Galapagos on the Archipell I

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This past June, I spent 10 days in the Ecuador with 7 of those in the Galapagos aboard the ship Archipell I.  I had quite a bit of trouble deciding on the boat, itinerary and the right budget.  We all want to spend as little as possible and when it comes to the Galapagos, there is a wide range of prices you can pay.  It’s hard to know just how much is acceptable to you in terms of comfort and food, especially when you are on the boat for a number of days.  

Boat size: Since my husband gets seasick, it was important for us to be on a slightly more stable boat so the catamaran option was preferred.  We also found that there were boats of varying size and capacity – the larger cruise size ships and the smaller 16 passenger ships.  We went with the 16 passenger ships because it allowed us more flexibility and one on one time with the naturalist guide.  The naturalist is a big part of making your trip memorable so you want someone who speaks english well and has significant experience.

# of Days: For my husband and I,  the 8 day cruise was perfect for us. We had a family on our boat with a teenager and small child and we heard the smaller child got a bit tired by the 4th or 5th day.  There were other people on our boat who didn’t seem quite as interested in wildlife and were just backpacking through South America – for them, 4-5 days was also plenty.  I recommend 7-8 days for people who enjoy photography, wildlife, hiking and the outdoors.  

Price:  You can pay a lot less if you are flexible on timing.  The best deals are had by arriving in Santa Cruz and booking your trip from there based on boats with availabilities.  You might not get your pick on itinerary/boats but you could get up to 50% off.  If you  book directly with the boat owner, that will also save you on commission.  Unfortunately, I was not able to reliably get information on boat owners.  We booked about 2-3 weeks out from our departure date which saved us a bit of money but limited our itinerary options.  On my initial inquiry I was quoted one price but after a week or so had gone by, they were willing to lower the price some more.  The agencies will often tell you that it’s selling out but that should be taken with a grain of salt because they want you to book asap.

Travel Agency: When it came time to book, I got nervous because I had two options – pay several percentage more for using a credit card or wiring money directly to Miami.  Ecuador is mostly a cash economy and vendors often claim that credit card companies charge them the extra percentage which they must pass on to you.  This created a dilemma for me because the idea of sending thousands of dollars to someone I didn’t know really bothered me. In the end, I looked through Tripadvisor and went with a reputable agency named Happy Gringo and paid for our trip by mailing a check to their offices in Miami. Everything went smoothly from that point on.

What to Bring:

– Camera (underwater/waterproof camera only recommended if you are a great swimmer or diver), we bought a waterproof case but due to rough waters or water clarity, we never really used to and ultimately decided to just enjoy ourselves rather than trying to get pictures.

– Wetsuit & snorkel gear (snorkel gear was included; we rented a wetsuit the entire time & that worked out well, I recommend  bringing your own only if you already own one & don’t mind the extra space it’ll take up in your luggage).

– Watershoes/Keens (not really necessary, you can get away with flip flops for wet landing and then switching over to sneakers if there is a significant hike, check with your guide).

– Extra swimsuits (I recommend bringing at least 2 sets of swimsuits since you will probably snorkel at least once a day).

– For downtime, bring playing cards, games, Kindle, movies, or books.  There won’t be internet connection and even though you’ll be fairly preoccupied most of the time, there will still be downtime late morning or early evening.

– Sunscreen, make sure you have enough for the entire time you are there.

– Sunglasses, bugspray, binoculars, day pack, hat and ear plugs (if you’re a light sleeper) are all great to have.

– I recommend bringing your own toiletry (shampoo, conditioner, soap, facewash) since  boats may not offer what you want.

– Luggage should be carry-on size or crushable (duffle bag) since cabins tend to be small and large pieces of luggage will take up too much space.

– Cash to cover cost of renting wetsuits, drinks at the bar and tipping. I recommend at bringing along at least $250 in cash per person.

Seasick: I highly recommend taking Bovine, Dramamine or wearing a patch if you have a tendency to get seasick.  We did have one passenger on our boat that didn’t take any medication and had trouble enjoying herself.  My husband took Bovine the entire time (one a day) and it made him tired but I think it’s a worthwhile trade off.  Don’t forget that you are on the boat for several days.

Itinerary:  

8 DAY CRUISE OPTION B on Archipell I
Mon. AM Baltra Airport and transfer to boat
PM North Seymour Island 
Tue. AM Genovesa: El Barranco  
PM Genovesa: Darwin Bay  
Wed. AM Bartholomew Island 
PM Santiago: Sullivan Bay
Thu. AM Santa Cruz: Charles Darwin Station
PM Santa Cruz: Twin Craters  
Fri. AM Floreana: Cormorant Point / Champion 
PM Floereana: Post Office Bay / Baroness Viewing Point 
Sat. AM Española: Gardner Bay / Gardner I., Osborn I. 
PM Española: Suarez Point
Sun. AM San Cristobal: Pitt Point  
PM San Cristobal: Witch Hill 
Mon. AM San Cristobal: Lobos Island 
PM San Cristobal Airport

The islands that I found to have the most wildlife on my itinerary were Genovesa & Espanola.  North Seymour was a close third and seeing the huge tortoises in the Highlands of Santa Cruz were also quite exciting.  We experienced something different everyday but would say that Santiago, San Cristobal and Floreana had the least to offer in terms of wildlife.  Islands I have not been to but have read/heard great things are Fernandina & the west coast of Isabela.  It’s nearly impossible to find an 8 day cruise that will include Fernandina, Isabela, Genovesa and Espanola so the best itineraries should include 2-3 of the 4 islands.

