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It's all about the view

Ecuador day eleven continued


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Bartolomé

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Bartolomé is the most visited and most photographed island in the Galapagos. It was one of the islands I had most wanted to include in our itinerary, as it is generally recognised as having the best views in the archipelago. This view from the top of its peak is the must-have shot.

This was the third island we visited on our Galápagos cruise on the Angelito. Despite being keen to include it on our itinerary, it proved not to be one of my very favourite islands, as a combination of a relative lack of wildlife with which to interact, and relatively dull weather which failed to bring out the perspectives of this striking landscape, meant that Bartolomé didn’t make my “top five” list after all. But that is not to say it isn’t well worth visiting – there are no bad destinations in the Galápagos!

Landing on Bartolomé

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View from the landing place

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Stepping ashore

The landing here is a dry one, and as you can see in the photo, we had someone to meet us as we set foot on the island! This is Geoff trying not to step on any stray flippers ;-) The stone steps are very even and easy to walk on – I think they must be fairly new.

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Sea lion bones

If you look at what’s going on in the panga you can see our usual dry landing routine – the boat would pull in close to the landing spot, we would take off our life jackets and pass them to the back of the boat, and a crew member or Fabian would be on hand at the bow to help us out – one at a time, from alternate sides of the boat for balance, and using the recommended secure grip which is easy to do but hard to describe! This is the second panga arriving (I was on the first) and as soon as all of us were on shore we started the climb to the summit.

But as we did so there was something interesting to distract us beside the path. Another guide had arranged the bones of a long-dead Galápagos sea lion in a rough approximation of their arrangement in life. The bleached white bones looked rather striking on the dark ground, and it also gave us an opportunity to see the shape of the skull, the broad strong shoulder blades, and some of the bones of the flippers.

Once we’d had a good look and Fabian had explained some details of the skeleton, we set off.

The trail to the summit

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Our group on the trail

Bartolomé consists of an extinct volcano and a variety of red, orange, green, and glistening black volcanic formations. It is the slope of this volcano that you climb to reach the viewpoint. The trail across the desolate landscape (rated as moderate) is on a boardwalk, which protects the fragile lava. Fabian mentioned that there is talk of introducing boardwalks on other islands for the same reason – maybe eventually all of them. I can see that this would certainly help with the conservation of these special landscapes, and would have other benefits too, making it harder for contrary visitors to wander off the permitted path, and also making the going underfoot a little easier for the less able walkers. But I can’t help feeling that a proliferation of raised wooden paths would detract considerably from the appearance of the islands and the experience of exploring them.

Anyway, back to Bartolomé. The boardwalk here alternates between some fairly even steps, some more shallow ones, and a few stretches without any steps at all, where you get a chance to catch your breath and admire the view. There are also a couple of points where you can detour to a viewpoint to the side of the path. There are 375 steps altogether and as I had been having a few problems with my knee I found it a little hard going, although not too bad if I took my time. The main challenge was trying to use my hiking pole to take the weight off my knee, as it kept wedging in the slats of the boardwalk! I could avoid this if I watched where I was placing it, but that meant missing the views and the striking scenery.

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Looking back down the trail

The landscape around you as you climb is rather desolate, especially on a dull day such as when we visited. The black lava, crumbled on the lower slopes and piled into bizarre formations such as spatter and tuff cones and lava tubes higher up, is enlivened with plants of the few species that thrive in this environment. The most striking and prominent is the lava cactus, which is often the first plant to colonise landscapes scarred by volcanic eruptions. You will also see the pale leaves of the tiguilia dotted over the dark volcanic sand. Its leaves are covered with small grey hairs, which help prevent moisture evaporation and reflect sunlight.

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Lava cactus and tigulia

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Typical rock and lava formations

There are very few animals here. We did see some lava lizards enjoying the warmth of the rocks, or even of the boards, and of course there were birds overhead, but not the proliferation of wildlife we had become accustomed to already on the other islands. The main point of this visit is not the walk and the wildlife, it’s the destination at the end of the trail.

