Day 1 December 3, 2010..
We leave our home headed for the Miami Airport. We are picked up by Dennis our affable driver. He is a retired Gendarme, who drives on the side and is a Golf Course starter to supplement his retirement benefits. He always has a story to tell and puts us in a great mood. We travel down interstate 95 to the Miami airport. At the Miami Dade County line, there is a change in the atmosphere, the drivers speed faster, cut in and out of lanes for no apparent reason all rushing to get somewhere/nowhere in that never ending quest to play que es muy macho!!!! We arrive at the American Airlines terminal. I feel like we are truly entering the modern Casablanca. Endless lines of mixed mElanges of people trying to go somewhere with alot of obstacles to overcome, the ticket agent, TSA people all scurrying about all trying to make that last flight to Lisbon.
We get past the ticket counter and now enter the TSA Conga Line. We remove our shoes, socks, stripped down to our dignity by a scanner. After scanning, I am selected to be patted down by Olga, who is a PDS5 TSA employee(Pat Down Specialist 5). I look at her and remark that was pretty snappy the way you put on your govt issue blue latex gloves. She smirks and tells me in her Eastern European accent, that she is really a proctologist but due to Obama care cutbacks she does this for supplemental income. She further states that what she is about to do to me is considered by the TSA as a "Shovel Ready Project". Well to mangle a Chris Rock line, fear not fellow passengers... There is no Sex in the Pat down line..
On the way to the gate we meet Sean Penn , we eyeball each other and nod. He eyeballs me and my wife, smiles and moves on into the Admirals lounge. Its good to be the King. Next stop the airplane gate, we sit around waiting to be allowed our passage, Into the Cattleshute, oh I mean airplane. We take our seats, the plane is full. At the gate we talk to an expat living in Quito. We await the stewards/stewardess to strap us in, toss us peanuts and hose us down. The free movie was "dinner for schmucks", once you tasted the food you felt like one for flying Coach. The meal was interesting, prison food at its finest.
The plane a 757; 3 across 2 aisles someone did not shower, screaming babies, it was the longest 4 hour flight ever. None of the onboard entertainment worked the overheads were flickering... all in all it was great to land in Quito. It took approx. 2 hours to clear customs, get our luggage and have Celebrity transport us to the Hotel. If you thought Miami drivers were bad the ones in Quito are on a suicide mission. Cutting off buses bumper to bumper congestion, it was truly an amazing spectacle. I think Miami drivers get their training in Quito. We missed our dinner reservation to Zazu and ate the hotel. The JW Marriott in Quito is a truly clean and beautiful hotel, attentive staff and the food is average. Ecuador uses US currency so no conversion hassles. Since Quito is at 9000 feet, I drank a lot of Cocoa tea for headaches etc. This weekend is Quito's 474th Birthday, so tonite and for rest of weekend, there are street parties, loud music , drum banging,people dancing in trucks and buses, lively and festive. It's their 4th of July and fireworks, hard to sleep but I enjoy the tumult. Tomorrow we tour the city, go to the equator line. Time for bed.
