Galapagos News

Prize winning testimonial

I have to be watchful in not posting too many self-congratulatory "news" items here - this is the second in just a matter of days - something I have avoided doing ever since I started posting items in the news section of my website, 5 years ago.  I promise I will not post any more for at least 6 months...  But I couldn't resist this one.  I JUST received an email from Carol, clearly, a very happy guest who finished our Active Galapagos trip on April 3rd.  But I must warn prospective travelers - never raise your expectations to unattainable levels, as you will risk disappointment. Be ready for a trip of a lifetime - but be prepared for just a great trip.   Carol does a singular job in raising expectations here - so much so, that even I want to get right back out there!

Hey Heather -

THANK YOU SOOOO MUCH for coordinating a trip of a lifetime - we are SOOOOO IMPRESSED with CNH and the SAMBA! and have told EVERYONE that they MUST tour with you guys - hands down the BEST ! there are SOOOO many reasons - please let anyone know they can chat with us about the trip if they are interested in going...

i was so moved, that i threw some words on paper to share with family and friends when i got home - thought i would send to you.

have a wonderful day! :)
_____

having returned from Ecuador only several days ago...i remain in a dream state, stricken with awe by the otherworldly, magical experience of traveling through these amazing and remote islands!

what a transformational journey! so entranced by the beauty and uniqueness of so many wild creatures living in a delicate and mostly peaceful coexistence...yet some realities violently savage in this unusual natural world were taught to us innocent bystanders, gazing with the curiosity of youngsters.

some outstanding memories:
* our first evening swim along a white sandy beach in the soothing salt waters after a hot and hectic day of travel and passports and papers and people moving devices - feeling at last free to explore and connect with the natural world - such contrast - flamingos feeding in the brackish waters - the day's end announced by the peaceful setting sun

* a great blue heron working tirelessly with its piercing bill to consume the smallest of sea turtle babies fighting for its life with no hope of survival - and then disappear down this bird's long, curved, elegant throat

* marine iguanas matching the black lava, crawling over each other in every possible limb entangled pose with no regard for neighborly niceties and sense of personal space while other creatures join the sprawl - smaller lava lizards, bright orange sally lightfoot crabs, flightless cormorants...a party at the edge of the sea

* the intense equatorial sun that plays a vital role in every creature's survival finally setting with bright orange hues reflecting onto the backs of penguins and a myriad of other creatures along a rocky spine of lava breaking the ocean currents with gentle brilliant colored waves

* the raw excitement and pure joy of jumping into pangas full throttle to join magnificent pilot whales and dolphins in their beautiful, elegant and record speed...joyful liquid motion

* enjoying cervezas, rocking gently among new friends on the spacious, clean wooden deck of the incredible Samba under a most brilliant, cloudless night sky

* landing on remote islands with wild, raw and savage volcanic-inspired landscapes uninhabitable to humans yet yielding a phenomenal array of coexisting wildlife - each playing a significant role in maintaining the delicate ecosystem

* playful, swirling, twirling, circling, rolling, bubble-making, whiskered, big eyed sea lions allowing us to share their wonderful underwater world

* mysteriously effortless other-worldly rays - golden, manta, spotted eagle - gliding, soaring, swimming, floating peacefully in perfect formation with no sense of urgency, gently lifting their appendages as if to wave a greeting of acknowledgement

* sunlight illuminating an incredible array of oceanic life - unimaginable colors, brilliant schools of fish, corals, sea stars, octopus, bright yellow sea horse, spiny lobsters, iguanas feeding on algae...so much to take in as an awkward visitor floating above, breathing through our small tubes, mumbling our delighted exclamations with bulging-eyed excitement behind our giant masks

* ancient sea turtles floating effortlessly all around us, safely keeping their distance with acute knowledge of our presence - and when suddenly suspicious, having an incredible ability to move swiftly beyond us with one powerful stroke of their flippers

* so many birds...nesting on ground, in trees, in cliffs...tropic birds, frigates, blue footed boobies, red footed boobies, nazcka boobies, brown noddys, shearwaters, petrels, galapagos hawks, mockingbirds, finches, galapagos doves, owls, warblers, flycatchers, pelicans, herons - all incredible - witnessing their habitats, their acrobatics, their feeding skills - each with adaptations and abilities and significance

* Juan, Jose and the Samba crew joyously sharing the wonders of their galapagos world with professionalism, enthusiasm and a deep knowledge and appreciation...protecting us, watchful, silently witnessing our discoveries without ever patronizing or limiting our experiences - allowing us to fulfill our dreams, our thirst for knowledge and for adventure - helping us understand the delicate balance of this world and human's insignificance and significance among these ancient creatures...

