. . . AROUND THE WORLD 2001/02
Africa 1999
Around-the-World 2001/02

The Team

Jeff Willner
1. Start: Recipe for Adventure
2. Zimbabwe: Hyperinflation
3. Namibia: Southern Circuit
4. South Africa: Circuit 2
5. Zambia/Malawi: Sketches
7. Kenya: Bandit Country
8. Ethiopia: Diary
9. Ethiopia: Border Run
10. Sudan: Across the Sahara
11. Egypt: Cape to Cairo
12. Jordan/Syria: Sept. 11th
13. Turkey: Hospitality
14. Bulgaria/Romania/ Hungary
15. Slovakia/Austria/Poland
16. The Baltics & Russia
17. Scandinavia
18. Western Europe
19. Brazil: Clearning Customs
20. Argentina: Revolution
21. Argentina: To Ushuaia
22. Patagonia Disaster
23. Buenos Aires Beautiful
24. Uruguay: Beaches
25. Chile: Expedition Life
26. Bolivia: Atacama
27. Peru: Transit
28. Galapagos: Gorgeous
29. Ecuador: Jungle Run
30. Knifepoint
31. Dubai: Lay over
32. Singapore/Malaysia
33. Thailand: Hospitality
34. Cambodia: Ankor Wat
35. Vietnam: Hanoi & Halong
36. Laos: Back to Basics
37. China: Beijing Tour
38. China: Shanxi
39. China: Western Province
40. China: Tibet
41: Nepal: Mountains
42. India: Driving Struggle
43. Pakistan: Dodging War
44. Iran: Overcharging
45. End: One Last Laugh

Sally DeFina
1. Cape Town: Robben Island
2. Zanzibar: Mike & I
3. Kenya: African Driving School
4. Sudan: Mud Crossing
5. Patagonia: Goodbye Max
6. Malaysia: Mike Update
7. Thailand: Ko Phangan
8. Cambodia: Phnom Penh
9. Vietnam: By Train
10. Laos: Vang Vieng
11. China: Meet Mr. Chen

Jody Finver
1. Start: Surreal Solipse
2. Great Zimbabwe
3. Brokedown in Kenyan Desert
4. Egypt: So Should I Hyphenate
5. Poland: Home is Where the Truck Is

Gulin Akoz
1. Start: Bits and Pieces
2. Zambia: Diaries
3. Egypt: Africa Memories
4. Turkey: For Your Information
5. The Team and The Bean
6. Somebody Else's Child
7. On My Own
8. Long Lost Memories of Childhood
9. The Tree and the Boy
10. Jealous
11. The Aftermath


Panamerican 2003
Various Trips
Planning an Expedition


Kensington Tours can help you plan your own expedition anywhere in the world.




#28 - Galapagos
Jeff Willner - 15 February

(Galapagos, ECUADOR) . I'll admit, I was prepared to be unimpressed by the Galapagos islands. Some birds, some seals, tramp around volcanic, cactus studded islands and back to the boat for sustenance. After safari tours to Masai Mara in Africa, could there be a wildlife tour to compete? Still, it was supposed to be a highlight so I shelled out my thousand dollars for airfare and five day tour. On the battered 727 flying out I peered morosely at the white capped waves on the Pacific far below picking at the rock-hard meatballs in the airline meal. I'd need diamond cutting tools to penetrate the things. The meal went back untouched. I hoped it wasn't a sign of things to come.

After two hot hours of lugging bags onto two busses, a ferry, and a water taxi, it looked bleak. But later at the Charles Darwin research station we were introduced to the Galapagos land turtles. Starting from the hatchlings, babies and teens, they got bigger from pen to pen. And then we met Caesar, a 500 lb monster, munching on some leaves. He was seventy years old, middle aged, since the turtles live 120 or even 150 years. "Wow", I said to Sally as we walked back into Puerto Ayarta, "Ok, that was impressive."

