Galapagos News

Video Interview: What's the situation in Galapagos and with CNH Tours

For those who might be interested, here's a video interview posted on YouTube.  A friend who was formerly a Montreal morning television show host and a former curling partner of mine started doing his own thing, setting up interviews of people around him with stories to tell.   He interviewed me several weeks ago, a good month into the COVID-19 disruptions to travel.    

It's 18 minutes long - maybe too long for most of you.  In it, I recount a little bit of the history of CNH Tours, how COVID-19 has affected the local economy, and CNH Tours business.    

Click here to see it on the YouTube platform.   Thanks for leaving any (great) comments on the page! 

NEW Book Alert! – Tui de Roy Has Released Another Stunning Oeuvre

The incredible wildlife photographer, conservationist, and writer, Tui de Roy, has just released a new book, titled “A Lifetime in Galapagos”.

 

This new oeuvre of hers comprises not just her astounding images but also some of the stories of the moments behind the photos, as well as detailed insights into her childhood in Galapagos. We would of course highly recommend getting yourself a copy not just to gaze in wonder at the photos, but perhaps also to help you either reminisce or dream about Galapagos.

Photo: Galapagos hawk, by Tui de Roy

 

Tui and her family moved to Santa Cruz Island in Galapagos, from Belgium, when she was just a toddler. Living first in the highlands of Santa Cruz then by the sea shore on Angermeyer Point, Tui is as “Galapagueña” as the tortoises themselves. She was always fascinated by the natural environment that surrounded her in Galapagos and was introduced to photography at 16 – she quickly became a top guide and wildlife photographer in the islands.

As a teenager she was even hired by visitors to lead expeditions and by visiting scientists to help guide them during fieldwork. She gained the majority of her knowledge of the very nooks and crannies of the Islands from self-led expeditions with her family, as they often explored the islands (this was, of course, before strict restrictions were put in place by the Galapagos National Park).

Sea lions with a tuna, photo by Tui de Roy

 

 "Star trails", an incredible piece created by Tui de Roy, of the stars zooming over the Opuntia Cacti of Galapagos 

 

I had the incredible honour and privilege of spending three weeks in the field with Tui, on Alcedo Volcano on Isabela Island. We were volunteers as part of a small research crew, joining an ornithologist from the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) and a park ranger from the Galapagos National Park. We were on Alcedo to observe the feeding patterns of Vermillion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus nanus) parents, as part of the CDRS Landbird Project. Below, two photos of Tui on the edge of the crater during one of our observation set-ups, with a rare male Vermillion Flycatcher in the foreground (spotted by its red head).

 

Tui de Roy on the inner rim of Alcedo Volcano, with a rare male Vermillion Flycatcher in the foreground. Photo by Kelsey Bradley (CDF 2017)

Getting the shot... Photo by Kelsey Bradley (CDF 2017)

 

Below a few other shots of mine, capturing Tui in action on Alcedo, in between Vermillion Flycatcher observations. The time doing field work on Alcedo was one of the best experience of my life and I truly appreciated every little bit of wisdom received from Tui there – I would certainly return to that isolated volcanic rim in a heartbeat! Her new book might be the next best thing to that.

 

With a juvenile Galapagos hawk. Photo credit Kelsey Bradley (CDF 2017)

 

 

Early morning near the fumaroles with the tortoises of Alcedo, (sulfur, not as great a smell as coffee in the early morning). Photo credit Kelsey Bradley (CDF 2017)

 

After a day of observations, finding a juvenile tortoise in the (very warm) fumaroles. Photo credit Kelsey Bradley (CDF 2017). 

 

 

Scuffling in front of the Governing Council offices as conditions worsen

Faced with an ongoing economic crisis in the islands, some citizens groups have come together to propose solutions, many of which are contentious.  These include opening up the islands to long-line fishing, a practice considered very harmful to non-targeted marine species.   Also, there is a proposal to send away all people living in Galapagos who don’t have the full resident status, but are only there on temporary visas, thus allowing for more jobs to go to Galapagos residents. An effect of this request would result in the loss of many of the health care workers in Galapagos.  AGIPA, the Association of Naturalist Guides of Galapagos, published an open letter yesterday raising concerns over such measures.

In response to these mounting pressures, the Governor of Galapagos – who also has the status of Minister in the national government, had called a meeting with community groups to discuss these proposals on 7 July.   However, due to the recent resignation of the vice-president of Ecuador, the president called a last-minute emergency meeting on that day, and for that reason, the 7 July meeting had been postponed to the 10th of July.

Community groups gathered and marched on the offices of the Regional Council in frustration.  A peaceful march degraded into chaos, with the Governing Council’s Technical Chief, Monica Ramos, rough -handled by the crowd.

 

Frustrated protesters storming the offices of the Regional Governing Council

In an open letter addressed to community groups and distributed through social media, the Governor, Norman Wray explained why the meeting had been postponed, further indicating that the health and security of all people had been put at risk by the demonstrators gathering in such close quarters since the COVID-19 virus remains active on the island.  The Governor called for maintaining responsibility, respect and tolerance at this moment given that tensions are inflamed by the "electoral interests of some citizens" (the pre-electoral period in Ecuador can be agitated).   The open letter further notes that all the work that has been done to make Galapagos a safe travel destination should not be put at risk.

Galapagos governor Norman Wray addresses the protesters

The community groups responded that while the 7 July meeting had been clearly communicated, they were not informed of its postponement, prompting them to organize the march.

Things are heating up in the islands.  The Galapagos economy is very dependent on tourist dollars.  Tourism has been completely shut down since mid-March (some of our guests were among the last to have had the privilege of visiting the islands).  The government of Ecuador is heavily indebted and has very few options when it comes to helping its citizens in these difficult times.  Under these circumstances, it's easy to understand the mounting frustration, and perhaps panic, felt by Galapagos residents - it's not clear at all when tourism will start up again.   While the continental economy has also suffered, it is much more diversified and there are more alternatives to income derived from tourism.  

World Albatross Day

World Albatross Day was celebrated for the first time this Friday, June 19, 2020 with the purpose of reinforcing the conservation of this species that inhabits the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador and is in danger of extinction.

 

 

"This date has been chosen by the Albatross and Petrels Conservation Agreement (ACAP), to honor these magnificent birds and highlight the current conservation crisis that threatens them," the agency said in a statement.

 

In the Archipelago you can find the Galapagos Albatross (Phoebastria irrorata), also known as the Waved Albatross, which unfortunately is in critical danger of extinction. According to the Charles Darwin Foundation, this bird is threatened by invasive species such as mice, rats, cats, and pigs. Also, fishing nets and hooks put albatrosses at risk, resulting in thousands of albatrosses and petrels killed each year.

 

The Waved Albatross gets its name from the form of waves when drawn, that depict the wings of the adult specimens. This species has a characteristic yellow or cream neck, a long bright yellow beak and blue legs.

 

Some interesting facts about the Galapagos Albatrosses is that they begin reproductive activity at six years of age and lay only one egg a year. This species can live up to 40 years. They live mainly on the Española Island and in the non-reproductive season, they fly to the coasts of Peru and Ecuador.

