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Dave & Val’s Ecuadorian Adventures, 2008

Adventure Life travelers, Dave and Val LaHart, share a travel tale about their experiences during the Wildlife Odyssey trip to the Ecuadorian Amazon and Galapagos Islands.

Mainland: Rainforest and Highlands

Fri, Mar 21st

We left Tallahassee on an afternoon flight and headed for Quito, the capital of
Ecuador via Atlanta. We came into the crossroads of the South on Concourse A and walked to
Concourse F (international flights) and were rewarded with 100 yards of exquisite African art —
sculpture, paintings, writings and more. What a treat! Delta only flies into and out of Quito (Kee-toe) around 9 pm. Quito is about 2 miles high so there was some oxygen adjustment as we de-planed. We
were pushed through "migration" and then customs during our very first hour in SA. Quito is an
interesting city. Its 2 million plus residents all seem to be on busses scurrying here or there.
Skyscrapers bear the names of the usual international corporations. Currency is the US dollar. Ecuador is on EST and does not recognize day light savings. Everyone was helpful and polite and smiling looking for a tip. Ah Tourists!

All travel arrangements from this point were made by Adventure-Life. We were met at the airport by a representative, Alex, who took us to the Swissôtel with very nice rooms and an extraordinary buffet breakfast--lots of fresh fruit, meats and cheeses, numerous fresh fruit juices along with made-to-order omelets. Decaf coffee is served in a very small dish. They bring you hot water and hot milk to mix your own at the table. And the hotel has huge rose displays all over and the flowers are locally grown. On our walk we passed a house which is privately owned and designed like European castle.

Alex was a Quito native who has attended a 4-year college program, majoring in "Tourism." Ecuador requires all guides to undergo training and each seems to have their "specialty." Most have a 4-year degree which also allows them to teach. Alex gave us a history of both Ecuador and Quito as we traveled through the city. He had spent time at Sacha Lodge so told us a little about what we could expect.

Sat, Mar 22nd

Lisa our guide picked us up at the hotel on time and took us to the airport for departure to Coca. Lisa stayed with us until we were "handed over" to Oscar, a Sacha representative who took care of our lunch and our luggage. We traveled 2-hours by a "water taxi" on the Napo River to Sacha (pronounced Sacha) Lodge, part of the Ecuadorian Amazon, past Quichua Indian houses. They use dug- out canoes for transportation on the river and live in thatched roof houses. Oscar gave us information about the culture, the history and the people as we traveled down the river. Sacha Lodge Preserve was originally a banana and pineapple plantation, but unsuccessful. A Swiss businessman visited and decided he liked what he saw so he bought it! It is a 2,000 hectare reserve of the rainforest and is across the river from a huge national park. The lodge itself was literally a tree house about 6 feet above the water. Each of the 20 or so rental units are set up like a duplex boasting hatched roofs and screens to prevent the armies of mosquitoes from attacking
2 you. We had a private bathroom, king-sized bed, a private balcony over looking a marsh area with a hammock if you wanted to swing and a dehumidifier (a wooden box with a light that was on 24-hours a day) for cameras, etc. A safe was provided in each room to lock up valuables.

The lodge was staffed by some 60 folks who live on-site— most of them the local Quichua Indians or others who live in Coca or one of the other small communities along the river. There were no roads to Sacha so everything was bought in by boat and a lot of hard work. Groups are assigned to guides. The groups are kept small—there were 6 of us in our group—with two guides. One was a native Quichua Indian and the other was a "nationally certified" guide. Ecuador requires the native guide for any excursion into the rainforest. Each guide has his own likes—one was an avid birder who guided 3 Australian women birders. Marco was our guide and his strength was medicinal plants (he studied 3 years with a native Shaman) but he pointed out birds with ease. Everyone was issued rubber boots and encouraged to wear them. They were an essential part of the dress since many parts of the paths were wet and muddy.