And the highlights continued. It seemed like each day during our walks on different islands the ante was upped, new animals, more exotic sights. The most amazing thing was how fearless the sea lions and birds were. They have no natural predators and gave us an "ok, get on with it" look as we crouched a few feet away to gawk. Five days whipped past far too quickly and too soon we were sitting in the Baltra Island airport lounge waiting to fly back. I bought no t-shirts, turtle carvings, or Galapagos mugs, I am a cynic after all, but inside the memories settled like shiny crystal. I have written about places that are highlights in South America but Galapagos is not in that list. It is a highlight of the world. 

After two hours of sweaty luggage wrestling from the plane to the boat, we were not in the mood for the charity pitch at the Darwin Research Station. There was a glitzy video with several dozen sunsets and lots of gooey violin music. By the time we left for the turtle pens I was prepared for an anticlimax, but my gosh those beasts are huge. Evidently when goats were released on the islands  they were far superior foragers and multiplied rapidly eating the turtles out of house and home. Nowadays turtles only thrive in the wild on the goat-purged islands - thanks to the Darwin Research Station. 
Life on the boat settled into a routine. Up at 7 for breakfast, then pile into the two motor launches at 8 to wade ashore. On the first island trip we landed on a beach littered with snoozing sea lions. At first we kept our distance, afraid that the whole group might stampede into the water if we got too close. But it became clear pretty quickly that they had no fear. Closer and closer we inched. Finally I was snapping close-ups from two feet away. Stunning. 
Our Naturalista guide led us inland to check out the wildlife. Occasional cactus dotted the sandy track, the guide snapped off a cactus bud and tossed to down. Lounging at the base of the cactus, a tan colored iguana leisurely picked up the bud and munched it thoughtfully. Up the path a bit there was another cactus and another iguana. Then a third. Hmm, these slow moving lizards are smarter than they look, they camp out waiting for the tourists to brave the cactus needles protecting the buds.  
The baby sea lions were so cute. They bleated mournfully when their mommas went off to eat, struggling around the beach on their little flippers sniffing other parents. Are you my Mom? Every once in awhile they would struggle up to us on the beach and give us a quick sniff, their big brown eyes watering. In the motor boats on our way from the ship to the shore, young juveniles would swim up and eye us curiously. Galapagos sea lions are like southern cousins - when you walk past they turn and give you that 'how you all doin' grin. 
This is a picture of a crab. 
These marine iguanas are also known as Darwin's "Imps of Darkness" for their black and red coloring. Since many of the animals on the Galapagos are endemic only to the islands the park authorities are anxious to avoid contamination or even worse, the introduction of foreign species. Walking paths on the islands are well marked narrow corridors between white tipped wooden stakes. You are herded carefully through the corridor by the guide. Still, it isn't onerous. Every day we saw a different set of animals up close and personal. 
Over the five days we visited five different islands. Most of our landings were 'wet', jumping out of the motor launch and wading ashore. On the fourth day though we were promised a rare 'dry' landing. Many of the group put on shoes and socks. Unfortunately it was high tide, waves broke in rolling sets and the boatmen had to surf down the crests into the protected break. We climbed gratefully onto the cement pier... just in time to be swamped by a huge wave. Three-course meals on board had coddled us. But Galapagos is only an eye-blink from millennia of isolation. Friendly yes, but still wild.

Snorkeling at Devil's Crown was the highlight of the trip. It is a semi-submerged volcanic cone, only a circular tip projects above the water. We were dropped at the east end and the current pushed gently to the west. Schools of fish circled below, puffers, yellow tail, too many to list. An octopus fluffed along the sea bed. Then the sea lions popped in to share the fun. Twisting and corkscrewing, they shot effortlessly past only feet away. Brown whiskered faces puckered up in amusement. Probably pitying the sunburned guy sucking seawater through his leaky snorkel. As though that wasn't enough of a highlight, on our way back to the ship we passed close to a hundred dolphins. They love swimming underneath the tip of a boat so in no time we had dozens of ecstatic lithe mammals firing into the air in front of us. Right there.

On the top deck of the yacht after dinner, Sally and I were comparing our feeble grasp of astronomy underneath a carpet of stars. The ship swayed as we motored to the next day's destination. We sipped our drinks and traded insults. Man, these are the best days of my life.


Copyright January 1999-2011
All rights reserved - Jeff Willner
Contact: jeffwillner@yahoo.com