The classic Galápagos view

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Bartolomé is 168 metres high, but the trail stops a little below this, at 115 metres. – although I am not sure if this is the height at the point where the boardwalk steps run out, or at the top of the stony slope that you can walk up to get a little higher.

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We made it!

Whatever the exact height, from this point you can see Pinnacle Rock, Bartolomé’s “trademark”, immediately below you, and beyond it, nearby Santiago and the black lava flows at Sullivan Bay, beyond that Daphne Major and Minor, and in the channel between here and there, some other smaller islets and rocky outcrops. Further away Santa Cruz, Baltra, North Seymour and Rabida are all visible. The contrast of white sand beach, green scrub-land behind it, volcanic island and blue sea is dramatic and memorable. It looked great even on a dull day, and photos I have seen show that on a bright one it is spectacular. It’s not difficult to see why this is the most photographed spot in the Galápagos!

We spent some time here taking photos and relaxing after the climb. Fabian offered to do “couple photos” for each of us and also did some trick ones for some people, creating the illusion that they were leaning on Pinnacle Rock – very clever, but I prefer the straight-forward version. This is such a magnificent view it doesn’t need any gimmicks!

After a while though it was time to descend and return to the Angelito. There was more to do here for the second half of the afternoon, and a choice of activities .

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View of Bartolomé from the Angelito

On the beach

After we returned to the Angelito Fabian offered us a choice of relaxing on board, snorkelling around Pinnacle Rock, swimming or spending time on the small beach. We chose the latter, along with two others of our group, and he came along with us, as tourists aren’t allowed here (or on most other visitor sites) other than in the company of a guide.

Snorkellers, swimmers and beach-goers all climbed into the pangas and headed for a wet landing on the beach. On the way we made a brief detour to explore the rocks around Pinnacle Rock. This is the very dramatic lava formation that features on so many photos of the Galápagos Islands. It was formed when magma expelled from the volcano reached the sea. The cold water reacted with the molten rock and caused it to explode. Particles splattered down in the shape of cone often known as a tuff cone or cinder cone, and fused together to create this huge rock which is in fact made up of many layers of these lava particles. You can get an idea of its size from my photo below - look carefully near the bottom right and you will see the other panga close to the rock.

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Panga ride off Bartolomé

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Pinnacle Rock with panga, and Galápagos penguin

The rock was used as a target for US airmen during World War II. More recently it has featured in the 2003 film, “Master and Commander.” I haven’t seen the film, but it was clear from Fabian’s comments about it that they took some liberties with the geography of the islands, making it seem as if certain places were on the same island when in fact they are not – but that’s so often the case with film-makers! He offered to play the DVD for us one evening on board but we never got around to it, so I plan to look out for it so I can see it some time.

From the panga we were able to see a few of the Galápagos penguins that make their nests here, having established a small breeding colony in a cave behind the rock. There were also some Sally Lightfoot crabs, although not in the large numbers we saw on some other islands.

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Beach on Bartolomé

At the beach we waded ashore, and while some went off to snorkel or swim, we had an enjoyable and relaxing time spotting a number of bird species, including a Galápagos penguin that swam up and down, parallel to the beach, right opposite where we were sitting. Other sightings included a great blue heron, pelican, yellow warbler, and a booby diving repeatedly for fish in their distinctively direct fashion. There were also some sleepy Galápagos sea lions, although not as many as on some of the other beaches we visited.

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Relaxing on the beach

Much of the time though we simply relaxed and chatted to Fabian and the others, and enjoyed the views of nearby Pinnacle Rock, before heading back to the Angelito for another great dinner and cosy evening on board.

Posted by ToonSarah 07:55 Archived in Ecuador Tagged beaches animals islands volcanoes penguins galapagos ecuador sea_lions Comments (4)

Exploring Bakau and ‘The Strip’

Gambia days four and five


View Gambia 2014 on ToonSarah's travel map.

