Galapagos News

Linda Cayot - Giant Tortoise Conservation Champion (1951-2022)

Linda passed away just recently, after an illustrious career dedicated to Galapagos conservation in general- but with a focus on giant tortoises.

She first travelled to Galapagos in March 1981 to do her Ph.D. research on giant tortoises. She ended up spearheading the giant tortoise ecological restoration efforts for nearly 20 years, working for the Galapagos National Park Service and the Charles Darwin Research Station.  She was a very well-known personality in the Galapagos conservation community, both in the islands and beyond. 

Thanks to her discoveries, the Park and the Darwin Station were able to establish a program for the captive breeding of giant tortoise. This success led to the restoration of giant tortoise populations on several of the Galapagos islands where they had been hunted to near extinction, and where the eggs and young of the few remaining individuals where being eaten by introduced pigs.

It was thanks to Linda’s vote of confidence that CNH Tours co-founder Marc Patry was hired by the Charles Darwin Research Station in 1998 to prepare and launch the Isabela Project, the most ambitious ecological restoration project in Galapagos history. She had done much of the ground work for him to follow-up on. That project led to the removal of all goats from the northern sector of Isabela Island (where they had been turning forests into deserts) and all goats and pigs from Santiago Island (there are no pigs on northern Isabela Island).  With the removal of these barriers, giant tortoises are now reproducing successfullly again on Santia Island, and their habitat on Isabela Island is no longer threatenned.  

After her nearly 20 years in Galapagos, Linda went on to advocate for Galapagos conservaiton with the Galapagos Conservancy, a US NGO.

In the "Linda Cayot Refuge" at the top of Alcedo Volcano (Isabela Island), 1998.  Left to right:  Eliecer Cruz (Galapagos National Park director); unknown; Lind Cayot (seated); unknown; Marc Patry (Isabela Project Manager); Robert Bensted-Smith (Charles Darwin Station Director); the late Felipe Cruz (Isabela Project Technical Coordinator).  Photo taken by Wacho Tapia (Galapagos National Park Chief of Technical Operations).  

 

 

Worried about getting seasick on an expedition ship?

We ask our returning guests to fill out a questionnaire on their trip (almost all are on 12-20 passenger expedition ships). One of the questions is: "Please rate the extent to which motion sickness prevented you from enjoying the trip". 1 = not at all; 5 = I wanted to get off the ship ASAP!
We copy paste the results below.

We very regularly get people telling us they get seasick, expressing concerns - but based on the results, very few people were significantly bothered by it. Only once in 20+ years of helping people organize their Galapagos expedition cruise did we have a guest get off a ship due to motion sickness issues.
In our experience, typically, after a day at sea, almost everyone gets their sea legs and does fine. Of course, there are medicines / patches etc... just in case.
(FYI - the only time someone on our team has ever been seasick in Galapagos was on an inter-island ferry)

Ecuador: Global Cocoa Pioneer

We've been going to Ecuador since 1996.  Back then, it still came across as an isolated country off the beaten path, struggling to move on from the 1950s.  The only chocolate we could find was imported from the USA.   

Today, a visitor will feel that Ecuador has joined the global community.  Besides new airports and highways, gleaming new buildings, fancy restaurants and shops, one will take note of the explosion in chocolate products, all very well presented (Ecuador exported US$940 million worth of cacao in 2021).   One of the best known chocolate companies in South America is Ecuadorian - Republica del Cacao (we'll never forget the creamy, fragrant hot chocolate we had at the Lima airport in Peru at 4AM... best breakfast ever!)

Another well-known Ecuadorian chocolate company is Pacari.  Not only do they produce a wide variety of chocolates, but they also developed many "visitor friendly" products, such as a top-drawing museum in Quito (includes tasting...) and even multi-day chocolate tours in the country. 



It turns out that the cocoa tree was first domesticated, and beans harvested in what is now the Ecuadorian Amazon, 5,500 years ago.  In an article published by Ecuavisa on the 12th of September, that finding was explained.   Thanks to Google Translate (no editing from us), we reproduce it below:  

 

ECUAVISA, 12 September 2022

A study by the anthropologist Francisco Valdez, carried out together with a group of French researchers, conclusively demonstrated that the domestication of cocoa took place in the Ecuadorian Amazon almost 2,000 years earlier than in Mexico, where this fact had historically been located.

In this way, it was determined that Ecuador is the cradle of the origin of cocoa, nullifying the belief that it came from Central America. For this reason, this September 12, the government decorated the author of this discovery for his contribution to Ecuadorian archaeology.

Valdez's study places the domestication of cocoa for the first time specifically in the Palanda canton, located in the Amazonian province of Zamora Chinchipe.

"The fact that our ancestors domesticated cocoa 5,500 years ago reinforces our identity," said President Guillermo Lasso during the "Ecuador, Origin of Cocoa" event; where he decorated the anthropologist Francisco Valdez with the National Order of Merit, in the rank of Commander.

COUNTRY BRAND PROMOTION

On this topic, seven prominent French chefs, pastry chefs and chocolatiers are visiting Ecuador this week to learn about the origin and value of cocoa and, at the same time, discover the quality of national cuisine and promote the country brand.

On a tour of Quito, Guayaquil, Cerecita, Naranjal and Palanda, the guests will learn about the gastronomic variety offered by the country and the current development of cocoa, the French Embassy said in a statement.

The agenda includes meetings with chefs, academics and businessmen from the sector, visits to specialized farms, production plants and a historical journey to the roots of the domestication of cocoa.

Together with Valdez, leader of the investigation in Santa Ana-Palanda, an area where the Mayo-Chinchipe-Marañon culture settled, the French will visit the archaeological site where proof was found that the origin of the domestication of cocoa dates back a few 5,500 years in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

"This is almost 2,000 years before Mexico, where this event had historically been located," the French Embassy in Ecuador said in a statement.

The letter also pointed out that "this discovery that changes history is supported by numerous international scientific studies that confirm that the first place on the planet where humans used cocoa was in the current territory of Ecuador."

