldn't stay down to get in the right angle and get a movie of the sharks. He's like try it again and he's pushing me down, which is not a good feeling to have someone pushing you down under the water so you can get a better look.
Kris: 30:10 So I came up and I was like, forget it, I can't get this movie. And so he took my camera and he got the movie of the sharks, which I did see, but I just couldn't capture. But that's pretty thrilling. And the second island we visited was Floriana. That's the, with Floriana is the least populated island. And on our way there, we were in a small boat that held a dozen people– two 70 horsepower outboard motors — and took us three and a half hours to get there. So it's a pretty far distance off into nowhere. And on the way we saw dolphins, we saw giant rays leaping out of the water. It was just spectacular. It was a pretty calm day. And when we saw the dolphins, Tim from GalaKiwi was just so excited. He literally threw his stand up paddleboard into the water and start chasing the dolphins.
Kris: 31:12 I mean, that's how spontaneous this whole tour was, that you could just, stop the boat: Tim's going to get out and stand up paddleboard and somebody else is jumping in the water to take pictures. And we were just in the middle of nowhere. No land in sight between islands. So that was fun. Once we get to Floriana, that is where we were driven up into the higher area there and you're walking, you might think that it would've been a better hike, but it was quite a distance. The terrain on, on this island – and the others – is sharp lava rock. It is very dry, very hot, and very sharp. Sharp and uninviting. So we were driven up into this area that then sort of revealed itself to be more forested and this is where the pirate caves were and where we were shown a spring, which is why Floriana was populated in the first place as someone had discovered this, the spring water: the tiniest trickle of water you can imagine, but that's what provided life for the people there.
Kit: 31:12 What do they do for water it they don't get enough rain? I was always picturing the equator to be just an abundance of rain and rain forest, but apparently it's quite barren and hard to live there.
Kris: 32:46 Quite hard to live there. There's not enough water to support the current population. When they're lucky and it rains, it's fine, but there can be some pretty severe droughts there, but they do get rain. It's not a real a rainforest like you would think. and it's not lush; it's pretty barren. However, there is the kind of vegetation you see in. This is why it's so good to spend some time on the land and do a hike, is that you can see almost like the big out of lava rock, you can see plants just first, the first volunteer plants coming up and it feels like you're seeing the beginning of a whole system.
Kris: 33:38 So we took a coastline walk there to seeing the marine iguanas. We did some stand up paddle boarding and snorkeling right off the shore in Floriana. I think we just stayed there one night and then we went on to Isabella, which is probably my favorite just because there's the most to do we. We biked along the coast. We went to a tortoise breeding center and we also did my favorite hike of the week was to the upper volcano, the Sierra Negra volcano. Probably about a three hour hike up I want to say. And once you're on the rim of this volcano, which last blew up in, I don't know, maybe 10 years ago, maybe not even that. So we got up to the rim. We continued walking around the rim until we got too close to the source of that last eruption, so there is no vegetation. It is just black sharp lava, a big caldera, very black sharp lava as far as you can see. It is an impressive sight. We were told that there was an expedition. I think they were military and they were assigned to walk across this Caldera, which would be nearly impossible because it's almost like stalagmites of piles of lava sticking up so you would lose your bearings quite easily, but the hardest part was that you literally would go through a pair of work boots in halfway across. It's just amazing terrain.
Kit: 35:32 Interesting. I hope you'll send some photos.
Kris: 35:36 Yes, we do have some photos of that, so I hope you'll take a look at those. Then we do some more snorkeling off Isabella there. There's a lot to see there. That is with a little boat trip where we saw penguins. The only warm water penguins are in this area, and I think actually this Isabella's where the Wall of Tears was too. So we did hiking and biking and snorkeling and I'm probably have not mentioned enough just seeing birds and vegetation as well as the sort of the prize sites of what you might see snorkeling, but the little, the little sights, the fact that we could see a finch, mentioning Darwin, and really sees the endemic species with a good guide who can tell you what you're seeing and realize that these things really haven't been altered or touched in in these hundreds of years.
Kris: 36:36 And then we ended up in Santa Cruz, which is the island that has the biggest city, Puerto Ayora. And that is also where there is an airport as well. That's where the American military base was on Santa Cruz. We saw highland tortoises and they're just amazing. And that's where the Darwin Research Center is. Tom and I ended up staying there an extra day unfortunately because Tom was sick. But fortunately it gave me a chance to go see the Darwin Research Center. So good and bad in everything. There are people too who– I did not do this– but if, if people are interested in surfing, Tortuga Bay off of Santa Cruz is an excellent place for surfing. I did have my first experience stand up paddleboarding while we were there and I absolutely loved it. Some of the more adventurous in our group did sort of a hybrid of stand up Paddle Boarding and surfing, if we were in the right area. I stayed in the protected waters on my stand-up paddleboard and they paddled out there and tried to surf.
