Galapagos News

Message for our American Guests

About 75%-80% of our guests are from the United States.  Over the years, we have had direct, personal contact with thousands of people from all corners of this great nation to the south of our border (we're based in Canada).  We've had guests from Florida, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, California, Wisconsin, Maine, Oregon, Georgia... the list goes on.  We seem to have an unusually high number of guests from Alaska (we don't know why - but that's fine by us).   Our USA guests are always a pleasure to work with and we often feel a twinge of sadness when our business relation comes to an end, and we go our separate ways.   

It's with you in mind that we share some of your pain in response to recent events in Washington D.C.  We've always considered the USA as the world's premiere center of innovation and creativity, as a powerful standard bearer for what's right and wrong, and despite occasional missteps (completely normal for any nation), over the years, we've taken for granted that the USA will be our strongest ally on the path to progress, in the struggle for human rights, and in the quest for peace, democracy and prosperity. 

We've noted how many large companies in the USA have taken a variety of impactful measures to support efforts at keeping the ship of state on an even keel in the past couple of days.  CNH Tours would like to join in that effort - though all we feel we can do is ask for the privilege of standing in solidarity with you.   

We wish all of our neighbours to the south the necessary sobriety, rational, clear-eyed thinking in the days, weeks and months ahead as you work at making things right again.  

Best wishes, and warmest regards from your neighbours north of the border.  

 

2021 Samba Galapagos Reactivation Cruises: A Deal not to be Missed

The highly-reputed 14 passenger Samba, the ship we have been regularly chartering for 15 years, is getting back into business after a COVID-19 related hiatus.   It has been hard for ship owners in Galapagos - but they are emerging renewed and eager to get back to business.  

The Samba actually ran its first post lock-down cruises in December.  It took advantage of the COVID hiatus by going through an extensive maintenance and re-fit on the mainland in September.   The ship diligently implements rigorous COVID-safe measures to reduce the risk of transmission while on board.  

The Samba owners recognize that the market for Galapagos cruises is not yet what it was pre-COVID.  But in an effort to attract those willing to travel in these complicated times, it is offering its 7 night / 8 day cruise for only US$2,450 / person (double occupancy) or $2,850 (solo).  This is over 40% off the 2021 rate that had been set pre-COVID.  This is an excellent price - equivalent to the going rate back in 2008.  But the owners have indicated that it may be increased at any time - booking now for a cruise starting no later than 14 December 2021 will guarantee that price.  Please note, the domestic flight, transit card and park entrance are extra - estimate about $650. 

While CNH Tours generally recommends that we stay home and wait until COVID-19 is in our rear-view mirror before contemplating international travel again, we do recognize that people are now getting getting access to vaccines, and that those who are younger and fitter are already starting to travel again.   

If you fall in one of those categories, and if you are willing to assume all the risks related to traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic, then we would be happy to help you organize your Galapagos trip of a lifetime on the Samba.   

Contact us:  hblenkiron@cnhtours.com  for more information.  

 

The Samba is a very well-managed "tourist superior" 14 passenger ship.  

 

A small ship like the Samba offers a lot more versatility when it comes to wildlife encounters.

 

It hires top quality naturalist guides who will take you to the ends of the trails, and get

you snorkeling as often and as long as possible.

 

The ship has 6 cabins below decks and one above.  The crew is very engaged in the whole

trip experience.  

SOME LIKE IT HOT!

It's the "rainy" season now in Galapagos. Ironically, during the rainy season, skies are bluer, it's hot, the seas are warmer and calmer. You might get an occasional, short-lived tropical downpour - but that's just another "𝗪𝗢𝗪!!" event on a typical trip to the Galapagos islands.

The main disadvantage to travel in the rainy season is not the rain, but the temperatures. While some like it hot😏, others find it too hot.

The rainy / hot season starts sometime later in December and ends sometime earlier in May. The cooler, dryer "garua" season starts in July and ends later in November. The garua season is characterized by early morning and later afternoon mists, particularly in the windward sides of islands. Temperatures are milder, seas cooler with the chances of a bit of chop a bit higher. There are never any storms in Galapagos... here, the "PACIFIC" ocean very much earns its name.

There are transition months between the seasons during which you can't be sure what kind of weather you'll get.

Thanks to critically acclaimed top naturalist guide, Jimmy Patiño, for the picture taken just a few minutes ago!

