From Latin America

Galapagos Islands Tightens Restrictions.

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on August 9, 2011

Great BBC video explaining the restrictions of visiting one of our best selling destinations, the Galapagos Islands.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/fast_track/9554939.stm

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Galapagos Tours – 5 Mistakes To Avoid

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on March 1, 2011

If you’re thinking about visiting the Galapagos Islands, you’re in for a treat. Made famous by Charles Darwin’s voyage on the Beagle in the 19th century, the Islands lie 972 km west of mainland Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean. Undiscovered by mankind until relatively recently, you’ll see a fantastic range of flora and fauna in ecosystems that exist nowhere else on the planet.

However there are a couple of pitfalls to travelling to the Galapagos Islands and also while you are on your stay. Here are five things you are best avoiding.

1) Missing your plane from Ecuador
The vast majority of tourists arrive at Galapagos by plane. It is only possible to reach the islands by a flight from mainland Ecuador starting in either Quito or Guayaquil. International flights do not go directly to the Islands. If you are flying, make sure your seat doesn’t get given away to someone else by:

  • Checking in more than an hour before take-off
  • Planning your international arrival to Ecuador at least a day before your departure flights to the Galapagos to give yourself time between connections (If you miss the start of your cruise there is no way to catch up!)

2) Taking a tour with an unqualified guide
Conservation on the islands is of critical importance, and the best people to maintain standards are the tour guides. They should help keep you on the marked pathways and assist in communicating and enforcing conservation rules.

Visitors to the Galapagos Islands should be guided at all times by a qualified individual.  There shouldn’t be any more that 16 people in your group, to allow for proper control and guidance of tourists.  They should also provide information about general water safety and monitor all swimming and snorkeling.

3) Touching animals
It’s tempting, but visitors should not interact with animals on the Galapagos Islands. The majority of animals on the Galapagos have no reason to fear humans, and consequently will allow visitors to get very close without bolting.  

However, you should go no closer than within two meters of animals, as in some cases they will follow you, leaving their nests uncovered, exposing eggs or chicks to the sun.  Additionally, no animals should be fed or baited on water or land.

4) Introducing new species to the islands
Introducing any exotic organisms to Galapagos could have a devastating effect on the ecosystems that exist in a state of delicate balance.  Any food, animal and vegetable products as well as seeds, plants or fresh flowers should be declared before leaving the airport at Quito or Guayaquil so that a trained inspector can deem if they are safe or not. Live animals in any form are also not permitted.  

The same principles apply for inter-island trips; each island is its own unique ecosystem, so introductions between islands can be just as destructive to the natural process of things as items from the mainland.

5) Lighting fires
In 1985, Isabel Island suffered severe damage from negligence with smoking and fire lighting. Amazingly, the same thing happened again almost a decade later in 1994.  Even though a beach fire seems like the perfect end to a day on an exotic island adventure, visitors should resist the urge to build a camp fire.

Are there any other things that visitors to the Galapagos Islands should avoid? What are your Galapagos vacation experiences?

Author: Gary Sargent – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

Charles Darwin – 5 Rare Facts About the Galapagos Island's Most Famous Visitor

Posted in Latin American History by escapedtoperu on August 5, 2010

Charles Darwin is legendary as the biologist who published the famous work “Origin of the Species” that continues to stir controversy 150 years after its publication. Many know about his voyage to the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador which formed the basis of his theories, but how many of the facts below do you know?

Darwin wasn’t the only evolutionary theorist on the block
Shaken to his theological core by the implication of his theory of evolution and concerned about the response to his findings, Darwin sat on his research for two decades after reaching his conclusions. In the late 1850s he was shaken out of his self inflicted paralysis with the discovery that another biologist, Alfred Russel Wallace, had come up with a similar theory. Darwin was motivated into action, and finished Origin of the Species in time for a joint presentation of his and Wallace’s work at the Linnean Society in London in July 1858. Darwin was credited with the theory as his version was deemed to be more complete.

Darwin has his own award
Several forms of the Darwin Award exist, all with the tongue-in-cheek intention of honoring people who “…ensure the long-term survival of the human race by removing themselves from the gene pool in a sublimely idiotic fashion," according to Wendy Nothcutt, author of the Darwin Award book series. Wendy permits award applications based on 4 categories; Inability to Reproduce (nominee must be rendered dead or sterile), Excellence (astoundingly stupid judgement), Self-selection (cause of one’s demise), Maturity (capable of sound judgement) and Veracity (ability to be verified as a genuine event). Glorious examples include using a lighter to illuminate a fuel tank to make sure it contains nothing flammable and juggling active hand grenades. It’s not often that tragedy meets comedy and science, but when it happens, it’s beautiful.