 

 

According to the Ministry of Environment of Ecuador, in Galapagos there are about 10,000 pairs of albatrosses.

The best time to see the Waved Albatross in Galapagos is during late April and May. In April, you are able to see their arrival to the Archipelago from Ecuador’s mainland coasts, and the wonderful courtships begin; while in May, they start laying their eggs. They are present on Española Island until December of each year, before they head back out to sea.

 

The Waved Albatross will be waiting for you!

 

 

All images have been generously provided by our friend, Peter Norvig. To access his incredible online gallery, please visit through this link.

New worldwide day of celebration -- all for the Albatross!

The Casanova of Galapagos Returns Home

The true Casanova of Galapagos, Diego, a giant tortoise, has been returned back to his home island of Española. This return has been many years in the making and was only done now as he has retired from being the primary re-generator of his entire species (Chelonoidis hoodensis). In truth, Casanova didn’t actually have a leg to stand on compared to Diego.

Hitching a lift (Photo courtesy of the Galapagos National Park Directorate) 

 

The Galapagos giant tortoise breeding program, originally created on Santa Cruz Island in the 60s as a joint effort between the Galapagos National Park and the Charles Darwin Research Station, has been an enormous success. Upon initiating this program, the Española species specifically had only slightly more than a dozen individuals. Thanks to all those involved, especially Diego and his various partners, his particular species now has nearly 2,000 individuals. Diego made his way from the San Diego Zoo in the U.S., to the Research Station on Santa Cruz Island in Galapagos, and now to Española.

Yesterday, park rangers from the Galapagos National Park (GNP) and a lead scientist, moved Diego (and some of his offspring) from the Research Station on Santa Cruz Island back to Española Island.

How did Diego travel home? Well, it’s not like he checked his luggage, grabbed his boarding pass, then waited in the departure lounge for a flight to Española. The rangers and scientist first placed him (and others) in a GNP pick-up truck, for the short drive to the pier. From there they were loaded into dingys (also referred to as Zodiacs), to be brought to the ship that made the traverse to Española.

 

 

Out for a ride (Photo credit - Galapagos National Park Directorate)

 

Once unloaded onto Española Island, they then had to carry them up to the correct vegetation zone and area of the island. (Grown males can weight more than 400lbs/227kg -- luckily Diego is about 175lbs/80kg.) How exactly did they carry them? The GNP kindly shared photos of that brilliance…

 

 

Above Photos - courtesy of the Galapagos National Park 

For most of the CNH Tours group (Heather, Marc, and Kelsey), we all at one point or another had Diego as our neighbour at the Research Station. It was a pleasure to see him often just down our local path, but we are all certainly glad he’s now back home.

 

 Lead scientist and park ranger, after the long trek -  Photo courtesy of the Galapagos National Park 

 

 

Local Authorities Request Declaration of Economic Disaster

Published in the El Telegrafo newspaper of Ecuador on 12 June 2020 (translated by Google Translate and slightly edited by CNH Tours)

 

Delaying and exempting taxes and other tourism incentive measures are proposals to revive the economy, paralyzed due to the pandemic. The local authorities of the Galapagos Islands are working tirelessly to revive their economy, severely affected by the total stoppage of tourist and commercial activities for three months, due to the health emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In a manifesto delivered to the authorities of the Governing Council of the Provice of Galapagos, the Provincial Citizen's Board made a series of requests that, as they consider, would help in this purpose. Among the requests are to declare the archipelago as an economic disaster zone for the next two years. With this, they aspire to suspend the collection of loans, credit card debts, operating permits, renewals and other fees for a period of 12 months. The operators also ask for the refinancing of existing debts in the public and private entities of the National Financial System to be facilitated, without charging additional interest and with a one-year grace period.

Henry Cobos, Mayor of San Cristóbal, explained that one of the most urgent needs -at the administrative and financial level- is the payment of the delayed budgetary allocations (4 months), since these resources are vital to pay wages and serve the sectors most vulnerable and affected, such as fishing and tourism. It is precisely tourism, the main source of income for the islanders, the item most affected by the closure of (national and internal) borders. To reactivate it, the councils propose - among other measures - the creation of a digital platform to promote its attractions, with direct payment, without intermediaries. Likewise, operators have been committed to maintaining the values ​​of the services and activities they offer; In addition, the Provincial Board urged the authorities of the Galapagos National Park to enable new places of visit, closer to the populations, to encourage both internal and external tourism.

The mayor of Isabela Island, Bolívar Tupiza, considered that it is also necessary to shield the economy from local governments through ordinances. One of its proposals is that tourists visiting this island must stay overnight on it (ed:  Many tourists just visit Isabela Island on a day trip), to boost commerce and hospitality. He also assured that it is time to think about an airport to receive commercial flights (ed. a commercial airport has not been allowed on Isabela island in part to reduce the risk of introduction of alien species).

Robert Andrade, economist and owner of the Galapagos Sunset Hotel (San Cristóbal), defends the requests made to the Government. He explained that on the islands all activities are closely linked to tourism and that with the fall of this sector, the rest were automatically affected. "If there are no tourists, the hotels do not have clients or must close, so they do not need to buy from the fisherman either, who ultimately runs out of livelihood." He recalled that the crisis in the Insular region did not start in March but in October, with protests at the national level. “In November, fewer tourists came because it must be remembered that many come from China, where the pandemic began. Tourists are very susceptible to the situation in the country where they intend to travel, so it is expected that the situation will not normalize in at least another 18 or 24 months. " He added that the dimensions of the injury cannot yet be calculated. He gave as an example that in his hotel so far he has lost around $ 300,000, but that travelers continue to cancel reservations, so he projects a loss of at least $ 400,000.  

Residents Bet on Local Food Prodcution

Due to the paralysis of tourism in the Galapagos Islands, the inhabitants are looking to agricultural production to support the adverse economic situation they face. Priscila Bastidas, a resident of Santa Cruz Island, explained that due to the total absence of travelers she has lost her source of income, for this reason she chose to start an orchard and with the trade in her crops (grains, fruits, vegetables) she has been able to generate a bit of money. She explained that it has been the local production that has allowed for the maintenance of the food supply during the emergency, since the arrival of aircraft with supplies and supplies occurs periodically and the logistics to carry the merchandise have a significant impact on the final price.

One of the proposals of the Provincial Citizen Board to reduce the cost of products is that the Government Council be the intermediary in charge of logistics; in addition, that a lower price of $ 0.40 per kilo of cargo sent.

Main populated Islands in Galapagos declared free of COVID-19

(Translated and adapted from an article appearing on Ecuavisa.com on 30 May)

The islands Santa Cruz and San Cristóbal, in the Galapagos archipelago, are the first cantons of Ecuador free of COVID-19, according to the vice president of the Republic, Otto Sonnenholzner.

During his visit, Sonnenholzner evaluated the health system and promoted actions for the productive revival of the town. He was at the Oskar Jandl General Hospital in San Cristóbal, where he found that the service is adequately provided to citizens and that the staff has what it takes to continue facing the pandemic. “We have inspected the hospital and we have noted improvements.”