Kit: 37:47 As far as the animals go, is it something like they're all around or in the preserves, or can you tell us a little bit? People would like to go to the Galapagos to see the animals. What misconceptions might we have about that?
Kris: 38:01 Well, it's a little bit of both. We went to a breeding center for tortoises and that is really highly recommended and very fascinating. But by the same token, we were bicycling that same day and came upon a couple of tortoises that are just out in the wild. It's quite amazing. The birds, of course, aren't restricted. The marine iguanas are practically tamed. It's unusual to see a marine iguana in the water swimming and so one day we were kayaking and stand up paddleboarding and there were marine iguanas swimming right by, which was really cool.
Kris: 38:47 Sea Lions swimming right underneath you and they are not afraid of people. We had a very respectful guide… reminding us of distances we should keep, but the sea lions just want to take over. I've got a picture of a sea lion on a park bench… they just, they just take over. A friend of mine who works down there just sent me a picture of a sea lion who had literally hopped into his kayak — onto the front of his kayak while he was kayaking around. So it's not hard to get close to animals. I, I have a picture of a sea lion pup who I was really trying to keep my distance and this thing just wanted to check out me and my camera and I was in shallow water. I just sat there and he just came right up and that close up – no zoom – it's just, that's how close he was.
Kit: 39:48 Isn't there a big sea lion colony that people like to go check out?
Kris: 40:08 Yes. I'm not sure which… I think it might be the San Cristobal sea lion refuge. And we had a beautiful bike ride there, saw the sunset, but it was too late to see the sea lions. So we saw plenty of sea lions just not in that refuge.
Kit: 40:20 And I'm guessing it's really hot there just based on its location, what do you wear and tell us a little bit about the weather.
Kris: 40:30 It is hot. We, fortunately we're not in the worst of the heat, but the main thing that we were very conscious of and careful about is sun protection. We were always wearing long sleeve rash guards when we were in the water or in boats, hats all the time. Good footwear.
Kris: 40:50 One day we were kayaking. We might have been on stand up paddle boards, but you just really need to have some good water shoes too so that you can get from the sharp rocks into your kayak or a stand-up paddle board or off the shore for that matter. So I had had a more sandal like structure water shoe and I'm really glad that I didn't take those. I took a fully enclosed water shoe and was very glad I had those. And other than that, you know, shorts and long sleeve shirts for, for hiking. You really don't want to wear short sleeve shirts or even shorts, our guide wore long pants all the and primarily for sun protection.
Kit: 41:37 I'm a hiker and that's what I do, even in the hottest, I'd rather have the sun protection and just keep that sun off of me. So I never wear shorts: I'm wearing the pants and I wear the long sleeves. So I assume they speak Spanish. Is there any language barrier? If somebody is uncomfortable about going someplace, they don't speak the language, is English pretty widely spoken?
Kris: 42:00 English is pretty widely spoken. We, Tom and I do speak Spanish and we had very little occasion to use it because we were primarily with an English speaking group and our hosts are English speaking, but we like to use it when we can and there, I'm trying to think in the cities where we were on our own and free time. I think everybody – the tourism is so big – that pretty much everybody speaks English, so even times when I tried to start in Spanish it would end up in English.
Kit: 42:36 Let's talk about food. They've got to import so much of the stuff there. Tell us about the food situation.
Kris: 42:44 First of all, the fruit is very good. Tom and I had lived in Ecuador for about a year, eight years ago now and our expectations of the food were pretty low, but I was pleasantly surprised. There is a very common dish there that is fish in a nice yellow coconut sauce and the fruits are good, but it's primarily, it's a fish and rice and fruit, salads and a lot of that's brought in.
Kit: 43:23 I understand you all ate at the Calle de Kioskos. Does that sound familiar? Where they close off the street and they just put out the chairs and the different restaurants?
Kris: 43:32 Yes, yes, yes. We ate there. That is on Santa Cruz. it's really a happening little street and any town would be proud to have a street like that lined with restaurants. It's not touristy. It's locals, families and visitors altogether. And the street is closed off late in the afternoon there's picnic tables. So it becomes a real communal family style affair and while you may be ordering from the restaurant that you're sitting in front of you, but you might also have three other people who have brought food from other restaurants down the street.
Kit: 44:17 Interesting. It sounds like almost like a mall food court.
Kris: 44:17 It's much like that.
Kit: 44:25 Is there anything else about the animals we should discuss?