Returning guest sheepishly admits... it was "a trip of a lifetime"

Vicki Metcalfe is an avid birder. 

She approached us in early 2019 wanting help organizing a trip to Ecuador that would expose her to the wonderful bird diversity of the country.  While having less than 0.1% of the Earth's surface area, over 10% of the world's bird species have been recorded in the country (mostly on the mainland).  Galapagos offers birders the chance to easily spot species found nowhere else on the planet (flightless cormorants, Galapagos penguins, the waved albatross, all kinds of Galapagos finches - and that's just for starters). 

On her return, just before the pandemic kicked in, Vicki wrote up a review of her trip for her local community newspaper, the New Edinburgh News (which happens to be just walking distance from our home).  In the concluding paragraph of her article, she writes:  "Cliché though it may be, my birding adventure in Ecuador and the Galapagos was truly the trip of a lifetime."   It may be cliché, but frankly, a big proportion of our returning guests use the very same words.   

CNH Tours can help you plan a custom trip to Ecuador and Galapagos, ensuring you get the most out of your time there.  Whether you're an avid birder, into horseback riding, chocolate, lost civilizations, textiles... we can work with you to assemble the elements of a wonderful extension before or after your Galapagos trip.    


For Vicki's full article, click here.


Galapagos penguin

In Galapagos, not all of the bird sightings are on dry land!
 

COVID Vaccination Certificate: Likely Requirement for Traveling

Now that COVID-19 vaccines are starting to be approved and made available, there's more and more talk about making them a requirement for international travel, among other things.   

Yesterday, the minister of health in Ontario announced that the province will provide "proof of vaccination" to those that have been vaccinated.  The minister, Christine Elliot, said the province will not make the vaccine mandatory, but some activities – such as travel and access to communal spaces like cinemas – could eventually be restricted for those who opt not to get immunized. 

Her statement is validated by comments from the CEO of Australia's flagship airline - Qantas.  Alan Joyce recently indicated that the airline would require future international travelers to prove they have been vaccinated against  COVID-19 before flying. 

The world's major cruise lines (Carnival, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean - the latter which operates the Silversea and Celebrity brands in Galapagos) have not made any statement along those lines as far as we can tell.    The point may be moot if airlines refuse service to those not vaccinated.   

But as a public health policy, we believe it's a smart one.   While the vaccine cannot be made mandatory until it become widely available, CNH Tours feels that it's safe bet to assume it will be so sometime later in 2021, or early 2022.   

So, if you're planning on coming to Galapagos, ensure you get some form of proof of vaccination when the time comes.   




 

 

A Truly Complete Guide to Galapagos

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

 

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

Photo Credit: Josef Litt

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Josef Litt

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

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

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

  

Photo Credit: Josef Litt

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Josef Litt

 

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

Her Deepness Designates Galapagos as a “Hope Spot”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIDEO: $54,000 raised by former and future Samba guests

Back in May, with the help of a former guest, we launched a fund-raising effort in support of the crew and support staff of the Samba - a 14 passenger ship we charter regularly for our "ACTIVE GALAPAGOS" trip.  

COVID-19 was a terrible blow to the island economy.  Most of the dollars flowing into the islands come from tourism.  With tourism at a standstill, and with meagre government support, the road ahead did not look bright for island residents.  

Laura Sebastianelli, a former guest, approached us with the idea of organizing a fund raiser.   It took us a while to put it together, but once launched, it quickly raised over $54,000 (with a bit of support from another company that uses the Samba).  

We were very impressed by the enthusiasm.  Some participants had travelled over 10 years ago - and a few were booked on a trip later this year.    

The Samba's owners (they did not receive any of the funds raised) asked the crew and staff to say a few words of thanks on video.   My son, Emile Patry, took the raw footage and assembled a bit of a summary video of the campaign.  It starts with some text explaining the background, continues on with the videos of thanks from the Samba team, and ends with pictures and words submitted by those who contributed.    

To see the video, click here.

Tourism remains very anemic in Galapagos.  While the national park is open, and while some ships are tentatively starting to sail again, there remain very few people showing up.   To enter Ecuador and Galapagos, all you need is a negative RT-PCR COVID test taken within 4 days of your entry into the islands.  However, for many, the current pandemic climate is not conducive to a return to normal.  Those that are less risk averse are likely to benefit from some of the best prices in a long time during these uncertain times.    