President of Galapagos Governing Council, Norman Wray (left) and national vice-president, Otto Sonnenholzner (2nd from left). 

The vice-president also provided rapid tests, protective equipment, masks, and medications. He stressed that “the health emergency has been adequately managed. San Cristóbal and Santa Cruz are already free of the virus”. Norman Wray, president of the Galapagos Governing Council, for his part, confirmed that "the decisions taken have allowed there to be no community contagion."

Meanwhile, Juan Carlos Zevallos, Minister of Health congratulated the work carried out by doctors and nurses "it is time to think ahead with long-term investment and trained personnel residing in this area, we are going to continue working on this issue."

However, the vice-president explained that "although the impact of the disease is not as great as in other provinces, it does not mean that the emergency is over." In Santa Cruz, they visited the appropriate “El Camote” Isolation Center with 10 beds for outpatients and 6 in ICU. Here, a donation of a biosafety chamber for air and sea transfers was made.

CNH TOURS ADDS:

The community in Galapagos has been torn over the conflicting desires to i) control COVID-19 in this very remote part of the world with poor access to medical services and ii) get back to hosting tourists, the very foundation of the islands' economy.  The success in having controlled COVID-19 is worth celebrating, and will go a long way in reassuring potential tourists that Galapagos is a COVID-19 safe destination.... but what of the tourists themselves?  How can Galapagos residents be sure that the virus will not be re-introduced through infected visitors?  If COVID-19 re-emerges in the islands, all the work done to date may have been wasted.  

It's a tough situation that has no easy answer.  Some are proposing the opening of island airports to international flights (currently only domestic flights serve Galapagos) as a way to avoid exposing incoming visitors to COVID-19 on the continent.   But that does not address the risk of having COVID-19 infected visitors arriving in the islands.    Recent announcements by the national government indicated that any foreign visitor to Ecuador will have to take a specific test for COVID-19 no more than 3 days prior to their arrival in Ecuador, and that the test will need to be negative, for them to be allowed in the country.   Though technically sound (notwithstanding the risk of these people getting COVID-19 after the test and before flying to Ecuador) this may prove to be impossible for most people, given that few have access to such testing facilities with such rapid turn-around in results.   

Clearly, a practical and effective solution to this problem still needs to be found.  For the time bgeing, at the very least, the residents of Santa Cruz and San Cristobal Islands are under less pressure from the disease itself.   

Former guests come together to help the Samba team

JOIN US ON OUR GOFUNDME CAMPAIGN: LEARN MORE HERE

 

COVID-19 has not been good to Galapagos residents. Most of them depend directly or indirectly on tourism for their livelihoods. As of the 17th of March, tourism in Galapagos, like elsewhere, has been non-existent. Though no one knows for sure, and while the tourism businesses and employees cross their collective fingers and hope and prepare for the best case scenario, there is a chance that things will not return to normal for a long time yet.


While the islands have managed to keep the virus under control fairly well with rigorous quarantine and social distancing measures (approximately 100 cases ported, nearly half of which among the crew of the 100 passenger Celebrity Flora), residents face very difficult times ahead. Further compounding their difficulties is the high cost of food in Galapagos. Most of it is imported from the continent. Under these circumstances, people, young and old, will be losing weight in Galapagos in the coming months – that’s how dire things are.


There is an emerging effort to redirect resources to growing food locally, but this is only a partial solution. It will take time and not everyone has access to land. To make matters worse, COVID-19 struck just at the end of the rainy season, too late to seriously consider starting planting anything on a significant enough scale to make a difference for now.

 

Meanwhile, the national government is extremely cash-strapped. Its financial position is among the worst in South America – so much so that civil servant salaries are being slashed, the postal service shut down and embassies closed. Under these circumstances, people cannot rely on government support during hard times.


The Samba operations support 16 families in Galapagos. Those of the 9 crew members, of the 3 principal guides and of the 4 land-based support staff. Those who have embarked on the Samba in the past few years will have met 6 of the crew and a guide (crew members rotate of course, with 6 on board and 3 on leave at any given time). The crew (and guides) all receive nearly perfect reviews from our returning guests (see: Ship’s Crew Receives Near Perfect Score for more information). The 4 land-based support staff, dealing with logistics, administration and purchasing ensure that the operation sails along smoothly. The Samba has been officially recognized by the Galapagos National Park Service for its social responsibility (see this article which illustrates the rationale: NAVEDUCATION: Local Kids go on an Expedition Cruise).


Laura Sebastianelli and her husband Mike Sieracki travelled on the Samba in late 2019. Like just about all Samba guests, they had a trip of a lifetime. They had been very impressed by the dedication and professionalism of the crew and guide. When COVID-19 swept the world, their thoughts turned to the Samba team approached CNH Tours to explore options on how they could help. Together, we created a fund-raising campaign designed to support the 16 Samba team families food costs for up to 1 year.  Mike and Laura made the inaugural contribution of $500.   


That campaign was launched today. We hope to raise $96,000 ($6,000 per family) by June 20th.  We are reaching out to over 1,000 Samba alumni.  If you are a Samba alumnus and are interested in helping out, you can go to the dedicated GoFundMe page here.   Even if you're not, and you're keen on helping Galapagos residents get over this hump - do feel free to join in.  Helping any Galapagos family will help the community as a whole.

On behalf of the Samba team members and their families - thank you so much for your consideration.

Most COVID-19 cases in Galapagos linked to Celebrity Flora Crew

Of the 73 cases of COVID-19 reported in Galapagos (as of 15 April), 48 are among the crew of the 100 passenger Celebrity cruise ship Flora.  Norman Wray, the head of the Galapagos Regional Governing Council made the announcement yesterday.    The Flora is anchored in Galapagos and the crew remains on board.  The ship last hosted passengers in mid-March.  

Of the remaining 25 cases, there have been 2 deaths.   

COVID-19 is turning out to be a major community-strengthening factor in Galapagos.  Galapagos social media posts, usually themselves quite virulent, are uncharacteristically low key and supportive.   There is widespread concern expressed in the community over the fate of 3,000 Galapagos residents who are "marooned" on the continent - a interesting reversal of perspective for people living on small remote islands!   A fund-raising effort is underway to help support those continentally-trapped Galapagos residents.   

 

 

 

Glimpses of What Awaits You in Ecuador...

We are delighted to share this short video, created by the Ecuadorian Ministry of Tourism, which highlights some of the incredible sights of Ecuador that awaits us all. 

 

Why it pays to book with a specialist travel agent...

An article published in the "Stroud News and Journal" today (Stround is not too far from Bristol in the UK) tells the story of a pair of travellers who "finally made it back home!" last Sunday, after getting caught in Galapagos during the COVID-19 border closings.   

Glad to be home.... 10 days later than anticipated.

We reproduce some of the article below. Clearly, these travellers did not book through an agent specialized in their destination. 

These days, it's a lot easier to book things directly on-line.  A flight, some hotels, even day tours.  But when things go wrong, Expedia will not be sending you WhatsApp messages or emails warning you of impending airport closures.   AirBnB will not be in touch to help you find alternative accommodations at midnight.  Travelocity will not buy you emergency air tickets on the last flight out your behalf, on the assumption that you'll pay them back later.   

