A Travellerspoint blog

The Enchanted Isles

We had long wanted to go to the Galápagos Islands after watching many exciting documentaries about them on the TV. There are some weird and wonderful creatures that dwell on these volcanic islands that apparently lack a fear of humans. You can walk right up and sit next to them, which we did often. The Galapagos is a group of 13 main islands of which we visited 7.

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These islands are relatively young. The strange thing is the islands in the west are very young and the islands in the East are much older. This is because the earth's crust is moving across a hostspot of the earth where volcanoes are created. These volcanoes have formed the islands of the Galapagos chain. The islands are very dry and the dominant vegetation are cactus trees (big ones!). On the higher slopes of the hills in the centre of some islands are greener because they get a little rain.

But what is really interesting about these islands are the unusual animals. The tortoise, lizard, small bird, and insect ancestors all arrived by sea a long time ago, and found themselves in a land with less food and fresh water available but also less competition and predators. This meant that they needed to adapt to take advantage of this land and they slowly changed (evolved) from their mainland dwelling cousins. The most obvious examples of this are the Galapagos tortoises who grew to a massive size - they can weigh up to 300kg - and even developed different shaped shells on the different islands, and the iguanas (a lizard) which took to the ocean to enable them to feed on algae under the sea (the only sea-going lizards in the world!). These unusual animals gave clues to the scientist Charles Darwin, when the ship he was on visited the islands, and who eventually came up with the theory of natural selection after observing them! Ask your teacher about natural selection!

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We spent two weeks exploring these islands, five days of which we splurged on a cruise to get to the harder to reach places. The cruise felt very luxurious with being served up three meals a day, relaxing on sun-lounges and being ferried around. The Galapagos attracts a very large number of tourists and the easiest (and most expensive) way to see everything is on one of these cruises.

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Everday we snorkelled with the Galapagos sealions. These guys are incredibly friendly and curious and loved to swim in circles around us, blowing bubbles and even occaisonally planting a kiss on our heads. There were sealions everywhere on the islands even sitting on the seats across the road from our various hotels,and we were warned not to be suprised if we woke up to one or two resting on our yacht.

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Another common sight while snorkelling were big hawksbill and Green seaturtles - one day we counted 14 in a small area, each one as wide as you are tall!

Marine Iguanas were found all over the black volcanic rocks and white sand, basking in the sun to raise their body temperature enough to be able to dive in the cold oceans. They feed on the sea-weed and drink the sea-water, and it is funny to watch them remove the excess salt from their body - by big salty sneezes! We learnt not to sit too close. We even got to snorkel with these guys, but they weren't quite as playful as the sealions.

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The blue-footed boobies attract a mate by dancing to show off their beautiful blue feet.

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Booby Chick

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The waved-albatross meet up with their life-partner every second year on only two of the islands. They perform a beautiful dance which can go for hours to welcome each other, and repeat this every day they are together.

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This is the most northern and only tropical penguin in the world.

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The underwater world is pretty exciting as well. Four ocean currents meet right where the Galapagos sits, and when they hit the islands they push up all the nutrients for the small fish to feed on. Where there's small fish there's big fish hanging around to feed on them. Although we'd seen a lot snorkelling already, we decided to explore it further and spend the day scuba-diving. We dived on a massive rock split perfectly in two. In the gap between the rock the sealions proved even more playful when we could stay down deep with them (they would dive down to us at 30 metres!). Bull rays hid in the sandy bottom at 20 metres, while a school of Hammerhead sharks prowled above! On the side of the rocks the floor dropped away to 500 metres where Octopus and other cool creatures hid in holes in the wall. Schools of Galapagos sharks cruised past us in the channel, while we followed the sea turtles.

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If you want to see more Galapagos pics click here

Next instalment: Deep into the Amazon Jungle!

Posted by sarahnwill 20:41 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Guatemala

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Two hour’s flight took us North to the exotic land of the Mayans, Guatemala.
We had heard wonderful things about the country of Guatemala and really wanted to go there. However we had also heard that it could be a very dangerous country to visit, with many stories of robberies and guns. The police and government here are not doing a good job of keeping the country safe, by not bringing criminals to justice. After weighing up the good stories with the bad, we decided that we didn’t want to miss out on such an interesting land and its rich culture.

