Sunday, 20 November 2005

Back to White Admiral - Los Roques, Venezuela, Sept. 29th

Norwegian summer; jobs and socialising.

Summer in Norway went by too quickly; what happened to all the walks in the mountains, visiting more friends and relatives around Norway and decorating our bedroom? (We were back in our house again after renting it out for nearly two years.) But professional jobs worked out well. Stein enjoyed his third period back in the Cardiology Department of Sørlandets Sykehus, Kristiansand, learning more of the secrets of cardiac ultrasound, and refreshing old pacemaker skills - and taking many extra night-duties. Diana did a locum in private eye practice for a colleague in centre of Kristiansand. Working almost the whole summer gave limited time for other activities, but we did manage to see some of our lovely grand-children’s development, which is a great privilege. Hedda is now three and a half, and Johan one year old. Stein also spent some time with mum Eli at her summer cottage at Veierland. Also we managed to redecorate our ground floor into a flat for renting out as we left; Elisabeth’s old bedroom now being transformed to a kitchen.
Diana’s brother Jim came for a week from Canada, his first ever visit to Norway. He has wanted to come for a long time, but looking after an invalid wife for many years had prevented him, so this was a great pleasure for us both, and Norway showed itself from its best side with lovely summer weather, even Oslo looked like an attractive city!
Living partly on our boat in far-off parts makes it important to be with family while we are home, and we were pleased that Robert came to stay for a few weeks after finishing his maths degree in Bergen, and we had a big family reunion at Eli’s summer cottage with all three of our off-spring and partners, Hugh and Camilla (Robert is still single).

Off-road biking and veteran rowing.

On the sporting side, Stein took part in Birkebeinerrittet, an off-road cycle race 89 kilometres over mountains from Rena to Lillehammer, along with 11.000 others (!), including Martin and Camilla. They were all pleased with their times, even Stein taking 4hrs10 min, but was still beaten by his daughter-in-law by 14 minutes. (But she is a very fit and tough lady!).
Stein turned sixty just before we returned to Venezuela, another occasion to gather family and a few good friends. We had a fun evening with good food and speeches, songs, violin playing by our friend Günter, and Stein had to take a bit of good natured teasing about his extremely healthy life-style. In return he got a brand new off-road bicycle! So that is us both past the six decades, but still going strong, in good health and enjoying life very much.
En route to White Admiral we had some days in Glasgow at the World Masters (veteran) Rowing Championships combined with seeing relatives of Dianas and old friends from student days at Glasgow University. Stein entered three events and was pleased to come away with a win in double sculls together with Hans Petter Rasmussen from Drammen. A repeat from many events before, the latest was in from Montreal 2001, when he last took part. The FISA World Masters, as it is officially known, is a huge event, this time with 5000 men and women from 37 nations racing in 8000 seats. One day the races were delayed due to rain and cross winds at the Strathclyde Centre, but everybody still praised the Scottish organizers for an extremely well run event. At the official opening we also got the chance to shake hand with an old hero, Sir Steve Redgrave, now retired after five Olympic golds. He is the most successful rower ever, and a sympathetic person, too, doing a lot of work for charity in addition to figure-heading rowing.
The Saturday night banquet in Motherwell was as expected a real “row” down memory lane with many familiar faces among the rowers from both Norway and UK. Among them were David Ward and Tony Cassidy (Glasgow in the late 60’s) and Ole Østlund (Norway, early 70’s).
In London we had a quick stop with Elisabeth & Hugh, and a huge lunch with Kenneth & Tatiana (Ocean Rowing Society) before heading SW via Miami with British Airways and American Airlines.