* starting the day in the gentleness of the early morning light, floating among the mangroves, while recognizing that even here, in these protected waters, there are no shields impenetrable to the onslaught of development of the industrial world's conveniences - plastic bags and bits, fishing line, rope, styrofoam - the roots of the mangroves reach out like a many tentacled octopus to capture these unearthly toxins and remind us that our sphere of impact is global - what we carelessly throw away today can end up in a horrid migration that impacts the incredible diversity of life that is constantly threatened on a planet that can only sustain such abuse for a finite amount of time...

this journey has raised my consciousness, rocked me into a more awakened state, reminded me that our childlike sense of wonder should never leave us!

- carol

   

Park director mysteriously asked to step down

The director of the Galapagos National Park Service, Arturo Izurieta, with whom CNH Tours has had several positive exchanges, was informed by the Minister of the Environment that he would be replaced.   We don't know the story behind this, but will try to find out.   Here is his posting on FaceBook, which appeared today (translated from Spanish):

A year and 8 months ago today, I accepted the challenge of contributing to strengthening the management of the Galapagos National Park and Marine Reserve. I did not ask nor have I sought to stay in the position of Director of one of the world's most famous protected areas. Yesterday I was informed of my removal from the job.   I have no doubt that this was a political decision.  Though I respect it, I do not necessarily agree with it.  However, I leave with the satisfaction of having straightened and improved many internal processes at the Park Service, and having improved transparency and relations with the community. I have managed to complete key planning processes, to initiate zoning processes and to strengthen the human resources at the Park Service.  Management has not been, nor ever can be perfect, but work has been carried out with honesty, integrity and fairness.  When I came here, I found an very well trained Park staff, both men and women, in the field, and in the office, who work hard in the 4 inhabited islands and remote places of our beautiful and unique islands.

As an Ecuadorian and a professional, trained both in Ecuador and overseas, I am pleased to have been able to contribute to the conservation, though not for long, of this most unique and fragile part of Ecuador and possibly the world. Thanks to each and everyone who supported and believed in my leadership. I ask you to continue providing everything within your power to make our islands and protected areas remain a world example. Thanks again.

Arturo Izurieta

CNH Tours is a bit concerned over this development - as we have heard no reason why Arturo would be asked to step down after only 20 months in office.  The Park Director job has in the past been a highly political one - and for a period between 2004 and 2007, 14 directors and interim-directors were cycled through the job, as local and national politicans sought to have their "man" in the job (though after this chaotic period, it was a woman who was given the job).   We of course give the government of Ecuador the benefit of the doubt over this decision, but we will certainly be watchful of how the job is filled, and by who.

Below, a picture of Arturo Izurieta earlier this year, handing out certificates of recognition to two very close friends of CNH Tours:  Wacho Tapia (left): long time director of technical operations of the Galapagos National Park Service, and Felipe Cruz (right), born in Galapagos, brilliant strategist, community leader and dedicated conservationist. 

Arturo

 

CNH Tours Guides Receive 100% Scoring

CNH Tours began systematically surveying its returning “Active Galapagos” guests using an on-line survey tool in December 2014.   We are so happy with the results, we are posting them here.  What you see below the picture of one of our guides (Luis, aka Champi) is no more than a “cut and paste” for all the answers we have received to date on the question:  “Comments for / about your naturalist guide”.  Absolutely no editing has taken place.  This question follows a request to rate the guide from 1 (absolute best) to 5 (the guide ruined our trip!).    Believe it or not, the average of all responses received to date is 1.   We cannot be more pleased. 

Luis Rodriguez

Luis knew EVERYTHING about the islands and their wildlife. He was wonderful!

We loved Fausto. Frankly, so much about the trip depends upon the naturalist on board that I don't know if I could recommend any given "boat" from now on as it had become clear to me that 90 percent of trip satisfaction depends on the naturalist.

Absolutely fantastic! Very knowledgable on such a wide range of topics and SO nice.

Juan is an excellent guide, he goes out of his way to make sure we have an exceptional experience. I have used guides in various tours and never seen such enthusiasm and expertise. He didn't stick to a fixed itinerary but would adapt it according to weather and conditions to deliver the maximum satisfaction to us.

