Galapagos News

"Encore!" More Active Galapagos charters in early 2017

We select the dates for our Active Galapagos charters a full 14 - 26 months ahead of time.  You will note that we just published our 2018 charter dates (24 trips).   This means that our charter dates for February and March 2017 were selected back in September 2015.  Little did we know back then that we would be turning so many people down now - as we get asked if there is any space in any of Jan - March 2017 charters.  

We asked the Samba - and apparently, they had three open sailings in February - March - so we've added three "ENCORE" Active Galapagos trips.  See our Active Tours / Dates & Details page.  These will benefit from top naturalist guides, as usual, and the full 13 day Active Galapagos itinerary (or any part of it you wish to join). 

We look forward to helping you plan a wonderful Galapagos adventure.

 

 

 

"One of the best ships in Galapagos" says Darwin Director

The owners of the Samba (a Galapagos family) posted a photo of their ship on Facebook yesterday - and who else but the Charles Darwin Research Station director (and former Galapagos National Park director), Arturo Izurieta, commented, saying: 

"Ese barco, su tripulación, y sus dueños lo hacen uno de los mejores barcos acogedores de Galápagos. Lo recomiendo mil veces y a ojo cerrado!"

Or, translated: "This ship, with its crew and its owners, make it one of the best, and most welcoming in Galapagos.  I recommend it a thousand times, even with my eyes closed!"

A review of TripAdvisor comments in the Galapagos Forum there will corroborate the Director's claim.

CNH Tours has been chartering the Samba for over 12 years as part of its 13 day "Active Galapagos" trip.  We started with 2 charters, and we are just signing up for 22, perhaps 24 in 2018.  The ship is magnificently managed - making for a very positive attitude amongst the crew, a very well maintained ship, wonderful cuisine and excellent guiding. 

It may be that the Station (and former Park) director is also referring to the fact that the Samba owners provide a free cruise to members of the Galapagos community every year, as part of its "giving back" efforts, or that they invite promising students aboard for free if they have an unsold berth.  This kind of community relations goes a long way in engaging local community support for conservation.

The Samba is not a "luxury" ship in terms of lavish decor and expansive cabins, but it is definitely "luxury" in terms of the Galapagos experience it provides. 

Bravo!

 

Way off the beaten path...

The BBC reported today that a juvenile "Galapagos red footed booby" had been found off the coast of Sussex, in the UK (the southern coast).   That's 10,000km (or 6,000 miles) from home!  From the BBC news item:

The bird was rescued by the East Sussex Wildlife Rescue and Ambulance Service (WRAS) following a call from a member of the public.

Founder Trevor Weeks said: "It's an absolutely stunning bird.

"It was looking extremely exhausted, just sitting on the beach.

"Hopefully it will be released back to the wild."

He added: "As far as I can tell, one has never been found in the wild in the UK before.

"From what we gather, one did visit Spain a few years ago, but we can't find many other references to these birds visiting Europe at all."

In fact, the red footed booby breeds and frequents tropical oceans and coastlines nearly all around the world.  It's more likely that this fellow originated somewhere in the Caribbean and ended up in the UK thanks to some tropical storm systems that frequently move from there towards northern Europe. 

It is the Nazca booby that lives mostly in Galapagos and other Eastern tropical Pacific islands.   For the southern UK twitchers, that would have been a more exotic siting!

 

Below: The red-footed wanderer (juvenile plumage) - (credit: East Sussex Wildlife Rescue and Ambulance Service)

Below:  The (adult) Nazca booby

 

 

Marine World Heritage site managers in Galapagos

My former UNESCO World Heritage Centre office mate, Fanny Douvere, closed up her global meeting of marine World Heritage site managers a few days ago in Galapagos.   It was very nice to see many familiar faces in the pictures that were posted.  I've unashamedly copied her news article, posted on the UNESCO website, below:
From 27-31 August 2016, managers from the 49 marine sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List will convene in the Galapagos Islands to explore solutions to some of the world’s most pressing conservation challenges including climate adaptation strategies and market-based approaches to strengthen sustainable fisheries. Along with leading experts and ocean conservationists they will help chart a sustainable path forward for the world’s most iconic marine protected areas.
 
