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Book Review: The Beak of the Finch

Today, May 22, is celebrated as International Biodiversity Day. While Galapagos itself isn't a particularly biodiverse area (nevertheless, very high in endemism), Ecuador has one of the highest concentrations of biodiversity in the world. Shockingly, its small geographical area contains over 23,000 species -- this accounts for approximately 6% of known species worldwide. According to the TheEcologist.org, Ecuador has more species of orchids and hummingbirds than Brazil. 

As a way to mark the special day and the importance of scientists and field researchers in keeping our Planet as biodiverse as possible, we have reviewed The Beak of the Finch, by Jonathan Weiner. 

Simply put, The Beak of the Finch is a fantastic scientific summary that poetically transports the reader through space and time. It chronicles the work of both Charles Darwin and The Grants (capital "T" placed intentionally!), particularly focusing in on their concepts and observations of natural selection.

Rosemary and Peter Grant have been studying the finches of Galapagos, in particular those on Daphne Major, for now almost 50 years. (At the time of the book’s first edition, it was roughly 20 years). Anyone that has flown into or out of Galapagos from the airport on Baltra Island has seen both Daphne Major and Minor. They are located just west of the airport and can even be seen from the ferry that takes you across the Itabaca Channel. While you cannot visit Daphne Major, its sheer cliff edge and what appears to be inhospitable environment are apparent from a distance. 

A view of both Daphne Major and Daphne Minor, from the air.

 

The Grants, along with their “Finch Investigation Unit” (ie their field team, made up of various scientist that took shifts in the field to gather data), spent decades capturing ground finches on Daphne Major, banding them, taking measurements and blood samples, and then observing their mating (amongst several other features). Specifically, they were focused on the Large Ground Finch (Geospiza magnirostris) and the Medium Ground finch (Geospiza fortis). The reader learns of the effects of the various El Niño events on the magnirostis and fortis populations of Daphne Major and (without wanting to ruin anything with spoilers) the Grants make a monumental and ground-breaking discovery.

Throughout the book, Weiner jumps effortlessly from Darwin’s world to that of the Grants. He is able to juxtapose the two experiences both in Galapagos and back at their respective homes perfectly, highlighting both their methods of research in various, yet specific, ways. For example, he describes how meticulous Darwin was about keeping and filing his notes. Each notebook was stored in tall bookcases surrounding his fireplace, filed in such a way that Darwin would be able to reference his previous notes with relative ease. Weiner then brings the reader back to Princeton, where the Grants have boxes upon boxes of stored floppy disks, lined on a tall shelf around the room like crown molding. For those of us old enough to have experienced the clanking of a computer as it reads a floppy disk, Weiner’s writing on observing Rosemary Grant do exactly that will make you nostalgic. Whether you know what a floppy disk is or not, reading about what extraordinary amount and quality of data that was stored on all of those floppy disks by the Grants and their team will leave your jaw on the floor.

While describing the moment Weiner watches Rosemary as she loads the data inputted by the Finch team from field work conducted between 1976 to 1991: "There is a long pause while the computer clicks and clacks, but the screen stay blank. 'This is a big file', Rosemary says as she waits: '5,575 kilobytes, I think it is.' A file that size could hold about a million words, or the complete manuscript of Darwin's 'Big Book', Natural Selection, plus several editions of the Origin and the Descent of Man." 

Weiner’s descriptive writing transported me from cold and snowy Ottawa, to the shore of Daphne Major where ocean waves crash into the lava edge and make for a difficult disembarking from a small dinghy. Weiner’s writing style is captivatingly descriptive and precise. You feel for the researchers that were “on watch” during the drought of the 70s – it made me thirsty just to read those passages. Through his writing you can sense their yearning for rain and the finch breeding that rain would allow for – the frustration is palpable when rain doesn't arrive. At the same time, it was sheer joy to read through his description of heavy rain in Galapagos. Again, he is spot on in representing through language how it feels to experience such a downpour in the Islands.

