I was already in Quito for a travel show, so this was a fairly laid back day. We picked up my husband from the airport late at night and then rested up for the next day!
I was already in Quito for a travel show, so this was a fairly laid back day. We picked up my husband from the airport late at night and then rested up for the next day!
We wake this morning later than originally planned 0 having been informed the night before that our flight to Galapagos was pushed back 2 hours. We head to the airport and meet our guide, Alfredo. he helps us with checking in our luggage and getting our tickets and going through security (which was much easier than any US flights, not having to take off my shoes, and being able o take my water on board).
The flight takes off and just as soon as we reach our peak altitude it seems we begin to descend again into Guayaquil for an interchange of passengers. We are off again and in 1 and 1/2 hours we land on San Cirstobla on an airstrip right along the coastline. The airport is surprisingly modern, although small, and seems to have just been built in the last 10 years. We are directed then to a bus for a quick transfer to our hotel, Hotel Miconia. Here we unload our staff into our simple yet air-conditioned rooms and meet up next door at Hotel Opuntia for lunch.
Upon walking out front we see on the boat launch sea lions resting on the cement slab 0 we walk over to get a closer look and see it is a mama and her baby who is nursing. I quickly think to get the camera and yet at the same time realize that a photo has no hope of capturing the sucking noise that the baby is making! People are surrounding them at only two feet distance to take pictures - and the sea lions don't seem to mind at all. This is truly an amazing place - a walking zoo of sorts.
After a fresh seafood lunch we continue on a short two hour hike through the dry temperate forest nearby. First we walk to the interpretation center built on the island explaining the geological and human histories of the islands. The exhibit is very informative and involved, but we have to hurry a bit to make it, as we got a late start due to the flight delays!
We hike by cacti and many branches of trees (I called it a branch forest), and over lava rocks on a mission to the lookout at the top of the hill from which we can view Kicker Rock (or Leon Dormido). One of the first views Darwin sketched on his first landing here in the cove below Frigate hill. The sun sets on the horizon and we take some amazing shots of the town of San Cristobal with the many boats anchored in the harbor before heading back.
We enjoy dinner this evening, and start getting to know each other, Our group has 11 people total, 12 including Alfredo, and from the first day we started to click very well!
Later on we enjoy a fresh seafood meal including Ahi, rice, and vegies! After dinner Jens and I decide to stroll along the waterfront area at night. We stop for ice cream at a store, stop to see the sea lions still on the boat ramp, and then continue back to the hotel for the evening. The waterfront area on San Cristobal is very nicely done, with stone sidewalks, fountains and planter boxes, looking much more like a main commercial city would decorate its waterfront area.
This morning we woke to have breakfast - scrambled eggs and toast with guava jam, which was very good and then prepared for our hike in the morning.
We headed first for the highlands - past the "country homes" higher up and saw the ecosystem change before our eyes as we climbed. Oranges, papaya, corn, cattle, horses, all of this could be seen higher up in the parts that receive more rain. We go first to the tortoise re-breeding center, a project set up to help protect young tortoises so they will make it beyond the precious first 5 years of their lives and grow o become the 100 something year old adult they were meant to be.
As we walk along the trails we see many tortoises- 4 of which took the prize for most entertaining. We watched 1 tortoise walk across their mud feeding area to squat down behind another who was laying peacefully and then started to bite his tail! Even our guide could not explain the reason for it, as it was the most bizarre behavior! The one being bit started to walk away - only to have the one follow in pursuit and continue to bite his tail!