INVITED EXPERTS

Among the guests, who have stood out in different fields of French cuisine, are Guillaume Gómez, who received the title of best craftsman in France at the age of 25, which made him the youngest winner in history in the category of kitchen.

In addition, Christelle Brua, recognized as "best pastry chef of the year in 2009" and who currently works in the kitchens of the Elysee.

Also visiting Ecuador is Davy Tissot, who since 2004 has held the title of best craftsman in France; Christophe Marguin, who has received gastronomic awards such as "a Prosper-Montagné and the Pierre Taittinger International Culinary" (1996).

Among other visitors, there is also Johanna Le Pape, who in 2014 won the World Cup of Sweet Arts, and Victoire Finaz, member of the French Academy of Chocolate and Confectionery

AGRICULTURAL AWARD

During the visit of the French gastronomic mission to promote the Ecuadorian cocoa route, the French ambassador in Ecuador, Frédéric Desagneaux, on Sunday awarded Yann Gallon the Agricultural Decoration in the rank of knight.

The visit of the French representatives is an opportunity to promote the country brand by giving visibility to Ecuadorian products and gastronomy, while strengthening ties with France, added the French Embassy.

COCOA AND TOURISM

Tourism Minister Niels Olsen recalled that cocoa and its production chain were declared a national tourism activity.

In addition, he announced that, within the actions to promote this fruit, the country will participate in international fairs and commercial visits in nations such as France, the United States, Argentina and the United Kingdom.

“We lead the production of fine aroma cocoa with a 65% share on a global scale. In 2021, cocoa exports totaled USD 940 million. A sales record for the second year in a row.”

Cocoa is in Ecuador a crop that generates work -directly or indirectly- for no less than 600,000 Ecuadorians. In this sense, President Lasso highlighted that “98% of the production comes from small farms and provides sustenance to thousands of families.

In addition, Minister Olsen assured that, from the tourist perspective, cocoa is an option to generate new sensory experiences in travelers that start from the fruit and reach the chocolate produced by national producers.

"Witch" birds successfully raise young

They call them "Pàjaro brujo" in Spanish.  That translates into "witch bird".   In English they are known as "Common vermillion flycatchers" (Pyrocephalus rubinus).  While these birds are indeed fairly common in much of tropical South and Central America, Mexico and into the southwest USA, the Galapagos version, which looks very much like its mainland cousin (it's slightly smaller and not quite so brilliantly coloured), is considered a distinct species.  It's called the "Little vermilion flyctatcher" (Pyrocephalus nanus).  

 

The witch bird (little vermilion flycatcher)

This very striking bird has been plagued in Galapagos on two fronts:

1) through prasitization by the "vampire fly" (Philornis downsii) - which arrived in Galapagos 30 or more years ago (possibly as a stoweway on crates of fresh food being shipped to the island).  The fly (which looks very much like a typical housefly) lays its eggs in the nests of various birds (including Galapagos finches) and their larva feed on the chicks - often killing them; 

2) by the loss of its natural scalesia forest habitat, which has been clear cut for agriculture, and also succumbs to the very aggressive (and introduced) blackberry plant - likely intentionally brought in by early settlers.   

The bird used to be found on Floreana island and San Cristobal island, but no more.  

Scalesia forests - the natural habitat of the "witch bird" (little vermilion flycatcher)

 

The Galapagos National Park Service reported the following today: 


As part of an experimental project carried out by the Directorate of the Galapagos National Park and the Charles Darwin Foundation, this year seven new Little vermilion flycatcher chicks were born in an area of Scalesia pedunculata forest intervened by these institutions since 2018, in which scientists and park rangers implement actions to control two of the most threatening invasive species of the bird: the blackberry and the avian vampire fly (Philornis downsi).

These seven new birds are encouraging news for the survival of this species, which at the beginning of the project only had 30 breeding pairs. In 2021 there were eight fledglings and in 2020 six that were incorporated into the ecosystem thanks to the efforts invested by the DPNG and CDF in the area, which is considered the last refuge of the witch bird in Santa Cruz.

 

ISLANDS:  WHERE SPECIES COME AND GO
The challenges facing the little vermilion flycatcher are representative of those that many island bird species face around the world.  While remote islands like the Galapagos are well-known as crucibles for speciation - they are also places where species are more vulnerable to extinction.  Since the year 1500, at least 150 bird species are known to have become extinct world wide, and most of these extinctions have happened on islands.  Populations are by defintion small, and having evolved in unique ecosystems, they are very vulnerable to disturbances, such as the arrival of new species brought by humans, or even tsunamis or volcanoes.   Think of the Dodo...  

If you are interested in how islands work as living laboratories for biological evolution while at the same time, are dangerous places for species - you may want to read the prize winning book "The Song of the Dodo" by David Quammen.  Read our review of this book here

 

"The most incredible trip we have taken (with 40+ countries visited)"

One of our guests was on a rare 11 day Samba cruise in August.   On his return, he posted the most extensive review of a trip on the Samba that we have ever read on the TripAdvisor Galapagos Forum.  We asked his permission to "copy paste" it below. It will be very useful / informative to those consider a similar trip.

Hey all – we just returned from a 11-day Galapagos cruise and I wanted to share some feedback. As others have noted, TA does not have a spot to leave reviews for multi-day cruises, but it looks like folks are posting trip report/review combos in the forum. Here is mine. Apologies in advance for providing information that may be common knowledge or that has been said a thousand times. I have gotten so many good leads from TA forums and reviews that I want to give back a little. 

We spent 11 days on the Samba, taking the northwest route and adding on a few southeast islands: from Baltra airport to North Seymour, then Genovesa, Marchena, zig-zagging between Isabela and Fernandina, Floreana, Santa Cruz, Española, and San Cristóbal. This was the most incredible trip we have taken (with 40+ countries visited). Thank you so much to Heather and CNH Tours for making the arrangements and tending to our planning and travel needs! 

Samba at sunset (T. Stein)

What made the trip so amazing? The Samba approach fit us perfectly. First and foremost, our guide, Juan Salcedo. He was born and grew up in the Galapagos. He is passionate about everything in the islands and demonstrates care for both the land, sea, flora, and fauna and the people that have come to experience, learn, and observe. I cannot imagine a better host and guide. 

