Tag Archives: Nature

Day 5 (II) ….and Slap

Our journey towards our next overnight stop continued towards the Krka National Park, about 90 knee-crunching minutes in the rather cramped tour bus that was ours for the day. The National Park has many attractions, but probably the best-known feature is the waterfalls. To get there we had a 50-minute walk along a flat, stony and dusty track in the scorching heat, which was surprisingly taxing. However, the track led to an area where there was shade and seating for lunch. One could also have bought beer, but that thought never crossed our minds. Oh, no. Not at all.

Lunch consumed, it was time to go to see the main act – the waterfalls (“Slap” in Croatian). Željko stressed that although it was offically possible to swim by the falls, in practice this was not a worthwhile activity, as you couldn’t actually get near to the falls themselves and also you had to share the space with several thousand people. There are, however, trails around the falls – wooden boardwalk or paved track – which enable one to experience the whole area. The trails stretch for a couple of kilometres, and it’s best to allow an hour to potter round them, particularly if one of you is a fanatical photographer.

Right at the start, you get a great view of the lower falls. I guess they’re more cascades than falls, but still it’s an impressive sight.

and you can see how popular it is as a bathing area. As you go round, you go higher and higher on the trail and get more views of the cascades

as well as various exhibits, such as this impressive piece of ironwork, which formed part of a hydro-electric generation facility that first opened as long ago as 1895.

As you get to and round the higher trails, the scenery changes from the dramatic cascades to a quieter, more gentle vibe, with boardwalks taking you through areas with pools,

streams full of fish,

gentler babbling brooks and smaller cascades.

We even saw a froggy who, from the sound of him, was a-courting.

Towards its end, the trail takes you to probably the best viewpoint over the major cascades.

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Fortunately, after our Krka visit, we didn’t have to retrace our steps along the hot, dusty trail, but could take a shuttle bus to where we could continue our journey – some 75 more knee-crunching minutes – to Starigrad Paklenica. Our hotel there was the “Biker-Friendly -10%” Hotel Vicko, and we were in an annex called Villa Vicko. Our room was more a small apartment, with balcony and kitchenette; more to the point it was up only one flight of stairs. We were to be here for three nights, so could unpack some stuff and relax a bit – very welcome.

The group had dinner in the hotel restaurant that evening, and reports of the food varied: Jane’s seafood risotto was very humdrum, but my tuna steak was superb. The service was a bit erratic at first, but we eventually adjusted to the style of our young waiter, Josip, and the day ended very pleasantly. We even had the promise of a relatively relaxed start the next day – 0830! – and you’ll have to stay tuned to find out how all that went.

Galapagos 7 (Saturday) – Gad it’s hot! Must be the heat.

7th April 2018

For various reasons involving the untimely departure of one family on board (in order to get back to Blighty for the start of school term!), our first activity of the day, a walk around an islet called South Plaza, didn’t start until 0930. The consequence was that we ended up walking around a small fragment of volcanic rock in the blistering heat, which ended up being a little too much for everyone, but especially me; by the end of our time on the island, I was more interested in finding a small patch of shade than doing any photography. That said, it had some interesting features, the main one being land iguanas, which we hadn’t seen thus far in the Galapagos. The first thing we saw, though, was a plethora of Swallow-Tailed Gulls

including a chick, which was being fed by its mother.

These gulls are unusual in that they feed at night – the red ring round their eyes indicates that they can see infra red light, which aids their hunt for food.

Then we realised that there were quite a lot of (surprisingly well camouflaged) land iguanas around.

These have many different characteristics that mark them out from the marine iguanas which make the Galapagos famous, not least of which is the mouth. The land iguanas were described by our naturalist/guide Natasha as having a “Mona Lisa smile”. It’s a bit of a stretch, but I guess I can see what she means.

There were also some ancient cactus trees, which made for an interesting landscape

and also harboured Cactus Finches

which feed on the flowers when they can find them. In fact, we even saw a finch’s nest among the spiny bits.

and also the bud of a new cactus growth.

Moving around the island through a remarkable patchwork landscape

we got to a point where we might have seen Sheerwaters, or Noddy Terns, but all we got was this Frigate bird

and by this point everyone was so overheated that we were all glad to get back on the panga to go back to the Origin.

