CNH Tours - Cultural and Natural Heritage Tours Galapagos
Tuesday November 29, 2016
While attending the Charles Darwin Foundation's annual general meeting 2 weeks ago, I noticed some shroud covered vehicles tucked away behind the new (and very well done) interpretation centre there. A few casual inquiries, and I learned that underneath lay resting several new 100% electric cars. Hyundai CEO was on hand, as were many senior company officials and plenty of media - ready for the global launch of these new vehicles. I learned that the Darwin Station CEO and one of its major donors were planning on "button-holing" the CEO on the evening of the launch to argue for some solid Galapagos conservation support. Let's hope something materializes!
Below - unveiling of the new electric vehicles at the Darwin station.
Sunday November 27, 2016
I went to Galapagos and Quito on November 9 for a two-week visit. My objectives were to:
- participate in the Charles Darwin Foundation's Annual General Meeting (I'm a governing / voting member)
- inspect some ships so that we may be better positioned to comment on them;
- meet with our service providers to ensure all was running smoothly and to identify ways to improve the experience for our guests and;
- see our old friends and acquaintances, to strengthen our personal bonds with the islands and the community there.
For posterity, and for those who might be interested, here is a short report on the trip.
- Charles Darwin Foundation’s Annual General Meeting
This was my first AGM as a voting member of the governing council. The CDF is emerging from a financial straightjacket. A few years ago, several large projects were coming to an end, and the CDF was faced with a severe cash flow shortage. Due to new labour laws, the cost of laying off staff had skyrocketed, resulting in a downward spiral in terms of cash flow issues. Thankfully, a last-minute donor kicked in several hundreds of thousands of dollars to help with the costs of laying off staff. Over the next 2 years, the CDF was able to get back on to its feet, and as of this financial year, it is back in the typical NGO financial situation – budgeting for $4M worth of activities in 2017, but with a pretty much guaranteed income of $3.3M – hoping to raise additional funds along the way.
The 2-day AGM ended with a feeling that things were back to normal after having run a painful cash flow gauntlet. This doesn’t mean that the sailing will be smooth, but only that legacy issues, the proverbial albatross around its neck, had been successfully dealt with. CNH Tours is a strong supporter of the CDF and wholeheartedly encourages others to support its good work as well. Of note this year was the on-going effort at finding a solution to the invasive fly (Philornis downsii) which lays its eggs in the nests of native birds, resulting in a huge mortality. Our old friend Charlotte Causton is leading an international effort at dealing with this extinction threat.
- Ship Inspections
I boarded and inspected 9 ships (I could have inspected more – but after 9, things start to blur and it is hard to maintain a clear impression on one ship over another). The following ships were on my list: Nemo I, Nemo II, Passion, Integrity, Majestic, Origin, Grace, Tip Top II, Tip Top III. I would have no problems recommending any of these ships – as long as expectations and ship amenities / budgets were matched. Some of things that were highlights: Nemo I: Small, cozy and intimate – good for small groups; getting into the cabins requires a certain physical dexterity. The Origin’s captain showed me around his ship – Pablo Salas. His regular job is 2nd officer on one of the 5,000 passenger Celebrity cruise ships – but as he is a Galapagos resident, he likes to captain the Origin from time to time. The Passion is the lowest capacity (12 passenger) luxury vessel in the islands – and recently partnered with the international conservation organization Wild Aid – Fiddi Angermeyer, the owner and an old acquaintance, was on board supervising some refurbishments. I was taken by the Integrity, well recommended by an old friend of mine – and we are considering it for a future “comfort + Active Galapagos” package. The Majestic had wonderful floor to ceiling windows in its top deck cabins. I could go on.
- Meeting with service providers
The owner of the Samba, Juan Manuel Salcedo (with his family), the ship we have been chartering for over 10 years, invited me out on a sport fishing outing (run by his brother-in-law, Nicolas Schiess on the Tesoro ship) with Scott Henderson, and old friend who is currently vice-president for Latin America at Conservation International, based in Galapagos. We talked non-stop for a few hours while Nicolas and his crew piloted the ship, managed fishing lines and caught a dolphin fish (mahi-mahi). We proceeded to a cove for some snorkeling (there were at least 50 turtles with us, and a dozen white tipped reef sharks, sea lions and more) and to eat our fish. This was a great opportunity to get updated on island and national politics, trends in the tourism industry and conservation issues in the islands. I met up with Juan and his wife Erika again later in the week, and we reviewed our work together, suggesting improvement for the highlands tour, and increasing efficiencies in terms of invoicing etc.