There may be a misconception that "I can get a better deal if I do it myself".  Unless you're singularly focused on the cheapest possible accommodations and trips, you may be right - mostly because few travel agents will want you as a client - they do need to make a living after all.

But if you're looking for a trip with a middle-of-the road budget, or more, you'll find that agents will be able to get you the exact same services at the exact same prices while providing expert advice and recommendations along the way.  Why?  Because service providers will reward the agent who brings business to them by giving them a modest commission on the price of the service.  If that same service provider sells to the client directly, that commission is simply kept by the service provider. 

End result? The client pays the same price, but if he/she goes though an experienced agent, that same client will benefit from a professional who will have his/her back should anything go wrong.   

Over the past 2-3 weeks, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of travellers around the world have learned this lesson.   Those who had booked their travels with agents experienced in the destination they were visiting were more likely to have received a tremendous amount of help in dealing with the sudden complications.  Those that were winging it, booking a variety of services on a variety of internet platforms were left to fend for themselves - as illustrated in the case below.

Previous news articles posted by CNH Tours illustrated how we were able to get 17 guests (10 of which were on a ship in the remote parts of the archipelago) out of Ecuador in 3 days. This was the time that elapsed between when we heard, through our high level local contacts, that Ecuador would be closing down airports - to just before airports were closed down.  We spent that time rebooking flights, chasing down the ship, arranging for emergency hotel accommodations, arranging for meals (on us) and a lot more.   

Quoting from the newspaper:

The pair found themselves marooned on the archipelago, living in a hotel with no staff, food stocks running low and uncertainty over flights.

All the national parks and beaches were closed and a curfew was in place from 2pm to 5am.

To get back to the UK, Jamie and Abi first had to get to mainland Ecuador - around 800 miles from the Galapagos - and they struggled for two weeks to get on a flight.

But finally, on Friday morning, they secured tickets to Quito, the capital of Ecuador, on one of the last emergency flights available.

“We eventually got saved by our airline- Avianca - that we previously booked an exit flight with,” said Jamie.

After a brief medical check, Jamie and Abi headed for the airport, where they queued with hundreds of other tourists before flying to the mainland.

"We left on the last emergency flight available for some time," said Jamie.

“We then had one night in Quito.

"We wanted to stay by the airport to ensure we could get there quickly to take any potential flights.

“The only option close to the airport was five star hotel, the Wyndham."

Jamie then stayed up until 2.30am, looking for a way home.

“I managed to book a flight to Houston, Texas with United Airlines for the next day, as well as two flights the following day to Newark, New Jersey and then onto London, to eventually arrive on Monday morning,” he said.

“We had a 14 hour layover in Houston but we managed to get a nearby hotel for the night. We shared a room with a girl from Cambridge and a guy from Australia who were trying to get home too.

 

 

Handling COVID-19 as a public health issue in Galapagos

How does a remote archipelago, a province within the borders of a developing nation, handle COVID-19?  Quality medical care is a 1,000km / 600 mile flight away.  Normal transportation between the islands is severely disrupted.   The country has imposed restrictions on travel between provinces.  The social safety net is not as robust as those of the countries most readers of this article are from.   The country has very little leeway in terms of economic support to displaced workers.  

This (Google-translated - with some edits) summary of an interview with the senior political person of Galapagos yesterday (30 March) gives us a glimpse of the situation.   Norman Wray is the appointed head of the Galapagos Regional Governing Council – a “governor” so-to-speak.   He reports directly to the president of the nation.    I have had the opportunity to meet him on a one-on-one basis a couple of times.   He first comes across a little bit as a “surfer dude” – but quickly, one realizes the depth of his engagement and commitment to public service.   

 

This is the summary of the interview with the Governor Norman Wray this morning on Radio Santa Cruz about the actions that have been carried out due to the #coronavirusgalapagos emergency.

On the return to Galapagos

- I underwent a COVID-19 test, because contagion situations occurred at the National COE level. It is a test that we have made several officials for our responsibilities in the National COE.  (Editor:  Norman was on the mainland in the past weeks and increasingly criticized for not returning to the islands). 

- Once the test was negative, I decided that my presence was important in the territory.

- The Provincial COE (Emergency Operations Committee) approved the protocol out of necessity for public officials who have to enter: health, police, army, there are people who have to respond to their responsibilities urgently and be in the province, it is not a privilege and we are the first to comply with the rigor the Ministry of Public Heath's established protocols.

Situation in Galapagos

- Regarding the subject of the new COVID-19 test samples, a total of 8 were sent (to the mainland for analysis).

The Ministry of Public Health must release the results as required by law. These samples are under analysis, we are awaiting results. The delays in the results respond to the congestion that exists in the sampling of the entire country, but we have asked that they be a priority.

- This moment we continue with 4 confirmed cases and continue establishing epidemiological fences

- Yesterday we were in Isabela Island carrying kits for the work of authorities and public officials. We were able to verify that the local population is respecting the "stay home" directive.  People are clearly committed to the measure. They are maintaining isolation.

- You can always improve the work, there are no perfect situations, but what we have taken as a strategy is the one that PAHO (Pan American Health Organization) and WHO (World Health Organization) dictate: and that is to gather clear information to make epidemiological fences.

- People who are under observation at this time have to give us information about where they have been.

- I send my greetings to entire population which is acting as a team.

- We know that Floreana island residents are also taking this seriously (home isolation).

- You always have to work from home, keep your distance, go out only if strictly necessary.

- The Municipality's work is exemplary, giving support with food supply issues.  This is being done by Mayor Yánez and his team, and that is key.

- All the capacity we have to reduce the movement of people to the maximum will allow us to reduce risks

- It is important (for the media) to speak to Ministry of Public Health officials so that they can give more details. We are welcoming suggestions from the health sector.

 

Economic resources

- We have mobilized our own resources; the municipalities are doing the same along with initiatives from the private sector.

- Today I just spoke with Councilwoman Castillo who is organizing a private initiative designed to collect resources in a transparent way, so that these can be provided to various support groups. 

- I welcome constructive initiatives from those who are interested in supporting, building and not destroying. Support for, and not criticism of Councilwoman Castillo's example must be replicated by the rest of the province's authorities.

- I reject the attitude of Assemblyman Washington Paredes who is dedicated to creating castles out of thin air, uses his immunity to insult people and what he is doing is generating anxiety.

- We are not going to allow them to want to fish in a rough river (Editor: expression meaning taking personal advantage of difficult times), if they are not going to help, then they should not interfere. Let's all work and get ahead. To Washington Paredes I say: irresponsible and a liar.

- In the course of today, we already have a legal analysis to be able to manage resources to strengthen the emergency with territorial equity funds.

- There are things that had been planned with our budgets (prior to the COVID-19 outbreak) but  we are going to have to redirect the funds.  This must be done within the framework of the Law – if not, the auditors will declare that things were not done in accordance with what the Law and regulations require. 