Sat. Dec 4, 2010 Quito the city tours
A comprehensive and exhausting day. We toured old town Quito, San Francisco Cathedral and about 2 others. A lot of gold on the walls with Baroque and Rococo decorations. The Spanish knew how to plunder and put the indigeneous populations to work. Very interesting but over the top tributes to G-d `and man. Such great wealth in a poor economic climate and city with a lot of run down buildings. My spouse decided to start her own foreign aid program. From now on I will call her the mad scarf woman of Otalvo(a native tribe). She bought approximately 20 scarves from Otalvan women street vendors for her office. I bargained hard, but the price shall remain a secret. We also visited the presidential palace saw a lot of police and military presence, we were concerned because of the police protests a few weeks ago. But our tour guide said all was calm and the people are very friendly. There are a lot of street musicians, jugglers candy sellers, scarve ladies and vendors all trying to sell anything to make a buck. As part of the tour went to a restaurant called Carmine's for lunch. It was upscale Italian and very good. Carmine is an ex New Yorker who found life more fulfilling in Quito. The ravioli and cerviche were home made and the cannoli's and tiramisu were to die for, per my tablemates from California and Michigan. After lunch we went to the Equator monument and ethic/indigeneous culture museum. We took a lot of pictures and got our passports stamped 000. So now, I can state that I straddled the EARTH. The Mad scarve woman struck again and more were purchased. I took away her money...Now she will focus on a gifts for the kids. Dinner is in a half hour at Celebrity picked restaurant, called Theatrum. It is upscale, but I wish they could take us to a local place to eat traditional food. I have been to Cusco and sure could use another Cuy for dinner. I am back. We had dinner at the Theatrum Restaurant in the natl theatre of Quito on Avienda Sucre. Food was okay but when you serve 90 people it's not a gourmet adventure. They had a singer named Stahl sing for us during dinner. He did opera, and of course Sinatra. He was great doing the lounge songs but opera etc not so good. I understand the logistics of all of us in one place. Next go round will seriously consider breaking off and street dining on our own. However, we are meeting nice folks.. Have to get up at 5am tommw to get the plane to Galapagos land.. This was a tiring but excellent day.
Sunday Dec 5, 2010 Baltra Galapagos and North Seymour
We get up at 5am eat breakfast check out of the hotel and off to the airport. We depart on Aerogal airlines to Guyaquil and then to Baltra. Flight was pleasant and uneventful. At Baltra we clear customs, take a bus ride to the docks board our zodiac to the Ship. Cabins are cozy, the crew seems really nice. Our Naturalist was Freddy, who leads us on a rocky walk tour of North Seymour Island. The Zodiac ride to the Island was fun. This is an amazing way to start our trip. We came up close with sea lions, seals, frigate birds and Yes, the Blue Boobie. Black Iguana marine lizards, who bunch together to keep warm, like escaped convicts in a Turkish bath. Regular land iguanas, big and yellow and little lava lizards, quick and spotted, live in the lava rocks. Also saw red rock crabs(Sally Lighfoots), the color of bright red and yellowish spots. Got some great pics. Observed Frigate birds, the males puff out a red pouch to attract female Frigate Birds, takes them 40 minutes to be fully puffed and then they can keep it puffed out for four days. I am waiting for the ****** jokes. Its tough to walk over all the boulders it takes concentration and good balance. Our naturalist, Freddy explains the wildlife species to us and it's truly a wonderous place. We are truly awed. Pictures are a must see. WE then had dinner, food not so memorable, the first night, but we are here for the Boobies. After dinner head out to Deck 7, Capt cut the lights and we can see the stars, bright crisp, luminescent and unobstructed by man. Boat is a little rocky. Got a glass of brandy sitting outside as I am typing this and feel really peaceful. Tomm'w we start day at Kicker rock at 6am wake up call.. Well that's all for now. Buenos Noches.
Monday Dec 6, 2010 Kicker Rock and P. Basquerizo Island San Cristobal
Started out the day with a 7am zodiac ride around Kicker Rock. Saw swimming dolphins, some turtles, bunches of birds and interesting rock formations. Our guide this am was Juan Carlos. Very knowledgeable.. Water is slightly rocky at all times. Get used to it because you will feel the motion of the Ocean. It is truly interesting what nature can evolve into when man stays away. Although in the 18th and 19th century, the turtle fisherman(Europeans almost wiped out the Turtle population b/c Turtle oil was used for oil lamps). FYI Kicker Rock was formed by a Volcanic eruption where the ash mixed with water to create one Tuff rock.
After the rock there was breakfast, had pancake yams with cheese verrrrrrrrrrrrry interesting the crew is making this an interesting time. We met some more folks this time from Las Vegas, South Africa, etc. An interesting and eclectic group. Breakfast is over, so know we head into the town of Puerto Baquerizo via zodiac. We went to the History museum and the elusive search for dark Ecuadoran chocolate. My wife bagged 2 bars.. The port has the Galapagos history museum. I learned the natives are called Galapaganos and in the early 18th century convicts were sent here to serve as slave labor, most died, a lot of crops failed and the soil is really not condusive to agriculture. We walked some of the streets and saw the obligatory t shirt shops etc... just not motivated to buy anything yet. Here we go, this pm we tried on wet suits for tommw swimming with fishes sea lions and marine iguanas. I managed to slip into a wetsuit, so the whale will swim with the fishes. Hope they show me some respect as a landshark..My wife is roaming the ship, and has made a lot of new friends. She met people from Jburg South Africa that are friends and know our other friends in Floridan.