Our family felt that Juan was absolutely great and truly helped make the boat trip an unforgettable experience. He is not only very professional and knowledgeable but full of contagious enthusiasm and an adventurous spirit, often going beyond the call of duty, such as having the captain follow a pair of hunting Orcas for several miles.
We will 100 percent recommend Juan to anybody's!

Very knowledgeable. Excellent communication skills. Very passionate.

Can't imagine a better guide than Luis. However, he provided us with SO much detail, that it was impossible to take it all in, and sometimes I wished we weren't standing out in the sun or in the rain while he was speaking. At those times, less info/more comfort would have been preferred.

Juan is the best guide we have had on twelve active adventure trips in the past ten years. His knowledge, specifically his depth of knowledge and clear explainations were exceptional. His ability to get all of us to sit on the ground, rocks, sand or path and experience the wildlife activity happening around us was a new and very rewarding experience. When going snorkeling he positioned us for the currents and locations so that we saw more species and numbers than on all seven snorkeling experiences combined.

Juan was so knowledgeable about the land, history, wildlife and plants. You can tell Juan loves the islands and he wants to preserve it. Juan is so enthusiastic and wants to share his enthusiam with his clients. We were so fortunate to have Juan as our guide.

Juan was an exceptionally fantastic guide. Knowledgeable, enthusiastic, great sense of humor, able to get a group to cooperate.

Juan was absolutely outstanding in every way .... knowledgeable,
enthusiastic, passionate about the wildlife, natural beauty of the
Galapagos, amazing ability to engage and inspire, exudes the joy he feels,
an incredible person and guide and a delight to travel with!

Juan was absolutely outstanding in every way .... knowledgeable,
enthusiastic, passionate about the wildlife, natural beauty of the
Galapagos, amazing ability to engage and inspire, exudes the joy he feels,
an incredible person and guide and a delight to travel with!

Juan was amazing. His knowledge of and respect for the park was infectious and inspiring.

I am convinced that he is the best guide in the islands. Funny, patient, enthusiastic, informed, professional - he is a superhero naturalist. LOVED him and could never do the islands again with any other guide but Juan.

Juan was an amazing guide. His knowledge of the environment was comprehensive.

Luis was so knowledgeable and enthusiastic. He was an absolute pleasure, and kept a very sharp eye on everyone on our excursions.

Thousands march in Ecuador streets

Ecuadoreans marched in the thousands yesterday, in several mainland cities, protesting what they believe is a growing centralization of power in the office of the president (Rafael Correa), reductions in the freedom of the press, and the president's expressed desire to change the constitution (a constitution that he himself promulgated in 2008) which would allow him to be a candidate for the next presidential elections (e.g. removing the two term limit).

Having observed Ecuadorian politics for the past nearly 20 years, CNH Tours was initially very pleased to see the work of the Correa administration when it first came to power in 2006.  Charismatic and intelligent, he seemed to understand the deep rooted challenges in terms of putting the country on the road to development, and sharing the wealth in so doing.   Though he pays strong lip service to the other populist regimes on the continent (Venezuela, Bolivia), generally, he has navigated a balanced path between investment in infrastructure and people, and social policies.  

It seems however that he increasingly believes that the changes he has set in motion require his continued presence at the helm, while the tools he is increasingly resorting to are criticized by some as being close to authoritarian in nature.  Apparently, as the country saw yesterday, an important number of Ecuadoreans believe that they don't need him at the helm indefinitely to continue on the road to prosperity and social justice.  

Visitors to Ecuador and Galapagos need not be concerned about these developments, but they do offer a good opportunity to learn about politics, social justice issues, development and governance in another country.   CNH Tours recommends you read about these things on-line - and you'll be sure to engage in interesting discussions with the Ecuadorians you'll be meeting during your visit there.

Thanks to our old Darwin Station colleague, Michael Bliemsrieder, for the picture below.  Hotel Gangotena is the nice three story building on the right side  - it is considered among the top hotels in all of Latin America.  In the back ground, Pan de Azucar (Sugarloaf) mountain - with the statue of Virgin Mary on top - a popular visitor site.  Quito

A tiny ray of hope for finches on the brink of extinction

(from the Galapagos National Park press release - with help from Google Translate).

For the second consecutive year, endangered mangrove finches are successfully hatched in captivity. 

The mangrove finch project team, led by the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and the Galapagos National Park (GNP), in collaboration with San Diego Zoo ( SDZ) and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, began the process of captive breeding of mangrove finches, with the goal of providing one more chance for one of the most, if not THE most endangered bird species in the world to avoid extinction. 

