Feature: Trouble in Galapagos

Birds are one of the biggest draws for tourists visiting the Galapagos Islands, however, some of its most famous avian residents are facing a variety of threats.

Birds are one of the biggest draws for tourists visiting the Galapagos Islands, however, some of its most famous avian residents are facing a variety of threats.

THE Galapagos Islands are a miracle of Mother Nature.

Formed by volcanoes beneath the Pacific Ocean and floating 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, it is a wonder anything is able to survive on the isolated, inhospitable archipelago. Yet wildlife thrives here and these islands are regarded as the most bio-diverse in the world.

Thousands of tourists flock to Galapagos annually to marvel at its extraordinary inhabitants – the friendly sea lions, the penguins and, of course, the countless bird species unique to the islands. These visitors follow in the footsteps of Charles Darwin, who developed his theory of evolution here after observing the local wildlife.

However, some of the most iconic Galapagos species are facing an uncertain future, possibly extinction. This is the theme of my latest report for the BBC, in which I look at the problems facing Galapagos wildlife and find out what is being done to help preserve vulnerable species for future generations to enjoy. You can read my report here.

 

Review: Casa Gangotena, Quito

Casa Gangotena is set in the heart of Quito's Old Town and proved a calming influence in a city that was doing a fine job of infuriating me.

Casa Gangotena is set in the heart of Quito’s Old Town and proved a calming influence in a city that was doing a fine job of infuriating me.

SET in the heart of Old Town Quito, Casa Gangotena has quickly established itself as one of South America’s finest boutique hotels. I bedded down there on a recent visit to the Ecuadorian capital and found it a calming influence. You can read my full review, which was published with World Travel Guide, here.

Interview: Nick Baker, BBC naturalist

Nick Baker

TV naturalist, Nick Baker, is best known for presenting Springwatch on the BBC. Here he talks to Gavin Haines about the best places to go for wildlife and how his pursuit of nature nearly killed him.

EARLIER this month I interviewed Nick Baker, the TV naturalist and all round good egg, best-known for presenting Springwatch on the BBC. He chatted to me about sleeping with penguins in Antarctica, why bats were nearly the death of him in Costa Rica and the best places to go for wildlife watching holidays.

You can read the full interview with him, which was published through World Travel Guide, here.

