CNH Tours is relaying information that it has just received -
from Monday 25th March, the new passenger terminal on
Baltra Island in the Galápagos was fully operational for both
arriving and departing passengers. It had been operational
for only arriving passengers for several weeks prior to
Though touted as an improvement to travel to and from the
islands, having recently used the airport 2 weeks ago, CNH Tours is
sorely disappointed in the overall look and layout. While the
previous airport was indeed reaching its limit in terms of
passenger capacity (it was built a good 20 years ago, when there
were just 4-5 flights a week arriving to Baltra, and now there are
up to 6 a day...), it was at least built with mostly local
materials, and fit right into the landscape as best an airport
The new behemoth is at least 4 times the height of the old one,
and built with large white panels, and filled with pipes and wiring
- looking more like an manufacturing plant out of a Monty Python
cartoon, than an airport terminal (at least when we saw it in early
March - perhaps some aesthetic touches still remained to be
completed). It is even equippred with sprinklers in case
there are fires - dangling from the rafters above - but frankly,
beyond the Panama hats many visitors are donning, one is hard
pressed to find any flammable material in sight. And another
thing - despite having an area of about 3 football fields, the
toilets are tiny!
Oh well, such is progress we suppose. To add insult
to injury, visitors will have to pay a $26 tax to use the
airport. This will be automatically added to the price of
your plane ticket (if bought after April 4th - otherwise you will
be charged at the check-in counter).
Old Baltra Airport below - built with local and natural
materials - lava rocks, wood... a realy homey feeling!
CNH Tours has been informed that local authorities in Puerto
Villamil, Isabela Island, started charging a new tax / landing fee
of 20 US dollars effective today.
This new fee will serve to ensure the maintenance of the town's
main landing docks, where tourists disembark from cruise ships, day
tours and inter-island trips. The docks also serve as moorage
for smaller fishing boats and other working vessels.
It is not clear how visitors will be expected to pay - whether
this will be incorporated into cruise prices, or other transport
service prices, or if you'll have to pay $20 in cash upon
arrival. Only time will tell.
The rates are $20 for foreigners, $10 for Ecuadorians and $2 for
Galapagos residents if on a day tour or a cruise, and $5 for
foreigners, $2 for Ecuadorians and $1 for Galapagos residents if
just using the docks for inter-island transport, or work related
Though we understand the need to have users pay for the upkeep
of facilities, CNH Tours is starting to wonder over how far this
will go. The Park fee is $100, the tourist card fee is $10,
there is a new aiport tax of $24 in Quito... We suggest that
the Galapagos authorities arrange for the unification of Galapagos
related taxes and fees so that visitors do not feel they are being
asked, every time they move, to pay yet another tax.
This will have (and may already have had) and dampening effect on
visitation to the islands.
Economist and US educated Rafael Correa was re-elected as
president of Ecuador over the weekend in the first round of
presidential voting - indicating widespread support from
Ecuadoreans. He first came to power in 2007, then
basically strong armed a constitutional review, which allowed him
to present his candidacy for the 2009 elections (he won) and now
again in 2013.
CNH Tours has been following Ecuadorian politics (in no great
depth admittedly, but following nonetheless - and we're sure some
of our friends in the islands will disagree with us!) since 1998,
when we first moved to Galapagos. During our first four
years there, we got to see at least 5 presidents (at one point,
there were 3 joint presidents!), many ministers of the environment,
massive inflation, a run on the banks and the abandonment of the
national currency for the US$. The 3-4 years after we left in
2002, the Galapagos National Park Service had a revolving door
directorship, with 13 directors or interim directors in 3
Since Correa came along in 2007, things have calmed down
tremendously, both in the country and in Galapagos. One
of the first moves we took note of under the Correa administration
was the ending of fuel subsidy cheating for cruise
ships. Fuel in Galapagos was subsidized, but this was
for fishing boats. Under the lax regimes prior to
Correa, many ships somehow managed to get access to fishing boat
fuel subsidies - essentially resulting in the poor taxpayers of
Ecuador subsidizing profits of the ship owners, and lower cruise
prices for international visitors. No more - and that's
a good thing.
The new constitution of Ecuador also removed the "Provincial"
status for Galapagos. This small territory, with a population
of under 30,000, had the same constitutional status as other
mainland provinces, with populations of up to 3 million
people. This had led to completely warped politics in the
islands, with plenty of destructive in-fighting amongst small
minded politicians, who exploited various interest groups to make a
name for themselves. Things have been quiet in the
islands over the past several years - that's good for local
residents and good for visitors. Galapagos is now managed by
a governing council, comprised of national administration and local
representatives. This seems to be working.
CNH Tours had the pleasure to have known the minister of
environment under Correa, Marcel Aguiñaga, who was a tough cookie
and did her job well. She was a colleague of ours ' when we
worked at the Charles Darwin Research Station, she was the legal
advisor with the Galapagos National Park Service. She
resigned from her ministerial post last November to present herself
as a candidate for the National Assembly in this election - and we
note that she was duly elected.
Correa has invested a good deal of the country's oil revenues in
infrastructure and services (sometimes via massive advance selling
of oil to China). Roads have been built, teachers
hired. In Galapagos, a modern hospital will be built for the
first time. All this isn't to say that Correa is perfect -
his relationship with the press is worrying - he has bullied owners
of newspapers and television stations into submission, or forced
them to sell their businesses. It is ironic that while
his administration has brought in measures to ensure that
government is more transparent on the one hand, he is making life
more difficult for the press to verify that.
But given the choice between Correa and the previous
administrations we've known to have run Ecuador, we will stand with
Correa. He has been better for Ecuadorians in general, and
better for Galapagos.