A welcome rest from the scorching heat came in the shape of the next activity, which was a snorkelling expedition. Natasha hoped that we might see hammerhead sharks, and many of the group actually did. Also, flying overhead we saw a couple of red-billed tropicbirds, which Jane had wanted to see. No photograph, I’m afraid – my underwater camera is no good for fast-flying birds! No photograph of the hammerheads either – I was not in the lucky group to see these bizarre creatures, though I did get one or two sharp photos, including some of the white-tipped shark and others of some of the colourful and abundant sealife to be seen.

Frankly, I found the snorkelling to be less than entirely satisfactory, as there was a big conflict between my desire to get nice photographs or video footage and my also being able to stay with the group from our panga. It takes time and multiple attempts to get photos that are of acceptable quality, and I found I couldn’t give the photography the attention it deserves without getting separated from the others. Hence, I missed seeing hammerhead sharks, but Jane did see them. I will include photo/video content from one of the other snorkellers when I can get my hands on it.

The final expedition of the day was another excursion into the scorching heat, on to North Seymour Island, though calling it an island somewhat bigs it up. The principal wildlife interest for this expedition was to see Frigate birds. Again, Jane had a specific interest to see the males with their distinctive red chest pouch inflated.

The island’s landscape is pretty desolate, with dry-looking trees poking through a rocky terrain

But Frigate Birds have a colony there

(note the land iguana creeping out at the bottom – they were on this island as well). You could see females and young

(white breast = female, white head = young). But it was the males that Jane specifically wanted to see, as they attract females by inflating a remarkable red pouch on their breast.

And then it was time for the farewell cocktail as the following day would see us having to depart for Quito.

Our week in the Galapagos was an intense experience – early starts in the morning, few opportunities to rest and relax without missing out on parts of the programme, huge amounts of information to absorb and try to remember. But the opportunities it presented – a superb way to see unique wildlife at close quarters, brilliant photographic scenarios and, best of all, a chance to meet and share the experience with a bunch of really nice people – made our week on M/V Origin a truly extraordinary passage in the already remarkable trip we’re having in South America.

Galapagos 6 (Friday) – Shark therapy

6th April 2018

The day was spent parked at a couple of islets just off the island of Santiago (the island, not the Chilean capital city) – Sombrero Chino and Bartolome. The former has its name for a very good reason

As you can see, it’s shaped like a Chinese hat. The first activity of the day was a very early morning walk on it, where we were greeted by some friendly sealions. As you can see, it’s not difficult to get photos.

Our expectations had been set that it was a nice opportunity for some bird photography in the morning light.
The morning light was certainly nice

but in the event, the birds must have seen us coming, as there wasn’t a huge amount to see, beyond ancient cactuses on an adjoining island

some interesting flowers

and a rather grumpy-looking marine iguana.

some crabs

and an American Oyster Catcher

so I wasn’t quite sure it was worth the early start. However, the early start was necessary, as the day had a relentless flow of activities. Next up was a snorkelling expedition, which I approached with some trepidation, given the unsatisfactory attempts I’d had already. But I gave it a go and I was glad I did, as I was somewhat more successful with the underwater camera. I managed a photo of something that is recognisable as a shark!

as well as some fish, like this King Angel fish

and some video footage of the shark, too.

Generally, the whole thing worked well for us both – I was able to gain some confidence in the process of getting into the water, and Jane’s prescription goggles worked a treat and she saw a whole load of interesting things.
There was more snorkelling in the afternoon, which I missed (these blogs don’t write themselves, y’know) and Jane reported that it was not quite as good as the morning’s session, but still good, which is good.

The final activity of the day was a walk up Bartolome, which is a very young island, just some 500,000 years old, formed from recent volcanic activity, which gives it a landscape reminiscent of Mars.

and plants just beginning to establish themselves.

These are a white colour because they are covered in lichen, part of a defence mechanism against the harsh sun. Also note that they are spaced out as each plant establishes and defends its own territory in order to survive in these arid conditions – Bartolome, at around 100 metres, is not high enough to stimulate rainfall or condensation from the incoming, mainly south-easterly winds.

The island gives some pleasing opportunities for landscape photography.

Some animals have arrived – snakes, grasshoppers, lizards – by a variety of routes – on the wind, over a land bridge that once existed, attached to birds. But the star of the show was a juvenile Galapagos Hawk, who was waiting for us at the top, and who obligingly posed for photos (it wasn’t difficult to get close to him)

before he decided he’d had enough and took off.

Seeng the hawk was a remarkable thing, as was receiving a text message from an ex-neighbour whilst at the top of this otherwise isolated and desolate place – an unusual confluence of nature and civilisation. Truly the Galapagos gives unique experiences.

To see the final day’s instalment, click here.