04 junio 2006

Señor Hans en América del Sur - El Fin

It was eight months ago to the day that I arrived here in Lima, the city from where I will fly home tonight. Señor Hans is done. Eight months is a long time; time away from home, from family and friends who, even being busy adventuring, I missed.

But time can play funny tricks on you. It seemed to have flown by, and at the same time I feel like I have travelled for many many years here. I still feel like the same old Hans, although my adventure is bound to have changed me in some way. For the people back home, I hope it is for the better ;-)

As for travelling, my great passion, I cannot tell if this journey can ever be bettered. Thankfully, I have but to close my eyes and I am descending again from the Huayhuash passes into the most beautiful mountain valleys in the world ... the sudden awe of laying eyes upon a 4500 year old Peruvian pyramid city ... the 4 hour adrenaline rush speeding down from La Paz into the Yungas on bike ... feeling again like 11 year old Hansje diving into the waterfalls and pools of Chile ... huddling half-frozen from the relentless Patagonian wind watching the sun rise on mount Fitzroy ... sitting on the upper deck of the Friendship with the tropical wind in my face, watching the setting sun and thinking back on swimming with sea lions and penguins ...

But hey, tomorrow I can drink fresh milk again :-D

Thanks for watching and travelling with me. Enjoy the last pictures. Chao !

(no longer Señor) Hans

03 junio 2006

Islas Galápagos - Impressions

(Underwater pictures by Jessica/Brandon)

02 junio 2006


Before this adventure, Señor Hans had never been on a boat for more than 24 hours ... but after 7 times that, you may call me Señor "Salty Seadog" now ... The "Friendship" was the name of the boat: 7 crew and 16 passengers, comprised of an interesting and fun mix of British, Israeli, Korean, Japanese, American and Dutch. Daily life on board was strict and tough; everyday was more or less the same:
  • (Sometimes, at 6 in the morning) landing before breakfast on island to check out cool animals
  • Breakfast
  • Visit island (wet or dry landing) to check out cool animals and sunbathe/snorkel on tropical beach
  • Back-On-Board for lunch
  • Visit (other) island (wet or dry landing) to check out cool animals and sunbathe/snorkel on tropical beach
  • Back-On-Board for snacks
  • Lounging on the upper deck in the setting sun
  • Dinner
  • Free time
  • Sleep

And after 8 days of this ... I could have gone for another 8 days easily :-D

Every island was different: White, red, brown and black sandy beaches, rocky beaches, lava beaches. All of them were surprisingly dry. Some had trees, others bushes or just a cactus here or there. The water was crystal clear and soothingly cool, as the sun was pretty hot (not surprisingly, being smack-bang on the equator). And then there were the animals... I have never seen a weirder bunch together. Some of them were very specific to the particular island ("Is Endemic", our trusted guide Luis would say in his broken English). Sometimes, other islands had slightly different versions of the same animal, but distinct nonetheless. What all of them had in common though was the striking tameness ... they didn´t care less if a dozen cameras were shoved into their faces, and many animals were actually posing for the shots! The islands were never inhabited until colonial times and it seems that 450 years of human presence is not enough to put sufficient scare into them. Reading Darwin´s diary though, it is clear that they were even tamer in the past. Darwin visited the Galápagos in the 1830s and he comments as well on the even greater tameness before his time.

Birds were the most visible of all. Big black frigate birds would fly with us from island to island (sometimes up to 8 hours apart) over the boat. Pelicans were everywhere diving for fish. Blue-footed boobies, red-footed boobies, masked boobies, unique seagulls, flamingos, waved albatrosses, carnivorous little mockingbirds, finches, and I´m sure I am leaving out a few. We saw them flying, fighting, dancing/courting, sitting on their eggs, playing with their young, and of course mating. Long legs are practicle for the flamingo when walking across shallow lakes, but if you want to take a girly from behind, they can be quite in the way ...

The most peculiar animals were the Iguanas. Almost all islands had them, but they were all a bit different. First there were the marine iguanas, the dark ones that swam like doggies. The land iguanas were more varied. Every island seemed to have it´s own colour. Where marine and land versions lived together they could actually get offspring, a non-swimming "mule" iguana that cannot reproduce. The Iguanas would mainly sit on rocks, looking about rather arrogantly. Sometimes they would spit snot out of their noses, but regrettably they were not very good marksmen. To me, they were like miniature dragons, very "reptiley".

The water life was good fun, and the snorkeling was amazing. All sorts of colourful fishies abounded, from very small to almost half a meter long; one greenish type loved to swim around your legs when standing in the water. Two meter long "white tipped" sharks were lurking about the rocks. Gracious sea turtles seemed to be flying in slow motion across the sandy bays. At one beach we stood in the surf up to our knees in the water, and the waves would bring 1 meter wide stingrays to the shore and wash them back through our legs. One decided to sit down on my feet. It was very soft, but I screamed with giddyness that the others thought I was being stung by it.