Our return to White Admiral late September 13th (!) was not as happy as we had hoped, owing to a break-in 3 weeks earlier. The marina owner had not wanted to worry us by mailing us earlier; she sat up waiting for us to give us the bad news. We got to the boat at 2.30 a.m., after waiting at Caracas Airport for three hours for our luggage (which had been held back in Miami for security check) to find that most of our loose electric and electronic equipment was missing... The thieves had taken plenty of time to go through our cupboards and stores, and had gone off with what they could sell; TV, radios, two GPS’s, inverter, generator, outboard engine, emergency beacon, electric tools, binoculars, anemometer, torch, search-light, tools, even a little iron and kitchen mixer! So we went to bed a little depressed and didn’t sleep too well or long that night. However things brightened in the morning. For a start the Coastal Police nearby had just found our Mariner outboard engine and the Honda generator, two of the biggest items, and we got back the generator at once. The outboard engine was more of a problem, as this had already been passed on to the bureaucrats, who even the police seem to have no control over. The marina owner Yezabel visited the Fiscal’s Office in Higuerote four times, with a policeman each time and and with Stein twice, before finally getting the engine back! First of all it was no good coming on a Wednesday as they only hand out items on Friday. And the office will serve no more than 30 requests on any given Friday! (People apparently start lining up at 5 a.m. to claim back missing items...) The impression is that the Fiscal’s Office wants to keep stolen items for themselves, hence make many problems so that people give up trying to get them back!
Yezabel was also willing to take some responsibility for our losses, as of course their nocturnal, armed security guard had failed, and instead of trying to work out the value of everything, we have made an arrangement for free lifting and storage the next time we come home (in November). This we are all reasonably happy with - just hope their new security measures work! Fortunately the thieves had done no structural damage (apart from the door, which the marina already had repaired), and did not take the instruments which were fixed in place like radar, VHF and satellite telephone, so things could have been worse. But some items are a particularly sad loss, like the Jotron emergency beacon that saved Elisabeth’s life during her failed row in 1999, and accompanied both our solo Atlantic rows in 1999 and 2002. Also the missing PC with all the electronic charts now makes navigation more difficult. And with the printer gone, we can no more process digital pictures of fishermen and other locals for gifts… So our previously good impression of Venezuela is a little tarnished. But they did leave the guitar behind, so we can still strum up the occasional blues and evergreens in the cockpit. And getting over the misery of burglary, we were finally able to admire the beautiful paint - job of deck and coach-roof. All is now white or off-white, no more burning feet in the tropical sun and no and no more skidding on wet deck and cockpit. Well done, Gabriel and your men of Astillero Higuerote.

Paradise revisited.

We worked quickly to get White Admiral back in shape, stocked up and into the water, before our good friends Frode and Susanne Filseth arrived two days later. They brought a new GPS, an inverter, an old lap-top PC and an electric drill, so we had the necessary basics to go off sailing again. After a bird-watching trip to the mangroves the next evening we were off in the gentle, warm breeze for an overnight sail to Caya Herradura, one of the small islets off the coast of Tortuga. We are familiar with the Tortuga anchorages from earlier in the year, and enjoyed showing Frode and Susanne three of these lovely places. Immaculate, white beaches, good snorkelling and spear-fishing (still permitted here), and also took a couple of long walks along the coast. We revisited our old friend Moncho, the only permanent inhabitant of Punta Delgado. This time we were not in the lobster season, so he had to grill fish for us as we sat watching the sun set over the reef, glass of wine in hand. Not a bad life!
Sadly Frode received the message that his mother had died (nearly 92, not unexpected), and that they would have to cut their holiday short to get back for her funeral. We wanted to take them first to Los Roques, also new territory for us, supposedly a paradise for sailors and one of the biggest atolls in the world. On the 21st September we had another easy overnight sail, partly motoring as the wind was so gentle. We reached the enormous lagoon the next morning and motored up along one of the inner reefs to the main island of Gran Roques. As we went into the SE reef entrance at Boca de Sebastopol we caught a large barracuda on the line, a vicious looking, still beautiful torpedo of a fish weighing about five kilos. We killed it with a little alcohol into the gills, a great tip which we got from other sailors last year; it kills instantly without any struggling or mess. So that was dinner that day and lunch and dinner the next day secured! The town of Gran Roques is a brightly panted little holiday town with sand streets, no traffic and lots of small guest-houses (posadas). We shared the anchorage with a few fishing boats, a couple of tourist catamarans, two or three foreign yachts, and lots of pelicans, gannets, gulls and terns.
The whole area is a marine national park, so there is a bit of bureaucracy to get checked in, and a relatively high fee to be paid (about £6 or 75 kroner per person and £40 or 500 kroner for the boat for 15 days). We had to go the rounds of four offices in the extreme afternoon heat, to get all the correct stamps on our form - which has to be returned before we leave. But everybody we met in these offices were relaxed and friendly, didn’t appear to have much to do, and gave us no problems. We managed to visit two of the nearby islands with Frode and Susanne, wonderful places with lovely beaches and calm lagoons. Susanne had been a little unsure about snorkelling, but here it is such a pleasure that she quickly learned to relax and enjoy the sights of large, multi-coloured parrot fish grazing on the corals, exquisite small aquarium-like fish, shoals of dark-blue surgeon fish or schools of inquisitive squid gazing at you with big eyes!
Frode and Susanne left on the 5 p.m. plane to Caracas on the 24th September, a bit sorry to have to leave, but very happy with their exotic 10 days in this part of the world. They were most appreciative and easy-going guests.