It was a sheer delight to read Jonathan Weiner’s view and account of the Grants’ life’s work, tied into the history of Charles Darwin’s long and tumultuous struggle with his findings and theories. It truly transported me back to the Enchanted Isles. On a personal level, it brought me back to one of my absolute favourite experiences: While part of the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF), I spent a few weeks volunteering on one of the CDF’s Landbirds Projects. This volunteer work entailed climbing up and then camping on the crater edge of Alcedo Volcano on Isabela Island and experiencing quite a few things that the “Finch Investigation Unit” went through as well. With those memories still fresh in my mind, I can claim with certainty, that Weiner’s descriptors of what field work is like in Galapagos is spot-on.

It’s a highly recommended read for anyone interested in the scientific background of why Darwin’s Finches are as famous as they are, while also for anyone keen to read about evolution observed in “real time”. It will transport you to Galapagos and while you’re there, tickle your brain with fascinating facts and details. (If you need further convincing of how remarkable it is, the work garnered Weiner the Pulitzer Prize.)

 Happy reading!

 

Launch of the 'Galapagos Hub'

The “Galapagos Hub” was launched this week and we believe it shows a true sign of (much needed) connectivity in Galapagos – both connecting on an interpersonal level as well as technologically. The launch was done via Facebook live, with majority of the presentation done by the President of the Governing Council of Galapagos, Norman Wray.

 

The Hub is described as a (virtual) space where information and knowledge can be exchanged between various national and international organizations, along with the communities of Galapagos, both from a wide spectrum of fields and areas of expertise. Its creators stress the importance of using this tool to ensure that, through science and technology, Galapagos will have an optimal balance between humans and the natural elements of the Islands. They will be using the 2030 Galapagos Plan as a guide and Wray mentions several times during his presentation that the work around this Hub will be free of ‘the usual corruption’ – very impressive to hear this type of blunt language used.  

 

“Seguimos potenciando lo que se ha hecho y queremos dar pasos fijos para el futuro.” (roughly translated to, ‘We continue to promote all which we have done and we want to create definite steps for the future.’)  – Norman Wray, Governor of Galapagos

 

While this type of international academic exchange has been done in Galapagos for decades (mainly through the Charles Darwin Foundation and its many collaborating institutions), the 'game changer' for the Galapagos Hub will be that it will operate in a whole new era of fast and reliable internet in the Islands.

 

During the presentation it was clear that the youth and young adults of Galapagos are primary beneficiaries of this Hub and used strategically throughout its creation; several young Galapagueño university students took part through pre-recorded videos.  Wray comments several times about how the young will use science to solve the world’s problems.

 

This new tool brings together two Ecuadorian universities – both of which have their own type of satellite campus in Galapagos. Other collaborators in the Hub include: two UK academic institutions – King’s College Cambridge and the University of Edinburgh; two Ecuadorian government organizations; and two non-profit, non-governmental organizations – one of which is our old stomping ground, the Charles Darwin Research Station.

 

Norman Wray presenting the four pillars of the Galapagos Hub, during the live event. (Translation: Innovation and Investigation; Networking and Awareness-Raising; Education and Strengthening Sciences; Politics)

 

This effort has been several years in the making, but the catalyst (as well as defining element required for its function) will be a fibre optic cable that is scheduled to be operational in Galapagos in January 2022. This cable has been discussed for many (many) years now and it will bring a truly revolutionary connectivity to the Islands. (While we may later discuss the potential issues of laying and running an underwater fibre optic cable through the protected Galapagos Marine Reserve, I believe that conservation work in the Islands has been greatly inhibited by the slow and limited internet.)

 

Almost as if pre-arranged, the connection from the feed of Mr Wray cut out around the 16 minute mark, as he was presenting live. Again highlighting the significant need for substantial improvements in internet connectivity in Galapagos. Once re-connected, Wray laughs and comments on how this just further shows how crucial this fibre optic cable is for Galapagos.

 

The launch was done live on the Governing Council of Galapagos’ Facebook page (@cggalapagos), but a recording is available should you be interested (translations weren’t available during the live event).

 

We look forward to seeing more advancements with this new initiative and certainly we will be keeping a VERY close eye on any updates regarding the fibre optic cable.

 

Explorer Club Honours our Former Colleague

We are delighted to share that a former colleague, Dr Inti Keith, has been honoured by the famous Explorers Club as one of the 21 most remarkable women members. 