We have another nature walk this afternoon on San Cristobal. Lauren is taking the 2 mile walk over rocks. I am taking a 1 mile plus zodiac tour of the island because I want to see the red crabs and sealions and seals. This am I watched a pod? Of dolphins swimming in front of us with turtles passing underneath the Zodiac. Quite a sight for the eyes, pity the shutter speed on the Olympus 6020 does not match up. A disappointing camera. Off to the afternoon adventure. videos of mamma and baby sea lions running around. Great pictures of Blue footed boobies with newly born boobies. In addition, saw Darwin finches and red headed lava lizards.. David our tour guide was very knowledgeable. A lady slipped on the rocks, but no injury. The walking is hard over very slippery and loose boulders. Also saw white Nasca boobies.. They have longer beaks and of course are white with a few dark feathers. Lastly a lot of pictures of very bright red crabs on the rocky beaches .. also have videos of sea lions braying and screeching and some great shoreline pictures. The wildlife is fearless and you can get very close but beware because the Marine iguanas spit at you like camels. All in all a great day. Tomorrow is snorkeling in 68 degree water. Had dinner and table consensus was that the food is good even with limited selection which is understandable due to small size of ship. However, service is off and very uneven either they have new wait staff or they are understaffed. Food is delivered cold and sometimes raw . The coffee is not so good. However I am not here for the coffee. I am here for the Birds, bees sea lions etc.
Dec 7, 2010 Floreana Island Suarez island aka Espanola and Baroness Point
This morning we did Floreana island. This place is now uninhabited but at one time in the 1800'shoused a german countess and her 3 lovers. Jealously and murder then ensued and now its just the birds, crabs and sea lions and penguins. We toured the island and I got some great crab shots and bird footprints in the sand. The water is brackish and thus great for crabs and shrimp which attracts Galapagos flamingo's. They eat the shrimp. Also this island has Darwin finches with beaks that crack coffee like berries for food. On one of the beaches we saw stingrays, turtle nests, turtles. Lauren snorkeled in 65 degree weather and swam with sea lions and fishes. I swam in the not so hot tub. I will snorkel tomorrow. Thus far, this trip has really lived up to expectations and given the motion of the ocean, this size ship is perfect for me. Best part of this am was a picture I got of a sally lightfoot land crab in full color scampering across the black lava rock and a sea lion sunning itself on our Zodiac without a care in the world
Suarez Island , a zodiac ride and a walk up to Baroness point lookout. At one time this island was inhabited by a mad german dentist, Dr. Ritter. He was a real piece of work. He was a vegetarian yet was murdered by eating a poisoned chicken prepared by his lover/Mrs. Strauss who later died in a nuthouse in Germany, go figure. The island is temperate with green starting to come up. But it looks very brown/brackish like it was devastated by a forest fire. I schlepped up to the lookout point and got a few picture of Darwin finches doing their thing on a tree branch. In the surrounding bay, I got pictures of sea turtles, stingrays(both courtesy of my wife). Other people got pictures of Sharks and there were a few penguin sightings. Our naturalist once again was Freddy who explained the local wildlife and vegetation to us. The leaves on the trees here turn upward to try to collect the limited amount of rainwater. Also saw white nasca boobies and blue footed boobies dive straight down into the water to spear a fish with his beak and rise right into the air to eat his catch. These birds are fast. Tonite the naturalists entertain us with Native ie Galapagos music and dances, Cumbia anyone? Our naturalist, is a great act... Freddy and the Marine Lizards, he has taught them to spit on demand.(Joke).. Seriously, they are very entertaining. In addition, tonite is star gazing and shark watching...Well time to go but I continue to be impressed by everything except the dining room service. It is a work in progress but I didn't go on this ship for the food or service so nothing really to bitch about, and the Maitre D and Hotel Director are bending over backwards to please everyone, it appearsd to be an issue of short staff in the dining room. The Capt turned on the stern lights. We got to see Pelicans and flying fish, Pelicans eating flying fish and 3 to 4 white tip sharks swimming around the pelicans. They must have had a good meal recently because they left the pelicans alone. As the sharks swam by, they flopped their dorsal fins in salutation to me, their brother from another mother.