Plans ahead.

Now we have had a few days to ourselves, before Diana’s colleague Matthias Fischer and his family come for a two week holiday. First we motored around to the West side of the atoll, eyeing our way through the shallow areas, and anchored in Dos Mosquis, two small islets, one with a research station with turtle hatching, and the other a perfect little deserted tropical island with three palm tees. During that sail we caught another big fish, a tuna this time, enough for four meals now we are alone aboard. On the Dos Mosquis anchorage there are no fishing-camps and hence the fishing ban seems most effective, so for the first time ever we have seen an abundance of the giant West-Indian queen conchs. During a swim in clear water it was possible to count 15 of these monstrous snails at once. Caya Carenero and Crasqui are two more pretty anchorages, and after we have returned here with more friends we will report in more detail. Tonight we have an overnight sail to a marina near Caracas, arriving tomorrow morning, Sept 30th with a day to spare before our next visitors.
But apart from enjoying the surroundings and lots of good fish meals, there are always lots of jobs to be done on a boat. Some that have needed our attention this last week: The burners on the paraffin stove, the fresh-water pump, a non-charging alternator on starboard engine, a damaged cockpit bench-cover. So life is never dull, but we still have managed to read a couple of books since arriving – one of the luxuries of life afloat!
Finally an outline of plan ahead: Cruise around Venezuela water, first with the Kristiansand family, then with Stein’s mother Eli and friend Rigmor. During this time we also hope to see Robert aboard. Nov 7th sees White Admiral being lifted back on the hard at Astillero Higuerote. Nov 10th-20th we spend in the exciting islands of Galapagos taking part in a historical cruise with 12 others and giving a lecture in Puerto Ayora on the Norwegian immigration to these islands. And in late November we are back in Kristiansand to work for a couple of months again. In late February 06 we leave Venezuela and sail to the Dutch Antilles, Cartagena in Colombia and probably the San Blas Islands. No lack of fun or challenges ahead!

20 Nov 2005 by Stein & Diana

Tuesday, 15 November 2005

Venezuela, Oct-Nov 2005 - A visit from Eli & Rigmor and

Visit from Eli & Rigmor.

The next 24 hours, we spent getting the boat ready for our next Norwegian guests, Stein’s mother Eli, and our friend Rigmor. Again, planes were in time and passengers happy and we could leave the expensive marina almost at once, and had a new brisk sail up to Los Roques. This time we entered the Boca de Sebastapol channel between the reefs on the SE side. Halfway up we stopped for a swim at a sandy islet hardly bigger than our boat and populated by terns and pelicans. The first night we anchored at Cayo Pirata, an island quite near Gran Roques. After dark Robert and I went snorkelling with flashlights. There was a little wind and drizzle but all seemed well as we turned in for the night. But at 2 a.m. I woke up as the wind had freshened, caused the awning to flap and seemed to come from a new direction. Out on deck in the brilliant moonlight, I got a minor shock as a beach was only a few meters away from our stern! It was a narrow sand-spit originally a good way behind when we had anchored - we had dragged! Diana joined me quickly, we got the engines on and the large awning off (it was catching the side-wind as a sail), and fortunately got both anchors up without any problems. The moon made it easy to motor the short distance across to the safe anchorage off Gran Roque. All sailors need a bit of luck sometimes!Otherwise these two weeks went very smoothly, revisiting the best of the anchorages in Los Roques, in which we were now beginning to feel at home. Rigmor had in the past not done any snorkelling. She had grown up close to the sea, learned to swim, but was somehow imprinted a fear of having her head immersed. But with Diana’s instructions she made a brave attempt to learn, and managed to see some of the wonderful life on the reefs. Eli had a couple of swims from the stern, but at nearly 90 and legs not so good any more, preferred to remain in the cockpit. Here she enjoying the warmth and the views and was always available for preparing potatoes and vegetables for dinner.

