Galapagos News

From wild west to civilized society? Clandestine hotel seeks post facto permit

Five years ago, an enterprising business person obtained a permit from the municipality of Puerto Ayora (the main town in Galapagos) to build a house on the “other side”, that part of town accessible only by water taxi.   The other side is the sleepy / quiet side of Puerto Ayora – it currently boasts a few dozen houses, a restaurant and one hotel (the Finch Bay hotel – built long ago).   As the construction of the house began, residents became suspicious.  It soon became obvious that this was not going to be a house, but a hotel.  The construction showed about 20 rooms, each with private bathrooms.   The developer hoped to use an old trick:  i) Get a cheap and easy building permit for a house, ii) build a hotel very quickly (which would not have been allowed in that part of town to start with), and ii) deal with any criticism the usual way, including most likely a few bribes at the right places and arguing that it was a misunderstanding, but now that it is built, we might pay a small fine and start operating.  (story continues after picture)

House or hotel - what do you think?


Unfortunately for the developer, Galapagos residents soon became aware of what was happening, and they raised a ruckus.   The project became the poster child for anti-corruption champions, for conservationists and contributed to the growing resentment felt by citizens feeling that the rich and powerful had a whole different set of rules applied to them.   The case was even reported to the United Nations.  

The developer was hoping to catch the “land based tourism” wave that started in Galapagos 15 years ago, showing no sign of abatement yet.   While only about 5,000 visitors came to Galapagos with no intention of taking a cruise in the late 1990’s, that number is now nearing 200,000.    The pressure to take advantage of this growing economic opportunity translated into a lot of unregulated development (hotels, bars, restaurants, rooming houses, day trip operators).   Government authorities have been playing catch up for years, forever being behind the ball.  While some progress has been made in terms of regulation / safety / management, there is still no vision on how things should go from here, with numbers continuing to increase.

As for our hotel owner, his project was stopped by authorities.  They didn’t have him tear it down (what many people wanted) but opted to call for a full environment Impact study.   That study was presented to Galapagos residents yesterday and feedback will be possible over the next few weeks.    Let’s see what happens.

SAD! Massive shark haul uncovered

A feeling of nausea is what I first experienced when I learned about the contents of a Chinese vessel caught fishing in Galapagos waters.  Possibly over 10,000 shark carcasses.  It's a wake up call to those who think that such things getting under control.   Let's hope the Chinese government will NOT interfere with the judicial process here.  PLEASE SHARE THIS NEWS ITEM.   I copy paste the excellent National Geographic article below:

By Rachael Bale

PUBLISHED August 15, 2017

On Sunday marine ecologist Pelayo Salinas was on his way back from a 12-day research mission on a Galápagos National Park patrol ship when at 6 a.m. the captain spotted a vessel on the radar. Access to these waters is restricted, so they radioed the vessel to find out what it was up to.

No response. Salinas, who works with the Charles Darwin Foundation (Editor’s note: CNH Tours’ Marc Patry is an elected member of the CDF’s governing council), and an Ecuadorian Navy officer who was also on board tried again. Still no response. They warned the vessel that the law requires them to respond. Silence.

Then Salinas and three others jumped in a 13-foot inflatable boat that had been donated to the park and took chase. They’d identified the vessel as Chinese and strongly suspected it was involved in illegal fishing.

The vessel was intercepted about 40 miles northeast of the island of San Cristóbal.

This part of Galápagos National Park—a marine sanctuary where absolutely no fishing is allowed—has the greatest abundance of sharks in the world.  It’s this that has made these waters a target of fishermen looking to supply Asian markets with shark fin and shark meat. Worldwide, shark populations are declining, with more than a quarter of sharks and related species considered to be threatened with extinction.

Their little boat, a Zodiac, wasn’t designed for hot pursuit, however, and they weren’t able to catch up. They abandoned the chase and reported the Chinese boat to headquarters.

Later that day a navy helicopter and coast guard boat were dispatched. They caught up with the ship, a China-flagged vessel called Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999. What they found stunned them.