To AirBnB or not to AirBnB - that is the question!

Today, my former Darwin Station officemate, the charming and brilliant Michael Bliemsrieder posted the text below on the "Realidades Galapagueñas" (Galapagos Realities) FaceBook page.   Michael has a bit of the politician in him (he was a recent candidate for the mayor of Puerto Ayora) - identifying issues that concern a lot of Galapagos residents and giving them some public air. 

His recent post refers to the new requirement by incoming visitors to have a "safe conduct" in hand prior to boarding a flight to Galapagos.   What is a safe conduct?  It's an attestation by a registered travel agency or a certified accommodation establishment that the person holding it has indeed reserved services in the islands.  

Michael argues that the safe conduct is nothing but a devious way for the government to cut off business for the many informal (AirBnB, VRBO…) establishments in the islands, redirecting it to the formal ones.  

Such measures will, by definition, have supporters (a smaller number of hotel owners, travel agencies) and a larger number of detractors (those who are using the AirBnB and such platforms). 

It’s not an easy issue to resolve.  That’s what politicians are for.  Notwithstanding a few edits, thanks to Google for the translation from Spanish

 

Michael Bliemsrieder's words:

The Ministry of Tourism has declared war on Airbnb. And not just Airbnb.

Under the pretext of a false "tourist reactivation" that does not arrive, they have dedicated themselves to the task of inventing illegal and arbitrary fines, trying to prohibit all types of private leasing and rental, even going so far as to invade private homes, knocking down doors without order of raiding and taking people to the streets, in the best style of Cuban and Venezuelan authoritarian Marxists.

They use their infamous safe-conduct, a document that has no legal basis, that has absolutely nothing to do with the health emergency and that goes against the Constitution, the Civil Code, the Tenancy Law and the Galapagos Law itself, to persecute even people who want to receive their friends and family, and the same agencies that are supposed to issue such a pass.

The useless Ministry of Tourism and its servile officials must understand that they are not policemen, commissioners, criminal or civil judges, or self-erected guards of public morals, and that the abuse of authority and the arrogance of functions will lead them directly to prison.

The people are fed up with the permanent abuse of the corrupt "Ruptura de los 25" regime and the continuous arbitrariness of the Governing Council. Whoever plays with fire ends up burned.

Snapshot: What's occupying the minds of Galapagos residents these days

An old friend of mine in San Diego forwarded an article from the LA Times to me yesterday.   It's a good one, effectively illustrating the zeitgeist of Galapagos these days - as far as I can tell from what I'm hearing from friends and associates there.

The article from the LA Times covers the massive industrial Chinese fishing fleet cloud that hung over the islands for many weeks in the summer - which added to the overall feeling of creeping discouragement brought about by COVID-19's moth-balling of the tourism economy there.   

It also contains 2 short but well done video clips narrated by a good old friend of ours, Fernando Ortiz (also an excellent naturalist guide).  It refers to another old friend, Fiddi Angermeyer (son of a German pioneer who, with 3 of his brothers, sailed from Germany to Galapagos before WWII), and Norman Wray, the presidentially appointed provincial governor, with whom I've had the chance to speak with on a couple of occasions.   


Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz Island): The main economic hub of Galapagos

While tourism destinations are all suffering tremendously during COVID, Galapagos is suffering even more because the economy there is overwhelmingly dependent on dollars flowing in from tourists.   Take that away, and you're left with a few NGOs, government services (all being cut back because Ecuador has a huge cash flow problem these days) and relatively small scale fishing and farming.   

Almost all goods purchased in Galapagos are imported from outside.  This means that every time someone buys a roll of toilet paper, a bottle of water, a pair of sandals, a t-shirt, rice, beans... money is leaving the islands and it's not being replenished by dollars coming in from tourism.   

The Galapagos economy is drying up.   

I know of several people that have left.  While economic conditions on the continent are not good at all, they are better than in the islands.   

What's in store in the months ahead?  Nobody knows.  But until COVID-19 can be tamed, things will remain delicate.  The service providers we are in touch with are rearing to get going again of course.  They've worked hard at adopting COVID-19 safety protocols, be it on land or on ships.   Tourism is open - you CAN go to Galapagos - but as can be expected, there are hoops through which travelers must pass (COVID testing) and options will be fewer as not all businesses are operating at full capacity.  