Night sailing with a difference.

Late autumn is normally a period of little winds in this part of the Caribbean Sea. The dreaded hurricanes that made life miserable in New Orleans and other areas up north never touch the Venezuelan coast. The only way we noticed distant storms was when the swells occasionally were bigger than usual. But on the sail south with our last guests for the season we had really rough conditions. This time, as we were going to Higuerote, east of Caracas, we headed out of the archipelago straight into a force 5-6 stiff breeze. Well off the windward reefs we could turn south, turn off the engines and sail close-hauled, but it was rough and uncomfortable. My mother has been through similar conditions before and took it stoically, but for Rigmor this was a new and scary experience. As if to soften this blow of a farewell “present” from Los Roques, we caught a barracuda. Diana gutted the fish and put it in the fridge, conditions did not allow for anything more elaborate.
Heading into the stiff breeze, the engines were off and the wind-generator became so noisy that we turned it off too, and were down to battery power. The fridge and the autopilot and a minimum of inside lights need quite a bit of electricity, so with no other boats visible and a big moon up I turned off the navigation lights and just kept a careful lookout. This, of course, is not a practice we really recommend, except when crossing the empty wastes of big oceans. Not long after a red light was seen behind, apparently a ship crossing our wake and heading west. But then it turned round, a green light appeared and soon the ship was heading straight for us while flashing a powerful beacon! Putting the navigation lights on again did not stop the flashing. So after all these years of peaceful sailing, was this finally an encounter with pirates?! – But Diana solved the problem by calling the ship on the VHF radio. Through broken English and even more broken Spanish we realized that the ship belonged to the Venezuela Coast Guard, had seen us on their radar from two miles behind and became suspicious of this unlit vessel. Diana had to give them details about our identity and present journey and we were duly reprimanded for our un-seamanlike practice. – Another solution would have been, of course, to turn off the fridge temporarily.
After midnight conditions gradually improved and amazingly enough, dawn at 6 a.m. found us motoring across a gray, glassy, heaving sea. Ahead was the tall, green, coastal cliffs of the cape north of Higuerote. Fortunately Rigmor was her usual happy self again, and in spite of the rough passage still thought the whole Los Roques trip a wonderful experience.
Safely moored in Astillero de Higuerote, Eli & Rigmor still had time for some shopping and sightseeing before their plane home. On their last evening we gthered drinks, snacks, binoculars and insect repellent and took the dinghy into the mangroves. There we toasted to the nocturnal return of hundreds of birds; scarlet ibis, white, grey and blue herons, squawking parrots, and many more. An amazing sight…When darkness fell we returned by way of a seaside restaurant and a most enjoyable meal.

Our Tortuga Challenge.