Next, the ship. The Samba is a smaller craft relative to the large and impersonal looking 100-passenger ships. Smaller, yes, with room for 14 passengers, but spacious enough to spread out. You can walk around the perimeter on the main and upper decks and seating is available fore and aft on both. The salon has a TV and DVD player (never on except to view photos, get a briefing of activities from Juan, and to watch a documentary on the early inhabitants of Floreana). It also contains numerous books for reference and reading enjoyment. I hadn’t finished my copy of “The Song of the Dodo” before the trip, and so read the copy on board when I had a few minutes. 

We were in cabin 5, with a larger-than-twin lower bunk and twin upper, and an ensuite bathroom with shower. Storage options were two large drawers under the bunks where we stored our soft-sided checked baggage, laptops, clothes, etc.; a small set of shelves on the wall across mounted above the electrical outlets (two 3-prong 110v U.S. style and one UK style) for battery charging, glasses, books, and other items; a small shelf next to the bathroom door with cup holders for the provided water bottles; and finally a small reading rack type shelf beside each bunk. Each bunk also had a reading lamp on the headboard. Three hooks were positioned behind the door for clothes and jackets. Other than sleeping, we spent maybe 10 minutes in the cabin each day. By the way, Juan’s family owns the boat, and thus Juan has a personal tie to the boat and the crew. He also knows the boat capabilities and has a vested interest in its appearance, maintenance, comfort, and functionality. 

Albatross waving... (T. Stein)

Then the crew. These guys seemingly have been together for years or even decades. Each one was always in a good mood and ready to help. Sometimes it was loading the panga or helping get our equipment. We heard plenty of laughter and good cheer from them. On several occasions, crew members helped some of our unsteady travel partners over some rough terrain. Most notably, they patiently assisted several folks more than a mile across uneven ground to the albatross nesting grounds on Española. On other days, Captain Jose and Don Ricardo were out snorkeling with us. Roberto, Enrique, Camilo, and Angel provided positive service without fail. 

And the food. We ate the freshest of everything. Fruit, vegetables, fish, shrimp. Five times per day: breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, and dinner. Something different every day and more options than really was necessary. That is, something for everyone. Had a hard snorkel or long, hot hike on one of the islands? No worries as a snack was waiting to revitalize! And water, tea, and coffee were available all day. The best part, in my opinion, was that we might have felt full, but the food was fresh and light. We couldn’t figure out how Angel did it! 

The real prize of the trip was the experiences of the island walks, snorkeling, and panga rides. It was during these that we benefited from having Juan as our guide and a being a small entourage of travelers on the Samba. Juan made minor schedule adjustments several times to get us to the action. “We are switching to place X because the currents have shifted and that’s where we will find the most activity.” Most days we were up at 5:30 in order to get the best light for photography and to see the early activity of the day. When I first read trip reports of “we were up so early” and “we returned from our trip utterly exhausted”, I was a little concerned. Well, we *were* up early every day, but then we went to bed early, too. In the roughly two dozen times we left the Samba on an excursion, we shared the trail/water with another group exactly zero times. We passed other groups a handful of times, always at the end of our excursion and the start of theirs. That is the beauty that was Juan’s knowledge of when and where to go. 

It didn’t take long to figure out that listening to the guide was the best course of action. Invariably we would see iguana along the coast at landing—they are like the McDonald’s of the Galapagos. They are everywhere, not usually very special, but somehow attractive at every turn. “Ignore the iguana here, we will see better examples later.” Said more than once, and true every time. Juan’s experience brought us opportunities to see the usual and less-than-usual. Whales off the port side, check. Albatross circling around for another landing attempt, check. Snorkeling above hammerhead sharks and rays in the depths, check. Watching a sea turtle burying her eggs, check. Snorkeling with penguins and playful sea lions, check. Some of this is a bit lucky, sure, but Juan set us up for success at every turn. 

We felt fortunate to share our on-board experience with some terrific fellow travelers, none of whom we knew prior to our arrival. I suspect that this was partly due to Heather and CNH Tours knowing the people already booked on the trip before we signed up. Still, we quickly bonded and enjoyed their companionship. Ages ranged from 35 to 85 yet we participated as a group on land and in the water. We always stayed together on land, and either one or two groups in the water supported by separate pangas and staff. And because our group was relatively small, we could stay an extra 30 minutes on the beach watching the turtle burying her eggs or spend more time riding the pangas through the mangroves or sit watching boobies diving for food. 

Posing pelican (T. Stein)

I will put a cap on the gushing words and close with some answers to questions I had going into the trip. 

One was about being on a boat for 10 nights straight. Turns out it wasn’t a problem at all. Being on the boat meant getting to places like Fernandina where day trippers can never reach, arriving just after sunrise for early action, and having more time for excursions. The Samba did not feel cramped, crowded, or confining. 

Another was on-board facilities. We always had safe, fresh drinking water (bring your water bottle!) plus coffee and tea. The private bathroom (with shower) in our cabin was small but serviceable. And we had three-prong plugs in our cabin for charging laptops and camera batteries throughout the voyage. I did bring along a small LED nightlight that I plugged into the bathroom outlet near the sink which made the nighttime trip to the loo a bit easier. 

The Samba provided high-quality snorkeling mask, fins, and wet suit. These exceeded expectations and confirmed the claim that we did not need to bring our own. The water was cool as promised—a few of our crowd wore two wet suits. 

Finally, were we packing the right clothing and gear. The layered look was in, just like on many of our other outdoor adventures. I took two shorts, two long pants (one of which was worn on the plane), two t-shirts, two sun hoodies, a fleece jacket, a lightweight hard shell rain jacket, and a hiking style ball cap. Three pairs of wool socks (one was relegated to being worn with the flippers while snorkeling), swim trunks and a rash guard, the latter being for warmth. And travel underwear. Everything being quick dry and moisture wicking. There was an option for laundry because we were on an 11-day trip but I didn’t need anything washed. I brought biodegradable liquid soap and didn’t use that, either. If you shower after swimming (almost every day), your clothes will stay relatively clean. I wore low cut hiking boots on the plane and on dry landings, water shoes with Vibram soles on the wet landings, and bare feet on the Samba. We didn’t take hiking poles, but if you have trouble on uneven terrain, you might prefer having them. 