Wed Dec 8, 2010 Las Bachas Santa Cruz
Woke up before sunrise to catch the sunrise unfortunately it was a cloudy morning maybe tommw. However, I was rewarded got quite a few pics of Pelicans nesting on the Zodiacs, sharks swimming by(camera not fast enough to capture), birds in flight and the sea lions playing with each other. Then went to brkfast. After breakfast took a zodiac to Las Baches beach for a long walk in flour sand. Got addtl pics of Darwin finches , frigates and albatrosses in flight. Then in a marshy area we came across a flock of Flamingos feeding on shrimp. They were a sight to behold. Also got some good color shots of baby black marine iguanas on lava rocks and sally lightfoot crabs on lava rocks. Freddy our naturalist, explained the evolution of the birds by stating once they crossed the equator into the Southern hemisphere they were trapped because of shifting wind and sea currents so they evolved hence the development of their beaks to survive. Waded into the shallow water to observe baby clown fish, and a zebra fish.. It was white with orange eyes and black stripes. This afternoon I have a massage with LULY and then a long walk and snorkel on Bartolome.. Here we were guaranteed to swim with the Penguins.. We shall see..................
NOT FEELING WELL WENT FOR A MASSAGE. This was the best massage I have ever had in my life by Luly an Ecuadorean who studied massage in an Israeli Cardiological institute. I am soooooooooooooooooooo relaxed that I have to crash for awhile. My spouse is getting the penguin shots, I am crashing. This lady truly has magic fingers. If I had one wish it is for Luly to come home with me. This is a trip highlight. If you ever do this cruise and LULY is the massage CURE therapist do it you will be glad you listened. . The Olympic 6020 POS camera sizzled out on me today, so I am glad I bought the old cannon as a substitute/backup.
Dec 8 2010 Bartolome San Salvador
As a result of the best massage I ever had, I fell asleep and spouse went snorkeling and on the 768 step walk up an old Volcano. While snorkeling and saw sharks, multi colored fishes and penguins. we crossed the Equator into the Northern hemisphere. The water is now rockier and the ship be swaying. We get certificates for crossing the equator. This year alone we have crossed the equator and artic circle(Azamara Journey).
When we visited the Equator monument in Quito, I straddled the line between two hemishperes I had achieved the fireside theatre line, and satisfied the immortal line" How can you be in 2 places at once and not anywhere at all".
Well tonite I crossed that line and the seas went from calm to agitated , just like life, the ambient environment can change in a flash. Had a hokey but fun ceremony put on by the crew when we crossed. Dinner food is okay and the staff is ever helpful.but the service leaves a lot to be desired . Well that is all for tonite start at 7am tomorrow for a day that hopefully will feature GIANT Turtles, more penguins assorted fauna and flora
Thurs Dec 9 2010 Urvina bay Isabela Island
This am we hit the beaches of Isabella Island. It was formed by a Volcanic eruption in 1954 when it emerged from the sea. It is populated by Large tortoises, big land brown iguanas, the Galapagos hawk, the ever present Darwin finches and hermit crabs. We walked around after making a wet landing in very cold water. On our schelp led by naturalist Veronica was eventful. Got to see a lot of iguana big yellow ones including 2 who were fighting over territory. In addition, got a great pic of a Galapagos hawk in a high tree. Got some beautiful face shots of lizards, tortoises and a lava lizard. Also, some great closeups of a hermit crab emerging from a spiral shell. When we got back to the room we got a signed certificate stating we crossed the equator. Nice souvenir. Now its off to watch for dolphin whales and sharks oh my!!!!