From February 3 to March 3, 2015, 30 mangrove finch eggs were collected in Playa Tortuga Negra, northwest of Isabela Island. Then the eggs were transported 130 km by boat to the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) incubation lab in Puerto Ayora. 
Mangrove Finch Chick
The mangrove finch is the rarest of "Darwin's finches", with an estimated population of only 80 individuals with less than 20 breeding pairs population. Research shows that the introduced parasitic fly, Philornis downsi is a major cause of the high mortality of this species, with no less than 95% of the chicks dying during the first months of the breeding season under natural conditions.  (note from CNH Tours:  This is one graphic manifestation of how the careless introduction of non-native species to Galapagos can affect the wildlife there - after polynesians arrived in Hawaii, followed by others, nearly 50% of its bird species became extinct - something that is desperately trying to be avoided in Galapagos).  

An intensive conservation management effort to increase the number of chicks produced each year began in 2014 for the first time in the Galapagos Islands.  Eggs were collected from the wild and transferred to Puerto Ayora, where the chicks were hatched and cared for.  Fifteen of them were successfully released into the wild in May 2014. Due to the small size of the population of the mangrove finch, without viable technique today to protect wild nests from the parasitic fly, the collection of eggs and captive breeding chicks is a strategy that has given successful results, which should be replicated.

Mangrove Finch

After last year’s successful results, this season the team of scientists and rangers faced unexpected challenges in the field.  Francesca Cunninghame, an official of the CDF and leader of mangrove finch Project, explained that "it was exceptionally dry in Playa Negra Tortuga and mangrove finches reproduced slower than normal, therefore, only 12 pairs were seen to be nesting . We also had two days of gusty winds which made it dangerous to climb the tall trees to reach the nests"

The incubation equipment and captive breeding, led by San Diego Zoo personnel Global (SDZG) with the support of Ecuadorian fellows, put the eggs in incubators, located within the quarantine facilities in the CDRS. This year’s crop of eggs hatched during the last two weeks. The chicks are fed 15 times a day on a diet of scrambled eggs and papaya and introduced wasp larvae.

Nicole LaGreco, leading expert in wild bird breeding at  the SDZ Wild Bird that "with the success of last season, we were excited and anxious to be invited to participate again this year. Although this year has been more challenging than the previous year, we hope that this will be another successful season. "

Note from CNH Tours:  The mangrove finches exist only on the shores of a very restricted part of Isabela Island at Black Turtle Cove - this site is accessible only with a special permit from the Park.  It is not a visitor site.

CNN piece on successful tortoise conservation

Here's a 2 minute CNN piece on a recent success story - the survival of tortoise hatchlings on Pinta Island, for the first time in over a hundred years, now that the introduced rats have been eradicated (thanks to the work of the Charles Darwin Research Station and the Galapagos National Park Service).  The piece interviews our old friend Linda Cayot, the woman behind this work, and the woman who hired my husband for a job in Galapagos.  

Linda was inadvertently responsible for not only the birth of tortoises on Pinta, but of CNH Tours as well!

Click here to see the video. 

 

Visit the biggest tree in the islands

Adriana Mesa Vera, who regularly blogs about life in Galapagos, recently reported on a 300 year old Ceiba tree, near Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. If the facts are correct, this tree would be among the first introduced plants in Galapagos (e.g. early 1700’s and would have already been a very large tree when Darwin passed though (1835).   CNH Tours doubts the veracity of Ms. Mesa Verde’s dating – given that the first permanent residents of Galapagos did not establish themselves until the early 1800’s. 

The tree is located at El Progreso, about 7 kilometers from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal Island.  It’s over 40 meters tall (130 feet) with an 18 meter (40 feet) circumference.  Regardless of its age, it remains an impressive specimen!   

The owner of the land on which it grows, José Luis Cornejo, Quito had the great idea of ​​building a house in the tree.     The house is now a tourist attraction, containing artifacts from what was a sugar mill located nearby.   Visitors are encouraged to climb the tree as far as they can go – secured with a sytem of ropes and pulleys. 

A taxi to the tree takes 10 minutes from the main town, costing about $3. 

 

Ceibo

Darwin Foundation raises over $1.5M in 3 months

We reported last October that the Darwin Foundation had found itself in a surprise cash flow crunch, spurred in large part by the unilateral decision of the town of Puerto Ayora to close its gift shop, thought to be competing too well with the local shops.   After a last minute fundraising drive to help tidy it over well into 2015, Swen Lorenz, the Foundation's director, and good friend of CNH Tours, managed to raise over $1.5M from a combination of over 400 individuals (CNH Tours donated $1,000 earlier in 2015) and larger granting agencies. 