Because this was a photography-centric trip, we did bring along short and long zoom lenses for our DSLRs and put them in dry bags for the landings. No one ever had a problem with gear going into the water, but I didn’t want to be the first. We overloaded with batteries and memory cards and carried external hard drives to maintain multiple copies. 

What we saw: boobies (blue-footed, red-footed, Nazca), swallow-tail gulls, frigatebirds, penguins, waved albatross, shearwater and other petrel, tropicbirds, pelicans, flightless cormorants, lava gulls, heron (great blue and lava), flamingos, plovers, hawks, osprey, short-eared owls, doves, mockingbirds, yellow warblers, finches. Tortoises, turtles, marine and land iguana, lava lizards. Sea lions, fur seals, Bryde’s whales, dolphins, sharks (hammerhead, blacktip, white-tipped reef), rays (golden, eagle, diamond), and, frankly, about a bajillion fish (chubs, mullets, parrotfish, hogfish, blenny, triggerfish, sardines, surgeonfish, balloon fish, and a bunch more I don’t remember) along with the odd butterfly and locust. Crabs (Sally Lightfoot, ghost, hermit), sea urchins, sand dollars, stars, sea cucumbers. 

Whew. I am happy to answer any questions. Hopefully there aren’t errors, but I am open to correction.  

 

T. Stein / Missouri USA

 

CNH Tours Gives Keynote Address at Tourism Conference

How does one go about designing a tour?  What are the main considerations?  Who does one choose to work with? How do you handle difficult situations (like COVID...)? What do women bring to the table?  

CNH Tours' very own Heather Blenkiron (also the TripAdvisor "Destination Expert" for Galapagos) was invited to give a keynote address today to the 2nd National Encounter for Students in Tourism, organized by the Espiritu Santo Technology University in Guayaquil, Ecuador (24-26 August).  The theme is "Equality of Opportunity - Women Leaders in the Tourism and Aviation Industry".   

She was asked to address these questions, based on her 20+ years of experience doing exactly that.  

CNH Tours is proud to have been asked to do this - seeing it as a testament to our very long term engagement in Galapagos and Ecuador tourism, the development of long term relationships with a wide variety of local partners and our reputation as a serious, professional and trustworthy tour operator.  

Bravo Heather!

 

 

Downloadable SIM Cards

We came across this interesting article which provides information on how you can avoid paying high roaming fees while travelling by downloading a SIM card for the country in which you are travelling.   

When we travel, cell phone companies charge up to $15 per day to 'roam like home' the moment you send a single e-mail in other countries. 

You can avoid these high prices by buying a local SIM card when you arrive at their your destination (airports usually have kiosks for that). Using a local SIM card can save you a lot of money, costing less than $20-$30 and giving you more data than you are likely to use on their entire trip.  But buying one comes with a new set of challenges. 

DOWNLOADABLE SIM CARDS

The latest thing are downloadable SIM cards, avoid many of the challenges linked to having to buy one.  In this article here, the author goes into all the details.  

 

 

 

 

 

Agreement Signed - Social Unrest Comes to an End

In a meeting between government representatives and the leaders of the CONAIE (Confederation of Indigenous Nations of Ecuador) earlier today, both parties agreed to the terms under which the protests that have been disrupting the country for nearly two weeks can come to an end.

People who had been traveling in Ecuador in the past several days had seen some of their plans disrupted. Downtown / historic Quito was mostly off limits due to blocked roads.  For a brief time, even movement in Galapagos had been affected (mostly for day trippers).  

It has been a very busy time for CNH Tours, as we pulled out all the stops to help our guests who were inadvertently caught up in this situation.  

All should be quickly returning to normal now.  

Opposing groups meet to reconcile their differences

 

Our Guests Travel Carbon "Neutrally"

We're proud to display the certificate below, given by The Gold Standard carbon offset agency.  Created by the World Wildlife Fund, with support from other international NGOs, and several national governments, The Gold Standard ensures that your carbon offsets are effective and permanent. 

We calculated the carbon emissions resulting from our guests' travels from January to June 2022 (183 metric tonnes).  We then purchased the equivalent in carbon offsets. The certificate below was emitted by The Gold Standard in recognition of that purchase. 

With increasing concern over climate change issues world-wide, more and more people are looking at what they can do to reduce their own emissions. It's pretty difficult to avoid emitting carbon when engating in international travel. Flights, cruises - all continue to rely on hydrocarbons to move you from point A to point B.  But by purchasing offsets, we are taking a good step in compensating for those emissions by contributing to projects that capture an equivalent amount of carbon.  For more info on carbon offsets and how we calculate the amount of carbon released on our trips, click here.  

 

 

 

Tourist ship appreheded trafficking wildlife

Yesterday, the Ecuadorian Navy reported the capture of a boat that was transporting protected species from the Galapagos.

The Navy statement specified that there were five land iguanas and an unspecified number of tortoises of different sizes on board.

Given the presumption of an environmental crime, through the Coast Guard Command and in coordination and advice from the State Attorney General's Office, the Navy carried out the inspection of the vessel  "XAVIER III".

The vessel had set sail last Monday, bound for Guayaquil.

On Saturday morning, the Coast Guard boat "Isla Darwin" inspected the aforementioned boat 30 miles (50km) offshore and found that on board the boat "XAVIER III" there were ten sacks of jute, five of which contained a land iguana each and in the other five there were tortoises of different sizes.

The evidence and alleged perpetrators will be placed at the orders of the competent authorities in the Port of Salinas on the mainland this Saturday for the corresponding legal proceedings.

 

Ecuadorian navy on the tourist ship Xavier III (pic: Ecuadorian navy)

President Declares State of Emergency

The indigenous-led strike against high prices has disrupted the movement of people and goods this past week, prompting president Lasso to declare a “estado de excepción" (tranlasted into state of exception, or state of emergency) in the three provinces most affected by the strike (in and around Quito mostly).   The president has offered some concessions along with that, in the hopes that the disruptions can come to an end.  There is little danger of any physical violence – but moving around that part of the country has become difficult. 