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Shopping for fruit and vegetables, Bakau

As I wrote at the end of my last entry, after our long hot excursion to the villages associated with Alex Haley’s book ‘Roots’, I was a little heat-struck and wobbly. So we decided to take it easy this morning and enjoy relaxing at Ngala Lodge. Inevitably though after a few hours we got itchy feet and decided to walk into nearby Bakau to explore.

Bakau

The town of Bakau lies on the coast not far from the capital Banjul. It has grown up around a fishing village and today has a mix of basic traditional housing; fancier properties occupied by more affluent business leaders, politicians and ex-pats; and hotels.

Following the road along the coast we passed all of the above, plus local food shops and those targeting tourists. I found the colourful clothing of the women especially attractive so I took lots of candid shots of them as well as quite a few of the men too. This was our first visit to this part of Africa and we found almost everything fascinating!

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Fruit stand in Bakau

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In Bakau

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Shop in Bakau

For the most part our cameras were tolerated – people here are used to tourists. Too much so, in some cases! We had been warned at our welcome meeting about the activities of the so-called Gambian bumster, and on our walk through the town we encountered several, including one particularly persistent young man. Indeed it was pretty much inevitable that we would do so, unless we spent the whole holiday cocooned inside the grounds of the lodge. These are unemployed, mostly young, men who hang around the hotels and tourist areas in the hope of making easy money out of gullible visitors. They are not dangerous in any way, and a modicum of common sense and astuteness will ensure you don’t fall victim to their scams.

The most common of these usually involve a claim to know you. They will approach with a smile, ask how you are, and when you appear not to recognise them will say that they work at your hotel. The more ingenious among them may work in pairs – one will approach, engage you in conversation and ask your name. Further down the road a second man will greet you by that name (having had a call from his mate who will have described you: ‘a blonde English guy in a red t-shirt called John’, for example). If you say you don’t know him, he will seem offended and ‘remind you’ that you have talked at the hotel, or he served you last night at dinner. The naïve tourist, embarrassed not to have recognised him, will be lured into further conversation and into accepting his services as ‘guide’, for which they will be expected to pay at the end of the day. We had been told that all staff at Ngala were specifically trained not to pull this trick so that anyone who tried it on us would for sure not be genuine!

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Bumster in Bakau

Another common scam is to claim to be very recently married and to invite you home to meet his new wife. Seeing an interesting opportunity to visit a typical Gambian home and interact with locals, the tourist agrees. At the home the ‘wife’ (probably in truth a sister or friend) will be traditionally dressed and will shyly accept congratulations and offer tea. But when the unsuspecting visitor makes to leave they will be told that in The Gambia it is expected that anyone paying a visit to a newly married couple will bring money as a gift – and if they say they don’t have any with them, they may be firmly escorted to an ATM to withdraw the necessary cash.

Some of course are less sophisticated and simply ask for money or offer to show you around in the expectation that you’ll reward their services. In all cases it’s best to either ignore them or give a polite but firm refusal, and if the bumster persists just walk away. Or you can do as Chris liked to do, and engage them briefly in conversation just for the fun of it, while making it very clear he has no intention of handing over any money.

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Barbershop

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Batik for sale

Bakau fishing village

We spotted a turning on our left which led to the fish quay, a great spot for more photos. Although tourism has long since overtaken fishing as the main source of income here, the latter is still an important part of the local economy.

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Fishermen and their boats

Although it was by now late morning there was plenty of activity – a few boats still coming in with their catch, others being tidied up and nets mended, fish being prepared, sold or cooked.

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Fish stalls

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Fishing beach

I was interested to watch the various manoeuvres as men moved from boat to boat - presumably to help each other with nets or catch.

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Fishermen in Bakau

Some of the fishermen were trying to make a few extra delasi by showing tourists around. We refused their sometimes persistent offers as we didn’t see any need for a guide when all we wanted to do was wander around and take some photos. We had to be discreet when taking ones of individuals – we could of course have asked permission but getting it could have meant tipping which would have proved expensive given how many photos we tend to take!

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At the fishing quay in Bakau

Fish caught here include barracuda, captain fish and lady fish, all of which you can see on hotel and restaurant menus, plus some smaller fish which tend to be eaten only by locals because of the large number of bones they contain. We were also shown a so-called ‘ugly’ fish by one would-be guide, which had weirdly human-looking teeth!