Well done Swen and friends!

30 second spot during the Super Bowl today

(This article has been copy pasted from the Wall Street Jounal- Galapagos is of course the most famous Ecuadorean visitor destination - but this small country is suprisingly very rich and diverse).

On Sunday (today!) Ecuador plans to make its debut in the big leagues during the Super Bowl XLIX halftime show. The South American nation with nearly 16 million citizens plans to use the widely-watched American football game to promote tourism.

In a 30-second regional Super Bowl advertisement, costing $3.8 million, Ecuador will run a spot called, “All you need is Ecuador.” The ad aims to entice American tourists with images that highlight the country’s Pacific Ocean coast, its Andes Mountains, the Amazon rainforest and the iconic Galapagos Islands.

The U.S. is already the second-largest source of tourism for Ecuador after Colombia. Last year about 259,000 Americans traveled to Ecuador.

“Advertising during the Super Bowl means we dare to dream big,” Ecuador’s Tourism Minister, Sandra Naranjo, said. And if the ministry’s dreams come true, the 30-second ad will trigger a 10% jump in tourism from the US.

Even a much smaller boost would justify the outlay, though. According to the tourism ministry, with even just a 1% gain in the number of U.S tourists to Ecuador, the country will cover the cost of the Super Bowl advertisement.

The ad will run in New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, Denver, Atlanta, Miami, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Washington.

Massive ecological restoration on airport island

Taken today from the Facebook posting of CNH Tours friend, Swen Lorenz, very innovative director of the Charles Darwin Research Station / Foundation:

"Great feeling to arrive into Galapagos Airport and see the area outside of the airport BRIMMING with activity thanks to a project I helped to start from scratch two years ago. “Galapagos Verde 2050” is aimed at restoring large parts of the Galapagos Islands back to its original state, or as close to it as possible, by 2050. This project started with a coffee conversation arranged by the Dutch ”Friends of Galapagos" organisation Amsterdam. It now involves not just the Charles Darwin Research Station, but also the Galapagos National Park, the Galapagos Biosecurity Agency, the Ecuadorian Air Force, and the airport operator. That’s not even to begin mentioning all the international partners, donors, and individual supporters and advisors. Now visible when leaving the airport, this will soon be visible from the sky when flying into the airport. At some point in the future, the impact of this project will probably be visible on satellite images.

This is gearing up to become one of the world's most ambitious eco-system restoration projects. Applying scientific expertise, innovative funding strategies, and a local/national/international partnerships. The sort of stuff that TED, the Davos Forum and first-class international media could one day be interested in. With the possibility for such high impact projects, the CDF is an excellent investment for philanthropists and impact investors aiming to deploy funds. And "GV 2050" is a great example for CDF's strategy to do fewer projects, but bigger ones, with long-term funding and huge impact on conservation."

Congratulations Swen!

Baltra Restoration Map

 

Yet ANOTHER cargo ship is lost...

With tourist numbers going up and up (thanks to booming land based visits - as cruise ship numbers are rigorously limited), the loss of yet another cargo ship (down from 5 just 18 months ago, to 2 now) is reallys starting to have an impact on the availability of supplies in the islands.  Dry goods, hardware, gas for cookers - all appear to risk being in short supplies.  CNH Tours friends report empty shelves in some grocery stores.  

One ship owner responded to my query about how this might affect his business:  "We are affected big time, specially for engine supplies and fluids that are not transported by plane. Food refitting starts to become an issue for everyone on the islands."   

He adds that there is some negligence involved:  

"Negligence should be the title of your article. We quite don't understand why the Governor continues to force the entrance of a fully loaded cargo vessel (beyond its capacity - thus riding very low in the water) first to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno,when in fact 70% of the cargo will be delivered at Puerto Ayora. 
Everyone knows that Puerto Baquerizo is a difficult bay to access and exit. Named  officially “Wreck Bay” (Bahía Naufragio it is called by everyone today) by Ambrose Cowley in 1684!"

The "Floreana" cargo ship ran aground yesterday morning.  It is resting in about 10 metres of water - with most of the superstructure stilll above the water line.   Authorities are currently trying to figure out what to do.