Any people travelling through Quito airport (located well outside the main city area) on their way to Galapagos are advised to avoid going into the city until the strike has come to an end.  You may find yourself blocked and unable to continue your journey onwards.   If you are booked in a Quito city hotel in the coming few days, we recommend you prepare an alternative hotel as close to the airport as possible.   Some such hotels include:

  • Wyndham Airport Hotel (2 minutes) 
  • EuroBuilding (EB) hotel (10 minutes)

Many more can be found on-line, including small boutique establishments. Before finalizing any plans, ask the hotel folks if they expect any problems getting to the airport in the coming days. 

It appears that things are calmer in and around Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest city, located on the coast (there are much fewer indigenous communities in the coastal areas).  If possible, you may want to consider flying through Guayaquil in the coming days to avoid the worst of the disruptions.  

In our experience, such disruptions happen from time to time in Ecuador (last time was in October 2019) and usually last from a week to 10 days. 

CNH Tours is there to help its guests manage the situation.  Please don't hesitate to contact us if you have any questions / require assistance.  

 

BELOW:  An article, translated into English (thanks mostly to Google Translate) of the main article in the El Comercio newspaper of this morning. 

 

Lasso decrees a state of emergency in Pichincha, Cotopaxi and Imbabura due to a national strike (El Comercio newspaper)

The President of the Republic, Guillermo Lasso, announced new actions that the National Government will take regarding the national strike called by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie). He did so through the national network on the night of this Friday, June 17.

Above: Typical scene with people blocking the passage of vehicles on main avenues

 

One of the actions that he decided to apply is: the state of exception in the provinces of Pichincha (Quito and surrounding areas), Cotopaxi (the province immediately south of Pichincha) and Imbabura (the province immediately north of Quito) as of midnight on June 17, 2022.

Additionally, "to alleviate the difficult situation of many families" he pointed out that:

  • The human development bonus will be increased to USD 55.
  • An emergency is declared in the public health system.
  • The budget for intercultural education will be doubled
  • 50% of the price of fertilizer will be subsidized for small and medium producers.
  • Agricultural loans of up to USD 5,000 at 1% and a 30-year term will be provided.
  • There will be no increase in diesel, gas and extra gasoline.
  • There will be no privatization of public services
  • Banecuador will forgive all overdue credits up to USD 3,000
  • The state of exception will last 30 days.

 

The Executive Decree determines that the right to freedom of association and assembly is suspended in the aforementioned provinces; which limits the formation of crowds in public spaces 24 hours a day.

Curfew in Quito

Additionally, freedom of movement is restricted, so a curfew is decreed in the Metropolitan District of Quito (DMQ) from 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m.

The President ended his speech by inviting dialogue. "United, sitting at a table, we will find solutions that alleviate the situation of Ecuadorian families."

What does the Conaie say?

On the night of Thursday, June 16, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie) gave the Government an ultimatum to give answers to the list of demands demanded by the indigenous movement.

According to the indigenous leader, the Conaie rejected the dialogue until the results of the 10 petitions to the Government are made public.

Around 9:15 p.m. this Friday, June 17, Conaie issued a statement calling on its members not to allow vandalism, violence and identify infiltrators who want to generate chaos. "The protest must be carried out with a clear agenda, dignity and collective conscience," the statement said.

 

Irish Pistol-Packing Adventuress

Like most people do when they pick up a magazine, I tend to start at the back.  And that’s where The Economist puts its weekly obituary.   These obituaries don’t necessarily focus on “important” people (politicians / business leaders / great artists).  I’m not sure how they come up with their weekly selection, but they seem to be guided in part by a search for people who've dared to be different and who will have left a big impression on at least one nation’s sense of identity.  

Last week’s obituary was about Dervla Murphy and her bicycle, the aptly named Rocinante (Roz for short).  She took it to all corners of the world - literally from A to Z (Afghanistan to Zimbabwe), and passing through many other places.  In the story, she comes across as an independent, strong-willed woman with an unrestrained sense of adventure - “batty and stubborn and fiercely independent” in The Economist’s words.

While a 0.25 caliber pistol is not on the CNH Tours packing list for a trip to Galapagos, there's no harm in bringing at least a bit of Dervla’s attitude. 

You can read the full obituary by clicking here.

Dervla Murphy and her faithful mount, Roz

It was great working with you!

At CNH Tours, we love hearing back from out guests.  We often do.  From time to time, we post some of those notes to share with others the vibes / energy that's conveyed in them. 

Here's a recent one from Ann (Montana) who, with a group of 14 friends, had booked the entire Samba before the pandemic struck.   She and her friends had been biding their time for a couple of years and finally embarked on the ship in late April.  We also helped them with a variety of extensions on the continent.  It's very satisfying when, after so much work and in this case so much time, our guests return, having had a wonderful time.

A special thanks is warranted for our colleague Kelsey Bradley.  She worked so hard and diligently to make sure that the 14 guests, several with distinct travel plans, all enjoyed a seamless trip despite so many pandemic-related difficulties.  

 

From: Ann 
Sent: June 11, 2022 5:43 PM
To: Kelsey Bradley <kbradley@cnhtours.com>; Heather Blenkiron <hblenkiron@cnhtours.com>
Subject: catching up after trip to Ecuador

"Dear Kelsey and Heather,

I've been meaning to write you since getting home a month ago but have been racing around, and finally I'm able to sit down. 

I wanted to thank CNH Tours for all you did to make our trip to the Galapagos fantastic.  The Samba was amazing, the crew and our guide, Jimmy, were stellar (20 on a scale of 1-10), and the group we put together worked so very well. 

There was so much about the trip that stood out.  The Galapagos is an amazing place on this planet, as are its non-human occupants.  The parts that took me a bit by surprise were how dry it was and that, though we were on the equator, the temps (particularly at night) were cooler than I expected.  Swimming with sea lions, fur seals, and dolphins was out-of-this world.  The land-based bird and tortoise life was other-worldly.  The marine and land iguanas - no words to describe them, except to say watching the marine iguanas under water was something outside any other experience I've ever had. 