The Fu Yuan Leng 999 (credit: Ecuadorian armed forces)

The Ecuadorian Navy tweeted aerial photos of the ship just before capture.

“There were thousands, if not tens of thousands, of sharks,” Salinas says. “This is going to be historic. The biggest seizure of sharks in the history of the Galápagos, for sure.”

The crew of 20 have been arrested, and the Ecuadorian authorities are planning a full accounting of the ship’s inventory. It’s illegal to cross the marine sanctuary’s waters without a permit, and it’s also illegal to catch, trade, or transport sharks there. Authorities do not yet know where the fish were caught, according to a statement from Ecuador’s Ministry of Environment.   

Galapagos National Park staff inspecting the illegal shark catch - your $100 park entrance fee at work. (credit: Galapagos National Park Service)

Pelayo suspects the vessel is a “mothership,” or reefer, which collects fish from smaller fishing boats, allowing them to stay out at sea longer. It’s more than 300 feet long with six cargo bays, several of which were completely full, he says. The ship’s log says there are about 300 tons of fish on board, according to the statement. Salinas himself hasn’t been on board yet, but in photos of the holds he identified endangered scalloped hammerheads and silky sharks, as well as tuna.


“Sadly, this is day-to-day business on the ocean,” Salinas says. “There are thousands of these ships roaming the waters.”

The incident highlights the ongoing problem of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing that occurs even in the world’s most protected waters.

It was pure chance that the vessel was caught, Salinas says. For some reason (likely by accident, he suspects), it had its AIS—an automatic tracking system used by all ships—turned on. Ships engaging in illegal activity, for obvious reasons, turn them off. That likely lapse helped law enforcement track the vessel down.

Despite its high-profile status in the tourism and scientific worlds, Galapagos National Park doesn’t have all the resources it needs to protect the ecosystem.

“Resources are limited,” Salinas says. “The bad guys are every day making more money. Patrolling is expensive, especially for a county that is in economic crisis.” He points to the Zodiac as an example. If they’d had a proper boat intended for law enforcement, they could have caught up with the vessel when they first spotted it.

The arrested crew could face up to three years in prison, and conservationists are hoping this case will be aggressively pursued. China is Ecuador’s largest creditor, providing some 60 percent of the government’s funding, and critics have accused Ecuador of being lenient with China when it comes to protection of timber and other natural resources in the Amazon rain forest.

At a press conference today, Ecuador’s Minister of the Environment, Tarsicio Granizo, said the government is committed to doing so. “Our policy is zero tolerance for the transport and trafficking of protected wildlife,” he said.


Photo contest winners - you can be next...

The UK based Galapagos Conservation Trust holds an annual Galapagos photo contest.  The BBC covered the winners in a recent article.  Click here to see it. 

We agree with the #1 selection - it's our favourite as well.   A tiny delicate Galapagos storm petrel skips over the sea, held aloft by the slightest breeze, picking up any tidbit it can find.  So fragile, yet so robust.    Our CNH Tours artist, Magno Bennett, captured a very similar scene in one of his paintings, the one we use on our "CONTACT" page.  You can compare the two below.


Photo by:  McKenna Paulley

Our "CONTACT" page banner (Magno Bennett)

Wasps to rescue finches?

This article appeared in the New Yorker recently - explaining how biological control might be the best way to deal with the Philornis downsi parasitic fly (introduced accidentally to Galapagos years ago),which lays eggs in birds' nests, and whose larvae feed on chicks, most often killing them.   It's not a pretty story, and it's one that the Darwin Foundation has been working on as well.   It's also a good example of how apparently harmless organisms (in this case, what looks very much like a house fly) can be responsible for the extinction of iconic species.   Cross your fingers!

Click here to read the New Yorker article. 

Below, three Philornis downsi larvae feed on a Galapagos finch chick (thank you to the Darwin Foundation for the picture)


Ecuador Embassy Invites CNH Tours to present

2017 is the 150th anniversary of Canada's confederation, when separate provinces agreed to join together under one political entity.   Ottawa has been celebrating in style, and one of the many ways it has been doing so is the "Ottawa Welcomes the World" series of national days held in the city.   Ecuador day is on 11 August.    The embassy of Ecuador in Ottawa turned to CNH Tours to make a presentation on the Galapagos Islands on that day.  