Photo credit: CDF (darwinfoundation.org)

Inti is certainly a remarkable scientist, leading the research of marine invasive species at the Charles Darwin Research Station. In the last couple of years she has expanded her research and leadership work into marine plastics, international research partnerships, shark tagging, sea turtle tracking, and monitoring the coral and rocky reef systems of Galapagos. 

Photo Credit : Forbes (Geiner Golfin)

Inti, of Scottish parents, grew up in Quito and spent her academic career between the two countries, amongst others. In addition to being an impressive researcher, it can be said that she is the very heart of the social aspect of the Station and even the town on Santa Cruz. She is incredibly welcoming and will invite any newcomer out for a cerveza (or two). She has a special way of making people feel included and generally, to have a great time. Work could be intense and quite stressful at times, but a beer with Inti would always be a great cure (especially if they continue going til the wee-hours of the morning!) 

Our biggest congratulations (and toast!) to Inti for this spectacular and well-deserved honour!

 

A Truly Complete Guide to Galapagos

Review of “Galápagos” (Book author: Josef Litt)

 

Josef Litt has created one of the most comprehensive guidebook on Galapagos. He has put together a work of both in-depth information, through remarkably thorough research; as well as visual beauty, by utilizing his skills as photographer. He covers not just the visitor sites with their unique flora and fauna, but also the history, people, geography, political context, science and conservation work, as well as general tourism topics. The reasoning for it being one of the best is that it balances interesting written content with ample images to compliment it. In summary, “Galápagos” by Jose Litt is part guidebook, part textbook, part beautiful coffee table book.

Photo Credit: Josef Litt

It is a fantastic read for those looking for detailed, interesting, and in-depth material to inform them of what to expect to see and discover during their trip to Galapagos; alternatively, it is entertaining and insightful for those simply interested in that special Archipelago.

As one would expect, the bulk of the book though is about the various visitor site locations one can see either by land tour or cruise; Litt breaks these down by island. The exhaustive amount of research Litt conducted for this book is apparent. Each visitor site’s description is not just complete, but includes special notes not found in your typical guidebooks. For example, he highlights the sole button mangrove found at La Lobería beach on San Cristobal Island – a stunning photo of it is found on page 149. For these site descriptions, Litt includes artistically descriptive language as well as stats, measurements, photographic insights, and historic notes when possible.

Throughout the book Litt also brings in aspects of natural (recent) history. For example, he mentions the observation that flamingoes used to spend time in the lagoons near Playa Espumillla on Santiago, before the strong 97-98 El Niño event. This type of historical example provides helpful demonstrations of the impacts of such climate events in Galapagos specifically.

While he does a fantastic job of providing details of each visitor site, the one element I would consider missed in parts are how the various visitor sites are approached. One very frequent question we receive from our guests is about “dry landings”, “wet landings”, and what to expect for each when arriving on location. Some visitor sites have rather tricky landings, while some are a sandy beach on which the visitor simply needs to plop on to from the dingy. Where he does make brief mention of landings is for Punta Espinosa on Fernandina Island, where visitors can only use the man-made landing dock during high tide; at all other times of the tide cycle visitors to Punta Espinosa must make their way onto land via the lava rocks that border the small beach area.  Perhaps this small extra bit of practical info could be added in the next edition?

Photo Credit: Josef Litt

Beyond the tourist sites and natural elements of the Archipelago, Litt is able to clearly and succinctly describe the various political influences on human life in Galapagos. He goes through the changes implemented by the Special Law for Galapagos, as well as certain challenges in bringing it in to force. For those interested in stats, he presents a clear picture of the numerical impacts of the special law both on people and the tourism industry.

The photographs throughout the book are stunning. In addition to Litt’s own fantastic images, he includes a variety of others from a wide range of sources (all thanked in his opening acknowledgments). What is particularly interesting is the use of aerial photographs throughout the book. Drones have only very recently been allowed in the national park/marine reserve (with special permits only) and the amount of such images from a bird’s eye view is impressive. The shot of the Corona del Diablo on page 169 is particularly stunning (photo by Heidi Snell) as well as my personal favourite of Sombrero Chino and Rocas Bainbridge (courtesy of Rory Stansbury, Island Conservation). These are not the perspectives from which regular books on Galapagos tend to present the Islands. 