I also met with the owner of the Hotel Fernandina to discuss improvements. This family run hotel, started in the 1970’s by don Fernando, has grown from 4 to 26 rooms. We’ve been using it for 12 years or so. It is a simple hotel, no frills, but well managed and very reasonably priced – ensuring that we can keep the price under control for our signature “Active Galapagos” trip, which includes 2 nights in Galapagos after the cruise. Don Fernando was kind enough to host me for the 9 nights I stayed in the islands. This gave me the opportunity to inspect the hotel and its operations. I left them with a list of suggested improvements – which we discussed. Don Fernando is 70 years old, and remains the owner of the hotel, though his 3 children are now running it. I noted some challenges ahead in terms of the succession and we’ll be keeping an eye on things there. I visited a few other hotels to enhance our personal knowledge of other accommodations opportunities in the islands.
I had a long chat with Paulina, the niece of the Mansion del Angel’s owner (who has no children of his own). We reviewed our business relationship and came up with minor improvements to what we concluded was a very good relationship. The Mansion del Angel is a unique hotel – chock-a-block full of early 20th century charm – an historic mansion in Quito, with lovely grounds in the back (and a spa – book your massage). The location is not ideal in the sense that a taxi is required to get anywhere – but it’s a small price to pay for such a memorable hotel experience. The food is also very nicely prepared and presented.
I visited two hotels near the Quito airport. We will be recommending a hotel for those people spending just one night in Quito, and not wanting to take the 45 minute (or more) journey from the airport down in the valley, up to Quito city. I visited the airport Wyndham hotel – quite new, and a very decent business type hotel, almost a walking distance from the airport ($3 by airport taxi). All the rooms are facing away from the airport – ensuring that you are not bothered by the noise (I stayed one night). I also visited Rincon de Puembo (15-20 minutes’ drive from the airport). Though further than the Wyndham, it makes up for it 10 times over for the charm and coziness. This is an old country estate, turned into a modern 35 or so room hotel, fully respecting all the architectural niceties. The ideal hotel would be to have the Rincon de Puembo located where the Wyndham his – but you can’t have it all I’ve been told.
- Old friends and acquaintances
In Quito, I dined with Adriana Vallejos, our long-time CNH Tours agent there. We first met her in 2000, when she helped book a jungle logde for our first ever Galapagos charter. She is a ball of energy, our “eyes and ears” in Quito. When we want something done, nothing will stop her. Adriana is both a friend and part-time employee. We reviewed how things were going and agreed on some minor improvements.
Eliecer Cruz: Governor of the province of Galapagos. Eliecer had been my boss when I worked in the islands – Park director at the time. He then took up the job of head of the WWF office, and then was appointed governor by the president of Ecuador. We had the opportunity to chat during the Darwin Foundation AGM.
Walter Bustos: Park director – I was invited to his office for a courtesy visit. We had met a few years earlier while I was still working at UNESCO and he was an assistant to the minister of the environment. When I mentioned that I was working a lot with the Samba, he exclaimed that it was a good ship – that the Park had given it an award recently for service to the community.
Veronica Santamaria: Galapagos National Park tourism and public use director. I just wanted to say hello, to let her know of our concerns over the uncontrolled growth of the land based tourism in the islands. She was new to the job – it was a good chance to have her hear from cruise agencies such as ours.
Mathias Espinoza: This handsome green-eyed Ecuadorian-German Galapagueño, and his wife Maria Agusta, are old friends from my Darwin days. He owns the Scuba Iguana dive shop and his wife, a marine biologist, is now raising 2 boys and helping with the dive business and with their newly opened hostal (La Casa de Mathias) – very nice and located on a quiet dead end street next to the park boundary.
Gaby Bohorquez: Gaby is a naturalist guide, based in the UK, where, with her husband Paul McFarling (also a guide) they are raising their children. Gaby continues to guide, and I caught up with her as she disembarked from the Endeavour. She and Paul are our old friends – we visited them last summer in the UK, and they dropped in on us frequently when we lived in the Paris area. They also run a hostal, the "Cactus Pad", just near to Mathias' place.