We are very honored to accept that invitation and look forward to meeting people interested in one of our planet's most iconic wilderness areas.

This is the 2nd time we present to Ottawa audiences (this is not a sales pitch, but rather an introduction to Galapagos for the beginner, with extensive Q&A sessions afterwards).   We'd love to present in your neighbourhood as well - assuming you don't live too far...

For more information, click here.

CNH at the Darwin Station

Our 18 year old son, Émile, arrived in Galapagos yesterday to start his 6 week volunteership with the Charles Darwin Station's communication team.  He'll be helping our former colleague, Paola Diaz in the creation of new communications videos.   Émile was born in Quito and spent the first 3 years of his life in the islands.  He learned how to walk on lava rocks. 

Since he was 12 or 13, Émile displayed an interest in video production and edition.  He was accepted into his high school's Artistic Excellence Centre, allowing him to pursue his interest there over the past 2 years.   We hope he'll be able to apply his skills to help further the Darwin Station's objectives.

Apart from his regular volunteer responsibilities, we have asked Émile to get to know the islands and the people and to improve his Spanish language capabilities.  In his spare time, we've also asked that he say hello to many of our partners - hotel, restaurant and ship owners.    

As a token of our appreciation, Émile brought down with him a new iMac computer to help with the Darwin Station's communication efforts (scroll down for picture).

Enjoy your summer Émile!

PS:  Here is the Darwin Station Director's "thank you" email:

From: Arturo Izurieta [mailto:arturo.izurieta@...
Sent: July-19-17 9:41 AM
To: Heather Blenkiron <>
Subject: Thanking you so much

 Dear Marc and Heather,

With this letter I send my sincere thanks on behalf of the entire CDF team for your very kind donation of both the computer and Emile’s stay with us here at the Research Station.

It’s a great joy to have Emile here working with us and we look forward to his contribution to our work and success. The CDF is expanding once more, with the corresponding need for additional resources, and so this donation of equipment is a tremendous help, in particular for the growing communications team.

Once more, from all of us here in Galapagos, thank you for your generosity and support. We look forward to seeing you in November!

Un abrazo,

Arturo Izurieta V, Ph.D
Director Ejecutivo / Executive Director
Fundación Charles Darwin para las Islas Galápagos
Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands


Émile (2nd from left), Paola (left) and the communications team at the Darwin Station, showing off the newly installed iMac yesterday.



CNH Tours Elected to the board

We are pleased to report that on the 20th of June, Marc Patry (co-owner of CNH Tours with Heather Blenkiron) was elected to the board of directors of the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO).   Of the 15 positions on this board, only 3 are elected by the 2,400 travel agencies in Ontario, who are obligated to be registered under TICO.  All the others are appointed by either the Minister of Government and Consumer Services of Ontario or by industry associations. 

TICO is an organization mandated by the Ontario government to administer the laws and regulations governing travel agencies with offices in Ontario, ranging from small home-based internet agencies (like CNH Tours) to the much larger corporate entities such as Carlson Wagonlit and Expedia Cruise Ship Centers.  In addition, TICO administers an industry-financed Travel Compensation Fund.

Besides attending and contributing to overall TICO governance issues during regular board meetings, the position requires engagement in various working committees.  It will be a busy time for the next three years.



Don't touch the cucumbers

Thanks to "El Telegrafo" daily paper in Ecuador and Google Translate for the following:

Three individuals were arrested on the island of San Cristóbal when they transported 1,934 sea cucumbers in a boat, according to the Interior Ministry on Twitter.

The operation was carried out last Friday with the participation of personnel from the Judicial Police, the Environmental Protection Unit and the Galapagos National Park.

The Ministry of the Interior showed in its Twitter account the evidence found in this case in which, according to the entity, it was possible to disrupt an organization had been operating for some time.

A fishing boat, a car, two cell phones and the cargo of sea cucumbers were seized as evidence.