Comet PanSTARRS will be making a (modest) showing mid-March,
just after sunset, low on the western horizon. It's worth
making a special effort to spotting it. It may be hard to see
with the naked eye, as there will be the glow of dusk to mask
it. That's why looking for it on the Equator, at sea, gives
you the best viewing potential. Binoculars will help
German national Dirk Bender, 32, finally got his just
desserts. He was sentenced to 4 years in prison (the
maximum penalty) on Monday this week, after having been found
guilty of attempting to smuggle out very rare and endemic Land
Iguanas from Galapagos last July. He has been held in
pre-trial custody in Galapagos since then, but will now be moved to
Guayaquil to satisfy the judgment. His time already spent in
custody will be deducted from the sentence, meaning he's looking at
a July 2016 release from prison.
Mr. Bender had been caught doing the same thing in Fiji in 2011,
trying to smuggle local reptiles out of that country.
One wonders how many times he has been successful in doing so at
other places. Clearly, the Fiji experience did
not discourage him from continuing this abhorrent practice.
CNH Tours hopes that Ecuador's environmental justice will be more
successful, and congratulates the lawyers and judges involved in
applying a law that too often is disregarded or considered
The illegal trade of protected species around the world
contributes to the decline in population numbers for many rare
plants and animals. Most of these die while being smuggled,
but the practice continues. These species are
best observed where they live, not in people's homes as
For more information on illegal wildlife trade, consult TRAFFIC
(The Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network - www.traffic.org).
Below: Dirk Bender goes to trial on Monday, February 4th,
Below,, the CNH Tours "Picture of the Year', the moment Dirk
Bender gets caught by the authorities, in July 2012:
According to the latest information available from Quiport, the
company charged with operating the new Quito airport, operations
are finally set to start on 20 February. They
were supposed to start last year, but for various reasons, the
opening has been delayed. CNH Tours feels confident
that this time, the start date will be honoured.
The new airport is quite a bit further away from downtown Quito
- you will need to plan for a transfer time of between 1 and 1.5
hours, depending on traffic, according to Quiport. Though an
express road is planned between the airport, which is down in a
valley, to Quito, which is up higher, it is not yet completed.
Quiport also notes that all flights to and from Quito in the
evening of the 19th of February will be cancelled and indicate that
airlines have already planned around that closure. If by
chance you a scheduled to be flying into Quito in the late
afternoon or evening of the 19th, please double check with your
On Sunday 17th February Ecuadorians will head to the polls for
presidential and legislative elections. A "dry law" goes into
effect from midday on Friday 15th February until midday on Monday
18th. This measure prohibits businesses in Ecuador from selling
alcohol during this period.
This ban does not apply to people on board ships, but does apply
to everyone else.
A new hospital is being built in Galapagos, in the town of
Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal Island. This is the
capital town (not quite city!) of Galapagos, though smaller by far
than the main tourist town of Puerto Ayora, on Santa Cruz
The US$8.1M investment will lead to a new and modern facility,
part of the government's plan to improve health services in the
islands. Last year, it spent US$5million on equipment and
Of particular importance to tourists on ships in remote
locations, there is now a Navy operated Bell-430 helicopter that is
available for emergency evacuations, in operation since last
August. It has already carried out 48 missions (38
interisland emergency evacuations, 5 rescues at sea and the
transport of 5 medical teams to attend to emergencies in situ).
CNH Tours is pleased to announce that dates for its highly
acclaimed "ACTIVE GALAPAGOS" trips have just been posted on our
website. We have been custom designing the ACTIVE
itinierary for 10 years, growing from 2 cruises a year to a record
14 planned for 2014.
This trip consistently attracts a like-minded group of
inquisitive carpe diem guests from the US, Canada,
the UK, Europe and beyond who want to make the most of what will
usually be a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience Galapagos
in an "up close and personal" way. Our ACTIVE guides
receive rave reviews and are often cited in the bulletin boards.
They are hand picked and among the very best in the islands. The
Samba crew and on-board experience receives consistent positive
comments. Altogether, these elements combine to make this an
intimate and ideal way to see the islands.
"I want to thank you for
organizing such a wonderful trip to Galapagos for me. Juan
and the rest of the crew of the Samba were amazing. Thank you
for helping me realize a dream adventure." Holly, on a 2012
Recent group photo: Crossing the
Equator, we all dress up accordingly. Spot Juan Salcedo, as
Neptune, and Samba guests as various Galapagos animals.
CNH Tours has unilaterally (we are not very democratic it
seems!) decided that the picture below is the best Galapagos
picture of the year, courtesy of the Galapagos National Park
In it, we see the moment in which inspectors at the Baltra
airport have discovered live iguanas stashed away in the suitcase
of Dirk Bender, a German national about to embark on his flight to
the continent, and beyond. Mr. Bender, in the
background, looks like a child caught with his hand in the cookie
jar. This happened last July 8th, and Mr. Bender has
been in detention at a Puerto Ayora prison ever since, awaiting
trial. There is a 6 month statute of limitations in
Ecuador, and if he's not tried before the 8th of January, he goes
free. The Park Service announced yesterday that a trial
is scheduled for tomorrow, January 4th.
Mr. Bender was caught doing exactly the same thing in Fiji, on
December 3rd, 2011. In that case, he was trying to smuggle a
Crested Fiji Iguana. He was liable for a fine of up to
$20,000 - but CNH Tours has not been able to determine what his
sentence was exactly.
It's very nice to see the law being fully applied in Galapagos,
particularly when it comes to environmental crimes.
Infractions of environmental laws are not often taken seriously by
courts in many countries. The work of the judiciary in
Galapagos is becoming increasingly sensitive to environmental
issues - a good thing for this very fragile natural area.