Diana and I now had one final week before the lifting of White Admiral back on the hard. So at 2 a.m. the next morning - after our taxi-driving friend, Arias, had safely driven the ladies the two hours to Caracas International Airport, Diana and I headed out NE for Tortuga, and its tiny Cayo Herradura where we spent so much time in the spring and where we did the main preparation for the Sahara Marathon. The brisk easterlies prevailed and made this another rough slog and another overheated engine... But how wonderful to quite abruptly leave the waves behind and in the sunset anchor in the horse-shoe shaped protection of Cayo Herradura! - And just enough daylight for a swim to check the anchor, then to the beach and back before a glass of wine and dinner in the cockpit.
Two days later the wind had eased and we could motor the few miles east to Punta Delgada and Playa Caldera. Meanwhile I had given the starboard engine a thorough check without finding anything seriously wrong, but I replaced the thermostat, oil and oil filter.
In this NE corner of Tortuga there is now a military camp and next year will see the building of a coast guard station. So things will no doubt change and soon Moncho will not be the only permanent inhabitant. Two uniformed, but barefoot and friendly men from the coastal police in fact came aboard and gave us a check regarding both identity and safety features aboard. (Happily no mention of navigation lights!)
Back in March when Diana and I covered a lot of the island during our long walks we had talked about trying a walk right around the coast. We thought we could do it in two days. Already we had done some long walks alone and with our various visitors, and felt we were in reasonable form. We told Moncho about our project. He has lived on the island for 20 years, probably knows it better than anybody else, and he did not think we could do it in two days. The island is about 25 x 10 km and if we were running out of time could probably do a short-cut across the flat, but cactus-covered interior. So compass and torches were part of the pack, which mostly consisted of water, a total of 16 l. So on Thursday 3rd November off we went with the breeze and the sunrise behind us. We made short stops each 2nd hour for snacks and – in my case – shoe repairs. After six hours of active walking we were in new territory well down the west coast. We saw the occasional boat off the coast, but never encountered any humans on land, our main company being birds and ghost crabs. After we turned the SW corner we discovered a south coast that was much prettier and varied than the north. - But also more difficult to navigate! At sunset we cleared a spot for the night between two rows of mangroves, collected firewood and while the bonfire got going had a refreshing salt water wash and swim.
After a freeze-dried dinner, some snacks and a cup of tea we settled under the brilliant stars. But as the fire died the mosquitoes appeared. Our insect repellent seemed almost useless and we ended up cocooned in our silk sleeping sheet-bags, but still had a night of interrupted sleep and a lot of star-gazing… The bonfire for breakfast helped for a little while, but then tiny gnats took over from the mosquitoes and drove us nearly to desperation. At least it was a relief to be on the road again!
The terrain along the latter part of the south coast was very rough and seemed never-ending. It was a relief to see finally see the turquoise Laguna de Carenero. From now on we were on familiar ground; five hours to go and about 1.5 l water each. My shoes became more and more of a problem, but at least the backpack was now very light. When we finally reached the sandy NE coast we had a short swim, and for the last two hours I walked barefoot on the beach. I had no water left and Diana was down to the last drops when we passed the military camp close to home. Our new military friends Fernandez and Medina heard what we had been doing, congratulated us profusely and gave us cold water from a freezer. How we drank! So when we got to Moncho’s a few minutes later we were on the mend again. 18 hours active walking is what it took us to “circumnavigate” Tortuga by foot.
We did indeed sleep well that night!

Saturday night we had a final meal at Moncho’s; lobster grilled on embers on the ground at sunset, and the following night we sailed for home. Finally a gentle sail. Another big barracuda was caught, and the next morning found us safely moored in the marina.
The last two days was in a frenzy of work getting the boat up on the hard and ready for three months of storage. This time we gathered most of the valuable items and left them in the care of Yezobel Yuffa, the marina manager.
But before our return to Europe: A visit to The Enchanted Isles; Galapagos!
31 Dec 2005 by Stein & Diana

Tuesday, 1 November 2005

Nov. 2005 - The Islands of Galapagos

Guayaquil, Ecuador.

Arias, our faithful taxi-driver, drove us safely the 2½ hours to Caracas International Airport on November 9th. Along the way we stopped for a traditional coconut drink, particularly refreshing as the nuts are cooled in a big freezer. The evening plane from Caracas via Bogota got us into Guayaquil, Ecuador’s biggest city, in the middle of the night. Here we were met by our tour leaders, John Woram, the brains behind the first ever historical tour of the islands ("History, Mystery and More"), and Judy Muggia, our cheerful, bustling tour operator. They escorted us to the Hotel UniPark in the middle of town where we met most of the other participants of the tour, twelve equally tired Americans that had flown in from Miami.
Next morning, after an excellent breakfast, a short walk across the road from the hotel immediately gave us a taste of a more exotic wild-life, with big iguanas sitting on the trees and bushes in the little Parque Seminario. Here were also tame squirrels fed by the locals.A day tour of Guayaquil proved to be a real surprise. What we imagined would be a big, poor, dirty Latin-American city proved to have a beautifully clean water-front, gracious buildings and groups of cleaners mopping the streets! Apparently the mayor of the city has since 1992 made a huge effort to get the place cleaned up, and beggars and street vendors moved into designated areas. (Not that the poverty can have disappeared, no doubt there are areas that visitors don’t usually see.) We spent a historical morning guided by Dr Octavio LaTorre from Quito. He is a retired, distinguished history professor with 20 books published, including one on the human history of Galapagos (“The Curse of the Giant Tortoise”). With him we visited the naval museum and the gun-boat Calderon, the pride of the Ecuadorian Navy, and heard glowing accounts of how she saved Ecuador from Peruvian invasion in 1941. After lunch on the terrace of the Guayaquil Yacht Club, gazing out over the tranquil estuary of the river Guaya, we spent a few hours in a historical/zoological park. Here some of the old city buildings had been restored, and there was a big selection of wild-life from tapirs and sloths to exotic birds. During this time we got acquainted with our twelve fellow passengers, all American, and mostly with some interest in the history of Galapagos. Apart form the leader John, who has a life-long fascination in anything to do with Galapagos, edits a comprehensive web-site ( and has recently written a book about the human history of the islands (“Charles Darwin Slept Here”), there was Matt James, a professor of geology from Sonoma State University doing research on an expedition by the California Academy of Sciences a hundred years ago, librarian Tom Tyler with a special interest in the history of whaling, the retired air-force officer Fred Laing who was there to look for the grave of a young officer killed in a duel in 1813 (!) and of course Stein, with his interest in the Norwegian immigration in the 1920’s and 30’s. Indeed an interesting and enthusiastic bunch of people.


