Ecuador 2017 – December 21, 2017

January 18th, 2018 No comments

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Breakfast is from 6:30 to 9:00 but Jorge is picking up the group at 8:30. We met Jason and Chris at 7:30 for a leisurely breakfast.

We take a short walk through town to a path that leads to Tortuga Bay. This path is a pavement of hexagonal blocks relatively smooth, but a few stones are not level and I nearly twist my ankle. This path goes on for quite a ways (2,500m or about 1.5 miles) before we reach the beach. We then walked along the beach of Tortuga Bay to a protected lagoon, Playa Mansa. The lagoon waters are calm and clear – perfect for kayaking.
View from room
Tortuga Bay
Due to a scheduling mix-up, we have to wait another hour to go kayaking. Vicky and I decide to explore a little bit while we wait. Walking down the sand beach we see small children playing in the shallow calm water which seem to extend far out into the lagoon. Marine iguanas are sharing the beach with the swimmers and kayakers. Around a group of mangroves a small path leads to a rocky cliff where we find four blue-footed boobies. The hour passes by quickly and we return to the kayak area.
Kayaking
Kayaking
Kayaking
Kayaking
Jorge and another guide, Andy, lead the group around the lagoon for the next hour. The first stop is an area protected by mangroves where there are no less than 50 white tip reef sharks just a few feet beneath the kayaks. Even though I know they have no interest in us, I still catch my breath with that number of sharks swimming around just underneath my small kayak.
Kayaking
Kayaking
Kayaking
Kayaking
Kayaking
Kayaking
Kayaking
Kayaking
Kayaking
Out in the center of the lagoon we find eagle rays and sea turtles near the surface. Crossing the lagoon to the eastern shore we see a swimming marine iguana make its exit up on to the rocks. In another mangrove alcove we see a baby black tip reef shark swimming around. Jorge gives as another 20 minutes free time with the kayaks. Vicky and I decide to revisit the alcove across the lagoon where the white tip reef sharks were hanging out. This time there are a couple of snorkelers kicking their way over to where we are watching the swirling activity below. I am thinking these guys are surely loco. Returning to the beach, we gather our belongings and begin the long hike back to the hotel.

After getting cleaned up, we search out some lunch. We find a place called the “Red Tuna” and since we are going to be having tuna for dinner, most of us opt for a burger that also has an egg and bacon on it along with a side of fries. It is an open air restaurant and we casually watch the activity on the street. There is quite an abundance of taxi trucks as Santa Cruz is clearly the most populated and commercialize little town in the islands.

Chris decides he wants a souvenir t-shirt so we stroll down the street and check out a few of the shops lining the street. It does not take long before he finds one he likes. We now have a few hours so I decided to catch up on the journal. Jorge meets us at 7:00 to take the group out for their last Galapagos dinner.

Walking around
Walking around
I did not catch the name of the restaurant, but we were up on the third floor terrace with a view overlooking the harbor and streets below. For dinner, nearly everyone ordered the tuna and we ordered ours rare. The tuna was seared and lightly coated in something akin to breadcrumbs. This rates as one of the best meals this trip. We all say our farewells to Jorge and express our appreciation for the excellent job he did as our guide in these beautiful islands.

Categories: Ecuador 2017 Tags: ,

Ecuador 2017 – December 20, 2017

January 17th, 2018 No comments

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

I wake up just before the alarm clock goes off and hit the shower. The water never did get hot so it was a very brisk shower. I know everyone isn’t taking their shower already, perhaps the water heater is on a timer that hasn’t yet decided it is time to make hot water, brrr.

The bus picks us up at 6:15 to take us to the docks. We have another luggage inspection before boarding the boat. The inspector asks if I took and rocks, shells, corals, plants, seeds, fruits, etc. I replied, “No, but I did take a lot of pictures!” She smiled and closed up my pack and wished me safe journeys. The water taxi takes us out to our “speed boat” for the two hour trip to Isla Santa Cruz.
Boat ride
Speed boat
The waters are smooth today as again we opt for the upper deck and we join Patesh just outside the Captain’s steering console. It is very overcast today and I can’t help but wonder if we are going to get caught in a storm on the way. Next thing I know the theme song from Gilligan’s Island is going through my head. “… a three hour tour…” As we pass a nearby island I see a blue-footed booby fly by the front of the boat.