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Ugly fish

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Preparing fish for cooking

And of course, as anywhere where fish are caught, there were plenty of small cats and large birds (here mostly egrets) hoping for a bite too.

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Egrets on the fishing beach

Back at Ngala Lodge

After our hot walk we spent what remained of the day relaxing at Ngala Lodge. I had a swim and we took some photos around the grounds

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Bulbul

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In the grounds

Later we were treated to a beautiful sunset. Indeed, almost every evening of our stay at Ngala, we had a beautiful sunset. Some were pale and subtle, some fiery, but all were lovely when viewed from the cliff-top just above the beach.

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Ngala sunset

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Fish for dinner

We had dinner at the lodge’s excellent restaurant, where there is live music every evening. This evening it was a wonderful Senegalese singer called Tabou Diop. We enjoyed her singing so much that later in the week we bought a CD in the lodge shop. You can see and hear her on this video, which looks to me as if it was shot at Ngala:

While this one definitely was:

The next day: around the lodge

The following day was equally restful, although there was the excitement of seeing the UK Ambassador to The Gambia visit the restaurant for a business lunch. The embassy is almost next door to Ngala Lodge, but of course being a VIP, he arrived by car!

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The ambassador's car, and bougainvillea in the grounds

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More bougainvillea

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Red Hornbill

We split our time between the hotel grounds, where I enjoyed several swims in the pool, and the decking down by the beach with lovely views out to sea.

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View from the decking

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Beach and decking from the cliffs

I managed to shoot some video footage of one of the pirogues, with the fishermen hauling in their nets. You can see they caught some decent sized fish.

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Fishermen seen from the beach

On the Strip

Having spent all day at the hotel we were keen to get out for the evening, so we booked a taxi to take us to what is known locally as the Senegambia Strip or more simply just The Strip. This is a short road that leads from the Senegambia Hotel in Kololi to the main road. With several large hotels nearby, it has become a focus for tourist nightlife as well as for locals looking to meet and mix with those tourists.

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On the Senegambia Strip

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We checked out a few of the restaurants and settled on Darboe's for dinner, just off the Strip. We ate on the outside terrace (there were only a handful of table inside and outside looked by far the more attractive option) and decided to try some local Gambian cuisine, though standard international dishes were also available (steaks, seafood, pasta etc). We asked the waiter to describe the dishes and both opted for the style known as benechin, in which meat, fish or vegetables are cooked in a red sauce and served with rice which is also red (I believe tomatoes account for the colour). Chris chose a chicken one and I asked for vegetable, foolishly forgetting to ask what vegetables are included. When it arrived, I was taken aback to find the dish full of peas, which I really really don't like! Luckily I was able to find quite a few other vegetables in there too but it wasn't the best choice to have made. The sauce though was good, and Chris liked his chicken version.

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Chris at Darboes

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Darboes

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Dinner at Darboes

After dinner we went for beers in the Jazz Café on the Strip itself. Prices seemed very low after getting used to those at upmarket Ngala Lodge – our JulBrews would have cost probably three times the price there.

The Strip is an excellent place for a spot of people watching. We observed young local men hanging out in the hope that a (by local standards) ‘rich’ female visitor would take a fancy to them and buy them a few drinks in return for their company, or maybe more. We also spotted several ill-matched couples that were almost certainly the result of such an arrangement. We saw ex-pats chatting up young local girls, groups of these girls out for a giggly night out over a few soft drinks, and older men chewing the fat and making one beer last as long as possible.

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The Jazz Cafe

After our beers we took a few more photos then walked back up to the taxi rank at the main road to go back to the hotel, where we enjoyed a final much more expensive drink in the bar while enjoying this evening’s low-key entertainment, a local jazz trio.

Posted by ToonSarah 02:01 Archived in Gambia Tagged beaches people birds night boats food fishing flowers restaurant coast hotel music africa gambia street_photography Comments (20)

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