On Saturday, the cooks and all male waiters hosted a cookout on the "marina" along the edge of Lake Sacha. It was wonderful with more food than the 20 or so guests could possibly eat. Meals were included in the lodging/guiding fee and the only out-of-pocket expenses were for the bar. All bills were settled up when you were leaving. Every room has two plastic bottles of water. When you empty it, you went to the commons/dining room and refilled it from a purifying machine. You were encouraged to always carry water with you but you cannot drink the water in the cabins. The septic system was such that you do not flush anything but body waste.

Sun, Mar. 23rd

Meals are incredible! Breakfast time was determined by the guide's plans and we ate with the rest of our group for each meal. Our first day’s adventure started with a 5:30 am wake up call. Dave was up his usual 4:30 and roamed the area. There was someone assigned to knock on your door to awaken you but it was your responsibility to get to breakfast and meet the guide at the designated time. We traveled by "dug out" canoe paddled by our guides from place to place. First day we paddled down a narrow creek where we saw a Caiman lizard on a branch about 10 feet up from the waterway. They have nails suited to climbing and they do, indeed climb. This creature was about 3 ft long and probably weighted in at 10-12 pounds.

Orchids and bromeliads were prolific in the lush growth. We traveled about an hour then got out to walk. It is difficult to get out of the canoe after sitting for so long—my joints stiffen up but the guides are great and helped me while Dave pushed from the back. Marco pointed out trees, lots of fruits and flowers. We were back at the lodge about 11 am. One of the "coolest" things we saw was a hummingbird nest with two eggs. It was attached to the back of a huge palm leaf.

While we were enjoying our "down time" a troop of spider monkeys came screaming through. They were awesome to watch!! They do swing through the trees as you see in movies. And along the bottom of the trees we saw pygmy marmosets, the smallest monkey and mammal in the forest. What faces!!

Lunch was posted on a big white board in both English and Spanish. The chefs made sure there is something for everyone on the buffet from hot foods to salads to desserts. More food than we need!!

We met at 4:00 pm for a canopy walk—it was a suspension bridge between two very tall towers (~135 feet high). There was a platform in the middle where we observed a wonderful plethora of birds. We saw a smooth billed ani, greater yellow-headed vultures, many-banded Atarcari and Crimson-rumped Toucanet (both are in the toucan family), white-eared Jacamar and more. The birds sang with gusto as if they were performing just for us.

We climbed down and headed back to the lodge just as a storm moved in. And a storm in the rainforest is wicked!! Winds rattle the tree tops and any loose limbs come crashing down, taking other limbs, palm fronds, leaves and plain dirt with them. It rained all night stirring up a course of frogs and toads that was truly rainforest music. What a treat.

Monday, Mar. 24th

Our second day's adventure took us on a short canoe ride then a walk through the forest to a wooden tower, again about 130 feet high. It was build around a gigantic kapok tree that extends above the canopy. Female and immature red howling monkeys were nestled in a tree top a hundred yards from our perch. We could watch them with binoculars or the spotting scope always carried by our guides. We did not hear any howling but were told they are really noisy. Part of our group took the canoe back to the lodge while the rest of us walked through the forest. Marco continued to point out trees and their uses. They even have one which they call "natural Viagra" and was a very hard wood. We saw and heard lots of birds both on the tower and on our walk. We took a short nap and then swam in Sacha Lake which has a large population of piranhas.

Fortunately these were a vegetarian species. The lake's water is quite cold so the swim was short. The native guide, whose name sounds like Edwardo but more Quichuan, took the children fishing off the dock. The natives cook the piranha by steaming them in leaves and eat all except the bones. No, I was not that adventuresome!

Black Agouti are rat-like creatures which resemble small peccaries. They run all throughout the area and forage noisily eating fruits, insects and an occasional frog. Yes, they too were a favorite food item.

Our afternoon tour started in an area known for a large population of pygmy marmosets. It started to sprinkle so we put on our parkas, provided by Sacha Lodge. We hiked through a different part of the forest where we saw huge trees, each with its own medicinal values. It is no wonder scientists and environmentalists are so concerned about deforestation and oil drilling in the rainforest. The abundance of life is awe-inspiring.