This is an alleged offense against wild flora and fauna (trafficking of animals in danger of extinction). (I)

The law:  Article 247
The person who hunts, fishes, catches, collects, extracts, has, transports, traffics, benefits, exchanges or markets specimens or their parts ... of threatened, endangered and migratory species - will be punished with imprisonment of one to three years.


Dolphin soup anyone?

We can't guarantee you'll have this opportunity - but some of you will.  Our son was in the Galapagos on the Samba (this was already 2 years ago), and the ship came across a very large group of dolphins (not too uncommon in Galapagos).   Juan Manuel Salcedo, the Samba's principal guide (and co-owner) ordered all engines stopped, and suggested that people might want to jump in and "make like a dolphin".  Our son was an enthusiastic participant and managed to make this video of his experience.

FINALLY! Quantitative ratings for visitor sites

CNH Tours has just completed the first ever quantitative analysis of Galapagos visitor site quality.   For years, people have been asking us: “Which is the nicest visitor site?”; “Where’s the best snorkeling?”; “Is this itinerary better than that one”.    Our answers have always been very much based on our own judgement and limited experience – taking into consideration the fact that we have not been to each of the 54 visitor sites surveyed in our analysis.  

How did we do it?   We asked 12 naturalist guides, with a combined 231 years guiding experience in Galapagos, to rate visitor sites on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being the poorest) against 5 specific criteria:

  1. Iconic species: The likelihood of seeing relatively rare but iconic Galapagos species (e.g. giant tortoise in the wild, penguin, flightless cormorant, flamingo, land iguana)
  2. Biodiversity: The abundance and diversity of plant and animal life, not necessarily iconic.
  3. Striking vistas: The likelihood that visitors will be taking pictures of the landscape at a particular site.
  4. Beach quality: The quality of a beach for playing in the sand, sunbathing, swimming, relaxing.
  5. Snorkel quality: The likelihood of seeing rich and diverse underwater life.

It’s important to note that the results paint a broad, general picture, and contain plenty of “wiggle room” in terms of actual visitor experience, with some variability due to seasonal wildlife fluctuations and to simple chance of seeing, or not seeing some species on a particular day (Punta Suarez’s iconic waved albatross is a seasonal visitor, for example), or simply due to personal preferences.   For this reason, it is better to use the ratings as a general indication and not as an absolute measure.   For example, the #4 site is not necessarily worse than the #1 site, but you can be confident that it is among the top sites for a particular critera.  

The ratings do not take into consideration cultural or historical attributes of the sites.  Some sites might have little appeal for wildlife, but are steeped in history (Post Office Bay, Floreana Island for example). In the lists below, those sites presenting cultural or historical interest are demarked with an asterisk.  

Based on our painstaking work (3 years in the making!), here are some results of interest:



