CNH Tours - Cultural and Natural Heritage Tours Galapagos
El Nino report: Much ado about nothing?
Friday March 4, 2016
My Dutch climatologist friend, Geert Jan van Oldenborgh (GJ), has forwarded to me the latest European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) map, showing February 2016 global average temperatures (see figure 1 below). The map shows deviations from 1980-2010 average temperatures, with darkest red showing much warmer than average, and dark blue much colder.
Figure 1: Galapagos is located in a white zone - indicating very close to average temperatures. The warmer temperatures (but not extreme) are found west of the archipelago.
The Eastern Tropical Pacific shows just a bit warmer than average temperatures - leading me to conclude that the El Niño event is dissipating. A review of the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA -a very good government agency) corroborates this situation. Based on the evolution of the phenomenon over the past several months, it seems that this El Niño affected ocean waters to the north and west of Galapagos, and largely by-passed the islands. It also seems that the worst of it is behind us, as the predictions are for El Niño to dissipate in the next several weeks.
Our local sources indicate the same - that the waters warmed up just a little more than in a usual year, and that the rains were not any worse (in fact, some are noting a distinct absence of rain recently). Figure 2 below shows the average temperatures for February 1998, the last time a severe El Niño hit the Galapagos. I was there in April, and can attest to the "steam room" conditions of the islands at that time. Our principal guide and partner, Juan Manuel Salcedo, sent us a note from the islands a few days ago:
The strong El Niño forcast for this year has failed to arrive. It is early yet to know if El Niño will strike and how strong is impossible to know. Unfortunately a lot of the news are sensationalist about it and have influenced travellers' choices. So far the only affected species in Galápagos have been marine iguanas, and they are coming back well after the water has cooled down again.
Figure 2: El Niño February 1998 average temperatures - very much warmer around the Galapagos archipelago!
Based on all of this, and based on nearly 20 years of personal observation, I'm predicting that this El Niño event is over, and that it did not affect Galapagos significantly, as was feared just a few months ago.
CNH Tours joins the Ontario Travel Industry Council
Tuesday March 1, 2016
We are pleased to report that the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO), a provincial government travel business regulator, accredited CNH Tours yesterday. Our guests are now covered under the industry financed compensation fund, which covers reimbursements under certain circumstances, to a maximum of $5,000 (Canadian). More specifically, in TICO's words:
When you purchase your travel services from a TICO registered travel agency you are protected by an industry financed Travel Compensation Fund. Subject to the Regulation, the Compensation Fund reimburses consumers when they do not receive the travel services purchased due to the bankruptcy or insolvency of either an Ontario travel retailer, Ontario travel wholesaler or due to the failure of an airline or cruise line.
After working from France and Kenya since 2003, our return to our native province of Ontario triggered the obligation to be registered under TICO. We look forward to working with TICO in the years ahead.
Samba now has "ideal" itinerary
Sunday February 21, 2016
Samba owner and principal guide, Juan Manuel Salcedo, has finally done it. Back in 2010 or so, the National Park imposed new itinerary regulations for cruise ships. Whereas they had been previously following 7 night / 8 day loops, returning to the same visitor sites ever week, they now had to adopt a 14 night / 15 day loop, returning to the same visitor site only once every 14 days.
Many ships balked at this new requirement. Their supply schedules and marketing plans were all based on the 7 night/8 day loop. They hoped that with enough resistance, the park would relent. But it didn't. The park wanted to reduce the visitor load at the visitor sites - as the ships tended to go to those sites that offered a combination of appeal and navigational practicality.
Juan Manuel Salcedo, instead of balking, saw an opportunity. He quickly drew up a 15 day itinerary he considered ideal. Because he was one of the first to have done so, the park readily approved his plan, with minor modifications - the most important of which was switching his request for a snorkeling visit at Devil's Crown, with "the Loberia", at Floreana, a beach visit with swimming and some relatively unexciting snorkeling.
Tina, a former CNH Tours guest (she's been to Galapagos twice now), and very frequent supplier of practical information on TripAdsivor, frequently commenting on the relative merits of various itineraries, recently posted:
"The NW itinerary on the Samba is, as I have often said here, my absolute favorite one to date... I agree that not going to Devil's Crown is probably the only disappointment on the Samba's NW itinerary."
But after a few years of efforts on the part of Juan Manuel Salcedo, he was finally granted what he had originally requested, and starting in 2016, the "Loberia" visitor site is now replaced with a snorkel at Devil's Crown.
Devil's Crown is a submerged volcanic cone, with only partial remains of rim emerging from the sea. A combination of vertical submerged walls, varying sea depths, areas of protected waters, and areas subjected to marine currents have made for a diverse marine environment here, where many fish can be spotted, rays and sharks are not uncommon, and sea birds dive for prey. We're glad that we can now earn Tina's full endorsement for the NW itinerary!
