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.
British nature documentary superstar Sir David Attenborough
presents the 2nd of his 3 part series on Galapagos
tonight in the UK (Sky TV), but this time in 3D. "It is
usually a mistake to go back, but I have now returned three times
to the Galápagos Islands since my first visit in 1978 and each time
the excitement has been undiminished. On my latest trip, indeed, it
has been heightened, for I have had the opportunity not only to
film the islands in a new medium but - as we disclosed earlier this
week - to film an entirely new species" he stated. He refers
to the pink iguana, first documented a few years ago.
Galapagos documentaries remain very popular, and CNH Tours
certainly appreciates the free publicity for this (truly) unique
place. I recall once, after 3 years in the pressure cooker
that is Galapagos conservation life in the islands, I took a
Christmas holiday in Canada with my family, and we went to the
extended family retreat, a small lakeside cottage in the
snow. We started a fire, and distractedly turned on the
television, only to be confronted by a, you know it, Galapagos
The Galapagos National Park reports that a 74 year old woman
died after tripping and falling on the boardwalk at the Cerro
Colorado Semi-natural Tortoise Breeding Centre on San Cristobal
island yesterday. Jane White from the USA was on a cruise on
the La Pinta ship. While visiting the tortoise centre, she
decided to join a group of three other visitors who were headed off
to the restrooms. She appears to have tripped and
knocked her head against the boardwalk as she fell. She was
pronounced dead at the hospital in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, 24
No place is risk free, and Galapagos is perhaps a bit riskier
than your typical cruise experience. Not only does a cruise
include several short hikes on what can be uneven trails, but you
may also find yourself quite far away from professional medical
attention. Anyone considering a Galapagos visit should take
that into consideration and be willing to accept these
risks. Of course, the trails are not "death defying" -
thousands of visitors walk over them every year, many well
into their 70's and often into their 80's (CNH Tours has no doubts
that sprightly folks in their 90's also frequent them).
But accidents may happen. We are sad to hear of
The Galapagos Port Captain reported yesterday that the 20
passenger, tourist superior Galaven yacht had hit some rocks at the
Cerro Dragon (NW sector of Santa Cruz Island) and was taking on
water. Passengers were on land while this
happened. The crew was able to control the leak and
took the ship to the Canal de Itabaca (which separates Baltra, the
airport island, and Santa Cruz island). The passengers were
later taken back to Puerto Ayora.
Based on this information, it would appear that the Galaven may
be out of service of a while. If you planned to cruise on the
Galaven in the next few weeks, CNH Tours recommends you get in
touch with your agent as soon as possible.
The town of Puerto Ayora (the main tourist service centre in
Galapagos) recently inaugurated a nice "Laguna Las Ninfas" mangrove
interpretive boardwalk/trail, with nice panels explaining the
ecosystem, both in Spanish and English. It's just a short
walk (e.g. 10 minutes) from downtown - well worth a