Marco has been a disappointment in many ways. He does not ask us questions and is pretty evasive when he is asked one. The lure and beauty of the rainforest area made up for the "minor" irritations we encountered.

Tues, Mar. 25th

We reluctantly left Sacha Lodge (so much rainforest, so little time) after we packed our bags for the staff to deliver to the airport in Coca. They pick them up, secure them with straps and stash them in waterproof bags for the return trip. We took the "river taxi" back to Coca (2.5 hours) where we were treated to coffee, tea and really clean restrooms.

Coca is a very small "town" that is impoverished. The area around the airport is depressing. Stores are simply a room and a sign on an aging building; a hole in the wall with racks of t-shirts, local veggies or whatnots. We suspect the cash transactions can’t be over $10 a day. Yet they survive.

Off to the airport in the back of a flatbed truck equipped with hard, hard benches. The waiting luggage was then checked for the return trip to Quito. When you pick up your luggage at the airport, there is an agent who compares the claim ticket to the tag on the bags. Every single piece for every single person!! Yet the line moved smoothly and we were soon back at Quito. We were greeted at the Quito airport by Luis, an Adventure-Life guide. So nice to be met by smiling faces even though you don’t know them! He took our luggage and we headed north towards Otavalo (O-ta-val-o). Luis is another Quito native and a 4-year graduate. His specialty is history and culture of the area and his English is very good. He is also a very careful driver, something others are not. Drivers in Quito are very aggressive so I am glad we did not have to drive. He stopped along the way telling us about the sights we were enjoying. He took us to a family-owned bizcochos (biscoti) where he bought us a bag of them. Oh wow!! Were they ever good! We saw the process and learned how they are done by hand. The area we traveled was "riddled" with volcanoes.

We stopped for gas and were amazed to see it so cheap compared to the US. Luis's family comes from the coastal region so he was quite knowledgeable about the regions—coast, highlands, forests—the geological and the cultural aspects. He took us to a wonderful weaving shop in Otavalo where the family still weaves by hand. Most of the local weavers had formed a consortium and purchased automated looms. The owners explained (through Luis) how sheep wool and alpaca go from raw wool to dyed with local, natural items such as seeds and berries to threads to hand-drawn patterns of sweaters, scarves or whatever. VERY reasonably priced—too bad we don’t have a use for woolen clothing. And the colors were awesome!!

As expected, the temperatures in the highlands are cooler and air much drier than the rainforest.

Luis took us to our overnight host at the Hacienda Pinsaqui. We learned that a hacienda is not just the house but the farm and this one was huge!! They grow flowers, vegetables and more. This particular hacienda was originally built in 1790 but damaged by an earthquake then fire. It is exquisite in decorations and gardens. There were opportunities to ride horses, walk in the gardens or generally relax. Each room had a fireplace which we kept burning to "take the chill out" of the room. There was no electric heat.

Hector, our host, held a "manager’s reception" for the guests. A large contingency of Germans were there as well. He served us cheese Empanadas, tea from locally grown anise sweetened with sugar cane juice, then anise schnapps which you just “toss down” and saluted the guests. Whew!! There was a local group of natives musicians who played a variety of instruments. We bought a CD because it was such a wonderful, lively beat. We headed into the dining room for yet another outstanding dinner.

Wed, Mar. 26th

Breakfast was fresh fruits and juice, good coffee, eggs and homemade breads. We didn't order, they just brought us the entrees. Luis picked us up at 8 am to head to the market, but we modified the plans and headed to Crater Lake and Volcano Cotacachi, a national park in the highlands for a morning hike. We walked up to ~10,500 foot peak before we just "wore out." We learned a lot from Luis about the common plants and animals and well as the cultural history. What a delightful young man!! We saw beautiful sights, dozens of birds (some familiar) and unique flowers.

Our next stop was at the Otavalo market, "famous" for its hand crafts by native peoples. (Even mentioned in the book 1000 Places to See Before You Die) We laughed that you can only look at so many sweaters, table cloths, scarves, bags, jewelry before you reach overload. It was a treat!