Since the first marine site was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1982, the marine network has grown into a global collection of sites that stretches across topical, temperate and polar zones.  Today, World Heritage marine sites comprise 10% by surface area of all the world’s marine protected areas, and include icons such as the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System (Belize), Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (Philippines), Phoenix Islands Protected Area (Kiribati), and Everglades National Park (USA). They are home to the breeding grounds of the world’s last healthy population of grey whales, the highest density of ancestral polar-bear dens, the world’s most ancient fish and the inimitable marine iguanas. These sites are among the places recognized by the international community for their outstanding beauty, exceptional biodiversity, or unique ecological, biological and geological processes, and selected through a rigorous, multi-year inscription process.
 
Like the rest of the ocean, World Heritage marine sites are facing unprecedented change. But they are also pioneering groundbreaking solutions, from remote surveillance systems that help prevent illegal fishing to community development and education programs that promote local stewardship. Site managers conferences help facilitate the exchange of best practices across this global community.
 
Since 2010, site managers have been gathering at global conferences every three years, first in Hawaii and later in Corsica in 2013. In between conferences, the World Heritage Centre helps to support collaboration among sites with biodiversity connectivity—like Wadden Sea (Germany/Netherlands/Denmark) and Banc d’Arguin National Park (Mauritania), which are both key migratory bird stopovers—or sites with shared challenges and opportunities—such as Glacier Bay (USA) and the West Norwegian Fjords (Norway), which are collaborating on sustainable tourism strategies for cruise ship traffic.  
 
The triennial World Heritage marine site managers' conferences are an opportunity to discuss emerging challenges and solutions that can be replicated across this network and around the world. Keynote speakers at this year’s conference include Dr. Daniel Pauly of the University of British Columbia, Martin Visbeck of GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research, Paul Marshall from the University of Queensland, Lara Hansen from EcoAdapt, Enric Sala, National Geographic Explorer in Residence, Brian Sullivan from Google Oceans and Pulitzer prize winning journalist, Kenneth Weiss. The central themes of this year’s conference are climate change, sustainable fisheries, and collaboration.
 
The conference is held in partnership with the Gálapagos National Park and the Gálapagos Government Council and receives the leadership support of Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic. Support was also provided by The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, the French Marine Protected Areas Agency, the Swiss manufacture Jaeger-LeCoultre, the government of Flanders, the Netherlands and Australia, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, WWF, Conservation International and Galapagos Conservancy.

Floor to Ceiling Galapagos - available now!

One of our guests let us know today that you can actually buy Galapagos wallpaper!  A wonderful way to keep the Galapagos spirit after your trip.   Sanderson, a British home decoration outfit, carries it.  Click here to order yours today!

25 year relationship renewed with the Darwin Foundation

The director of the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF), Arturo Izurieta, sent an email to the CDF members of the governing council yesterday (I am one), announcing the 25 year renewal of the agreement of cooperation with the Government of Ecuador (GoE).  The CDF was established as an international organization in 1959 under Belgian law.  The previous 25 year agreement was to come to an end in October of this year. 

The new agreement gives the CDF the authority to operate the Charles Darwin Research Station in the Galapagos Islands.  A significant modification is the creation of a "Coordination Committee" to (quoting from the agreement):

1. Determine the requisites of the Science Coordinator of the CDRS as per SENECYT parameters.
2. Elect, from a set of 3 pre-selected candidates proposed by the Executive Director of the CDF, the Science Coordinator for the CDRS.
3. Determine the policy of research carried out at the CDRS in the framework of the Law, policy that will consider the financial potentialities and or limitations.
4. Approve the annual and pluriannual research plans of the CDRS after its approval by the General Assembly of the CDF.
5. Determine the methods of registrations and affiliation, storage and communication of the scientific production and intellectual property, generated from the research at the CDRS.

This 7 member committee is to be comprised of 5 government or para-governmental representatives, UNESCO, and CDF.

Also, a "Scientific Advisory Committee" is to be established, with the following mandate:

a. Advise the Executive Director of the CDF on the formulation of research plans of the CDRS
b. Suggest new tendencies and orientations on scientific research matters.
c. Propose actions to improve the CDRS
d. Others of consultative character that requires the Executive Director of the CDF

This 6 member committee is comprised of 5 government / Ecuadorian university representatives with the option for more, with a focus on internationally renowned scientific experts. 

The agreement includes further clauses which allow for tax free importation of goods for the CDF, but also require the CDF to report to the GoE on a regular basis, and to have any scientist working there seek formal accreditation from the GoE.  Of note is a clause that hands over the CDF logo and brand to the GoE upon termination of the agreement and that all property, infrastructure and equipment is to become the property of the GoE.