Devil's Crown - thanks to Google Earth. Located off the northern shore of Floreana Island.
Devil's Crown - a close up.
Motivation by email
Thursday February 4, 2016
We all have to find ways of making a living, of paying the bills. So, I suppose that securing an income is the most basic of motivations when going to the office in the morning. But we have the great fortune of finding a very big part of our motivation through emails we receive from guests having just returned from a trip to the islands. Here are 2 emails I received from guests having just completed our "Dolphin" Active Galapagos trip:
Just got back from the Galapagos and wanted to let you know what an awesome trip it was. Right from the beginning, everything went like clockwork, from Israel meeting us in Quito on the 22nd of Jan to Juan Manuel dropping us off at the airport on the 4th. The only glitch was Diego met us in Quito to drive us back to the Mansion on the 4th when we had mentioned to you that we wouldn't be going back due to our flight time departure at midnight. But he was not upset so hopefully, neither was the Mansion.
Anyway, it was a fabulous trip. Awesome boat, awesome crew, awesome guide, awesome nature, awesome other guests. Can't say enough wonderful things. Luis was fantastic...so was Juan Manual...so was Rafael for the
Otavalo trip. Wow...thank you so much. Will be singing the praises of the Samba, believe me, to all my friends. We are even thinking of returning in a couple of years to do the other route. We'll see. Can't wait to look at all the pictures we took.
Zika virus in Galapagos?
Wednesday January 27, 2016
The zika virus is making the news these days. We're hearing that for 4 out of 5 people, the virus produces no symptoms, and for the remaining unlucky 1 out of 5, the symptoms may include fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Symptoms typically begin 2 to 7 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito and may last for a week or so, just like a cold.
We've also heard that there may be a link between the virus in pregnant women and microcephaly - the underdevelopment of the foetus' brain. Apparently, this link is not yet proven, only suspected.
The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) has an excellent post on this matter - it does advise caution for pregnant women (e.g. avoid traveling to infected areas if you can) and women who might become pregnant while traveling to an infected area, or very soon afterwards.
The site reports that the virus only lives in our bodies for a week or two, then it is eliminated by our natural defenses, somewhat like how we deal with the common cold and flu viruses - we get them, we get sick, we get better, end of story. This means that for women who are not pregnant, but may eventually decide to have a baby in the future, there is no risk. The CDC website includes this Q & A:
If a woman who is not pregnant is bitten by a mosquito and infected with Zika virus, will her future pregnancies be at risk?
We do not know the risk to the baby if a woman is infected with Zika virus while she is pregnant. However, Zika virus infection does not pose a risk of birth defects for future pregnancies. Zika virus usually remains in the blood of an infected person for only a few days to a week. The virus will not cause infections in a baby that is conceived after the virus is cleared from the blood.
Ecuador is on the CDC advisory list, and Galapagos is in Ecuador, though I doubt if there is any conclusive evidence that the virus has made it to the islands. There are quarantine measures in place designed to prevent alien species (such as the mosquito responsible for transmitting the virus) from reaching the islands - though I don't know at this point if this mosquito is already there or not.
In conclusion, unless you are pregnant, or likely to get pregnant while in Ecuador and/or Galapagos, or within a couple of weeks after your return, the CDC says there should be nothing to be worried about.
New $5 Baltra Airport to ferry transport fee
Thursday January 14, 2016
We just received this from one of our ship owner colleagues and thought we'd just copy paste it here. This will affect people who land in Baltra and do not immediately embark on their ship, but rather head off to Puerto Ayora. It will also affect those getting to Baltra airport from Puerto Ayora, but not those being dropped off at Baltra directly from their cruise ship.
Beware the "good" deal...
Monday January 11, 2016
Yesterday, Andando Tours, the owners of two higher end ships in the Galapagos, sent the message below to the many agents through which it sells its cruises.
Published rate policy
Dear colleagues and friends,
During the past few months we have had several issues with various agencies offering our yachts to passengers at rates below our published retail rates.
In order to avoid variations in the rates, as of today Andando Tours will not honor bookings on our yachts offered to potential passengers at prices lower than our established retail rates.
This is a measure that we are obligated to take to prevent unfair competition among our strategic partners.
Thank you for your understanding and we wish you great success with your sales!
Andando Tours / Angermeyer Cruises
Galapagos & Andes
10 January 2016
CNH Tours has always advertised cruise prices at the rate posted by the ship owners. We have lost some business to unscrupulous competitors, but we have always maintained excellent relations with the ship owners - the people with whom the cruise buck stops at the end of the day. As a result, we get their full attention and support when needing any type of additional assistance to resolve possible problems or have special requests considered.