Kris: 44:28 I was amazed at the differences between tortoises and sea turtles. I just had never really been able to swim with the sea turtle and see how big they are and how graceful they are. And then to see a tortoise on land that is just so huge and old: such a contrast. I loved that. Of course we all fell in love with the sea lions and really a thrill for me was seeing a giant ray. I just caught a glimpse of it, but just flying out of the water, they just soar, you know, just the biggest leap and it was just breathtaking. And we also saw something that's quite rare are golden: golden rays. They're, they're fairly small, maybe 18 inches across and they are golden. Then they come out at night and they were just under the dock at right in front of our place on San Cristobal. We also had some incredible night skies. On Isabella in particular, we were staying at a great place right on the shore we could walk out on. There was a beach across the street from us. We walked out onto the pier and saw all of the stars in the sky. It was one of the most incredible night skies I've ever seen.
Kit: 46:01 My girlfriend just got back from the Galapagos and her favorite, or one of her favorites has been the boobies. The red footed and the blue footed boobies. Did you see any of those?
Kris: 46:10 Oh yes, yes. Blue footed boobies. I think I've tossed a photo of a blue footed boobie in there and I've got more of that. I absolutely loved seeing the blue footed boobies next to the penguins. It was just: how much can you get in one picture? That was incredible. I also have a funny quirky picture too that I had. I got when I was kayaking and I was just in these sort of mangrove type. I'm not sure if they were mangroves, but it was that kind of system with the roots going into the water and I kayaked up in there and there was a loon, I'm sorry, a heron, a small green heron and a bright red orange, red crab. Just outstanding to see this again. That was three feet away from my nose.
Kit: 47:09 What favorite stories do you have when you talk about your experience there?
Kris: 47:15 Well, in my case it was, I was coming off of a some meniscus surgery on both knees, so the fact that I could get up on a stand up paddle board for the first time was a big thrill for me and I have a picture of it. It's part embarrassing, but I'm kind of proud of it too. I love water sports and I was happy to add that to my experience and I just think really learning about the history of people on the islands was, was so fascinating. I do recommend this documentary about the couple who first moved to Floriana and then three other people moved there and it's a mystery real life mystery of what happened to these first settlers on Floriana.
Kit: 48:04 On a scale of one to five, with five being like really, really overly challenging, where would you put the difficulty rating or physical requirements for the adventure activities on this adventure?
Kris: 48:17 I would put them at two or three. The thing is that you can pick and choose what you want. Some of the snorkeling might be challenging for some people if they're not comfortable in the water, but you can choose not to do that. Biking was easy. The hiking was quite easy. I think the one day up the volcano was a little difficult for me just because my knees were not a hundred percent, but it, it was I would say overall probably two, not very difficult.
Kit: 49:00 It is an expensive trip for somebody to do and if they're going to go all the way they are. How many days should they stay or any advice as far as the timing?
Kris: 49:08 We packed a lot in and ours was 10 days counting from Quito. We flew from Quito into a San Cristobal. So that was a, it was action packed and I would love to have had two weeks. I wouldn't do it in less than this land based kind. If you're going to go to four islands, you can't do four islands in less than that time. So about 10 days total, but that's counting flying in from Quito and back to Quito. I say it so it hesitantly because I could always spend more time. I would love to have spent more time in every one of those places. It is sufficient to do what we did two in 10 days to see all four islands and to be experiencing both water activities and land activities in each of those four places. It is sufficient to do that. You're going to be going strong every day.
Kit: 50:15 Is there anything about this adventure that I have not asked you that I should have?
Kris: 50:22 Big touching points where the fact that it was land base that we got to get so much history of not just the animal life but the human life there and that it was a very adventure based trip as well that we were happily active throughout and not just passively learning, but really walking, swimming, kayaking, getting to these places to see things close up. And that is what's really astounding. You feel so good about it when you get there under your own steam.
Kit: 51:00 Very cool. And as I mentioned in the beginning of the broadcast that it was a mutual follower, Laurie, that had connected us because of your Travel Past 50 blog posts. Could you tell us a little bit about what you're doing over there?
Kris: 51:17 Yes. Travel Past 50 is sort of a natural outcome of all of our travels. My husband and I are former publishers and in 2010 we sold our house and just started traveling full time once we retired from our business. So it was inevitable. It's a natural evolution that we would start sharing our stories with photos and posts on our blog, Travel Past 50. This, I'm proud to say, that this particular story on the Galapagos just won a gold award from the North American travel journalist association. And that was in their eco tourism category.