Litt truly delivers on what he mentions about himself, “As much as I enjoy taking images, I am keen to understand the subjects”. This book does exactly that – at first glance it provides the reader with stunning images of all that is Galapagos and upon closer inspection of the contents, the writing leaves the reader with ample knowledge of what their eyes have seen in the awe-inspiring images captured. What Litt has done is brought a level of detail to the entirety of what is “Galapagos” - something rarely seen in guidebooks.

  

Photo Credit: Josef Litt

One aspect that struck me personally was towards the end of the book – one minor point that proved to me that Litt had truly done his homework. Litt lists various ways to support the conservation work done in Galapagos by including organizations based in different countries of the world to which citizens of those countries can donate. This may seem a minor point and, admittedly, given my background in fundraising at the Charles Darwin Foundation/Research Station I am perhaps more attuned to these details than most. However, one would be shocked at how much confusion there is over this topic – even by some very closely involved with it! Litt does an excellent job in providing that information clearly. 

The book is larger and heavier that your typical guidebook.  It may not be one to pop in your backpack and take with you on your expedition, but it is, in my opinion, a must read both before and after your trip to Galapagos.  It would also be a good bedside companion during your trip (should you have the room in your suitcase).  The level of detail in Litt’s descriptions is remarkable and it is a great tool to prepare you for what to expect on your Galapagos voyage. Later, the stunning photographs throughout the book will leave you feeling nostalgic when you look through them after your return back home.

For those that perhaps Galapagos is still a dream not yet attainable (especially in this time of the pandemic), Litt’s book is an informative piece of art that will take you there through his stunning visual and descriptive imagery.

Photo Credit: Josef Litt

 

Should you like to read further reviews of this book, it is listed on Amazon.com (here). While we highly recommend this book, I will note that we have no business association with the author nor benefits from the sales of this book -- we simply wish to inform. 

Her Deepness Designates Galapagos as a “Hope Spot”

Her Deepness – the title for the world-renowned oceanographer, marine biologist, and explorer Sylvia Earle – has officially included Galapagos amongst the list of “Hope Spots” of the Planet. This designation by her foundation, Mission Blue, is intended to help focus on special areas of the Ocean through communication, media campaigns, and tactics to elevate the global recognition of the special locations. “Mission Blue inspires action to explore and protect the ocean” – the mission of the foundation.

The giant, pancake-looking fish, a Mola mola. (Photo credit: Alex Hearn)

While Mission Blue (and Dr Earle herself) acknowledge the importance of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) as one form of helping to protect and conserve ocean life, “Hope Spots” designations for areas that are already defined as MPAs (such as parts of the Galapagos Marine Reserve) are assigned as an additional measure of conservation as well as to note that extra action is needed.

Specifically, the foundation states that their definition of Hope Spots have: 

  • A special abundance or diversity of species, unusual or representative species, habitats or ecosystems
  • Particular populations of rare, threatened or endemic species
  • A site with potential to reverse damage from negative human impacts
  • The presence of natural processes such as major migration corridors or spawning grounds
  • Significant historical, cultural or spiritual values
  • Particular economic importance to the community

A fur seal of Galapagos (Photo credit: Alex Hearn)

One reason for this designation of Galapagos was thanks to the work by Dr Alex Hearn on the migration patterns through and around the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR), as well as the supporting conservation work done by the conservation-focused tourism of Manuel Yepez Revelo through his company Sharksky (both of whom CNH know personally). In particular, research showing the vast migration routes of various shark species beyond the safe haven of the GMR and into the greater Eastern Pacific has brought to light the need to further enhance the conservation methods used in Galapagos. The designation as a “Hope Spot” will, ideally, reinforce this with both international policy makers and inspire the general population at large to do what they can in conservation efforts.

With relation to the effect of the pandemic on tourism in Galapagos, the Mission Blue blog presents an interesting point that now might be the best time to push for an expansion of the MPA in Galapagos. The full blog piece on this from Mission Blue can be read here.