The Galapagos Islands in pictures

Galapagos in pictures

."\n"[img src=http://gavinhainescom.fatcow.com/wp-content/flagallery/galapagos-in-pictures/thumbs/thumbs_1.jpg]440Centre of the world
Straddling the equator, the Galapagos Islands are formed by a volcanic hot spot beneath the Pacific Ocean...
[img src=http://gavinhainescom.fatcow.com/wp-content/flagallery/galapagos-in-pictures/thumbs/thumbs_2.jpg]200
...the oldest island is 4.5 million years old and the youngest a mere 300,000 years
[img src=http://gavinhainescom.fatcow.com/wp-content/flagallery/galapagos-in-pictures/thumbs/thumbs_3.jpg]200Famous residents
The Galapagos Islands are a hotbed of biodiversity and its playful sea lions are amongst the most popular residents
[img src=http://gavinhainescom.fatcow.com/wp-content/flagallery/galapagos-in-pictures/thumbs/thumbs_4.jpg]180The Darwin connection
Charles Darwin came up with his theory of evolution in Galapagos. This iguana has evolved differently from its relatives on mainland South America
[img src=http://gavinhainescom.fatcow.com/wp-content/flagallery/galapagos-in-pictures/thumbs/thumbs_5.jpg]200A twitcher's delight
This swallow-tailed gull is one of the many birds that attracts twitchers to the islands
[img src=http://gavinhainescom.fatcow.com/wp-content/flagallery/galapagos-in-pictures/thumbs/thumbs_6.jpg]190Beneath the waves
Three ocean currents converge at the Galapagos Islands bringing with them bountiful marine life
[img src=http://gavinhainescom.fatcow.com/wp-content/flagallery/galapagos-in-pictures/thumbs/thumbs_7.jpg]190Star attraction
The giant tortoise is synonymous with the Galapagos Islands and there are estimated to be 35,000 of them living here...
[img src=http://gavinhainescom.fatcow.com/wp-content/flagallery/galapagos-in-pictures/thumbs/thumbs_8.jpg]210
...but that's no thanks to international sailors who nearly hunted them to extinction in the 19th century
[img src=http://gavinhainescom.fatcow.com/wp-content/flagallery/galapagos-in-pictures/thumbs/thumbs_9.jpg]170Gone with the wind
Most of the plants that have colonised Galapagos came as seeds on the trade winds - they were blown over 600 miles across the Pacific
[img src=http://gavinhainescom.fatcow.com/wp-content/flagallery/galapagos-in-pictures/thumbs/thumbs_10.jpg]200Feeding time
A baby Nazca booby waits for dinner to be delivered by his parents
[img src=http://gavinhainescom.fatcow.com/wp-content/flagallery/galapagos-in-pictures/thumbs/thumbs_11.jpg]160Big mouth
A wonderful bird is a pelican, his bill will hold more than its belly can
[img src=http://gavinhainescom.fatcow.com/wp-content/flagallery/galapagos-in-pictures/thumbs/thumbs_12.jpg]210Siesta time
A young sea lion stirs from a siesta on the beach
[img src=http://gavinhainescom.fatcow.com/wp-content/flagallery/galapagos-in-pictures/thumbs/thumbs_13.jpg]190Back to school
Galapagos guide, John Garate, leads a quick lesson in the geology of the islands
[img src=http://gavinhainescom.fatcow.com/wp-content/flagallery/galapagos-in-pictures/thumbs/thumbs_14.jpg]170An unlikely resident
Galapagos penguins are thousands of miles from their native Antarctica, but the water here is just cool enough to sustain them
[img src=http://gavinhainescom.fatcow.com/wp-content/flagallery/galapagos-in-pictures/thumbs/thumbs_15.jpg]170Not on your own doorstep
This Nazca booby has turned shitting on its own doorstep into an art form
[img src=http://gavinhainescom.fatcow.com/wp-content/flagallery/galapagos-in-pictures/thumbs/thumbs_16.jpg]180Hooray for boobies
Red footed boobies are one of the most celebrated birds on the islands and not just because of their red feet...
[img src=http://gavinhainescom.fatcow.com/wp-content/flagallery/galapagos-in-pictures/thumbs/thumbs_17.jpg]170
...they also wow visitors by diving into the ocean at nearly 100kph to catch fish
[img src=http://gavinhainescom.fatcow.com/wp-content/flagallery/galapagos-in-pictures/thumbs/thumbs_18.jpg]180Expectant mother
A Nazca booby protects a recently laid egg from the wind and potential predators
[img src=http://gavinhainescom.fatcow.com/wp-content/flagallery/galapagos-in-pictures/thumbs/thumbs_19.jpg]210The silent hunter
This short-eared owl will make no sound when it swoops in on unsuspecting petrels
[img src=http://gavinhainescom.fatcow.com/wp-content/flagallery/galapagos-in-pictures/thumbs/thumbs_20.jpg]170Another stalker
This heron is also a stealth hunter and will pluck fish from the sea when it gets hungry

Seashell sanctuary: Fadiouth, Senegal

The island of Fadiouth in Senegal is made entirely out of empty seashells. It is also the subject of my latest blog, which I have written for National Geographic Traveller.

The island of Fadiouth in Senegal is made entirely out of empty seashells. It is also the subject of my latest blog, which I have written for National Geographic Traveller.

FADIOUTH is an island located just off the Petite Côte of Senegal and is made entirely out of empty seashells. Even the graveyard – pictured above – is fashioned from mollusk casings, but that’s just one of the many remarkable things about this place. Find out more about Fadiouth by reading my blog for National Geographic Traveller here.

Ticket to ride: Ecuador

A train pulls in at Quito train station, which is the centerpiece of a new project to restore Ecuador's railways.

THE Ecuadorian Government has ploughed millions into restoring the country’s historic railways, so I headed to the South American nation and jumped aboard. Here’s a blog about an experience I had on Ecuador’s trains, which  was published with National Geographic Traveller.

Senegal: In pictures

SENEGAL remains under the radar for many travellers, which is hardly surprising considering its poor infrastructure, lack of international air links and undeveloped tourism industry. But those visiting this diamond in the rough will discover a country rich in natural beauty, character and culture. This is my view of Senegal, through the lens:

Two young mechanics in the town of Mbour breathe life into battered French cars. These vehicles might look beyond repair, but they will be good for many more miles by the time these lads are done.

Using tools and ingenuity, many old cars - which would be deemed too dangerous to drive in most countries - are turned into seven-seater taxis. I had the dubious honour of being a passenger in these improvised minibuses, which were overloaded and often had holes in the floor.

Even as a write-off, this battered old Renault still has a use as a novelty fence; it forms an unlikely barrier between Dakar's Village des Arts and the barren wasteland next door.

Senegal has a burgeoning arts scene which revolves around the Village des Arts in Dakar, a creative sanctuary amidst the frenetic streets of the capital. This cultural centre is home to 50 artists in residence who display work in the free, on-site gallery and regale visitors with their tales.

The village attracts artists not just from Africa but from all over the world including France and Switzerland. Before the painters and sculptors moved in the site had been used to house Chinese immigrants, who built the nearby national football stadium.