Kit: 52:00 That's very exciting – congratulation!. That's wonderful! Of course I'm going to put a link to her blog post. If, if not, maybe she'll let me put the whole blog post on the website for you folks as well as a lot of photos as well. And we want to make sure that we check out her Travel Past 50 blog.
Kris: 52:17 Yeah, we have a covering a lot of historic UNESCO world heritage sites, national parks. We've been to over 60, 65 countries in the past seven years.
Kit: 52:34 It looks like we might have to have you back on the program as well!
Kris: 52:38 We are embarking on a bike tour in southern Italy, so we would love to talk to you about that.
Kit: 52:49 Yeah, that'd be great. When're you going to do that?
Kris: 52:51 That is in May. And actually before that we're going to Sweden. We're going to Sweden next week and we're I hope to be seeing some northern lights, but we're going to be up in the north in an area called the Lund Sweden where the winter sports snowshoeing and cross-country skiing and enjoying a little bit of late winter in northern Sweden.
Kit: 53:18 Very cool. Very cool. We did an episode on the Kungsleden trail early on in the podcast. If you like to hike, there's a beautiful trail that you might want to check out as well, if you'd like to hike.
Kris: 53:30 Is that in that same area of Sweden?
Kit: 53:35 It's in Sweden. I'm not sure if it's in the air you're going to or not, but I imagine it's not that big of a country.
Kris: 53:40 I'll check it out.
Kit: 53:43 So, anything on your bucket list that you haven't gotten around to yet?
Kris: 53:48 Let's see. Yes, we always have a big bucket list we'd ever call it a bucket list though. Sweden, getting back to Sweden is, is good. And this bike trip in with biketours.com in southern Italy is part of our priority for us right now. I mean we really are enjoying being more active. It seems like the more we travel, the more active we get. And we're adding a new country early this year. We're getting to Russia at the end of May, so we will be after the bike tour using Eurrail through eastern Europe and ending up in St Petersburg to start on a Viking River cruise to Moscow.
Kit: 54:33 Wonderful. Wonderful. What you just said interested me very much that you're getting more into adventure travel. Prior to you embarking on this whirlwind adventure where you much of a hiker or biker or is it something you just started doing?
Kris: 54:48 I'm naturally outdoors-y. We both have ridden bikes around the city but never really done any bike touring. So you could consider us both newbies at that. The hiking through national parks has been a very occasional kind of thing, but we've enjoyed it a lot. And then in 2011 we did the Camino de Santiago and that changed our outlook on how far we could walk.
Kris: 55:20 Yeah, we did the whole thing from, well the whole thing varies I guess, but from San Jean Pied de Port in France. So we walked a 800 kilometers, 500 miles across from there to Santiago and that was a wonderful experience. So we're, we're hoping to kind of extend our distances on the bikes now that we've got one trip under our belt and trying the second one and see where we go with that.
Kit: 55:51 We covered the El Camino in episode number 006, so you can find that at Activetraveladventures.com/6 or /ElCamino. How has adventure travel if it has changed you at all?
Kris: 56:06 Yeah, I think. I mean it's for us I'm 65 and for us it's. It's doing two things. I think on the external side it's helping us feel closer to the places that we're visiting. We're not just jumping into a city and and we'd love cities and we love going to the museums, but being in smaller settings, agricultural settings in the countryside and close to people and the locals is really facilitated by hiking or biking. It just naturally puts you in a place where you are more accessible to people and they to you and then I'm on the other hand, it is I think very good for us internally. We feel better knowing that we're kind of in this for the long haul. We want to feel good physically and we approach our travels with a better attitude when we're feeling good, physically. Less stress and more fun.
Kit: 57:06 I really appreciate all your time and all your information has been wonderful hearing all about it. It's going to be on everybody's list – it was probably already on everybody's bucket list. Thanks Kris for a great interview. Be sure to check out Kris' blog at TravelPast50.com and also be sure to go to the webpage that corresponds to this episode, which is ActiveTravel Adventures.com/galapagos or /18 for episode 18. If you're driving or otherwise can't write that down, just go to the aActiveTravelAdventures.com website and click on the directory page. That will list all the different locations and podcast episodes so you can see all the photos and details and listen to the episode directly online. My friends, Dennis and Marianne also recently returned from the Galapagos and they've shared with me some of their great photos and underwater videos that will also put on the website as well. Thanks for listening. If you haven't done so already, be sure to hit the subscribe button so you don't miss a future episode. I'll be back in two weeks with another great adventure. This time I'll be covering my adventures to Bhutan. I can't wait to share it with you and I'll see you then. Until next time, thanks for listening and Adventure On!
Multi-Sport Galapagos Island Adventure Travel by Kit Parks is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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