Welcome Back to Minneapolis

Well it was bound to happen, and as we like to say, it could have been worse. Landed at MSP just before 9:00 this morning. It was 1 degree Fahrenheit (-17 C) and the snow was just starting to Fall.

The Galapagos cruise was unlike any other we have been on. High on the active scale, high on the learning new things every day scale, and with the small ship very high on the meet interesting people scale. As the hotel manager John Flynn told us, they are very well aware that this cruise is a bucket list trip for most passengers, and they really do their best to make it memorable. And that was just one component of this trip!

  • Amazon Rainforest

  • Machu Picchu and Inca trail hike

  • Cusco and the Sacred Valley

  • The Galápagos Islands

Jane and I have had so many interesting experiences on this trip that it seems like we have been gone for months, not just the three weeks.

We left Quito early this morning (12:30AM) and arrived in Atlanta by 5:30. Getting through customs and making the transfer to the domestic gates was a breeze thanks to our Global Entry passes. But neither of us ended up sleeping on that flight and we just dozed a little on the flight to Minneapolis, so we were both beat by the time we got out of the Uber in downtown Minneapolis.

In an attempt to wake up a bit, I went down to use the elliptical in our workout room. As the minutes ticked away I watched the Wells Fargo building and IDS Tower disappear into the increasingly heavy snowfall. We are supposed to get more than four inches today, and you can see that even this afternoon it is still coming down pretty heavily.

As with all good trips, we learned a lot, came to appreciate new cultures, old histories, and new parts of the globe. It’s great to get away and get a new perspective on the business of everyday life, and to evaluate one’s priorities. But as the saying goes, there is no place like home. We are happy to be back, and already looking forward to an exciting weekend of activities including a play at the Guthrie and a broadway series performance!

Darwin Research Center

We started our day today with a visit to the Darwin Research Center. One of the main projects at this center is the preservation of the many different species of tortoises on the islands. Many of which were hunted to near extinction by whalers or pushed out of their habitat by goats, dogs and cats. The tortoise in the image below is a saddle back! A close genetic relative of “Lonesome George” that last true Saddleback that died a few years back. You can see that they have very long necks which is an adaptation for eating the cacti on the desert islands of the Galapagos.

And of course we saw many of the Galapagos Tortoise both at the Darwin center and later on in the wild.

Another highlight of the day was our chance to participate in Celebrity Cruise Lines reforestation project. Many of the native Escalesa trees were choked out by the blackberries that were imported by the settlers on the islands. With a lot of work the blackberries have been culled, but now Celebrity is working to replant many many acres of forrest with native Escalesa trees. To date Celebrity and their guests have planted nearly 40,000 trees, and I’m happy that we got to participate.

As an added bonus we all got to wear the super stylish rubber boots!

I 💙 Boobies

By this time of the trip the routine was well established. Breakfast in the morning, then off to the zodiacs for an adventure / hike on shore. Back to the ship for lunch and a rest during the worst heat of the day, then a late afternoon zodiac to another destination for another hike. This is definitely an adventure not a vacation! This afternoons hike was billed as the most difficult of the trip, because it involved a little rock scrabbling! As usual a few people joined that really shouldn’t have, you would think people would learn their limitations by this time. Anyway, after the rock scrabbling we were rewarded with a beautiful view of the beach.

Along the way we saw a lot of Blue Footed Boobies, we had to leave the trail to keep our distance from them several times as they just sit in the middle of the path looking at us. It was definitely worthwhile as this is probably one of my favorite photos of this whole adventure!

The blue footed boobies take turns on the nest, if you can call it that. It’s barely even a hole in the ground. Further, they don’t really even sit on the eggs, they kind of cradle them with their feet. Here’s a picture of the “changing of the guard”

The reds are not nearly as interesting as the blues. They are arboreal and so you rarely see them on the ground. Their feet are red, but not bright red like the bright blue.

On the beach where we landed to start the hike was a small colony of sea lions.