At CNH Tours, we continue to receive inquiries (though fewer than before!) from people who are very keen to organize their trip to the islands as soon as conditions improve.  Galapagos is a premiere nature tourism destinations of the world - it was the first place to be recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site (1978).  It will remain a "trip of a lifetime" place to visit well after COVID-19 becomes a distant memory.   

For the Los Angeles Times article, click here

Ten years and 422 stories later

CNH Tours has been helping people assemble their Galapagos trip of a lifetime since 1999 but it wasn’t until 2010 that we started publishing regular news items and stories we thought would interest our past, current and future guests.  

On the 20th of September 2010, we published:  THE ECONOMIST Magazine Features Galapagos and Danger Listing in this Week’s Edition.  As an avid reader of THE ECONOMIST, I was very excited by the fact that the magazine's international section editor came to my UNESCO office in Paris to interview me for the story.   I simply had to write it up for the website, making this the first of 422 stories that would follow in the next 10 years.

Our editorial policy over the years has been pretty constant.   We focus on a variety of issues falling under a broad range of categories such as:

  • Conservation success stories / threats
  • Wildlife poachers / smugglers caught / prosecuted / sentenced / jailed
  • Volcanic eruptions, tsunamis
  • El Niño: Trying to predict when the next one will come (we’ve given up on that)
  • Several stories on the possible increase in the park entrance fee. First announced in 2011, but yet to be implemented (we should give up on that too)
  • The rise and fall of various National Park directors – most of whom are old friends
  • The trials and tribulations of the Charles Darwin Foundation - a roller coaster of a ride
  • Expedition cruise ships running aground and several cargo ships sinking
  • The death of Lonesome George, his peripatetic corpse and the struggle for a final resting place
  • Some beating of our own drum – highlighting awards, third party recognition of our work and that of our chosen partners and their staff in Galapagos
  • Politics and economics of Ecuador
  • Concerns over rapid growth in land-based tourism numbers
  • Travel logistics matters we consider pertinent in planning your trip to Galapagos

No other travel company comes remotely close to publishing so many diverse stories and on such a regular basis.   We hope that it conveys to our guests the fact that few travel companies know Galapagos as intimately as does CNH Tours.   We have friends in all sectors of society there – from government to tourism to the fishing communities.   We return to the islands regularly and, after this COVID has been cleared up, we intend to spend several weeks a year there to further strengthen our bonds with the islands and the people.

Over the years, we’ve covered some interesting items and we’ve also tried to come up with catchier / and sometimes rather sensationalistic titles.   We provide links to a few below and invite you to have a look (be assured, none of this is fake news): 

When sharks have lawyers...

Flying Galapagos Penguins Captured on Video!

Ships swallowed by giant sea creature

Michael Jackson spotted on a remote beach in Galapagos!

"The captain helped me to the bottom of the ocean"

Lenin asserts himself in Ecuador

Dolphin soup anyone?

A Dog's Life in Galapagos

CNH Tours Acquires a Mercedes...

Man's life is changed!

Plump Pepe Put into Park Pen

 

We look forward to continued coverage of stories we think our past, current and future guests will find interesting.   We’ll provide an update on this story on 20 September 2030.  See you then!

Potable water in Puerto Ayora: Always 3 years away

(The following article was Google translated, further edited, and slightly adapted for clarity from the original Spanish language article that appeared in the EXPRESO, an on-line newspaper on 5 September 2020.  Pictures are also from the original article. Click here to see the original.  CNH Tours can attest to the bad water piped into Puerto Ayora homes, as was the case with us when we lived there in 1998-2002.  Like all other residents, we had no choice but to bathe using this water - it had a mild salty taste to it and you certainly did not want to swallow any...)


Puerto Ayora and its endless wait for drinking water


In Puerto Ayora, the most populated settlement in Galápagos (apx. 20,000 people), the water that reaches homes and commercial and tourist establishments is still brackish and not suitable for human consumption.

It is extracted from underground aquifers via fissures in the bedrock on this island of volcanic origin. Because the bedrock is porous and full of fissures, it ends up being a mixture of rainwater and seawater, minerals and human wastewater.  The supply is limited to just two to four hours a day.  Typically, all buildings have large storage tanks on the rooftops and these are filled when the water is running, so that it can be used over the course of the day.

