Panama and Galapagos Islands
Panama, Ecuador, Galapagos Islands

Travels from Denver to  Panama and Galapagos Islands: December 1 to December 17 
(Pictures are thumbnails. Click on them for a larger view. You may click on the subjects listed to go directly to them.)

Subjects:    Getting Ready    Panama Canal    Panama City    Panama City Rain Forest    Galapagos Islands

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The Riches wish you all HAPPY HOLIDAYS, MERRY CHRISTMAS and A GREAT 2001!

This male Frigate Bird and the Marine Iguana from the Galapagos Islands are decked out in their Christmas finest colors.  As you read this, know that our thoughts and wishes are with you, and we thank you for the part you played in making 2000 a wonderful year. We thank the Good Lord that He has blessed us with our health, our families, our friends and our Odyssey and has allowed us to travel safely, and may 2001 bring us all continued security, good health and much joy. 

So, hello again, fellow Rich Odyssey followers!  We are glad you are clicking on to keep up with our travels.  There is much, much more in this update from our adventures in Panama City and the amazing Galapagos Islands.  We are now in New Zealand enjoying the sights after a VERY long trip on many flights (check out the maps) to get here from the Galapagos Islands.  New Zealand will be covered in the next update as we will be here through January before continuing the Odyssey to Australia February 1.

There is a great new 3-D mapping program (DeLorme Eartha Global Explorer) which we are using to keep track of our Odyssey.  Check out the first part of our Around The World journeys in the Archive Maps section.


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Getting Ready

We arrived home about the middle of November from the North American segment of our Odyssey having traveled throughout North America in Betty Bounder, our faithful RV.  We spent two very busy weeks getting back in touch with our friends in Colorado, preparing Betty for sale (sigh), and finalizing our Odyssey  arrangements for the Around The World segment which began December 1 in Panama.  While there is still much left to do as we arrive in New Zealand, notably keeping our finances under some semblance of control, we are on our way!!!

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Our good and friendly companion, Java, the Cat, could not go with us on our Around the World segment of the Odyssey.  A very good friend of Denny's Mom, Pat Roe, was excited to be able to take care of Java while we are gone for the next eight months.  Here is a picture of Pat, Stephanie and Java as we make the turnover to the loving care of Pat.  Thanks!!!  We know Java will be in great hands. Next, you see Jennifer sitting in our office talking on the phone making more of our ongoing arrangements and deciding which of our many, many cables we needed to take along.  We do hope to continue being well connected as we travel around the world!

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Panama Canal

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Having arrived in the country of Panama after a long flight to Miami and then on to Panama City, we embarked on our long awaited plan to transit the Panama Canal (at least half way anyway).  Our connections were critical because the only day the tour boat does this is on Saturday.  We arrived in Panama late on Friday, and had our friendly guide Archie take us to the hotel.  We got up very early on Saturday morning to meet our boat at the canal for our "partial transit".  While the Canal is intellectually something that we knew was easy to imagine, seeing it in person was quite a thrill.  Be sure to check out the map of the Panama Canal in the New Maps section to see how the canal is laid out.  It actually goes from the Pacific coast NW to the Atlantic. 
The first picture shows a huge cruise ship, the Amsterdam, going though the Canal next to our boat.  To this day, ships are designed with a maximum width and length to accommodate passage through the Panama Canal and the Amsterdam had only a few inches at each side. There are two routes through the Canal so that two ships can transit in the same direction or one ship can go one way while another goes the opposite direction.  The next picture shows three smaller boats in one of the large locks.  Our boat and these went through the canal while the Amsterdam proceeded in parallel to us.  The next picture shows the lock gates closing while a large auto carrier from Norway transits in the locks next to us.
The French tried to build a canal in the 1880s but failed, primarily because workers were dying of malaria.  They did not, at that time, understand that the disease was carried by mosquitoes.  The last picture shows the Riches as they pass through the Continental Divide at the famous Cordillera Cut where the US and Panamanian workers had to cut through a 400 foot mountain at the highest point.  It was quite an engineering feat. 

