Our first day, Kieran did the first leg to Sedona. We flew direct doing over high Sierras peaks, at peak level. This was the closest to peak level I've ever crossed, but since the weather was nice, it was not an issue.
Our route went close enough to Vegas that we overflew it, and then lake Mead and the Hoover Dam:
Old Town Las Vegas
From Sedona, after lunch, I took over for the leg to Durango:
Nice little runway at Durango
Landing in Durango had a special meaning to me since I had been there a few years earlier commercially when I went to Silverton during snow season. With the distance, in good weather, I could have actually made it there in one leg probably as fast as it took me to fly there commercially considering that it requires going to SFO and then changing planes in denver, but it's unlikely that I'll ever be able to fly there in the winter, especially around a storm like I did back then, but eh, it's still nice to be able to pretend :)
We checked in Durango, and I walked around a little bit before joining the rest of the FOG team for dinner:
It's a long train ride to silverton: 7H return (or more than twice as slow as driving)
Day2: Durango to Eagle Country/Vail via Telluride, Gunnison, Alexander Field, and Leadville
Our second day was the day for highest altitude airports in the continental US. We had to get around TFRs due to the multiple fires that were in Colorado.
we saw a lot of fire fighting crafts
We first landed at Telluride, the highest commercial airport ($6.20 a landing, but you can also buy a shirt to take home :). It's a nice airport that almost looks like an aircraft carrier, then we eventually headed for Leadville, the highest airport in the US.
Got a bit of rain on the way and flew around mild weather
Leadville, the highest airport in the US
Yes, I also got the T-Shirt :)
The previous year, some planes were barely able to take off Telluride. Despite our plane being close to gross and very high density altitude (about 12,000ft, off the takeoff performance charts in the POH), we actually took off without problems, even if our climb was obviously not stellar. In my limited experience, the much newer C182T we were flying just had more oomph than some older C182s, including the carburated one I flew to Mammoth a few years back.
A bit more weather started in the early afternoon.
Hi TSA, how I so didn't miss you during this trip.
After landing in Eagle County, close to Vail, we drove to Glenwood Springs, where we had our hotel for 2 nights.
They had a huge naturally heated pool right next to the hotel
I used the rest of the day to hike hanging lake trail along beautiful I70 (thanks to Scott for driving me there and back).
Day3: Local Flying from Eagle County: Aspen, Granby County, Walden-Jackson County, Steamboat Springs
More local exercises and fire fighting from Eagle County
Local Aspen Race Track
Snow was very scarce for such altitudes in June
We did a pass by leadville
Back to Eagle County
Back in Steamboat Springs for the afternoon, I went to the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park up the cable car and took advantage of the view up there, the few rides they had (including the highest roller coaster in the world, altitude-wise), and a visit of the nice caverns they have up there.
Hotel Colorado, where we stayed
The caverns were a nice 70mn tour (they were a great place to use my firesword flashlight):
this is unofficially called bacon :)
Day4: Eagle County, overfly of Aspen Mountains, and Grand Canyon towards McCarran Las Vegas
On the 4th day, we departed the area and Kieran flew over Aspen so that I could take pictures of the ski slopes while I wasn't flying:
that's a pretty sad looking half pipe without the snow
Aspen/Ajax Mountain and the town of Aspen
After leaving Aspen, we went on course for the Grand Canyon Airport
Grand Canyon Airport
Chilling at Grand Canyon Airport before our next leg
I flew the next leg through the Grand Canyon and to Vegas:
West Grand Canyon Skywalk
Rich gamblers bring their own private 747 to vegas
We parked walking distance from our hotel, the MGM
While I was pretty exhausted due to multiple too short nights in a row, I only had enough stamina to see 2 shows, Copperfield and Terry Fator (there are many other shows in Vegas, but I've already seen them), and I went to the Wynns for a good buffet between the 2:
desserts are the best part :)
David Copperfield is obviously getting older, but his show was still good. Terry Fator's ventriloquist show was good.
Day5: Sky Combat Ace Flying off Henderson, and flight back home via Death Valley Furnace Creek Airport
That morning, I got up early and went to Henderson for dogfighting and acro with Sky Combat Ace.
After the fun, Kieran and Scott came to pick me up by flying from McCarran to Henderson, where the flight was shorter than their time on the ground :) and after that Kieran flew us to Furnace Creek (Death Valley) airport where I also did a landing in order to have landed at both the highest and lowest (-200ft) airports in the US.