Española Island, Punta Suarez

Fernandina Island, Punta Espinoza

North Seymour Island

Genovesa Island, Darwin Bay

Genovesa Island, Prince Phillip's Steps

Isabela, Punta Vicente Roca

Santa Fe Island

Floreana Island, Champion islet

Santa Cruz Island, El Chato

South Plaza Island

Isabela Island, Albemarle Point



Española Island, Punta Suarez

Fernandina Island, Punta Espinoza

Genovesa Island, Darwin Bay

Genovesa Island, Prince Phillip's Steps

North Seymour Island

Isabela, Punta Vicente Roca

Marchena Island, Punta Mejia

Floreana Island, Devil's Crown

Floreana Island, Champion islet

South Plaza Island



Bartolomé Island

Fernandina Island, Punta Espinoza

Isabela Island, Sierra Negra

Isabela Island, Tagus Cove

Española Island, Gardner Bay

Isabela, Punta Vicente Roca

Genovesa Island, Prince Phillip's Steps

San Cristóbal Island, Cerro Brujo

San Cristóbal Island, Punta Pitt

Española Island, Punta Suarez



Española Island, Gardner Bay

Santa Cruz Island, Tortuga Bay

San Cristóbal Island, Cerro Brujo

Bartolomé Island

San Cristóbal Island, Lobos Island

Rábida Island

Santa Fe Island

Santa Cruz Island, Bachas Beach

Santiago Island, Puerto Egas

San Cristóbal Island, Galapaguera



Marchena Island, Punta Mejia

Floreana Island, Champion islet

Floreana Island, Devil's Crown

Isabela, Punta Vicente Roca

Rábida Island

North Seymour Island

Sombero Chino Island

Bartolomé Island

Fernandina Island, Punta Espinoza

San Cristóbal Island, Leon Dormido



Fernandina Island, Punta Espinoza

Española Island, Punta Suarez

Isabela, Punta Vicente Roca

Genovesa Island, Prince Phillip's Steps

North Seymour Island

Floreana Island, Champion islet

Floreana Island, Devil's Crown

Marchena Island, Punta Mejia

Española Island, Gardner Bay

Santa Fe Island

South Plaza Island

New entry requirement: Health Insurance

We've been told that a new regulation is now in place regarding entry documents for arrivals into Ecuador. Anyone who enters the country  as a tourist must now have public or private health insurance for the duration of their stay in Ecuador. If you cannot provide proof of such insurance, the immigration agent has the power to deny you entry into the country.  

So, be ready to show any travel medical insurance documents you may have - and if you haven't purchased any, you might want to show your national health card or something similar.   

I do find it hard to believe that people without such documents will now be systematically turned back upon arrival - but it doesn't hurt to be ready to show the immigration clerk the right piece of paper (or plastic).

Toirtoise smugglers unmasked in Peru

Peruvian wildlife authorities found 29 small tortoises (about 3-4 years old based on photographs I've seen) -- two of them dead -- in a cardboard box on a bus on its way from northern Peru to Lima.

Officials made the discovery while working to identify a suspected international wildlife trafficking ring, which has a route from Peru to the European black market.

Galapagos park officials said genetic studies will be necessary to determine the zone of the archipelago they were taken from.  It's not likely they were stolen from any of  the three tortoise breeding centres - where they are carefully monitored.  

The tortoises will shortly be going back to their islands.

On the.... top of the world

Our Active Galapagos "Covington " group was on top of Pichinca Volcano today, just above Quito.  The view looks FABULOUS!  Quito installed a new cable car from the city all the way up to the top of the mountain.  Our city tour, part of our Active Galapagos trip, includes a trip up to the top on clear days (otherwise, it's just not worth it - and on those days, we spend more time focusing on the treasures of the most beautiful capital city in South America).   Today was such a day - that's Quito down below (Quito is at apx. 9,000 feet / 2,800 metres altitude).    The group just arrived yesterday - and today is what we call their "cushion" day, designed to buffer any mishaps in travel logistics getting to Ecuador (e.g. missed connections, lost luggage etc...).  At the crack of dawn tomorrow, these folks will be heading to Galapagos to embark on the Samba for an adventure of a lifetime.  


Electoral... results?

Ecuadorians went to the polls last Sunday for the 2nd round of presidential elections.  Former president Correa of the party Alianza Pais (AP), had been in power for 2 terms (under the new constitution) and could not present himself again.  The candidate for AP, Lenin Moreno (a former VP for AP), was just short of the minimum 40% threshold required to win outright during the first round a few weeks ago, and so a 2nd round had to take place.

Correa was a big, charismatic personality - hosting a weekly TV show always held in a different town, showing him interacting with locals and showing off his government's achievements.  Under his government, I saw massive infrastructure investments that transformed at least those parts of the country I know -  but my contacts in Ecuador also tell me there was waste and corruption and a skyrocketing national debt.  

Ecuador counts on oil exports to fund its spending, and the dramatic drop in prices have not made things easy.  One measure imposed to compensate for lost revenue was a hefty import tax that did not please those who are best placed to enjoy imported products.  This also created some inflationary pressures, as prices jumped.    Similarly, there is an export tax on any funds sent out of the country.  

The National Electoral Commission declared Lenin Moreno the victor on Monday - eliciting significant protests from Lasso supporters, who accuse the Commission of having fixed the results.   Apparently, exit polls had been showing Lasso with a measurable lead over Moreno.

