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)

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.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Galapagos - Bachas Beach (Santa Cruz)

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 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.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Galapagos - Baroness Outlook (Floreana)

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.

Diary of Celebrity Xpedition - Click for Full StoryOnce 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.

Diary of Celebrity Xpeditions Galapagos

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Galapagos - Cormorant Point (Floreana)

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 begain 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.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Galapagos - Española

Our afternoon activity was scheduled to be a dry landing at Punta Suárez, or Suárez Point, which is located on Española, the oldest Galapagos island. It has a high concentration of wildlife.

As our Zodiac approached our dry landing site, the waves started to roll in, preventing us from landing. One Zodiac had successfully made a landing before the waves started crashing in. The Naturalists always take safety into consideration and decided to wait for the waves to subside before attempting the landing.

We made several attempts to land at the original point, but then changed to an alternate rocky spot which was away from the waves. Several people got off the Zodiac at this alternate location. There were a few people, myself included, that were leary about exiting on the volcanic rocks and stayed onboard the Zodiac. We made a final attempt at the original spot and then returned to the alternate location to let anyone that still wanted to do the dry landing to exit the Zodiac. My husband got off, but I stayed on the Zodiac and returned to the ship.

Expect to observe sea lions, Galapagos hawks, Blue-footed and Masked Boobies, and Red Marine Iguanas, strange creatures found only on this island. In additon to the above, my husband saw Mocking Birds and a snake. As usual, he was able to get up close to the wildlife for plenty of photo opportunities.

Because we had wasted so much time trying to land, the hike was shortened, but the overall experience was still satisfying. We are glad that the Naturalists are safety and conservation minded. Check out our Galapagos - Española photo album for more pictures of this activity.

Galapagos - Day 4 Snorkeling Orientation

Monday (Day 4) morning was action packed starting with the 7 AM Circumnavigation of Kicker Rock, followed by breakfast, and then immediately followed by a Dry Landing at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno at 9 AM.

Monday afternoon began with lunch in Darwin Restaruant upon return from our morning excursion. Following lunch, it was time to pickup snorkeling gear which would be used for the remainder of the cruise. As you may have noticed, excursions thus far have consisted of dry landings and hikes or Zodiac rides around islands. Tuesday would be the first opportunity of several to snorkel.

Celebrity Xpedition staff was on Deck 6 starting at 1:30 PM to assist the passengers in selecting their snorkeling gear. Each passenger selected their snorkeling equipment which included snorkeling mask, snorkel, fins, wet suit, mesh bag, and optionally a life vest. The naturalists were on hand to make sure the equipment fit properly.

Even though we have our own snorkeling gear that we use on cruises, we opted to use the equipment provided by Celebrity Xpedition. Doing so kept our weight down for our baggage. The equipment was fine although by the end of the week, I did notice that my snorkel was showing signs of wear. You'll want to check your equipment carefully to be sure it is in working order. I'm assuming that they periodically replace defective equipment.

After selecting our gear, we checked it out with one of the naturalists. You are responsible for the equipment from that point on. Everything goes into the mesh bag which comes in quite handy when disembarking the Zodiacs.

Most snorkeling outings include a wet landing and hike around the island before swimming and snorkeling. Once on shore, the bags are lined up and the hiking activity takes place. Following the hikes you get into your snorkeling gear and head for the water. The bags have plenty of room for storing cameras and other personal items that you don't want while snorkeling.

Following a snorkeling activity, all equipment goes back into the mesh bag. Every attempt is made to keep sand off of the Xpedition, so the gear never goes beyond the aft deck. Once back onboard the ship, you remove your personal items from the mesh bag, take out the towels and wet suit and leave in the snorkel mask, fins, snorkel, and life vest. You then dunk the wet suits in sanitized water and return to a naturalist who hangs them up to dry. The mesh bags are also dunked and hung up. Each bag has the cabin number on them, so you simply pick up your bag the next snorkeling activity.

The entire snorkeling operation is very organized. By the way, there is an orientation on Monday afternoon but it mainly is about how the snorkeling gear will be handled. The expectation is that you already know how to snorkel. So, if you've never snorkeled before, you might want to get some instruction prior to your cruise.

We'll discuss snorkeling activities in detail in future posts. Snorkeling is an integral part of the Xpedition, so I suggest that you plan on attending the orientation and picking up your gear.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Galapagos - Puerto Baquerizo Moreno

After the visit to Kicker Rock, we set sail for the island of San Cristobal, arriving at approximately 9:00 AM. San Cristobal is the fifth largest and the easternmost island in the Galapagos Archipelago and one of the four islands that Charles Darwin visited aboard the HMS Beagle.

The morning activity for everyone consisted of a Dry Landing at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno to visit the Interpretation Center(Human History Museum) and walk through the town.

The town is stretched out along a small harbor. On one side of the harbor is a military base and on the other side is the dock where we disembarked from the Zodiacs. We boarded a bus for a short ride to the Interpretation Center which is financed by the government of Spain. It offers a journey through the history of the isalnds form the context of man, nature, and conservation. We learned about the characteristics of the natural areas and about the natural processes that have made Galapagos such a unique place in the world.

Upon returning from the museum, we walked along the waterfront part down Charles Darwin Avenue. It is a cobbled street with benches and nice plantings along with a few shops. We spent about 2 hours in the town before returning to the Xpedition by Zodiac.  View our Galapagos - San Cristobal photos.