The Galapagos Islands are about 600 nautical miles (1000 km) off the coast of Ecuador, or a one and a half hours’ comfortable plane ride to the small island of Baltra and an airstrip built by the Americans during World War II. There we were taken to our cruise ship Tip Top II, a motor-vessel with 16 passenger berths; not one of the most luxurious ships, but very adequate for our needs. Here our guide to the islands, Juan Carlos Avila, introduced himself and the crew to us. He is a young Ecuadorian from the islands, very enthusiastic and full of knowledge about the islands and the wild-life. We soon departed to the north coast of the neighbouring island of Santa Cruz to get our first taste of these weird and wonderful islands. A dinghy trip took us into inlets among the mangroves, where we could see large sea-turtles (who obliged us by mating!), sharks and schools of yellow rays, then a walk to an inland lagoon to gaze in awe at flock of pink flamingos busy sifting water for tiny crustations, not in the least disturbed by our presence. As we watched from the beach a black marine iguana swam past us. This is the amazing thing about Galapagos, the animals have not learned to fear humans, and one can wander at leisure among them and study their habits. Their lack of fear comes from their long and isolated evolution with few natural enemies, not because humans have treated them particularly well. On the contrary, humans have in the last 200 years helped themselves to the wild-life with little thought of the consequences, and almost wiped out the giant tortoise population that has given the name to the islands. (Galapagos is derived from the Spanish word for saddle, as some species of the giant tortoises have saddle-shaped shells.)

“Bird Island” revisited.

A night sail to Isla Genovesa (Tower Island) was pretty rough, and most of the group experienced a sleepless night, some vomiting miserably. Stein and I had a cabin beside the engines, and we dosed fitfully bumping along with the engines roaring behind us. We wondered if we should have paid more for an upper cabin, but in the morning found that those who did had slept even worse, being thrown about in the heaving of the ship! These trials were soon forgotten in the excitement of seeing Genovesa. For Stein and I this was a nostalgic return, as we had first sailed there in Red Admiral in 1979 with our children Elisabeth and Martin (then 5 and 4 years old) – an amazing experience for all of us. This flat island lies around an ancient volcanic crater where the sea has broken through in one place, creating a circular lagoon. Like most of the island group, the landscape is very dry and barren with stick-like vegetation, cacti and black lava rocks. But this is the island to see birds, and here are most of the peculiar species that Galapagos can display, including red-footed boobies, blue-footed boobies, nazda (masked) boobies, petrels, frigate birds, tropic birds, lava gulls, swallow-tailed gulls, mocking birds, pigeons, hawks, warblers and finches. They sit in the bushes, nest in the cliffs, walk on the ground and fly overhead in amazing numbers. In this delicate environment, tourism has to be carefully controlled, so no longer can private boats sail in and anchor; everybody has to go on tours registered by the National Park, keep to a limited number of marked paths, and be led by an officially trained guide. A guide can take no more than 16 persons at a time. You may think that to be so controlled reduces the total experience, but this is not so; the birds and animals are so prolific, you find them even in the paths! Also an afternoon snorkelling trip along the cliffs was in fact a better experience with a guide than we could possibly have had on our own. Juan Carlos’ knowledge of life below the water more than matched his knowledge of that on land.

Turtle-ride in Santiago.