Various boats are seen on the horizon as we approach the south end of the island. It appears that many are out on morning fishing trips from Santa Cruz. We pull into the harbor with an array of boats anchored here and there, and are met by a water taxi to take us ashore. A taxi, which is actually a pickup truck takes our luggage to the hotel while we walk the short distance to the Grand Hotel Lobo De Mar. Pretty much all of the taxis on the island are Toyota trucks having learned that they usually need to also carry a variety of gear along with the people.

Our rooms are not yet ready as it is still very early, and we pile our luggage in the lobby for now. Breakfast and coffee are most welcome at this point. Egg frittata, ham and cheese slices, fresh fruit, granola and yogurt really hits the spot.

As we walk to the Charles Darwin Research Station, we pass the local fish market where freshly caught fish and lobsters are being sold. Pelicans, frigate birds, and sea lions are looking for a free hand out as the ladies are chopping the large tuna and other fish into portions for display to the waiting crowd. Reaching the research station, we learn about the Giant Tortoises and “Lonesome George” and “Diego”. Lonesome George was the last known individual of the Pinta Island Tortoise. When he was discovered he had been alone on Pinta for several decades. Despite being offered numerous females of related species, George preferred to spend his time with nearby rocks. He passed away in 2012 without any offspring and thus marked the end of the species.
Fish market
Fish market
Charles Darwin
Cemetery
Iguana blocking the road
Charles Darwin Research Station
Charles Darwin Research Station
Lonesome George
Charles Darwin Research Station
Charles Darwin Research Station
Charles Darwin Research Station
Charles Darwin Research Station
Charles Darwin Research Station
Charles Darwin Research Station
Charles Darwin Research Station
Charles Darwin Research Station
Charles Darwin Research Station
Charles Darwin Research Station
On the other hand, Diego, of the species Chelonoidis hoodensis, was happy to propagate his species. During the 1970’s the numbers dwindled down to a nearly a dozen. Diego, doing his part, has fathered more than 800 offspring bringing them back from the brink of extinction.

On the way back to the hotel we have lunch at a street side restaurant. I have fish soup, the fish and shrimp with plantain sauce, salad with avocado, and white rice.

After lunch we get a two hour break to unpack, rest, and catch up on the journal. Our room has a view of the water and we can hear the waves. This is the best room we have had so far. Later, we meet up in the lobby to take a bus to the Galapagos National Park where the tortoises run wild. In fact, along the way we see signs on the highway warning drivers of turtle crossings.

As we get closer to the park, we begin spotting turtles in fields, alongside the road, and even in peoples yards and driveways. A long dirt road takes us from the highway to the visitor area of the national park. Along the way we see countless turtles – a few walking alongside the road. Our luck ran out when a very large tortoise was in the middle of the roadway and the bus was unable to pass. Jorge was able to eventually convince the tortoise out of the way.
Galapagos National Park
Galapagos National Park
Upon entering the park, we put on black rubber boots to protect us from tortoise poop and fire ants. Now we explore the surroundings watching the turtles eat, sleep, and also relax in the ponds and mud puddles.
Galapagos National Park
Galapagos National Park
Galapagos National Park
Galapagos National Park
Galapagos National Park
Galapagos National Park
Galapagos National Park
Galapagos National Park
Galapagos National Park
Galapagos National Park
Next we walk to a nearby sugar cane farm where Chris helps grind the cane into juice. Normally a mule is used to propel the grinding machine, but the young ones in our group enjoy the activity of running around to turn the grinder. The owner explains how the juice is boiled down to make syrup. They also ferment and distill the juice into “fire water” or a rum like alcohol. We take a moment to toast and sample the liquor.
Sugar Cane Farm
Sugar Cane Farm
Sugar Cane Farm
Sugar Cane Farm
Sugar Cane Farm
The farmer also grows coffee beans and explains the process of shelling, roasting, and grinding the beans to make coffee. This like the making of “fire water” is a very manual process.
Sugar Cane Farm
On the way back to the hotel we stop at a large lava tunnel. The sun is going down making the surrounding light difficult for pictures, but the size of the tunnel is impressive.
Lava tunnel
Lava tunnel
Lava tunnel
Returning to the hotel, we walk down near the docks looking for the sushi restaurant Jorge recommended, “La Regata” We order some cocktails that are 3 for 1. This is a bit of a teaser as I doubt that a single cocktail is over $10, but ok. After our drinks arrive we go to order our meals only to find out that they are out of sushi. Again our plans for sushi are put on hold. Sigh. Instead I get a shrimp and chicken combo that was good.
Lava tunnel
Lava tunnel
Once back at the room, I am exhausted after another day full of activities. I play a couple of quick games of Sudoku before falling asleep. The ocean sounds are even better than our sound machine back home.

