Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope that you, your family, and friends have plenty to be thankful for this holiday season.

I know that I have plenty of things to be thankful for, including my health, family, and friends and the ability to share my love of cruising with all of you. I’m grateful that I’ve been able to explore new worlds with family and friends again this year.

The highlight of the year was our cruise to the Galapagos aboard Celebrity Xpedition where we got to see the magnificent widlife and scenery of the Archipelago. Highlights included Blue-footed Boobies, Flightless Cormorants, Frigate Birds, Galapagos Penguins, Sea Lions, Galapagos Turtles, Land and Marine Iguanas, and Sally Light-foot Crabs.

What a wonderful world that has been created for us to explore. As I started to write this article, I couldn’t help but think about the innovative and brave explorers who ventured into the unknown seas in search of a New World. Without those first ship-builders, captains, and crews, who passed their knowledge down from generation to generation, I suspect I wouldn’t be writing to you about our recent voyages.

Our cruise to Bermuda was another highlight of this year. We sailed from New York to Kings Wharf, Bermuda where we docked for two days. This is a small country which can be explored by public transportation including bus and ferry. Once again, you can't help but think about the early explorers, especially when visiting the Dockyards or Fort Hamilton.

I can only imagine what it would be like sailing the open seas without knowing where you were going or what you would find when you arrived at your destination. I am thankful to those explorers that made it possible for us to journey to far away places.

Another highlight of this year was a pre-inaugural cruise that I took on Celebrity Solstice, their newest and most magnificent ship yet. Those early pilgrims sailed the oceans in ships that were made of wood, not steel like those of today. They had no engines to speed them along, but instead had to rely on the wind to guide them to their unknown destinations.

The Solstice, complete with all the latest navigation technology, makes the job of the Captain quite easy. The early explorers had their sextants and crude charts which might have been enhanced by information from previous voyages.

I’ve been on several Trans-Atlantic cruises over the years. Usually there are about 7 sea days as the ship crosses the Atlantic from the last port of call (depending on the itinerary). Contrast that with the 65 days it took for the Pilgrims to sail from Plymouth, England to the New World. I’ve often sat on my balcony, during one of those sea days, and let my mind wander. Once again, I’d find myself thinking back to those first voyagers and what they must have been thinking as all they saw was water around them. They put their trust in their captain to get them safely to their destination. Today, modern technology, along with the skills of the captain and crew, get passengers to their destinations in very comfortable accommodations.

The final highlight from this year was an Inside Passage Cruise to Alaska. I've not processed our pictures from there yet, but when I do, this will be another cruise I'll share with you. Imagine the explorers sailing into the unknown waters of Alaska with icebergs surrounding their ship. Today, modern technology keeps the vessel safe as it gently pushes the icebergs away as we journey closer to the glacier that lies ahead.

Those of you, who have been sailing in the past, join me in thanking those early voyagers whose knowledge helped form this transportation industry which we perhaps take for granted. I wish you all good health, so that you will be able to continue to travel around the world exploring new sights.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Galapagos - Bartolomé Island (Day 6)

click on image to enlarge
Day 6 (Wednesday, Sept. 3rd) continued with our afternoon activity. This day turned out to be be one I was waiting for all my life. It was the day that I saw penguins in the wild for the first time. I love penguins, but up until now, I'd only seen them in captivity or on the television or movie screen.

Bartolomé Island (Spanish: Isla Bartolomé) is a volcanic islet in the Galápagos Islands just off Isla San Salvador’s Sullivan Bay coast. The tiny islet of Isla Bartolome is among the younger of the Galapagos Islands. With a total land area of just 1.2 sq km, this island offers some of the most beautiful landscapes in the archipelago.

One of the most famous landmarks in the Galapagos can also be found here, Pinnacle Rock, which is among the most frequently photographed vistas of this volcanic island chain.

Shown recently in the Hollywood movie ‘Master & Commander’, this towering rock face is actually an eroded lava formation. Formed when magma was expelled from an underwater volcano; the sea cooled the hot lava, which then exploded, only to come together and form this huge rock made up of many thin layers of basalt. Pinnacle Rock is considered to be the emblem of the Galapagos to many, and is one of the most recognizable sites here.

Tourists can get off on the island opposite Pinnacle Rock and then proceed to climb a 600m trail to Isla Bartolome’s 114m high summit. From here one is treated to some truly stunning views of Sullivan Bay, Isla San Salvador (Santiago), Pinnacle Rock and Islas Daphne.