But the most fun was to be had with the beach and rock lurkers ... fist-sized bright red crabs were scurrying to and fro. Small penguins were waiting on the rocks and would sometimes take a dive in the water to have a look at those strange fish with the big goggles and colourful webbed feet. One swam towards me, floated like a duck, and looked me in the eye from 5 centimeters distance ... but the best, the very very best were the Sea Lions.

They occupied almost all the beaches, lazing and dozing on the shore, sometimes slowly rolling around in the sand. Young pups suckling their moms; the "beach master", the big dominant male, swimming about checking out his harem and barking his presence. Walking up to them, they usally just opened their eyes and blinked at you with their puppy eyes. Sometimes they would grumpily get up and wobble to a quieter spot to continue their nappy.

But they were another kind in the water ... the older pups would be swimming about impatiently in the water, popping up their heads from time to time, challengingly looking you in the eye with their "what are you waiting for" look. Señor Hans does not have to be challenged twice like that, but even in snorkel gear he was not close to being a match for them in the water. Astonishingly fast and gracious they would swim about, twirl around you, the clumsy human, smile at you and look into your eyes with a twinkle. When twirling with them, they took up the challenge and glided even faster around you, the showoffs. They loved to float half a meter under the water surface for a moment, sometimes upside-down, look you in the eye, and then start swimming towards with great speed you only to veer away at the last moment.

The experience was like from another world, I felt so elated. And it was so unreal, I am still not convinced I didn´t dream it all ... But that is what the Galápagos is: another world, a dream world. For Señor Hans, it was the perfect final adventure ...

25 mayo 2006

A Sense of Wonder

After a few days on Isla Santa Cruz, the main island of the Galápagos, a ´sense of wonder´ is the best way to describe Señor Hans´s mood. The town where I am staying, Puerto Ayora, isn´t your tropical island fantasy resort and the surrounding landscapes are interesting but not that impressive. No, there is something else here that brings about that Sense of Wonder: the beasties ...

My first afternoon was spent scouting out the town and visiting the Darwin Research Center, where they also study and grow giant tortoises ("reuzeschildpadden"). It is hard to describe the feeling of just walking down a path and all of sudden seeing a giant tortoise lumbering towards you. They are such gentle and beautiful creatures.

The next day was for Tortuga Bay, where, although it is a 30 minute walk, the best beach is for some quality sun and swim time. And sun and swim time I had ("burnt to a crisp"), but the real quality was to be found in activities by others; right, the animals. Where to start ... pelicans were soaring overhead all the time, diving kamikaze-style whenever they saw a juicy snack in the water. One of them crashed a few meters from me ... the "Blue-Footed Boobies", weird birds. They are about halfway between a pelican and a seagull, but with big bright blue webbed feet. The sea iguanas, about as long as Señor Hans´s lower leg; their favourite activities are swimming and doing group hugs. The 1.5 meter shark that came for a visit (I wasn´t in the water at the time, I was I were!). The little finches ("musjes"), eating bread crumbs out of your hand ... and it is unbelievable how tame all these animals are. You can get close, and then closer and closer, and while the Sense of Wonder is building on your face, they look at you as if it´s the most normal thing in the world.

Yesterday was just swim time, but with a special twist. Taking a short water taxi ride to the other side of the bay, and a short walk further on, was supposed to be a place where you can swim in "natural pools". Now I have this crazy thing about swimming in natural pools, I love it. And these did not disappoint me. There was a long canyon, about 20 meters high, which was filled with crystal clear, soothingly cool water (nice for the crispy shoulders). It consisted of three parts, one shallow part in the middle, and two 50 meter long and 5 meter wide canyons to swim laps in. And for most of the time I was alone there. And if there is one thing Señor Hans likes better than natural pools, it is PRIVATE natural pools :-D

More private stuff this morning. I rented a bike and went to another beach, about 1 1/2 hours away. It was tough going with the heat, the hills and my current conditional dip (which is relative of course, Señor Hans will still bike the pants off anyone who reads this). But wherever there is pain, there is usually a reward. Mine was ... a private tropical beach ! Actually two of ´em. I felt as giddy as ... well, as yesterday and the day before. My friends the pelicans were there as well, doing their dive-bomb routine again. It would have been perfect if not for the pesky stingy flies that kept using me for target practice.

Now for some education. As some of you may know, Charles Darwin´s visit to the Galápagos as a young man on the "Beagle" provided him with many insights that eventually led him to publish his natural selection and evolution theories. I am actually reading his diary of the time (1830s), "The Voyage of the Beagle", which is must-read for anyone that visited the places he visited with the Beagle (Rio de la Plata, Patagonia, Chile, Peru, Galapagos and more). See the links on the right pane for some more info on this.

As for the Voyage of Señor Hans. It continues tomorrow with an 8 days cruise around the islands here. But here are some more pictures to keep you busy for a bit:

Next to showing you my butt again, this last one is mainly for making you feel envious (while I still can) ... :-p