This afternoon we were surprised by an Officers BBQ. The head chef is from Cuba. So all the grilling sauces were unique. On the menu were grilled Chicken in a white wine base sauce. It was out of this world. I asked for the recipe. Also served were fresh beef empanadas made sweet with raisins and other things. They also bbq'ed fresh shrimp the size of your fist, lobster tails and an assortment of other meats and fishes. It was truly a spectacle. During the meal an Orca broke the surface and did a side flop back into the water. He also did a whale tail salute. There were running sea lions and dolphins also. Sadly, my camera was to slow to capture the action, so I just enjoyed watching the action. The Music director ie one guy with an electric piano was and is great, just the right mix of Spanish themed music to accompany the lunch and home made Sangria. I think one of the tunes that he was playing keeps rattling in my head, hear the music as we gently sway come dance with me. Do not know what movie its from but it keeps going round and round. Time for a bridge tour. Ole. Jacob is the music director and is doing a great
Dec 9 Punta Espinoza Fernandina
This was a lava formation with coral beaches. It had sea lions playing, marine lizards a plenty, lava lizards a walking and an American Oyster bird, with a long scarlet red beak that he uses to get into oyster shells. We came across 2, a male/female combo guarding a nest in lava with a few eggs. There were also plentiful cactus plants growing in lava and the bones of a whale /s ea lion bleaching on the lava rocks in the sun. Our guides name was David and he knows his stuff. Espinosa point is a breeding ground for black marine lizards. There were hundreds if not thousands of them of all shapes and sizes al over the lava rocks. Got some great videos of them swimming towards shore. Likewise, I got videos of sea lions frolicking in these little tidal basins. They are so cute I wanted to take one home as a coat. WE also saw more marine iguanas sallylightfoot crabs and bleached bones of a sea turtle. FYI the lava flows are called Aa and Pahoe lava flows. We also found out the islands move 5cm per year towards the mainland.. time to shower for dinner. Dinner was interesting. I had ecuadorean matzoh ball soup chicken soup with little dough balls and carrots and noodles. Followed by Octopus in a marinara sauce. The crew then put on a talent show of native folkloric singing and they also had a trained iguana that played Ukelele and sang somewhere over the rainbow(Okay too many Rum runners as the liquor is free onboard). A passenger from Hawaii then did a native dance and the night was over. The seas are calm but the boat is swaying to the ocean breezes.
Dec 10, 2010 Puerto Egas San Salvador aka St. James Bay Santiago.
Here we did an 1.5 hour zodiac ride, we saw a lot of fur seals, sea lions, marine iguanas swimming, lava herons oyster cracker birds lava flows and green lycans. Lauren took some really great picts of the various species.went snorkeling, saw a school of fish and then a 900 foot sea lion flashed by. Actually a baby sea lion that was swimming around me and wanted a close view of a kosher orca. After the sea lion, a marine iguana swam right by my face. It freaked me out. They look fearsome in the water he showed his teeth and I was frightned. Got out of the water and took more pics of baby sealions/fur seals etc. Lauren swam with turtles and saw a shark.. Well time to go to lunch. Tommw is the last day.. what a bummer.
Dec 10 Dragon Hill Santa Cruz
This afternoon was a blast. Had an Ecuadoran Mexican buffet, all types of beans served and literally jet skied to the island. This place is interesting it is a combo of green, red and brown. Most of the terrain is sandy with large lava rocks in red and brown. It also has a lot of coves that harbor all types of fish massive amounts of frigates, herons, boobies and pelicans fishing the birds. Its an awesome sight seeing a boobie dive straight down beak first into the water to spear a fish. This island also had flamingos and I have some great pics. They are majestic, their necks craned digging in the marshy bottom for food. Also saw some big fat iguanas all over, yellow in color. Our naturalist, David named the iguanas after the other naturalists.. These naturalists are impressive and take the time to explain the local geology, fauna, flora and animals to us. This has been one heck of a cruise. Tomorrow we see giant land turtles at the Charles Darwin research station. In addition, this island has a lot of wild burros. We didn't see any but they left their markers behind. The sunset a few minutes ago and the sky was blazing. Tonite the Capt will lead a star gazing show and tell on deck 6 with lazer pointers. We also cross back into the Southern equator tonite as we make our way back to Baltra Island. We did karaoke tonite it was hilarious. Spouse and our new found friends did girls just want to have fun.. and then promptly fell asleep. I butchered a Temptations song but I sold it on the dancing... Then I did NY Ny and I believe the ghost of Sinatra slapped me for poor singing. Had a great time and a lot of fun.