We compete on the basis of our intimate knowledge of the islands (having lived there for 4 years), our great relationships built over the years with the cruise ship community, and on our unmatched personalized service provided to you before, during, and after trip. We do not compete by engaging in a race to the bottom with questionable travel agencies. This policy has led to our constantly growing reputation on travelers forums and we believe that this is the reason behind the regular growth of our small business over the past 16 years.
El Nino - conditions report
Tuesday January 5, 2016
This report was just published yesterday by someone who cruised in late December, early January, on TripAdvisor:
En route home from a fantastic 10 days in the Galapagos. A combination of a few days on each of Santa Cruz and San Cristobal, with a 5 day cruise visiting Santiago, Rabida, Bartolomé, and Genovesa. On the whole, no sign of El Niño. Weather mostly sunny, and plenty of wildlife both above and below the water. Saw no dead animals, but one of the guides thought that some (and only some) of the marine iguanas at Puerto Egas were thinner than usual. The water temperature was warm but we still saw plenty of fish, sharks, turtles and a ray while snorkelling, and there were penguins on Bartolomé. Who knows what the next few months will bring, but so far there seems to be little effect from El Niño.
As El Niño conditions taper off by about May, it seems that Galapagos is likely to avoid the worst of this biggest El Niño event since 1997-98.
National Public Radio goes to Galapagos
Saturday January 2, 2016
The US National Public Radio aired its Year End Special / best podcast of 2015 recently – and it was all about Galapagos – more specifically, the challenges of conservation in the islands with a particular focus on how invasive species are dealt with.
Listen to it here: http://one.npr.org/?sharedMediaId=461455436:461455438 (the show starts at the 5 minute, 20 second mark).
I listened to it over the New Year’s weekend – and was pleased to hear the voices of several old friends and colleagues. The first was Leopoldo Buchelli (below) – the mayor of the main town of Puerto Ayora – a pragmatic, no-nonsense politician, Leopoldo has managed to keep his mayoral job for many years now. I last saw him perhaps 8 years ago, in his mayor’s office, while on a business trip working for UNESCO.
The show then introduces us to the woman who hired me to come to the islands in the first place – Linda Cayot (above). She had been living there for about 20 years at least by then (1998) and hired me to lead the final preparation for the massive goat eradication project on Isabela Island. Linda is a giant tortoise expert – and had set the ground for this project – all she needed was someone to put together the pieces for a strong fund-raising proposal. With some seed money, and with the support of a brilliant local colleague, Felipe Cruz, we succeeded in raising US$8 million for this work.
The show moves on to Mathias Espinosa (above left) a handsome green eyed German/Ecuadorian man, co-owner of the Scuba Iguana dive centre, and master musician. Mathias is a fixture in the Galapagos arts crowd. Karl Campbell (above, right side in right picture) is the next of our friends and former colleagues to appear on the show. We hired him from Australia to lead the technical side of goat tracking. Singularly focused on his challenge, after a year on the job, he decided to go back to University in Australia to do a Ph.D. on goat hormones, sterilization and estrus induction – and thanks to the work of this "pit-bull" of goat eradicators, one of the most critical components of the goat eradication project was developed.
Paul Watson, one of the original Greenpeace founders, and now leader of the Sea Shepherd Society makes a brief appearance. I had the pleasure of a one on one dinner with him once in the islands. “Quite a character” are the words I used to describe him. Disappointed with Greenpeace’s cozy relationship with the corporate sector, he created the Sea Shepherd Society which has a very interesting history – of which the Galapagos chapter has been a great addition to marine conservation.
A large segment of the show focuses on Lonesome George, the last of the Pinta tortoises. Pinta island has no terrestrial visitor site, but our Active Galapagos charter is one of the only trips that takes you on a snorkeling outing just offshore.
We get into alien plant species thanks to Heinke Jaeger, (above left) a soft spoken German scientist who first arrived in Galapagos while Heather and I were there. We were so proud to share with her our love of German cuisine – sauerkraut! She looked at us in disdain, thinking it was not representative of the best of what her country had to offer. We still laugh over that episode. Next, Piedad Licongo (above right) is introduced – working in entomology. Piedad is a dedicated Ecuadorian scientist – she helped CNH Tours once by putting together a species by visitor site inventory for us.
Finally, the last of our friends interviewed is Charlotte Causton (above) from England, whose tireless efforts have led to many conservation success stories – including the introduction of a bio-control agent for the alien cottony cushion scale, which was destroying native mangroves in the islands. We wish Charlotte and Piedad all the best in finding a solution to the very concerning “Philornis Downsi” – introduced fly project – a fly that risks sending several finch species to extinction.