It was a slow climb from -220ft to 14,000ft to cross the high sierras, but we made it and we had limited headwind.
And that was it, after 5 days of great flying and lucky good weather, we got home.
A big thanks to Dan and the organizers, as well as our CFI, Scott Stauter.
This post is part of our Trip to Galapagos, with land visits and diving.
After a couple of days waiting in St Cristobal after being dropped off from land excursions with the Galaven (Thank you again Ecuador for prohibiting anyone from a diving boat from setting foot on land in any interesting place, or even for making sure that it's now impossible to see the highlights on land in less than 2 weeks, and then need a 3 week at least to do diving separately), we finally boarded the Aggressor II for a one week diving trip.
There again, we can thank Ecuador for preventing Aggressor with 2 identical boats, to offset the boats by 3 or 4 days. Instead both boats do the exact same itinerary at the exact same time. How lame... (mostly because it was hard to match land and diving boats, and if aggressor had been able to have one cruise leave every 3 to 4 days, matching would have been easier).
Back to the aggressor, it was a good boat with great staff, good comfort, and great food. The dive sites on the first 2 days were questionable at best, but once more the aggressor was prevented from giving us better dive sites since they were actively prevented by the government from using better sites that would somehow compete with day land boats. Thank you for looking out for us, Ecuador, I do really appreciate it. It's a good way to make sure I don't want to give any more money to other companies there since you're trying to force us to after we've already shelled out a lot of money for 2.5 weeks there and permits.
Also, for the 'greater good' we were also prohibited from doing more than 3 dives per day or actually even more than 16 dives per week (!) compared to a typical 22-25 dives in other locations for the same amount of time.
But I digresss, back to diving. The checkout dive was in a totally uninteresting place that outside of a couple of sea lions that made the dive in a mere 10 meter deep channel with pretty much nothing else to see in it. A few pictures below:
Day 1: Checkout dive at Isla Lobos
sea lion showing off and swimming upside down
The second day, we started cruising pretty far to Wolf and since the boat wasn't too fast (barely 10kts), and we stopped in Puta Carion (north of Santa Cruz) for 2 dives that weren't stellar, and then Cousin's Rock, just past Bartolome/San Salvador, which was somewhat better.
Day 2: Punta Carion in North Santa Cruz
Day 2: Cousin's Rock
many fish, really
did I mention many fish?
still had normal sharks there
After being done at Cousin's Rock, we finally motored towards the distant island of Wolf, known for many fish and hammerheads due to its water currents and did our 3 dives there the next day:
Day 3: Wolf
Wolf is a rather rock that doesn't quite fit in my camera. It had a good amount of current, lots of fish, and hammerheads:
this jellyfish had cool pulsating colors
After the 3rd dive, they gave us a Dingy ride to swim with wild dolphins. They were lots of pods and they were easy to find (I counted around 30-40 within view once):
We kind of barely saw a Whale Shark at Wolf, but it was a bit too far for anyone to have gotten a descent picture unfortunately. We were hopeful to see more, but we didn't, we blew our one chance.
Water was around 25C with very strong currents. There were so many baby creole fish that they were actually annoying for litterally blocking visibility, like having a swarm of bees around your head and not being able to see ahead as a result. Because there was so much current, we had to hold on to rocks on 2 out of the 3 dives, and therefore we were inside the pocket of those stupid fish (millions of them, I'm not kidding), and it was hard to see much or get good shots.
After our 3rd dive, we went to the even more distant and smaller island of Darwin:
Day 4: Darwin
Darwin is just a round rock with an arch in front of it, but it has mighty current and lots of sea life (including way too many creole fish).
Darwin also had lots of Hammerhead sharks, but we didn't have the chance to see any whale sharks there. Current was also pretty bad to the point that you just had to find a rock and hold on to it, while you were swatting the small fish away from in front of you and hoping cool stuff would pass by.
too many creole fish, visibility was bad as a result
too many fish still
lots of jacks
a jack and its shadow
many hammerhead sharks
a huge eagle ray hunting for garden eels
The next morning, we did one more dive at Darwin and since current was still quite strong and visibility poor, we elected to go back to Wolf for our last 2 dives of the day:
Day 5: Darwin and Wolf
The first 2 dives were unremarkable due to bad vis and high currents, but the snorkeling with wild dolphins was fun. I even had a boobie that came to see me in the water and looked in the water to see what I was doing down there. Those bird are definitely fun and curious:
boobie looking under water to see why I was there :)
Since the current and the vis at Wolf wasn't much better, we did our last dive in the more sheltered area by the boat. No big stuff there, but manageable water and other cool critters instead. It wasn't bad actually. Red lipped batfish was too weird:
Once our 3rd dive was done, we started motoring down to Isabella for 2 more dive sites that actually were quite good and didn't have so many of those damned small fish.