- We will proceed once we have this report with the Plenary of the Governing Council that we are going to convene this week. It is part of the objectives that we have and in this way we can take important measures.

- In any case, the Provincial COE is also carrying out work, but regarding certain decisions it is necessary for the Council to meet and that is also one of the reasons why I am here.

 

About the Laboratory donated by the private sector

- We have arranged for it to be the ABG (Biosecurity Agency of Galapagos – usually focused on control of introduced species) laboratory where the equipment is installed and we hope to be able to provide this service, which can be generated even for people who do not have symptoms.

- About the equipment donated by the private sector for the laboratory, as loading and transport sectors around the world know, conditions make it hard to move as fast as we would like, but we are making all the efforts to do it urgently, but we depend on the a reduced transportation system.

- It is important to tell the population that the fact that they do not have symptoms does not imply that they do not have the virus, you may feel in perfect health, but you do not know if you are with COVID or not and these people can be a risk to others. That is why isolation is important, that happens throughout the world, that is why staying at home is essential, because there are asymptomatic populations. The social distance is to deal with those cases that do not look sick but that can be carriers of the virus.

 

About Galapagos residents who are on the mainland

- We send information to people who are on the mainland (we have collected the detail of the places where they are located) and based on that we have prepared a registry and we are in contact issues of concern (and we know important information about them).

- There are three options on how to handle repatriation back to Galapagos:

1) uncontrolled return to Galapagos, establishing the test and quarantine on arrival only.

2) Restricting access to specific cases only, establishing priorities, and

3) Not allowing admission due to contagion levels depending on the contagion risk levels on the continent

- Clear policies must be established with the Ministry of Public Health and a clear position regarding what the National COE says on the issue of restriction of mobilization in the provinces. It is part of what the Provincial COE must discuss to decide how to proceed in the case of Galapagos residents who are on the continent but wish to return.

- This is a decision that we must take in common with all the authorities of the province, it cannot be a return to uninformed decision-making.  We must evaluate what is happening at the continental level before deciding how to proceed.

- Let's also wait for the issue of access to tests and request for rapid tests to be able to support citizens.

- The protocol must be strictly rigorous in any case. It is not my decision exclusively but of the set of authorities for an analysis of the risk that implies and to close to the maximum the levels of contagion.

- Allow us to have those answers in a concrete way this week to establish a criterion assuming this decision in the whole authorities.

- In order for us to have a Galapagueño doctor here, we had to carry out very complex administrative and logistical procedures.  There are no regularly scheduled flights – even supply shipments are not allowing for the transport of people at this time.

- There are strict protocols, we have to establish clear criteria. It is not that there are primary and secondary priorities.  If doctors need to be mobilized due to the nature of the work, we have a responsibility do mobilize them.

- This is not a political campaign, it is a national emergency. I welcome all those who want to join the fight.

- We have supported a local family who lost a family member on the continent.  That is the risk and it is one of the reasons why we have put restrictions on entering the province. To try to curb vulnerability in the province.

- What we ask for is co-responsibility, do not generate disinformation, allow the Ministry of Public Health to do its job.

On the identity of the patients

- We have not lied to people and we will continue to support their work, it is an emergency that is happening in the world, not only in Galapagos.

- We have to protect the identity of the patients – it’s a legal requirement, it is an issue that is handled by the Ministry of Public Health risk management system, I have been very clear. I cannot put patient tests into the public eye. We cannot do it, it is part of the protocols that the WHO clearly establishes.

- Isabela's patient has recovered very well, but he must follow the protocols of the Ministry of Public Health and maintain his quarantine, after which a new test needs to be done to show that he no longer has the active virus.

UPDATE: Cancellation policies going forward in the time of COVID-19

These past two weeks have been like a whirlwind in the travel industry all over the world.  While COVID-19 was certainly on our radar screen, the speed with which it overtook things came as a complete surprise.

You may have seen in a previous news item that CNH Tours has been very busy taking care of guests caught up in very rapidly changing travel environment in the days prior to global travel lockdown.  We were able to get 17 guests out of Ecuador (10 of which were on a ship in the far reaches of the archipelago) within a few short days, just in time before the airports closed.   Many tourists were caught off guard and nearly 10 days later, a good number are still in Galapagos and Ecuador desperately trying to find a way out.  May this be a lesson learned:  It pays to book with an agent specialized in the destination they serve.

With that emergency taken care of, we turned our attention to those guests who had paid their full trip balances and were about to head off to the islands in the coming days and weeks, along with those travelling by early July.  We're just now reaching out to those who were scheduled to travel in July and August this year. 

Please be assured that well before any final balance is owed, we will be in touch to inform you on the situation and on any possible changes in the terms and conditions of the trip.  Our intention is to give you as full a picture as possible of the situation so that you may be in a position to make the most informed decision on how to proceed.   

Ship owners and other service providers recognize that the times call for a more flexible approach.  In the past ten days, they have been frantically developing new policies designed to mitigate the misfortunes to which our guests have been subjected.  These revised policies will vary in detail, but generally, they consist of the option to postpone a trip into the future.   How far into the future, and wether a modest surcharge is applied or not varies from ship to ship. 

At this point, we suggest you take a "wait and see" approach.   We will be in touch with more information specific to your particular ship well before your balance is owed.

Thank you for your understanding. 

 

 

 

Under the Wire: Getting out of Galapagos in the time of COVID-19

These have been "exciting" times recently.  Though we all saw COVID-19 looming on the distant horizon and anticipated that it would eventually begin to gradually cause problems to tourism in the Americas, the next thing we knew, it had ambushed us.   

Alarm bells really first began to ring in earnest during the week of March 8th.   Another giant cruise ship off the coast of California reported COVID-19 cases, and governments began emitting advisories against going on cruises; the USA started banning flights from Europe and the Canadian government was urging all Canadians to strongly consider canceling any out-of-country travel.  The government of Ecuador later imposed a 14-day quarantine on all arrivals from a constantly expanding list of countries as well as some U.S. states (California, New York, Washington).   We had to inform some guests on the day of their planned flight to Ecuador that under these new rules, they would not be able to join their respective cruises.   

We already had ten guests on the Samba in Galapagos, along with three in the islands doing some post cruise land-based exploration.   We had 4 other guests who had been on the mainland for several days already and were just about to fly to the islands to embark. 

By Saturday 14 March, though no formal announcements had been made, we were hearing rumours from our well-placed contacts in Ecuador that a complete travel ban would be imposed in a matter of days - barring any incoming foreigners from arriving into the country.  It was clear that commercial air traffic would soon be very disrupted even for guests already inside the country wanting to go home after their trip.  

We decided that it was time to pull the plug and do what we could to get all our guests out of the country and back home as soon as possible.  The ship was in the far reaches of the archipelago and we ordered it to make its way to the airport – Monday (16th) being the soonest it could be there for outgoing flights to the continent.  We had our other three guests on land in Galapagos - and assumed that for them, as they were already booked to fly out of Galapagos and Ecuador on Monday the 16th, all would be good.  

In the meantime, we started to frantically work at finding exit flights for our group.  From Saturday (14thMarch)  to Tuesday (17th March), for just about all waking hours, our team was on the phone, WhatsApp, email, texting and skyping to the ship owner, the naturalist guide on the ship, airline companies, our guests on the ship and our guests on the mainland.  We were very relieved to find flights to Miami for all ten of them out of Quito on the Monday night.

On Sunday, it became official.  Ecuador would be closed to all incoming foreigners by Monday the 16th at midnight, although foreigners would not be prevented from departing after that date we knew that flights out would be scarce.  We felt so fortunate having found the Monday night flights. 

Things began to unravel in earnest on Monday (16th).  At 6:30AM, we received a call:  Our land-based guests in Galapagos informed us that their international flights out to Dallas out of Quito that night had been cancelled – they didn’t know what to do.  We activated our network again, and were able to secure tickets to for them on a Tuesday morning flight to Dallas out of Guayaquil.  So far, so good.

But we also needed to get everybody to Quito on that Monday (16th) – the same day many were evacuating Galapagos.   With the help of our local partners, we had purchased flights for our cruise-based guests as our land- based Galapagos guests were already scheduled to fly to Quito that day – they had tickets. 

It was bedlam at the airport – people where milling about hoping to catch flights which in turn had been very overbooked.  Flights were delayed significantly.  Tempers flared – it was very hot.  Then, both the cruise-based and land-based guests were told that their tickets would only take them as far as Guayaquil, while the international connections we had secured for them the previous day were out of Quito that night and the next morning.   Five guests (subsequently known as the “Quito-5”, or Q-5) managed to make this flight, while the other 8 (the Guayaquil-8) were bumped off and forced to scramble for space on a later flight out that day.  In both cases, it was patently clear that the chances of catching the international flight out of Quito that night were slim to non-existent.    

On arrival in Guayaquil, the Q-5 managed to find a connecting flight to Quito.  But knowing that the international connection out of Quito would likely be missed, we had been frantically looking for alternatives.   We could only find a flight out of Guayaquil leaving the next afternoon and booked it (Tuesday 17th).  We called to inform the Q-5, and to tell them to stay put in Guayaquil – not to fly on to Quito.  But we reached them as they were settling on to their flight to Quito.  Frustration all around. They would have to spend the night in Quito and fly right back to Guayaquil the next morning, before the Quito airport was scheduled to close at 2PM. 

We arranged to have a guide waiting for the Q-5 on their arrival in Quito, accompanying them to the hotel.  We’d figure out their flight back to Guayaquil shortly – but we had to turn our attention to the G-8 and how to get them out of Ecuador.

Back in Galapagos, the G-8 ended up on a late flight out but could only make it to Guayaquil and no further that evening.  We found them a hotel, arranged for a private transfer and they settled in for the night.  Before the lights went out, we came back to them with some good news – we had secured flights out to Dallas and to Miami the next morning, out of Guayaquil!  But while doing so, we also learned that the flight to Miami that afternoon had been cancelled!  What to do with our Q-5, stuck in Quito, for whom we had booked flights back to Guayaquil??  They seemed to be set for a long stay in Quito… 

The G-8 group got a 3AM wake-up call and headed off to the airport to catch their early morning flights…. While our three guests headed off to Dallas succeeded in boarding (and critically, taking off), our Miami-bound guests’ hopes were once again dashed.  Their flight out was cancelled…. But wait.. good news!  The late afternoon flight had been reinstated and they were re-booked onto that one.   At our end, we (Heather) was up very early looking for decently-priced medium term accommodations in Quito, as it appeared they would be destined to spend several days, if not longer, in that city.   She received a text message from one of the G-8 guests informing her that while their morning flight out of Guayaquil had been cancelled, they had been re-booked on the late afternoon flight – which was on after all!

We contacted our travel partner in Quito (it was 5AM and she was on-line) to confirm the veracity of the afternoon flight, and on learning that it looked good, we checked the Q-5 onto it, emitting their boarding passes.  We next got tickets for all of our Q-5 people out of Quito and into Guayaquil.  It was one of the last regularly scheduled flights out of Quito airport – which was closing at 2:30PM that same day. 

 

Out in the nick of time: The Q-5 with the G-8 (minus our three guests who had made their flight to Dallas), just before boarding their flight out of Guayaquil to Miami on Tuesday, March 17th.  They look surprisingly relaxed - but they had just lived through a very harrowing 48 hours. 

The Q-5 met up with the remaining G-8 guests in Guayaquil early on the afternoon of the 17th.  The airport was shutting down, shops were closed.  They had the chance to take the group picture (above) before boarding, and taking off.   It was in the nick-of-time.

Miami was not the final destination for any of our guests.  They all had to find their way home to different part of the USA, Canada and Bermuda.   Our Bermuda guest was the last one to make it - emailing us just Thursday evening (19 March) that she had made it home, safe and sound.  

Every day, as we monitor the press on Galapagos related matters, we are still seeing stories of tourists who continue to be stuck in Galapagos (even domestic flights are now very restricted, as is land transportation within the country) or on the mainland.  It may be many days, if not longer, before they manage to get home.   When we see these stories, we are reassured that we made the right call last week.   

PS:  A big thanks to our local team:  Part-time fixer Adriana who also happens to work for an international airline (that came in very handy) and our full-time Quito-base colleague, Mercedes whose 20+ years in the business showed its value.   Heather Blenkiron coordinated efforts from Canada - ceaselessly and tirelessly. Valeria and Juan whose family owned the ship, Giancarlo, our naturalist guide on the ship, and Eddie, another naturalist guide and fixer at the Galapagos airport.  There was Eufemia of the Mansion del Angel hotel, Paula who works for a larger cruise company, Fernando, who stood by our guests at Guayaquil airport, Shirley and Silvia from Galapagos Experience travel company, and Kelsey who has the thankless task of helping all our guest whose travel plans have been disrupted, and many more all helped make this happen. 

A note to fellow Galapagueños

Juan Salcedo, who, with brother and sister and mother, owns and operates the 14 passenger expedition cruise ship SAMBA.   He was on a first ever family holiday to Europe with his wife and 2 young daughters when they were forced to evacuate just before the COVID-19 curtain was lowered.  They made it back home last week, and are now self-quarantining in Quito, after which time they hope to go back to Galapagos.  

Social media in Galapagos is always a chaotic place, with all kinds of outrageous statements, cheap politics, conspiracy theories and hyperbole.  In this climate of COVID-19 induced uncertainty and under lock-down conditions, things are even worse.  

Having witnessed the invective and disinformation, Juan, always a cool head, attempts to pour a little oil on the troubled waters in this post, published today.  

The 14 passenger Samba at anchor between North and South Plazas islands

This is a long note, but now we can't complain that we don't have time to read. Many of us spend a lot of time on social media - so I urge you to read this.

The most difficult days are still far away. The good news has been hiding behind the chaos of misinformation and uncertainty. Those desires and positive advances have been hampered by the chaotic irresponsibility of social networks, which are fueled with the force and speed of recklessness and ignorance of many. These people write to feel important, they write to criticize, undermine, to generate rejection and discourage common sense. Please STOP.

