Blue Footed Booby for Thanksgiving!
I hope you had a great holiday! This year my family made a game changing move and converted a family get together into an exotic trip! While everyone is going 'home' for Thanksgiving, it's your time to go away. For domestic travel we all know that this is the busiest travel days of the year, but for exotic travel .... not so much; it is considered low season (lower rates!) and there are very few travelers. In fact, there was no one else at our (small) hotel, a luxury that was beyond measure. Sure the kids had to miss a day of school and we left some family members behind (sorry Mom and Dad!), but we needed a change! So we thought outside the box and headed to the Equator, in the footsteps of none other than Charles Darwin. In this week's blast, we bring you in the Loupe and hope to make an explorer of you!
These islands are designated as a World Heritage sight by Unesco. They are part of Ecuador but managed separately by a regional authority whose only mission is to preserve the natural order as it evolves. In fact, they limit the amount of annual visitors to only 81,000 in an effort to minimize human/environmental impact. In the history of the archipelago, various animal and plant species were introduced by humans with disastrous effect. Whether they were rats on boats (tortoise killers), cats to eradicate the rats (iguana killers), goats for human consumption (grass and ecology killers), you get the point. Therefore, nothing comes into the Galapagos without proper inspection. Further, they have limited development significantly. They limit hotels. They limit autos. They limit tourists. Really, they limit everything unnatural to preserve what is natural…pretty ironic. Unlike the game reserves in South Africa, the human interaction with the islands remains as voyeur only. If there is a dead Frigate Bird on the trail, there is no one to remove it for the benefit of tourism. If there is a drought one year, there is no one filling up watering holes for the tortoises. If there is an El Niño, no one cares for the Blue Footed Baby Boobies to improve their survival rate. And, if you don't find the special Galapagos penguin (only penguin that can be found near the equator), there is no one on a walkie-talkie telling you where to go to find it. This is meant to mimic natural selection and the process of evolution without interference from homo sapiens/crazy tourists. Much less splashy, but still brilliant. Beautiful hikes, amazing snorkeling, and great fishing. The wild part is each group's visit to each destination is slotted by the government authority, whereby one of the rarest sightings are ... other tourists. You find yourself all alone (besides your travel companions) on the islands to soak in the natural, untouched beauty of these unique islands.
Isla Santa Cruz, Ecuador
The Galapagos Islands have always been on my bucket list, but there was never a luxurious, land based option until now. This 5 star, eco friendly lodge was built only two years ago and has only 14 rooms. It is set in the crater of an extinct volcano with the most incredible view of the mostly uninhabited surrounding area. Pikaia, designed by Ecuadorean architect Humberto Plaza, is set on a private, 77-acre property (with its own tortoise reserve) where the buildings are created from concrete, glass, recycled steel, bamboo and South American teak, giving it an almost Aman-esque feel. The design is very modern, the service is incredible, and it is a perfect jumping off point to see the Galapagos, especially if you are not a boat lover (like my wife). They sell their packages in 3, 4, and 7 days and they include access to their 105’ boat the M/S Albatross. This boat takes you to the many destinations near Isla Santa Cruz. Here you can visit the four major animals which are sea lions, tortoises, iguanas, of course the blue footed booby, but you go back to sleep on land at night. We benefited from the fact that no one else was at our hotel, and therefore we had both the hotel and the boat to ourselves! Thanksgiving may be the best kept secret ... If there are others, then you will share the boat with those guests but it is not a big issue since the boat is plenty large. They make everything easy, and it is a great combination of sea/land for the comfortist and landlubber.
As this newsletter goes to press, National Geographic is christening their latest cruise ship, the Endeavour II. I have not been on this boat and maybe you want to wait until after the maiden voyage (hello Titanic), but our guide thinks they have the best (seafarer) offering in the business. The on board naturalists are some of the best around the islands, and the boat is capable of exploring a wider area then you will explore by staying at the Pikaia Lodge. This is largely a function of their ability to navigate at night while you sleep, whereas the range of the M/S Albatross is a couple of hours from the various ports. Therefore, you will be able to explore some of the more subtle distinctions between the species on the various islands. According to the Website, it accommodates 96 guests in 52 outside cabins, including seven sets of connecting cabins, which are ideal for families and friends. Each cabin is outfitted with a window, private facilities, and climate controls. Public areas also include a library, a fitness center, a spa, and a global gallery. A full-time doctor and video chronicler accompany every voyage; and Internet access, laundry service, and a wellness program are also available. Don't picture the luxury of the Regent Seven Seas, but it's new and practical. Bon Voyage!
Being near the equator where there is very little development (aka unnatural light) provides the perfect opportunity to look up into the sky at the space above. When I look up, I know a few cosmic things of interest: the Sun, the Moon, the Big & Little Dippers, Orion's Belt, maybe a planet or two. This app has opened up the universe (and beyond) to me by pointing out everything, and I mean everything! All you need to do is point it at the night sky and it will show you exactly what is there and what it is. You can search for certain stars, constellations, planets, satellites, comets, and more! No more fumbling around and guessing. The vastness of space will blow your mind --- have fun you budding astronomers.
I was asked by friends and fellow Loupers who are venturing to Galapagos for Winter Beak, what should I wear and what should I bring? The wear part is easy as it is very casual and oriented towards either hiking and/or swimming. Therefore, you need activewear that will be comfortable and breathe. If you want to leave the predictable behind, abandon your Lulu Lemon, and head to/order from Outdoor Voices, a brand I was recently introduced to. Their sweatpants and sweatshirts are both fashionable and comfortable. They also have a great line of activewear that will serve you well at the Equator (or walking down the street), light and sweat wicking. The brand used to sell exclusively via the internet when it began almost 3 years ago. Since then, they have opened stores in Austin, Dallas, and New York. In fact, they just opened up pop up shop on the Upper East Side for the holiday shopping season ... I imagine they will try to find a permanent home! This store (like the Nolita store) has a runner's club, early morning yoga classes, as well as ping pong down stairs ... you must stop by if you are in the neighborhood!
The other item you need for this trip includes every camera in your arsenal! You need a point and shoot with long and short lens so you can keep your distance (blue footed booby and owls) and approach (sea lions). You need a GoPro 5 for on the water and underwater shots (now your friends will believe you when you say you saw swam with sharks and sea lions). And, lastly you need the Ricoh Theta that provides the perspective of 360 degrees of everything around you!
Next year, think about making Thanksgiving an exotic family vacation and consider Pikaia Lodge, National Geographic Endeavour II, Skyguide, and Outdoor Voices Found! Psst ... show me your animal pictures, I really care!