I have done a fair amount of snorkeling over the years, but not for a while, so it was fantastic getting back to that.  I love that after disembarking the Samba, we remained land-based in the Galapagos for two more nights before heading back to Quito. That helped with transitions off the boat.  And our side-excursion to Espanola was fantastic.  Plus, we even got to go to the Darwin Foundation when we were on Santa Cruz for a few hours.  

I can't recommend enough to future travelers how great it was reading about the Galapagos before going there, which added important context to the trip.

My reading list included:  Beak of the Finch, Three Men of the Beagle, Floreana, Selkirk's Island.  There are many, many more, and I was sorry I didn't have time to read Song of the Dodo, by David Quammen. 

Again, many thanks to CNH Tours for putting this together, dealing with all our questions, struggling through the pandemic uncertainties, etc.  It was great working with you!  I will spread the word about CNH Tours to anyone I know who may be interested in traveling to the Galapagos in coming years!

Best to both of you,

Ann

Ann (right) and her good friend Tamara, both from Montana

 

 

 

 

 

USA drops COVID testing requirements for in-bound travellers

As of Sunday, 12 June, people flying to the USA, or even just connecting at an airport while flying through the USA will no longer be required to show proof of a negative COVID test.

This is wonderful news for Americans who have been holding back on any foreign travel plans, and for others who could not avoid having to travel through the USA on their way to Ecuador and Galapagos, and on their way back home.  


Rare June Planetary Alignment – Equatorial Ship-Based Viewing is Ideal

This month, the five planets visible to the naked eye will all be shining in the morning sky.   The best place on the planet to admire them is from a very dark sky nearest to the equator.   Anyone on a Galapagos cruise in the coming weeks, and with the will to get up no later than about 5AM will enjoy a rare opportunity to take it all in (there are almost always some planets to see in the night sky - so if you're traveling at another time, don't despair - just look things up on-line before going).  

While the planets will be visible at higher latitudes, being on the equator will have them positioned just about perpendicular to the horizon – meaning that they will be higher in the sky relative to their apparent positions from higher latitudes and less easily lost in any early dawn light. 

The figure below shows the positions of the planets later in June if observed from mid-latitudes (i.e. New York, Vancouver). 

 Figure 1:  The night sky late June - as seen from more northerly latitudes (i.e. New York / Vancouver)

From an equatorial location, instead of being positioned on an acute angle from the horizon, the planets will rise up, perpendicular to it, from the East.  Figure 2 below is an amateurish attempt at illustrating the difference.

 Figure 2: Relative position of the five visible planets - norther latitudes vs equatorial viewing point

 

Mercury is always hardest to spot – it’s not that bright and is close to the horizon and only rises shortly before dawn, risking being lost in the dawn’s glow.  It isn’t too far from the more easily spotted Venus. 

Venus is the brightest of the planets (after the moon and the sun, it's the brightest light in the sky) and thus the easiest to spot (if you know where to look, Venus can often be seen in full daylight – an interesting exercise is to keep a close watch on it as dawn progresses, and to keep on tracking it after the sun has risen).  

Mars (the red planet) has a distinct orange tinge to it and will be dimmer than Mercury.  

While Jupiter shines brightly with a whitish light, Saturn, while being almost as big as Jupiter, will be quite a bit dimmer (on par with Mars' brightness) because it's almost twice as distant as Jupiter.  It shines with a slightly yellowish light.   If you have a powerful set of binoculars (and a steady hand) you may be able to just make out the rings of Saturn.  Spotting a few of Jupiter’s moons should be a cinch with any decent pair of binoculars (look for tiny specs of light near the planet - watch them over a week and you'll see them change positions as they rotate around the planet).

For the real keeners – Uranus and Neptune are also aligned in the morning sky.   But to spot them, you’ll need to know exactly where to look, and you’ll need a good pair of binoculars at the very least – they are not visible to the naked eye.  Check on-line for spotting guides. 

Do take some time while under the very dark skies to gaze at the stars and the milky way.  A decent pair of binoculars is all you need to go on an amazing astronomical mind trip.  

New Post-COVID Age = New Hotels

The prolonged hiatus imposed by the pandemic has allowed us to have a good hard look at the hotels we use for our signature trips (the Ocean Safari on the luxury Integrity yacht, and the Active Galapagos on the tourist superior Samba).   We also regularly use our selected hotels for guests on other trips needing to spend time in Galapagos or Quito.  

To a certain extent, this change was imposed on us by events.   Our go-to boutique hotel in Quito, the Mansion del Angel, stayed closed well after the worst of the pandemic had passed, and well after we started receiving guests again.  We were prompted to find another small, unique establishment in very short order. 

Meanwhile, the family owned and operated Hotel Fernandina in Galapagos transferred management to a third party.  "Time for a switch" we decided.  The Hotel Fernandina, while having served us well for 15 years, was getting long in the tooth and it was becoming obvious that it wasn't getting the necessary attention it deserved in terms of keeping things on the up and up. 

It's always a challenge to find a new place.  We had worked with the Mansion del Angel for nearly 20 years.  Our guests were always very impressed by this very well-managed hotel, right out of the early 20th century.  But we're very happy with the "Mama Cuchara".  Located in the historic center, just a 15-minute walk from the presidential palace, the Mama Cuchara is owned by a Quito family whose mission it is to highlight arts and crafts of the neighbourhoods in which they are located.  We recently used it for our own not-for-profit 32 person fundraising trip and all guests were very happy with our selection. 

  

In Galapagos, we started using the new and very nicely located “Ikala” hotel.   Built around a small pool in a central courtyard, this three-story establishment is just a 3-minute walk from the main pier, yet located on a side street, and away from the traffic noise.  The hotel’s rooftop restaurant offers a wonderful view of the sea.  Our group of 32 also stayed there recently and again, they all gave it a thumbs up.   

We hope you’ll have a chance to relax and unwind at these comfortable hotels yourself one day. 

Fuel Surcharges Have Arrived

With the surge in oil prices over the past few months, it should come as no surprise that ships in Galapagos would start feeling the pinch.   Fuel makes up a big part of a ship’s operating costs.   