While it is good news that the CDF is given long term assurance of its ability to operation the Research Station, this agreement represents a tightening of the reigns in regards to what the CDF will be doing, and how it will do it.   There is not obligation on the part of of the GoE to provide any financial contribution, yet the CDF appears to be losing some operational freedom.   Will this make it harder to raise the funds required for the CDF's on-going existence?  Time will tell.

 

 

 

 

 

Yellow fever alert for those coming via Africa

Our friends at Quasar Nautica sent us this note recently.  Here it is, edited a  bit for CNH Tours readers:

There is currently a large epidemic of Yellow Fever in Angola, Africa. In order to try and limit the spread of this disease as much as possible, the Pan American Health Organization (the Americas branch of the World Health Organization) has requested many governments, including the Ecuadorean Government, to assist in the monitoring of the disease. This monitoring ONLY involves travelers that may be coming from Africa to Ecuador or travelers going to Africa from Ecuador.

Please note there is no Yellow Fever epidemic in Ecuador, but due to the situation in Angola, the immigration authorities in Ecuador will be requesting a certificate / proof of Yellow Fever Vaccination for ALL passengers entering Ecuador from any African country, even if passengers are just in transit through Africa on a connecting flight to South America. All travelers are recommended to consult individual country requirements by contacting the embassy of each country they intend to visit. It should be noted that some countries require proof of vaccination from all travelers.

 

United Nations pronounces on Galapagos conservation

UNESCO's intergovernmental World Heritage Committee reviewed the state of conservation of the Galapagos islands at its meeting in Istanbul recently (the meeting was suspended for a day in response to the coup attempt there...).  Below is an extract of the report and final decision.  

I find it quite tame, particularly in regards to the very rapid growth in land based tourism (over 8% year on year in recent years), which is a vector for the introduction and dispersal of alien species - the single most important threat to Galapagos animals and plants.  

The full report and decision can be consulted, starting on page 88 of this document:  http://whc.unesco.org/archive/2016/whc16-40com-7BAdd-en.pdf

 

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN

The information provided by the State Party addresses most concerns defined in previous World Heritage decisions.Biosecurity risks are directly related to the extensive increase of traffic, tourism and the resident population.

While further progress in the planning of the new port in Guayaquil, FEIG supported projects to eradicate alien invasive species and refined standards guiding transportation are welcomed, alien invasive species remain a threat to the property and biosecurity management and control continue to require consolidation.

Annual visitor numbers have been exceeding 200,000 since 2013, compared to around only 40,000 in the early 1990s, and the State Party reports 215,691 visitors in 2014 and 113,613 visitors in only the first semester of 2015. Such rapid growth in a fragile island setting raises concerns that are further exacerbated by the limited enforcement of the existing regulatory framework. The recently developed

regulations on hotel development, including through the 2015 Special Law, are noted with some concern; their efficiency will need to be closely evaluated. A clear tourism strategy for Galapagos with a focus on establishing mechanisms to discourage rapid and uncontrolled growth in visitation, which was identified by the Committee as a pending issue when it decided to remove the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger at its 34th session, is still lacking. Development of such a strategy was one of the key requests made by the Committee already in Decision 34 COM 7A.15, adopted in 2010.

The complex institutional landscape and limited funding continue to compromise effective and coordinated efforts to address both biosecurity and tourism. There is also concern that the new Special Law may further complicate the relationships between all institutions and stakeholders involved. Concerns with regards to the new Law were also raised in a civil society petition which was submitted to UNESCO in August 2015.

Progress in addressing solid waste management is welcomed. It is essential that those efforts are further consolidated, along with parallel efforts to improve the management of sewage on land and sea. It should be noted that the previously identified issues of population growth and illegal fishing continue to be a concern, which are not touched upon in the State Party report. It is recommended that the State Party provides confirmation and details of the recent rezoning of the marine part of the property announced in March 2016, in view of evaluating the impacts on threats from illegal fishing raised in previous Committee decisions.

Consistent with previous analyses, recommendations and Committee decisions, it is essential that the capacity and resources of institutions involved in the management of the property, as well as coordination among them, is further consolidated to ensure the broad scale of the multiple challenges is addressed in a comprehensive manner and secures the protection of the Outstanding Universal Value  (OUV) of the property as a whole. Six years after the removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger, which the Committee had explicitly associated with concrete expectations in terms of addressing the many challenges, several of those challenges still remain unresolved, including the development of a clear tourism strategy, as outlined above.