Antigua

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We bypassed the country’s infamous capital, Guatemala City, with its gang problems and headed to the nearby and beautiful town of Antigua, with its colonial buildings and narrow cobblestone streets. The city is surrounded by active volcanoes exploding with plumes of volcanic ash. Antigua was once the capital of Guatemala, but as it was destroyed (and rebuilt) on numerous occaisions by the surrounding volcanoes and earthquakes the location of the capital was changed.The first thing noticed about this city (and the country) is that more than half of the people are the original inhabitants of the land, the Mayans. The Mayans wear the most magnificent clothing, which is of hand-woven cotton in every colour of the rainbow. The are famous around the world for being masters of this weaving, each regional group has its own designs so you can tell where a person comes from by the clothes that they wear.

Pacaya Volcano

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This is the most active volcano in Central America, but does not explode like other volcanoes do due to it having cracks and crevases where lava can escape and ooze down the sides like rivers. This prevents pressure from builidng up to cause an erruption. Perhaps because Guatemala doesn’t have as many safety rules as Australia, we were able to take a tour to camp up on the volcano and see the lava up close (maybe a little too close at times). As we climbed the volcano (luckily a little away from our tent-site) the ground became very hot and we realised that fresh lava was glowing below the surface through the cracks in the rocks at our feet! We were climbing over freshly cooled lava which is as sharp as broken glass and we needed two walking sticks so we did not fall and cut ourselves, although Sarah still did and it even cut her through her trousers. Wehad to walk very carefully as it was uneven and brittle and sometimes broke under our feet.

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Flowing lava is strange stuff, it looks like liquid but if you throw a rock onto it it just bounces off. It also makes strange gurgly crackling sounds, and glows bright (and extremely hot) even in the middle of the day. Freshly cooled lava looks like silver grey like a metal.

Antigua and Pacaya Volcano Photos Click Here

Lake Atitlan & Solola Markets

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Although there are many markets to choose from in the country, we decided to visit the small town of Solola. There weren’t many tourists to be seen here and we felt like giants standing a head taller than everybody, believe it or not. Check out the colourful dress of the Mayans as they shopped for their groceries and fabrics.

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We stayed in one of the cute little towns on the pretty Lake Atitlan, which is actually a large volcanic crater filled with water.

Solola Markets and Lake Atitlan Photos Click Here

Semuc Champey & Lanquin Bat Caves

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Semuc Champey is a series of spring water pools, held by a limestone bridge under which runs a large river, surrounded by walls of rainforest. It is hard to describe the beauty of this place, luckily the photos speak for themselves. After a hot and exhausting walk up to a look-out the pools were a perfect place to cool down.

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On part of this river we visited a cave which is a still-used Mayan ceremonial place and is filled with bats. At sunset we sat at the entrance to the cave as thousands of bats flew out of the cave to hunt for the night. Their excellent sixth sense of echolocation (sonar) meant that they could avoid hitting us and flew around us quite easily.

Semuc Champey and Lanquin Cave Photos click here

Tikal

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Tikal is famous around the world, and probably the main reason we came to Guatemala. The ruins of a large Mayan city, dating from 400BC and located in the middle of an immense jungle which extends for as far as the eye can see. The city consists of temples, pyramids, and palaces where royalty and shamans lived. Only 20% of the buildings have been uncovered and restored, and you can still see mounds of vegetation which hide ancient pyramid structures.

Some of the temples can be climbed, which is quite a scary endeavour and they rise up to seventy metres and tower over the forest. The spectaclar views over the jungle to the other temples make the hair-raising climb well worth it. Some temples have been closed to climbing due to people falling to their deaths, off of the steep, uneven limestone stairs.

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The jungle was alive with wildlife, with monkeys howling and many toucans and other birds. We took a night walk to try and find a jaguar, which are apparently still present in these forests, but unfortunately they must be too shy and we were unsuccessful. We have not yet seen a big cat in the wild!

Tikal Photos Here

Posted by sarahnwill 19:34 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

Pre Columbian Gold & Jade

Some photos of some pre-columbian gold and jade at museums in San Jose...

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For more photos click here

Posted by sarahnwill 11:24 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Slothmania!

Sloth rehabilitation centre on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica

Many of these sloths are orphans, and some have come in because they have been so badly injured in the Wild. Sometimes if they make a full recovery they can be released again, but sometimes they have to live their life out in the care of the staff and volunteer tourists at the centre.

The people who run this place once looked after birds. Then one day a little sloth was brought in to their home. They named her Buttercup. Soon, when the people in the nearby areas found sloths which needed help they started bringing them in and the sloth centre was born.

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For the full pictorial click here!

Posted by sarahnwill 08:23 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (2)

The Caribbean Coast

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Bahia Drake was a beautiful place to stop, being woken by the symphony of birds including the scarlet macaws perched high up on a hill in our tent-cabina. These birds hang around in pairs, always grooming and squawking and squabbling together in a cute display. Every afternoon large flocks of big green parrots flew over us creating a cacophony of high pitched parrot-squawks, like giant rainbow lorikeets. Smaller flocks of brown pelicans would surf the air-currents that the waves create below us, they can go for miles this way without flapping.
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From here we could also see the misty highlands in the distance, which rise over 10,000 feet. It is truly a beautiful place. We spent our days swimming at the rainforest-cloaked beaches, where the mantled-howler, white-faced capuchin and spider monkeys can be watched chewing on the buds of the new branches. When Will got too close to the group, he was chased by the capuchin monkey leader (commando-capuchin) and had to detour via the beach to get back to the path.We explored the other side of Corcovado National Park, through the lowland tropical rainforest. Still no jaguars to report!
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Next-stop the Caribbean Coast on the eastern side of Costa Rica. This area is very different from the rest of Costa Rica. The black metal-filled sands create perfect temperatures for turtle-nesting and they have three species that nest here, including the largest of them all – the leatherback turtle. Unfortunately its not the right time of year to see this event, although we may be lucky enough to if we go to the northern parts.

Costa Rica was conquered by the Spaniards in the 16th Century and the majority of the country is very Spanish. The 20 indigenous groups of people that lived here have mostly disappeared after some great battles, but the final blow came from the diseases that the invaders brought, like the common cold and flu, which destroyed whole villages. There are a few of the native people who live in the mountains behind this area. Most people who live here now are decedents of Jamaicans who came to work on train lines and banana farms. They have dreadlocks in their hair and a strong afro-caribbean accent, they speak creole, and reggae music fills the air.

There is also a rich pirate history here. The pirates would wait for steam ships from England in the bays and sail out to intercept them and steal their treasure. There are stories of buried treasure around, however some who have tried to find it have been said to have died and it has the reputation of being haunted. Just off the coast there is the shipwreck of two pirate ships, one Spanish and one English. Will is very interested in one of the deserted tropical islands 100 metres off-shore, which looks perfect for treasure-hunting. When he asked about it he was told that it doesn’t have a name and nobody goes there!

The hermit crabs here live in shells as big as the palm of your hand, but the animal we have really been searching for is the eyelash viper which lives in trees and only in Costa Rica can you find the bright-yellow morph, but it comes in a range of colours greys to pinkish according to the locals here. Approximately two people per year die from bites from this snake, but they are very docile and will sit in one position all day. The only danger is accidentally grabbing one instead of a vine while hiking, or picking some fruit they are resting on. After days of searching we hired a local rasta-guide to seek one out for us – within an hour he had found us three! Along with a mother and baby sloth feeding in a tree, and some more tent-making bats.
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The beaches here are quite stunning, and there are many places you can snorkel a reef right at the shore, or surf some rains. While eating a freshly opened coconut we were visited by basilisk lizards, a red and green singing trogon (bird), green iguana and a multitude of colourful crabs.

We are now sitting in the shade of the coconuts and beach almonds on the beach, waiting for a bus to Puerto Viejo, where hopefully we can organise a tour with the local Bri-Bri people.

Respect Mon!

Click these for photos of:

Bahia Drake

Cahuita

Manzanillo

and our tour with a Bri-Bri guide

Posted by sarahnwill 17:04 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

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