Above: A typical fissure from which brackish / contaminated water is extracted

"The fissures in the bedrock from which the water is obtained are interconnected with the septic tanks (little more than holes in the ground) and, obviously, they become contaminated and, finally, the water that reaches the houses is not drinkable (containing bacteria, salt etc…) and we are forced to continue to buy water in bottles", explains Jairo Gusqui, president of the Citizen Board of Santa Cruz.

In a city where some 200,000 tourists spend time each year, the lack of drinking water is not just a community problem that causes intestinal infections, skin allergies or untreatable hair to its inhabitants.

The Puerto Ayora waterfront - 200,000 visitors a year

“There are visitors from abroad who are used to drinking tap water in their countries. And you have to be telling them that you can't do that here, don't drink the tap water, ”says Rubén Montalvo, owner of a hostel in Puerto Ayora.

"A tourist who ingests the water and suffers an infection stays in the hotel.  He suspends his entire schedule of tours, and doesn’t spend his money," he adds.

For all these reasons, having potable water is an old claim of its 20,000 inhabitants.  They are used to hearing promises of potable water each time a new election comes around, and they are getting used to having it as an eternally unfinished project.

A very typical scene in Puerto Ayora - delivery of REAL potable water

Only in this century, in 2001, the government at the time put out an international tender to provide drinking water to the main islands; that work was awarded under the following government, but it did not advance from there. The government after that took it up again, but nothing came of it.

San Cristóbal, Isabela and Floreana islands, with a smaller population, have had potable water since 2013. But  not Puerto Ayora.

In 2016, the president at the time (Rafael Correa) announced that Santa Cruz was beginning to receive potable water "for the first time in its history." The project, initially planned for 2014, consisted of capturing water from nearby fissures and, through a reverse osmosis process, desalinating and making it drinkable.  But he was overly optimistic and it didn't happen.

“It's a long story, it has suffered quite a few setbacks in these years: politicians who have used it as a campaign promise, lawsuits against the contractor. And it the story is not over yet ”, sums up local journalist Daniel Montalvo.

Water purification plant for preparation of potable water

In 2019, a month after taking office, Puerto Ayora Mayor Ángel Yánez published a diagnosis of how he had found the municipality, including this issue. He noted that the initial cost of US$18.5 million had risen to US$23.7 million for supplemental contracts. And that the plant was not working due to pipeline damage and that the system required the interconnection of the networks, a work not foreseen in the contract.

Yánez says he has advanced the work up to 80% and hopes to complete it. To do this, it needs the Government -which claims fiscal illiquidity and owes one billion dollars to the municipalities- to deliver 4 million dollars for the additional work.

A Photographer's Galapagos Life in the Time of COVID

We've known Tui de Roy since we first went to Galapagos in 1998.

Her parents moved to Galapagos in the 1950's and she was born shortly thereafter. She grew up on the rocky shores of the islands almost living the life of Mowgli. She ended up being an accomplished wildlife photographer, having published several books and leading many photography trips around the world.

While she maintains a home in New Zealand, she spends a lot of time in Galapagos still. She was there in March when COVID hit, and has been there ever since.

Here are two very well-written pieces about Galapagos life in the time of COVID, dated 4 May and 1 September (scroll down) in which she shares her observations on Galapagos both humans and animals. They are quite insightful with a few nice pics.

To see the stories, click here.
Tui's house in Galapagos

Finally, Amazing Shark News in Galapagos

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

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

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

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

 

Photo Credit - CDF

 

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

Whale Shark Disappearance

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Photo credit: IUCN Red List (Pedro Vieyra)

Economic, social and political challenges in Ecuador

While the focus of a trip to Galapagos might be nearly 100% nature oriented, you will be meeting mainland and Galapagos residents and you will have the opportunity to have some conversations with them.  Many people enjoy this part of their travels. 

For those who might not have considered it, a good talk with thoughtful locals goes a long way in helping one broaden one's understanding of people and societies.  Better yet, if you know something of the context in which the people you will be meeting are living, it gives you a better vantage point from which to have a more enriching conversation.  

We came across this article in The Economist (a news magazine widely read around the world) which was published in its July 4-10th issue.   It provides a succinct summary of the social/ political/ economic situation in the country these days.  In short, it has no money and the fact that it uses the US dollar as its national currency does not help.