Other issues, such as biosecurity, require further consolidated efforts. While the progress achieved by the State Party should be welcomed, it is recommended that the World Heritage Committee request the State Party to continue its efforts in order to fully address all pending issues, particularly biosecurity risks and tourism growth. It is further recommended that the Committee request the State Party to invite, before its 42nd session, an IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission to the property to assess whether all remaining issues noted by the World Heritage Committee at the time when the property was removed from the List of World Heritage in Danger have been addressed.

Final Decision: 40 COM 7B.74

The World Heritage Committee,

 ….

4.Notes the progress achieved by the State Party in addressing solid waste management and requests the State Party to continue its efforts to establish an effective system of solid waste management and to also improve the management of sewage on land and sea;

5. Also requests the State Party to provide further information regarding the recent rezoning of the marine part of the property announced in March 2016, in view of evaluating the impacts on threats from illegal fishing raised in previous Committee decisions;

6. Expresses its concern that comprehensive and effective management responses, in particular as regards the fundamental and related challenges of biosecurity and tourism, continue to require further strengthening of current efforts and urges the State Party to fully implement the requests made by the Committee when it decided to remove the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger at its 34th session, including:

a) Development and implementation of a clear tourism strategy for Galapagos, with a focus on establishing mechanisms to discourage rapid and uncontrolled growth in visitation,

b) Completion of the biosecurity chain of inspection and control by establishing the dedicated cargo facilities at a single Guayaquil cargo loading dock and by considering Baltra as the only authorized point of entry to the islands to receive cargo from the continent;

7. Further requests the State Party to invite, before its 42nd session in 2018, an IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission to the property to assess the progress achieved in addressing these pending issues;

8. Requests furthermore the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 December 2017, an updated report on the state of conservation of the property and the implementation of the above, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 42nd session in 2018.

Ships swallowed by giant sea creature

We're a bit sad to announce that the first class, 16 passenger Athala, and the luxury 48 passenger Eclipse were recently acquired by Celebrity cruises.  Though for the time being, they will continue to be sold  through the local Ocean Adventures company, by the start of 2018, these ships will disappear into the maw of another cruise giant - Celebrity Cruises.   They've already been rebranded, the Athala becoming the Celebrity Xploration, and the Eclipse becoming the Celebrity Xperience.   

What does this mean for you?  It means:

  • dealing with a large and impersonal "operations center" completely removed from the Galapagos
  • booking with people having little if any direct knowledge about either Galapagos, nor even about Ecuador.
  • the "MaDonaldisation" of the cruise experience - with fewer, larger owners applying standardization to on-board experiences across their entire networks.  
  • Higher prices - the 7 night Christmas cruise on the Eclipse (Xperience), at $8,000 for 2016, currently advertised at $12,600 for 2018. 

We consider these as negative developments for those looking to experience Galapagos in a more personal, unique way.   Of course, as cruise sellers ourselves, we are concerned over being structurally excluded from selling some ships, reducing the number of ships available to recommend to our clients.   Thankfully, there are 69 ships plying Galapagos waters, and this process is happening mostly in the highest end, and largest ship categories. 4-5 ships are so affected at this point - Silversea's  100 passenger "Silver Galapagos" being another. 

For those not overly concerned about having a turn down service on board, there are still a great number of very nice ships from which to choose and we continue to be happy and eager to help you find the one the most suits your interests.  

Can you find the $4,600 per person difference?

 

Eclipse last week...

Xperience this week

 

 

 

 

 

 

United Nations says (land based) tourism out of control

(Paris)  UNESCO's World Heritage Centre published its "State of Conservation" report on Galapagos yesterday, in advance of the July meeting of the intergovernmental World Heritage Committee meeting.   

This report represents the global community's word on the current conservation concerns in Galapagos, as expressed via formal United Nations channels.   The report is based on information gathered directly through site visits, provided by various observers and NGOs, and also obtained from the government of Ecuador's self-assessment, sent to UNESCO back in February this year.    The report also includes specific recommendations for action directed to the Government of Ecuador, to ensure that this World Heritage site maintains the values for which it was originally allowed onto the World Heritage List, back in 1978.