Ivonne Torres: A naturalist guide, now working for Puerto Ayora city hall, she’s in charge of sustainable development issues. It was her birthday, and I was invited to celebrate with her and friends on the rooftop of a newly built hotel in the far end of Puerto Ayora. Good to catch up on what the town is doing these days.
Scott Henderson and Maria Elena Guerra (MEG): Former Darwin station colleagues and friends, they now live on their 40 acre farm in the highlands above Puerto Ayora. Scott is now the VP for Latin America at Conservation International, and MEG is the administrative officer for WWF Ecuador. They have 10,000 coffee plants and produce the delicious Lava Java coffee of Galapagos. I’ve asked them to receive our Active Galapagos guests during their highland visits – we are working on the details. They have a fascinating life story – Scott was born and raised in Ohio but ended up on a coffee farm in Galapagos!
Charlotte Causton and Heinke Jagr: My old Darwin Station colleagues continue to carry the torch. Heinke lives in a charmingly dilapidated A-frame house on the shores of Academy Bay. She invited Charlotte and I for a dinner on the concrete platform by the sea, under the stars, for dinner, where we discussed the latest goings-on and conservation challenges.
Godfrey Merlen: He also looks like Merlin the magician – Godfrey is the Godfather of behind the scenes marine conservation work in Galapagos. He landed there in the 1970’s I believe and over time, burnished his reputation as an action oriented can-do mariner. Hired to carry out sperm whale research, to help oversee the construction of Park ships and to run the Wild Aid office, Godfrey is a fixture in the islands with an unusual wit and a sharp eye. It’s always great to catch up.
Arturo Izurieta: The Charles Darwin Research Station director – we had some good chats on the health of the Foundation, and how CNH Tours could help. Arturo had been park director on two occasions prior to taking up this latest post, where he has his hands full.
Over the course of my 9 days in the islands, I ran into so many other old friends and colleagues: Wilson Cabrera, one of the lead hunters in the goat eradication project I help develop; Karl Campbell, one of the masterminds of the goat eradication strategy; Macarena Iturralde, who runs her own Latin American tour agency; Cristina Paz and Champi, her husband: both guides, Champi often guides on our Active Galapagos trips and Cristina is currently helping me develop a ratings system for visitor sites; Paola Diaz, in charge of public relations at the Station; Hugo Echeverria, a lawyer who worked with the Sea Shepherd Society and who almost singlehandedly helped change the attitude of the Ecuadorian legal community in regards to environmental crimes; Jose Gallardo, the owner of the best hardware store in town (Bodega Blanca) and so many more. All of these people make up our home away from home in Galapagos.
Friday November 25, 2016
I just returned from a 10 day visit to Galapagos - and everywhere I turned, people there were in agreement. The footage captured by the BBC was simply extraordinary. I lived in the islands for 4 years and have been on a few cruises. Never have I seen a snake. It turns out that the rocks, particularly on Fernandina island, are slithering with them. All they need is a little temptation to coax them out. See the footage here:
Monday October 24, 2016
I just learned from the Queen Beatriz's main sales representative that a fire took hold on board while this 16 passenger first class ship was undergoing biennial maintenance procedures in Ecuador's main port city of Guayaquil. This happened on October 13th - but because the ship was not in service - it took a while for the news to reach me. The fire started with an explosion in the engine room, where apparently cleaning was taking place using gasoline. One man was taken to hospital with serious burn wounds.
Though I have no firm news yet, it does appear that the ship will be out of service for quite a while, if not completely withdrawn from Galapagos and replaced with another. The ship is owned by Angel Vilema, whose family owns the Lobo de Mar hotel in Puerto Ayora. CNH Tours ran its first charters with the Lobo de Mar ship, and got to know the Vilema's quite well in those days. Angel is an elected member of the national assembly.
If anyone out there is booked on the Queen Beatriz, I would recommend you get in touch with your agent as soon as possible to ensure alternative plans are made to your satisfaction.
Friday September 23, 2016
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.
Sunday September 18, 2016
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.
Wednesday September 7, 2016
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
Saturday September 3, 2016
Wednesday August 31, 2016
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!
Sunday August 21, 2016
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.
Thursday August 4, 2016
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.
Tuesday July 26, 2016
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.
Friday June 24, 2016
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
Tuesday June 14, 2016
(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.
Friday June 10, 2016
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.
Friday June 10, 2016
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.
Thursday June 9, 2016
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.
Monday May 23, 2016
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
Wednesday May 18, 2016
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.
Wednesday May 18, 2016
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.
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