This morning we bid farewell to the Grand Odyssey, leaving our new friends on board. We disembarked on Santa Cruz, boarding a small bus for the highlands. We drove up out of the cloud cover, past fincas and small homesteads into dense forest. We finally pulled into the Charles Darwin Research Center, a sanctuary for the famed Galapagos Tortoise! A light rain created mist and fog throughout the grounds, making our surprise even greater when an enormous, lumbering tortoise made it's way out of the foliage. When startled, the tortoises retract their lanky necks into their shells, emitting a loud hissing noise as the air inside their carapaces escapes. After seeing nearly 15 tortoises and taking several rain-soaked photos, we climbed back into the bus for our final ride to the airport.
Upon arrival back in Quito, we were met by Adventure Life Ecuador's Coordinator, Betty Jaramillo. It was so great to finally meet her, after two year's of only email correspondence! Betty took us to have traditional 'helados de paila', ice cream made in a copper pot. I immediately chose the Guanabana flavor, my favorite fruit in South America!
After enjoying our helado we drove up the Pinchincha volcano to Betty's house, also the home to the Adventure Life Ecuador office. We met the rest of the crew, and John was invited to join a soccer game between Adventure Life and another local tourism competitor. After two hours at 10,000 feet, of course he was ready to play soccer!