The report raises concerns over the following points:

1) Alien species:   "alien invasive species remain a threat to the property and biosecurity management and control continue to require consolidation"

2) Rapid tourism growth:  "Annual visitor numbers have been exceeding 200,000 since 2013, compared to around only 40,000 in the early 1990s, and the State Party reports 215,691 visitors in 2014 and 113,613 visitors in only the first semester of 2015. Such rapid growth in a fragile island setting raises concerns that are further exacerbated by the limited enforcement of the existing regulatory framework...  A clear tourism strategy ... to discourage rapid and uncontrolled growth... is still lacking".

CNH Tours notes that the increase in tourism numbers is almost exclusively linked to land based tourism model, as the ship based tourism remains relatively capped.  In its report on 2015 tourism numbers, the government noted a 3% drop in ship based tourism, compared to an 8% increase in land based tourism.  To see the full report (in Spanish), click here.  In the 1990's, the vast majority of visitors to Galapagos embarked on a cruise.  According to the report, only 32% of visitors took a cruise in 2015.  This trend is driven in large part by the increasing popular appeal of a Galapagos vacation on the part of lower end travellers, combined with the increasing prices of a cruise based visit, making that kind of visit out of reach for many.

3) Confusing / inefficient institutional context:  "The complex institutional landscape and limited funding continue to compromise effective and coordinated efforts to address both biosecurity and tourism".

The report goes on to note:  "Six years after the removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger, ...several ...  challenges still remain unresolved, including the development of a clear tourism strategy".

I used to work for the UNESCO World Heritage Centre and can attest to the critical importance attributed to a very rigorous biosecurity capacity for the islands.  This means i) keeping alien species out in the first place; ii) being able to detect their arrival rapidly as a 2nd component and iii) having the capacity to eradicate or control existing alien species.    

The only real threat is that which comes from the arrival of new species, which can lead to the extinction of unique Galapagos species.  Just last week, we reported on the extinction of one of the Galapagos Vermilion flycatcher sub-species.   As I write, the Darwin Finches are in their fight for survival faced with the devastating onslaught brought about by the Philornis downsii fly, which lays eggs in the finches' nests, and whose larvae can kill the finch chicks before they fledge.  It is not a coincidence that, after surviving in the islands for hundreds of thousands, even millions of years, the Darwin Finch might become extinct little more than 200 years or so following the first human settlements there.  Which species is next?  

The arrival of new species is inextricably linked to the presence of humans.  The challenge is to break that link. One way to do so is to minimize the movement of people and goods between the islands and the continent, and between the islands themselves.  The rapid growth of tourism is working against that effort.   Hence, UNESCO's call for a clear tourism strategy.  This strategy should focus on a high value low numbers tourism model that contributes most to the economic needs of the local population while reducing the dependency on mass tourism model that exacerbates efforts at controlling the arrival and dispersal of invasive species.  

The full UNESCO report can be consulted here

 

Ground nesting Galapagos Petrels, found only in Galapagos, lose chicks to alien ant species.

 

 

 

 

CNH Tours goes public... in a small way.

CNH Tours gave a presentation last night to interested neighbours, along with future and past visitors to the Galapagos islands. The presentation focused on setting the geological and biological context of the islands, followed by a review of conservation challenges, and a discussion on the latest conservation action priorities as recommended by the UNESCO intergovernmental World Heritage Committee.  The embassy of Ecuador was represented by its attaché for tourism and communications.   It was fun, and we were given the impression that the participants very much enjoyed themselves.   

 

The first bird extinction in Galapagos

The first bird extinction in Galapagos

(thank you to the UK based Durell Wildlife Conservation Trust who published this story yesterday.  CNH Tours adds that there have certainly been earlier extinctions, but this would be the first recorded one since the arrival of humans in the islands).

The vermilion flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus) is a widespread songbird found in North and South America and in the Galápagos Islands. This beautiful and distinctive bird has traditionally had several recognized subspecies including two in the Galápagos. A recent study, however, has now confirmed that these two Galápagos forms should be elevated to two full, distinct, species P. nanus (throughout Galápagos) and P. dubius (only on the island of San Cristóbal). The excitement of the presence of two ‘new’ species in the islands is reduced by the fact that it appears that the San Cristóbal flycatcher has become extinct. This would represent the first documented extinction of a Galápagos-endemic bird species. 