As I write this, I don't have a clear sense as to whether the disgruntled voters convinced that their election has been stolen will organize themselves to exert sufficient pressures on the government to respond.   For the time being, I'm sensing frustration, a call to action in some quarters - but no organized response.  

What does this mean for visitors to Galapagos?  Based on my 20 years' experience in Ecuador, the likelihood of any disruptions are small.  I have witnessed the overthrow of a few governments, the running out of the country of a president (with whom I had been meeting in his office 3 days earlier), fishermen uprisings in Galapagos - and rarely has this affected a visitor's itinerary or plans.  

Our local tourism partners in Quito and in Galapagos are used to this kind of thing and know how to handle situations, should any arise.   I would suspect, with all due respect to my disgruntled friends in the country, that notwithstanding a few agitated demonstrations, things will remain quiet as usual. 

NYT - at it again!

It was barely a week ago that the New York Times published a good story on blue footed boobies.  And today, they published another one on giant tortoises, with a focus on the return of the embalmed Lonesome George, and his more successful (on a reproductive basis) cousin, Diego.  A good read for those preparing a trip.   Click here to see it. 

Boobies headlined in the NYT

The beloved blue footed boobies of Galapagos were featured in today's New York Times.  As I cannot think of outdoing NYT reporting and attempt to re-interpret the article here, I've simply made a link to it so that you can have a look for yourself.

Click HERE to see the NYT times article.   Worth a read (for those with a trip to Galapagos still in the future, you'll be able to impress your naturalist guide with the latest quirky knowledge on booby behaviour!). 


High Flying Teen Volunteer

David Crowley and his father joined us on an Active Galapagos cruise in 2015.  Of course, they had a trip of a lifetime!  David was so smitten with Galapagos that he got the nature conservation bug.  Being an aficionado of drone based photography, he proceeded to set up his own conservation NGO, Aerial Conservancy (  Pining for a chance to do some work in the islands, he contacted CNH Tours to see if we could help him find a way to do so.   The story below, in his words, explain how that turned out.

           Ever since I was lucky enough to sail the Galápagos Islands with Juan Salcedo on the Samba in the spring of 2015, I was captivated. Thus, as any persistent and determined teenager my age would, I incessantly emailed Heather Blenkiron— who originally booked my previous cruise— for an internship. After frequent correspondence with Heather, and Juan himself, I finally received the news I had been longing for: an invitation to join the Samba crew once again for two weeks over the 2016 summer— circumnavigating the entire archipelago. Being an avid traveler myself, I have been to many places, but with Juan as my guide I could experience more of the Islands than the average tourist— with paddle boarding along a pod of dolphins and spotting a newborn humpback whale calf being the most memorable.

            The time that I spent in the islands gave me the opportunity to see the other side of the Samba operation, to see how the crew functions behind the scenes, and to truly see Juan’s expertise first hand in the field. In his opinion “[we] had a fantastic time last summer,” and in my opinion, it was one of the best summers of my life— one that has shaped me in many ways.

            My time aboard the Samba moreover inspired me to further my involvement in the Galápagos National Park by founding the Aerial Conservancy,  ( ), a nonprofit corporation that funds and facilitates wildlife conservation through the use of UAV’s, more commonly own as drones.

            However, none of this would have been possible without Heather, who connected me to Juan originally, and believed in me enough to recommend me for the internship. In her words, “It was a pleasure;” nonetheless, her simple act of trust has shaped my life forever.


David Crowley (picture NOT taken in Galapagos, in case you were wondering)

More cargo for the fishes

Times are going to be a bit tougher for Galapagos residents again.   The cargo ship Bartolomé, which does the back and forth between the continent and the islands, bringing every day supplies, food and other goods from the continent, had an accident today as it was leaving the major coastal city of Guayaquil.  By the look of things, it will likely be out of service for a while, if not forever (see picture below).   Galapagos cargo ships seemed to work under an evil spell, as such accidents are frequent.  This is the first in 2-3 years, but at that time, three ships in a 2 year period were wrecked.  

This will likely have a measurable impact on the availability and price of supplies in the islands, as critical imports may be more likely flown in for a while.   


 The Bartolomé appears to be in a spot of trouble.  Picture from the FB post of Alfredo Davila Carvajal.

A take on this weekend's national elections

Shamelessly copy/pasted from The Economist.  I once met The Economist's "man in Quito" while working for UNESCO.  I have since been a paid subscriber to this well rounded magazine. 


What to expect from Ecuador’s elections

Under Rafael Correa, living standards rose. But he governed with a heavy hand and leaves a lot of problems for his successor

WHEN Rafael Correa first ran for Ecuador’s presidency in 2006, supporters at his rallies brandished belts in homage to their candidate, whose surname means “belt” or “strap”. “Dale correa,” or “give them a whipping,” the crowds roared. It was a demand to punish what they regarded as the corrupt elites who had governed Ecuador since the return of democracy in 1979. Mr Correa promised he would. He won that election and then two more. His presidency brought a rare spell of political stability. Living standards rose and public services improved. But few would say that he kept his promise to clean up government. This year’s national elections, which begin on February 19th, are shrill with accusations of corruption. 

Mr Correa, who has a respectable approval rating of 42%, is not a candidate. He is counting on Lenin Moreno, a former vice-president, and his running mate, Jorge Glas, the current vice-president, to carry on his “citizens’ revolution”. Mr Moreno, who shares his alarming first name with 18,000 other Ecuadoreans, hopes to win in the first round by capturing the bulk of Mr Correa’s support and adding to it. To do that he must get more than half the votes or, failing that, at least 40% with a gap of ten percentage points over his nearest rival.

That may not happen. Although Mr Moreno is ahead in the polls, he has been hurt by revelations that he sought from Ecuador’s government a budget of $1.6m a year during his three-year stint as the UN’s special envoy for disability (he has used a wheelchair since he was mugged in 1998) plus $3.9m in travel expenses while he was vice-president. If Mr Moreno falls short, a president from right of centre could bring a decade of correísmo to an end.

Whatever the outcome, Ecuador’s 16m people face greater uncertainty. The halving since 2014 of the price of oil, the country’s biggest export, has pushed the economy into recession and widened a hole in the budget (see chart). Alianza PAIS, the “movement” Mr Correa created, may retain its legislative majority in the elections, but probably as a weakened force. Ecuador’s next president will not be able to afford Mr Correa’s largesse and may not exercise his unchecked power. Ecuadoreans will find themselves tightening belts rather than waving them.

By the standards of left-wing Latin American leaders, Mr Correa has not fared badly. Some $300bn flowed into government accounts during his presidency from oil revenues, higher taxes and fresh borrowing. He used some of that to build “21st-century socialism”, which in practice meant splashing out on roads, schools, clinics and social housing. Social spending doubled as a share of GDP between 2006 and 2012; the minimum wage went up sharply. Mr Correa did not strangle growth and spur inflation with price controls, as Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro did in Venezuela. Ecuador’s adoption of the dollar in 2000, after its currency collapsed, contained Mr Correa’s radicalism.

Between 2006 and 2011 Ecuador had the world’s most “inclusive” economic growth, according to ODI, a British think-tank; incomes of the poorest 40% of Ecuadoreans grew by eight times the national average. The poverty rate, which started falling in the early 2000s, came down further, from nearly 40% in 2006 to less than 23% in 2016.

But Mr Correa’s spree left the economy vulnerable. Government spending doubled to a peak of 44% of GDP in 2014. Public debt has trebled to more than 50% of GDP since the global financial crisis. Having defaulted on its debt, Ecuador pays close to double-digit rates to borrow, largely from Chinese lenders. Mr Correa is trying to replace lost oil revenue with foreign investment but the climate is forbidding. In the World Bank’s ranking of 190 countries by ease of doing business, Ecuador ranks 114th. The recession is beginning to hurt ordinary folk. Employment fell by 244,000 in 2016 and the poverty rate is edging higher.