Sat Dec 11, 2010 Puerto Ayora Santa Cruz
This island has the Charles Darwin research center. We zodiac into Pt. Aroya, it is on the Island of Santa Cruz and as stated kown for the Darwin research center. This place protects the natives in the Islands ie Turtles and Iguanas. Its most famous inhabitant is a Turtle named lonesome George. He is 180 years old and the last of his kind. They have put him into a protected area with 2 females but nothing happened. Then they tried manual manipulation to harvest some sperm. Imagine putting on your resume "turtle Jerker". However this did not work either. So George sits alone. They are going to ship him to a condo in Hallandale, where he will be surrounded by other people who's plumbing does not work.
In addition, we saw dome shaped land turtles/tortoises. The dome is for their shell shape and saddleback turtles. Their shells resemble a saddle and allow them to crane their necks really high to get food. After 2 years the turtle's shell hardens as a defense against predators. We also saw land iguanas, baby turtles, eggs of turtles and baby 2-10 year old turtles. This afternoon we are going to a Turtle farm to pick out our personal ashtray. Well after seeing the turtles and lizards at the Darwin Center we went shopping for coffee and chocolates. Well this afternoon we went to a turtle farm to see the dome turtles in the wild. So we walked thru a national forest and turtle farm, passing thru the town of Santa Cruz. I am amazed at the poverty and semi slum and tidy of the non tourist part of the city. The walk is slippery and you had to look down because turtles are prolific. We got to see them walking, standing and generally doing turtle stuff. Its nice to meet a species I can outrun in case of emergency. I also learned that it takes the turtle approx. 2 years to walk from the lowlands to the Highlands so they can breed.. today our guide was Juan Carlos once again saw iguanas but its getting old. Best part seeing turtles stretching and walking around. Saw some flora and moss trees that were very eerie New Orleans in fashion. Dinner was good, the steak diane outstanding. I ended the cruise by being LULYIED one last time. She fixed my low back and feet. A great way to end the day. After dinner, packed and went to view the stars and see the sharks and pelicans swim by the boat.. once again I am truly fortunate to have the opportunity to travel and spend a week in this magnificent part of the world and meeting new friends from NJ, NV, Mich California hope to cross paths with them all again in the future. THE NIGHT ENDED WITH SHARKS, PELICANS AND LITTLE FISH CIRCLING THE BOAT. ALSO DID SOME STAR GAZING
Sunday Dec 12 2010 Baltra to Quito
`We took our last Panga zodiac ride for a dry landing from the ship to the airport. Baltra airport is like Casablanca heavy security, waiting in the heat for or last minute pictures. and yes 23 tourist shops for last chance shopping.
This is the complaint coming up. Ha what a lie plane was late with no reason why. DEAR CELEBRITY THERE IS NO EXCUSE TO KEEP US AT AN AIRPORT FOR 6 HOURS(Baltra) , THEN WE GET INTO quito LATE AND THE STORES ARE CLOSED so no crafts shopping AND they take us to an ART/CRAFTS GALLERY WITH PRICES REALLY really high that stayed open just for us. The farewell dinner at the hotel was a waste of time ther than for convenience. Basically , they served Mex buffet and divided the tables into 2 rooms, with 2 guitar players. So everyone ate and ran. This was a poor way to end a great cruise, sorry to say. The airport drop offs start early so Fly safe everyone and a happy New Year to all.