Senegal: The front line in a war against desertification

IT’S been a bit quiet on the blog front for a few weeks because I’ve been on assignment in Senegal, writing this feature about desertification for The Independent (click on the picture to read the article in full).

There will be more to come from me about Senegal in the coming weeks, but I thought this article might set the scene for my trip.

This expedition wasn’t simply about uncovering the destination from a travellers point of view, but about understanding the phenomenon of desertification and how it affects not just those living in Senegal and other African nations but all of us.

Senegal is at the front line in the battle against desertification, a process that organisations and individuals are trying to reverse in Africa with the so-called Great Green Wall.

My research took me deep into the Sahel, where I not only got to understand more about desertification but also got to me some of the most affable and inspirational people I have ever encountered. But there will be more about that later.

Ask the editor: Emerging travel destinations

BA Highlife

British Airways asked me to help them unearth the best upcoming travel destinations as part of their 40th anniversary. I obliged and helped 39 other travel scribes come up with this hot list.

TO celebrate its 40th anniversary, British Airways asked 40 journalists from around the world to help identify emerging travel destinations.

I was one of them and you can read my recommendation, along with many others, here. And if you thought we missed anywhere out, please let me know on Twitter (@gavin_haines).

 

Gambia in pictures

Gambia in pictures

."\n"[img src=http://gavinhainescom.fatcow.com/wp-content/flagallery/gambia-in-pictures/thumbs/thumbs_bird.jpg]500Twitcher’s paradise
Gambia is one of the most diverse countries in the world when it comes to bird life
[img src=http://gavinhainescom.fatcow.com/wp-content/flagallery/gambia-in-pictures/thumbs/thumbs_pelican.jpg]90Pelican crossing
Some of the bigger species are easy to spot…
[img src=http://gavinhainescom.fatcow.com/wp-content/flagallery/gambia-in-pictures/thumbs/thumbs_fruit-bat.jpg]80
…others like this fruit bat are a bit trickier
[img src=http://gavinhainescom.fatcow.com/wp-content/flagallery/gambia-in-pictures/thumbs/thumbs_monkeys.jpg]80Monkey business
A baby baboon hitches a ride on mum at Makasutu Cultural Forest
[img src=http://gavinhainescom.fatcow.com/wp-content/flagallery/gambia-in-pictures/thumbs/thumbs_jmming.jpg]70Jamming
This local man plays a traditional stringed instrument called the kora to Makasutu visitors
[img src=http://gavinhainescom.fatcow.com/wp-content/flagallery/gambia-in-pictures/thumbs/thumbs_mangroves.jpg]80Mangrove mooring
Those looking to stay in Makasutu can rent floating rooms at Mandina Lodges
[img src=http://gavinhainescom.fatcow.com/wp-content/flagallery/gambia-in-pictures/thumbs/thumbs_portrait.jpg]60West Africa apparel
Guaranteed to brighten up any situation are the Gambian women
[img src=http://gavinhainescom.fatcow.com/wp-content/flagallery/gambia-in-pictures/thumbs/thumbs_ferry-port.jpg]70Moderately flamboyant
As a Muslim nation women are encouraged to cover up…
[img src=http://gavinhainescom.fatcow.com/wp-content/flagallery/gambia-in-pictures/thumbs/thumbs_street-scene.jpg]60
…but they are conservative in the most flamboyant way possible
[img src=http://gavinhainescom.fatcow.com/wp-content/flagallery/gambia-in-pictures/thumbs/thumbs_woman-and-baby.jpg]90Baby on board
A baby snoozes while his mother waits to catch the Banjul ferry
[img src=http://gavinhainescom.fatcow.com/wp-content/flagallery/gambia-in-pictures/thumbs/thumbs_ferry-terminal.jpg]70Ferry late
Foot passengers disembark from the notoriously unreliable Banjul ferry
[img src=http://gavinhainescom.fatcow.com/wp-content/flagallery/gambia-in-pictures/thumbs/thumbs_van.jpg]90Trade descriptions
A “BMW” van is loaded up with goods to take over on the ferry
[img src=http://gavinhainescom.fatcow.com/wp-content/flagallery/gambia-in-pictures/thumbs/thumbs_fishing.jpg]80Casting out
A woman fishes for crabs in Oyster Creek
[img src=http://gavinhainescom.fatcow.com/wp-content/flagallery/gambia-in-pictures/thumbs/thumbs_sunset.jpg]60African sunset
The sky turns a deep orange as the sun goes down on Bijilo Beach, Gambia
[img src=http://gavinhainescom.fatcow.com/wp-content/flagallery/gambia-in-pictures/thumbs/thumbs_flag.jpg]40Gambian colours
In the national flag, red represents the sun, blue the rivers, green agriculture and white peace
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