Darwin got a mountain for his 25th birthday
Most of us make do with socks from Auntie, but not Charles Darwin. On Feburary 12th, 1834 whilst rounding the bottom of the American continent, Captain Fitzroy was feeling generous. The Captain of the Beagle, the ship which carried Darwin on his research expedition, he named the highest peak in Tierra del Fuego “Mount Darwin”.

Darwin married his cousin
A scientist to the core, Darwin tackled every problem with a logical approach. This included marriage, for which he made a long list of pros and cons. The greatest con potentially seen by many is that the marriage was to his first cousin, Emma Wedgewood. However, this didn’t cloud the conclusions of logic, and Darwin signed off his musings with the statement “Marry – Marry – Marry Q.E.D.”. Thus the father of the concept of importance in genetic variation left the mark of his ironic decision on the pages of history…

Darwin had no sea legs
Darwin was sick to his stomach for the majority of his time at sea, a circumnavigation of the globe that took about 5 years. This could explain why he spent so much time on land and catalogued so thoroughly the flora and fauna of the incredible diversity in the Galapagos Islands and other destinations on his voyage.

An interesting character, Darwin is still the inspiration for many with the publication of his theory in the face of huge public opposition, and many follow in his footsteps to the Galapagos Islands. It seems that even for a theologian settling down for a quiet life as Darwin almost once became, a trip around the world to see wonderful and exotic places can have the same life-changing effect as for visitors to the Galapagos Islands 200 years later.

Author: Gary Sargent – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

The Galapagos Islands – 6 Conservation Precautions For Your Galapagos Vacation Package

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on July 15, 2010

Its time to go to the Galapagos Islands! Your tour operator has got your flights booked from Quito or Guayaquil and the yachts and cruise ships are waiting ready to take you between the Islands for the trip of a lifetime. You’ll be seeing some of the most incredible flora and fauna in a setting that has been hidden beyond the knowledge of humanity for thousands of years.

However, many understand that the Galapagos are under threat from the presence of humans in the last few hundred years. Despite best intentions, people sometimes don’t respect the importance of conservation as much as they could and there are few places on Earth as important as the Galapagos Islands in this respect. The best conservation can come from the eyes and ears of visitors, so here are some useful things to watch out for as you travel around “Nature's Laboratory”.

1) Keep everything shipshape
Yachts are the only way to travel between islands, and marine traffic can have a strong impact on the environment.  Make sure that your boat has no gas or oil leakages and that no chemicals or bilge water is dumped into the sea.  No garbage or refuse should be thrown overboard either.  If you’ve got professional experience with boat operations, your perspective can be very useful; you’ll be in a position to recognise and report anything that seems improper in terms of maintenance or operation.  To put it in context, you’d be surprised how many airplane faults have been spotted by qualified passengers!

2) Guided by good practise
Visitors to the Galapagos Islands should be guided at all times by a qualified individual.  They should help keep you in the marked sites and pathways and assist in communicating and enforcing conservation rules.   There shouldn’t be any more that 16 people in your group, to allow for proper control and guidance of tourists.  They should also provide information about general water safety and monitor all swimming and snorkeling.

3) Taking a piece of the island
Galapagos themed objects made of wood and ceramics are available on the inhabited islands, but any souvenirs made of black coral, marine tortoise shells, sea lions fangs and other such objects go against the principles of conservation.  Don’t be tempted to buy any of these objects, and dissuade others from doing so as well.

4) Fire-starters
In 1985, Isabel Island suffered severe damage from negligence with smoking and fire lighting. Amazingly, the same thing happened again almost a decade later in 1994.  Resisting the urge to light up or enjoy a camp fire will make a big difference.

5) Making friends with the locals
The majority of animals on the Galapagos have no reason to fear humans, and consequently will allow visitors to get very close without bolting.  However, you should go no closer with two meters of animals, as in some cases they will follow you, leaving their nests uncovered and exposing eggs or chicks to the sun.  The trustworthy behaviour of the animals shouldn’t be given reason to change, and visitors should not touch any animals or interfere with their natural behaviour, let alone harass, chase or surround them.  It is obvious advice, but no animals should be fed or baited on water or land.  

6) New things
Darwin highlighted the power of the evolutionary process over time, but things can be wiped out in the blink of an eye if pests and diseases are brought into the mix.  Introducing any exotic organisms to Galapagos could have a devastating effect on the ecosystems that exist in a state of delicate balance.  Any food, animal and vegetable products and plants or fresh flowers should be declared before leaving the airport at Quito or Guayaquil so that a trained inspector can deem if they are safe or not.  Live animals in any form are also not permitted.  The same principles apply for inter-island trips; each island is its own unique ecosystem, so introductions between islands can be just as destructive to the natural process of things as items from the mainland.