Though a pretty desolate island with mostly dried shrubbery like candelabra cacti and a few lava lizards running about, what makes this island so special besides Pinnacle Rock is the fact that out here, one can spot the ever playful Galapagos Penguins, which are the second smallest penguin species in the world. They are the only penguin to cross the Northern Hemisphere which means they live more north than any other warm weather penguin.

Found near Pinnacle Rock’s shore or swimming in the waters around the Rock, these penguins are a joy to watch as they can be found nowhere else on earth, especially in such warm climates.
Our afternoon activity was a Zodiac ride along the coast searching for penguins and enjoying the geological formations. We saw several penguins on shore and playing in the water just a short distance away from our Zodiac.

After cruising along the coast we made a wet landing on the beach. We proceeded to cross the Isthmus that separates the two beaches found on Bartolomé. The Blue-Footed Boobies were diving for food on the other side of the beach. It was an amazing site to watch them dive into the water.

Following the hike, we had time for swimming and snorkeling with the penguins, sea lions, and tropical fish. So far, this was the best day of our cruise yet.

Click on the image to the left for more Blog posts about this trip.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Galapagos - Bachas Beach (Santa Cruz)

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Day 6 (Wed. Sept 3rd) dawns and we are at the mid-point of our Galapagos cruise. We've seen sea lions, iguanas, blue-footed boobies, cormorants, and many other species of birds and local wildlife. We now turn our attention to the sea to get a closer look at the aquatic life.

Bachas Beach (Santa Cruz) is a beautiful beach located on the northern coast of Santa Cruz Island. The name "Las Bachas" comes from the poor English pronunciation of "barges". During the 1950's the WWII barges had broken their moorings and ran aground on the beach.

The morning activity that we chose was a wet landing on Bachas Beach. After a short hike, we had time to snorkel. Pacific Green Sea Turtles nest on the back beach area, so it was off limits. There were various types of tropical fish such as Yellow tailed Surgeon Fish, Parrot Fish, and the small Galapagos Damsel Fish.

We spent about 2 hours at the beach before returning the ship for lunch. View our Galapagos - Bachas Beach photo album.

Click on the image to the left for more Blog posts about this trip.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Galapagos - Baroness Outlook (Floreana)

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All of Day 5 (Tuesday, Sept. 2nd) was spent on Floreana Island. Our afternoon activity was a Zodiac ride, wet landing and hike to Baroness Lookout.

In the 1930’s Floreana became a setting for intrigue and mystery. A German dentist and his mistress, a young family (the Wittmer family who still live on the island) and self proclaimed baroness with three men came to settle in the island. Shortly after the baroness and her lovers arrived chaos began. They terrorized the other inhabitants while planning to build a luxury hotel.

Eventually, the baroness, her two lovers and the dentist all turned up missing or dead. There has been much investigation searching for what really happened on Floreana, but there have never been any hard answers. For this reason, Floreana is referred to as the “island of mystery”.

The landing site in the afternoon was supposedly used by the baroness to spot ships that would come to visit these “eccentric” residents of Floreana. From there we had a hike to the lookout. Due to the wet landing, we had our Teva shoes on. We definitely suggest footwear such as that since the last portion of the hike is along a steep incline with stairs built into the path that are quite a distance apart. Make sure to bring your hiking stick with you for this activity.

Once arriving at the lookout, we had a magnificent view of the surrounding area. There is a wooden platform at the top so you can rest a bit before returning to the Zodiacs.

This was one of the more picturesque spots that we visited during our Galapagos journey. Be sure to visit Galapagos - Baroness Lookout and our other photo albums for more pictures.

Click on the image to the left for more Blog posts about this trip.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Galapagos - Cormorant Point (Floreana)

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Floreana Island is the sixth-largest island in the archipelago and one of four that Charles Darwin visited while aboard the HMS Beagle. In 1832 Ecuador annexed the islands and established the first human settlement. It soon turned into a penal colony as many political and other prisoners were sent there. The island was the first capital of Galapagos during the 19th century.

Day 5 began with a wet landing on a beach that has a large amount of Olivine crystals that were part of the volcanic history of the site, known as Punta Cormorant (Cormorant Point). We placed our snorkeling gear on the beach and proceeded inland eventually arriving at a brackish pond where we observed pink flamingos. Sea Turtles nest on this island. We saw their tracks on the beach.

Following our hike, we went snorkeling and swimming. Sea Lions played with us in the water making for an enjoyable morning in the water. After two hours we returned to the ship. Those that wanted to do an advanced snorkel left for Champion Island where they were able to snorkel with Sea Lions, Spotted Eagle Rays, and Green Sea Turtles.

In my next post, we'll continue with the afternoon activities. Before continuing our journey, view our Galapagos - Cormorant Point album.

Click on the image to the left for more Blog posts about this trip.