 

Floreana 1 

Sea Shepherd - Champions of Marine Conservation

Here's a 3 minute video on what Sea Shepherd Society is doing in Galapagos, released just yesteday.  CNH Tours is familiar with the Society - they have quite an "interesting" history (created by former Greenpeace founder Paul Watson, when he thought Greenpeace was getting too cozy with the establishment).   CNH Tours had the chance to dine with Mr. Watson - he is indeed quite a personality!  In Galapagos, the Sea Shepherd Society works in a very constructive relationship with the Park and the Darwin Station, and make a real difference in the effort to conserve the Galapagos marine reserve.

See the short video here

 

 

Audubon magazine article on a CNH Tours Active trip

Douglas Peacock, the author of the Audubon magazine article entitled: Galapagos Journal: "A Quest to See a Place Untouched by Climate Change", was on a CNH Tours Active Galapagos trip earlier in 2014.   His wife Andrea, who is quoted in the article over concerns about the guide's lovelife, later told CNH Tours: 

"The trip was fantastic, and CNH's part in that was perfect from beginning to end."

To read the article, click here.

2014 a banner year for Ecuador tourism

(from the Global Travel Industry News wire)  CNH Tours notes:  No mention of Galapagos, beyond the Finch Bay Eco Hotel.  The government of Ecuador has invested a lot in developing a more diverse tourism offer, beyond just Galapagos - and this seems to be paying off.

 

QUITO, Ecuador - According to figures released by the government, Ecuadorian tourism gained strength as a basis for the country’s socio-economic development. 2014 was an excellent year for South American tourism, but Ecuador managed to link promotion, growth and investment activities to improve its indices, which was shown by foreign tourist arrivals, which, as an unprecedented milestone, exceeded 1.5 million.

According to Ecuador’s Ministry of Tourism, the best months of the year were April and February and among the main source markets recorded in the period January to November 2014 are Colombia with 333,197 visitors (23.80%), United States 232,868 (16.6%) and Peru with 161,370 (11.5%).

In 2014, destinations, accommodations and travel companies also won prestigious international awards – among them Ecuador, the World’s Best Green Destination 2014; Quito, South America’s Leading Destination WTA 2014; Finch Bay Eco Hotel, World’s Best Green Hotel; Pacari earned 14 trophies at the International Chocolate Awards 2014; Cuenca was Best Adventure Destination 2014; Tren Crucero, South America’s Leading Luxury Train 2014, and the New York Times declared Ecuador an undiscovered paradise in 2014.

Last year private entrepreneurs invested $211 million in the sector. Guayas, Manabí, Pichincha and Azuay were the provinces receiving most investment, especially in the hospitality sector.

Ecuador’s tourism potential makes it an attractive place for investment, not only in its major cities, but also in other locations where it is feasible to establish luxury hotels, resorts and other businesses, as highlighted by a publication of the Ministry responsible for the sector.

The portfolio of State estimates that private tourism entrepreneurs have plans to invest about $2.16 billion in hotel infrastructure in Ecuador by 2020.

New road to Quito airport - FINALLY!

Though the new Quito airport was opened in early 2013, road access had been delayed, leading to at times very long trips to and from the city - stretching to over an hour.  The 12 km distance between the airport and the city was traversed via a roundabout, 42 km journey, a tortuous trip down mountain slopes, through traffic snarled by shopping and strip malls in Cumbayá and Tumbaco, and, worst of all across an aging bridge built in the 1970s that created an eye of a needle over the narrow Chiche river.

Now, travel times have declined dramatically as the new route reduces the distance to the airport by a third and promises to be far less congested than the previous roads. Driving at the legal 90km/hour limit, the new road can be driven in about seven minutes, compared with what could take a frustrating 45 minutes. The total ground travel time from downtown will be slashed to around 25 minutes from 77, according to optimistic estimates from city hall.

This is wonderful news for all travelers to the Galapagos islands transiting through Quito - even those simply considering an overnight there.   It puts Quito again on a competitive basis with Guayaquil in terms of hosting overnight visitors.   CNH Tours has used Quito as its continental base for years, but had been advising transiting guests not considering any continental stays to pass though Guayaquil since the new Quito airport was opened.  Quito is a much prettier city, and more enjoyable to visit than coastal Guayaquil.

(thanks to Analytica Investments for much of the material in this news item)

Transit control card - $20 as of March 1st

Within Ecuador, the province of Galapagos is the only place where Ecuadorians don't have the right to simply move to.   This unprecedented situation arose after the islands became a magnet for internal immigration, as people from the continent sought out better opportunities elsewhere.   The islands being very small and having very limited natural resources such as water and arable land, simply could not take the massive inflow of immigrants.   As a result, the new constitution made Galapagos into a bit of a distinct province, in which immigration was treated very much as it would be in an independent country.