Another night sail, this time not so rough, took us to Isla Santiago (James Island), where we started with a snorkelling trip. Despite being almost at the equator, this proved to be a cold experience, thanks to the Humbolt Current bringing water straight from the Antarctic. We would have been very thankful for a wet-suit, which only one of our group had brought along. The temperature is well below 20 degrees centigrade, but the snorkelling is so amazing that even I (Diana) who hate cold water, went in for about half an hour at a time. As soon as you get in, the sea-lions appear, and if you dive down, they come whizzing around you, obviously pleased to have a new play-mate. A passing turtle also came right up to me, and although one is not supposed to touch the animals, I couldn’t help putting my hands on its back, and it obligingly swam along with me hanging on. Most of the fish in Galapagos are also quite different from those we know well from the Caribbean reefs. They may have similar shapes, but with special colour patterns and often distinctly different behaviour.

Isla Floreana.

Our third island visit was to Isla Floreana (Charles Island), a more historical part of the trip. Here is the famous Post Office Bay where a barrel has served as a primitive, self-service mail box for nearly 300 years. Just behind are the remains of the first Norwegian settlement in 1925. This is also where some Germans settled around 1930; the Wittmer family whose descendents are still on the island (the boat we were on is owned by Rolf Wittmer), the eccentric Dr Friedrich Ritter, who is remembered for having had his teeth pulled out and a false set of steel ones made, and a colourful, psychopathic baroness who was probably murdered by one of her lovers!
There was not much left from the Norwegians, but we hope the National Park will recognize their place in the human history of Floreana and mark it with appropriate signs. But at least a huge cave, actually an underground lava tube discovered by Rolf Sønderskov in 1925, is now a tourist attraction.
The post-office barrel, although several times replaced, is still functioning; passing tourists and sailors can leave post to be picked up by others going the right way. We took a couple of letters for Europe and left a post-card to ourselves which we received about a month later – posted in Norway! On the west side of the island, one of the Wittmer children, Ingeborg Floreanita, now a woman in her sixties, has built a hotel and museum, with photos of her parents and other early settlers (including Norwegians). Here there is a little town, one of the four in the islands, but even with people around, sea-lions, marine iguanas and red Sally Lightfoot crabs lie around the jetty and rocks in the harbour. There is supposed to be an immigration stop even for Ecuadorians to settle in Galapagos now, but even so the population of the islands is rising alarmingly fast. This leads to a lot of illegal fishing and more problems in protecting the vulnerable environment.

The waved albatross.

The most southerly island of Isla Espanola (Hood Island) is particularly interesting because it is the only mating ground of the Galapagos waved albatross. We were a little late for the main mating season, but there were still a few pairs doing their ritual, which to us looks very comical. Two or three large birds face each other, jerk their long necks up and down, and make loud clicking noises with their beaks, finishing off with some hollow hoots in the air!
There were also many sea-lions on the beaches here, with young pups still suckling. One small and still wet pup was just new-born, with the after-birth lying beside him in the sand and mocking-birds hopping around cleaning up the mess. At the beach we enjoyed watching a little group of youngsters playing in a pool among the rocks, an older immature female keeping a watchful eye on them. In the water along most of the beaches populated by sea-lions or fur seals were large males constantly patrolling and barking to keep sharks and male rivals away – altogether not so different from human behaviour!
We were lucky to have such a good guide, and were quite happy to trail along after Juan Carlos, listen to his interesting commentaries, and asking him all sorts of questions which he could usually answer.
During these ten days we got to know all our group quite well, and enjoyed their company. Some of the ladies were among the most enthusiastic snorkellers we have ever met, especially Denise Silveira. We will fondly remember Fred for his large store of jokes, and Paul Simon for his unending supply of sweets, limericks and amusing comments!

Our last two days were spent on the two more populated islands, first San Cristobal. Here another Norwegian family settled in the 1930’s, and in 1979 we had met Snefrid and Kari Guldberg in their cattle ranch in the fertile, wetter highlands. They were now gone. Only Kari had children with Manuel A. Cobos, an Ecuadorian factory manager. We visited the remains of the Cobos sugar factory, but heard that Kari’s children were now either settled in California, or had become too fond of the bottle, so we didn’t meet them. But at the local museum known as the Interpretation Centre we found a good account of the human history of the islands, with some large reproductions of pictures Stein had lent them many years ago.