The vermilion flycatcher has been declining before our eyes throughout most of the Galápagos islands in recent years. Birgit Fessl (a former Durrell field programme member) reports it has disappeared from San Cristóbal and from Floreana while in Santa Cruz its status is critical with a population estimated at only 50-60 individuals. In Santiago few were found recently and in Isabela numbers are not clear with healthy populations in some places but none in others. In 2012, Durrell and Galápagos Conservation Trust chose the vermilion flycatcher as the focus of a joint Christmas appeal to raise funds for landbird conservation in the islands.

So, why is the vermillion flycatcher in such obvious peril? It is not yet clear but many landbirds are badly impacted by two invasive threats; black and brown rats and the parasitic fly Philornis downsi. Rats climb into the nests and eat the eggs and if any chicks do hatch the parasitic flies kill the growing chicks.

Durrell has worked in partnership with the Galápagos National Park Service and Charles Darwin Foundation since 2006 to save what were thought to be the rarest birds in the islands, the mangrove finch and Floreana mockingbird. Both these birds have been pushed to the verge of extinction by invasive rats and flies. Sadly other songbirds have declined too including the flycatcher. The new study has shown that, with the loss of a species that hadn’t even been fully identified, this is a fight we need to win soon or the biodiversity of these magnificent islands will be lost for ever.

           

After a lengthy makeover - the Darwin Station Exhibition Hall re-opens

The Charles Darwin Foundation announced today that its exhibition hall / interpretation centre has re-opened.  It had been closed for many months, disappointing many visitors keen on knowing more about one of the most iconic research stations of the world. 

We worked at the Station for 4 years a while back - it is populated by (mostly) young staff, many Ecuadorian scientists and budding scientists, with a handful of international colleagues as well.   It has always been a bit of a challenge to keep the Station running - as overhead costs for such a place, located on a remote rocky, tropical archipelago can be very high.   But so far, the succession of station managers, with the support of their evolving boards, have managed.   The Station does not come across as a glimmering / shiny modern establishment - but rather a robust and functional institution.  Its rag tag collection of buildings, built over the years, illustrate a change in accessibility of building materials, or in the fortunes of the Darwin Foundation (which operates the station) at a particular time.

Here is the text of the announcement:  

CDF is very excited to officially open the doors of the brand new 'Charles Darwin' Exhibition Hall at our Research Station in Puerto Ayora. The inauguration took part of the recently renovated space, which makes it possible for us to tell the story behind our conservation projects of the unique ecosystems in the Galapagos Islands, as well as making the visitors experience to our grounds unforgettable. 

Opening hours: 8:00am to 12:30pm and 2:30pm to 5:30pm (Monday to Sunday)

We have a great exhibit and a sample of the collections we take care off at the Research Station. You can visit the new look out, rest in the shade in the new exterior terrace, visit the statue of Darwin, learn about our projects and enjoy the peace of our grounds were our staff is always busy at work.

 

 

 

 

(Another) New park director named

On Friday last week, the Government of Ecuador named 30 year old naturalist guide Africa Berdonces as the new Park director, replacing the current interim director who himself replaced a director who had been in place for barely a year.  That's 4 directors in about 18 months.   Back in the early to mid-2000's, the park went through over a dozen directors and interim directors over a 3-4 year period.   The post is a politically sensitive one, as the director reports to the Minister of the Environment - a political appointee.  It's a difficult situation, when conservation priorities may not always fall in line neatly with political ones.   Back in 2008, then director Raquel Molina was fired in 2008 over such conflicts.  

Africa, the second woman Galapagos director is taking on a challenging job.  Not only will she need to oversee the management of a large government agency, having to deal with a large staff and all kinds of infrastructure and equipment, but she'll be constantly under the watchful eyes of international conservation organizations forever monitoring events in the islands.  She will also need to deal with the increasing local population, most of which has little direct interest in conservation matters, yet who feel that the National Park may be limiting economic development opportunities.  

The New York Times published an article on Berdonce today - in it, they mention her father, a scuba dive shop owner an acquaintance of ours when we were living in the islands.  They also interview Susanna Schiess, mother-in-law of CNH Tours main partner in the islands, and top guide, Samba co-owner and principal guide, Juan Salcedo.   Susanna owns the Garrapata restaurant, one of the main town's landmarks, and often the site of our CNH Tours Active Galapagos "farewell dinner".   For the full article, click here.  