Galápagos Day 4 — Santa Cruz

The activity of the morning was a “long” walk around Dragon hill on Santa Cruz. The main objective was to see the Land Iguanas. These creatures have been restored to the island after they were endangered by feral dogs and goats that humans brought to the island. Santa Cruz is one of the few islands that is actually inhabited.

The cover picture for this post is actually of a marine iguana that was near the shore by a brackish pool.

green marine

You can see a very clear difference in coloration and shape between the marine variety — which can swim using their tails for propulsion — and the land iguanas pictured below.

At one point they moved many of the Land Iguanas to an alternative island without any human habitation for them to come back, while they started a program to eradicate all of the goats and feral dogs. We actually saw a goat along the way, and the guides, who are also park rangers when they are on land, had to call it in so that the goat could be tracked down and captured.

the walk started at 8:00 and already it was really hot. We began the walk on the beach and quickly passed by this beautiful brackish water pool.

The path was very muddy from rain the previous night, and a few people from the group ahead of us called it quits and headed back to the beach. But we kept going, eyes peeled for our first siteing. The first Land Iguana we met was pretty hard to miss as he was right on the trail!

Once we spotted the first one we started to see quite a few of them. Some close to the path, some sitting right outside their burrows, some “lounge lizards” hanging out on a log.

The scenery on the island was also very beautiful and couldn’t have been more different than our hike up the volcano from the day before.

Afternoon Snorkel

In the afternoon we had a beach snorkeling stop. The water was pretty wavy and as a result the visibility was not very good. I was right next to a big sea turtle and I could easily have grabbed onto the shell to go for a ride. But you don’t touch the wild animals so I just followed it and admired it s grace.

The real highlight of the snorkeling trip was the Pelicans. After coming back to shore there were about 3 brown pelicans that decided it was feeding time. They are “shallow plungers” so they swoop up into the air about 15 to 20 feet and then plunge awkwardly into the water to capture a fish! They were definitely not deterred by all of the humans in the water as several swooped right next to people! The pelicans were fine, but the people were a bit shocked!

Galápagos Day 3 — Pinnacle Rock

If you google Galápagos Islands you will almost certainly see this picture:

You will likely see even better photos than the one above as we were there at the wrong time of day for optimal photo lighting.

The hike was mostly just climbing the 366 old wooden stairs and many boardwalks to the top of the volcano where there is a great viewing and picture taking spot. Along the way we stopped to learn a bit about volcanology, spatter cones, calderas, and craters.

The naturalists on board are all great and really knowledgeable. Most, if not all, of them were born on the islands and you can tell they all really love it.

Galápagos Day 2

Looking out the window in the morning we couldn’t see anything. Had our luck changed? Were we going to have a rainy day after all? I went up on deck to investigate and was happy to see that it was just a dense fog. Caused by the cold water currents running up against the Galapagos ridge. It would burn off. All credit to Ann who insisted that we take the 10:00 excursion rather than the 8:00 excursion. This is what the fog looked like just before we boarded our zodiac at 10.

We later learned that it was so foggy during the 8:00 trip that one of the zodiacs took a wrong turn in all of the mangrove and got lost for a bit. Apparently everyone was taking it in stride and singing the theme song to Gillian’s island (except for one passenger who was not amused). I almost wish I was on that boat so I could tell the story in more detail. Here you can just barely make out our ship in the fog from a distance.

We were headed into a huge lagoon protected by mangroves but on the way we got some good sitings of a few of the marine birds. Below is the famous Blue Footed Boobie. Yes, I kind of giggle inside like a seventh grader every time I say that. The reality is that the name comes from the fact that they act like clowns during their mating dance. Kicking their legs up and flapping their wings and acting like fools.

We also got very close to a few brown pelicans.

And we saw the Galapagos Penguin! The second smallest penguin in the world.

They look kind of dopey and slow when they are out of the water but when they are in the water they swim fast and graceful.