Day 6: Roca Redondo and Punta Vicente Roca by Isabella
Punta Vincente Roca
Roca Redondo was freaking cold for my 5mm suit (21C) and with lots of current, but we got lots of sharks, plenty of other fish and other cool stuff like gas bubbles coming from the earth:
Volcanic bubbles of gas, seeping through the rocks, creepy:
Our last 2 dives were at Punta Vicente Roca by Isabella. It was a bit colder there even (but warm for the season they said), but thanks to a 7mm loaner wetsuit, I did marginally better with temperature.
The last dive was even better since we had a clear shot of a sunfish:
This 'fish' was incredible. It had legs and wings
Can you see me?
Dingy ride at Punta Vincente Roca
Since Aggressor can't have us set foot on land, they tried their best to show us a few animals (boobies, iguanas, penguin) from a dingy. Better than nothing for the people not getting a land boat at all:
interesting rock formations made from a mixture of lava and compacted volcanic ash
that crab climbed up and was hanging on a negative slope (half upside down)
Actually, I got to see the flighless cormorant (it had so much food available that it became fat and unable to fly) dive and swim, and it was pretty impressive (almost as good as a penguin), which is not bad considering how bad its wings are.
flightless cormorant has the most sorry ass excuse for wings
but it sure can swim
Other Misc pictures
So, I need to re-iterate that the Aggressor crew was fantastic. The boat was good, outside of being a bit slow (barely 10kts), but it wasn't the end of the world. The amenities were good, and the food was great.
The itinerary was as good as they could make it with the hard to accept list of restrictions that are put onto them (and other boats), and generally we were very happy with them.
The diving was good for a few dives, difficult for some others (at least half), and not as good as it would have been with better sites and fewer restrictions for others. Also, it was sad to have so few dives (only 16, including 3 that were very forgettable) considering the time and money expense. I suppose we got lucky to at least see the outline of a whale shark, but it would have been nice to see it better :) Some of the other critters were quite interesting though.
But eh, hopefully I'm wrong, we'll see...
In the end, I don't regret it, but as I made it clear, I'm not super happy with the Ecuador government for all the restrictions that are not linked to preserving the sites (those are understandable) but meant to force visitors to see less and hope that they'll book more tours with more companies as a result. I think they are pissing off the customer and once the word goes around enough, they'll pay the price and regret it dearly in my opinion (Well, they'll be left with the 'bad' cruiseship and land tour tourists, and lose the educated ones looking at seeing more and actually interested in visiting and seeing a lot).
Hopefully it'll turn out better than my current outlook.
This post is part of our Trip to Galapagos, with land visits and diving.
We spent our first 8 days in Galapagos on the Galaven which we boarded as soon as we landed in Baltra Island, north of Santa Cruz. Almost every day we had 2 land hikes and two snorkels, some of which were actually almost as good as dives when sea lions come to play with you, or seeing iguanas swim, boobies dive for fish, and more.
As soon as we arrived, we went for our first snorkel and land excursion: the first land excursion on the small island of North Seymour north of Baltra was arguably one of the best ones.
Day 1: Seymour Island
Their Seaguls look pretty
Seymour was a great island for blue footed boobies, and they even did their love dance for us, which apparently not everyone gets to see. We got lucky:
The blue footed boobies were awesome :)
A few cute sea lions
Frigate birds are nasty, but they look funny when the males
babies are fuzzy though :)
Even the doves look cool :)
Many marine iguanas too:
But the more impressives ones were the big fat land iguanasrescued from Baltra Island:
Day 2: Genovesa Island
On the second day, we went to Genovesa for 2 land hikes. It was also a very good island too:
more blue eyed doves
this juvenile was happy playing with its stick
Two more cool videos from there, boobies preening and a juvenile playing with a stick:
On the rocks, many birds, and owls that were hunting for food:
Found by the water:
For our snorkel, water was crappy, but we saw a few things and a sea lion came to play with us at the end:
bad picture of a hammerhead
During the afternoon, we hiked another portion of Genovesa:
Day 3: San Salvador Lava and Rabida Island
The 3rd morning, we started for a lava hike on San Salvador just across from Bartolome:
The snorkeling there was good:
Here's a video of a marine iguana swimming:
The afternoon, we went to Isla Rabida, nice red sand and beach. It looked a bit like Kawaii in the Hawaii Islands:
After that, we went for a quick Snorkel:
Day 4: Port Ayora/Santa Cruz/Charles Darwin Research Station
On the 4th day, we went to Puerto Ayora to pick up new passengers and visit the Charles Darwin Research Station.