Ecuadoreans paid a high price for material progress in the form of creeping authoritarianism and continued corruption. Campaigning in 2006 Mr Correa vowed to “depoliticise the courts”. In effect he seized control of them. A commission led by a former interior minister disciplines and often removes judges. Mr Correa made war on a critical press. He set up a regulator that harasses newspapers and radio stations by levying fines, often for such lapses as failing to cover a mayor’s speech.

His building programme produced backhanders and white elephants as well as useful infrastructure. New and rebuilt airports which failed to attract commercial traffic have closed. Odebrecht, a Brazilian construction firm that bribed officials across Latin America, paid $33.5m to Ecuadorean officials between 2007 and 2016, according to the United States Department of Justice. Mr Correa has said that his name, and that of Mr Glas, are likely to appear on the Justice Department’s list of officials bribed by Odebrecht, but insists that is part of an American plot to undermine him.

It is Mr Correa’s failures, not his successes, that are setting the tone for the elections. Voters are most worried about the recession and the rise in unemployment. Much of the heat in the campaign comes from anger at Mr Moreno’s lavish spending and accusations of corruption levelled at Mr Glas. One alleges that he took kickbacks in connection with a hydroelectric-dam project. He denies wrongdoing.

Mr Moreno is promising voters a softer-edged correísmo. He entices them with budget-busting promises to treble a cash benefit for the poor to $150 a month, raise pensions and build “housing for all”. If he fails to win in the first round, the anti-Correa vote, now split among seven candidates, may coalesce around the other survivor of that ballot. The leading contenders have promised to undo much of Mr Correa’s legacy. They agree on the need to restore judicial independence, strengthen human rights and curb the budget deficit.

The likeliest candidate to join Mr Moreno in the second round is Guillermo Lasso, a conservative banker from the coastal city of Guayaquil who was runner-up in the 2013 presidential election. Though his foes brand him an out-of-touch plutocrat, he sees himself as a challenger to old-style business oligarchs from his home town. He has promised to eliminate red tape and to cut taxes by $3bn, which may clash with his plans to shrink the deficit.

His rivals for a second-round spot include Cynthia Viteri, the nominee of the centre-right Social Christian Party, which represents Guayaquil’s elite. The anti-Correa left has united around Paco Moncayo, a former mayor of Quito.

Opposition parties failed to present a unified list in elections to the national assembly, increasing the chances that Alianza PAIS will retain control. That could make it harder for the next president to enact reforms, especially if it is not Mr Moreno. Mr Correa is leaving the scene, at least for now. His belt-brandishing style of politics may not.

World Tour Ends - Lonesome George is Home Again



Lonesome George being loaded onto the plane in Guayaquil today (17 Feb)

The embalmed body of the giant tortoise known as Lonesome George, the last of its kind, will be returned to the Galapagos Islands, the Ecuadorian archipelago where it lived and died.

An official at the Environment Ministry says George will arrive at Santa Cruz Island this Friday on a plane of the Ecuadorian air force and will be installed in a reserved room until February 23.

From then on it will be exhibited to the public in a newly built gallery where its preservation is guaranteed.

The site has "all the technological mechanisms to keep it in good condition: temperature and humidity controls and special show windows so it doesn't get damaged," the official said.

Lonesome George probably lived more than 100 years, though its exact age at the time of its death remains unknown.

The tortoise was the last specimen of the Chelonoidis abingdoni species, and during it last 40 years became a symbol of the Ecuadorian archipelago, known worldwide for its rich biodiversity.

The chelonian, which died without leaving offspring, was discovered in 1971 and since then until its death was cared for at the Reproduction and Breeding Center of Galapagos National Park (PNG) on Santa Cruz Island.

In June 2012, Lonesome George was found dead of natural causes in its pen by Fausto Llerena, the same park guard that took care of the giant tortoise during its life in captivity.

Up to now, the tortoise's body has been on show at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where it was taken after desiccation, a process that took over a year.

With the place where it will be exhibited almost ready, George returns to his native archipelago, where a Route of the Tortoise has also been created, a path where visitors can learn about Galapagos biodiversity.

The path, which will also be inaugurated this Friday, leads visitors from the park entrance to the gallery where they can observe the iconic chelonian, the Environment Ministry official said.