The Piper Navajo twin-engine 7
passenger plane was presented to the
authorities in recent days on Isabela Island as an
alternative interisland connectivity, invoking the rather spotty service record of the existing
The plane is owned
by Julio Zavala, Galápagos resident
naturalist guide, piloted
by experienced pilots and managed by
Polit, who has been involved in the aviation
business for over 20 years.
It should be noted that there have been
several attempts to establish an interisland carrier
flights and the
EMETEBE, which was
led for nearly two decades for its
pioneering Jaime Morales Polit. It is unclear if Mr. Polit
has left EMETEBE at this point, or if he is co-managing both
Other companies that were operating interisland services in the Galapagos were Arica, whose
operations were dashed after his plane crash in December 2004
(no injuries) and Saereo which ceased
CNH Tours hopes that this will improve the quality and
reliability of interisland air service. EMETEBE, no
doubt experienced in what it takes to run this business in
Galapagos, is considered a bit non-chalant in the way it deals with
clients, likely because it has had very little competition.
Over the past several months, the Galapagos Marine Reserve has
placed about 30 fixed anchor systems (ecological mooring buoys),
which can be used by tourist boats visiting sites where they are
Mario Villalta, head of Conservation and Marine Ecosystems at
the Park Service, notes that this project originated with the "Zero
Anchors" project, which tested various systems and materials for
five systems subsequently installed in Bartholome Island.
After one and a half of use, they proved the effectiveness of these
with a significant recovery of the seabed.
Through this initiative, the Park Service is promoting lower
impact tourism in the archipelago, aimed at improving the quality
of this activity while reducing the impacts caused by traditional
mooring system (anchor and chain). One can imagine the impact
on the sea floor from dropping anchors, and chains dragging on the
bottom, every day all year long, in different places.
The new system will result in only a tiny fraction of sea floor
impact compared to before.
The Park Service has plans to install a total of 70 fixed anchor
systems at 10 sites the marine reserve over the next
while. An added benefit will be "no more noise" from an
anchor being dropped or raised in the middle of the
night. Keep an eye out for an anchoring
buoy near you!
This 16 passenger day outing ship burned up last weekend just
off Las Bachas beach, on the north end of Santa Cruz
island. Despite a rapid response from nearby ships,
they were not able to control the fire and the ship was completely
destroyed. Nobody was hurt. The
Genovesa had just been refurbished in 2012. If you had any
plans to use this ship in the coming days/weeks, we suggest you
Genovesa burning up off Las Bachas beach. Photo
credit: Ivan Lopez, Wreck Bay Diving
Yesterday (Sunday) at approximately 14h00, two rangers of the
Galapagos National Park Service, part of the search team looking
for a tourist considered lost since the previous day, found the
body of Thomas Berman who had arrived in Galapagos the previous
Tuesday. The body was located about 118 meters from the
path leading to the "Las Grietas" visitor site, near the main town
of Puerto Ayora.
A group of 13 rangers, with the support of local fire
department, had intensified the search in the morning, expanding
the search area. On top that, a National Park boat
searched shorelines nearby.
78 year old Mr. Berman, a British-Israeli national was reported
missing by the tour operator who had sold him a trip to Isabela
Island, which was scheduled to depart at 14h00 on Satureday - but
Mr. Berman did not show up. Staff of the hotel where he was staying
confirmed that on Saturday, Mr. Berman had left the hotel
indicating he was going to Las Grietas, and intended on returning
for the trip to Isabela. The hotel surveillance cameras
confirm that at 10:28 he left the hotel with a small backpack and a
camera. It was based on this information, that the Park
proceeded to organize the search party.
Unfortunately, accidents do happen. Mr. Berman was smart
in having informed the hotel of his plans - otherwise, the park
would not have known where to search. The trail to Las
Grietas is fairly well marked, but it's not inconceivable that
someone could take a wrong turn and lose their bearings.
Heading off on unknown trails on your own is not recommended for
exactly this reason. One supposes that Mr. Berman
was in good shape and confident in his ability to do the 1.5 mile /
2 km, trail - which does go over moderately rough terrain from time
to time, and which is used quite regularly by locals, particularly
on a weekend. Still, one would have expected a person
to have survived a little more than 24 hours in this area. We
suppose that Mr. Berman must have suffered some sort of
Off the trail hiking in Galapagos is notoriously
difficult. Vegetation is dense, the ground can be very
uneven on ancient lava flows, and a lot of plants have thorns.
Being on the equator, the sun doesn't quite help
finding north and south. A very good friend of
CNH Tours and an experienced naturalist guide recently recounted
his harrowing tale just in February, having lost
bearings when accompanying a scientist in the
field. It took them all day to find their way out.
Tourist and locals are reported lost fairly
frequently. Sometimes they make it back, sometimes their
remains are found much later.
Trail to Las Grietas: Dense scrbby vegetation and lava
The Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment reported yesterday from
Galapagos that it launched the tender for the granting of Tourist
Activity Operators' licenses in the park.
A total of 31 licenses will be granted as follows:
Scuba diving - day
trips: 5 in Santa Cruz, 8 in San
Cristobal, and 2 for Villamil on Isabela.
tours: 4 in Santa Cruz, 6 in San Cristobal and 6 in
CNH Tours is always very pleased to see the government
authorities establishing order in the tourism sector of
Galapagos. While cruise ship tourism has been
highly regulated for many years, land based tourism has been a bit
of a free for all. Until the mid to late 1990's, the
vast majority of visitors to Galapagos did a cruise ship visit,
leaving only a very small land based sector. But as
demand grew and as the government kept a lid on the expansion on
the number of cruise ships allowed to operate in the islands (over
environmental conservation and visitor experience quality
concerns), and as cruise ship prices rose, there has been a very
rapid expansion of land based visitors to the
islands. This happened before the authorities
could implement any measures to control the proliferation and
quality of services.
Yesterday's announcement is part of the effort to ensure that
visitors to Galapagos will be well taken care of, that safety
measures are in place and that all service providers operate from
the same, level playing field. This complements
the Ministry of Tourism's OK Galapagos campaign, which provides the
"OK Galapagos" label to all tourism service providers that operate
according to regulations. CNH Tours always
encourages visitors to patronize legal and licensed service
providers in Galapagos (e.g. hotels, bay tours, inter-island
transport operators) to ensure that the tourism industry in the
islands grows in a sustainable, safe way.
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: