Category Archives: PARKS

Into the Blue: Tim Button Visits the Galápagos Islands

I haven’t had a solid two-week vacation since 2001, so it was wonderful when a longtime client gave my wife and me a 15-day trip to South America from Overseas Adventure Travel, a Massachusetts-based company that conducts small-group tours to off-the-beaten-path destinations for people 50 and older. The package comprised  eight days in Ecuador (Quito and the Galápagos Islands) and seven days in Peru (Cuzco and Machu Picchu). Since in March and April the desert-like Galápagos are warm while mountainous Machu Picchu is chilly, it was like taking two separate vacations. I’ll describe the excursion to the Galápagos here and do a separate post on the mainland portion of our adventure in a later post.

Flying into the Galapagos Islands

Flying into the Galápagos to start our five-day cruise around the archipelago of volcanic islands that straddle the Equator 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador.

The islands, famed for their vast number of endemic species, were studied by Charles Darwin during the voyage of the Beagle, which contributed to his inception of the theory of evolution by natural selection. A province of Ecuador, the Galápagos have about 25,000 permanent inhabitants, 80% of them involved in the tourist industry (which is highly regulated for ecological reasons), although there is some farming and coffee growing. But most of the archipelago and its surrounding waters are a UNESCO World Heritage Site comprising a national park and biological marine reserve.

Overseas Adventure Travel boats cruising the Galapagos Islands

No more than 30 people may enter most nature sites at one time, so our party cruised the Galápagos, which are mostly dry and desertlike, in this pair of small boats that could each accommodate up to 16 passengers.

Upon landing, we made a short bus transfer to the dock, where we boarded our passenger boat for the four-night cruise. As required, not only had our cruising itinerary been filed with the conservation authorities of the Galápagos National Park (park biologists can make changes to plans to minimize their impact on the ecosystems of the islands) but also our trip was led by a certified Galápagos naturalist, from whom we learned a lot.

The desertlike landscape of the Galapagos Islands

The typical Galápagos landscape has a rugged and barren beauty. 

Our cruise centered on land tours that got us up close to the extraordinary flora and fauna. The birdlife is specially bountiful, the most ethereally beautiful being a subspecies of the Great Blue Heron.

Great blue heron in the Galapagos

 A Great Blue Heron, perhaps the most beautiful of all native Galápagos birds.

The islands’ most famous seabird is the Booby–there are three species on the Galápagos: the Blue-footed Booby, which is the most common; the Red-footed Booby, the only one that nests in trees; and the Nazca Booby, the largest of the three.  The the English name “Booby” is thought to originate from “Bobo,” the Spanish word for clown, which was given to the birds due to their comical ungainliness on land.

A Galapagos Nazca Booby

A Nazca Booby, the largest of the three species found on the Galápagos.

None of the wildlife is afraid of humans so it’s possible to see the various birds, reptiles, and sea mammals up close.  The marine iguana, found only on Galápagos Islands, has the ability, unique among modern lizards, to live and forage in the sea. They grow more than five feet long, and look a bit like Godzilla or some other monster, as Charles Darwin evidently thought back in the 19th century when he wrote:

The black Lava rocks on the beach are frequented by large (2–3 ft), disgusting clumsy Lizards. They are as black as the porous rocks over which they crawl & seek their prey from the Sea. I call them ‘imps of darkness’. They assuredly well become the land they inhabit.

A Galapagos marine iguana

A Galápagos marine iguana, the only lizard that lives and forages in the ocean.

The Galápagos sea lion is  another species that exclusively breeds on the islands. Beign numerous and social, they’re often seen sunbathing on sandy beaches and rock outcroppings or gliding gracefully through the surf. Their loud bark, playful nature, and athletic agility in water make them the “welcoming party” of the archipelago.

Galapagos sea lions sunbathing on a sandy beach

A colony of Galápagos sea lions enjoying the sun on a sandy island beach.

You don’t always have to trek into the hinterland to encounter the wildlife. Galápagos pelicans and seals gather round the fish market stalls in the harbor towns and are very comical as they scramble for food scraps.

Pelicans and seals

Pelicans and seals in the fish market at Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island. 

Next up: Our travels in Peru and Ecuador.



Prime Rib: Laura Bohn’s Neighborhood

I live on the eastern edge of the Meatpacking District, on the southwest corner of Eighth Avenue and 14th Street, in what was the New York County Bank Building. It’s a neo-classical temple with Corinthian columns and Beaux-Arts touches, designed in 1907 by  DeLemos & Cordes, the architects of Macy’s on 34th Street. My building stands directly across the street from the former New York Savings Bank on the northwest corner. Built in 1897, it’s a Roman temple of white Vermont marble capped by an impressive copper dome. (It once housed Balducci’s but is now a CVS.) The A.I.A. Guide to New York City notes that the two bank buildings are “a rare occurrence for this city: a pair of classically inspired sentinels guarding the western corridor of 14th Street” leading to the Meatpacking District or, as it’s officially known, the Gansevoort Market Historic District.

N.Y. County National Bank Building - 14th Street and 8th Avenue

Laura Bohn lives in the former New York County National Bank Building at 14th Street and 8th Avenue, the beginning of the Meatpacking District.

The 1897 New York Savings Bank 81 8th Avenue

The former New York Savings Bank stands across the street from Laura’s building, creating “a pair of classically inspired sentinels guarding the western corridor of 14th Street” and the Meatpacking District beyond.

The Meatpacking District is definitely a hotbed of trendy fashion and design stores. Some of my favorites include Jeffrey New York, Alexander McQueen, Diane von Furstenberg, and Vitra.

Jeffrey New York in the Meatpacking District

Jeffrey New York (twin to an Atlanta location) at 449 West 14th Street is a swank mini-department store that features runway-hot men’s and women’s wear in a cool warehouse space.

Alexander McQueen store, Meatpacking District, New York, Robert Wright for The New York Times

The Alexander McQueen store at 417 West 14th Street continues to be a high fashion Mecca despite the death of the extraordinarily talented designer in 2010. Photograph by Robert Wright/New York Times

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Dutch Treat: Laura Bohn in Amsterdam

Tulip fields, Holland

An aerial view of the spring tulip fields in Holland

The famous tulip festival draws many tourists to Amsterdam’s Keukenhof park each spring, but my husband and I spent last New Year’s in the Dutch city and found that, like Venice, it’s the perfect place for a winter vacation. We stayed at the Hotel Pulitzer, an extraordinary collection of 25 restored 17th and 18th century canal houses that have been converted into a single luxury hotel. It’s well located—we wanted to be on a canal—and is next door to the Anne Frank House, which we visited and found a very emotional experience.

Amsterdam is a great city to get lost in (which is easy to do—even the locals occasionally lose their way) and, essential map in hand, we walked endlessly, seeing the sights, browsing markets and shops, and stopping at charming cafes and restaurants. Major destinations included the Rijksmuseum, with its incomparable collection of Rembrandts, Vermeers, and Hals, among other Flemish masterpieces; the Van Gogh Museum, the main part of which was designed by Gerrit Rietveld; the floating flower market; and the notorious Red Light District.

Amsterdam has wonderful night life. We rang in the New Year at Boom Chicago, a terrific sketch and improvisational comedy troupe in the historic Leidseplein Theater. Founded almost 20 years ago by Americans (hence the name), it’s full of hip, young, talented performers (Seth Meyers and Jason Sudeikis are both alums). We stayed for an enjoyable dinner and dancing after the show. And we had a memorable meal at Le Pêcheur, a serene fish restaurant that several people had recommended.

Hotel Pulitzer, Amsterdam

In Amsterdam, Laura and her husband stayed at the Hotel Pulitzer, which consists of 25 interconnected 17th and 18th century canal houses. 

Hotel Pulitzer, Amsterdam

The Pulitzer’s guest rooms, many overlooking the canal, are full of character.

Inside the Anne Frank House

A visit to the Anne Frank House, which is next door to the Hotel Pulitzer, was a moving emotional experience.

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