We saw turtles all over the place poking their heads out of the water, but it was not until the afternoon when we did our deep water snorkel that we really got to have a great view of the turtles.

Toward the end of the trip we were way back amongst the mangroves and we saw a sea lion sleeping on a branch just a few feet above the water. We also had a very close encounter with a Great Blue Heron

We were also lucky enough to see some golden rays swimming just beneath us. Too bad that we were not able to capture them on camera.

Hike at Tagus Bay

The afternoon was in Tagus bay where we started with a drift snorkel. It was great, we saw a lot of sea turtles, and fish, but the most amazing was when I got to watch one of the penguins swimming underwater.

After we dried off from the snorkel trip we headed out for the “fitness hike” This was billed as a faster paced walk with fewer stops but the same great scenery. With people of all different ages on the cruise the walks tend to go at the pace of the slowest person in the group so we thought this would be a good option. And it was.

We climbed 150 stairs and then walked a bit to have a great view of the bay and this highly salty inland lake.

After a mile we came to the end of the trail where we could see the difference between the two sides of the volcano we were climbing. We were climbing the wet side and were suddenly treated to a huge vista of the dry side. You could images that you had just landed on mars!

We took another short zodiac ride to view the geology of the volcano and some of the wildlife. Here you can see the layers where the older layers have oxidized!

After we got back on the ship we had time to relax with a happy hour drink and enjoy the amazing sunset.

Up next was a delicious dinner where we watched one of our exhausted fellow passengers fall asleep right at her table with conversation and laughter going on all around her.

After dinner there was a small party to celebrate crossing the equator on our way around the north end of Isabella island. We were all encouraged to do the limbo and imitate one of our favorite Galapagos animals. As a group we did the blue footed boobie dance, and narrowly lost the contest to a couple imitating sea lions.

Galápagos Islands!!

Iguanas fighting over territory, thousands of crabs, two species of sea lions, lizards galore, birds and even a snake; this is what we saw on our first day in the Galápagos!

Today was a good practice day as we all learned about “wet landings” and “dry landings” in the Zodiacs we use to transfer from the ship to the shore. We go in groups of up to sixteen people along with a naturalist that will take us on our hike once on shore. It’s a bit of a process this first day to get off the zodiac in the water, then change shoes in the hot sand, but we are getting the hang of it.

We hiked for about 90 minutes and saw a lot of amazing animals…

baby sealion

When we first came ashore, we saw this baby sea lion just hanging out on the rock. Very cute.


The next thing we noticed was the lizards. They were everywhere and you had to be careful as you were walking so that you didn’t step on them! They are cold blooded so at this time of the morning they were all out on the warm sand bringing up their body temperatures.


Of course the Galapagos are home to many many birds, and they have no fear of humans, very few of the animals on the islands do! But this one takes the cake as it landed on Ann’s hat. The guide told us that they really like cameras with big lenses and that they will use them like a mirror to admire themselves.

After hiking the inland part of the trail we started to walk the shoreline. Our first site was the sealions. They are nocturnal, so they were just floating in the cool waters and resting during the day. Looks like a pretty good life to me.

The shoreline was just full of these red crabs, called “sally light foot crabs”. Here you can also see one of the many iguanas looking at them. The iguanas eat algae so its not hunting them. The Oyster catcher birds, do hunt the crabs, and we saw some of those as well.

And here is the king of the iguanas! Looks like he is in charge to me!

Rabida Island

In the afternoon we headed to Rabida island for some more hiking and snorkeling. Here we are in all of our orange splendor.

The hike was hot but really beautiful.

I just loved how the prickly pear cacti just grow right out of the lava rock on this island.

This is a brackish lake. Much of the water comes from rain and runoff from the hill behind, but at high tide, some water can flow over the mangrove berm and into the lake as well.

And this is the frigate bird. They are amazing in that they steal food from other birds right out of the air! They also love to float and glide alongside and above the ship as we slowly reposition ourselves.