CNH Tours is pleased that the new director is someone with an intimate knowledge of the islands, having been raised there and having spent years navigating the archipelago.   Recent appointments of career government technocrats did not inspire confidence.  Ms. Berdonce is young - and running a complicated organization such as the Galapagos National Park Service will certainly present her with challenges she's not confronted before - but we do wish her all the best.

 

 Picture credit: Thomas Rodriguez, University of Miami

 

Strong aftershock hits NW Ecuador

The Northwestern coastal area of Ecuador yet again felt the earth tremble early this morning with a 6.7 magnitude tremor at 2:57 A.M. local time that the US Geological Service categorized as probably being a strong aftershock from the massive earthquake that occurred one month ago. The tremor, which registered at 32 km deep, could be felt in Quito but not in Cuenca or Galapagos. There is no tsunami warning in effect.

There are no reports of any effects in Quito, Guayaquil or the Galapagos.  All tourism operations continue normally there.   

CNH Tours has donated $1000 to the earthquake relief fund established by the Ecuadorian embassy in Ottawa, and is currently organizing a non profit fundraising cruise (see our Active Galapagos "Origin" trip, in late August 2016) where the ship owner (Samba) and CNH Tours will be handing over all proceeds to earthquake relief.   

 

 

Quito Airport hotels popping up like mushrooms

Finally, after three years, the new Quito airport is becoming better served by nearby hotels.   The new Tababela airport is a wonderful improvement on the old airport in almost all respects, except for a significant increase in the distance from downtown Quito.  While a taxi from the old airport to town could take little more than 15 minutes on a decent day, it takes 45 minutes from the new airport.   And if there's traffic - let's not talk about it.   Thankfully, most flights to Galapagos, and to and from North America and Europe arrive and depart outside the rush hour.

Still, for those passing through Quito and just wanting to spend one night (e.g. flying from Galapagos to catch a flight the next day), until recently, the selection of hotels nearby was very poor - more like backpacker specials.  It was only a matter of time before the big guns established themselves.   In a an interview with Gabriela Sommerfeld, of the Quito tourism office, given to Travel Pulse, an on-line travel news website, she states:

"The new airport has been an anchor for the development of the “Tababela” area, where it is located, managing to attract hotel investments around the project, such as the Wyndham "Great Condor" Hotel that just opened last month, the Holiday Inn Quito Airport Hotel with 130 rooms, Hilton San Patricio Hotel with 130 rooms, the Eurobuilding Hotel with 130 rooms and the Royal Green Apartments and Hotel."

For those wanting something a bit more small scale with plenty of local flavour, there are some interesting options also - such as the Rincon de Puembo, or the Hacienda Jimenita.  

To spend more time in the city, a hotel by the airport may not be the best option - but for those just flying "in and out", this is a wonderful new development.  

Hacienda Jimenita

Hotel Wyndham Quito Airport (note from author:  Somehow, I don't think the beautiful view of undisturbed pasture and hills will last for very long)

Rincon de Puembo

 

Samba scores high in this world traveller's opinion

This review of the Samba by a seasoned wildlife adventure traveller, posted on TripAdvisor last September, slipped by us originally, but we spotted it recently.  We thought it was well written and realistic.   So much so that we copy/paste it here below.   It can be seen in the context of the full TripAdvisor discussion by clicking here.  

We did the Samba northwestern itinerary in June, 2015, and would rate the trip 5 stars. "We" are an early-50s dad, traveling with his two late-teenaged boys (16 and 19), and all of us are experienced adventure travelers (Africa, South America, South Pacific, New Zealand, Alaska, etc). We found the Samba trip to be excellent and the staff to be very accomodating. We selected the northwestern itinerary because less people travel that route, and we really wanted to see the backside of Isabela, and the marine Iguana on Fernandina. All of our goals were fulfilled. We would highly recommend the trip to anyone.

The "Tourist Superior" class rating of the Samba is accurate. A well-maintained ship, excellent crew, very knowledgeable guide, well-prepared food, extremely clean and good quality accomodations, but not a super-spacious boat. You spend almost no time in the cabins, so a clean and comfortable bed is really what you need, and Samba provides that amenity. Our guide, Nic, was spectacular. He was very knowledgeable and spoke excellent English. We were very happy with Nic, even though he is not the everyday Samba guide (the regular guide is part-owner, and has a good reputation too, but had the week off when we traveled). The trip has a heavy dose of both snorkeling and easy hikes, and some kayaking. If you do not like snorkling, you should pick a different boat, as half of the excursions are snorkeling excursions. The marine wildlife is just as amazing as the land creatures, so we thoroughly enjoyed both activities. 