One of several turtle species found in Galapagos, a green turtle. (Photo credit: Alex Hearn)

Finally, Amazing Shark News in Galapagos

Marine scientists from the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) have made the first recording of the presence of two additional shark species in Galapagos waters -- the broadnose sevengill shark (Notorynchus cepedianus) and the bluntnose sixgill shark (Hexanchus griseus). As stated in the press release by the CDF moments ago, the research was done in collaboration with the Galapagos National Park Directorate, National Geographic Society, Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Media Lab Open Ocean Initiative, and Lindblad Expeditions (LEX).

We are delighted as well, that the lead scientist on this, Salome Buglass, is an old friend from the Galapagos days and certainly an incredible young researcher. Although she has not been in this scientific field for very long, she's an up-and-comer with more accomplishments under her belt than many seasoned researchers. (Not to mention, she's proudly part Canadian too!)

We welcome you to read the CDF's full press release here: 

Two shark species newly registered in the deep waters of the Galapagos Marine Reserve

 

Photo Credit - CDF

 

All of the research and conservation work carried out by the Charles Darwin Foundation at the Research Station is only possible through donations. While there is an inclination to think that Galapagos, being such a famous and incredible "living laboratory", scientific work must all be sufficiently funded already -- sadly, that it not the case. The CDF/Research Station would benefit greatly from any and all donations. As a company that values first and foremost the conservation of and scientific work being conducted in Galapagos, we ask that you please consider donating towards their work. (www.darwinfoundation.org

Whale Shark Disappearance

A female whale shark (Rhincodon typus), named Esperanza (or “Hope” in English), has disappeared off the radar around Galapagos; perhaps not coincidentally at the same time that a flotilla of 260 Chinese fishing vessels have been observed in the area (see our previous blog piece on that flotilla, here). The fins of sharks, especially whale sharks, are extremely valuable in many parts of Asia. Millions of sharks, many of them of endangered species, are killed each year solely for their fins. Esperanza was last seen between the Exclusive Economic Zone and the Galapagos Marine Reserve. 

 

A diver installing a transmitter on a whale shark. Photo credit: Galapagos National Park. 

 

Esperanza was tagged in September 2019 as part of a scientific monitoring project looking at the habits of whale sharks in and around Galapagos. The signals from her tags stopped transmitting on May 20, 2020. Norman Wray, the President of the Galapagos Governing Council, announced the disappearance of Esperanza’s transmissions and included his worry and suspicion of the flotilla’s possible involvement. Wray shared the news via a tweet.

Transmission sent from Esperanza, prior to May 20, 2020. Map used by Norman Wray in tweet announcing disappearance. Credit: Galapagos Whale Shark Project.

 

Whale sharks are the largest fish species on the planet and are classified as “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List. The vast majority of whale sharks found in Galapagos are not only female, but pregnant females (almost 99% of them, according to researchers). They gather around the North Westernmost most islands of Darwin and Wolf during their gestation period. Jonathan Green and Dr Alex Hearn, those referenced in Wray’s tweet, are co-Founders and leading researcher in the study of whale sharks in and around Galapagos through the Galapagos Whale Shark Project.

We, along with many of our dear friends in Galapagos (and around the world), are extremely concerned and saddened by this news. Watch this space for more information as we monitor the developing situation in the waters of the Galapagos Marine Reserve.

 

Photo credit: IUCN Red List (Pedro Vieyra)

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). 

 

 

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 

 

 

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. 

 

The first time I saw a man in drag in Quito…

 

With all the wonderfully varied traditions and holiday activities all over the world, I would say that it’s hard to come across one that truly surprises you anymore. With the rise of online media and digital storytelling from all the corners of this great Planet, we have the ability to see intimate moments and celebrations anywhere, no matter where we’re from.

Ecuador is no exception to this rich variety of holiday traditions. As mentioned in a previous blog piece (found here), the baking and celebrating of the Day of the Dead is lovely and something I look forward to each year. 