The price a ship owner charges for a cruise is set on an annual basis, and is usually fixed a good 12 -18 months before the start of that year.   So, 2022 cruise prices are based on fuel costs calculated as far back as early 2020.   

The first ship to announce the surcharge to CNH Tours was the 32 passenger Evolution – the one we had chartered for our not-for-profit fundraising trip for old friends of ours.   We were given a very short notice (another characteristic of doing business in Galapagos).   

Other ships have started imposing surcharges as well.  The latest was the ship we use for our Active Galapagos trips - the Samba - announcing today that it was imposing a $150 surcharge for departures starting next week.  

While we understand these requests, we did feel it was the ship owner’s responsibility to be as transparent as possible in fixing the amount of the surcharge.  In this regard, we sent the owner of the Evolution a note asking for those details.   We have copied that note below (the ship owner's response to our questions is in italics) – CNH Tours is keeping your interests in mind when doing so. 

 

 

From: Marc Patry <mpatry@cnhtours.com>
Sent: Wednesday, March 30, 2022 2:57 PM
To: Dolores (email not published for privacy purposes)
Cc: Heather Blenkiron <hblenkiron@cnhtours.com>
Subject: RE: EVOLUTION 30-APRIL-2022 / Fuel Surcharge Notice

Dear Dolores,

I hope all is well with you.    We just received notice of the fuel surcharge.  

While I appreciate that fuel prices are going up, and while we have been anticipating something like this from ship operators at one point (Evolution is the first), and finally, while we understand that costs must be covered, it would be nice on your part to:

  • Give us more notice.   Dropping this on us now, after we had paid the balance of our bill means we have to go back to all our guests and get them to pay.  Half our guests are in Europe and can only wire funds – and each wire has high transaction costs.  We’ll probably end up advancing much of the funds and have our guests pay me cash on site.   I’m sure your team that does direct sales is feeling the same way.   Ideally, this would be applied only to departures whose final balance has not yet been paid, for example. 

 Although we completely understand this, for the past weeks, Galapagos operators have been paying a sharp increase (60%) in gas prices due to the war.  We are not entirely sure how long this temporary fuel surcharge will last (it may be weeks or months) or the rates could even decline.    

  • Be more transparent with the numbers.   While I have no reason to believe the contrary, it would be good if your company, in an effort at ensuring full transparency, gave its corporate clients like CNH Tours some numbers to explain its calculations.  By unilaterally dropping the $150 figure on us, you are also asking clients to take your word for it, and in a business relationship, it’s always good to back up any such surprise price changes with a quantitative justification.  For the Evolution, you are adding a $4,800 fuel surcharge.  To me, who doesn’t know the details of running a ship, that’s a heck of a lot of fuel.

For our two ships, during a week of operation we use around 4,600 gallons of diesel and have room for 48 guests in total.  By having a $1.50 price per gallon increase, we have an additional cost of $6,900 per week.  If we divide this by the number of berths that we are able to sell (48), we get $143.  It is important to mention that in addition to this, several of our suppliers have already started charging us more as transportation costs have also increased and this has averaged to an increase of $12 per person on a weeks of operation. 

  •  Give us a game plan for eventually dropping the surcharge.  It has been my experience that once a surcharge is in place due to an increase in fuel prices, they are sticky and don’t quickly get reduced or eliminated when fuel prices go down again (if they do).    For example, should fuel prices go back to where they were 4 weeks ago, will the fuel surcharge be dropped?  

 As stated in our communication, this is a temporary fuel surcharge which depends on what the price of gas is charged to Galapagos operators.  As a company, we had budgeted US$ 2,50 per gallon (which was standard for previous years) and now are being charged US$ 4 per gallon.  It is worthwhile to mention that a fuel surcharge was implemented many years ago and that when gas prices worldwide dropped, the Ecuadorian government kept the higher rates for Galapagos operators.  Although we do not expect this, this time around, hopefully rates will be lowered if gas prices are lowered worldwide.  Any adjustment will be notified and we will certainly modify, or remove the surcharge if the rate goes below $4 or back to $2.50.

  • Establish an industry-wide surcharge policy.  The fuel price goes up and down the same for all ships.  We would hope that all surcharges would change at the same time, and by the same amount (commensurate with the ship’s consumption).  I suspect not one company wants to be the first to apply a surcharge…  This is much bigger than Quasar of course – but you might want to share that with your industry colleagues – something to work on for the future.

 Many thanks for the insight and as everyone in our trade we are so sorry that just when things were recovering,  war broke, stressing even more the economies of most countries around the world causing this sort of reaction all over.   We are so clear that for all of us, fuel is essential for our daily lives and businesses and raising prices,  is just so unpopular.     We hope this measure is temporary. 

Thank you for your understanding Marc.     We know this is difficult for CNH and your clients.

Un abrazo,

Dolores

 

Diesel Spill in Galapagos's Largest Port

In the early hours of Saturday, a tourism vessel called the Albatros sank in Puerto Ayora, the primary port in Galapagos. The ship was carrying approximately two thousand gallons of diesel, which has caused a “superficial slick”, as described by the Ecuadorian environment ministry. The cause for the sinking has not been confirmed, but it’s expected that there might have been a ruptured pipe that caused the event. The authorities also believe there is still diesel onboard the ship and are working to confirm this detail. Puerto Ayora lies in Academy Bay, which is relatively small and hosts only a few dozen small ships, anchored in its shallow waters.

As protectors of the Archipelago, the Galapagos National Park authorities have placed a boom around the sunk vessel as well as dispersed absorbent sheets, to contain the oil as much as possible. In addition, they have released dispersants into other affected areas. Below an aerial shot from the Galapagos National Park of the boom – if you look closely, you can also see the Albatros below the water. 

IMAGE: Drone shot from the Galapagos National Park, showing the sunken vessel and protective boom surrounding it. 

The Galapagos National Park along with other local authorities are keeping watch over the situation, but it appears that thanks to quick action, as well as the assistance from many local volunteers, the damage caused is minimal.