I am 6'4", so I can speak to the bunk-size question asked by one of the forum participants. The boat has 6 double-cabins, and one larger suite with a queen bed. I stayed in a cabin alone (my boys shared a cabin). All cabins (except the suite) are bunk beds. The lower bunk bed of the cabins is quite comfortable for a taller person, if you sleep slightly diagonal (the lower bunk is much wider thant the upper bunk). The suite is on the top floor of the boat , and sounds great, at first, since the bed is very large, and you have a relatively private balcony. However, since the suite is at the top of the boat, the movement from the waves is substantially higher. If you are prone to sea-sickness, you will have a problem, so avoid the suite if you don't like ship movement (almost everyone had seasickness at some point during the trip, since the waters are rough, especially on the overnight journeys). The six standard cabins on the boat are "at the water-line", with port-hole window, so movement is much less than the suite.

 

 

 

The Samba is a single hull boat , so expect the vehicle to sway. The northwestern itinerary has some long overnight legs, which sounds good because you can sleep during these times. However, do not expect a restful sleep during the long journeys because the seas are fairly rough. The rough seas dynamic is a part of cruising in the Galapagos, so all boats face the same challenge. We did speak to many people about the single-hull versus catamaran debate: catamarans may sway less due to the double-hull, but the banging of the waves on that double-hull of the catamarans are just as big a challenge for sleeping as the movement on the single-hull. Pick your poison, I guess.

 

 

 

The boat carries 14 passengers, plus the crew. We found this size to be very convenient, as we could get to the land and sea excursions very quickly (the Samba has two zodiac-style inflatable boats). Apparently, getting on and off of boats with more passengers can be a time-consuming event. We never had a problem with the Samba. Everyone eats in a common dining area, which is also quite comfortable. The boat is large enough to have some good private areas too, for those times you want to be alone.

 

 

 

We really enjoyed the Samba, and would travel with them again.

Fundraising cruise for earthquake victims - join us!

The owner of the Samba approached us yesterday and asked us to join him in organizing an fundraising cruise for the victims of last Saturday's massive earthquake on the NW coast of Ecuador (Galapagos was not affected).   We immediately decided to accept his offer - the cruise is already posted on our website under the "Active Galapagos / dates and details" page.  All proceeds, both ours, and those of the ship owner, will be donated to earthquake relief work.   

The trip (August 28 - Sept 7) will consist of 2 nights in Quito (pre-cruise), a Quito City day tour (the nicest capital city in all of South America), flight to Galapagos, 7 nights on the highly acclaimed Samba (SE itinerary - see the waved albatross nestlings stretching their wings...), and the services of one of the most highly rated guides in Galapagos, Juan Manuel Salcedo.

Contact us for more information.  

 

CNH Tours supports earthquake relief

We were contacted by the Ecuadorian embassy yesterday, informing us that a special earthquake relief account had been opened, and asking us to spread the news.   The damage has been severe and extensive in the northwest part of the country (Quito, Guayaquil and the Galapagos have been spared).  While Ecuador has benefited very much from the high oil prices in the past years, the current low price has put the squeeze on government budgets under normal circumstances.  The urgent need for cash following the earthquake has made things doubly difficult.   

Today, we contributed $1,000 to the fund, and we challenge other Galapagos tour operators to do the same.  We contacted the International Galapagos Tour Operators' Association, and suggested they contact their members.  

We also encourage our guests to do the same.   Ecuador is a small country, but one that has been trying hard to improve the standard of living for its people.  It deserves our support.   

Below, please find the details on the Embassy bank account set up to receive donations for earthquake relief (USA / Canada accounts).

1.  USA

 2.  Canada

 

Major earthquake largely by-passes tourist areas

Yesterday's magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck the northwest part of the country, along the coast.  Heavy damage was reported in towns of that area, with large buildings up to six stories high having crumbled.  The latest death toll is skirting 300.   

The effect of the earthquake was felt as far away as Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest city and main commercial port.   Some houses were damaged, and some road infrastructure also.  Quito also felt the quake, but with little effect there.    

For visitors to Ecuador, unless you are traveling to that part of the county (cities of Esmeraldas, Manabi and Guayas), your travel plans should proceed without any interruption.  

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