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Panama City

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Archie, our guide, showed us around Panama City one day.  It is one of the oldest cities in North America, having been founded by the Spanish in 1507.  The first two pictures are of the ruins of old Panama City to the east of the current modern city.  These ruins are left after the pirate, Henry Morgan, came through in 1654 intent on burning the entire city.  The citizens actually burned much of it ahead of Morgan to keep him from taking everything.  The building blocks from these ruins were used later to rebuild Panama City in its current location.  The next picture shows a gold altar in a Catholic Church that was recovered from the original city.  The priests painted the alter black to keep Morgan from taking it.  It worked and the altar, less black paint, is in a church in the colonial section of Panama City, built after the original city was destroyed.  Next, you can see a quick snapshot of one the the Panama City Municipal Buses. Drivers buy old school buses, paint them in very decorative and imaginative patterns, and these are used as the main public transportation.  Very colorful, indeed.

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This next picture is of the modern Panama City shown from the older part of the city.  Middle is the French Embassy grounds.  Next is a picture of buildings that are being rebuilt in this old section of the city.  While much of the city is still in a state of disrepair, this is an example of how great it will look when all buildings are brought back to their original state.  Finally, a view of the city from the waterfront where a memorial to Ferdinand Balboa stands recognizing the fact that he discovered the Pacific Ocean in what is now Panama.

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Panama City Rain Forest

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Finally, we took a hike through a Rain Forest which is right in the middle of Panama City, as you can see from the picture of the sky line.  We took a few pictures of the tall trees, but you know what that looks like.  More interestingly, we saw several trails (looking much like miniature freeways) of leaf cutter ants carrying cut up leaves back to their ant hill. Click on the picture to get a better view of these hard workers carrying their very large loads.

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Galapagos Islands

A trip from Panama City to Quito, Ecuador (the capitol) set the stage for our very interesting and enjoyable cruise and visit to most of the Galapagos Islands.  Unfortunately, we landed in Quito at around 10:30 PM at night and did not get a chance to visit much of what appeared to be a delightful city.  They use American Dollars as their currency so things were very easy.  You may not know, as Denny certainly did not, that the city is at around 9,000 feet ASL so it was quite cool when we arrived.  You know you have done something wrong when you are dressed in shorts and no jacket and other people on the airplane are putting on parkas as they deplane.  Actually the temperature was only about 50 degrees F (about 10 degrees C), but shorts were not comfortable! We had to get up at 4 AM the next day to get to the airport for our trip the Galapagos so the night was very short.

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We arrived in the Galapagos without any trouble and in the first afternoon found ourselves atop a volcano overlooking a very famous rock, Pinnacle Rock.  Denny especially liked this rock since his company is named Pinnacle West!  Here we see Jennifer and Stephanie on top of the volcano with Pinnacle Rock and the bay where we snorkeled among sea lions in the background.  The last picture confirms that the Galapagos are very volcanic and very young, only 5 to 6 million years old.  We are on a small island, named Bartholome, just off the north coast of a bigger island named San Salvador.  (See the Galapagos map in the New Maps section.)

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While we saw a few sea lions the first day (see many pictures to follow), we saw many dolphins the next day swimming right beside our small dinghy as we toured around Isabella Island.  In the background behind Stephanie, you get a good picture of "our" boat Ambasador I from which we toured the islands. 

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Shown here behind the Riches is a lagoon that is fed by the sea through the porous volcanic rock.  It was originally created by a tsunami (very large tidal wave following an earthquake) which filled the basin, it is now kept full just by the ocean itself.  Nearby, a friendly sea lion visits with Denny and Stephanie as they wait for the dinghy to come to take them back to the ship. We had to step over this group to get down to the boat, but they were generally unperturbed. We met our now good friend, Paul Gould, from Perth, Australia, who is taking a picture of this lady sea lion.  We will visit him when we continue on our Odyssey to Western Australia.

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The first picture shows a couple of the Galapagos Marine Iguanas which exist nowhere else in the world.  They are an example of the evolutionary process Charles Darwin's book Origin of the Species described.  He visited the Galapagos for over a month in 1835 while on a world wide venture on the ship, the Beagle.  He later came back and studied these islands and their inhabitants more extensively, and this work led to the publication of his famous book explaining his theory of natural selection and survival of the fittest. Since the Galapagos are so young and so very remote (600 miles) from other major land masses, these reptiles show how evolution over time has created a very unique species which are now totally adapted to this environment.  The original Iguana probably came over on a chunk of driftwood  from South America. But, after that, they developed and evolved, changing into the creatures we see here in these pictures.  Click on the picture for a better view of these animals.  Next, you see a couple of pictures of the very colorful Sally Lightfoot crabs that dominate many of the Galapagos Island seashores.  The last picture shows two males fighting over their territory.