If you have an hour to spare, we highly recommend the show – it’s a very good introduction to the types of challenges we face in the islands, the efforts in place to address them, and how funds are spent in doing so.
Disney recognizes our old friend
Monday December 14, 2015
We are so pleased to learn that Godfrey Merlen, a longtime, relentless, stalwart, behind the scenes conservation champion of Galapagos has been named a Disney Conservation Hero.
Godfrey came to Galapagos over 40 years ago, looking for adventure. Experience seaman, salty mariner, over the years, Godfrey has ingratiated himself not only with important conservation institutions in the islands (Galapagos National Park Service, Charles Darwin Foundation), but also with international NGOs such as World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International and with scientists looking for local help when monitoring whales in Galapagos waters.
We have had the pleasure of knowing Godfrey over the years, and tapping into his wisdom on ship building during the days we worked for the Darwin Foundation.
There are many things Godfrey does, and has done, that deserve a medal - but in this case, Disney recognized his work in encouraging the Galapagos National Park Service to "embrace a conservation project to increase penguin populations and is now helping to create expanded protected areas for the birds. His ability to work across cultures and organizations, and generously share his diverse skills in art, science, sailing, natural history, and conservation problem solving have made him key to the Penguin Project’s success."
Well done Godfrey - we look forward to congratulating you in person during our next visit to the islands.
CNH Tours helps organize a dentist mission to Galapagos
Thursday December 10, 2015
I remember getting a significant chip in one of my molars fixed while I lived in Galapagos. Within 2 years, I needed a root canal intervention in that tooth, and 2 years later, it needed to be extracted altogether.
Recognizing that Galapagos dentists do their best, but that Galapagos is not the location of choice for dentists to set up a strong practice in general, I made the connection when learning that one of my college friends regularly participated in volunteer dental missions to Latin America. "Hey, why not organize something for Galapagos?" I suggested, 3 months ago. Dr. Laurie Houston, with a practice in Ontario's cottage country, put me in touch with Dr. Lun Hangfu, member of the Health Missions Outreach (HMO), a Canadian registered charity.
At the end of March 2016, a group of up to 8 dentists and support volunteers will head to Puerto Ayora, set up in a dedicated space within the community hospital, and expect to treat over 300 people over 5 days. I was able to leverage my good contacts there - notably Eliecer Cruz, the governor of the province of Galapagos, formerly the park director and most importantly, an old friend and colleague.
"We'll need some high level help ensuring that the equipment and supplies we'll bring with us from Canada won't be caught up in customs" explained Dr. Hangfu. Thanks to the governor's support, that should no longer be a problem.
CNH Tours is always pleased to do what it can to give back to the community and to support conservation in Galapagos. We will be donating 15% of the cost of any cruise booked through us by members of the mission back to HMO to help them continue doing their important work. If you are interested in this mission, see the poster below for contact information. Dr. Hangfu indicated that they welcome certified dental professionals from around the world.
National Geographic goes to Galapagos
Tuesday December 1, 2015
This information is provided by Prensa Latina, and was published on November 30th in Quito.
The National Geographic Society will explore the Galapagos Islands'' sea in Ecuador in order to register its biodiversity in a documentary, the marine ecologist Enric Sala announced today.
According to Sala, the National Geographic's Pristine Seas Project will be launched December 2-23 with the approval of the Ecuadorian ministries of Environment and Tourism.
We have remote cameras that can go down thousands of meters deep to explore submarine mountains where nobody has ever been before and we hope to find new species there, he said.
According to Salas, National Geographic works with some of the best submarine filmmakers in the world and will fund entirely this expedition.
The documentary will be finished by the middle of next year and the National Geographic Society would like to make it available to all educational organizations in Ecuador.
The expedition aim at contributing to the excellent scientific research carried out by the Galapagos National Park and spreading worldwide through the documentary an extraordinary submarine richness still unknown, he said.
Flying Galapagos Penguins Captured on Video!
Wednesday March 16, 2011
Galapagos may be a living laboratory for evolutionary process, but no one, not even Charles Darwin himself, could have foreseen that Galapagos penguins could so easily take to the air.
But CNH Tours has to come clean here..... we're sorry to disappoint you. This isn't actually a case of spontaneous evolutionary adaptation to changing environments… but rather an unusual way to transport a penguin.
A video clip of a Galapagos penguin on board a commercial aircraft, being moved from San Francisco to San Diego aquarium, was recently posted. Apparently, its caretaker was given permission to take it on-board and to let it roam around the cabin. Someone captured the scene on video and posted it on Youtube. To see the video, click here.