Today is Thursday, July 24, 2014

Warming up on the equator in Ecuador

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By GEORGE ROBERTSON, M.D.

A midwinter trip south seems to have defrosted my circulation. We flew to Quito, Ecuador and then to Baltra airport on the Galapagos Islands. Sea lions greeted us at the port where the Zodiac raft boats transported us to the Explorer II, a ship with a 200-passenger capacity that would island-hop the next week.

After a delicious lunch served buffet style on the ship we took the small raft boats to Santa Cruz Island to view land iguanas, seabirds and the always present sea lions. We walked carefully staying on marked trails as the naturalist guides, natives of the Islands, pointed out many features of the plants and animals. Most amazing was the almost complete disregard the animals had for us enabling us to approach them very closely. We could have touched them but were strictly warned not to do so. Even Tommy and Paula Fullington, our neighbors from home who accompanied us on the trip, seemed to enjoy identifying the birds and learning about the volcanic origins of the islands.

Every night there was a program about upcoming activities and a naturalist talk about the area. The five-course meals were exotic and delicious as well as beautifully presented. We had ostrich, sea bass, lobsters and calamari as entrees along with more familiar meats like steak, chicken and pork.

Every day there was opportunity for beach time and snorkeling. I saw more fish off one of the beaches there than anywhere else I have ever traveled. The fish were also not easily frightened, and I touched a 3-oiund Hawkfish, but don’t tell the naturalist guide. Among our group, at least 15 sharks were counted during the week. One trip was especially interesting since the sea lions seemed to swim with us and interacted by nipping Linda’s flippers and bringing me a starfish. Several of the group saw sea turtles, stingrays and even eagle rays. The colors of the beaches ranged from pure white to green, black and even red which were all produced by the surrounding rock formations.

Night star viewing from the upper deck of the ship was unparalleled by anything in the United States for dark skies and southern star sightings. A green laser light pointer left no doubt about which star or constellation the guide was observing.

En route back home, we allotted one day for visiting the old town in Quito and then motoring to Otavalo market for souvenirs, clothing and leather items.

It was good to get back into the United States even if we were greeted by another snowfall which also canceled our flight into Nashville delaying our flight until the afternoon.

I highly recommend the trip for teenagers and older age groups. The young ones would not appreciate the Island walks and having to stay on the trails. It was a real challenge not to touch the animals even for me. Seniors walking with disabilities might want to stay on board the ship for some of the excursions since the trails were rough and challenging on occasion.

Editor’s Note: George Robertson is a physician with Family Medical Associates, PC, in Lebanon. 

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