Maria and Thorbaldo Kastdalen

When the Norwegians came to Isla de Santa Cruz in 1926 they found one inhabitant, an old Mexican. This island now has the largest town, Puerto Ayero. It is where most of the tour operators and guides are located, and where the famous Charles Darwin Centre was founded in 1959. The island population has increased from 1 to 15.000 inhabitants in 80 years and Puerto Ayora is a prosperous, attractive town with asphalt streets and lots of small hotels; quite changed from the simple, ramshackle village with sand streets that we remembered from 1979. The small harbour of Academy Bay is now jammed with tourist boats and local fishing crafts. Most tourists take an organised tour either on a small motor-vessel like ours, or on a larger, luxurious cruise-ship with up to 100 berths. But it is quite possible just to come in by plane, stay in a bed- and breakfast place and arrange a trip in one of the offices along the sea-front. Many back-packers do this, and no doubt get a good deal.
The most successful settlers among the Norwegians on this island were the Kastdalen family, who arrived from Rjukan in 1935, at a time when only a handful of people lived here, mostly Norwegians and Germans. The original couple and their son are now dead, but the two grand-children Thorbaldo and Maria are alive and well, speak Norwegian, and are proud of their heritage. Maria has kept Miramar, her grand-parents first home as a museum. Here you can find old Norwegian farm and kitchen utensils, pictures including King Haakon, ornaments and furniture, all arranged just as they were in the thirties. By chance a Norwegian television team (from NRK led by Sverre Tom Radøy) were there at the same time as us, so it was a treat for them to find this old piece of Norway and inhabitants who spoke fluent Norwegian!
Maria and Thorbaldo both have children, so the Kastdalen name will carry on…

Our tour leaders had arranged that Stein should hold a talk here about the Norwegian immigrations. A projector was rigged up, and seats arranged in the garden of the Hotel Fernandina where we stayed the last two nights. This proved to be very popular, and as well as the Norwegians, quite a few scientists and old ex-Europeans who live on the island came to hear about people whom they had known in the old days. Another coincidence was that the Norwegian Knut Stampa was visiting the island. He was born here in 1945 when his father, Kristian Stampa, was a successful fisherman and farmer.
Those interested in more about Galapagos should go to John Woram’s impressive web-site at Here you can even find the English translation of Stein’s book (still being polished; all the illustrations are not yet included) go to the section of Books, then under authors find Hoff, Stein ( ).

All good things come to an end, and the next morning it was back to the air-port and our plane to the mainland. Our organisers had decided on a really comfortable last night, and we checked into the Hotel Hilton Colon in Guayaquil, a newly-built, luxurious affair, where we lay in the warm swimming pool, under the stars and floodlit palm-trees and thought life wasn’t too bad! A last dinner together, this time with silver covers over the dinner plates, and we said goodbye to our new friends, as we had to leave very early the next morning for our plane back to Caracas.
So that was Galapagos revisited. I had wondered how changed it would be after 26 years. I am happy to say that the wild-life is just as fantastic as I had remembered. The towns have become bigger, but are much more attractive, and there are many more tourists. The National Park does a great job in trying to regulate the tourism and protect the environment, and in some islands they have managed to get rid of the feral animals (those introduced by humans like dogs, rats, cats, donkeys and goats). The landscape and animals of Galapagos are unlike anywhere else in the world, and we think these islands are an absolute must to visit for those who like to experience animals at close quarters in their natural environment. One way is to participate in the next "History, Mystery and More"- tour to be organized in April 2006. Again go to and click the announcement in the top righ corner of John Woram's web-site. You will not regret it - bon voyage!

Caracas: Look to Guayaquil!

On the way home, we spent 24 hours in Caracas, to give it another chance. Unfortunately, I have to say that we still agree it is largely a dirty, unattractive and unsafe city. Even close to the historical centre are areas of appalling squalor. They indeed have something to learn from Guayaquil! Even so, the people are mostly very friendly, and we had a great meal in a restaurant with live Latin American music, overlooking a park of bustling, Sunday-afternoon activities. Also we thought the birth-place museum of Simon Bolivar well presented and interesting. So there are always bright spots, and as reported before, the underground Metro is modern, cheap and fast - and well guarded. And with no tagging! (Something positive to be said for machine-gun carrying guards!)
That’s our adventures over for a while. Late November saw us back to winter Norway, to work, family and friends; that is not so bad either! In late February we return to Higuerote and Puerto Carenero, and from there sail for Bonaire and Curacao. Please keep us company in the future and give us an occasional feed-back either in our comments section, or in our Guestbook. And have a Happy New Year!
08 Jan 2006 by Stein & Diana