Categories: Ecuador 2017 Tags: ,

Ecuador 2017 – December 19, 2017

January 16th, 2018 No comments

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

I don’t know if the dogs and roosters were quieter or I just slept through it; either way, I am glad for a good night’s sleep.

Breakfast is at 6:30 with a pickup time of 7:10. A 40 minute bus ride up through the rainforest takes us to the volcano national park where we will hike a trail along the rim of Sierra Negra – one of the most active volcanoes in the Galapagos. Although the last time it erupted in 2005 it just managed a small bit of lava and threw a bit of ash up in the air which wasn’t to threatening.

Volcan Sierra Negra
Volcan Sierra Negra
The trail is a bit dusty and has a gentle slope mostly upward, but a few flat areas as well. It is a fairly easy hike to the rim of the expansive caldera area. Here we can see fault lines in the basin and the sharp black volcanic formations known as a’a, pronounced “ah ah”. We walk around a portion of the rim and out to a location that offers a great viewpoint for some group photos. This part of the hike is out over the barren volcanic landscape and is a bit more challenging. The colors of the rock show the presence of different minerals such as iron and sulphur. Life has managed to take hold here and there with cacti and small lava tubes sheltering ferns.
Volcan Sierra Negra
Volcan Sierra Negra
Volcan Sierra Negra
Volcan Sierra Negra
Volcan Sierra Negra
Volcan Sierra Negra
Volcan Sierra Negra
Volcan Sierra Negra
Volcan Sierra Negra
Volcan Sierra Negra
Volcan Sierra Negra
Volcan Sierra Negra
Volcan Sierra Negra
Volcan Sierra Negra
Volcan Sierra Negra
Volcan Sierra Negra
Volcan Sierra Negra
Volcan Sierra Negra
Volcan Sierra Negra
Volcan Sierra Negra
Volcan Sierra Negra
Volcan Sierra Negra
Volcan Sierra Negra
Volcan Sierra Negra
Volcan Sierra Negra
Volcan Sierra Negra
Volcan Sierra Negra
Volcan Sierra Negra
Volcan Sierra Negra
Volcan Sierra Negra
We now need to turn around and make our way back up to the top. It is definitely time to enjoy our packed box lunch. We each have a container of rice with peas and bits of shredded chicken, a piece of fruit and a box juice to wash it all down. Relaxing in the shade of the large tree I could easily take a nap, but soon the group is on the move again.
Volcan Sierra Negra
As we descend from the top we soon encounter a mist. We are inside a cloud which makes the hike even more interesting. It helps to cool us down while not exactly making us all wet and it does keep the dust on the trail down which is really nice.
Volcan Sierra Negra
We get cleaned up upon our return to the hotel as the dust on the trail managed to cover us. This time there is hot water as we are the first group to return from the hike having hitched a ride in the truck instead of the bus. We relax a bit before heading off in search of the local drink “coco loco” The drink is a coconut with rum added to the coconut milk. It was interesting and different, but I won’t go out of my way to have another one. The place has outdoor seating by the beach and is relaxing enough, but doesn’t serve food. We finish our drinks and decide go back to the hotel to get some warmer clothes before finding dinner as the temperatures have dropped after sundown.
Volcan Sierra Negra
Now in search of food again, we find a steakhouse that looks promising. But the menu started at around $25 and went up into the $70’s. We set the menus back down and head for the door. The waiter explains that they also have $8 meals, but we are already bolting for the door. Did I mention that the restaurant was empty except for us? That should have been a sign.

We decide to go back to the place we went on the first night here. This time we opted for a single “meat plate” with side salads and extra potato portions. This easily serves four for around $80 including drinks, much more palatable. The stray dog is still about and hopefully noses Vicky’s leg, but all that is left are a few bones which having been cooked would not be good for him.

Again we make our way down the dirt streets to a mini-market and Vicky, Jason, and I share a bottle of wine back at the hotel room. Exhausted, I am ready for a good night’s sleep. 5:45 is going to be here way too soon as tomorrow we are leaving for Isla Santa Cruz on an early boat.

Categories: Ecuador 2017 Tags: ,