Next we went to climb the tallest peak on the island, a very short and manageable climb up a section of wood stairs. We then walked around the crater lake at the top - spotting frigate birds coming up to bath in the fresh water. The ecosystem up here is very different, lush with plant life, misty,windy and (on this day) foggy. We descend back to the bus and return for lunch - a wonderful local dish called cazuela, and then
This morning we wake early for breakfast and then gear up for a day on the ocean. We take off in the small boat and head first for Leon Dormido (or kicker Rock). Here we get out of the boat and begin to snorkel the wide channel between the two large rocks. This is a formation that plunges straight down for 30 meters or so, creating great opportunities for wall diving and snorkelers. As we begin, we first notice the colorful barnacles and sea urchins on the wall, then we spot a school of Galapagos sharks beneath us. I try to take a picture of them and am able to capture the outline in one picture getting four in the shot at one time, but they are very deep so we don’t see much! A few others in our group had one swim up very close at their level but I was not there to be as scared as they J We spot also a very large sea turtle and follow him around for a while until he decides to leave. Unfortunately we did not have a sunny day (something I anticipated for a Sept trip) so the clouds made the visibility a little lacking, but I could see how with a bit of sunlight streaking through the turquoise water, the pictures and overall experience would have been much better! We also get to spot a puffer fish of some sort, as well as many other multicolored fish.
We pile into the boat and next head around to the northern tip of the island to Punta Pitt. Here we plan to snorkel but the ocean currents are too strong to allow it, so we pull into shore and find a harem of sea lions who seem eager to please as we eat our paella (a hot rice, chicken and seafood mixture that was absolutely delicious).They start doing flips in the water right in front of our boat as if they were dolphins! Here we spend a lot of time taking pictures of the sea lions, the marine iguanas sun bathing, as well as the red footed boobies – which can only be spotted on this part of this island. We also see a few Tropical birds, red beaked with a slender tail, which are a hard one to spot in the islands. We then continue for the long 1 ½ hour boat ride bake, stopping at another cover for a beach walk to see mangroves and a lame attempt at snorkeling (the visibility was horrible on this day). This cove is said to have been used by pirates for coming ashore to stash their treasure, needless to say we didn’t find any in the sand, and I was looking for it!
As we drive back and I am watching the sun set beyond the clouds (yes, it it finally peaked out for a few minutes at the end of the day), I think to myself – what an AMAZING place! One where a sea lion will come right up to you and sniff your leg – or a marine iguana would let you get so close to use your macro setting for a close up shot. Nothing can really describe it – except to encourage others to go. To explain a cliff plunging in to turquoise coves with what appears like white paint but is actually bird dropping form the many sea birds who call that cliff home is indescribable – and sounds silly on paper but is truly fascinating in person! To think that cliff has been home to these birds for SO many thousands of years before I was even born or built my home on the earth is truly humbling.
We finish the day with a well deserved ice cream bar and dinner.
Early this morning we wake for our last breakfast on San Cristobal, then drive the 10- min to the airport. We check in and after finding out we were 100 pounds overweight with our luggage, we all go through our bags and pool together dirty clothes and things that can stay behind to make up the weight. Alfredo arranges for someone to send them onto Santa Cruz to meet us at the end. Next we board our two small Cessna planes – one carrying 5 and another that carries 9. We board and make the 40 minute flight to Isabela Island. Upon approach you can see just acres of black lava rock with small pockets of vegetation and not much else. After landing we travel 10 minutes to our new hotel La Casa de Marita – a beautiful open and spacious beachfront hotel. We arrive early in the morning when our rooms are not completely finished and change our clothes in the communal bathroom to head off for our mountain biking adventure. We pick up our mountain bikes and helmets, adjust the seats to fit, and away we go down the sand street to the trail (that is actually a road) towards the Wall of Tears. We ride along the coast with beautiful views off to the left and then through trees on our way. We stop at some offshoot attractions here and there – fresh water “green” pools, in search of seeing some flamingos. We strike out at every location and keep going after being disappointed at the lack of pink. After about 1 hour or so of biking – mostly flat with some uphill climbs – we come to the Wall of Tears. We get off and go walk around this mammoth structure, built by prisoners to create a compound. The work was halted when an institute head came to visit the project and a rock dropped on his head and killed him. Now the wall is being over run with lava lizards and vegetation – and is a local tourist attraction. Next we climb up to the top of a lookout from where you can see ocean and the beach town of Puerto Villamil that we started from.
We go to head back and I notice that my bike has a flat from rolling over a spine from a certain plant that lies all over the sides of the road. I luckily was able to swap bikes with someone who had already decided to stop biking and ride in the support vehicle, so I continue on her bike. As I rode I paid close attention to not hit the tortoises on the side of the road, nor the two marine iguanas lying in the path! I too of course, have a spill on my bike, committing the #1 error of mountain biking – which is to never look at an object you intend to avoid – or else you will hit it every time! I looked right at a large pile up of sand in the middle of the road, and of course fell into it.
After the ride we return and we have lunch at a local restaurant in town. Next we gear up for an afternoon on the ocean. We meet and walk to the nearby marina where we board our panga and set off scouring some mangrove areas. We spot on a rock outcropping some of the Galapagos penguins – yes living at the equator! We watch them interact a bit with each other and some blue footed boobies before continuing on for another snorkel stop. We stop at a cove which is normally very calm, but this day the sea is particularly rough. We get in while some stay behind in the boat. The snorkeling is amazing with large parrot fish among others. We also have the spot of the day, a large sting ray floating along on the bottom of the floor. We follow it for a while taking pictures before we continue to Las Tintoreras Sendero. Here we see what I imagine the moon or Mars’ surfaces might look like. It is a huge field of black porous lava rock with white and green lichen growing all over. We walk along the set trail, and almost in every part we see tons of marine iguanas crawling all over each other, unaffected by our presence. We all get to spot many white tipped reef sharks swimming in the small channel that runs next to the path. We see too a sea turtle out in the cove with a sea lion playing in the channel with the sharks. What a crazy coexistence of life! Off to the right you can see a white sand beach – and off to the left of this tiny islet you see the black sand beach, all in one place! After all this we retire and turn in for the day (seeing a manta ray on the way in right by the boat). After a fantastic dinner at the hotel and a nice walk along the beach, we retire for the evening.
This morning we woke to the sound of waves breaking and heading to breakfast! After this we piled in to our bus for our horseback riding and hiking adventure. Little did I know there would be some “skiing” involved. We stopped one last time at a lagoon en route and see one lone flamingo (likely an injured one) hanging out in the middle of the pond. We drive 40 minutes to where we pick up the horses and see that the road is very muddy where we will be riding initially. So the decision is made to drive the bus up to the start of the trail where we cold hike up and around the volcano rim for a bit on the south side and then mount the horses where it is less muddy. The bus however gets very stuck in the mud – so we all help with gathering sticks to lay some traction, pushing it along, and bouncing it from the back seat. The bus slid all over the place and we definitely get dirty, and still the bus stayed stuck. We then decide to leave it and continue on our hike and hope the driver can get it out while we are gone. We then walk for about an hour around the south side of the rim of Sierra Negra – the second largest crater rim in the world, being 7 by 9 kilometers in size. The weather is very misty and wet on the south side, and you wouldn’t even think there was a crater in front of you until you are able to see it on the north side. From here the climate is dry even as though it hadn’t seen rain in months, and the mist subsided so one could see the expanse and width of the crater. You see below too, to the thermals still giving off heat through fissures. The view on the other side is to the Northwest part of the coast, with Fernandina in the background.
We return by horseback until it gets too muddy to be safe, and then we continue the rest of the way on foot back to the bus, which is still stuck in exactly the same position as we left it. Luckily another man with a 4x4 vehicle towed us out and then the mud adventure is finished. We proceed to drive back down to the coastline. Along the way I notice many overgrown farms on the side of the road. You can see the many fruit trees or other crops all planted in rows that are now being overgrown with other vegetation taking over. You can see fencing overgrown by plants. The sad remains of what used to be a hope for paradise for the early settlers who found that farming in this region had its fair share of difficulties and not many rewards. We continue tot a beautiful local farm, Campo Duro, for lunch where we can see their tortoises, an area of natural habitat set aside for the babies leaving the re-breeding centers. The farm is beautiful with nicely landscaped grounds and many different tropical fruits growing on the property. Next we headed back to town for a free afternoon. Jens and Bob decide to rent surf boards, so they, I and Fabio all head to the ‘beginners beach” to try it. I sat and watched them both attempt to stand up on the boards time after time, and they both succeeded a couple of times! We then walk back to town, eat dinner (of course buy ice cream bars) and then head to bed.
This morning I wake up feeling like death warmed over. My stomach is tied into knots and I do not feel as though I can leave the bathroom for more than 10 minutes. We have an early rise in order to catch the water taxi on to Santa Cruz. The crossing lasts 2 hours and 15 minutes, and all I can do the entire ride is look out on the horizon, breath deeply, and hope that I will not throw up. While others in the group did feel queasy by the end as well – I had it the worst due to already feeling sick. My surprise is that I make it through to Santa Cruz without losing anything out either end!
Next we drive to the Charles Darwin Research Station and are able to see the re-breeding projects there with the giant tortoises and land iguanas. Lonesome George (who is not so lonesome any more, having mated successfully after 30 years of attempts) tries to mount one of the females before our very eyes! She runs away though, and he is left looking very lonely again. Next we drive into El Chato – an area where we can see the giant tortoises in the wild. It is amazing that they don’t seem to be scared of us at all. We have Jens get down on all fours next to one pretending to be like him – then the tortoise raises up on his legs and sticks out his neck as if to threaten or challenge Jens. I get very close to one as well, and we take a photo making it appear that I am kissing him (no – that photo is not real – I am actually about 8 inches in the background from his head).
Next we return to Puerto Ayora and take a short water taxi across the marina to our hotel, Angermeyer Inn. Everyone begins to get ready for kayaking. I decide instead to stay in the room and sleep and use the restroom whenever I liked. The kayakers return and report seeing many blue footed boobies dive bombing at once into the ocean – the video Jens captured has it all! The rest of the day I stay in bed – and even miss the last dinner in the islands.
This morning we wake and have a leisurely breakfast before heading to take the water taxi back to the main dock. From here we drive an hour on a bus to the other side of the island, then a quick ferry across the bay to Baltra, and then another 15 minute drive to the airport. There are some shops set up outside the airport that we browse through while waiting for our direct flight back to Quito – concluding our time in the islands.
This evening we go out to dinner at Pim’s, a restaurant set up high over looking the city of Quito with our local office crew! The view was amazing, and you can see from there how truly large Quito is from North to South – it is such a long city! After a scrumptious steak dinner, we return to Hotel Eugenia for the evening.
This morning we wake very early to go to Mindo, a cloudforest area about 2 hours North and West of Quito. En route on the windy mountain road we stop for breakfast at a small restaurant with hummingbird feeders along the outside of the eaves. After a quick cup of coffee and some banana fried with cheese, we continue on and reach this small town. We continued driving up a muddy dirt road up a mountain to the zipline canopy tour. From here we harness ourselves and zip our way across deep ravines over the cloudforest. Jens even does a move called La Mariposa (or the butterfly) where a guide goes with him and holds his legs up so that he remains upside down on the cable (it looked very goofy from behind).
After 10 cables – the longest of which was 500 meters, we continue on to La Cascada Azul (or the Blue Waterfall). We have to climb down the hill using the trail to an area where a ton of kids, men and women are swimming in some natural pools at the op of the main waterfall. They have a small waterslide here, and multiple cliff jumps that one can use. Marcelo and Jens decide to jump form one about 30 feet high into the area right at the base of the 8 meter waterfall. Then we all started to climb in, and after finding the water to be extremely cold, we proceed to crawl back out again! We all then changed our clothes using the change rooms provided and decide to hike back up the hillside. Towards the end, the rain starts to pour on us, to the point that we are completely drenched. We finally arrive back to the car and drive back to Mindo and eat lunch at a local area where I am served a huge plate of foot for only $3.80. After lunch we decide to head back to Quito and visit La Mitad del Mundo. Here we are able to stand at the 00 00’ 00” GPS point on the Equator and learn how water in the Northern hemisphere rotates counter clockwise when it drains, and how in the Southern hemisphere it goes clockwise. Right on the Equator, by the way, it goes straight down without any whirlpools. It is so fascinating, the drain only had to move 5 feet one way or the other to change it. Also we are able to do other experiments testing out the gravitational pull of the Equator – including balancing an egg on a nail. Next we learn about the different indigenous people groups in Ecuador (including the Huorani – the people we visit on our AA8 trip) as well as other native customs and traditions. It was all very fascinating! After this we return to our hotel for a quick shower and then head to the airport for our long journey back to Missoula.