They have the famous Lonesome George, the last of its kind:
Unfortuntely, the poor thing died 2 days after we got home, so its race is now gone from the planet.
As well as other tortoises:
The afternoon, we went to El Garrapatero Beach:
The cacti grow really high up there because of drought, all animals try to eat them to get the water out of them, so as a defence, the cacacti grow even higher
baby marine iguanas
Puerto Ayora is a nice little town:
Day 5: North Santa Cruz: Dragon Hill and Bachas
The next day, we cruised around Santa Cruz to the north side to see Dragon Hill and Bachas. I spotted some dolphins from the dingy:
Dragon Hill was a nice little hike:
the cacti have hairy thorns to protect themselves from climbing tortoises trying to suck up the juice from them.
many crabs on each rock
The next land hike was on Bachas, also in North Santa Cruz:
ghost crabs clean the beach sand
We also finally got lucky and saw some flamingos:
The snorkels were also decent:
Day 6: Floreana
The 6th day, we went to the old island of Floreana. It has one of the oldest mailboxes in the area. People on passing ships would put mail and would look for other envelopes that were already there, and see if they could help deliver some of them. In that tradition, this is what we did too :)
On the way there, we got a dingy ride to see sea lions and birds. Some were quite happy to see us and would come to our dingy.
playful biting even
We then went to the historical mailbox and lava tube. The mailbox is cool: you put your mail and look at other people's mail and take some of it home and try to get it delivered for them:
There was also a nearby lava tube:
The snorkel from there was great. Sea Lions came to play with us, and we saw several turtles too:
During snorkeling, sea lions came to play with us, and we saw some turtles feeding:
In the afternoon, we went hiking and snorkeling by Sting Ray City:
During snorkeling, we saw scorpionfish:
Day 7: Espanola
On the 7th day, last but not least, we got to see Espanola, the most popular island in Galapagos:
they had piles of iguanas
did I mention piles of iguanas?
you're so cute :)
Espanola won on the amount of birds, especially Albatros that can't be found anywhere else:
Those lovely masked boobies kill their brothers to get all the food
They also had a blow hole:
The afternoon we went to Gardener Bay:
puppy was happy to see me
The snorkel wasn't bad:
Day 8: San Cristobal
The last day, we arrived at San Cristobal, the end of our trip. In the morning, we went to see the interpretation center, which has nice trails we used the next day when we came back on our own time.
The afternoon, we went to a tortoise habitat:
And that was it for our Galaven trip. After that, we stayed in St Cristobal 2 more days, waiting for our next boat, the Aggressor, to go diving.
Galaven itself was a good enough boat to get around, we had a good itinerary with them (i.e. got to see the better Islands), and the guides were good, so good times were had. We definitely got to see (even under water) many things we wouldn't have seen on a diving boat. It was well worth the trip.
After a failed attempt last year due to a knee injury Jennifer had, we were able to schedule our visit of Galapagos this year. I want to thank Arturo for convincing me that we really wanted to go on a one week boat tour of local islands to visit the pretty incredible animals that live there and are totally unfraid of you (you can be 1 meter away, or some will even come up to you because they do not see you as a threat).
So the way we did the trip was one week on a boat that is only allowed to do land tours (no diving allowed, but snorkeling ok), and one boat that was only allowed to do diving. I've already written bigger rants in the page on diving, so I won't repeat them here, but I'm generally unhappy how Ecuador has been making seeing sights and diving more and more of a pain in Ecuador almost every year: we went next to Islands that it would have been great to see for an hour, but we were not allowed to set foot on because it was the wrong time, or we were not allowed to dive sites that were ok for diving, unused when we were there, but reserved for day boats to list just those. Worst, we even had a bus that was not allowed to stop at a sight on the sight of the road because they didn't have a park ranger license to let us off and have a 5mn peak at sink holes which others could see. WTF, seriously?