With these important guidelines, you can ensure that you are visiting the Islands as an informed conservationist, and assist others in following the same behavior.  Despite best efforts, sometimes over-excitement, negligence or opportunism creates problems; if you see any violation of conservation principles, contact the tour company who you made the booking through. They will be in a position to speak with local operators and apply pressure to make sure that such incidents don't happen again. With visitors keeping an ever watchful eye on the state of the Galapagos Islands, we can be assured of many more years enjoying the variety and splendour of this unique place on Earth.

Author: Gary Sargent – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

5 Unmissable Animals From The Galapagos Islands

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on July 13, 2010

Most of us are aware of the Galapagos Islands, the archipelago of volcanic islands 2 hours by plane from the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific ocean.  Many of us also know that the animals and plants of the Galapagos Islands provided Charles Darwin with the inspiration he needed to create his famous work “Origin of The Species” and refine his Theory of Evolution.  The Islands are famous for their diversity of flora and fauna but if you visit them on a Galapagos vacation or Galapagos cruise package, what are some of the most spectacular and unmissable animals to see?

1) Lonesome George, the Galapagos Giant Tortoise
Reputed to be the last of his kind and belonging to the Abingdoni subspecies, George plods around the Pinta Island in a fruitless search for a mate.  Such is natural selection…

The Galapagos Tortoises are huge, with adult males weighing in at around 600-700 lbs and the females between 300-400 lbs.  As you’d expect, the pace of life for these creatures in fairly slow, but that doesn’t bother them much because the have between 100 and 150 years to achieve their career goals.  This “island gigantism” was deemed to occur because the tortoises had no natural predators and as such could grow in size over generations.  This was to their disadvantage when humans showed up at the islands in the 17th century, and the population was decimated.  Recent conservation efforts are focused on stabilizing the ten remaining subspecies that exist from the initial twelve.

2) The Marine Iguana
The only modern lizard able to forage and live in the sea, Marine Iguanas can dive 30 ft into water.  They’ll never win any beauty contests, Darwin describing them in his journal as “disgusting, clumsy lizards”, but are graceful swimmers thanks to their long flat tail and spiky dorsal fins.

Feasting on seaweed and algae, the Marine Iguana uses its flat snout and sharp teeth to scrape its food off the rocks around the waterline, and some biologically neat glands help filter excess salt out of its blood that it ingests whilst swimming.  It gets rid of extra salt by sneezing it through its nostrils, another reason why Darwin found it to be unattractive.

3) The Galapagos Land Iguana
Darwin really wasn’t a fan of lizards.  The Land Iguanas were written up as “ugly animals”, with a “singularly stupid appearance”.  Once so prolific amongst the islands that the visiting ship’s crews couldn’t pitch a tent without covering a Land Iguana’s nesting hole, the population was all but wiped out by introduced feral animals like cats, dogs, rats and pigs.  Meanwhile, the Island Lizards enjoy a symbiotic relationship of convenience with the island birds, who eat the parasites and ticks that inhabit their bodies and cause them discomfort.  If not consumed by a rogue pig, Land Iguanas can make it to 50 or 60 years of age.

4) Darwin’s Finches
The thirteen endemic (unique) species of finch found on Galapagos known as Darwin’s finches formed a huge part of the Theory of Evolution.  Nothing special to look at, the finches are about 15 cm long and a dull brown colour.  The exciting part of the animals are their beaks, which vary in size and shape.  Beaks are highly adaptive depending on the animals food source, and it was this fact that allowed conclusions that organisms adapt to conditions in which they must survive, thus forming the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection.

5) The Galapagos Penguin
A black and white maverick, the Galapagos Penguin is the only tropical penguin in existence. Around 50 cm in length, these little creatures are on the wrong end of the food chain, mercilessly hunted by crabs, snakes, owls, and hawks.  Life doesn’t get any easier in the water, where they must avoid sharks, fur seals, and sea lions.  Adding the unfortunate influence of humans catching them in fishing nets and destroying their nests in the process of knocking down mangroves, it’s clear that the Galapagos penguin has a pretty hard time of things.

Take a trip to the Galapagos with a reputable travel agent or tour operator and you’re sure to see these unique creatures and more as you navigate the rich diversity of flora and fauna that the archipelago has to offer.  By experiencing first-hand the complex networks of species that inhabit the part of the Earth untouched by human influence for thousands of years, you can hope to get a little closer to understanding who we are and where we came from.

Author: Gary Sargent – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America