Saturdays were meat market days, where locals bring fresh meat to exchange. We missed that treat (fortunately). We walked around through the vendors and said NO more times than we could count. We finally had enough so headed to lunch. We looked for fried guinea pig, but none was to be had. We had a typical Ecuadorian lunch of fried pork, corn on the cob, fried potato cakes, fried corn, salad and avocado slices. Way too much food!! We headed back to Quito after visiting the central square. As with most areas, the church is the center of town and Otavalo was no exception. There was a propane "shortage" that day so a hundred or so natives were lined up to get their gas tanks filled. The truck still had not arrived when we left.

It was a very pleasant trip back to Quito as Luis continued to give us more insights into the region.

Returned to the nightmare traffic of Quito and were glad all over again that we didn’t have to drive.

The area between Quito and Otavalo is home to huge greenhouses for roses' cultivation. More damn greenhouses than I have ever seen on one short stretch of road! Luis says there are thousands of them and Ecuador is a major exporter of fresh flowers.

We checked back into the Swissôtel for the night. We had left one of our bags to store with them and it was already in our room. Talk about service!

Galapagos Islands

Thurs, Mar 27th

We were up early to finish packing for our trip to the Galapagos. Luis picked us up at the hotel and we met the folks who will be on our catamaran, the Millennium. We went through two screenings, one specifically for the Islands to prevent introduction of invasive species. Then we went through a second screening to be sure we were not carrying any weapons, etc. We were given forms to fill out and had to buy ($10.00) a beautiful laminated card required by the Province of Galapagos as a country pass. The airplane stopped first at Guayaquil (Guy-a-key) a city of 3 million located near the western coast of Ecuador. The leg to the Islands was about an hour and the airlines served a "snack" which was a plenty for lunch.

Arriving into San Cristobal was awesome! The water was a beautiful blue and contrasted with the bright greens of the vegetation. We learned that the rainy season had just begun and a couple of weeks before, everything was brown.

We went through migration again and then customs then purchased our tickets to the Islands. We were again met by our new guide, Gallo, who is a Galapagos native and certified guide. We boarded a bus (left our luggage for the Millennium staff picked up and transported for us) and headed towards the port to take a motorized rubber boat or pangua (pan-ga) to our home for the next week. After a briefing about ship board procedures (no safety lecture!) we returned to San Cristobal and went to a zoological park where giant tortoises are raised for re-introduction into the wild.

Then back to the ship where we met the staff and had a fruit and rum drink to celebrate the beginning of our journey. Dinner was very good, served buffet style and, unfortunately all you can eat. Again, you cannot drink the water aboard ship so you refill your bottle from huge “tanks” of water. At 6:30 each evening we 16 tourists had a briefing about what the next day’s adventures will be like, what we need to wear and carry. Gallo uses a white board and map to be certain there are no screw-up. Very good teaching techniques! Although Gallo is employed by the Galapagos
Park Service, he often acts as a crew member of the Millennium. He has been aboard many, many times and basically plays a dual role—guide and crew.

About 2 am, we picked up anchor and headed to our first destination, Espanola. Sleeping aboard a moving vessel was unique but we adjusted. Our cabin was twin beds separated by a small cabinet, a closet—all is bolted to the wall. The bathroom was split—shower on one side and toilet and sink on the other. There was also a small porch off the cabin. We had air conditioning, operable windows and were quite comfortable day and night.

Fri, Mar 28th

Our day began with a 7:00 breakfast. The first adventure was a walk on Espanola, then a snorkel in Gardner Bay. We traveled from the Millennium using two panguas each of which holds 8 tourists and two crew. The beach was "littered" with hundreds of sea lions. They make strange noises, crawl around in and out of the water, "talk" to each other, beg and generally entertain us. We took a short walk and saw several species of birds—Magnificent frigate birds, blue-footed boobies, lava lizards, Galapagos doves, and more.

The water was very blue, quite deep but too silty. We snorkeled about an hour before returning to the ship. We did see lots of fish and other marine life.

Lunch was always at noon. During lunch, the ship cranked up and headed to another part of Espanola, Pta Suarez. We took a 3-hour hike and saw more frigate birds, blue footed boobies, the Galapagos Albatross, sea lions, the Nasca (formerly the masked) booby, lava lizards everywhere; a small ground finch was building a nest and there were Galapagos mockingbirds everywhere. What a delightful afternoon! It was hot but much drier than the rainforest and even the highlands.

Glad to be back on board! Neither the ice machine or the air conditioning in the commons/dining room were working but we do have AC in our cabin. Our cabin boy taught us to use the small area through example. He came in whenever we were not in the cabin, straightens up, takes towels or clothes to be dried and wipes everything down with disinfectants.

Dinner was served about 7:00, after our briefing. The cook "introduced" us to a new food with each meal as well as salads and desserts. We were both exhausted and went to bed "early" although, everyone else did too. Anchor was pulled during dinner to head to our next destination. Gallo told us most of the tour boats travel at night.

Sat. Mar. 29th

We headed to Floreana, also called Santa Maria, to Pta Comorant. (Pta means Port in Spanish) We were both up early—Dave at 5:00 am, me at 6:00 am—and watched an incredible sunrise from the top deck. There are green sea turtles all about. We met for our wet landing (wade to the beach in ankle deep water) and headed to the beach. Our walk was much easier than yesterday—more level terrain, fewer rocks. We walked around the fringes of a brackish, shallow lake and saw lots and lots of flamingos in the wild. They are gorgeous!! Gallo dug into the mud near the shore to show us the miniscule shrimp they feed on. We saw several different kinds of gulls which also come in for feeding. On our way inland an onto the high energy beach, we saw Galapagos penguins cavorting in the surf as well as Pacific green turtles and sting rays. The turtles nest on the beach--WAY up on the beach--and there were turtle crawls everywhere.

The panguas brought us back to the boat and we suited up to go snorkeling off a huge lava island. Beautiful colored reef fish were everywhere—every size, shape and color seemed to be swimming beside us, under us and all around us. Delightful snorkel! Back on the boat for a short break before lunch. We pulled anchor and headed to Post Office, a short jaunt away. It was an abandoned spot of a community which did not succeed. There was a really funny mailbox where folks leave post cards and other folks come in and take them to mail. We took 3 with Florida addresses. We didn't take cards with us to "mail," but gave them to Gallo who will post them on his next trip. We then went snorkeling off the beach. The water was cloudy but we did see a wide variety of fish and some appeared big enough to eat!

About 4:30 pm we headed to Santa Cruz, where the Darwin Foundation Center is located. It was also where the technicians were to meet the boat to repair the ice machine and air conditioning. Carlos, the bar man, froze small bags of water to provide iced water at lunch. We usually showered twice a day because of all the snorkeling and hot hikes—the cool freshwater was refreshing and abundant—just don’t drink it.

Sun, Mar 30th

Saturday evening we ran until about 10 pm and put in at the Santa Cruz port of Los Primicias, the home base of the Millennium. The port was home to a hundred boats and ships of every size and shape. We boarded a bus and headed to a privately owned "tortoise farm" where there are LOTS of giant Galapagos tortoises. Gallo said this area grows bananas, oranges, mango, coffee, papaya, guava (invasive) on plantations. The highlands were rich in vegetation and soil. It was beautiful! We saw several HUGE tortoises in their "natural" habitat.

Lunch was at the Narwhal Restaurant, a privately owned eatery that is opened on special occasions.
The electricity was out so lunch was a little later than planned. They did serve hors'devours of fried banana chips and an interesting tomato (tō-ma-to, not like our tomato) dip. Lunch was well worth the wait and cooked on an old-fashion wood stove. It rained a wee bit during lunch, about a half- hour of gentle, steady rain. Sounded really cool on the thatched roof!

Off to the Darwin Center—not exactly what we expected. There are signs everywhere telling us who funds it, but it was in a serious state of disrepair. Gallo again explained it was because of the lack of support by the Ecuadorian government. Despite our special $100 "tax" to visit the Galapagos, 60% of the funds are retained by the central government. The 40% goes toward infrastructure in the many islands and some to the Park Service. We saw several more very large Galapagos tortoises and the famous "Lonesome George" who is the last of his species. Attempts at breeding him with close relatives have all been failures. We had a delightful hike from the center through the town’s center. How many t-shirt shops can survive on a mile-long road?

Panguas back to the boa and discovered the main AC and ice machine had been repaired. We watched a beautiful sunset off the top deck; frigate birds and boobies filling the sky with spectacular dives into the water looking for fish.

Mon, Mar. 31st

Our next island was Santa Fe. It was larger than we expected, rocky and covered with huge cacti trees called Opuntia (pun-tia). Our adventure was meeting two harems of sea lions. A harem includes the beach master (alpha male), several females and pups from this year’s breeding. They were friendly, funny and will follow you along the beach. We hiked the uplands looking for land iguanas, Nasca boobies and LOTS of Opuntia, a 12-15 foot high prickly cactus. We found a second species of land lizard, the Santa Fe lizard and pugnacious Galapagos mockingbirds. Lava lizards were every place. We snorkeled in the cove and saw millions (really) of fish schooling—flowing rivers of fish moving along the soft corals and algae covered lava rocks. Noisy sea lions slid off the rocks to check us out. The water here was as clear as we have seen to date.

During the afternoon we hiked over some really rocky areas to see more land iguanas living with marine iguanas. They produce hybrids, and of course, but we did not find any. However we did continued to see many magnificent frigate birds as well as some new animals such as the red-billed tropic bird which has a lo-n-g tail. The swallow tail gulls have beautiful, bright red eyes. We returned to the boat and took a swim off the back of the boat to cool off—water felt great and a couple of the crew joined us.

From the boat's top deck we have seen groups of sharks feeding on fish. We can see their fins cutting the water and doing occasional flips as the prey change directions. Manta rays are also leaping out of the water-- they are huge!

Tues Apr 1st

We visited two islands today, Rabida and Santiago. First appearances of Rabida—it was VERY different from others we have visited.

Most islands are covered with black lava rock, have small sandy-beaches and short vegetation. Looking at Rabida from the boat, the beach and cliffs were a rust-red. Gallo says it was because the rocks and soil contained iron. We landed on the beach, left our snorkeling gear hiked up the well worn trail. The sands vary from very fine to coarse with lava rocks and boulders scattered along the paths. This island has lots of cacti, but they were not nearly as tall nor as abundant as we have seen elsewhere. There are lots of essence trees—a natural insect repellant.

After an hour or so we returned to our swimming gear and suited up to snorkel along the rocky shoreline. Beautiful swim. Saw even more fish in the clear water and a wider variety. Saw hundreds of pencil, green and black sea urchins, tons of starfish—red, blue, spiny and more—even saw an octopus.

A Galapagos penguin decided to swim among us and shortly after a brown pelican dove in for a looksee. Our afternoon adventure required us to pick up anchor and travel during lunch. Gallo told us there would be other boats in Santiago and there were so we left our boat early to be on the island first.

Santiago has a fine, black, volcanic sand beach. The walk was easy and we saw hundreds of marine iguanas, basking in the pools, sunning on the rocks as well as hiding under them. The end point of our journey was "Darwin’s toilet" where water rises and swirls in and out in the rocks, just like in a flushed toilet. We found two fur sea lions; animals that were smaller than the more abundant Galapagos sea lions. They are also nocturnal so were sleeping on the ledges of the rocks. Our snorkel was very difficult as the water was silty so we swam over to the rocks which were covered in soft red corals and green ulva (algae). There were red Sally Lightfoot crabs everywhere. They are called "lightfoot" because they can walk on water; no-one seemed to know where the Sally came from.

Wed Apr 2nd

This morning's early morning adventure took us up the side of a shield volcano, Bartolome, some 686 steps. The view was incredible, once we flatlanders got up there. Gallo had several places to stop along the way to catch our breath and overlook some incredible landscapes. He also used one stop to explain how the Galapagos Islands were formed from volcanoes and how they move about due to the tectonic plates. He pointed out how the main volcano was pocked with mini-vents where lava escaped from the main cone. Lava cactus is found here but this "new" island has little vegetation compared with the older islands. The unique view was our reward for climbing the many, many steps and the "famous" Pinnacle Rock lay at our feet. The lighthouse at the very top was equipped with solar electric panels--no electrical wires here but a bit of the 21st Century reminded us that the next century will bring many more changes to these enchanted islands.

The Galapagos Park Service tells guides where and when they can hike or snorkel. This management strategy prevents a hundred boats showing up at the same place and at the same time. The strategy also prevents total devastation by visitors. In the recent past, tourist boats like ours were limited to 16 passengers; today there are boats with 100 plus passengers all paying the $100 per person "fee." Apparently graft is alive and well in Ecuador; in the past decade the country has had 7 presidents—none of whom are current residents, all of whom are living the good life elsewhere. We returned to the boat for a late breakfast starting with fresh fruit, an egg dish and cereals. Fresh fruit juices are always available.

We gathered our snorkeling equipment and headed to the beach. The water was cool, clear, and full of fish. We saw some interesting hard coral, more fish, penguins, still more fish and dozens of sea lions. Sea lions are very curious, come very close and seem to want to play, play, play.

After we returned to the boat, they pulled anchor and headed to Baltra to refill the diesel tanks. We stayed on board. It took a long time to reach Baltra and we were in port for what seemed like a mighty long time. But, the Millennium was finally refueled and we were underway again, heading towards North Seymour for a hike. The terrain was rocky and we thankfully wore our hiking boots. Many walks can be done in sandals or water shoes but not this one.

We saw many frigate birds, both magnificent and great, displaying their red sacs. The great frigate bird has green feathers on its back. It is mating season and the females fly high above looking for the "perfect" male with the largest "sex sack."

Such noise!! We also saw a great number of land iguanas and marine iguanas. Blue footed boobies-- male, female and immatures were everywhere. There were even nestlings along the trail. One male was feeding a begging nestling about 2 feet from our group. What a sight!!

It was hot so we dove off the back of the boat to cool off. Unfortunately the current was overwhelming so we got back on board. One of the panguas from a neighboring boat had to bring some of our fellow travelers back because they were unable to make any progress against the strong current.

It was our last night on the boat. The crew put on their starched white uniforms and came out to salute us with drinks and short speeches. It has been an awesome week—much more than ever expected.

Thurs Apr 3rd

We traveled much of the night to reach our final snorkel destination. We anchored off Islas Lobos where we saw green sea turtles, sea lions, sharks and mantas in the clear water. When we dropped off the pangua to snorkel, the water was cold but the clear water made it worthwhile. Saw 100s of schools of fish which numbered in the 1000s. Sea lions literally swam with us—rolling under and over us, swimming right at us then veering away, making noises that made us laugh. It was a thrill to have them so close!

Our final destination was San Cristobal where we had about an hour to shop before we boarded the plane to Quito via Guayaquil. Gallo stayed with us until Guayaquil, where he has a home and, we suspect, company.

Adventure Life took very good care of us throughout the entire time. Would I use them again? You bet!!

We arrived in Quito where we moved from the local plane concourse to the international concourse.
As we picked up our ticket, we were informed there was an exit fee of $40.80 per person. I did not remember this little fact, although Adventure Life apparently told us up front about it. No credit cards accepted and we were just about $20 between us. I called VISA who couldn’t help; Delta could not use our credit card to give us cash. What a dilemma! Would we be guests of Ecuador forever? I called our Adventure Life contact in Quito and 10 minutes later she brought us enough cash to satisfy the guards at the exit door.

Before we finally got out of Ecuador, we went through 5 searches, screenings and wanding. Even the Delta personnel opened and searched our carry-on, twice. We stopped off in Guayaquil where we had to de-plane and go through security yet AGAIN. We never felt so "secure!"

Despite all, an incredible, lifetime experience, the little dock at Panacea never looked better when we arrive home.

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