Very unfortunately, Galapagos is no stranger to major oil spills and ships running aground causing similar issues. As many might remember, the worst such disaster was in 2001 when the oil tanker Jessica sank off the coast of San Cristobal Island. In a record-breaking year, 2014 saw several cargo ships running aground (you can read our blog pieces on those as well: Grounded cargo ship is re-floated and towed away ; Cargo ship runs aground). One such cargo ship ran aground off the shore of San Cristobal in a very aptly named Wreck Bay. That particular ship was mostly loaded with produce and while the priority was to first offload and empty any petrol onboard, the town absolutely reeked -- unfortunately I can say that with first-hand knowledge of it...

Co-owners of CNH Tours Heather and Marc are on their way to Galapagos, arriving this coming week. They will be speaking with those on the front line of this work to contain the spill. Stay tuned here for further news and updates!

UPDATE (14 May 2022):  We were in Puerto Ayora a few days ago and even anchored very near to where the Albatross had gone down.  The boom is still in place and we observed technicians in the area.  Word from our sources is that the diesel is being slowly pumped out of the tanks in the ship.  While some diesel has spilled, the vast majority is expected to be retrieved. The overall environmental impact will have been minimal.  

 

U.S.-ECUADOR PARTNERSHIP ACT passed by Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Here are excerpts from the press release emitted by the US Foreign Relations Committee, 23 March 2022.  The bill now must be approved by the senate.  But as it received bi-partisan support at the committee level, one would hope that it will pass the senate without too many difficulties.  

WASHINGTON – Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) was joined today by Committee Ranking Member Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Senators Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, in applauding the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s passage of their United States-Ecuador Partnership Act of 2022. The bipartisan proposal, which now moves on to the Senate Floor for a final vote, is the first legislative proposal in the U.S. Congress to focus exclusively on U.S.-Ecuador relations. Recognizing Ecuador as a key democratic partner in Latin America, the legislation lays out a comprehensive diplomatic strategy to strengthen U.S.-Ecuador cooperation on issues of mutual interest, including strengthening democratic institutions, promoting inclusive economic growth, supporting environmental conservation initiatives, and expanding capabilities to address corruption, crime, and malign foreign influence. The legislation also authorizes the transfer of two excess Coast Guard vessels to the Government of Ecuador to support the protection of the Galapagos Marine Reserve, deterrence of illegal fishing, and interdiction of narcotics trafficking.

The act:

  • Requires a strategy to expand economic and commercial ties between the U.S. and Ecuador, and facilitate conditions for inclusive economic growth, including for Afro-Ecuadorian and Indigenous communities
  • Supports Ecuador’s leadership on environmental conservation and stewardship
  • Reinforces Ecuador’s efforts to combat illicit economies, including corruption, human trafficking, and illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing
  • Authorizes the transfer of two excess Coast Guard cutters to the Government of Ecuador
  • Strengthens bilateral security cooperation on cyber, law enforcement, and penitentiary issues, as well as the challenges posed by the malicious activities of foreign states

Specifically, in terms of conservation, the act contains the following sections:

The Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, in coordination with the Secretary of State and the heads of other relevant Federal departments and agencies, shall develop and implement programs and enhance existing programs, as necessary 2 and appropriate, to improve ecosystem conservation and 3 enhance the effective stewardship of Ecuador’s natural resources by— 


(1) providing technical assistance to Ecuador’s Ministry of the Environment to safeguard national parks and protected forests and protected species, while promoting the participation of Indigenous communities in this process;

(2) strengthening the capacity of communities to access the right to prior consultation, encoded in 12 Article 57 of the Constitution of Ecuador and related laws, executive decrees, administrative acts, and ministerial regulations;

(3) supporting Indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian 16 communities as they raise awareness of threats to biodiverse ancestral lands, including through support for local media in such communities and technical assistance to monitor illicit activities; 

(4) partnering with the Government of Ecuador in support of reforestation and improving river, lake, and coastal water quality;

(5) providing assistance to communities affected by illegal mining and deforestation; and

(6) fostering mechanisms for cooperation on emergency preparedness and rapid recovery from natural disasters, including by—

(A) establishing regional preparedness, recovery, and emergency management centers to facilitate rapid response to survey and help  maintain planning on regional disaster anticipated needs and possible resources; and

(B) training disaster recovery officials on latest techniques and lessons learned from United States experiences.

 

This seems like good news for Ecuador and Galapagos. 

 

 

 

 

Jekyll and Hyde of the Galapagos: The delicious invasive blackberry

This is your $100 park entrance fee at work.

These days, at the Charles Darwin Research Station, several experts are attending a workshop on biological control for the alien and highly invasive blackberry in Galapagos.

Most of us know this plant - it grows in thick stands, is full of thorns, but is a prolific producer of delicious berries.  Birds also like the berries.  They eat them up, fly away, and eventually, they drop blackberry seeds somewhere else, further propagating the plant. 



Blackberry is not native to Galapagos. In the days before there was any control over what people brought over from the continent, some smart person thought they'd establish their own blackberry bushes in their yard.   The rest is history.  The plant is even found on uninhabited islands now.  It most likely arrived there after seeds were deposited by a fisherman on shore, a park staffer on a field job, or a scientist - any of which may have eaten some berries just before making the trip there. 

The blackberry plants crowd out native vegetation and can take over large expanses of land.  Once established, the areas they occupy tend to be biological deserts, with little else present but the blackberry.   On Santa Cruz island, the blackberry is taking over the highland ecosystems, habitat for the endemic scalesia trees which support a variety of other endemic species, including the disappearing Galapagos vermillion flycatcher.

Until now, blackberry can only be controlled by a huge effort, sending teams of people pulling it out of the ground. It's delicious berries are eaten by birds, who then spreads seeds far a and wide. Once established, it crowds out native vegetation.

If some type of biological agent (a fungus, an insect) can be found that feeds exclusively on blackberry, it could help in keeping this alien invasive under control.

Below - Left to right: Rakan Zahawi, Darwin Station director, Danny Rueda, Galapagos National Park director and our former colleague Marilyn Cruz, head of the Galapagos Biosecurity agency.
Photo credit: Galapagos National Park
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