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Another example of evolution at work is the Flightless Cormorant, shown drying their wing feathers in the first picture.  They came here in the form that all other Cormorants have, by flying.  Over time, they evolved into a specie that does not need their wings to fly and instead had adapted to be able to swim under water and catch fish with ease.  The last picture is typical of the many, many sea lions that you see on most of the beaches in the Galapagos.  They are totally unafraid of man because they have never been bothered by man.  They come up to the rocks and sand to sun after catching their fill of fish in the ocean.  When we were there, there were many young sea lions being tended to by their mothers.

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Here is a shot of Stephanie standing next to a Prickly Pear Cactus which looks amazingly like Mickey Mouse.  In the next picture, Denny is taking "mail" out of the Post Office Barrel off a beach on one of the islands.  There is a very old tradition dating back to whaling days where people would leave letters (now post cards) for people around the world.  When others, like us, would stop, they would pick up any letters from their home port and deliver them when they returned.  In our case, half of the post cards in the box were addressed to the US.   We did take about five that were nearest to Denver and have now mailed them on.  Finally, here is a typical view of Stephanie.  She loves to be very close to our guides and teachers.  She is following closely in the foot steps of Jaime, our Ecuadorian guide who taught us so much about the Galapagos.  No one is permitted to visit the Galapagos National Park without a licensed guide.  They are doing a good job of keeping the Galapagos as free as they can from intrusion by man or foreign introduced species.  There are still quite a few rats and pigs, for example, that cause havoc on the Islands by eating tortoise and bird eggs.  The Galapagos National Park Service is working hard to eradicate all of these introduced species and restore the park as it originally was before man showed up in the 1600s.

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While most of the park is actually quite desolate, especially during the dry season when we were there, Santa Cruz Island, has a highland area that is actually very, very green and is used by farmers and ranchers to raise cattle and crops, such as citrus.  The picture here shows one of three collapsed volcanic craters with a lot of surrounding green vegetation.  It is also misting which you can see if you click on the picture.  Further along in this update, you will see a large land tortoise, which we came across as we went up the mountain in a bus.  The next picture shows a volcanic lava tube which was created after a strong lava flow cooled and formed an open tube after the lava stopped flowing.  This one was too unstable to hike through, but we did follow one to where the tides made it impassable. Notice the sunlight showing at the far end of the tube.

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Here is some shipboard fun on our cruise.  Stephanie is being hugged by Hugo, our waiter (and the food service manager) on the night of the Ecuadorian Feast. You can see some of the impressive food sculpture the cooks had spent two days to preparing. No one wanted to be the first to cut into the beautiful presentation. Jennifer and Stephanie enjoy one of the many fine (and very filling) meals we had on board.  We also took a tour of the bridge of the boat.  Denny, the pilot, it asking how they use GPS to keep the boat on course.  The answer, of course, is that is all they use.  In the older (pre-GPS) days, they used celestial navigation and visual sightings to transit from island to island, especially at night.  We didn't spend all our time hiking and looking at animals, volcanoes and plants.  We swam, snorkeled and, here, we see Stephanie with one of her completed sand castles.

The Galapagos are full of very special birds.  What follows is a view of the many that we saw.  Again, evolution played a major part in the development of these birds, some of which are endemic and unique to the Galapagos. Other birds, such as the Waved Albatross migrate here to give birth and raise their young chicks.

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This first shot (click on all the pictures for a better view) shows the Blue Footed Booby.  Look carefully at the feet.  They are a vivid light blue color!  This special bird (and the other boobies on the Islands as well) is wonderful in that it can dive into the water full speed and lance a fish with its beak.  We had a lot of fun watching all of the Boobies dive bomb fish off the shoreline.  We saw beaches of many colors including red, gold, khaki, white, black and green. Here you can see a Brown Pelican, just sitting beside us on the red beach.  What is amazing is that all of these birds were NOT scared of us. They would just sit there and watch us as we walked by.  That is why the Galapagos National Park service keeps you from touching the animals or doing anything to disrupt their normal routine. The next picture shows a Galapagos Gull.  Notice the bright red ring around the eye.

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Next, you can see a young Booby just fledging and sitting waiting for his parents to come back to feed him.  He is probably about six weeks old and is not yet able to fly.  The next shot shows a young Booby and gives a good view of their unique and inquisitive face.  Finally, a different specie, some Masked Boobies tend their nests; see the eggs?