But the man in drag… It was my first time in Ecuador and having never travelled by myself before, I was a bit anxious and I would certainly define it as “on edge” as well. I had a long day of travel and arrived into Quito at about midnight. At the time I also didn’t speak Spanish, but instead thought to myself (as most Canadians do, I am sure), “I speak French, how hard could it be to understand Spanish?” Well, when approached by a man dressed in drag at the airport in Quito with a container of coins, there was no French to Spanish translation that was going to help me in that moment.

It turns out that it was New Year’s eve and traditionally in Ecuador men dress up as women – pretending to be widows – they go around asking for spare change.

 

Men participating in Quito. (Photo credit El Comercio.)

 

While I am not clear on the administrative backing of this, it is said that the money is for charity in the end. There are usually local competitions and in 2017-18 in Puerto Ayora, a pageant of sorts happened during the New Year’s Eve celebrations where several men competed for the prize of “Best Widow”. (The one that brought the doll and cried very convincingly, but also danced well, won.)

So, if travelling in Ecuador around New Year’s there’s no need to feel flabbergasted to have men dressed as woman approach you asking for change. If you’re feeling adventurous, ask them for their story before dropping a coin or two into their container!

 

Halloween...in Galapagos?

In the last few years, the holiday of Halloween as we in North America know it, has started to emerge in Galapagos. This, we are sure, is primarily due to the influence of North American tourists on the islands and the main bars and restaurants beginning to celebrate the day as well. However, what started to happen was that young parents started dressing up their littles ones to go out trick-or-treating. Little bumble bees, devils, ballerinas, and the sort now go from restaurant to restaurant along the main street of Puerto Ayora to ask for candy – quite a sight to see on a rock in the middle of the Pacific!

 

However, there is a different celebration that goes on around the same time of year in Ecuador and out on the Islands of Galapagos. On the 1st and 2nd of November, Ecuadorians (along with many Latin Americans from various countries) celebrate the Day of the Dead and All Saints Day. The added holiday in Ecuador is November 3rd, which is the Independence Day for the city of Cuenca. There are different traditions in each province and city in Ecuador for these days, but in general it’s to honour and remember relatives that have passed away. These days are national holidays, spent with family. As with most holidays worldwide, there is of course delicious food and drink that goes along with it as well…

 

Towards the end of October, many in Galapagos, including local establishments, start making “colada morada”; a thick and drink made of pineapple, corn, Andean blueberries, oats, and sugar. Purple, warm, and perfect for the cool evenings in the Islands at that time of year! The accompanying food item for these holidays is a “pan de wawa”. “Wawa”, or “guagua”, meaning baby in the Ecuadorian indigenous language of Quechua, is bread in the shape of a baby or doll, decorated and filled with something sweet – my favourite being dulce de leche (cue the drooling now…) Combined with colada morada it’s a delicious holiday treat!

 

Image from Laylita.com

 

If you’d like to try your hand at making these treats, or any other Ecuadorian dish or item, I strongly recommend visiting the page Laylita.com. She has fantastically easy recipes to make (or at least try to make) various Ecuadorian food, including pan de wawa and colarada morada – give ‘em a try and buen provecho!

Answer: ICONIC nightly show with ties to Galapagos – Question: What is Jeopardy!, Alex?!

This week on the show Jeopardy! there was an entire category dedicated to our favourite Ecuadorian archipelago – Galapagos!

Jeopardy!, an iconic televised game show in the USA now in its 35th season, quizzes its contestants with answers and they have to provide the questions to win money. For example, in the category of “Islands” you might have the host, Alex Trebek, say, “Answer: An archipelago located 1000km (600 miles) off the coast of Ecuador”. The correct way to answer would be, “What is the Galapagos, Alex?” Fun fact: Alex Trebek is Canadian! 

 

The Galapagos category was part of the first round and we must say, quite the challenge! Some of the answers were about swallowed tailed gulls, ocean-diving mammals (sea lions), a type of plant found on many beaches of Galapagos that changes to bright green throughout the seasons (a type of succulent), and a clip of a “Clue Crew” member working to crush sugar cane in the highlands of Santa Cruz – with the help of a donkey too!