I was living in Ecuador when they made the switch from the former "Sucre" to the US Dollar.  At the time, inflation was out of control, people were increasingly turning to the US$ for transactions.  A lot of the blame can be placed on corrupt bankers and enabling national leaders of the day - so much so that I've always thought that a monument to these people would help Ecuadorians remember why they had to give up their national currency.   Here's the article that appeared in The Economist:

ECUADOR'S ANGUISH:  THE DIFFICULTIES OF A DOLLARIZED ECONOMY / ECUADOR IS IN INTENSIVE CARE, AND A STRAIGHT JACKET.

At the start of the covid-19 pandemic in Latin America in March and April, Ecuador offered the world Dantesque images of dead bodies dumped in the streets of Guayaquil, a tropical port that is the country’s largest city. The outbreak has eased, but it is not over. After the government relaxed its lockdown last month cases picked up, especially in Quito, the capital. That is happening elsewhere in the region, too. But Ecuador faces additional difficulties.

One is that the centrist government of Lenín Moreno, the president since 2017, was economically and politically weak even before the virus struck. Another is that since 2000 Ecuador has lacked its own currency, using the American dollar instead. That switch was the consequence of hyperinflation and a previous economic crisis. It has brought a degree of stability. But it means that when recession strikes, Ecuador cannot print money. Nor can it easily borrow because Mr Moreno’s populist predecessor, Rafael Correa, piled up debt during his decade in power, which the government has struggled to repay. So while governments elsewhere are loosening the purse-strings, Ecuador has to cut public spending just when it is most painful to do so.

Mr Correa ruled during a commodity boom. He used windfall oil revenue to double the size of the state. Although some of the money was invested in infrastructure, much went on expanding public employment and much was simply wasted or stolen. Despite the spending splurge, in proportion to the population Ecuador scores barely above the Latin American average in number of doctors and below it for hospital beds.

When the commodity boom ended, Ecuador was left with a big fiscal deficit and mounting public debt. Mr Moreno, an ally-turned-foe of Mr Correa, has been left to pay the bill. In March of last year his government signed a $4.2bn, three-year agreement with the imf aimed at softening the effects of deficit-cutting and at boosting non-oil exports by making the economy more competitive. This reform programme soon went off the rails. In October, without preparing the political ground or compensating those worst hit, the government tried to eliminate indiscriminate subsidies on fuel (the imf had urged it to raise value-added tax instead). After a fortnight of protests and rioting left ten dead, Mr Moreno backed down.

With the deficit heading back up to at least 6% of gdp, the government is scrambling for cash. Since March it has saved 2.5% of gdp by agreeing with bondholders to postpone interest payments, and another 1% by trimming the working hours of public employees. The public’s anger at scandals over medical procurement has reinforced its resistance to tax increases. The imf approved an additional $643m emergency loan in May. The government has obtained a loan from China, and further relief from bondholders. It has used money from the Inter-American Development Bank to increase the payments to the poor and the number who get them. To try to boost recovery, it has introduced modest reforms of the labour law and the bankruptcy code.

Unpopular reforms are all the harder because a general election is due in February. But they are vital. Augusto de la Torre, a former Central Bank president, notes that “dollarisation is the most popular institution in my country—more popular than the church or the army.” But, he adds, “the country is learning the hard way that dollarisation means that we can’t print money.”

It is not a substitute for fiscal discipline and a more competitive economy. The problem is “there’s no coalition to pass the necessary reforms,” says Andrés Mejía, an Ecuadorean political scientist at King’s College in London. Instead there are what he calls “ghost coalitions” operating in the shadows, with parties refusing to support austerity publicly but quietly facilitating it. “They do enough to get the country past emergencies but not enough for long-term development.”

Muddle-through may be running out of road. With an approval rating of 19%, Mr Moreno has said he will not stand again. Perhaps sensing the difficulties ahead, Jaime Nebot, a powerful former mayor of Guayaquil, ruled himself out as a candidate on June 25th. Having received a jail sentence in absentia for corruption, Mr Correa, who lives in Belgium, is looking for a proxy candidate. With voters likely to be in an angry mood, unless a credible reformist candidate emerges the stage may be set for a return of populism—but a penniless version this time.

Massive industrial fishing fleet hugs Marine Reserve boundaries...

The following is adapted from an article that appeared in the El Universo newspaper on 16 July 2020.