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As on the introduction page, this male Frigate Bird is sitting with his red pouch blown up as his ladies look on.  He puffs up to attract females who are quite selective, we hear.  We saw many of these birds sitting in trees with their pouches extended.  The female flies overhead and looks down on the males and selects the best one to be her mate.  Next, you see the top of the food chain, the Galapagos Hawk, making a meal of a young Masked Booby it has just killed.  Obviously, it does not lack for food.  Finally, we were lucky enough to see one Waved Albatross just resting.  It is estimated that there are about 12,000 pairs of these migrating birds.  They all come to the Galapagos Island of San Cristobal to raise their young.  By this time in December, most of them have left to return to the South American mainland, but a few remain.  They have to hang out near a cliff because they cannot take off and fly without the aid of jumping off a cliff.  Their body is just too heavy and their legs too weak to get off the ground just  by running, although they do just fine taking off from water.

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Here again are the ever present sea lions.  They are very social and you see five of them all lined up in a row on the beach. This picture was quite serene until the two guys on the right barged in for some body heat. Next, Stephanie explores some of the tide pools in the lava flows near the ocean.  Last, a picture of Sleeping Lion Rock (or Kicker Rock) which is in the deep ocean near an island. Look closely and you'll see another passage in mid-rock. To get an idea of scale, pretty big sailboats can go between the main rocks.

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More sea lions are shown in the first picture on a beach where we landed...they were so numerous and indifferent to us that we often had to step over them or shoo them away from the landings.  In this picture, you can see a young sea lion pup getting his milk from his mother.   Interestingly, the mother goes out to sea every day to fish.  She returns, along with all the other mothers, after fishing and can identify her own young pup just by the sound of his or her voice! Sadly, if the mom gets taken by a shark, the babies are not adopted by anyone else and starve; we saw the results of this several times. Next, you see another of the Galapagos reptiles, the ever-present Lava Lizard.  They are about 3 to 6 inches in length (7 to 15 cm) and are on the lava rocks near the ocean along with the Marine Iguanas, and most everywhere else too!  Marine Iguanas are very social and are often seen lying together in the sun to keep warm, as you see here.  The last picture is a sub-species found only on one island. It displays red and green colors as compared with the mostly black Marine Iguanas found on other islands.  Here you see a male on the right with its row of spines along its back and a smaller female is shown on the left.

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The Galapagos are known for their Marine Sea Turtles, but you don't see them, other than swimming in the water, which we did frequently.  The Land Tortoises can be seen, if you can find them.  There were once hundreds of thousands of these animals on the islands.  Whalers killed most of them off in the 1800s for food.  The Charles Darwin Research Center in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island  (the only large town in the Galapagos) helps protect the turtles in "corrals" to encourage breeding and rebuild their population.  We saw this first Land Tortoise in a rancher's field as we were heading up to the highlands on Santa Cruz, and climbed through the barbed wire fence to get a better view.  At the Darwin Center we visited some tortoises in captivity that had been previously owned by people as pets.  Here the Riches pose next to one of the females.  Stephanie is doing her best to get her to put on a big smile for the camera!

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Toward the end of our visit to the Galapagos, we visited Espinola, a small island but one with a great number of animals.  We saw some Flamingos in a small lagoon searching for shrimps and other small tidal creatures.  Click on the picture to see the three Flamingos.  The next shot, in front of the Flamingos, taken by Stephanie, is our group that toured the islands together.  Our guide, Nacho, is shown in the middle.

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On Espinola, you also have a chance to see the more rare Land Iguana.  These reptiles do not go to the sea for their food.  For example, they eat the flowers and fruit off cactus for their water and nutrition. Here is a picture of one of the two Land Iguanas that we saw on our hike through the island. Stephanie was actually first to spy both of them (thus winning the beverage of her choice).  This one is particularly pretty (as Iguana go) with its gold color.  Also on this island we got to see two sea turtles copulating in the water.  The smaller male rides atop the larger female for over 8 hours during this process.  You see here Denny, Stephanie and our friend, Lisa, snorkeling up for a closer look.  Finally, here is a view of one of the numerous species of Darwin Finch, known as the Galapagos Canary, a very beautiful small yellow bird with a pretty song.

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With this update and a view of the setting sun in the Western Pacific sky from our Galapagos cruise ship, we bid you goodbye until we will again bring you more of our travels, this time, through the beautiful country of New Zealand, where we are now.

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