These rules apply to foreigners as well.

To cover the costs of this de facto immigration department, the government set up the "Transit Control Card", which electronically tracks the comings and goings of visitors to the island.  The price has been $10 per card for the past 7-8 years, but will go up to $20 on March 1st 2015.   CNH Tours believes this is a small price to pay for the maintenance of an effective immigration control service to the islands.  

Sales tax to be applied on cruises purchased in Ecuador

CNH has learned that Ecuador's internal revenue service has started applying regulations more seriously - in that it will no longer consider cruises as a transportation service, but as a tourism product.  Whereas transportation services (buses, taxis) are exempt from charging 12% tax on sales, tourism operations are not. 

Apparently, this will not be charged to people buying their cruises outside of Ecuador.  But if you are inside Ecuador, Ecuadorian or foreigner, you will be charged the extra 12%. 

 

 

 

Gift shop the focus of cash flow efforts

(Unashamedly copy-pasted from "The Guardian" newspaper - published 30 November 2014)

Galápagos Islands wildlife threatened by battle between locals and scientists

Researchers’ souvenir outlet has to close after pressure from local traders and the Ecuador government, denying Darwin group a precious $8,000 a week in sales to tourists
Galapagos Giant Tortoise
A giant tortoise, one of the unique species to be found on the Galapagos Islands Photograph: Tui De Roy/Minden Pictures/Corbis

Wildlife on the Galápagos is under a new threat. The scientific group that has helped to preserve the islands’ giant tortoises and other unique creatures is on the brink of closure – because of a row about a gift shop.

Local traders have objected to the Charles Darwin Foundation running a souvenir shop at its research station at Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz island. They claim it was siphoning business from their own shops and in July local officials, backed by the government of Ecuador which owns the Galápagos, ordered the station’s shops to be shut.

The impact for the foundation – which carries out wildlife research in the Galápagos and provides key scientific advice on protecting wildlife there – has been devastating, its executive director Swen Lorenz told the Observer.

“The shop provides us with about $8,000 a week in income from the sale of souvenirs to tourists. Losing that key source of funds was bad enough but it has also affected other donations. People don’t see why they should give us money if the Ecuador government will not support us by letting us run a gift shop.

“There has been a dreadful chain reaction following the shop’s closure and we have run out of cash.” The foundation is now two-and-a-half months late with salaries for its staff and some projects have had to be suspended. One key staff member has already left.

“We are now on the brink,” added Lorenz. “It’s going to be touch and go. The Ecuador government has since said it supports us, but unless we get some money from them and are allowed to reopen our shop in the next few weeks we will have to close.”

The Galápagos are an archipelago of volcanic islands in the Pacific, 560 miles west of the coast of Ecuador, and are renowned for the species of birds and reptiles unique to the islands. These creatures include the marine iguana, the only species of iguana that can forage at sea; the Galápagos giant tortoise, the world’s largest tortoise species; and the Galápagos hawk.

The islands also played a key role in helping Charles Darwin to formulate his theory of natural selection. On his round-the world voyage on the Beagle, the young biologist stayed on the islands for a month in 1835, noting the subtle variations in species from each of the islands.

In particular, Darwin was fascinated by differences in colour and beak shape in the islands’ mockingbirds and finches (now known as Darwin’s finches), observations that played a critical role in developing his evolutionary theory.

In the 20th century the Galápagos became a popular tourist destination and the islands have suffered from persistent problems associated with the introduction of pests and loss of habitat. The Charles Darwin Foundation has played a key role in helping the islands overcome these threats – for example, in setting up a breeding programme for several of the islands’ different species of giant tortoises.

The foundation was also involved in eradicating feral goats from several islands where herds had stripped them of their vegetation (CNH Tours editor's comment:  My husband was in charge of that project). Once these goats had been removed, giant tortoises could then be reintroduced to their former habitats. However, new threats continue to bombard the islands. The latest, said Lorenz, is a recently introduced parasitic fly, Philornis downsi, which is devastating bird species – including Darwin’s finches. The fly lays its eggs in nests with incubating birds and its larvae feed on the blood of the nestlings, sometimes causing up to 100% chick mortality in a particular nest.

At least 16 of 20 song bird species only found in Galápagos are now threatened. “This is another very serious threat to the wildlife of the Galápagos,” added Lorenz. “We have developed a strategy to deal with it, but it is touch and go whether we will be in existence long enough to implement it.