The Ecuadorian Navy was alerted this morning to the presence of a fishing fleet made up of 260 foreign vessels near the limit of Ecuador’s Exclusive Insular Economic Zone (ZEEI).

Image of the waters around the west coast of South America and Galapagos.  Lines indicate exclusive economic zones.  White areas indicate presence of industrial fishing ships.

At the moment, the Naval Operations Command maintains continuous surveillance with Naval Aviation aircraft and also with the missile corvette “Loja”, which relieved the “Manabí” in these tasks in the continental sea.

The fleet would be made up of fishing, supply and warehouse vessels, the Navy said.

Part of the industrial fishing fleet photographed near the Galapagos Marine Reserve

At the same time, the personnel of the Maritime Analysis Division of the Operational Command sent information to the units located on the edge of the continental sea so that they corroborate that these foreign vessels do not enter the ZEEI and carry out some type of illegal fishing activities that threaten the Galapagos Marine Reserve (Ed. A World Heritage Site).

In 2017, naval teams intercepted the ship Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 while sailing illegally within the Galapagos Marine Reserve. The crew members were sentenced. Some 300 tonnes of fish mostly sharks, were found in the holds of this Chinese vessel.

 

Editor:  The Galapagos Marine Reserve has among the strictest fishing regulations among all the marine reserves along the entire western shores of both North and South America.   Only a limited number of local Galapagos fishermen can fish there, and they are restricted to small ships and low impact fishing practices.   The waters within the reserve, and those extending to the coastal area are very rich in nutrients, as they are bathed by a variety of currents, including the cold Humboldt coming from the south, and the upwelling of the Cromwell current, coming from the west.    These rich waters attract industrial fishing fleets – and keeping them out of the Marine Reserve is a constant challenge.   

While strictly legal, the fact that the seas can be vacuumed out of their fish with little or no oversight highlights the on-going need to establish some type of international waters fishing regulation / monitoring system.   Moreover, it has been reported that these fleets will send small boats out at night into the reserve, bringing back their haul to the factory ships by daybreak.   

The Galapagos Marine Reserves cover the same area as the entire landmass of Greece.  It’s hugely expensive to monitor effectively, particularly when its boundaries are being tested by so many fishing ships. 

 

Low in cash, Galapagos residents turn to bartering

The following is adapted from an article that appeared in the El Universo newspaper today

 

The economy in the Galapagos archipelago has been affected by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Tourism, the Islands’ main economic activity came to a screeching halt nearly 4 months ago.

"Women's clothing for groceries, meat, chicken, fruit" or "Exchange a plastic blender container for a 2-kilos of sugar, or a juice extractor for a chicken" are two of the messages that are read in groups that was created through Facebook, where residents offer their products.

The desperation to get food has led several people to exchange and even sell their goods. This is how an ancient practice of bartering has become popular in the islands.

One of the groups where this practice is promoted is the “trueque official Galapagos” (Official Galapagos Barter), created two months ago by Isabela Bucheli and Milton Sevillano on the island of Santa Cruz. There, those who search for food or wish to exchange other objects publish their ads and within a few minutes receive a response from those interested in the transaction.

Sevillano has a boat hull cleaning company, while Bucheli is a naturalist guide although due to the health emergency she also ventured into a restaurant business with other partners.

Bucheli says that at the beginning of the pandemic, a neighbor placed a wooden box on the street so that food or other objects could be placed for others who needed could take them. This encouraged them to create the barter page.

The pandemic caused families to be affected. "There are homes where mom and dad are without a job and there are three to five children in the house. So zero income since the pandemic started in March," says Bucheli.

The Facebook page managers see bartering as a way of showing support for the community, because it is not about money or what a product costs, but rather to help someone with what they need, being able to get a product that they require.

"(We want to) adapt it to a daily lifestyle, so that people who are accustomed to bartering can do it all year long whenever they want, whenever they have something to barter ... We have tried to make people understand that it is also a matter of community solidarity and not just strict business dealing", they point out.

Among the rules that have been established within this community of more than 4,000 members is that sales are not allowed or money is not talked about, only exchange.  Advertisements cannot be disseminated and the most important thing is that there be seriousness between the two people for the exchange. For each transaction that is made, a photograph of the barter made is uploaded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Photo: Galapagos hawk, by Tui de Roy

 

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

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

Sea lions with a tuna, photo by Tui de Roy

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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