I have remained silent so as not to contribute to a discussion that is increasing in tone and has the intention of generating a digital pandemic, causing despair to gain ground faster than hope. Now that we have confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Galapagos, it is time to intervene, to call for empathy, generosity and social responsibility. Unity and solidarity PLEASE.

We are a family of 4 and we have almost all of our relatives on the islands. Our home and our work is in Galapagos. We have mothers and fathers in vulnerable situations. This reality also worries us and we are sure that harder days will come even when our health and economic situation are good at the moment. For now we are taking one day at a time, with a lot of patience and a desire to collaborate.  We’re currently in self-quarantine in Quito so that we can return to Galapagos soon.

When COVID-19 was a distant thing, when it was already known but, it was China's problem, we traveled abroad for a month. We left Quito on February 19 and flew to New York where there was no case yet (more than 35,000 now in the USA).  Our only concern was over the eventual spread of the virus. My daughters are 9 and 11 years old and in those days, it was still unclear who was most vulnerable. We were responsible and meticulous in taking precautions even since we left the Islands. Gel, alcohol and masks were part of the luggage.

We arrived in Europe just as the virus began its dizzying advance. It almost seemed to follow us from destination to destination. Madrid and Barcelona presented the first cases and both authorities and people were very casual and indifferent, tourism numbers were high due to an unusually warm winter. We spent a week in Spain and did not see evidence of any preventive measures,  even when the situation was already catastrophic in Italy.

When we left for Paris, Spain was still asleep. In early March the French and their government still did not react. On their own initiative, the Louvre employees decided to close and were harshly criticized by tourists.  The government reopened the museum, dismissing the virus. France has more than 16,000 confirmed cases and nearly 650 deaths at the moment.

We continued to travel very cautiously, disinfecting everything. You will understand that with two young girls the level of stress and vigilance as parents was enormous. Although we always enjoy the trip and the activities we were aware of the danger and our hygiene protocols were at the highest level. Our last stop was Switzerland and upon arrival the holiday mood was normal. For this it is important to say that we always travel by train, metro and bus. At no time was anything disinfected, nor was there any hygiene or preventive protocol to reduce infections. Europe lived a climate of tranquility and denial.

Only on March 13, they remember that Friday the 13th, there was a reaction to the WHO PANDEMIC statement. Switzerland still did not take rigorous actions even though it already had more than 500 cases (today they exceed 7,000 and are among the 10 countries with the highest number of infections).

Ecuador took more effective measures and did so more quickly than Europe. For that reason we were hardly able to return to our own country. I am not a supporter of any politician, current or former, but I understand that they are authoritative and must take measures to reduce the spread of the virus. They are not perfect, yet they have shown more prudence, common sense and commitment than the authorities of developed countries. The rest is citizen responsibility, the rest we have to do. Upon returning to Ecuador we follow the protocols requested by the Government. We are still in Mandatory Preventive Isolation here in Quito and, although we have not presented symptoms, we have been very meticulous and compliant so as not to be asymptomatic transmitters of the virus.  It will be another 5 days before we can be sure that we’re not carrying the virus and perhaps it will be longer before we can actually return home to the islands.   

I would like to shout: Stop making a mess of things! But that won’t help much (a little humor after having to read this spiel). I prefer to say: nobody is to blame, let's understand that this is a WORLD problem. That goodwill and the desire to collaborate will be the essential ingredients to get out of this enormous health and economic CRISIS.

Today more than ever we contribute in a positive way, silencing the EGO and activating the best sides of ourselves.

See you soon family, friends, neighbors, acquaintances.

Galapagos: Closed until further notice

This afternoon, the vice-president of Ecuador announced a series of measures with the objective of slowing down the spread of COVID-19 in the country.   Though there are fewer than 30 cases in the country, he has indicated that it would be better to apply these heavy-handed measures now to avoid greater disruptions later.

As of midnight, Sunday night (15 March), foreigners will no longer be permitted entry into the country (even Ecuadorian nationals have until midnight on the 16th of March to return!).  Should any arrive after that date, they will be forced to purchase an air ticket on the spot and return to whence they came.  

All ships operating in Galapagos are closing shop.  One large ship operated by National Geographic turned away several dozen passengers just as they were arriving in Galapagos today.  They had to turn around and head right back home.

Countries are urging their citizens to head back home as soon as possible before it becomes very nearly impossible to do so:  Commercial airlines, faced with a dramatic drop in passengers, are cancelling many flights and some routes may no longer have service.  

Over the past several weeks, we have tried hard to keep abreast of the developments.   It seemed that each day brought a new policy decision on the part of Galapagos authorities, Ecuadorian authorities, the World Health Organization, various governments.   It has been very hard to try to get clarity at times, and to translate that into practical, accionable advice for our guests. 

As of this morning, we had 4 determined guests from Canada - willing to embark on a ship this coming Tuesday.   Despite our warnings that things could change, they were keen.   They were already in Ecuador and would have been eligible to fly to Galapagos.   But sadly, by this afternoon, everything changed (once again) and now, instead of swimming with penguins, they will be on a flight home this Thursday.

It's not clear how long these measures will be in place.   Some ships in Galapagos have the temerity to declare that they will be resuming operations in 1 month.   But frankly, I don't know the basis on which they make these decisions.  It could be much longer.    

In the days and weeks ahead, we will monitor the situation.  We have many friends in Galapagos who keep us posted on conditions there (it won't be easy, as most people there make a living from tourism and already, I have reports that it's a ghost town in Puerto Ayora).  We'll be posting updates here if there are any developments of substance to report.

In the meantime, hang on to your dream.  Perhaps giving Galapagos a little breather might be a good thing for the wildlife and the visitor experience when things get going again.

In the meantime, for the keeners out there, CNH Tours is offering some very favourable booking conditions to those who are keen on booking something now for a future date.  We'll offer a discount, and we'll let you change the date of your sailing should COVID-19 remain an issue at that time.   Contact us for details.   

Update on COVID-19 and Galapagos / Our recommendations

Update 14 March:  The following countries / states have been added to the "mandatory 14 day quarantine on arrival" list:  USA states of Washington, New York, Massachusetts and California, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the Netherlands.  Applicable as of March 15.

FURTHER CHANGES IN EFFECT AS OF 14 MARCH:  Any person arriving in Ecuador, having started their trip to Ecuador on the 14th of March and having spent some time in any of the countries listed above within the 14 days prior to their arrival will be detained at the airport and requested to leave the country by the same means, at his/her own expense, unless they can demonstrate that they have confirmed accommodations for a 14 day self quarantine.  

 

ORIGINAL MARCH 13 NEWS ITEM FOLLOWS: 

While the number of confirmed cases in Ecuador remains very low as this note is written (fewer than 20), and while none of these has occurred in Galapagos, the Government of Ecuador has implemented widespread pro-active measures in an effort to reduce the incidence of the virus and the speed of its transmission.   CNH Tours approves of these measures as it’s better to slow down the spread of the virus at the outset than to start dealing with a grass fire only when it’s already out of control.    We are confident that these measures will contribute to reducing the overall impact of the virus on the Ecuadorian people and the Ecuadorian economy.