Some useful websites & blogs I came across included:

http://www.galapagosislands.com/

http://galapagos2009.wordpress.com/

http://notwithoutmypassport.com/travel/south-america/

http://www.happygringo.com/

 

What a hoot in the Galapagos

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I spent 10 days in Ecuador this past June and got to take some amazing photos of wildlife in the Galapagos.  For nature lovers, the Galapagos is truly a must see.  It is the only place I  know of in the world where  wildlife has so little regard or concern for humans being in their presence.  If there are other places like this – PLEASE let me know!

I will post my full itinerary of my 8 day trip on the boat Archipell I soon but here are a few photos of diurnal (aka not nocturnal) owls feeding.

 

Galapagos Part 1-37Galapagos Part 1-35Galapagos Part 1-33

 

 

 

 

Summer Grapevine Monogram Wreath

photoFor brides who chose to take on their husband’s last name, a nice way of embracing your new last name is with a monogrammed door wreath.   I came up with this design after coming across a bunch of other wreaths on Pinterest.  I found everything I needed at Michael’s and this is truly a DIY that can be done quickly and easily.

You’ll need:

6 feet or 2 yards of burlap (5 inches wide)

monogram lettering

grapevine wreath

nice paper

buttons

glue

Instructions:

Place the monogram lettering onto a nice piece of paper and trace, cut and glue onto the letter. Wedge the letter inside the  wreath so that it’s tucked inside.  Take a piece of burlap, wrap it around the top of the wreath to the desired length and tie it to the door hook.  Take another piece of burlap and create a ribbon around the front of the first piece of burlap! Pinwheel flowers are optional and you can glue on many as you want wherever you want.

Here are the instructions  http://www.stylemepretty.com/living/2009/10/14/diy-project-pinwheels/

What’s not to love when it comes to military wedding traditions?

It’s wedding season and I’ve been so busy attending, planning and assisting at weddings that I’ve neglected my blogging duties.

The last two weddings I attended featured  great military wedding traditions so I thought it’d be nice  to highlight them to those who are either lucky enough to be incorporating them into their own wedding or have been invited to attend one.

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Arch of Saber or Arch of Rifle
After the I do’s are exchanged, the newly married couple exit the ceremony under an impressive archway of swords, sabers or rifles lined by 6-8 honor guards holding the ceremony weapons. They are stopped before each set of sword, saber or rifle and told to kiss before they can pass through.  Upon completing the symbolic  passage into marriage,the last two members of the honor guard gives the bride a swat on the rear to welcome them into the  branch of service she has married into. It’s an amazing photo op but more importantly, it embodies the challenges military couples face in their journey through married life. 
 
 
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Cake Cutting
Instead of using a typical cake knife, military weddings may choose to utilize their sword to cut the wedding cake. It is best done after the couple has made their first cut with a real knife as ceremony swords do not have actually have a cutting edge.
 
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The Uniform
Military members who are part of the wedding party usually wear full ceremonial dress uniforms with their military decorations.  As a rule, uniforms may not be adorned by anything  other than military  decorations meaning no boutonnieres.  The color of the uniform will depend on the season with blue being typically used in the winter and white in the summer.  White gloves and swords are often used by those in the Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corp.  
 
 

Spring is in the air!

The best part of spring are the flowers! While taking my cousin around town, I came across these beautiful spring flowers.

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Here are some artistic floral interpretations of artwork from the Monterey Museum of Art at La Mirada made by local floral designers.

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Simply gorgeous…

Sea Otter Classic in Monterey for a first timer!

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I went to the Sea Otter Classic yesterday, using our military discount (two for one tickets) and hung out there for the afternoon. It’s a 4 day festival and expo for bike enthusiasts. The annual event brings in cyclists from all over the world and is held at the Laguna Seca Recreation Area. If you are even slightly interested in cycling, it’s a nice chance to watch some interesting events. We caught two mountain biking events – the “dual slalom” and “speed and style”. Both were fun to watch and easy to view as they allow spectators to watch up close. We  didn’t find it too crowded either!

It’s a family friendly event, I saw plenty of people bring their kids.  However, it is quite dusty so I recommend wearing sneakers.  The weather was perfect – sunny and not humid (typical for Monterey).  Don’t forget sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat if you want to avoid getting burned.

Here’s what the expo looks like.

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Some action shots from the “Speed & Style” mountain biking event.20130421-155259.jpg

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The “Dual Slalom” course.20130421-155314.jpg

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20130421-155326.jpgAll in all, I thought it was a great way to spend an afternoon.  I’ll probably go again next year and perhaps even bring my bike to check out the open mountain biking courses.

Unique Engagement Ring Designs

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How to put on a ring on it?

Engagement rings are a big business and I didn’t put much thought into mine until  after I got engaged.  This didn’t really give my future husband a chance at creating a unique ring to put on my finger but that doesn’t have to be true for you.

I’ll admit, I don’t envy guys when it comes to picking out something so expensive and so based on personal style.  Classic is generally the route most taken but sometimes that’s can feel “boring”.  Engagement ring trends are often led by who else but our favorite celebrities.  J Lo started the colored diamonds engagement ring trend with her pink diamond engagement ring from Ben Affleck.  Unfortunately for them, just as trends come and go, so did their engagement.

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Carrie Underwood went with a canary yellow diamond.Canary-Yellow-Diamond-Engagement-Ring-Carrie-Underwood

And here are some other favorite celebrity engagement rings… Catherine-Zeta-Joness-Pretty-Diamond

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Three stoned rings representing past, present and future were popular for a while, as were uniquely cut heart shaped diamond engagement rings.

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The current trend is the vintage / halo engagement ring.  It was most certainly re-inspired by Kate and William’s engagement.

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Halo rings quickly gained popularity because they emphasize the center diamond making it look significantly larger and shinier.

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Here are a few more that I really like and more importantly, feel will withstand the test of time – that is the ultimate goal right?

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