Every year or so, Alex Trebek and some of his film crew and “Clue Crew Members” go to Galapagos. They film questions there while being hosted by one of the higher end ships. During their 2017 trip, CNH Tours’ own Kelsey Bradley (then working for the Darwin Research Station) went onboard to give a talk about the work of the Station. She fully themed her talk to match the style of Jeopardy! and as a thank you, Jimmy McGuire, one of Jeopardy’s “Clue Crew” members (a presenter on the show) gave her a Jeopardy hat and a special thanks. (See awkwardly funny photo below!)

 

During the episode this week, there was also a “Double Jeopardy” question included in the Galapagos category – answering correctly the contestant would have doubled their wager. The question involved beautiful video footage of two large birds doing their mating dance, and as Alex said from Espanola island, “a waved type of these”. Unfortunately, the contestant didn’t answer correctly, but if you’ve done your research on Galapagos – or if you’re lucky enough to have been – you’ll know that the answer was the “Waved Albatross”.

We always love to see Galapagos pop up out of the blue – even if we spend our days (and nights!) talking about it!

 

This week on the show "Jeopardy!" there was an entire category dedicated to our favourite Ecuadorian archipelago – Galapagos!

Long-Lost Message in a Bottle - An Historic Find in Galapagos!

 

What’s the next best thing to going on Shackleton’s Expedition to Antarctica? Well, sailing through the Galapagos Archipelago of course!

A nearly century-old message in a bottle from sailor Hugh Craggs was recently discovered in Galapagos by 26-year-old Toronto student Grant Peters. It was found buried in the sand on Floreana Island and what Peters later found out, it was written by Craggs during his voyage around the world (this being after missing out on Shackleton’s expedition).

Craggs’s note was dated August 1, 1924 and according to the Daily Mail it read, “Hugh Craggs, Yacht St George RTYC. Will any finder please enclose message bearing date, name of finder, of ship, destination, do a rebury and send a postcard to Hugh Craggs 50 Ruskin Ave Manor Park London E12.”[i]

 

How fitting it was that of all locations in Galapagos, this bottle was found in Post Office Bay on Floreana Island! This location is where for centuries everyone from buccaneers, to whalers to the first inhabitants of Galapagos had sent off their mail. Technically, it is merely a barrel on the shore of Post Office Bay on Floreana Island. Tens of thousands of visitors now visit this site annually as well, which is one of the oldest pieces of human history in Galapagos.

 

As it was reported in the Daily Mail, once back home in Toronto Peters used Reddit to find out more about Craggs. As it turned out, Craggs had been sailing around the world from London, looking for treasure and adventure. He did this aboard the Malaya, a 90-tonne schooner.

 

If you’re ever in Post Office Bay on Floreana Island, be sure to partake in the post card tradition of placing a postcard in the barrel and selecting one already in the barrel to deliver to a recipient near your home. Once there, you can ask your Naturalist Guide all about it. Just make sure to put your postcard in the barrel and not buried in the sand – not only do we discourage littering, it also might not be found for a century!

 

[i] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6046567/100-year-old-message-bottle-discovery-reveals-epic-tale-Londoners-quest-adventure.html

MASSIVE ERUPTION on Isabela Island!

CNH Tours received word this morning from Naturalist Guides on Isabela Island that a tremor was felt in the middle of the night. The information was confirmed by the Geophysical Institute of Ecuador, which registered a tremor of magnitude 5.3 on the Richter scale at 6km depth - the strongest felt in three years.

 

ONLY MOMENTS AGO we received more messages from Naturalist Guide friends of ours saying that the Sierra Negra volcano on Isabela Island has erupted!

 

 

While these are only a few pictures (for now) this truly breaking news for Galapagos. This news has been what some volcanologists (and volcano-keeners) have been expecting for a while now, since previous tremors were felt over the past year and the crater floor of the volcano had also been seen to rise. (See our previous blog piece on this, found through this link.) For on-going technical information on tremors and volcanos in Galapagos (and Ecuador) we encourage you to check out the Instituto Geofísico of the Escuela Politécnica Nacional (Geophysical Institute in its English form) website, found here. 

 

As always, CNH Tours is proud to have a strong and continued connection to the day-to-day events in Galapagos –which we love to share with our guests and those interested.

 

Stay tuned here for more updates to come! 

 

 

(Images kindly provided by Naturalist Guides in Galapagos) 

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