However, these measures may have a negative effect on those whose trip to Ecuador is coming up soon.   On Tuesday this week, the government imposed mandatory 14 day quarantine on all travellers (both visitors and nationals) arriving into the country and who will have travelled in France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Iran, South Korea and China in the 14 days prior to their arrival.    These measures come into effect today (13 March) but we’re not sure how rigorous the process will be.   To confirm how such policies were being implemented, we spoke with our close colleague who works with Avianca Airlines.  She is in very close touch with airport personnel and procedures.  We expect to get updates from the airport terminal presently. 

Regardless, all arriving passengers will be asked to fill in a general “state of health” questionnaire in flight, prior to arrival (see sample below).   You will be screened for a fever and other signs of COVID-19 before passing through immigration.  If there is no reason to believe the passenger may have the virus, he/she will proceed as normal.   If any COVID-related symptoms are detected, you will be taken for closer examination.  A similar health check takes place prior to embarking on your flight to Galapagos.

 

If, over the 14 days prior to your arrival in Ecuador, you will have spent time in the countries noted above, we suggest that you prepare to reconsider your travel plans.   In the meantime, you may want to contact your airline to see about refunds or re-bookings.  You may want to consult your insurance policy to see if you might be eligible for compensation.  

For others, no one knows at this point if and when Ecuador might add to that list of countries noted above.  At one point, should the virus begin to spread more widely within the country, such measures might prove to be moot and might be dropped altogether.  But for the time being, Ecuador is trying to limit the arrival of carriers into the country.  

On the positive side, these measures will reduce the chances of the virus spreading among people, and they will contribute to making a trip to the Galapagos less risky.  CNH Tours remains confident that the chances of contracting the virus in Ecuador remain very slim.   In a previous news item, we made our case on why we think that travel by ship in Galapagos is less risky that embarking on a multi-thousand passenger mega-cruise ship elsewhere (see here).

Despite these stringent measures and despite our confidence in the continued safety of a Galapagos cruise, regulations are changing rapidly.  It might be possible that you are prevented from travelling not because of the health risk, but because of Government of Ecuador decisions, or even due to flight cancellations on the part of your airline – or even re-entry conditions imposed by your own government.

We recommend that you keep a close eye on developments.  Review your insurance policies to see if/how they might apply should you be asked to spend 14 days in quarantine, or should your airline cancel your flights, or if your own government imposes regulations that prevent you from travelling.  

As for CNH Tours, we are doing all we can to help those caught in the middle of this.   We re-iterate that, for the time being and notwithstanding all of the regulatory concerns noted above, we feel that a Galapagos cruise remains a very low health risk travel proposition.  All of our expedition ship partners have indicated to us that they are operating normally.   

Most concerns over cruise ships not applicable in Galapagos

Yesterday, USA and Canadian senior government health officials made a blanket statement, warning  against traveling on cruise ships.   Following the appearance of the COVID-19 virus first on the Diamond Princess in Japan, and more recently on the Grand Princess in California, it has become clear that these ships can be risky places for the spread of the virus.  

The reasons cited by these officials include:

  • The large number of passengers on board
  • The large number of staff on board
  • Their combined wide range of nationalities and travel histories

 

Mega cruise ships vs Galapagos expedition ship

SHIP NAME

LENGTH (feet / meters)

# Passengers

# Crew

# people on board

Grand Princess

952 / 290

3,100

1,100

4,200

Diamond Princess

951 / 290

2,670

1,100

3,770

Samba

78 / 24

14

6

20

Grace

145 / 44

20

9

29

These are very large ships indeed!

With perhaps more than 50 nationalities represented on board, and with the undoubtedly varied recent travel histories, it is not surprising that, among the approximately 4,000 people on board, some may have been exposed to the virus.  

Galapagos ships are not in the same league as the mega cruise ships

In comparison, of the 65 ships that ply Galapagos waters, 55 carry 20 or fewer passengers.  Of the remaining 10 ships, 3 carry 100 passengers, and the others carry 32 to 48 passengers.   The majority of people taking a cruise in Galapagos are from the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia. 

Staff working on Galapagos ships either live in Galapagos or on the mainland.  All naturalist guides certified in the past 20 years must be Galapagos residents.    

For these reasons, the risks associated with the large “mega” cruise ships are orders of magnitude greater than those associated with a small, locally owned and operated Galapagos expedition ship.  

While CNH Tours cannot say that travel is risk free, we continue to be confident that a Galapagos cruise remains a safe bet for your trip of a lifetime.  

 

 

 

Galapagos entry procedures call for good health

In cooperation with the national government and the tourism industry, yesterday the Galapagos Governing Council published the latest resolution relating to health-related Galapagos entry procedures.  Earlier resolutions dealing with this issue were canceled.   

The latest procedures call for a rapid health check of all travellers to Galapagos, at the Quito or Guayaquil aiports, before boarding. Carried out by health professionals, if the health check reveals no reason for concern, boarding will be allowed.   If symptoms of COVID-19 are detected, boarding may be denied.  

Travellers to Galapagos may wish to reconsider their trip if at the time of departure, they are showing signs typically associated with COVID-19 (fever, cough).  If you have an underlying, non-communicable condition with symptoms that could be confused with those of COVID-19, you may wish to obtain a medical certificate explaining the situation.  There remains a risk that boarding will be denied regardless.  

 

COVID-19: Should Galapagos bound travellers be concerned?

COVID-19 is making more headlines.  After Italy reported a big number of cases a week ago and with the headline-making news of the stock market correction, the disease seems to have finally captured popular attention in Europe and the Americas.  

So, what's the story re: traveling to Galapagos?  What's the risk?  

To help understand that risk, we attach the infographic below.   It shows the relative impact of COVID-19 in the USA as of a few days ago, compared to the impact of the flu (influenza).  The infographic is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  It's already a bit dated, as the numbers for COVID-19 will certanily change in the days ahead.   

But unless things change in a massive way, the infographic's message is very clear:  "Be much more concerned about the flu than about COVID-19".   Even in China, after 2.5 months, COVID-19 numbers (cases of the disease and mortality) are absolutely dwarfed by the USA influenza numbers.  

Another development involves the reporting of the first cases of COVID-19 in Ecuador. It's clear that the virus continues to spread and that most countries reporting no cases so far either have undetected cases, or will soon be detecting some.   

The government of Ecuador is reporting that detection measures are being implemented at airports (both for international arrivals and for arrivals in Galapagos), using hand-held monitors of high body temperature.  While CNH Tours applauds this measure, we also realize that not all carriers show symptoms and for that reason, this measure will only help spot potential cases in which symptoms have developped.   But it shows that the government is taking things seriously.  

In conclusion, based on the information provided above, and for the foreseeable future, the risks of contracting the disease remains very small.  At CNH Tours, we recommend the following course of action:  "Keep calm, wash your hands, and carry on!".   We recommend taking along a bottle of hand sanitizer as a precautionary measure.  These bottles have been around ever since the SARS outbreak in 2003 - it remains good practice to use them.  

 

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