“This matter has to be resolved very quickly or the islands’ wildlife will suffer severe damage.”

Darwin Station on the Precipice

The non-profit Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS), the oldest and largest scientific operation in the Galapagos Islands and an iconic visitor site, is at a high risk of forever closing its doors before the end of 2014 according to its director, and CNH Tours friend, Swen Lorenz. 

Why?  It boils down to the sticks being put in its fundraising wheels by the local mayor Leopoldo Bucheli, who is under pressure by small t-shirt shop owners to prevent the Station to operate its own Station store.   The recently refurbished store opened in May this year, selling almost exclusively Ecuadorian products.  The unrestricted funds so generated were part of a strategy developed three years ago to deal with the major cash-flow issues at the Station, which runs a $3million annual operating budget (it's internet connection alone costs $3,500 per month, let alone the high cost of electricity, water supply, maintenance, management of large collections of animal and plant collections, the most important research library on Galapagos in the world, waterfront facilities etc. etc.).

The Station, previous run by intelligent and well meaning scientists, had gradually been run to the ground over the past 10 years for lack of concerted attention to the bottom line.  In 2011, Swen Lorenz stepped in as a volunteer at first, recognizing the tremendous turn-around potential of the Station.  A London financier, Swen had a knack for business and succeeded in dealing with many of the financial "hangover" issues he had inherited.  The Station store was on track to get back into the black, relying in good part on the generation of up to US$300,000 of unrestricted cash flow per year from the Shop, to cover all those costs associated in the operation of a remote research station, and that are hard to pay for from research grants or for other fund-raising efforts.  

CDF urgently needs your support.

A fundraising plan is in place to raise signficant funds to transform the Station. However unless the Station raises funds now, its entire operation will not survive until the end of 2014.

​The Charles Darwin Foundation needs to raise $1,000,000 before the end of 2014 to avoid bankruptcy and secure funding to continue our work in protecting these Islands and their natural inhabitants.

Please, to enable nature and science to have a voice in Galapagos:

  • Donate what you can using this link here
  • Purchase a CDF online membership here
  • Share our cause with your friends and supporters online by downloading our fundraising and awareness media pack: here 

CNH Tours donated $1,000 to the Station a few months ago this year, and we are encouraging others to help in any way they can to ensure that this beacon of good science.

You may also wish to send a note to the town of Puerto Ayora's mayor, letting him know that without the Station working in town, you would see no reason to visit Puerto Ayora at all during your Galapagos cruise and ask him not to obstruct the Station store operations.

Leopoldo Bucheli:  leopoldobucheli@hotmail.com

Let's be sure the sign below can be removed soon.

CDRS Closing sign

 

Another cargo ship slips under the waves...

Thankfully the "San Cristobal" (built in 1966) did so soon after having left the mainland on its way to the islands on November 17 - so there's no risk of an oil slick affecting Galapagos, nor of debris scattered among their wild shores.  The San Cristobal seems to have developed a list of 15 degrees before capsizing completely and going down in 10 minutes no more than 100 km from the coast (Galapagos is 1,000 km away) - the crew was unharmed.  This comes 6 months after another such cargo ship sank, the Galapaface (who names these ships?), but this time just off the shores of San Cristobal island in Galapagos (see our earlier news stories in May and July this year).  

Though not a risk for Galapagos ecosystems, this sinking, right on the heals the other, is a big blow to many small merchants in the islands.  The ships carry all kinds of goods, from food, household goods, hardware, building supplies, gas cannisters, even vehicles.  Very few of these small merchants insure their shipments, and those having received a blow last May, may now find themselves completely bankrupt.  There is a real risk of shortages of supplies in the coming weeks and months.  

There was a time back in the 1970s when the islands were served by one cargo ship which came once a month - but rapid growth in both population (from perhaps 5,000 then, to 30,000 now), and the great expectations of material comforts and a rapid increase in land based tourism have led to the need for a  much more regular supply of goods to the islands.  This increased back-and-forth between the islands and the mainland also poses a risk for the introduction of new species to the islands. Introduced species are the greatest threat to Galapagos biodiversity.

So everything is connected.  One silver lining in this and the earlier sinkings is the hope that the ships will be replaced by new ones that meet the strictest bio-security and phytosanitary standards, reducing the chance that they will be vectors for the introduction of harmful pests to the islands.   Let's keep our fingers crossed. 

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