Getting the land boat with the better of the 2 8 day trips (forced by yet new regulations to make boats to go more places) and something that would match a diving boat in June was no small feat, and Ellen from boutiquetravel.net was great help getting everything lined up and organized for us (we waited until June because it increased our chances of seeing whale sharks although the tradeoff was colder waters).
Anyway, we had to fly to Miami, and from there flew to Quito, a nice ancient town high up (over 9000ft) which we visited before flying to Galapagos:
Nice colonial hotel we stayed at in old town Quito (Patio Andaluz)
Breakfast had lots of local fruit to sample, made for a happy Jennifer :)
Paul from Andesconexion set us up with a very knowledgeable guide and a good tour of Quito:
Plenty of high peaks with Glaciers in the Andes
Sampling more local fruit :)
We happened to be there for the weekly presidential speach to his people and ceremony:
Jesuit church filled with gold leaves
We then went to the fake latitude 0 line and museum (it's actually off by 0.06 seconds a per my 3 GPSes). The setting was nice, but the bullshit and faked experiments they were showing on top of a claimed 0 latitude line that was clearly in the wrong place kind of insulted my intelligence more than I entertained me. I personally don't recommend this place, even if some of what they had was somewhat interesting, I don't condone lying and lying more when asked or confronted.
They had a faked experiment where they showed that being 5 meters N or S of their incorrect equator line somehow would change the rotation of draining water which of course a crock of shit. I was not amuzed by how they were just spreading disinformation to people with faked experiments:
Don't bullshit Mc Guyver. Latitude 0 Calculada con GPS my ass!
The real equator line was outside their property in the street.
After that we managed to get to the big cathedral in Quito (not part of the tour) and climb to the bell towers. It was a dicy (and tough climb with the altitude), but well worth the effort:
agrophobia and climbing the towers didn't mix :)
After that, it was time for a dinner at an elevated terrace just 5mn from our hotel at Vista Hemosa
what time is it anyway? :)
And a set of sorbets from the catacombs (served with dry ice, no less)
We had a great day, except for Jennifer who wasn't able to digest food during the night due to the altitude :(
The next morning, we got up way too early to fly to Baltra in Galapagos
After getting off Galaven, we had 2 days to burn in St Cristobal. We used them to explore the Island.
It's a nice little town, and we liked the Miconia hotel we stayed at, although it had the suckiest internet I ever had the chance to witness so far. I guess that gave me an excuse to go outside some more :)
St Cristobal is a nice little town where sea lions come and cross the street and sleep on bus benches :)
it was too high for the poor little guy to jump. I walked him back to a place where it was able to get back to sea.
Finches came to share our breakfast :)
Oh, and they had slipper lobster for dinner, so that was good :)
The first day, we went on a tortoise tour (shown on Galaven page), and the second day, we hiked through the interpretation center to a far away beach after an uncertain 2km trail through rock hoping and somewhat heavy vegetation. The end result
rocky trail to say the least
ready to go snorkel
we got a fast ghost crab to get out of breath so that we could catch it. Poor thing was missing a leg already
Once we got to our private beach, we saw many turtles while snorkeling:
Due to the lovely regulations, we were within swimming distance from Bartolome just 10 days prior, but not allowed to go there that day, so we had to spend a lovely 6 hours boating there and back from Santa Cruz after our Aggressor tour. The climb and view were nice, even if too short compared to the trip.
The snorkeling was actually the same place we had been to just 10 days prior, which was a bit of a downer, but I was able to see a penguin swim and fish for a few minutes, which had I had failed to see last time, so it wasn't all for naught even if the backtracking felt wasteful, in both fuel/pollution and time.
sea lion bones
good view :)
The snorkeling gave a few other pictures:
It was a bad day for the little fish :)
On the way back to Santa Cruz we saw some giant sink holes left behind by giant lava tubes were the top collapsed. Impressive.
And that was it, after that it was time to go home through Guayaquil. We went for a quick walk by the waterfront (dirty water, not very safe city, but nice enough 2H walk anyway):
the ducks were very happy to be fed :)
Oreo cookie festival and amusement park. We almost missed out :)
Because I'm a lamer, in 6 years of owning my 430, I managed not to go on any Ferrari drives, but I figured I would finally fix this now. I went to a breakfast at Perfect Reflections which restores antique cars as well as newer Ferraris.
We had a good collections of cars: